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If you are searching for a dog that has the capacity for learning obedience quickly and efficiently, look no further than the popular German shepherd. Known for being some of the most intelligent, loyal, and obedient companions in the dog world, German shepherds have held some impressive titles in the past and present, including positions in the police forces, military, and even personal protection. They’re chosen for their ability to learn and comprehend tasks given with little resistance. They are eager-to-please dogs and make great family pets.
However, it’s important to begin training your German shepherd from an early age in order to establish a foundation for that excellent behavior later on. There are several methods that trainers utilize in order to begin training a German shepherd puppy, but one of the more popular ones is a method known as clicker training.
Clicker training utilizes a small device that makes a prominent and recognizable clicking sound when pressed, used to mark certain behaviors that a dog may give in order to reward and reinforce them later on. Clickers take away the need for verbal marks like ‘yes’ or ‘good’ early on and act as an easy way to catch your dog’s behavior as it happens. Puppies especially need reinforcement immediately after the behavior is performed and a clicker is fast enough to provide this without issue. Clickers are used in tandem with treats very often, as using the treats helps to build a good association with the clicker. Trainers and owners can also use toys or affection, depending on what motivates your German shepherd better.
Once your German shepherd puppy is about eight weeks old, he is ready to begin obedience training. Training should happen frequently several times a day for short bursts of time to prevent overwhelming him or burnout. Balancing clicker training with lots of treats, toys, and playtime can help your puppy build a fantastic training foundation.
Before anything else, you’ll need to get a clicker! Clickers come in many different colors, styles, and sizes, but all have the same main function: they click! No matter what sort of clicker you find, it will serve to start the beginning of your dog’s journey into proper obedience. Consider purchasing a clicker with an attachment to wear around your wrist for easy transport.
Once you obtain a clicker, then you’ll need to find a treat or toy that can serve as a reward. Small treats work best, as clicker training tends to go fast and playtime with a toy can put a hard pause on your training session until you can find a time to retrieve it. But depending on your German shepherd’s behavior and preferences, use what excites him the most.
The Beginner Method
Teach your dog what the clicker means
You can do this by not asking him to do anything yet. Simply click and then reward. This will help him associate the click with a good reward.
Begin with a task such as ‘sit’ or ‘down’. Guide your dog into the proper position using a treat or toy as a lure.
Mark and reward
Any time your German shepherd makes positive progress towards a task or behavior, mark it with a click and reward him. He will soon make more and more progress as you encourage the right behavior.
Keep rewards consistent
Your German shepherd puppy will do best at the beginner levels if a reward always comes with the click. Later on, you can consider weaning him off of them, but consistency in the early stages is key.
Learn the basics
After learning ‘sit’, move on to other commands that should be relatively easy to learn such as ‘down’, ‘speak’, and ‘stay’. These can help build a better foundation with clicker training.
The Intermediate Method
Take your training outside or in a somewhat busy environment. Use these distractions to build your German shepherd’s focus on the clicker.
Offer better rewards
It can be difficult to focus on clicker training when there are distractions, so better or more rare rewards can be a helpful tool. Use real meats, or other dog-safe people food that can be exciting and new for your dog. New toys can also be used. Just be sure that every reward you offer your dog is safe for her to use.
Try leash training
Using clicker training to adjust your German shepherd to walk on a leash can be extremely rewarding for both you and her. Use the clicker to reward proper leash walking and other good behaviors when out and about.
Decrease the amount of treats
Start rewarding only every other click to begin weaning your dog off of her reliance on treats.
Balance training with exercise
Training sessions should still be short and sweet, balanced with both long walks and playtime to maintain a routine that promotes health and prevents your dog from becoming overwhelmed. Don’t try to ask too much from your dog all at once.
Go back a step if necessary
Remember to reward for positive behavior and ignore negative behavior. If your German shepherd is struggling to grasp a concept, you can begin again from the start. Try again as many times as you need to for her to understand.
The Advanced Method
Introduce other mental stimulation
Clicker training should only be a small part of your dog’s obedience training. Utilize other tools like chew or puzzle toys to keep his brain occupied when you can’t be there to train him.
Get involved in sports
German shepherds can be very athletically inclined and great at sports like dock diving, rally obedience, agility, or other similar sports. Use the clicker to adjust your dog to the tasks that are required for your preferred sport.
Give your dog a job
Use your clicker training sessions to teach your dog something useful like fetching newspapers or other household items. Alternatively, you can get him involved in more intense work such as search and rescue or begin training to become a therapy dog.
Get rid of the treats entirely
Let the treats become more and more rare until your dog is performing only for the reward of the sound of the clicker.
Show off your stuff
Practice your dog’s clicker training often to keep it fresh in his mind. The more you practice and use this in your day to day life, the more your German shepherd puppy will be able to perform later on without hesitation.
By TJ Trevino
Published: 01/23/2018, edited: 01/08/2021