I’m sure you’ll agree that a well-trained dog is a pleasure to live with!
This is especially true for a large and powerful breed like your GSD.
Of course, starting early with your German Shepherd training will set the stage nicely for the future.
And thanks to the German Shepherd’s strong work ethic and drive, even older Shepherds will benefit from training at any stage of their life.
As a certified professional dog trainer, I coach dog guardians and their dogs to learn new skills, improve existing skills and work through behavior challenges.
These dogs range from puppies to adult and rescue dogs. So I know it’s possible to start implementing successful plans in your German Shepherd’s training no matter their age!
So, whether you’ve just brought home your first German Shepherd.
Or if you’ve finally decided it’s time to teach your old dog new tricks…
You’ve come to the right place to get my best tips for training your German Shepherd using positivity and kindness.
- My 7 golden rules for German Shepherd training.
- Positive reinforcement training my 4 x 3 method.
- One vital skill all dogs and their guardians should practice.
The Lowdown on Your GSD’s Intelligence
It is a fact that German Shepherds are among the brightest and most intelligent working dogs.
According to a book published by Dr. Stanley Coren in 1994, “The Intelligence of Dogs,” the book documents different breeds and their speed of learning and responding.
- The number of repetitions to understand new cues.
- Percentage of responding to a cue the first time.
The German Shepherd Dog performs exceptionally well!
Understanding a new cue in less than 5 repetitions and responding to a first cue 95% of the time or more.
So, your Shepherd is up there with the best, preceded only by the Border Collie and Standard Poodle.
Training any dog is exciting! But training a German Shepherd is doubly so because it’s incredibly reinforcing to watch their eyes light up when they realize they’ve hit the bull’s eye!
We’ll dive into the 3 positive reinforcement training methods in a bit. But before we do that, here are my 7 golden rules for German Shepherd training.
My 7 Golden Rules for German Shepherd Training
These truths will stand you and your GSD in good stead as you grow into the best dog-human training team!
#1 Your Dog has a Built-in Breed Specific Function
Your German Shepherd comes from a long bloodline of working dogs – and that’s true even for our show line Shepherds.
In the case of your GSD, their breed-specific function is dual-purpose…
- Guarding the Shepherd and his sheep.
Assisting the Shepherd with herding his sheep.
In fact, if you consider your GSD’s official name, it reveals their breed-specific function perfectly!
“German” reveals where they originate from. And “Shepherd Dog” indicates that they are bred to work closely alongside the Shepherd.
So don’t be surprised if your GSD sticks to you like velcro and is always up for a training session or a game of some kind.
The bottom line is your German Shepherd wants to be busy.
And so, training serves to fulfill your dog’s breed-specific function and provide the stimulation their intelligent brain needs.
#2 Your GSD is not a Human; your Dog is a Reflection of the Training You Give Them
As humans, we tend to personify everything we love including our beloved dogs.
And in my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with that, with a few caveats…
[+] Our dogs operate on instincts.
If we don’t provide them with the training to make good choices, they will always revert to their instincts.
[+] Our dogs are not people pleasers.
I come across many people who believe that dogs should behave because they love us.
In dog training circles, we call this a “Disney Dog.”
Disney Dogs only exist on the Silver Screen!
And in reality, dogs do what’s reinforcing for them. And this is reflected in their training or lack thereof.
[+] Our dogs can and do react to our behaviors.
Dogs are masters of body language and visual patterns. And they have an uncanny knack for picking up on the most subtle changes in our demeanor and behavior.
Let me explain with an example…
The story starts several years ago in 2015 when my now departed GSD Charley attended one of many therapy sessions after her hip surgery…
And a Staffie named Apollo also had his sessions in the same time slot as my Charley.
Charley and Apollo were never fond of each other for some mysterious reason. And they’d often exchange stares or the odd growl.
One day Apollo strolled past her massage mat. And within a split second, Charley, who has just had hip surgery, jumped up on all fours and started barking madly.
Neither myself nor the therapist saw it coming. But I know that I tensed up when Apollo came strolling by because I knew they weren’t fond of each other.
And looking through the lens of 7 years of experience and formal education, I realize that it was likely because of me that Charley reacted that way.
She responded to my tension, change in body language, and likely even my breathing – and it wasn’t positive.
You may be wondering what you can do to encourage your GSD to respond to you positively.
This brings us to the following golden rule…
#3 German Shepherd Training is about Leadership, not Dominance
Whether you’ve got yourself a GSD puppy or you’re sharing your life with a gray-muzzled senior, your dog looks to you for guidance.
If you think guidance is about establishing yourself as “the alpha,” – please know that this is based on pseudo-science, and it’s not a real thing!
Alpha or dominance training is based on punishment, pain, coercion, and force.
And studies point to a clear breakdown of dog-human relationships based on this type of approach.
It’s a fallout that will most certainly cause your German Shepherd NOT to look to you for guidance!
The most valuable thing you can do to be a good leader for your GSD is to approach training them with kindness and clarity.
Training with kindness and clarity will build trust, safety, and comfort. Creating the perfect trifecta for your GSD to want to look to you for guidance and leadership.
#4 Your GSD Doesn’t Communicate Like a Human
Secretly we all wish that our dogs could speak a human language!
We also know that they don’t come with a pre-installed language program!
Although your Shepherd can’t speak, they can communicate. And as I mentioned earlier, dogs are masters of body language!
If you want to learn more about how dogs communicate using their body language, check out Dog Decoder. It’s available on iOS and Android for a small one-time fee.
With that being said, here are a couple of tips for using words and cues in your German Shepherd training plans…
- Short and sweet cues are more useful than longer phrases.
- Be mindful of your tone and volume. Giving a cue in a different tone or volume can mean the difference between your dog responding or not.
#5 German Shepherd’s Benefit from Consistency
This is true for most things in your German Shepherd’s training…
[+] Consistency in daily training.
And here I recommend doing at least two training sessions per day. Keep them short and sweet – 5 minutes each is plenty!
[+] Consistent boundaries.
I’m a positive reinforcement trainer, but I also believe our dogs should have consistent boundaries.
Positive doesn’t mean permissive!
So if, for example, you prefer your dog not to sleep on the sofa, be consistent.
Sometimes is anytime for a dog! And if you allow it sometimes and other times not, you’ll confuse your dog.
[+] Consistent cues.
Cues are a pretty black and white scenario for dogs. So if you train a cue to mean something, don’t change the cue or the meaning!
So, for example, if you use the cue “come” for your recall, don’t change it to “here.”
Consistency in your German Shepherd’s training will equal harmony and understanding, so it’s worth being mindful of this!
#6 Train Your GSD in Layers
Training your GSD in layers and progressing from easy to intermediate and advanced in logical steps will set both of you up for success!
I’ve written in-depth about this in my M.U.S.T protocol. So here’s I’ll just share a 30,000-foot view…
It all starts with a low distraction and a quiet training area for new behaviors. And progressing to increased distractions as you see your dog’s confidence and understanding grow.
- In the beginning, the correct choice is easy to make for your GSD.
- The correct choice is a little more challenging to make at the next level.
- And finally, the correct choice is tough to make.
In a nutshell, following these steps will:
- Establish your dog’s focus and clarity.
- Protect and grow their confidence.
- Expand their reliability and confidence.
#7 Positive Reinforcement Produces Positive Results
This golden rule really is a culmination of all of the other truths we’ve just looked at.
Science has repeatedly shown that positive reinforcement training builds relationships that drive positive results.
Whereas using punishment-based methods destroy relationships, devastates trust, and slows down learning.
And punishment-based trainers often criticize positive reinforcement training, calling it a bribery system.
But if we’re honest…
No human on earth would work for no pay. So why should our dogs?
Positive reinforcement is a system of payment for a job well done. It starts with food, but as you progress with your German Shepherd’s training, you’ll rely less on food.
Well, through training, there are a host of other experiences that naturally reinforce your dog.
Here are a few…
- Established behaviors in and of themselves become rewards.
- Life rewards like going for a swim, jumping into the car for a ride.
- A game of tug or fetch with you.
- Permission to go off and sniff the shrubs.
Positive Reinforcement 4 x 3 Training
I chose a catchy title for this section because, as you’ll notice, there are a lot of 3’s here!
3 main goals when you use positive reinforcement training…
- Set your GSD up for success.
- Let them know precisely what they did that was successful.
- Reward their success so that it will occur more often.
3-step process to communicate with your dog…
- Observe for the correct behavior.
- Mark the correct behavior.
- Reward for the correct behavior.
3 positive training methods (and when to use them)
This is the easiest of the 3 techniques we use in positive reinforcement training.
It’s easy for both dog and trainer, and it usually produces quick results.
Capturing does require that you have good timing and reflexes.
Think of it as taking a snapshot of a moment in time with your camera.
With this method, you’re reinforcing a spontaneous behavior your dog offers.
A good example is to think about how you’d train your dog to bow on cue.
The easiest way would be in the morning or after a nap, when dogs naturally bow more as a way to stretch out their body.
And here’s how that would look…
Observe – wait for your dog to go into a full bow to stretch.
Mark – use your clicker or verbal marker to let your dog know reinforcement is on the way.
Reward – offer a piece of food.
We use shaping to teach behaviors that need several steps to the goal behavior. It’s also great for teaching precise behaviors.
Shaping is challenging because it requires some planning and understanding of the steps in a behavior.
But as you and your GSD practice, it’ll become like second nature to you both!
In a nutshell, shaping reinforces the small steps your dog takes to a bigger and more complex behavior.
A good example is to shape your dog to get onto a target like a new dog bed.
And you might start by marking and rewarding one paw on. Then two paws on, then three paws on until you have all four paws on the bed.
Here’s what that could look like…
Observe – wait for one paw on the bed.
Mark – use your clicker or verbal marker to let your dog know reinforcement is on the way.
Reward – offer a piece of food.
Once your dog is offering one paw on the target, you raise the criteria and start observing for the next step – two paws on the target.
And so you continue to repeat the training until you have reached the goal behavior – your dog with all four paws on the new target.
The most important thing to remember with shaping is…
Split, don’t lump!
Luring is the most accessible training technique. But it has a few limitations to learning and progress, which I’ll get into shortly.
But suffice to say that luring or lure-reward training suits many dog-human training teams.
It’s also helpful in these situations:
- Distracting environments.
- For dogs who have previously been trained using punishment.
- For dogs with a long reinforcement history of certain behaviors like leash pulling.
In a nutshell, the process prompts the dog into a behavior or position with a piece of food.
And it would look something like this if you were to lure-train a dog to sit…
Observe – lure the dog’s nose up with a piece of food, so their butt hits the ground.
Mark – use your clicker or verbal marker to let your dog know reinforcement is on the way.
Reward – offer the piece of food you lured with.
And as I mentioned, there are some limitations to learning when using lure-reward training…
- Lure-reward training doesn’t promote problem-solving skills.
- Fading the lure is often ignored or done incorrectly.
- Some dog-trainer teams become reliant on the lure.
3 questions to ask before any training session
Preparation and planning are vital before diving into any training session with your German Shepherd.
And these are the 3 questions I encourage all my clients and students to ask themselves…
What are you looking for? – decide what you will be observing to mark.
What rewards will you use? – challenging behaviors need higher-value rewards.
What’s your event marker? – clickers work best for precise behaviors.
One Vital Skill, You and Your German Shepherd, Should Practice
The behavior I’m about to share with you is not the usual behavior people focus on.
And you might be surprised to learn that the behavior we’re going to dive into is…
Or Boop that Snoot, as I like to call it.
And before we dive into the steps, here are some excellent reasons you should add this to your German Shepherd’s training repertoire…
Hand targeting has many practical uses in dog training.
[+] It’s a relationship-building tool.
And suppose you consider my dog coming into my hand and touching their nose to my palm. In that case, you can understand how powerful this behavior is for relationships.
[+] It’s one of 4 foundation games I use to teach puppies how to use their mouth appropriately.
A puppy who can come into your palm with a closed mouth is well on their way to a perfectly soft mouth!
[+] Hand targets are an excellent and easy game to teach a dog how easy it is to earn reinforcement from you.
It builds reinforcement history for working with you, having fun, and gaining reinforcement, all with one game!
[+] Hand targets are a great way to move your dog into a position without touching them and without luring them with food.
This is especially useful when working on loose leash walking or heelwork.
[+] Hand targeting is a valuable way to gauge where your dog is on their arousal scale.
A dog that won’t or can’t move in for a nose to palm touch is likely over threshold, and this is feedback for you to know that your dog needs your help.
3 Steps to Training Your GSD How to Hand Target
- Take a treat, and put it in your right hand.
- Put that hand behind your back.
- Bring your hand out quickly, and open it.
- Let your dog access the treat.
- Repeat with your left hand.
- Put a treat in your left hand.
- Place it behind your back.
- Now bring your right hand out as if there is a treat inside your closed fist.
- Open your right hand with your palm flat.
- Wait for your dog to come flying into your open palm.
- Mark with a Yes! And drop the treat from your left hand into your right hand.
- Repeat with opposite hands.
- Repeat Step One again.
- Then repeat Step Two.
- End the game here.
- Next time, play the game again, starting with step one and then moving to steps two and three.
- Start phasing out step one when you see your dog flying to your open hand when you present it and keeps touching until you mark and reward.
And before I sign off for today, here are a few troubleshooting ideas for dogs who try to bite, lick or “almost touch.”
- Change the position of your open palm and have it just above your dog’s head.
- Once you get the nose touches you like, you can rotate your palm to a position you find more comfortable.
- For a dog who “almost” touches, ensure that your dog is actually touching before your mark and reward.
- And use the concept of shaping – rewarding for a slight touch and then increasing your criteria to reward for a more intense contact.
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I have a 3 yr old well trained male German Shepherd. We are trying to get him to bring the frisbee/ ball back
Instead of dropping it 30 ft away and getting in the herding pose. We’ve tried everything: running away, all kinds of treats and ropes. He loves the pursuit, chases hard, catches the frisbee but only brings it part of the way back.
Can you suggest something?
Good question! Shepherds don’t have natural retrieving instinct but it’s not impossible to teach.
The first thing is I’d reduce the size of the are you’re playing fetch in. So best place is inside and a room with the door closed. Making the space smaller and taking away the option to want you to chase him will help to begin with.
Next have two identical toys to play with and only produce the other one when he’s retrieved the one you threw out. Make it super exciting and fun – the toy I mean.
You may need to play this way for several weeks before taking the game into a larger area.
Another useful thing might be to change whatever cue you’ve been using for getting him to bring the toy back. Replace it with a new one after you’ve done the above steps and before you take the game back into a larger area.
Hope this helps!
Sooo, I recently adopted a Blind totally Untrained male GS. I’ve had GS dogs my entire life and always used hand commands…obviously that won’t work with him lol. What techniques would u recommend?
I’m currently using touch & voice, so far he’s got sit, platz, come & wait…other things I’ve been successful at are all to keep him safe, i.e. left, right, turn, careful, steps…and since I’m the first to ever play with him, his squeaky ball is his fav, so the directional is being nicely reinforced with him finding the ball. He no longer expects to be fed from my plate, but I’m still having trouble with Stay. Drop it is coming along well with the substitution method, but when husband tried to take ball away, he got a growl and snap. We have no history on Tyson, but seems more comfortable around women then men – don’t know how to fix this either.
Any advise you have would be greatly appreciated, thank you. Please email me.
I can touch on some of these points inside our private Facebook group. Thanks for asking these great questions!
This was a helpful article about German Shepherd training. My wife and I would like to get a dog. It would be a lot of fun to get a German Shepherd.
Yes this was A very helpful article, and I’m sure it will help a lot for my German Shepherd training!
Happy it’s of help to you Levi!
My partner and I just picked up our 8 week old long hair GSD puppy about 5 days ago… boy has her personality come out!
She is so sweet and already loves to nap in her crate, knows sit, down, stay and working on place (her crate). We are taking her to puppy socialization classes starting this week and also doing a group puppy training class starting next week.
As on top of things as we feel we are, I have found myself SO emotional this week and almost have the puppy blues. She has started to bark/beg in the kitchen, her teething and nipping is out of control (doesn’t react to the Yelp etc) and she has this thing where when she sees another dog she howls and barks and cries from excitement. We live in NYC where most dogs are so well behaved so I’m almost embarrassed of her behavior and feel like I’m losing control. It’s only been a few days with her and she’s truly a smarty pants but when we have these hours of struggle I start to lose hope. I want to try to nip these behaviors ASAP but also wanted to know if you had advice/thing that this barking at other dogs is something we can control? Living in a city like nyc there is no avoiding contact with dogs and my hope is to be able to take her with us everywhere we go but when she’s behaving this way I feel that will just never be possible.
I so appreciate any and all advice and look forward to hearing from you!
Thanks for sharing some of your situation and for your comment.
Puppy Blues is a thing, and it does sometimes happen where new puppy owners feel overwhelmed. But you’re on the right track with the socialization and group classes.
In terms of barking at other dogs out of excitement, the most important thing to remember is that distance is your friend. In dog training, we call it the critical distance, and it’s the place where you can start working with her. The basic steps are finding that critical distance where she can see the other dog but is not responding in the way you’d like her not to. So calm behavior will signal the critical distance. then you can simply begin to offer her food rewards. This will start conditioning a new emotional response in her. You’re not asking her to do anything – you’re just pairing something good (food) with the visual stimulus (the other dog). If she doesn’t want to take food, make the critical distance bigger until she will take food.
Working at her critical distance will also prevent her from practicing the behavior. And it may mean starting out by you driving to a place where there are other dogs and just sitting in your car practicing the steps detailed above with her.
For bite inhibition training, I rarely use or recommend the yelping method because I’ve found that it often revs puppies up even more. And so I prefer to use games to teach bite inhibition. You can read about my 4 top games for bite inhibition training in this article.
Let me know if you have any other questions and happy training! 🙂
The part of your article that mentioned consistency and why it matters when training dogs was definitely one part that was helpful to read. The last thing I want to happen is that my dog would be let loose thinking that they would behave and they suddenly act aggressively towards my family because we gave the wrong command. I’ll make sure I focus on this aspect of training when I find a dog trainer in the area that can help me train my german shepherd.
Sorry I hit the send button before I was finished. That video is absolutely amazing, but how was it done? Back to my 7 month old female GS. She has begun again chewing things up, the floor, 5 phone chargers, brand new remote carpet. This little girl goes to the dog park twice an week, so she can just run to her hearts content with my 3 year old. I take her outside at least 4 -5 times an day, take short walks in the woods. I am a total loss what to do with her. Lately been training them both to walk beside me with a leash. I had to break down and get a prong collar, she was ABSOLUTELY horrible at pulling on the leash. Sorry I didn’t get all this in the first message.
I replied to your previous comment. Please, please don’t use a prong collar. It’s not worth the damage it’ll do to the relationship with your girl. Check out my previous comment to you and have a look at the program I recommend. Your girl is super smart and needs some targeted structure to her training to help her channel her brainpower and energy in the right direction. You can do this beautifully with force-free training – a prong collar will just break down the relationship and damage her self-confidence over time.
You got this! And feel free to reach out via email if you need some specific support.
I loved reading your article. I have a western shepherd and he understands whole sentences. I can tell him to go to the shop or take brush to the firepit, etc. He knows. Go get brother, he will go get his brother. The weird thing about him is he talks. Is this normal? He not only says the words but seems to know the meaning of them as well. He says HELLO, OWL (if you play too rough), MAMA, NO, UH -HUH and some other things. He is lazy about his walks and my husband has to say, “Come on Oscar!”
Recently, he got his walking gear on and then my husband has to go back into the house for something he forgot. He was in there awhile, and Oscar just staring at the door impatiently, says,” mon!” telling my husband to come on! He watches everything very intently and is a very serious intense dog! He also manipulates situations to get what he wants. I have another one, an eastern shepherd that is smart, but nothing like this boy. Just wondering if it is normal.
Thanks for sharing this refreshing story of your super-intelligent boy! It’s totally normal (with some Sheps). One of mine sounds like he says “come” when he’s ready to play. My other Shep did not do this but was still very, very vocal. It sounds to me like your boy is a “thinker” dog!
What I find so interesting about dogs, in general, is that they have something called a “left-gaze bias” which essentially means they look at the left of the human face first because the left side reflects emotions. The only other mammal on earth that has a left-gaze bias is the human. So it goes to show just how closely canines and humans are connected.
I’d love some tips on how to train my 5 months old German Shepherd puppy named Zeus . I just recently got him and he hasn’t had any training whatsoever.
The only thing he knows for now is his name an he sometimes doesn’t respond to it when I try to train him. He’s also usually too playful during training and doesn’t respond to my efforts.
I’d also like to know how to stop him from jumping and licking my hands everytime I get close to him.
Thanks for your comment and questions.
At 5 months of age your pup still has a lot to learn in terms of how you would like him to live in harmony with you. At his current age, he’s like a sponge and will absorb everything he sees and learns. Even the things you don’t want him to learn.
So I recommend starting now with clicker training and positive reinforcement training which is a fun and force-free way yo train our dogs. Check out an online dog training program that I recommend and use for all my puppies and rescue dogs. It will take Zeus from the most basic things (pre-school) all the way to highly complex behaviors (Einstein).
The thing that makes this program unique is it uses games to tap into the natural intelligence of our dogs and what they learn not only teaches them how to behave but also spills over into other areas of their lives making them problem solvers and also teaches them to look to us for guidance.
I’ve written about my experiences and my opinions of the program in an article on my site and I also had the privilege of interviewing the trainer who developed the program. You can read more about it over here.
In terms of curbing jumping behavior, here is an article with steps that will help with that.
Feel free to let me know if you have any questions while you go through the training.
I’d love some tips on how to train my 5 months old German Shepherd puppy named Zeus . I just recently got him and he hasn’t had any training whatsoever. The only thing he knows for now is his name an he sometimes doesn’t respond to it when I try to train him. He’s also usually too playful during training and doesn’t respond to my efforts.
I’d also like to know how to stop him from jumping and licking my hands everytime I get close to him.
I’ve been planning to purchase a german shepherd puppy so I can raise and train when it’s old enough. That why I’m currently looking for a website that sells german shepherd puppies. When I finally found one, I’ll see to it that I’ll be its guidance so that the chosen german shepherd puppy will see me as a leader when it grows up.
Hi! I’ve just recently rescued a 3 year old German Shepherd and he seems to be a great dog! However because it’s still new and his focus to learn is kind of everywhere. Any tips to help calm his nerves in a new place? And, one more thing, he’s been wonderful w my kids but if they have a toy and he’s wanting to play he snatches it w out them giving consent, one is older but the other two are still toddler so they can’t really train him w out my help.. when he snatches, sometimes he’s using his mouth too much and scaring the kids. How can I help this?
Thanks for your question.
The first thing I recommend is to only allow him around your younger kids and toys when you are around to directly supervise. It’s a good management technique while he learns the “rules of engagement”. Obviously he was poorly trained or not trained at all wherever he was before he became yours.
It might help to set up a gated area using baby gates where he can be separate from your young children when they are playing with toys. But he’ll still be part of the family able to see and hear everything, just not able to snatch their toys. And when you are able to supervise directly, he can roam free and for that time. You should have some toy options available for him and if he tries to take a toy from your younger kids, just gently redirect him to his own toy.
It’s likely that he wants their toys because they are moving and animated, so it’ll help to animate his toys when you distract him and make them super-duper interesting for him. He’s got to learn that his toys are way more interesting than the other toys.
It’ll take time but you can teach him exactly how you want him to play, behave and react – to live in harmony with his humans.
I highly recommend checking out a dog training program I have used for all my dogs and rescues. It’s unique because it uses fun, force-free games to tap into our dogs’ natural intelligence. this not only teaches them how we’d like them to behave but it also boosts the confidence of our dogs. And this is especially helpful for rescue dogs who are often reactive out of fear and uncertainty.
I’d start slowly with this program and let your boy dictate the speed at which you go. This way he’ll be stimulated, growing in confidence and not overwhelmed making it easier for him to learn to focus on you for guidance.
You can read about my experiences with the program here and read an in-depth interview I did with the dog trainer who developed it.
Feel free to drop me any other questions in the comments section, I’m happy to help. 🙂
Greetings. I am in need of any insight you can give. I have a 5 yr old GSD that we rescued 6 months ago. She was intended as a companion to an older dog, as well as a younger dog to play with my children. The first three months were an adjustment including me accepting some of her behavior and needs that I wasn’t thrilled about, but every creature is unique so we did. Then as were well into month 4 with us she began taking food when we were gone or sleeping (butter dish, loafs of bread, etc.) After discipline she would settle down and be fine for a bit, then another week or two later she would do it again. We are at the 6+ month mark and she is continuing this behavior. There have been no obvious triggers, and she even took on a dirty diaper this last time.
We are not happy and I can’t help but wonder if she is happy. Can I give her what she needs? I walk her for at least an hour a day, she is with the most of the time and minimally with another dog (they get along but don’t really play), she is fed well with a grain free food, including supplements of eggs and coconut oil… I don’t have much more time or energy to dedicate to her.
What do you suggest?
Thank you for your comment here.
What you’re describing is typical behavior of a dog that was poorly socialized during the socializing window and quite possibly experienced periods of neglect and lack of food. I could be wrong and yes, there are dogs that have never experienced these negative situations that counter-surf. But usually, with rescues, the cause is a combination of the above.
The reason I’m mentioning this is that I think it’s important to know that her behavior is not an indication of her happiness. But rather a lack of previous training, socializing and possibly neglect.
So to deal with her counter-surfing behavior a good starting point would be to put some temporary management systems in place. These will also be very helpful for you when you need time to focus on and spend with your family, children and household priorities and can’t supervise her directly. And another benefit of these management systems is to stop her from practicing the behavior, since counter-surfing and digging in trash cans is rewarding for dogs when they get hold of food and even a dirty diaper.
I recommend something like tethering her to your body via a leash and belt loop when you can directly supervise her and have time to spend with her and training. An on-leash protocol is a great management and training aid. Then if you’re not able to directly supervise I recommend setting up a gated scenario with baby gates to keep her away from areas where she can access food on counters or trash cans and in fact anything inappropriate that she can potentially chew and find rewarding (like shoes, remote controls etc). This is not about isolating her from the family, she should be able to see and hear everything that’s going on around her, it’s simply a management tool.
Another management tool is to ensure that there is absolutely no food left on the counters. And if there is push it as far back as possible but only if you know she can’t reach that far. If she can reach far back, then definitely make a point of not leaving any kind of food or something she’ll find rewarding if she pulls it off the counter. And keep trash cans behind closed doors if possible.
Coming back to an on-leash protocol this is a great way to train your girl to learn that keeping all 4 paws on the ground makes good things happen. So I’d keep a part of her daily food ration handy and randomly scatter feed her on the ground. Do this in all areas of the house, including the kitchen, as she goes with you wherever you go.
Over time and with a lot of practice she’ll learn the concept that keeping all 4 paws on the ground is the best way to make good things happen. Coupled with good management so she doesn’t practice the counter-surfing will do the trick.
My rescue Lexi used to counter-surf when she first became part of our family, which was 3.5 years ago and she no longer does the behavior. Although I do make a point of still not leaving anything within her reach.
I hope this helps.
Feel free to drop any other questions you have in the comments. 🙂
So we have Zeus..
My boyfriend and I got him when he was 8 weeks old, over the first few months of his life he was moved from my home to my boyfriend’s. Back and forth. His home had a lot of people around, and thankfully Zeus was very much socialized and still is. He has moved in with me, which of course brought Zeus to my home. I have a 12 year old and my disabled mother lives with me as well. He is only 10 months old, does not have any dog aggression, my mom has two cats that he likes to chase or let them rub on him depending on his mood. He does like to bark at them and chase them from time to time but they always seem to check him. I also have a 3 year old Chiweenie that he adores and let’s “beat up” on him. A friend of mine and her husband regularly bring their adult pit bull over to play also. So literally no animal aggression.
My issue is that he is overly aggressive when some people visit. One instance was my mother, who is wheelchair bound, had a friend over for a couple hours, pet him, no issues. He leaned to give her a hug when he was leaving and Zeus bit him. Another, she was leaving for an appointment and her friend that always gives her a ride, came back in the house by himself to grab her manual wheelchair, he also plays with Zeus regularly, once he grabbed the chair, he bit him. He protects my mother, which is good in some situations. Both of these were not those times.
If we have people over that Zeus is not familiar with, he will lunge, and almost stalk them and bark, to which I’m scared will lead to attacking.
My concern is how to correct the behavior so he knows the difference between bad company and good. I try to correct in the moment and talk calmly and “pet them” and say it’s ok, for reassurance but it does not help. He will warm up to these people but any sudden movements and he’s at it again. I want to be able to train him so this isn’t an issue and I don’t have to put him away when we have company. Any advice is welcomed. I would even like to see if there are places in my area that can help. He’s such a loving, social dog in any other situation. When we take him back to my boyfriend’s old house, people come and go and he doesn’t react. He doesn’t react outside of my home, unless you touch one of us. In the home, if he doesn’t know you once you enter, he will circle, bark and intimidate them.
I should add, that he is not aggressive to any children. My daughter regularly plays with him, his old home had a two year old that he still enjoys seeing and loving on when we take him over there. My daughter also has a flurry of friends that come and go, he loves children.
It’s just certain adults that come in to his space that I’m having issues with correcting.
Thanks for your question and comment.
Personally I wouldn’t allow anyone to hug my dogs. Although we humans see this as a friendly gesture, most dogs don’t. Yes, I hug my dogs and they are fine with that, but I would discourage anyone else from doing the same. Regardless of whether a dog likes or loves a friend or guest, we should dissuade people from invading our dog’s personal space.
In terms of age, Zeus is now in his adolescent stage in which he’ll mature sexually and socially. It’s in this stage that some dogs have a second fear period (the first one being at 8 to 10 weeks). In this second fear period dogs can become “fearful” of familiar and unfamiliar things, even if they are well socialized like Zeus is.
As I mentioned this fear period is linked to sexual maturity. And in the wild, wolves in their adolescent stage start partaking in hunts with the pack so you can understand how this fear period is essential for survival. Although our dogs are not wolves, they still have this wiring.
So keeping this in mind it’s understandable that reactivity levels will increase and that a dog will display defensive, protective and territorial behaviors.
That being said, it’s important for us as dog owners to realize and accept that our dogs have limits and boundaries where they are comfortable and calm. And just like us, if someone oversteps that boundary a dog will react. Some dogs have much broader limits than others so it’s a very individual thing. Young puppies are usually not phased by this, but by the time dogs become adolescents they are less tolerant of the unfamiliar like in Zeus’ case someone other than his immediate humans hugging him or coming into your home without one of you present.
The best you can do for Zeus is to help him be more relaxed and confident through training. And to help other folks respect his boundaries by educating them on what they can and can’t do with Zeus.
If you want to help Zeus to be less reactive to new visitors (triggers) you can work on counter-conditioning and desensitizing him. But keep in mind that he’ll still have boundaries that you as his owner will need to ensure people from outside don’t overstep.
You can follow these steps to help Zeus be more calm with visitors. But the key is to start slowly and at a distance. Also, while you’re working on this, it’s a good idea to prevent him from practicing the circling, barking behavior. This will be temporary management and I’d recommend keeping him on a harness and leash to prevent the circling.
To help with the barking, check out this article for easy steps to teach the quiet/bark command. You might need to teach a focus cue too if Zeus gets so intense that he no longer listens.
When your boy is not reacting or if he’s just about to react (but hasn’t) offer him a high-value reward.
Do this every time, even if you misjudge the moment and he reacts. The idea is that over time the trigger (guests) predicts the reward.
After a while, wait and see if he looks to you for a reward.
Then mark that with a click or ‘yes’ and give him a treat. Now the treat comes for looking to you when he sees or hears a trigger.
Be persistent and be prepared for things to go slowly you should notice less reactions to his triggers.
I also recommend getting into clicker training and boosting Zeus’ confidence through training. I’ve written extensively about a program I’ve used for all my dogs – rescues and pups. It’s unique because it uses games to tap into our dog’s natural intelligence and teach them what we want more of. Focusing on teaching what we do want naturally reduces the behaviors we don’t want.
Here’s my in-depth review of the program I have used for several years and still do today. There’s also an excellent interview I did with the dog trainer who created the program.
Feel free to drop any other questions you have in the comments, I’m always around and happy to help.
Thank you for your response! I should clarify that the friend hugged my mom and not Zeus. I will also get a “clicker” and work with him.
He is still learning quickly, I did teach him a new trick over the weekend in 24 hours. He’s very eager so I have great hope he will be open to correction. Thank you again!
Oh, I see, so Zeus really is super protective of his humans. And he sounds super smart!
Definitely get a clicker. But you can even start by using a clicky pen until you get a clicker.
Check out this article on how to get started with clicker training.
Hi! I recently got a beautiful 10 month female, she had a home before me but they didn’t realize the amount of energy she would have. They kept her in the house and played with her rarely. She did have a doggy door so could go outside whenever she liked. I have had her for a week now but she seems very strong headed. I have so far got her to come but she seems to think that means come for one second and dash off. She is super sweet and cuddly. I have trained quite a bit of dogs. But holy moley she’s a hard one. I’m using positive reinforcement. I have a border collie who’s 12 weeks and can do about 20 tricks. But no matter what I do “Bia” (German Shepard) does not seem to pay attention enough. I have tried the run it out method where I go on a jog with her then train. Treats, toy, and even just solo. Her attention is shorter than I’ve ever seen a dog. I truly need help Becuase is love for her to respect me. She is a truly sweet dog but im all out of ideas!
Thanks for your comment and question.
You could chalk up Bia’s short attention span to the fact that she’s being exposed to things totally new to her. Especially if you consider that she was deprived of activity, human contact, and stimulation in her past. Essentially she’s experiencing now what she should have done as a puppy but didn’t because of her circumstances.
It’s great that you’re into positive reinforcement! Such an excellent way to work with dogs! So the first thing I recommend is to make yourself the most interesting thing in Bia’s environment. I know, this is no easy feat but it is possible with games.
If you’re keen to explore this kind of approach, check out the article I wrote on a dog training program I’ve used extensively for all my rescues and puppies. It’s unique because it uses games to tap into our dog’s natural intelligence. This, in turn, keeps them engage and excited to learn. Since you’re already pretty experienced with training, you’ll come across some stuff in the program you already know. But Adrienne is great at showing how to use games with positive reinforcement to transform dogs.
I was also fortunate that Adrienne gave some of her time to answer a few questions which I’ve shared on my site. You can check out my experiences with the program and the interview I did with Adrienne here.
Give me a shout if you have any questions about it. Or feel free to drop me an email. You can find my email address here.
I’d like to ask for an advice regarding my 7 year old GSD. For 7 years, he was put inside a cage, without training. Although he is a very good boy, I can tell that he wants to go out of his cage. So, I did let him out.
However, when I was about to put him back in, he resisted. And now, I’m planning to have him trained.
Can a 7 year old GSD still be trained despite his age?
Thank you for your comment.
Yes absolutely! A dog can be trained at any age using the right techniques and positive reinforcement training. I highly recommend looking into training your boy using clicker training and food rewards. Here’s an article to get you started on clicker training.
This guide on how to crate train a German Shepherd will tie in with the clicker training method in the article I shared above. So definitely check it out.
For even more intensive training using positive reinforcement, check out this dog training program I have used to train all my dogs, including my older rescues.
Drop any other questions you have in the comments, I’m happy to help.
Hi. I have a 3 year old German shepherd. She’s a great dog, except for one alarming flaw…. when we got her as an 8 wk old puppy my daughter was almost 3 years old (she’s be 6 soon). Nala (our GSD) has gotten along pretty well with her, and my husband. However, almost 2 years ago we welcomed our son into our family as well. Nala is okay with him (my son) until she’s not. If she comes up to him she’ll lick his face, hands, etc. and she’s alright with him, but if he goes up to her to pet her and give her kisses she growls at him!! She’ll even growl if she comes up and lays next to us during story tune and he tries to pet her. I’m at a loss on went she acts so differently to the same person. She didn’t start acting like this until he started walking. She is like that with me sometimes too. I can love on her when she wants, but don’t come up to her and want to pet her…. she’ll growl at me too (it’s even worse if she’s around my husband…. whom she seems to be more closely bonded with). She doesn’t do this with my husband or daughter. Any thoughts? I’m the one who does a lot of training with her, takes her on walks, grooms her, etc. It feels like she doesn’t respect me. She’s growled at my son and I, raised her hackles at us, and on rare occasions bared her teeth. What should I do?
Thank you for your question.
If I was in your shoes, my first step would be to enlist the help of a positive reinforcement trainer who specializes in behavior issues to work with Nala one-on-one. A professional will be able to get to the root cause of why Nala is acting out in this way.
Especially because you have young children, I think it’s essential to get someone on board who’s qualified and can do face-to-face work at your home.
Hi Firstly , this website is great and very informative. I have a beautiful 3.5 year old GS boy called Hugo. He’s very affectionate with family and extremely clever. In the park off the leash he likes nothing more than chasing squirrels and fetching the ball. He obeys all the basic commands as well as some more advanced ones, however there is an issue which he has, where sometimes he will have a protective bark at people he knows (namely my uncles who have their morning walks and come over to say hello). They do not behave in an aggressive manner towards me or him and I do command him ‘quite’ in advance. Can you possibly shed some light why he would behave like this and what I could do to stop this behaviour turning into a negative trait. Just for clarification he fine with other dogs in the park and people generally walking around.
Thanks for your comment.
German shepherds are naturally territorial and if you consider the fact that dogs have poor detailed vision, it’s likely that your boy doesn’t recognize them as they are approaching. Dog’s use their senses in this order: scent, hearing and then sight. So it might be useful if you ask your uncles to great you loudly while approaching to give your boy the opportunity to recognize them.
And if you want to make use of the quiet command, check out this article which gives detailed steps of how to teach the speak/quiet command.
Hope this helps, let me know if you have any other questions.
I would love some advice with our GSD. He is 2 and a half. We took him in when he was 8 months old. His previous owner apparently beat him into submission and Max was very timid but rambunctious. He walks on a leash beautifully and sits on command. Recently however he started challenging us and doing this closed mouth growling. We have 5 children and recently moved and I think it may have something to do with that. We kenneled him (in a dog run) and my husband started only letting him out to walk on the leash and obey commands. Max wouldn’t even let me near the kennel unless I had treats and wouldn’t let me pet him. Yesterday however, a storm came up, he broke out of the pen and was whining to come inside. I let him in, he followed me around leaning on me, and even let me brush him. Is this a fluke thing because of the storm, do we keep working with him? Our first GSD was a rescue as well but we never had this issue with him.
He was also never beaten. We started the process of rehoming Max because we felt like we couldn’t trust him around the children. Unfortunately, rehoming a GSD is hard. Too many get the cute puppy and give them up when they become a challenge. I would love to rebuild that trust, but it seems like everything i read talks about the importance of puppy training and not imprinting negative reinforcement. Is it too late for Max? Has his previous owner ruined him or can we rebuild this relationship and trust him around our children?
Thanks for your comment.
I’ll start by saying that it’s not too late for Max. Sure, he had a horrible start but I speak from experience when I say that even a dog who was beaten can heal and learn to trust again. My GSD Charley came from a similar background and in the 5 years before she passed away, she made great strides in healing and trusting again.
I’d say that Max’s reaction to the storm and looking for comfort with you suggests that he might still be “finding his paws” in his new environment. Although it could also be in part because he’s sensitive to bad weather. Has he ever acted this way before during a storm?
Either way, the fact that he looked to you to help him sooth is a great sign that a bond of trust is forming. So I would say that continuing to work with him is the way to go.
With Charley, I did a lot of work to get her to trust me. In the beginning, she’d bark, growl and bear her teeth. And would hardly let me touch her. But over time and with much love and patience she learned that no one was going to hurt her again. Although, she did have some limitations in that there was a certain “look” in men that would make her flip. I suspected that this build, voice and general “look” was similar to her abuser.
But I learned to manage those situations. And got very good at just telling the person “could you move away from my dog please.” Max is much younger than Charley was when she became mine, so only time will tell if Max can overcome it all or whether he’ll still be cautious.
For starters though, I would remain cautious with Max around your kids if you’re not comfortable yet. Perhaps allow interaction with one child at a time since Max might be feeling overwhelmed. And then also only allow interaction if there is direct supervision from you or your husband and preferably some barrier to prevent accidental bites.
It might be useful if you let one child approach Max while he is inside his run and just let them reward him with treats for good, calm behavior. Even if they just toss the treat inside the run as opposed to offering it by hand. This will help Max learn that good things happen when the kids are around. Of course, this is assuming his run is set up with a fence so that he can’t accidentally bite.
If there’s no fence, or his run is open in a way that he can still accidentally bite, then I would not do this.
Secondly, please check out an online dog training program I highly recommend. It’s one I used extensively to work with Charley. And I still use it today for my other dogs too. The program is unique because it taps into our dog’s natural intelligence and uses games to teach dogs how to make the right choices. The program uses only positive reinforcement training which is kind and force-free (and based on science).
I wrote about the program in-depth here. And I also shared an interview I had with the trainer, Adrienne. Here’s my question and what she said about taking a dog who’s had bad experiences into the world of positive reinforcement training:
I recently had an email from a dog owner who wants to make the switch from punishment-based training (he’s used shock collars, alpha rolls and flooding to name a few techniques) to positive reinforcement.
Understandably, this guy feels a deep sense of regret. And the concern is that from his dog’s perspective the trust is gone and that there is no chance of fixing what’s been broken.
Q: Is it possible to make the switch in the dog’s mind from one of being afraid to explore behaviors (and possibly afraid of the owner too) and performing out of fear to one of openness like you mentioned earlier?
Absolutely! And the change is one of the most rewarding experiences dog owners get to witness with their dogs. Of course, the process takes time, but as days unfold, tentative dogs starting coming out of their shell and the changes are quite remarkable.
In particular, clicker training and free-shaping – which are both covered in the Brain Training for Dogs course – create a great foundation for tentative dogs in need of learning to offer new behaviors and transform them into enthusiastic learners.
And the best part of all, the increased trust and bonding that results as a “side effect” from these methods is the greatest perk for dog owners.
If you’re new to positive reinforcement or clicker training, or you need a refresher, please check out this article on clicker training to get you into the game.
Then lastly, if you find that progress from your efforts has flatlined, it might be worth enlisting the help of a professional dog behaviorist. Especially when it comes to how Max interacts with your children.
And feel free to drop any other questions in the comments, or email me if you prefer.
Hi thank you so much for this feed and article
I’m out in Spain and rescused a 10 month German Shepard puppy…I have always wanted one and she is special
She’s called tala
I believe she was left tied up a lot before and Hates bring left alone
She’s by my side every where
We mountain hike
She’s very protective of me
She sits and comes and waits no problem
However If someone walks past the caravan she doesn’t know she will bark growl chase
And make herself look like a scary dog
When she is not
I know it’s her guard dog genes
But I don’t want her terrifying children
I was thinking I need to sit out side with her, wait till people pass if she doesn’t react badly then reward her? But she’s more chilled if I’m sat with her I think, any other training tips to help with this problem? X
Thanks for your questions. And thank you for opening your heart to this amazing breed!
Yes, you’re certainly on the right track with your plan to desensitize and counter-condition Tala.
Since she has had such a bad past with being tied up all the time and obviously never being trained I also highly recommend starting a training program with her. This will help her learn what you do want and over time un-learn the unwanted behaviors that she’s developed.
Check out this program I recommend and use for my own dogs whether they are rescues or not. The program focuses on the natural intelligence of dogs and along with games teaches them how to live a calmer life.
It teaches dogs to become problem solvers and also look to their owners for guidance, these are both great skills for any dog to have, especially if they come from less-than-ideal circumstances like Tala did. In the article I have done a thorough review of the program and also did an in-depth interview with the dog trainer who developed this method of training. The program will take Tala from pre-school training all the way to Einstein abilities.
Please feel free to drop me any comments or emails with other questions you have, I’m happy to help where I can.
We live in Australia and we have a 3 year old male, neutered, GSD and have had him since he was 12 weeks old. He came to us with some medical problems and as a result was unable to be socialised until he was 6 months, at which time we took him to obedience training, the first 2 courses he excelled but as he progressed in with the older dogs he became totally focused on the other dogs and almost uncontrollable. All the trainers said hes a GSD and they take a lot longer to train. We persisted then at the suggestion of the dog club switched to agility training which he loved until it came time to train off lead…. needless to say this was a disaster.
he is a loving dog and very obedient unless he sees another dog and when walking him its almost impossible to hold him back a she rears up, gets his hackles up and appears very aggressive to any other dog he sees no matter how close.
reading your article has given us a few suggestions re barking and focus but how can i tell if he is a danger to other dogs or just wants to play? No one will bring their dog near to test it out and to be honest it worries me that they might. Any ideas? (When we fist went to training he was attacked by an American pit bull in the free run area, so much so that my husband had to kick the other dog to make it let go of Zeus’ throat)
Thanks for your comment.
I’m so sorry Zeus had that terrible experience with that Am Pit when he was younger. I truly hope the owner was reprimanded by the trainer in charge for losing control of their dog. In my opinion, people like that really shouldn’t have dogs. If a dog behaves inappropriately in that way the fault is always with the owner because that dog should not have been off-leash to begin with.
When I read the part about Zeus being attacked by another dog, his current behavior makes sense. It happens often that when a dog is aggressively attacked by another dog that they develop aggression towards other dogs in the future. The fact that he was socialized later could also be a factor but in my opinion, if it plays a role, it’s only a small one. I think the dog attack is the main driving factor in Zeus’ reactiveness.
And if your hubs had to step in the way he did to protect Zeus at that moment, there’s no doubt in my mind that Zeus was in trouble. In my opinion, throat hits in that kind of scenario are akin to “kill hits”. In play it’s different but this was no playing matter.
In dog’s that have been attacked this way, their fight, flight or freeze response is kicked into overdrive. And after that, even if they are not in real danger, their sympathetic nervous system that controls the fight, flight or freeze response doesn’t see it that way. So for Zeus another dog = imminent danger.
Read this article on PTSD in a doggy after a dog attack. I’m not saying that Zeus definitely has PTSD but he could possibly have developed Post Traumatic Symptoms from the attack.
My advice to you is to work with a professional behaviorist that employs only positive reinforcement methods to work with Zeus one-on-one. Desensitizing and counter-conditioning Zeus to other dogs is important here. Changing neural pathways and creating new responses to dogs is possible with the help of an experienced professional. And because you’re not sure whether he’ll actually act out on what looks like aggression, working with a professional is the safest option. Working with a professional is the best way to bring Zeus’ sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems back into balance.
I hope my answer is of some help to you, even if only to set your mind at ease that helping Zeus is possible.
Enjoyed reading your suggestions
I inherited my brothers 12 month old female shep. she is now 15 months- she jumps on me alot- how to I stop this behavior- we received her with better manners than what she has now developed.
also I notice- she is unsure about my older son- she will bark or get scared- want to stop this behavior immediately. He doesnt’ interact w/her alot as he works, etc. I appreciate and value your opinion.
Thanks for your question and kind comment, I’m pleased you’re finding value here.
So if your girl is a little rusty on her manners, that’s easy enough to fix. Like us humans, if they don’t practice they can start enjoying unwanted behaviors.
Check out this article on jumping and fun ways you can stop it from happening.
To help your girl get more comfortable with your son, you could do something simple like placing an old piece of his clothing on her bed. If he’s not around a lot due to work commitments, this can help her get used to his scent.
Also, when he is around, getting him to play her favorite game with her or even get him to play with her and one of her best toys. Also, if he’s willing, getting him involved in some positive reinforcement training with her will help to build a bond between them.
If you’re new to the world of positive reinforcement training, check out this article on clicker training to see how easy it is to get started.
Hope these tips help. Feel free to drop me more questions in the comments, I’m happy to help. 🙂
Hello! We have recently adopted a 5 month old. He came from a breeder and we didnt recieve much background information on him. He took to me very well from the beginning. But absolutely will not go to my husband and everytime he sees my husband or mu children he seems to get really anxious and starts panting and whining. I’m not sure what to do. I’ve slowly introduced my children to him one at a time. Ages are 2 5 and 7. He does well individual but if we are all around he gets super anxious. I am wondering if there is anything specific I should be doing to help him get closer to us.?? So I can begin to train him. He is house trained but absolutely refuses to come inside untill later in the evening when everyone has settled down
Thanks for reaching out with your comment. And congrats on the new pup!
It sounds to me like your new guy might have had previous bad experiences with kids and or grown men. And this is triggering him and taking him over his current threshold.
The fact that he’s waiting it out until everyone is settled, gives me this idea too.
But you’re on the right track in working to introduce your children to him one at a time. And you should continue with this.
Here’s an article that you might find useful which talks about triggers and thresholds. It helped me a lot many years ago when I worked with my rescue GSD, Charley. She had similar issues with kids and adult males. She was 5 years old when she became mine.
It’s okay if he only chooses to come inside once everyone has settled. Keep encouraging him and make a big fuss with lots of treats when he does choose to come inside. It’s a great way to show him that coming inside is a good thing and that you love his choice.
I also recommend checking out an online training program that I have used for my dogs over the years. It’s great for any dog, but it’s especially useful for dogs that have some previous negative experiences.
The trainer who developed the program uses games as a way to train dogs, so the focus is on using their natural intelligence to help them learn the things we want them to do. I’ve found that my other rescue, Lexi has made amazing strides using this method. She was so petrified when she came to me that she would not allow any physical contact. Now she’s lovable and seeks it out.
I wrote a full review of the program and also did an in-depth interview with the trainer who developed it.
I hope this helps. Feel free to drop any more questions in the comments.
I hae a GSD who over the past 2 years has become very possessive of me. If my kids or my husband look like they are getting close to me he growls and goes towards them. A week ago my daughter came to tell me goodnight and he lunged at her feet and bite her. I am very concerned that he is going to end up biting somebody and doing some serious damage to them. Help
Thanks for your comment.
This does sound like a serious problem especially if your boy is lunging to bite. This possessiveness can stem from many things. But to be honest, since he’s already lunging to bite, I recommend getting a dog behaviorist that uses positive reinforcement, to work with him.
And for the time being until you find a professional to work with, you might want to consider using something like baby gates as barriers so that when you’re spending time with your kids, your boy is not able to lunge at them. It’s a temporary fix to avoid injuries. But it still allows him to be inside with the family and not isolated since isolation is not good for our highly social canine friends.
Hi. I have a 10 month old female shepherd .Ive been training in tracking and HR. She doesn’t really care for HR much ,but enjoys tracking .as a matter of fact she is so depressed when she isn’t working . Was wondering what’s a good age to start training in tricks and will it interfere with her desire to track? (We are tracking Search and Rescue ).her obedience is far still needs more dog exposure . all she wants to do is play . she is not fixed and looks just like your dog on the video. Gorgeous 🙂 How do you learn to train on walking on back feet and going upstairs backwards .LOL I guess all of it ,and how long does it take to train in this . she would do great with this add attraction as we have to work around kids quit a bit .
You can start training tricks at any age. And I don’t believe it’ll interfere with her desire to track.
The most effective way would be to get involved in a canine conditioning group in your area.
Looking for advice. A large female german shepherd came up to our house. She was injured and we took her in. We’re keeping her in a kennel and letting her out a few times a day because she wants to tear our back door down to come in! I want to start training her but am feeling very unsure since I don’t know her background. She’s not very affectionate but not aggressive either. Any thoughts?
Thanks for your question. Your girl is so lucky to have come across you!
It’s tough when we don’t know the background of a dog that’s come into our lives. From what you describe, she likely suffers from separation anxiety which comes from her past. She might have been locked in a crate or a room for way longer than she should have. Hence the reason she wants to break down your door.
If you’re not sure where to start training I highly recommend checking out my review of Brain Training for Dogs. It’s a program I use for all my dogs. I love the program because it taps into a dog’s natural desire to work and stimulates their brains which supports learning new and appropriate behaviors. And the trainer, Adrienne is one of my dog training idols.
Check out my review and let me know if you have any questions, I’m happy to help.
She protects my husband but is aggressive with my son and I when my husband is home….. and fine with us when he’s at work.
We have a 17 month old female GSD, we all love her very much but we have a huge problem. When my husband isn’t home she’s loving and cuddles and listens so well. When my husband comes home she becomes angry, nips and growls at everyone but him. They have a bond created by him training her but after her 1st heat last month she has become this overly aggressive and protective dog but only with my husband…… I don’t know what to do because we love her so much!
Thanks for your comment.
My first thought is to have her checked out by her vet. If this started happening after her first heat there might be some underlying health issue. The second thing to understand is that the GSD is ultra loyal. I mean all dogs are loyal, that’s why they are man’s best friend, but loyalty is one of the German Shepherd’s outstanding traits.
If she’s being aggressive, and it’s frightening, you folks might want to consider getting a dog behaviorist in to help. But you can also try and work with your dog…
Usually I recommend one person to train a dog. Which is happening in this case. But I also recommend that other members of the household work with their dog. Not to train but to practice what’s already been taught. This is important so that your dog can build a bond with you and your son. If she’s being aggressive when your hubby is around, the best thing is for you and your son to practice with her when he’s not around since you say that’s when she’s open and ready to listen. Just so that she’s not fixated on him. Building a bond with her will help her look to you for guidance and that will set her at ease.
When I say practice, I mean setting up training session and making them fun and engaging. Have high value treats and go ‘all-out’ to build and entrench a deep bond.
Another thing to keep in mind is that dogs feed off our energy. Like I detailed in this article about dogs being a reflection of us. Check out the situation I had with my dog Charley to get a better idea of what I mean. If you (especially you) are tense or anxious when you hubby is around, your dog will feel that and react to it. So work on being confident but of course still kind and loving.
If there are no health issues or my suggestions don’t work, don’t take chances. Get a dog behaviorist in to work with your dog in your home one-on-one.
Hope this is helpful. 🙂
Hi, I need urgent help. Our German shepherd – Zizi – is 4 years old. She is a wonderful family dog and we love her very much. We are however having problems with her over-protectiveness. Our family is made up of myself, my husband and two small daughters (8 months and 3 years). When it is just us at home she is calm and happy and won’t bark. She adores our children. However, the moment anyone else tries to come close to our house she goes mental. She barks terribly and I do fear that she will bite our visitors. It’s a daily battle. We live on a farm in Namibia therefore we constantly have people moving around. There are two houses in the Farm yard, ours and then my in-laws. One part of the problem we struggle with is that if mom or sisters come to our house – Zizi will bark terribly and be threatening but Zizi goes to their house all the time and they play with her and there she won’t then bark at them at all. She therefore barks and threatens people she sees daily and knows very well – but only when she is at our house and they enter her territory. I have tried several methods, treats, getting her to sit, even throwing sticks for her to fetch, telling her to lie down in her bed but it seems like she feels the need to protect me and the girls when my husband is not around. I am firm with her but don’t shout as this makes it worse. We have even tried to get the Farm workers to walk around with treats so that she will rather go to them and sit for a treat rather than bark. Lately I have even put sticks around so that they can play with her as they are doing their work. She follows all commands easily when the kids and I am alone with her. When my husband is around her behaviour is completely normal. Ever since our first daughter was born she has been protective but it seems much worse now that our second daughter came home. I worry if my daughter has friends over, I worry when I have guests because I don’t feel like she listens to me and therefore I have very little control. Like I mentioned earlier, when she is with us at home she has the most gentle temperament. It seems to be that she feels a huge sense of having to look after us and that puts her on edge. How can I help her and improve the situation.
Thanks for question.
Sounds like you’ve got a lot going on there. As you already know the GSD is very territorial and protective. Some more than others. But there are things you can do to try and minimize this tendency.
With dogs there are triggers and thresholds that play a role in how well they are able to calm down and listen. Please check out my article on these triggers and thresholds. In the article you’ll also find the steps I use to teach focus in dogs. Here’s the link to the triggers and thresholds article.
Another thing I highly recommend is working to desensitize and counter-condition Zizi to the things/people that cause her to bark when they are on her territory. This kind of training does take time but it works well to curb barking behavior. Here’s a link to my article on how to curb barking.
Another way is to get visitors to engage in a game with Zizi and not just give treats. An easy game that doesn’t take much work on their part is the nose touch or targeting game. I detailed the steps in an article I wrote. The article is actually about a training program I reviewed but in the article I give the step-by-step process of teaching the nose touch game from the training program.
Just scroll down to Lesson One – Targeting. I also included a video I made with my dog Zeze on how to teach this game.
Once Zizi knows this game, you can encourage your visitors to engage with her in this game when they arrive. This could be a big help to get her mind calm and off her focus on feeling the need to be so protective.
It’s worth mentioning that although there are things like what I suggested already that you can do to reduce Zizi’s tendency to be so protective, keep in mind that being protective is part of her personality and it might not be possible to change this completely. In this case you’ll need to be prepared in any event.
The other option you could consider is working with a professional dog training on a one-on-one basis.
I hope this helps. Please feel free to drop any other questions in the comments here, or in the comments of the other articles I’ve suggested.
I have a GSD×collie puppy. We’ve spent everyday together since he was 7 weeks old. Since I’ve been at home and it’s been winter I haven’t had any reason to go out much so he has developed some kind of seperation anxiety. He can happily sit in his crate while I’m home but as soon as I leave he freaks out. Even if I leave him at home with my husband he will look for me/my car for hours.
How do people who are able to spend their time with their dog also have healthy relationship where the dog can get on fine without them? I’ve been told to drop him off at doggy day care so he can have fun without me- is it really that simple?
Thanks for your question.
It’s not uncommon for dogs to develop separation anxiety when they are closely bonded to their owner. It doesn’t always happen but it can.
doggy daycare might help him to have fun without you. But it’s not likely to calm him when he’s left home and you’re out. You can work with him on this yourself or you can get a positive dog trainer in to help you. I’ve gotten so many questions about separation anxiety lately, that I’m going to write up a plan for owners to work on it.
I’ll drop a link here once it’s done so you know where to find it.
I rescued a white “lab mix” 5 month old puppy in July 2017. With love and good food she’s grown into a definite white shepherd. Your article is very helpful,and she isn’t my first stubborn baby but my first shepherd. She sits well but she jumps…not rough but still jumps up on me even when I turn my back…I’m at a loss. What can I do?
Thanks for dropping your comment here.
I’m almost done with an article where I share my tips on how to deal with jumping in a positive way. Should be published by tomorrow. I you can hang on until then, I’ll drop a comment here with a link so you can check it out.
I’m so sorry, I totally forgot to drop the link to my article on jumping here for you to check out. Here it is… How to stop a German Shepherd from Jumping on You.
My German Shepherd puppy is now 7 months old and he jumps up on you repeatedly when you come outside. I believe he’s trying to hug/love but he is strong at 80 pounds that we can’t hardly handle him especially my daughter whose dog it is. He has also started trying to grab your ankles and play nip almost to where you can’t walk. He has learned his name , sit, without treats and stay for the most parts with treats. He responds to a stern voice so that’s what we use but we can’t get him to learn come drop or down. Can you give us any suggestions on how to make him stop jumping up on us? He is as tall as my shoulders when he jumps up and I’m 5’5. Vet says he’s not through growing yet. My daughter wants to play with him but she can’t since he almost knocks her down when jumping up to love and she is 5’2. Suggestions or tips?
Thanks for your comment.
I have 2 methods for dealing with jumping. I’ll share them both with you but from what you’re told me about his size compared to you and your daughter I recommend going with the second method…
Make like a tree. This means literally standing dead still. No eye contact, no speaking, no attention whatsoever. It’s probably the most difficult method but it works well. I’ve had to wait 20 minutes once for a dog to stop jumping. The theory behind it is that if you give no attention he will eventually stop jumping once he sees he’s not getting the attention he usually does.
But the one that works for most folks is making sure their dog keeps all 4 paws on the ground. This is much easier than the first method. It does mean you’ll need to have treats with you at all times until the new behavior is taught. The theory is that to enjoy the treats he must be standing on his 4 paws. He can’t eat those treats if he’s jumping. With this method you must make sure to drop the treats before he jumps or you’ll reinforce the jumping. But if he does jump just do the tree method until he stops and then drop the treats.
I hope this is helpful. Let me know if you have more questions.
What a great article. My 14 month old can be very unenthusiastic and worried about things even when praise is offered lavishly. I spend lots of time working on obedience training, she’s engaged and learns quickly. Almost to quickly since if I do anything wrong it takes 10 times the effort to fix it. This unenthusiastic behavior even involves kibble which I try to make her earn since she won’t eat if I just set it on the floor in her bowl. My question is how do I get my GSD to be more excited about “working” with me?
Thanks for your question. It’s a good one!
I can relate to your experience. My male is 4 now and he’s got medium drive. I found a few things worked for us.
I try make myself more animated. I want to be the most interesting thing in his environment. So I try to use my voice and body posture to keep him engaged in the training session. Your girl is a worrier so you might have to read the situation. If it makes her more stressed then it might not be a good fit.
Also, his sessions are much shorter than the sessions with my other dogs. If I keep going too long for him he totally checks out of training. And I try to make sure I stop the session before he checks out. Always end on a high note.
Another thing you can try is to figure out if there are other food treats she sees as higher in value than the ones you’re currently using. There’s a little experiment I shared in this article on how dogs learn.
And there’s always the option to try using toys as rewards instead.
I hope this helps you 🙂
I just took in a year old white german Shepard. I do not think his last family did much with him. I have had him for 2 weeks, my main issue is I have 2 huskys. The oldest of the 2 does not tolerate him, the younger one is ok until he becomes relentless about playing and biting. Then she gets mad. He plays rough with people every time he starts playing rough I misdirect him with a toy, but when it comes to the younger husky he just won’t stop until we put them into separate rooms. I know he still has a lot to learn. He knows sit, and I am working on down he is doing ok with that. But not sure how to deal with his crazy obsession with the you get husky.
Thanks for your question here.
It sounds like your boy is over his threshold and might training work on focus. Which makes sense when you think about how he probably got zero training or stimulation in his previous situation. Everything is so exciting for him because it’s new, there are friends and toys and probably a lot more stimulation than he’s used to.
All of these things get him super duper excited and a little out of control.
My advice is to really work with him on focus.. If he gets how to focus on you, you have his attention and so naturally he’ll be more calm. And then you can start working with him inside the situation and show him what behavior you do want.
To give you a better idea, check out my article on triggers and thresholds and how to work with them.
Hope this helps 🙂
I love a well trained dog, especially so they are sociable, easy to look after and a pleasure to have around, but to get them doing ridiculous tricks just so you can praise yourself more than your dog, I find unsettling to watch, and couldn’t finish watching your video.
Dogs are working animals. And just because they are pets doesn’t mean they don’t have the need to work any longer. I don’t believe teaching a dog tricks is about praising the handler. It’s about stimulating a highly intelligent animal. I’m sure some folks like to just get a dog and have them ‘well trained and sociable’. But some of us like to push the boundaries of our dog’s abilities and intelligence and there’s nothing wrong with that.
What a helpful article! Thank you!
I’m was a very reluctant owner of a GSD. My elderly parents, who live with me, adopted the 2 year old dog while I was away on a trip. I came home to find this highly intelligent, constantly shedding all black shepherd and broke down and cried. For two days I tried to think of how I could persuade them to find another home for him. There are no words to describe how badly I did not want to have this dog. I had nothing against the animal, but I had previously owned an amazing doberman and new that without training this working dog would not be happy and neither would we. With training he would be great, but I’d have to do the training and didn’t have time to add this to my life. We also live in a hot, humid climate and the dog was brought from Germany. All I could think was ‘this dog is going to be miserable and so am I.’
Then it happened. I began observing Onyx with my parents and saw this breed for the amazing breed it is. I’ve never been around them before and had no idea what they were like. We have an electric gate that leads to a busy street. Onyx was told 1 time not to go out the gate and in the year we have had him he has obeyed. I watched the dog in the worst months of humidity walk beside my 79 year old Father, without being told to do so, as he went about his gardening and yard work. He never left his side til Dad came in. What a faithful, protective friend. We have a Bible Club in our yard each Sunday and the children love Onyx and Onyx loves them. It’s taken a little time, but I’m now a Shepherd fan. What an amazing dog; a loyal friend!
Of course, as I anticipated, the other side of the coin is that Onyx is not trained and as a result can be quite wild, dig anywhere and everywhere and is not enjoyable to play with as he takes his toys but will not bring them back so my parents do the fetching [I refuse to] so he gets very little play time. Finally today I decided that it was time for me to get involved and get busy training him so he can be all he is meant to be and so we can thoroughly enjoy him.
I googled “training a GSD 3 year old” and your site came up. I read the 7 golden rules and went outside to begin preliminary training. Immediate response from Onyx. The biggest gain was realizing that his wildness needs my patience. He needs time to settle down and then we continue. First day; already progress. I’ve signed up for your newsletter and see that you have a training course. I’ll be getting the course and getting busy with my new friend.
Thanks so much for your comment! I believe it’s made my entire year!!
Once a GSD creeps into your heart they are there for life! And Onyx is lucky to have someone like you and your parents in his life!
P.S. I had to laugh about how your parents invited Onyx into their lives while you were away on a trip! LOL!
Any questions, just ask!
I have a GSD American flat back want to train him as my service dog. He doesn’t like strangers to train him so I have been trying how do I get him started. He lays on my feet and when he lays in front of my chair he like when I put my feet on him he sits and gives my his right paw and when I ask him if he wants to go inside or play even when i ask him if he wants his food. Smoke sits and pick up is paw and bring it down as please that is even I give in. But now I don’t know what to do next he is going on 6 months. Can you help me.
Thanks for your comment.
Sounds like you have a smart boy there!
So the first thing that comes to mind is that you need to teach him all the basics of obedience. You won’t be able to progress unless he knows sit, stay down, focus and has a good recall etc.
The more complicated behaviors of being a service dog will require that he’s fluid and reliable with these and other basics.
If you haven’t already, I highly recommend starting with clicker training. This is the best form of training because it’s kind and force free. It’s also based on the science of behavior.
Here’s an article about how to use a clicker to train your dog. I think you’ll enjoy it since you’re his primary trainer, and it’ll help you get started.
I also recommend an online training program called Brain Training for Dogs. It’s based on the idea of developing our dog’s intelligence through training, games and play. But for it to work they need to have mastered the basics like I mentioned above.
And that’s what makes Brain Training for Dogs so good. It’ll show you exactly how to teach your boy the basics of obedience and then move on to more challenging stuff.
And it also deals with how to stop behaviors like unnecessary barking and such.
I still use the program with my dogs.
Here’s a review I wrote on Brian Training for Dogs.
I hope this helps.
Let me know if you have others questions.
I need help my dog has anxiety very bad we have tried everything
In what way is your dog being anxious? Because anxiety is so specific, it would be great if you could share a specific situation here. Is it when you leave home? Is it during the night?
If you let me know, I’ll be happy to help.
I just added an “un-adoptable” 1.5 year old GSD to our dog group. Un-adoptable because of his hip dysplasia and he is pretty wild (getting better on that). He is the long haired “old” style. We have 3 lab mixes that are mellow and older, a pit bull and another intense breed. We do well with training dogs — all these older dogs have gone to training and get along well. But Mason, our GSD, has a trait I have never encountered. He sometimes nips visitors – and it is definitely a nip. It is unpredictable. He is very loving and likes most people and all dogs he meets. He was obviously neglected and mistreated.
Suggestions? We try to get him to meet a lot of people. Most of the time it is great and he is friendly. But as an example, he nipped my neighbor through the fence who was petting our pit, and he ran up and nipped another friend when they were leaving with my husband. May be males … not sure of course.
Our puppy is about 4 months old and he gets very excited and bites. I have been trying to curtail it but we all have scars from his sharp little teeth. Any suggestions on breaking this bad habit of biting?
I noticed the comment about how your dog reacted to your worried state and wonder if you can give me any tips.
I have a beautiful 5 month old – not my first GSD – but all the others have been bitches. He is well socialised, calm and already very advanced in his training.
He shows fear aggressive behaviour at random to people – because it is rare and he comes into contact with people on every walk – joggers – bikes -kids – men – women etc – it took me awhile to realise I am the problem.
The first time was with a young couple on a picnic blanket – I was on guard and gauging the situation because of the food around. My focus was on the guy and Milo showed fear aggressive behaviour to him – would not let the guy touch him – but licked and acted all puppy to the female.
The second time was an old lady – I was worried about her being knocked over.
Another time I gave too much attention to a woman walking with a man – I could only see their heads over the long grass and was on guard for a possible dog being with them. If a dog is on a lead – I always put my pup on one just in case the dog is not friendly. Milo showed fear aggression to the women – but was fine with the man.
At times – particularly in the park and he is off the lead (his recall is great), I will be on guard and need to gauge potential risks. I do not display worry or unease – just greater attention and focus – which pup is interpreting as danger.
Is there any training I can do to signal that there is no danger? Except for these few occasions, he is good with everyone and will turn and ask me if he can go meet a person.
I enjoyed reading and sent it to my son who has a German Shepherd puppy.
Thanks for your comment!
I’m so pleased you found this valuable. I hope your son enjoys it too.
Thanks for the support! 🙂
Loved this post. I have a 7-year old german shepherd that only listens when he wants to. Sometimes I get frustrated and grab him a bit hard so he can listen, but after reading this i realized that I’m doing things the wrong way. I am going to start following these rules and understand that he is not a human. Thanks a lot for this.
I’m so happy you got value from this.
If you don’t know about it already, you might like to find out more about clicker training. And perhaps also the psychology behind how your boy learns.
You can find these articles here:
How dogs learn.
You might also like to join out closed Facebook group. If you sign up for’Dog Speak’ you’ll get the link to the group.
Here’s a link to signing up for ‘Dog Speak’. https://germanshepherdcorner.com/sign-up-for-dog-speak/
I hope you’ll join us 🙂
I’m pleased you found this helpful.
Hope things are going better now.
My GSD, Buddy, will be 2 next month – I’ve had him since he was 7 weeks old and my daughter, who lives 140 miles away and we visit about once a month, has his sister from the same litter. The siblings romp and play and have a great time, wearing each other out before flopping down and resting affectionately together, and her other 2 dogs (an old lab and a shitzu) often join in. Happy family time.
Buddy is perfect in almost every way, has responded well to training and obedience, and we have great respect and love for, and trust in, each other. There is one major problem however.
While on our walks and as we meet others, he is accepting of and friendly towards most people – but he takes an instant dislike towards almost all other dogs. He barks aggressively, hackles raised, strains against his leash trying to get to them, and in all respects acts in an out of control and embarrassing manner. As I control him he acknowledges my presence but will not settle down, barking like crazy but almost always wagging his tail at the same time. He has never gotten loose, and never been in a fight, but being a GSD he scares the living daylights out of most of the other dog owners we encounter. When the other dog owners and I have agreed to let our dogs approach each other under tight control, it has always resulted in much wagging of tails, sniffing, and attempts to play. Most people however shy away from us with looks of fear, disdain and contempt.
When he was about 7 months I took him to a nearby dog park, thinking that I’d integrate him into doggy society at a young age (there is a 6-month old minimum regulation). He entered confident and friendly and eager to play, but was quickly surrounded by about a dozen other dogs sniffing and attempting to be dominant, mounted by 2 or 3 of them, and ended up backed into a corner for protection and almost pathetically looking to me for help. Arguments with the other dog owners ensued (I was very angry!) but I managed to extricate him, and we left never to return.
My question is, how do I correct Buddy’s inappropriate behavior when encountering other dogs on our walks, and stop him from barking at and attempting to lunge at the other dogs we meet? It’s almost as if he knows he’s grown up and knows he’s no longer going to tolerate being bullied, and looking to let that be known to everyone he meets.
Thanks for your comment.
It sounds like you and Buddy have a wonderful relationship and close family bond.
So, the experience Buddy had with those other dogs probably has some kind of influence on how he acts towards other dogs now. But the fact that his tail wags and when he has access to the other dogs he’s playful shows me that it’s not aggressive behavior. But I totally get how other people and dogs who don’t know him can feel intimidated.
It sounds like you already have a good relationship with some of the other dog owners you regularly meet on walks. So my advice is to first teach Buddy a solid ‘focus’ command. And then when you meet dogs on the road ask for a focus first – which will make him calm down. And once he’s calm give him a release cue to go over and meet the other dog.
Over time, he should become more and more comfortable, even with complete strange dogs. But it’s going to take time.
But you’ll need to get the focus mastered first.
You can do this in 2 ways.
The first is to mark and reward Buddy every time you find him looking at you. This is called capturing and happens randomly during your daily life. So if you’re watching telly and you see him looking at you mark the behavior and reward him. And so on.
The other way is in a formal training session. I wrote about how to do this in this article on triggers and thresholds.
I hope this helps.
I don’t even have a dog yet, but have sent out a few requests for adoption, all for a female GSD. The one particular girl I’m serious about is currently housed in Iran but is supposed to be in Canada by the end of the month. I am happy to have found you and look forward to using all of your articles to help in training. I hope to bring her to Service Dog standard.
Please, let me thank you and God bless you for the work you are doing; it is sorely needed.
Thanks for your kind words! And congrats on your soon to be new best friend.
I’m always around for questions and requests.
If you haven’t already, come and join our private Facebook group. You can get access via a link when you join ‘Dog Speak’. We all share pictures, videos and advice on the group. We’d love to have you.
You can sign up to ‘Dog Speak’ here: https://germanshepherdcorner.com/sign-up-for-dog-speak/
I have a Gs who is 1 1/ yrs. Old all she wants to do is play. Xena knows all of her commands but I have to sometimes say them more then once, we have passed the stage of reward by treats. I’m having a hard time walking her, can’t get her to stop jumping on people, when she sees me she is out of control with excitement. She trust me but head no respect for me she thinks I am her okay toy and she is AlphA female hoe do I fix that. I’ve had her since she was 5 weeks old and she head aniexty when she isn’t with me. I try to bring her every where with me but can’t keep her focused on me when I give her commands and other things are going on. I try to do everything with her and she is frustrating me and making it hard. I really want to learn how to train her like the video I saw. She stand at 6′ something and 110 pounds solid very big for a female. I need serious help please
Thanks for your comment.
The first thing you need to change is to make yourself the MOST exciting thing around. This will help Xena to want to focus on you. Also, you might need to start retraining commands if she’s not responding. But use high value treats, higher than you did before. And you should fade them as soon as possible. You need to get her excited about responding to your requests.
Secondly, there is no scientific proof that dogs see humans as part of their pack and therefore try to dominate them. This is based on outdated studies done in the 30s and 40s. If she’s not responding and ignoring your requests it’s because she finds other things more interesting. And maybe she doesn’t know that you want her to focus. If she’s never been taught that she won’t know.
Here’s an article on how to teach your dog to focus and why they don’t listen sometimes.
Also, this article goes into great detail about the psychology behind how dogs learn. It also has a section on how to use food and how to get Xena to show you which treats she values highly. This will be a great help in your training.
Hello.. thank you for your article. I have an almost one year old male GSD. It’s our first purebred and up until this one, we were used to large rescue mixes. We were not prepared for the built in added protection feature that comes with this bread. Quickly hiring an experienced trainer and discussing with the vet pros and cons of neutering sooner than later (4-5 months) we opted for earlier due to his high propensity towards aggression. We have socialized him from a very early age.. literally taking him everywhere we could, even to work on non-remote days. I’d like some advice on how to handle the aggression. Recently we had an incident where a stranger came up to him and (without asking) thought it was ok to pet.. our dog is particular about strangers ruffling the top of his head and got “snappy”. We had an earlier incident at the vet’s office with the vet and the vet stated it is behavior that should be addressed. I have a second trainer lined up to begin soon. He has the basics down. I’m committed to regular and consistent walking and training sessions and I’m curious to know how you feel about the E-collar. Thank you.
Thanks for your question.
I’m not so sure I agree with your vet. I mean, as people we have our personal space and don’t like ‘uninvited guests’ just barging in. So why should our dogs? He’s obviously socialized, so that’s not the problem here.
He’s just particular like you said and in my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with that. Some dogs aren’t touchy-feely and that’s okay. My 9 year old GSD Charley is like that. She doesn’t like strangers so I make sure to manage situations where she’s likely to meet up with anyone new.
Of course, you want to avoid getting into any kind of legal trouble if someone tries to pet him without asking – which by the way is bad etiquette in the doggy world!
So I would suggest getting something like a harness with a ‘Do Not Pet’ sign on it.
Here’s an example of what I mean.
As for e-collars. I’m totally against them! Any kind of aversive training techniques where a dog has to do or not do something to avoid punishment, in my opinion is cruel.
If you were to use an e-collar to try and train him to stop snapping it will almost guarantee to make him more aggressive. Dogs are super smart, so it’s very likely that he’ll start associating strangers approaching him with the shock, so there’s a risk of making him more aggressive towards strangers.
I strongly urge you to not use these kinds of collars. If you want to get a behaviorist in find someone who uses only force-free, positive reinforcement.
I hope this helps.
Thank you for your response! We have continued to socialize and use positive reinforcement while keeping our stress level in check. Today we started with a new Trainer (using lots of treats and patience) and it went VERY well. I’m both encouraged and hopeful. I’d like to find a vest that states “do not pet, without asking first” as I don’t want strangers to get the wrong impression. Thanks again.
Thank you so much for sharing this. I’ve adopted a 1 year old German Shepherd-Belgian Malinois for over a month now. My sister told me that Nathan used to be in a cage and his previous owner doesn’t have enough time to let him out for an exercise. When he came home, he’s full of energy and we were thinking maybe because he was in the cage for a long time. We tried to teach him tricks like “sit”, “come here”, or just by calling him by his name. He’s now responding to sit but only if we have treats for him. He doesn’t always respond to his name. But I think the biggest problem is how he wants to play “roughouse”. Aside from my dad, Nathan bites me, mom and my sister. His bites don’t hurt but it’s annoying sometimes because he won’t let go.
I know we lack something and I hope you can help. I also want to mention that my parents have different ways on handling Nathan. My dad uses “iron hand” against Nathan and because of that, Nathan’s kind of scared of him? Like, when my dad says no, he’ll immediately stop. But when it comes to me and my mom, Nathan would just stop if we call our dad or something. I’m desperate because I want to train Nathan that will be fun for the both of us. I hope you can give me some tips on this. Thank you so much!
Thank you for reaching out.
So firstly, the Malinois and the GSD are both very high drive dogs. And if your dog was caged a lot and didn’t get attention from his previous owner you do have a lot of work to do. I can see your genuine concern and love for your dog, so I’m sure you’ll do just fine in helping your dog adjust.
Yes, part of the reason Nathan is so full of energy is because he was confined in his previous home. But take into account he is only a year old and he is a Mal/GSD. You’re going to have to work extra hard with Nathan.
So you’re already using treats which is great! But you don’t say if you’re using clicker training. Using a clicker is the key to successful force-free, kind training. I recommend you read my article on how clicker training works. You can pick up a clicker for dirt cheap but you can also use one of those clicky pens to begin with. Follow the steps I shared in the article to get started.
Also, be consistent, so I recommend doing at least 3 to 4 5 minute sessions per day. But make sure you stop before Nathan gets bored. This way he’ll always look forward to training.
Now training will also tire him out which is a good thing. But he needs physical stimulation too. Taking into account his age and his breed he needs a lot of stimulation. My 2 young ones want at least 45 minutes in the morning and at a minimum 30 minutes at night. Teach him to play fetch so that you have a way of working him physically. Being mentally and physically stimulated will definitely make him calmer.
Okay, so you can’t tell your dad what to do. But ruling a dog like Nathan with an ‘iron hand’ like you say is not a good thing. And yes, Nathan will be afraid of your dad because of it. What I do suggest is, that you start training Nathan with a clicker and exercising him through play. And hopefully your dad will see how amazing the techniques are and want to get involved in this kind of training.
Now in terms of the biting. Nathan should already have been taught bite inhibition by now. But since his previous owner had no time Nathan is a little behind. But it’s not too late. I’ve raised 2 rescues that had no training and they are well-adjusted now. It just takes more work to train an older dog.
So, check out the games I recommend for teaching bite inhibition. I recommend you start with the build-a-bridge game first. And once Nathan has mastered that then you can move on to some of the other redirecting games. But you must start by using the clicker training method. And I recommend you sit on a low stool when working on the build-a-bridge game instead of on the floor. Simply because Nathan is already a big boy.
You and your mom should both work with Nathan on this game. Let your mom read the article on clicker training too, if she wants to.
By the way, you can teach Nathan to respond to his name with a clicker too. Once you’ve taught him what a clicker means by following my video in the article all you do is say his name and as soon as he looks at you, click and reward.
And then lastly, read this article on how dogs learn. It’ll give you a great foundation of understanding how Nathan learns things. The best way to teach them is to use science and psychology.
I’m around if you have any other questions.
I am looking into a GSP, how long does it take to train one? Also, how long does it take to train it to be a farm dog? Can it be trained to be a farm dog? Does it have to be a puppy when you train it to be a farm dog? When is the best season to train a GSP to be a farm dog?
GSP’s are highly intelligent. But the length of time it takes to train them depends on you and your dog. Which training methods will you use? Positive reinforcement gives the best results and it’s kind too. Are you going to train daily? Regular training makes a big difference in terms of progress. Especially if you’re training a dog for working.
You can successfully train a dog of any age. Even to be a working dog. Especially since the GSP is bred to work. Also keep in mind what the breed was originally bred for. GSP’s were bred as gun dogs for hunting. So I’m not sure what you mean by a farm dog. But keep in mind that their working genetics play a role too. So for example my German Shepherds might not make the best hunting dog since they are bred to guard and herd. That’s not to say dog’s can’t learn new skills because they can.
I’m not sure what you mean by what season is the best time to train. Because seasons have nothing to do with training. You can start training at any time.
My daughters husbsnd got an germand shepherd but now he lives far away and dhe works 3 rd shift soo me and my other daughter take care of there dog i’m trying too teach different stuff but me and my fsughtrt butt heads on how i’m traing him we live in an apartment on the bottem floor I’m trying to teach him not too bark at the neighters when they come out of there door or just walking out side what doo I doo
I really recommend starting with clicker training. It’s a great way to train and it’s kind as well. Here’s a link to get you started.
Then for the barking, I recommend reading this article. If he’s a big barker you could teach him the bark/quiet command.
My German Shepherd is 12 months old and a female. First off, she’s a wanted dog. We feed her, take her to the vet, cuddle her (when she doesn’t nip) and we don’t hurt her. I’ve always wanted German Shepherd because I like that they’re obeident, they can protect you and they’re fun to play with. I just love to play fetch with dog. She a sweetheart who wants to please you.
We have the help of a trainer, and she’s gotten better. She has a lot of energy and sometimes she annoys me to no ends. When she was younger, she used to jump on me when I was sitting on the couch. She would nip at me really hard. I’d push her, but she’d come back even harder. She runs around the house a lot and jumps on furnitures (we’re working on that). She has separation anxiety, but with the help of a trainer, I believe it’ll get better. I seem to always be frustrated with her because of this behavior. I love her, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes I wonder if I do. I used to have a Bernese Mountain, not the same breed, I know, but she was my baby. I just couldn’t imagine my life without her. I wonder if it’s normal to feel so frustrated with my dog. I mean, I just want a dog who can listen to your commands, not nip at you and not be so excited it’s difficult to handle her at times. Is it too much to ask? If she wasn’t that way, I wouldn’t be so frustrated.
That’s an excellent question!
Just this morning I was having a chat with some friends in a private FB group about our naughty dogs. Yes, I have one of those exceptionally busy dogs! She’s a rescue and totally different to my other 2.
And I can promise you, you’re not alone! All dog owners feel frustrated with their dogs at times. And that’s where good control over our emotions is important.
But you’re doing the right things. You’ve got a trainer involved, you’re working on the issues one at a time and you will eventually get there. Also, it might help for you to know that the GSD breed matures very slowly.
Charley is 9 years old this year but she was ripping and chewing stuff in my house when I adopted her at the age of 6. Zè is my 3.5 year old male, he still does naughty things like dig holes after it’s rained or drag dead tree branches out of the compost heap. An Lexi, my busy one, well she’ll do the wildest things!!
We’ve always got to remind ourselves that our dogs aren’t robots. They have their quirks, their moods and personalities. Helping them develop is a life-long journey.
Keep up the good work! You’re doing great!
My husband and I have a german shepherd that is just shy of 1.5 years old. We are at a complete loss with her. She is a beautiful girl, and I know she is smart. But she is so high strung. She jumps on us all the time, and gets so excited when seeing us that she wets the floor all the time. I can be sitting in another room and when I walk through the room she is in, she’ll start whining, leaping on me, peeing on the floor and acting over excited. I’ve tried turning my back to her, telling her no, but she is so excited that I doubt that she even hears me. If I turn my back to her she will just jump on my back. When we wake up in the morning she does this to us also. It’s like we’ve been gone and she’s over excited just to see us. She acts this way also if you’re trying to give her attention. She’ll start whining, leaping and peeing on the floor.
Reading your article I know we’ve failed her in many ways. Her behavior brings out aggressive discipline reactions from us and I don’t think that has helped. Aggressive in the sense of loud reprimands and we have at times reached our peak and have physically pushed or smacked her back from jumping on us.
We have a large yard, but the weather doesn’t allow much outdoor time through this past fall/winter season of snow and excessive rain; so she doesn’t get out much. I know that we need to make some changes in our approach and she probably needs more activity. I just don’t know where to start. She is a strong girl and when I try to walk her she is aggressive with people barking and lunging at them, or she’s pulling me and that is not a fun walk. So I’m afraid to walk her and have stopped. She barks aggressively all the time and I’m afraid to have her around other animals or people.
I’m at a total loss as to where to start with training her. She is smart like I said, and has learned her name and to sit. But when I try to train her with anything, her attention is high strung and distracted. She doesn’t focus well in her excitement.
Do you have any suggestions or should we take her to a professional trainer? I think we need training as well as her. We’re in the 57 & 61 age bracket, so we’re not very active people and I think this is hurting her. I could go on but I’ll stop here. Obviously we need some guidance and help. Any suggestions?
Thanks for your questions. Sorry my reply is so late, I’ve been on vacation and working to catch up! 🙂
From what you’ve described to me it sounds like your girl needs a lot of training. Have you explored the idea of clicker training? It’s a great way to train dogs and there’s no physical punishment involved. I do recommend refraining from physical punishment because long term it will instill a sense of fear and distrust.
It sounds like she’s go a lot of pent up energy that she needs to get rid of. At 18 months old she’s still very much a puppy.
There are a bunch of great games you can play with your girl indoors. It’s tough when the weather is not playing nice but you’re right when you say she needs stimulation non the less. Mental stimulation will actually tire her out more than physical exercise does. And mental stimulation can be achieved through regular training and also mental games. Both which can be done inside. And a quick run around outside each day will help too.
I usually encourage people to train their own dogs. Unless there’s some sort of aggressive or fearful behavior involved I think a trainer is not necessary.
Just a quick tip about the jumping…
Dogs see any reaction to a behavior as attention. So even if it’s a smack or a yell it’s attention. And they jump because they want attention. So even if you smack or yell it won’t make her stop, in fact it is a reward in her eyes because she’s getting attention.
What I do with jumping is what I like to call ‘act like a tree’. I just stand dead still. I don’t move, look at her or make a sound. If a dog tries to jump up at my face I’ll turn my upper body in the opposite direction but still keep my legs firmly on the ground.
It’s one way to teach her that jumping is not going to give her the reward she wants or is used to. Once I wanted 20 minutes for a dog to get the message and stop jumping. But that is an extreme case.
Another thing you can try is to keep some food rewards on you and when you walk into a room where she is start dropping a few on the ground as you go. Make sure you do this before she jumps or you’ll be rewarding her jumping. And as you walk just drop a couple here and there near you. There’s no way she can enjoy the food rewards if she doesn’t have a four paws on the ground. This will teach her that having all 4 paws on the ground means good things happen.
If you’re interested to find out more about training here are a couple of articles I’d like to suggest…
Why is my dog not listening.
And if you’re interested in learning how mental stimulation can make her into an ace when it comes to manners, check out my review of Brain Training for Dogs. I use the program for my dogs and I highly recommend it.
If you’ve got any questions, feel free to drop them in the comments. I’m always around to help.
. Thank you , for getting back to me.
The shoulder is frozen with impingement from a fall, and Soldier got a little too carried away with the lunging and nipping and I went to put my hand up to stop a lunge and hit the knuckle side under the coffee table I thought I broken them again.
I will try the one visitor at a time I think you have a good point maybe he’s getting to overwhelmed and anxious.
Yesterday although my adult grandfather that lives with us was sitting in the living room just talking to soldier and it was like someone flipped a switch he started barking and lunging hair up , for no reason. I hate to ask this question but can dog’s have emotional health issues?
Because this is what has been happening with him, he’ll be fine and out of the blue it’s opposite jeckyll and hyde.
I will definitely let you know what profile test says I hope it will give us some kind of answer if anything else is contributing to the Giardia issue.
Just checking in to find out how your shoulder is. And how’s Soldier doing with regards to the Giardia? And progress on treatment?
How’s the training going?
Regarding my shoulder have to go to physical therapy, it’s still frozen and impinged shoulder blade (scapula) has started to become winged.
Soldier unfortunately is still dealing with the Giardia, the GI profile test results say no other parasites presents and it tested for 9 different things. We did a snap test before hand Giardia still present but the profile test said in the notes if he wasn’t actively shedding eggs it would show no antibodies but he would still have it.and being as though snap test was positive. He still has it.
As for training, I am having absolutely no luck at all, he’s not receptive. All he wants to do is constantly bark even at us he definitely doesn’t like the word no.
He’s become increasingly demanding especially of my time and attention.
It’s really starting to take a toll on my family.
And sadly at this point , with amount we’ve had to put out and it’s been extremely expensive we at this point even if I could find a behavioral therapist to work with him it’s just not affordable anymore especially due to this last test.
So we don’t know what to do.
We all love soldier,
I’m so sorry to hear about the ongoing problem with your shoulder. I can imagine it’s not making things any easier.
Okay, let’s take a step back. I’d like you to try something else when it comes to Soldier’s training…
I think this will be a much easier way to train him and it won’t put strain on your shoulder.
You’re going to need a clicker – it’s very important for this. If you haven’t ever used a clicker check out this article of mine about how to use a clicker.
Also, watch the video on how you can quickly show Soldier what a clicker means. You can pick up a clicker at just about any store or on Amazon. Either way, if you don’t have one it’s super important that you get one.
So once you have the clicker you need some treats. Stick to something bland so as to not flare up his tummy. Maybe something like seared steaks or boiled chicken breasts.
Now set out 40, 50 or 60 small pieces of treats – these are going to last you the entire day. And you’ll have to carry them and the clicker with you during the day.
Now every time you see Soldier doing something you like and want him to continue doing, click and reward him on the spot.
If he’s sitting quietly and he’s not barking – click and reward.
If he’s allowing someone to stroke him without nipping or barking – click and reward.
If he’s self-playing on his bed, mat or in his crate – click and reward.
ANYTHING you like and want Soldier to learn, click and reward.
Despite him feeling ill, he’ll quickly learn that these behaviors you’re rewarding him for are favorable.
This kind of training is called capturing so you’re capturing all the behaviors you want as they happen. Instead of trying to put him in to a formal training session which seems to be backfiring.
start with this as soon as you possibly can. If you don’t have a clicker, or you can’t get one right away, use one of those clicky pens. It’ll work just fine. But I really think you should start this as soon as possible.
Let me know what you think of the idea.
I like that idea I’m going to use the pen till tomorrow when pet store opens.
I know him being sick plays a big role in his behavior and not being receptive but I’m willing to try anything.
What I don’t understand is why it seems like I’ve not worked with him at all when I do .
Wanted to touch base with you on the clicker training, I don’t quite understand this but soldier for some reason gets annoyed with the sound.
He’s been really touchy lately,
Doesn’t want to cooperate except when he wants to,
When I try him off leash in the backyard he refuses to listen won’t come when called won’t obey at all .
Regarding the barking every tiny sound he barks and just won’t stop.
Are there certain dog’s that are just not really trainable?
My husband asked me that.
All dogs are trainable. But as you know illness does have an affect on them just like us.
If you’re looking to get him to come when called, the trick is to make yourself the most interesting thing in his world. So speak in an excited voice make kissing noises etc. Calling him and running in the opposite direction also works. Dogs like chasing things, it’s how I taught mine to come. And make sure you’re armed with some treats to reward him when he gets to you.
If he’s getting annoyed by the clicker try using something that sounds softer like a clicky pen. Or you can use your voice. I sometimes do that if I don’t have a clicker handy. And I use the word yes.
If you want to go that route then you need to charge that word like you charged the clicker. Just follow my video in the clicker training article but instead of clicking and rewarding you say ‘yes’ (or whatever word you decide to use) and the reward.
Hope you had a great vacation:) I will try to do the video, it may be awhile , I injured my right shoulder and sprained 2fingers on my left hand . Butt as soon as I’m able I will do that.
We are going to be doing a GI profile test on soldier in early May. with hopes in finding out if there’s something else going on that may not be showing up in the other tests.
Will touch base soon.
OMW! What happened?
In terms of working with Soldier to sit when guests visit…
You could try training him with one visitor at a time. He might be overwhelmed by several visitors at the same time.
So if you could ask your friend over for a coffee and then practice her entering while he sits. It’d be great if she could also reward him with treats for sitting quietly.
Then as be becomes more well behaved add another visitor and so eventually he’ll be super well behaved even if you have a bunch of people coming over at the same time.
Let me know how the GI profiling goes.
Our 7 month old female is so full of energy it is hard to satisfy her daily need of exercise. She has chewed the carpeting on our staircase, chewed the wooden frame of a recliner, chewed 2 pair of eyeglasses and chewed a hole in the cushion of a love seat. Have had shepherds and labs but never one like this!
We have tried to redirect him, we’ve tried the firm but not yelling saying no.
Finally we end up crating him.
As far as people I’ve tried and tried to train him to sit when greeting people.
He’s become very uncooperative.
After a period of time and çonstant repeating I have to admit I get frustrated.
We were making good progress on the barking he’s not cooperating with that either he barks at anything and everything and it’s not short bark’s.
If he wakes me up to go out very late he wants to bark at 3.00 in the morning.and won’t stop.
I’m at a loss.
Sorry, I was away on vacation.
Can you make a video, upload it to Youtube and send me the link? If you could make a video of the situation you described where he’s unruly when people come over.
Just send me the link so I can check it out.
Question, being as though soldier is symptomatic again as usual the mood’s and behavior change as well we’re having a difficult time calming him down and he’s worse than before when trying to get other people food and being told no.
Nothing we’re trying is working.
Ideas and suggestions would be great.
I’m sorry to hear Soldier is not feeling well again.
Could you describe to me how you’re handling his behavior when it comes to food and other people? That way I’ll have a better idea of how we can hash things out and find a way to help Soldier.
Also, dogs are very sensitive to our feelings and pick up when we’re stressed or anxious. How are you feeling when he acts this way?
Unfortunately soldier has become symptomatic again ?,
Back to square one yet again ..
Thanks for trying to be positive,
Soldier started showing symptoms last night, ?. I’m just afraid that he’s going to be chronic.
Soldier and I just got home from the vet for retest he’s still testing positive for Giardia.
He’s not showing symptoms but just the same positive.
Wanted to let you know.
Thanks for letting me know about Soldier. I’m still hoping for a negative test result at some point.
But the fact that he’s not showing symptoms anymore is great, that means he’s probably not feeling ill physically anymore. Which is awesome news!!
So, I am 14 years old and my mom and I own a full grown 1 year old German Shepherd. Now, I started walking my previous german shepherd who was very large and very old around 10 years old.
Now, our dog trainer is telling me that I cannot walk her. I don’t understand why and I think it could possibly hurt our relationship.
If I could have another perspective that would be great. Is my trainer right?
Thanks for your question.
If your dog has issues like aggression towards people or other dogs, or if your dog is anxious. Any of these can cause situations you and your dog might feel overwhelmed in. But if there are no underlying behavior issues, I see no reason why you shouldn’t be able to walk your dog. Have you asked the trainer to elaborate as to why they are saying you shouldn’t walk your girl?
I don’t want to get rid of soldier, my husband is the one that brought that up he’s that concerned about the incident with the little girl next door.
I’m not going give up on him. ☺
I think there’s factors that are playing a role in the behavior issue. And it’s not his fault he’s sick . Plus he’s just a puppy.
I understand your husbands concern. But you’re on the right track, you’re doing a great job and you have a good grasp of the situation. So I’m sure in time your hubby will relax about it.
And yes, as you say the Giardia does play a role both in the limits it puts on socializing and also how Soldier feels within himself. When we’re sick or feel off it’s totally normal for us to act out of sorts and dogs are the same. Health issues really do affect them too.
I’m rooting for you and Soldier that the tests next week come back negative for Giardia. Please keep me posted.
Thank you for getting back to me.
The little girl and my soldier were introduced not long after we brought him home which was about 2 mo ago.
Before he was diagnosed, she’s not a loud boisterous child very soft spoken
He’s always greeted her licking her hand she’s petted him. thru the fence
Always with. Her dad and myself right there.
What concerns me the most was she was just standing there and said hi to me and to soldier and he went crazy.
I do leash him in the Yard because I’m still working on the leash training he’s not really cooperative. And I can safely let him run off leash when nobody is around so I don’t have to worry about the Giardia issue.
But I do take it off and just let him run and chase the birds and squirrels it’s funny.
Socialization is definitely an issue because of the Giardia.
He goes back in a wk for retest fingers crossed I will finally get him started in the class.
I’ve also noticed that where he was alittle more cooperative, he’s decided he’s going to be.
There’s been no changes in the home.
Nothing that would cause added stress OR anxiety, what he has been doing and alot is mounting almost anything we thought at now 4mo alittle odd.
But he was doing that alittle bit when we got him then it stopped . I figured stress new home at first because it stopped.
Isn’t that to young for this behavior?
It might just have been a one-off reaction. It could be that Soldier was having an off day and not feeling well. I’d keep an eye on it. And also try to remember that our dogs pick up on our feelings too. So if you’re feeling stressed in a situation he’ll pick up on it. And since you and Soldier are so close he could become stressed too.
And yes, humping is totally normal, even at Soldier’s age. It’s an annoying behavior I know but totally natural. And it’s not just males that hump, females often do it too.
If you decide to neuter him in the future the behavior will likely stop, but there’s no guarantee that it will. The best advice I can give is to ignore the behavior.
I am very concerned about an incident that happened yesterday , I had my puppy outside (we have a fenced yard) leashed and normally he greets the little girl next door thru the fence.
This time for no reason HIS hair stood up teeth showing growling and barking
And started to charge the fence not once but twice fortunately I was able to get him under control . He’s 4mo tomorrow
He scared the little girl, I don’t understand it. It was like someone’ flipped a switch. This is a huge concern.
Often dogs are more aggressive when they are on-leash. And they are also more territorial in a place they see as their own domain, like their yard. I had an experience once when Zè my male pup was about 6 months old. We went to the dog park and he met an older Chocolate Lab. And out of nowhere my boy went for his snout. Now you situation is a more serious because the little girl is not a dog and the last thing you want is something bad to happen, so I totally understand your concern. And I’m sure the little girl must have had a scare too!
The thing is that dogs don’t usually distinguish between little people and adults. My dogs bark at the young kids who walk past our gate every afternoon. But they also bark at adults that walk past.
When you say your pup is familiar with the little girl. How familiar is that? Has he been properly introduced to her? Or does he just know her from meeting at the fence or seeing her around? Has he been introduced to kids at all? I think the catch 22 here is because of the Giardia, it’s going to be difficult to have him properly socialized with the little girl unless her parents are willing and will ensure the proper hygiene protocol after she’s had any contact with him.
I think letting your pup go is premature, you’ve come so far with him and still working on treating the Giardia to get rid of it. If I were in your shoes, I’d continue working with him like you are now because you’re doing a stellar job. Once you have a negative result on the Giardia and your pup is good to go you can cross some bridges and expose him to situations he can’t be exposed to now.
I hope this helps. Keep me posted. If you have other questions drop them in the comments.
In search of guidance ,I had my gsd puppy outside and he’s quite familiar with the little girl next door normally he greets her. I keep him leashed .Today he was pretty aggressive not once but twice.
I realize he’s a puppy and training is important and I work with him every day
I mentioned before about the Giardia.
I had a difficult time calming him down he would not listen.
This is a serious concern he will be 4mo on Monday.
My husband is considering getting rid of him. If we can’t come up with a solution.
Thanks so much for the quick response.
The dead tree I’m going to give that a try I don’t mind alittle mud ?.
He apparently had the Giardia when we brought him home , I knew something wasn’t quite right.and the diagnosis explained alot but I didn’t know that it may affect the training aspect.it certainly could explain other issues.
I have spoken with a few behavior/trainers they’ve all said he needs to be Giardia free and I have to have verification from my vet.. since vet said it can be passed on to people and they don’t want to chance passing on to other dogs.which I understand but they wouldn’t be handling him I would.
ANY suggestions on how to get him to stop trying to get everybody’s plate and food? Redirect doesn’t work , he will nip and bite and bark no matter what we try.
I agree with you on the lower risk the trainers will face because you’ll be doing most of the handling. It sounds over cautious on their part.
So it sounds like your boy is begging for food from your plates! It’s not uncommon, especially if they have had a tid bit handed to them off a plate of food before. Or even if a piece of food fell to the ground and they got to eat it.
So firstly, don’t allow anyone to feed him from the table or a plate. Secondly, if a piece of food falls to the ground make sure you pick it up before he does.
A lot of training with new puppies involves ignoring the behaviors we don’t want. So if he’s nipping, biting and barking while you folks are enjoying a meal, either ignore the behavior or put him in a space outside the kitchen like in a crate, playpen or his den.
Keep in mind though that the Giardiasis can cause some malabsorption of nutrients, so your boy might be hungry more often. So that could be why he’s acting out around your food plates. You might want to speak with your vet to find out if this is something you should consider as part of your pup’s feeding protocol.
Either way though, the points about not feeding off plates and ignoring begging behavior is definitely a must.
Here’s a video by Dr. Karen Becker from Mercola Healthy Pets, she’s a legend in my eyes! You probably know most of this already but she discusses some of the symptoms of Giardia which you might find interesting.
Any other questions, just let me know!
I to think the trainer’s are being overly cautious.
Our vet. Did say he would be hungrier and it would be OK to give him more which we’ve been doing it just never seems to be enough . He’s been on a prescription diet since diagnosis of the Giardia. And I have the rule no table food . Which after talking with you lead’s me to believe it’s got to be the Giardia.
He did his last dose of antiparasite yesterday and to be honest there’s a difference in his behavior.
I’m going to look at the video you sent me
I need to have a much better understanding of the Giardia so I can better understand and help him.
Thank you so much for your help.
Happy to help! Let me know how things get on. And I’m keeping my fingers crossed that your boy makes a full recovery!
Let me know if there’s anything else you need help with.
And if you haven’t already done so, sign up for ‘Dog Speak‘ so you’ll be up to date on what’s happening here and what’s new in the dog training world.
Thank you, on a positive note I am working on the hand signals for the barking and actually making a little progress, and I did watch the video and read the article on the Giardia it was most helpful.
Thanks again for your help
That’s awesome news on the hand signals! 🙂
I have a gsd puppy almost 4mo old, we’re having problems with behavior and training. We’ve tried positive reinforcement .
I work with him daily on basic simple commands , he will not listen.
Except one he will sit when he gets water or food. He knows his name.
He won’t stop barking, and he does it with everything.
This is our first GSD, we’ve always had Labrador retrievers.
I would love to have a happy puppy that
Listens and I know he will be happier to.
I need serious advice.
You’ve had great success teaching him how to sit for his food and he knows his name so you’re doing something right!
Training takes a lot of time and especially training a 4 month old puppy.
For the barking I’d highly recommend reading this article on how to deal with barking. there’s a great trick you can teach him to help curb his barking.
You don’t say, but if you’re struggling with biting, here’s an article with some cool games to teach your pup not to bite.
I can also highly recommend a training course that will take your pup from kindergarten to genius when it comes to obedience. And you’ll also learn ways to stimulate the highly intelligent mind of a German Shepherd. Check out my review of Brain Training for Dogs. It’s a worthwhile investment and it’s something I still use for my dogs today.
I hope this helps.
I will definitely read the articles ,
Regarding the nipping and biting definitely an issue, especially when you tell him no. Just like if we take him out to go potty if you say no he’ll pee on the floor he was doing very well with no accidents. But the potty thing is not accidental . Jumping up on people is a problem too .
He has major separation anxiety issues when I have to go out he’s never here alone someone is always home to play etc.
As far as training class , we have enrolled him but has not been able to start he was diagnosed with Giardia when we got him .. and possible chronic carrier. Treatment has not been successful.So I have been trying to do this on my own no easy task.
I’m so sorry to hear about the Giardiasis.
Sometimes it feels like pups do things on purpose but unlike us, their brains are not wired that way. So if he’s having a potty accident, it really is an accident. Although after us having to clean many accidents it can start feeling like a purposeful action to us. 🙂
In terms of the jumping, the best method is to ‘make like a tree’. Just stand dead still and don’t make a sound. If you do any kind of moving, say his name or ‘no’ or give any kind of attention it will only reinforce the jumping.
And yes, standing dead still means you will have muddy paws and a few scratches but in the long run it’s a small price to pay. It’s better to get this dealt with while he’s still young so bite the bullet, it won’t take long before he learns that jumping gets him no attention.
Also, I’m not sure if your vet discussed this with you but any illness or infection can affect a dogs behavior and could also interfere with training. It’s the same way it’s affect us, when us humans are feeling under the weather it affects everything we do. So perhaps the Giardiasis is what’s causing him to take a little longer with the potty training and training in general.
Have you considered the possibility of private training at your home with a good positive trainer instead of a group session?
Let me know if you have other questions!
I appreciate the great tips. My GSD is over 7 years old and had obedience training when she was a pup. Other than a few behavioral issues due to her wanting to decide things for herself sometimes (like a kid), Abby is a very smart and loving dog. Just like our own natural child we cannot stand it when her feelings are hurt. Since she is afraid of riding in a vehicle it limits us to how far we can take her. We drove to TN to visit with our new granddaughter for a week. We put Abby in a doggie daycare/kennel for that time. She had been there many times before but for shorter durations. I was the one who took her into the facility and told her goodbye while my husband was in the car. She usually understands anytime I tell her I’ll be back but she must have lost faith in my statement. When we got back, it was me who picked her up. She went to her daddy with no problems but she totally ignored me. She seemed to be mad at me. I’m afraid she thought I was never coming back as I had promised. Thank goodness it only took a day or two for her to get back to normal, but it was so sad. About a year before that trip she acted the same way when we left her with friends for about the same amount of time, but her attitude was a little less severe. In a week from now we are scheduled to go on a 7 day cruise for our anniversary. We have no friends or family who can keep her so she will go back to the same doggie daycare/kennel. From what we’ve seen, they are the best in the area. I’m getting worried that our baby will go through the same sadness from when we left her there before. Is there anything we can do to prepare her?
Firstly congrats on your anniversary, I’m sure you’ll have a lovely trip!
I totally understand your feelings about Abby’s emotional state. She’s family and no one wants to see their loved on sad. The one thing about German Shepherds is that they are not keen on being away from their family.
One question that comes to mind is, does Abby do well when you leave her at home to go out for a while or an evening? If she’s fine being at home alone for a time, I’d say she might be responding to the separation more because she’s older.
You have a very short time before your trip, but could you arrange with the kennel owners for a few visits before you go? This might help to settle Abbey in once she’s booked in.
Also, when my 3 are kenneled I give strict instructions about a lot of things – I’m a pain but I don’t really care because I’m paying for it and they are my dogs. Make sure they understand Abby needs plenty of human contact and time out to exercise and interact with a human during exercise. But especially human contact. Send her favorite toys along, her bed and lots of blankets that have the scents of her home and you.
They’ll tell you they do all that stuff. But be honest and tell them after her last stay she came home slightly depressed and since she’s older you expect that her social needs are met to a more than adequate level.
It’s always stressful leaving our babies in the care of others. I’ve only ever kenneled mine for a few nights. But in April they’re being kenneled for 10 days. It’s the same kennels we always use but I’m stressed too. So I feel your concern too.
I hope this helps.
And I hope you have a great trip and that Abby has a lovely stay at her kennels.
Hi. I have had three GS in my life. My last one, Dakota, died back in April at age 11. She was a rescue found starving on the streets of Atlanta. My fourth, Cheyenne, is the problem. Also a rescue, she was never socialized (neither was Dakota so she hated other dogs and I just accepted that was her and would make her do commands like heel, sit etc if we saw another dog til it passed us or we passed it. But Cheyenne was just 14 montjs when we got her months old when we got her and we have just had her 2 months. She too hates dogs and was one of the reasons they let us adopt her. After her owner relinquished her for “being too high energy” she was kenneled for some months in the back away from all the other dogs. She is housebroken, I’ve taught her sit, stay, wait for her food and she is learning down. The problem is she is SO headstrong. We established ourselves as the leaders of the pack but sometimes she comes (96% of the time) and sometimes she doesn’t. And we live on a mountain and not only does she go completely berserk if we encounter a dog but also deer. She pulls, twists, barks – there is no getting thru to her. Totally disses me. I’ve taught her using soft training treats but that also is the problem. When I’m working with her she is totally focused on the treat and not me. If I put it up on the counter, she stares at it instead of me. If I put it in my hand, she will break out of sit to smell my hand. I can’t keep her attention. I’ve never had such a strong willed dog. Even Dakota barked etc at other dogs but Cheyenne goes from window to window running thru the house and I can’t get thru to her. She knows her name but we have lots of deer up here and it’s getting tiresome so we have resorted to either leaching her in the house or putting her in her crate til they go away. Please help
I’m so sorry to hear about Dakota, she sounds like she had a wonderful life with you. I’m happy that you invited Cheyenne into your life and I’m sure you both are too.
Firstly, I wouldn’t worry too much about establishing yourself as a pack leader. It’s been scientifically proven that dogs don’t count humans as park of their pack. What dogs do need is a kind, loving leader who’s willing to show them the ropes of living side by side with their human best friends. And it sounds to me like you’re already doing a great job with this.
From what I can tell Cheyenne does have a high drive. Her previous owner was just too ignorant to realize what a wonderful dog she is. And a dog with high drive is a challenge but it’s so rewarding.
The thing with dogs, especially high drive dogs – which most GSD’s are – is they need to be taught how to control their impulses. By teaching her sit, stay and wait for her food, you’re already on the right track.
I recommend reading this article on triggers and thresholds which will give you a great foundation for understanding why Cheyenne is triggered by certain things and how working with her thresholds will help her control her impulses.
In the same article, I’ve described how you can teach your girl how to focus on you when things get hectic for her. Like when she sees deer, dogs, other people or anything that sets her trigger off. Once you’ve got her to focus, then you can ask her to just about any behavior you like and this will help bring her back to her normal threshold. Cheyenne is high drive so the focus training might take some time, but keep at it.
Then it terms of the treats. I really recommend getting a treat bag if you don’t already have one. I use this one by Mikki. It’s nice and big so I’m not fumbling for treats. I can fit a toy in there too even if it has treats inside. The inner comes out for easy cleaning and there’s a place for my phone and keys.
If you do have a treat bag, slide the treat bag behind your back so she can’t see it. And then always remember to alternate your hands when delivering the reward. Never do it with the same hand over and over. Or she’ll do what she’s doing now. Keep her on her toes.
Also, check out this article on how your dog learns, it’s got a great breakdown of how to phase treats out. It’s important to phase out treats as soon as Cheyenne is reliably offer the behavior you’re asking for. Keeping them in the game too long will make her dependent on them and then she won’t offer the behavior if there are no treats.
Dogs are just like humans, we don’t do everything on cue as we’re ‘supposed’ to. For a high drive dog who’s still learning the ropes, not completely in control of her impulses yet and comes from a tough background 96% is pretty darn good. You’ll see this improve as you work with her. But never expect 100% reaction 100% of the time – that’s not possible.
I hope this helps. Let me know if you have other questions.
I have female Gsd that we rescued when she was a year old. We’ve had her for about 7 months. She’s doing well with her training we just can’t get her to stop jumping on people when they walk in the door. She just gets so excited. Do you have any suggestions
Jumping up is a behavior that has a lot to do with triggers and thresholds. So your girl is triggered because she’s excited to meet guests and this send her over her threshold.
I should write an article dealing with jumping but for now, here’s how I think you should work with your girl…
The key is to teach all 4’s on the floor. You want to avoid jumping behavior from happening. You’ll need to prep your guests for this training and show them what to do.If she does jumps, they should turn their bodies away from her. And their faces too. Give no attention until all her paws are firmly on the ground.
Ideally you want to stop the behavior before it happens.
So, until your girl is 100% reliable in not jumping you need to carry a bunch of treats around with you. Each time your dog has all 4’s on the floor, drop a few treats. She’s got to have all 4 paws on the ground to eat the treats – which reinforces her to keep her paws on the ground. You can do this at any time you see her with all 4 paws on the ground. This training method is called capturing. So basically you’re capturing behavior you want when you see it. When you have guests, give them a bunch of treats too and let them join in the capturing.
If you see she’s about to jump drop treats before she does. If you miss the cue you’ll be reinforcing the jumping. So be aware of her facial and body language. She must have all 4’s on the ground.
Get started ASAP because she’s already 7 months old and German Shepherds are big powerful dogs, even the females.
Let me know if this is helpful and if you have other questions.
My German Shepherd puppy is 11 months now. I got her as a rescue at 13 weeks. Her training is coming along, but I have noticed that she shies away with tail between legs and a low growl from certain women, whose only similarity has been large earrings! I am wondering if she had a bad experience before she came to me. And I wonder how to help her get past this f
It’s very possible that your observation is correct. I have a similar experience with my GSD Charley. She was severely abused before she came into our lives and she is reactive to large men with gray hair.
You could try to desensitize and recondition her using the method in this article. This method is used very successfully to curb barking but it can be used to help dogs get over other issues too. Further down the article is a great visual graphic you can use to follow the method. Just substitute the mail van for women with big earrings.
Or, if possible and practical you could ask any visitors with large earrings to remove them.
In Charley’s case, no amount of desensitizing and reconditioning has made her 100% comfortable with men that fit the description. She is less reactive but still shows some fear. I’ve made peace with that and respect her comfort zone. I help her by actively managing any situation that arises where she feels uncomfortable.
I hope this is helpful, let me know if you have any other questions.
Hi. me and my girlfriend are thinking about getting a shepherd. we live in an apartment but we have alot of woods and stuff close to us plus I want to go out for long walks and jogs whenever I can. do you think that even if we live in a fairly small appartment for now, that we can take care of a shepherd and make her feel well?
German Shepherds are working dogs first and foremost even if you decide on a show line dog. They have high drives that need to be stimulated or they can become destructive and even depressed. Whether you live in an apartment, a house with a yard or even a farm, the commitment is big.
If you want to invite a German Shepherd into your life and you live in an apartment, you’ll need to resolve to give your dog the stimulation he or she needs everyday. So for example, those walks or runs will need to happen everyday. Or daily trips to the dog park if you have one nearby.
Just to give you an idea, my dogs need at least 90 minutes of physical play everyday and then there’s the mental stimulation and formal training sessions too.
I’m not saying you can’t have a GSD while living in an apartment because there are people who have large yards who neglect the physical needs of their dog. So I think it’s more a case of how committed the owners are rather than the size of their home.
But I do suggest you and your girlfriend sit down and work out a schedule, see how much time you both have available to ensure your girl gets what she needs everyday to be a happy well-balanced dog.
I have two Sable Shepherds and a massive backyard and think real hard if you can handle such a breed.
My husband has given up on ours and now l have to become the Master and retrain him into listening to my commands.
I am crying every day as it is tough.
He barks at anyone that walks passed our house – back, side, you name it.
My husband refuses to walk him and he lunges and barks at cars, dogs you name it. Thankfully not human aggressive as well!
But l tell you the work is full on and i am not willing to give up on him, but upset every day.
So yeah, think hard on that one!
If you want an active running dog get one get a little greyhound!
You touch on some very valid points especially regarding the space big dogs need. Although if I may give you a small piece of advice…
I think your boy might respond better if you ditch the idea that he needs a master or that you need to somehow be his leader or alpha. Unfortunately, this is a fallacy that’s perpetuated by “celebrity dog trainers” who actually don’t know or do any kind of science-based dog training. Instead, try your hand at science-based dog learning. Just like human learning, dog learning is based on science, and being a master, alpha or leader does not fit in with the science of dog training.
If you want to dip your toes into science-based dog training, definitely check out my in-depth review here.
Feel free to reach out to me with any questions you have, I’m happy to help. 🙂
I need training skills for my GSD posted to my mail box. He is only 3weeks old.
I need to ask, why do you have a 3 week old puppy? I hope it wasa typo in your comment.
It’s not healthy for a puppy to be taken away from its mother before a minimum of 6 weeks. With GSD’s I recommend 8 to 12 weeks. Unless you have some serious skills in raising a bottlefed puppy your puppy will either survive and have terrible health problems his entire life, or your puppy could die.
Please, if your puppy is 3 weeks old and no longer with his/her mother, take my advice and go to a vet or an experienced shelter. Ask them to help you riase the pup or even better, leave the pup there until it’s at least 8 weeks old.
Yes, that will cost money, but it’s the only way you’re going to have a healthy puppy in the future or even a puppy at all.
also, if you haven’t done so already, sign up for ‘Dog Speak’. So once your pup’s healthy and strong, you’ll be the first to know about the latest articles. Also, you’ll gain insights into how you can apply the latest, cutting edge training methods into training your GSD.
Here’s the link: https://germanshepherdcorner.com/sign-up-for-dog-speak/
Hi, just stumbled across this website and thought id give it a go asking a few questions if you dont mind…..its abit of story so bare with me here.
Weve always had German Shepherds as theyre the best dog their is, each one has been fantastic with our kids and always an excellent temprement however our current 4 year old white coated boy is doing something none of our previous shepherds have done. Hes extremely anxious, not at home but when we take him to our kids school for example tie his leash to a tree he constantly barks until we return where we duly get a telling off lol once we start to walk away from the school he goes back to being fine again.
This also occurs when he sees another dog and because of his size people read it as aggression which as you know yourself im sure when you know the personality traits of your own dog you know when its aggression and when its a “hey come n see me” type bark.
A friend of my wife walks to the school with her to and from each day and she also has a dog (boxer) and they get on great. It seems his anxiety has increased as we use to have a older male named Butch who sadly passed away in August 2016.
We spoke to our vet and they said it could be hes grieving the loss of Butch as we got Max when he was just 8 weeks old. We were looking into getting him ‘done’ to see if that would calm him but it did nothing for our previous dogs and infact our vet recommended we get another dog as a companion for Max, we were undecided as it was abit soon after Butch passed away and it felt abit like we were simply replacing him which would be impossible as he was such a great dog.
However for Max’s sake and ours to be honest as were so used to having two boys we went ahead and got ourselves a pup (8 weeks old) black and tan boy named Teddy, at present weve only had him two days and Max has taken to him fantastically well the excitement on his face when we bought him home was a joy to see as he has been a sad shadow of himself since his buddy passed away.
Im hoping this will go some way to help Max’s anxiety although im worried it may increase it as he will want to protect the pup as it is his half brother also (same father) just wondering if there is any tips i can grab off yourselves to help mend his broken heart and calm his anxiety.
Thanks, appreciate any advice you can give
Thanks for stopping by and sharing your scenario. I’m always happy to help, so no worries.
I’m sorry to hear about your loss of Butch. It’s so difficult to lose a best friend. I’m pleased you’ve opened up your home to a new best friend and I think it was the right move for Max too.
It sounds like a lot has happened in your household recently and also in Max’s life.
The first thing I’d say is don’t neuter him yet. Because so much has happened recently and because you’ve got a new best friend for Max I think adding a general anesthetic experience and desexing him would be an extra load he doesn’t need right now.
Rather hang on with that and see how Max gets on. I think now that Max has a buddy again you might not need to consider neutering at all once things calm down. Also, in my opinion, I prefer neutering males much later. Since you know the breed so well, you know that males can take up to 5 years to mature fully. I believe keeping their hormones balanced into maturity is a smart move.
I have a couple of questions regarding his anxiety. If you could drop your answers in an email to me it’ll make it easier for me to help out.
Was Max socialized to be comfortable around groups of people and in situations out in public or anywhere else he’s displaying separation anxiety?
Did Max and Butch hang around together when you folks went out to the school for example? Or has Max always accompanied you alone with Butch staying behind at home?
With regards to your concerns about Max wanting to protect Teddy, I’d keep those concerns on the back burner for now. Let’s figure out how we can help Max deal with what’s in front of you now.
Here’s my email rosemary[at]germanshepherdcorner.com
This article is awesome .I got a cross breeded German Shepherd puppy and I was happy .I went online to check how to train it and I came across this site .thanks a lot you God sent.. Its really work when I put it on practice and it’s doing fine
Thanks for your comment.
You made my day! I’m so pleased you’ve found value here. It means I’m doing something right.
If you have questions as you progress forward with your training, feel free to drop me a comment, I always respond and I’m happy to help.
Had to transition my first 9 1/2 year old female GSD a few months ago. Despite some major life struggles that she saw me through, it is losing her here, that has been my hardest , most anguished experience that I have ever faced! Now I am very blessed to have reached a point in my healing to love a new GSD puppy and embrace this little ones own individualality! To commit to another GSD to me, is a tribute to how wonderful my deceased girl was and in doing so is also coming from a drive for me to commit to this outstanding intelligent, energetic affectionate,breed and welfare of!
I am so excited to have found this forum as I am just potty training my new little girl! Thank you so much for sharing your profound wisdom!!!!
Your comment has struck a cord with me. My Charley is turning 9 in a few weeks. On Friday our vet found a tumor in her abdomen. She’s having it removed tomorrow. I’m positive she’ll be fine!
But losing a dog that has been there through thick and thin is a painful experience. And I’m sorry for your loss.
It’s lovely that you’re at the point where you have let another beauty into your life. And you’re so right that it’s a tribute to your girl that has crossed over the rainbow bridge.
I’m so please this article has helped you with potty training your new little girl. If you haven’t already, you should consider getting my potty training guide. It’s only a few buck and well worth it. I’ve used the same method to train my German Shepherds since my first boy – Lupo. And many of the readers here at GSC have had the same success.
Here’s a link to the Potty Training Guide, if you’re interested in checking it out.
If you have any questions just leave them in the comments, I’m always happy to help.
I found this pretty useful, however I have a white shepherd and I have only just got her at almost three years of age. Although a extremely beautiful and loyal dogi, she as bonded with me instantly, she was never socialised or trained in anyway and is extremely fearful, of well just about everything… She is coming along nicely though and is pretty much a different dog to what we started with 🙂 however as she has also never had any training at all I am finding it very tough to get her to do even the basics of sit ( I have grown up with dogs and trained many in agility and all forms of obedience) I have taken a very, very mild approach with her and have given positive reinforcement, she is not food or prey driven which makes it difficult, she also doesn’t get overly excited more tends to be very mellow. I know that it has only been a few days five to be exact that I have had her but I would like to make training a daily part of our routine and don’t want to set her up to fail.
Any help would be appreciated
Thanks for sharing here!
Sounds like your girl finds herself in very good hands – lucky girl!
So, now you’ve had her for 7 days. And she’s probably still trying to find her ‘paws’ in her new surroundings. I can relate to your situation to an extent. My girl Charley came to live with us at the age of 6. She was abused by her breeder and in some ways he broke her spirit. So she was terrified of everything. It’s taken me 3 years to get her to the point where her beautiful personality shines through. I’m sure your journey with your girl won’t take as long. 🙂
The first thing I did with Charley was to build up her confidence by doing things she was not frightened of. I couldn’t bring in any toys because she would run a mile or flinch if I threw a ball or frisbee. So we worked on the basics like sit, stay, down, heel etc. She’s still not very prey driven but I did figure out how to boost her drive for food. Which was the tipping point in working with her. I’ll get to that in a second. But it might be worth noting that your girl could be driven by physical affection to begin with or even exercise like a walk in the woods or at the park. So try those out too.
The truth is all dogs are driven by something. It’s just a matter of figuring out what that is. And sometimes with mellow dogs, abused dogs or adult dogs with little or no training background this might take some time.
I got Charley’s food drive up by figuring out which kind of treats held the highest value for her. I wrote about it in this article. Skip to the part “the power of food in dog learning”. There you’ll find the steps to help your girl tell you what she values most in treats.
Once I figured this out, I used these treats only during training sessions. Even today, she only has access to dried liver treats when we’re working. Once you know what she’ll work for I suggest starting with the basic obedience which sounds to me like you know very well.
This will build her confidence. And once her confidence is up you can slowly start desensitizing her to the things she’s frightened of. You can see a very useful graphic of how this works here. Just jump to the section of counter conditioning. Here I suggest going really, really slow. Help her not to become overwhelmed. If you notice she’s shutting down or becoming frightened, stop the training session or steer it in a different direction.
As you know, in training in agility and obedience baby steps are always the best. Setting your dog up for success will always build their confidence and that’s what you want to do for her.
Once you get started with this, please let me know if you have any questions as you go forward – I’m always happy to help.
Hi, I like the blog thanks for the great advice. I am a new GSD owner I have a little boy names Bo Jangers who is now 5 months old (got him at 8-9weeks). He seemed to be a very fast eager learner at first; potty trained in a few days, sit, stay, and come learned fast but are now the problem. He has absolutely learned the commands, but chooses to follow them on his terms. I have removed distractions, tried treats/toys etc. but he seems to be more and more stubborn. I walk him twice a day, I live on two fenced acres with another 12 yr old border collie that he has taken to and he gets plenty of exercise mostly me hitting a ball with a tennis racket until he’s had enough…. I’m not quite sure how to keep him engaged with the training. Is it just more time needed? I’m consistent with my commands and try to be also of my demeanor…. It seems like he’s just testing me ALL the time! lol any advice would be appreciated. Thanks! Curtis
Thanks for sharing your scenario here. It’s great to see more and more German Shepherd owners taking care in their dog’s training!
What you’re experiencing is very common. Like you say Bo has figured it out. This is especially true for the highly intelligent German Shepherd.
My advice is to start working with reinforcement schedules. This will keep Bo on his toes. You can read about how that works in this article: https://germanshepherdcorner.com/dog-learning-lupos-guide-german-shepherd-learns/
I do suggest you read the whole article, even although it’s clear you use positive reinforcement. There’s a stack of useful information there. But to start resolving Bo anticipating the treats, just skip to “Reinforcements Schedule”.
Rewards are ultimately phased out of training once the behavior is mastered. They should only be used to teach the behavior. It sounds like Bo is checking out and doing his own thing because he knows what’s coming next.
Your next goal should be to start teaching Bo new and more complex behaviors. But before you start, first phase out treats/toys with the behaviors he already knows.
In essence, you want to retrain him again on the behaviors he already knows – sit, stay and come.
The key is to use the highest value treats here. You can ask Bo what his favorite treat is, just check out the section “The Power of Food in Dog Learning” in the article I mentioned above.
So why should you retrain him with the highest vale treats?
Because you’re asking him to do something he knows inside out. He’s not going to do this for cheap! I know retraining him sounds counter-intuitive, but, you need to remove the habit of anticipation in Bo, keep him thinking and working. Remember, the German Shepherd is a working dog first and foremost.
Start fading out the treats soon after you see he’s engaged, on his toes and mentally stimulated. You always want to be one step ahead. One of the secrets with training a German Shepherd is to always quit before you dog has had enough.
Then you can go ahead and start teaching new, more complex behaviors.
Feel free to leave any questions in the comments. I’m happy to help.
It was an informative article. I did learn some. I have been in many classes (Nose work 1,2,3 and traveling nose work, tested for ORT but got only one odor, obedience, reactive, agility, good manners classes) for my GSD that I purchased 2013 knowing she was fearful at 5 mths. Now signed up for traveling nose work and CGC but will most likely fail due to the hand shake with a person who has a dog. We have gotten past pretty much all but DOGS. She does have dog friends and I have brought a 1 year GSD in our home in Feb 2016 who is loves after a 15 min intro. I had to let my Siberian husky go in first for to see it was safe and walk them out in the open for about 15 min. They get along extremely well. We have been in steady classes since I got her as I was able to see there was something my 15 years ago dog class was not going to cover. I have not given up on her but I am not sure what else to do? I am open to any idea? Thanks!
Thanks for sharing your comment here!
I can so relate to your situation. My 9 year old GSD Charley is a fearful dog too. She has been since I got her at age 18 months. Sadly, her background before me was very abusive which either contributed to or caused her fearfulness, which translates into dog-aggression. When I brought my GSD Ze home at 12 weeks she almost killed him!
What I noticed with her after many, many attempt to help her overcome her fearfulness towards other dogs is two-fold.
One: Charley is very much influenced by the vibes I give off in a tricky (dog) situation. The more anxious I am the more her dog-aggression shows. The calmer I am, the calmer and more focused on me she’ll be.
I find being aware of what I’m thinking helps a lot. If I find myself imagining how badly a situation when facing another dog can end Charley immediately becomes edgy. But if I’m calm – in breathing, movements and voice the situation immediately changes to a more positive one.
Two: Sometimes we as owners need to understand the limitations our dogs have and help them to live life to the fullest within the parameters they are comfortable with. In Charley’s case that means I need to think about the upcoming situation and plan accordingly. If it’s an unplanned situation like bumping into a dog while out walking I need to read her and anticipate what’s about to happen. And, if I can tell she’s not going to do well I’ll nicely tell the other dog owner that my dog is not comfortable and move on.
Just wanted to drop you a line and tell you how impressed/thankful I am for you. You created an amazing resource for GSD and other dog owners out there. More than that, you’ve given me a new benchmark for what my relationship with my GSD could be like. I still can’t even believe that video I watched – it’s incredible. I have never seen a dog with a drive and energy like that and, of course, his training is equally unbelievable.
I rescued my GSD about a year ago when he was around 18 months. The poor guy didn’t have a name, couldn’t sit/stay, or do just about anything. I didn’t even hear him bark for the first two months.
Since then, I’ve spent thousands of hours reading about dog theory and working with him on everything from the basics to some more advanced stuff. He is wholeheartedly a different dog today. He’s obedient, happy, confident, etc.
All that being said, I would like to get your advice and maybe even a future article on a problem I have.
I consistently practice most everything you talk about above. I do basic sit, down, down to sit, stay, release, come, heel work everyday. He knows “up” for the truck or surfaces, “off” people/objects, “search” for little rodents and animals, “passhof” for growling, working on “speak” (I can’t get that one unless he’s already wining or to keep him barking). I have him stay 5-10 minutes before he can eat every meal. Etc.
The problem I have is more serious. It’s about the connection between me and my dog. I know training is supposed to be fun for the dog. I feel like I’m often too serious and rigid, so I’m working on being more positive. I want to have that playful relationship with my dog like you have. Or something 1/2 as good.
I feel like my dog doesn’t listen when I’m positive though. It’s almost like I have to be Mr Serious to get him to do anything beyond sit/stay that’s mildly advanced. Take my walks with him for example. If I tell him “heel” in a positive voice he gets all excited and walks faster. Literally the opposite of what I tell him. Same if I say “good heel”; he’ll immediately break the heel. But, if I say it in a serious voice he’ll heel properly. So what’s the big deal, right? ‘Just say it in a serious voice’ someone might say… But, I think the bigger underlying problem is I don’t have that electric connection with my dog necessary to go to the next level. The type of connection separating a well trained dog from an amazing dog like you have.
I know he loves and respects me, and obviously I love him too. I just get really frustrated recently because I feel like the training can’t go anywhere until I solve this issue. It can’t be serious all the time. It’s got to be fun and he’s got to want to do it. I see that connection between Schutzhund handlers or people like you and dogs and I really want that. I want him to want to heel next to me. Not just because I told him to. I want that deep level of connection and training where most people will never go with their dogs.
So what should I do? Could it be possible I’ll never have that because my dog’s temperament or drive?
Thanks in advance. Sorry I wrote a damn essay!
Thanks for your comment!
Okay, so it sounds to me like the underlying problem here is your boy is reaching his threshold of excitiement very quickly. And funnily enough I’ve had about 10 comments on my blog in the last week where this is the underlying issue.
The short version of my advise is for you to go back a few steps and teach your boy to control his excitement. You can’t control it for him, you’ve got to give him the tools to do it himself, and it is possible.
i’m going to share something about this because as I said many of the readers on this blog are struggling with the same thing. If you hold out, it’ll be ready by Sunday 3 July. I’ll drop you a comment here with the link.
I just adopted a 1year old German Shepherd she has no training took 2 day to get her walking with lead comfortable she has learned to sit but how do I get her into the down position she not understanding any advice
Good on you for inviting a fully grown GSD into your home. We need more people like you to help get this breed out of shelters. They don’t cope very well in places like that.
It sounds like you’ve got a bright girl on your hands, from what I can tell she’s very responsive to you, this is a great sign.
You can get her to sit by keeping a treat close to her nose and then moving it slowly to the ground so it ends up between her paws. Her nose will follow the treat. As soon as she’s down, release the treat as a reward for her.
Of course you’ve got a whole lot of training on your hands still to come. If you’re interested in force-free, kind training I’d like to suggest a good training program I often recommend. It’s called Brain Training for Dogs and it’s made up of all the basic training behaviors which your girl needs.
And it also has 21 great games for your girl to develop her mental agility. You’ll need all the basic training first to make the mental games a success. I own the program too and use it to teach my dogs fun game to keep them on their toes. GSD’s need a lot of stimulation to avoid destructive behavior and even depression.
Check out the review I wrote to see if you’re interested and to make an informed decision. Brain Training for Dogs.
I hope this helps. If you have other questions, just drop them in the comments.
I rescued a GS(male), when he was 1 1/2. I taught him the basic. Hes perfect on a leash, but off the leash he will NOT come. I am still working with him. Hes now 3. Well, I got a female GS, she is now 7 months old, she has the attention span of a gnat. She is constantly play fighting with the older shepherd, I can not get her attention, i have tried everything. She barks at a leaf falling, to other dogs etc. I said all that to say, how much attention does this young toddler need? I live in the woods, so everything is a distraction to her. I have tried praise, treats, and nothing is working. I have even thought does she have ADD? Any suggestions would be so appreciated, I know she has so much potential, but I am getting tired.
Thanks for your comment and for sharing your situation here.
It sounds like your female is super smart! And might need some targeted training to help her channel that intellect and energy in the right direction.
I recommend checking out and following the online dog training program that I have used to train all my rescue dogs and puppies. It’s unique because it uses games to tap into the intelligence of our dogs and not only teaches them what we want but also supports them in developing their problem-solving skills and teaching them important concepts like focus, impulse control, and the benefits of making the right choices. The best part is it will fit in well with what you’ve already started doing with praise and treats, in a targeted and structured way.
I personally recommend this program because it has been a game-changer for all my dogs. I’ve been using the concepts I learned in the program for over 6 years and since it uses only force-free training methods, I’ve found that my dogs learn faster and are more open to exploring and trying new things.
I’ve written extensively on the program and my experiences with it in this article that you can check out. I also had the privilege of interviewing the trainer who created the program and you might find some of what she says inspirational.
I loved reading this artical, hope you have some for high strung puppies thats always on the go. She drives me crazy at times.
Ha! I can totally relate!
I’ve mentioned this to other readers here…
I’m putting something up that will be ready by Sunday 3 July that will help with your high energy pup.
I’m having a hard time with my brother German Shepard. I recenly got anther German Shepard to help him out and she’s good with him . I let them both out at the same time and he won’t stop barking at the others dogs I tried to stop him from barking by giving him a treat and that works sometime but after I give him a treat he goes back from barking again . I don’t know if any of you have the same problem and I want to know what I can do from barking to much
Check out this article on force-free ways to curb nuisance barking. It’s not just about giving a treat, a big part of the training is distracting a dog from the unwanted behavior, usually with the idea to focus on us. Once they have focused on us, then we give a reward.