The purpose of dog training is not to teach your pup tricks; Fido can get happily through life without ever learning to roll over, shake hands or play dead. The real purpose of his obedience lessons can be found in the other commands he learns along the way: Sit. Stay. Heel. Lie down. When you make obedience training fun, Fido learns the important lessons along with the tricks and games, which produces a happy, well-mannered German Shepherd that can fit safely and comfortably into the family as well as the society at large.
Why bother with obedience training?
Most German Shepherds aren’t born with good manners – they need to be taught. But German Shepherds learn differently than we do; they need to be gently corrected when caught in the act of doing something wrong. If you show any form of anger or disapproval after stumbling upon evidence of the dirty deed and try to reprimand your German Shepherd for his behavior after the fact, your German Shepherd will have absolutely no idea why you’re upset. He’ll likely be scared and unhappy that you’re angry, but he won’t know what you want him to do about it.
If you want Fido to learn the right way to do things, you need to let him know clearly what those right things are. Correct him immediately whenever you catch him doing something wrong – and then be sure to offer him a way to do it right. For instance, if you catch him chewing on a shoe, take the shoe away while repeating “No chew!” in a firm voice. Then offer him his own favorite chew toy, saying “Yes chew!” in a soothing, happy voice instead. When he does the right thing by chewing on his own toy, lavish him with praise and offer him a small doggy treat. By consistently teaching him the wrong objects and the right objects to chew, he’ll quickly come to understand which are which. Soon Fido will actively be looking for ways to do the right thing in all circumstances so that he can experience delightful happy rewards instead of stern-voiced correction.
Like kids, German Shepherds are always learning – it just might not be a lesson that you intended to teach. Make sure your puppy learns the important lessons he needs so he can grow up to be a trustworthy family member and a good citizen. It’s never too early to start; a very young puppy can quickly learn to sit for a treat, walk on a leash without pulling, and come when called. For more on the importance of early training and socialization, read train your puppy early.
Fido needs to be exposed to lots of different sights, sounds, people, animals, and experiences so that he can comfortably and safely accompany you out into the world. A German Shepherd that’s been too sheltered in his formative years will be skittish and shy around everybody who isn’t immediate family. He’ll also be easily spooked by unfamiliar noises or sights, and may pick unexpected fights with other animals. All of this creates a dangerous and unpredictable quality to Fido’s behavior, making him untrustworthy and potentially violent. It also makes him fearful and unsure of himself much of the time. Be kind to your doggy – start introducing him gently to the wide world around him when he’s still a baby. Show him that he’s safe around strangers and that there’s nothing to be afraid of. If he’s got a watchdog temperament, he’ll still want to protect his home and family from danger; but when he’s been properly socialized from early puppyhood he’ll more likely be able to correctly interpret real danger if it occurs, as opposed to threatening violent attack on every FedEx delivery guy or innocent jogger who comes within a half-block of your property.
Homeschooling your doggy
Everything in Fido’s life is a learning opportunity; you don’t necessarily need to enroll your pup in professional classes if he’s an easy-going and reasonably well-adjusted doggy. To train Fido yourself you’ll need plenty of patience, a collar and leash, a sense of humor and ideally, a reasonable understanding of canine behavior. You might find it helpful to buy a book or two written by the experts on German Shepherd behavior; once you understand what your pup is really thinking and feeling, it’ll make your training program that much easier for both of you.
Remember that consistency is king when training your German Shepherd. For example, If the rule is that Fido gets only dog food at mealtime and crunchy treats in between, then that rule needs to be the unbreakable law of the household. If somebody in the family sneaks him yummy tidbits from the dinner table when you’re not looking, all bets are off. Fido’s been taught that he can beg and steal, and your family has given him the motivation to find endless loopholes in the rules. When he gets in trouble later on (as he surely will) for snacking on a tray of unattended party appetizers, remember that he’s only doing what your family has trained him to do.
When home-schooling Fido, conduct a short training session every day and make sure the session is always fun for your German Shepherd. Every training session should contain a little playtime, plenty of lavish praise and encouragement, and the occasional doggy treat when things go well. Positive reinforcement is the only method you should ever use – if you reprimand or punish Fido for getting it wrong, it’ll just confuse him, stress him out and take him that much longer to learn the rules properly. Remember: he really wants to please you, if he can just figure out what it is that you expect of him. Provide the right learning atmosphere, and Fido should look forward to each training session as eagerly as he looks forward to his daily exercise.
Professional training is always another option for you and your German Shepherd. Always seek the help of professionals when your German Shepherd has behavioral issues or a temperament that’s too much for you to handle on your own. Ask your vet or groomer for recommendations; for more on how to tell if a trainer is the right one for you, read finding the right obedience trainer.
Just as with homeschooling, a training class should be fun, informative and comfortable for humans and pets alike. Ask to observe a class in session before committing your German Shepherd or your hard-earned money to any trainer. If anything about the trainer or the class strikes you as ‘off’’ – if the instructor hits or chokes a dog to correct him if the instructor does anything you consider questionable, harsh or inappropriate – ask for an explanation and if you’re not satisfied with the answers, leave the class. You came here to help your German Shepherd learn the right way to behave; the last thing Fido needs is a traumatic experience at the hands of a trainer that will scar him and leave him even more confused and wary in his relationship with you.
Definitions of terms:
Obedience instructor – A person certified to teach you to train your dog. An obedience instructor works with people, then the people work with their pets.
Dog trainer – A person who teaches your dog to obey, then teaches you how to get the dog to obey you.
Animal behavior therapist – A person with a university degree and years of experience in animal behavior and/or behavior modification who can observe, interpret and understand the root of a dog’s behavioral issues, thereby determining solutions to correct the behavior.
NADOI – The National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors: a membership organization that certifies instructors at several levels of competence.
APDT – The Association of Pet Dog Trainers: an organization of trainers specializing in training pets and helping pet owners solve problems.