The Root of the Behavior
As their name suggests, German Shepherds were bred in Germany to be working dogs. They spread to other countries from there, where in addition to guarding, they were used in organized professions such as police work and search and rescue missions. One of the qualities that made them desirable as working dogs was their sense of smell and protectiveness. Whenever they were out guarding and herding, they would smell predators from miles away and bark to signal their approach. They would also bark whenever sheep strayed from their flock. This brings us to one of the reasons why your German Shepherd is very vocal; he smells people and animals from afar and barks to warn you and to keep them off. His loud voice is his weapon and it works very well to keep away intruders. Besides his breeding, your German Shepherd’s wolf ancestry also has a part to play in his behavior, especially when it comes to sounds like howling.
According to dog expert Cesar Milan, all dogs are descended from wolves, who by nature howl to communicate with other wolves. It, therefore, follows that your dog cannot control his need to howl and he will do so in response to noises made by other dogs. Howling can also happen when your dog detects certain sounds that he finds strange or exciting. You may notice, for instance that he howls every time he hears the garbage truck. This could be because of the sound of the engine or the smells coming out of the truck. It is also possible that your German Shepherd is vocalizing because he is bored. As mentioned, German Shepherds are active dogs so if you don’t provide your dog enough exercise, he will make all sorts of sounds including groaning and sighing. You will notice this especially in the evenings after you get home from work where in addition to being restless, your dog will groan until you take him for a walk.
Encouraging the Behavior
German Shepherds can be trained to be quiet. This is evidenced by Shepherds used in police work and rescue missions as they are usually quiet and focused when tracking and only react as trained once they find what they are looking for. For training to be effective, it should factor in rewards. Whenever you notice your dog is quiet, or if he keeps quiet when you ask him to, give him food, toys, a back rub, engage him in play, or take him for a walk. Another way to train your dog is by ignoring his noise. Sometimes your dog will start vocalizing when he wants your attention and if you encourage him by responding to his needs, the behavior will persist.
Reprimanding the behavior when it is happening is also a form of attention and it might encourage him to keep vocalizing. Whenever he makes noise, pretend you do not hear or see him and when he keeps quiet for a few seconds, offer him a reward. If you notice that your dog vocalizes more when you leave him, he could be suffering from separation anxiety. Vocalization that is anxiety related can be managed by spending some quality time with your dog. A more effective solution is behavioral training which will teach your dog to be comfortable about being alone and to wait quietly until you return.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Since German Shepherds are noisy by nature, it can be difficult to know when your dog’s vocalizations are something to be concerned about. One danger sign to look for is when the vocalizations seem to intensify, when your dog vocalizes more often, or if you notice any new noises. This could mean that your dog is sick or suffering from an injury. Sickness is usually accompanied by other symptoms such as a refusal to eat, vomiting, and decreased energy levels. If your dog is injured, he will lick the injured area compulsively, refuse to move around, and may not want to be touched or petted.
German Shepherds are among the noisiest dogs alive but though their vocalizations have mostly to do with ancestry and breeding, they can be trained to be quiet. All you have to do is think of a German Shepard dog used for police work. If all they did was howl, moan, groan, whine and bark all the time, they wouldn’t be very effective at their jobs. They have been trained to be this way and so can your dog.