How to Train a German Shepherd for Police Work

Hard
8-12 Months
Work

Introduction

Since the domestication of the wolf, man has partnered with the dog for a number of different jobs throughout history. Dogs can act as protectors, herders, athletes, or simply companions. But there is no better example of humans and dogs working together than the police K9 unit: a team of both police officer and specially trained dog, which fill in one or multiple roles. They work together in tandem, utilizing the dog’s enhanced senses and prey drive while relying on the officer’s knowledge and experience.

While police dog breeds can vary somewhat, the tried and true breed that stands out as the ideal police dog is the German Shepherd. With a powerful and athletic body, the German Shepherd presents itself as an intelligent, loyal and steadfast companion, fit for police training.  

Defining Tasks

K9 training is multi-faceted, as some police dogs can be dual purpose. Work for a police dog can consist of protection training as well as scent work in the form of tracking people or detecting explosives or narcotics. Most dogs will specialize in one particular area, but like their handlers, a police dog will need to be able to respond to a number of situations in the appropriate manner.

Training a German Shepherd for police work typically begins at a very early age. Most K9 units will adopt a puppy after eight weeks and begin training almost immediately following a temperament test that dictates whether or not the dog is suited for police work to begin with. However, training can take up most if not all of the first year of the dog’s life, so while the possibility for “flunking” police dog training does exist, most dogs are in it for the long haul.

Getting Started

So, you'd like to train your German Shepherd to have the skills of a talented and focused police dog? It is an admirable task to take on and one that will require hard work from both of you. Although most law enforcement K-9 units have specific places (in the United States and Europe) that they draw their canine staff from, it is possible that you may be able to volunteer with a search and rescue unit if there is ever a need. 

In the meantime, prepare your pup for an eventual hero's role by fine-tuning their obedience, tracking, and vocalization skills.  Your dog will need the skills for focusing on work. If your dog is at all anxious, nervous, or scared they may not have the temperament for the intense training. Your dog should also be health tested and given a check to ensure that he is healthy enough to begin training and is free of any illness or injury.

Following both of those checkups, be prepared with proper training rewards like treats or toys for good behavior. Fit your pup with a comfortable collar, buy a new leash for training sessions, and gather up your patience and positive attitude. This will ensure that the training sessions are fun and enjoyable for both you and your German Shepherd.

The Train All Levels Method

ribbon-method-3
Most Recommended
1 Vote
Step
1
Start at home
It's easy to start some training at home by getting your dog to focus on the task at hand, whether it is learning to go potty or learning to wait politely when you put his meal in front of him. Doing so will give your pup confidence and security. Positively reinforce any training with a high-value treat to give your dog incentive.
Step
2
Begin with the basics
All dogs need obedience training and the place to start is with the basics at puppy training class. Your dog will learn how to sit, stay, and heel. He will also start recall skills. All of these are components of a well-behaved dog.
Step
3
In-class fun
Reward your German Shepherd generously as instructed in the obedience class. This will either be through yummy treats or exuberant high fives. Your dog will focus and be eager to learn when there is a valued reward, whether food or affection.
Step
4
Social skills
A police dog or volunteer search and rescue hero needs to be well socialized. Calmness and the ability to focus on a job while getting along with both people and other canines is key to success. Not only that, but you will have a well-rounded German Shepherd that you can take anywhere.
Step
5
Move on up
After you and your pup have graduated from obedience class, keep moving through all of the levels, from basic to advanced and beyond. Enrol your dog in tracking and agility so that he can further his skill-set.
Recommend training method?

The Tracking Method

ribbon-method-1
Effective
0 Votes
Step
1
Hide and seek
Begin teaching tracking by showing your German Shepherd an object and then hiding it nearby. Make it an object he wants to find like a toy or a treat.
Step
2
Find the scent
Next, use two items that smell similar. Show your dog one of the items and have him smell it, then hide the other item and let him search for it. Keep it close to enable him to be successful early in the training.
Step
3
Use a verbal command
Use a command such as ‘find it’ or ‘search’ whenever you require your German Shepherd to look for something based on a scent.
Step
4
Start simple
Start indoors or in a small yard to begin your training. Keep objects or people you are searching for close by and only somewhat out of sight. Reward generously early on to convince your dog that he is playing a game and when he finds what he is looking for, he wins a prize.
Step
5
Go complex
Take the search out and into fields or out into the woods. Have more than one person hide. Increase the distance and length of searches over time. This should be a gradual increase over months. Reward, as always, for good progress and behavior.
Recommend training method?

The Bark on Command Method

ribbon-method-2
Effective
0 Votes
Step
1
Find a trigger
The best way to start to teach your dog to bark when you want is to find a trigger that sets them off on their own. Holding a ball as if to play, or having an assistant ring the doorbell are ways to give your dog the cue.
Step
2
Bark or no bark
Starting with the ball is the first step. Hold your dog's favorite ball and look as if ready to play. Say the command bark. If he barks in excitement over the ball (even without realizing the command's meaning) reward him. Each time you bring out the ball, ask for command, and reward him when he barks. If he barks before you ask, do not reward.
Step
3
Play ball
After your German Shepherd complies and barks, reward him and then have a well-deserved play session with the ball.
Step
4
Repeat the lesson
Consistently go over the "bark and play ball" lesson. Once your dog has the bark command down pat, you can gradually reduce the times that you give the food reward.
Step
5
Teach quiet
Using the same principals but a different training object other than the ball, teach your German Shepherd the Quiet command. That way, your dog will speak and stop as you require.
Recommend training method?

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Jack
GSD
2 Months
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Jack
GSD
2 Months

Just to start and doesn't want to make wrong at the outset.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1101 Dog owners recommended

Hello, I would begin how you would with any dog preparing for future work with people. Pup needs excellent social skills so they grow up confident, adaptable, and understands what's normal human behavior and isn't. Later pup will be taught things like bite holds and just focusing on you, but you still want that general socialization with lots of people, places, and other animals. Socialization, bite control, and potty training will be the most time sensitive at this age, so make those the priority still while pup is young. For pup to learn how to control the pressure of their mouth, I recommend time playing with other young puppies off learn. This tends to be learned best through moderated off-leash play before the age of six months. The sooner the best developmentally once pup can safety join other pups. https://www.petful.com/behaviors/puppy-classes-when-to-start/ Once pup is ready to start obedience training, which can start right now if you have enough time for that, potty training, socialization, and bite inhibition to remain priority, or can start once pup is a little older if you are short on time, then I would work on teaching pup all your routine basic obedience, but continue onto intermediate, then off-leash obedience. Along the way you can do things through play to encourage pup's defense drive, which is important for later police work training, so pup learns how to more into a source of pressure instead of retreat. Games like Tug of War, where you teach pup to release the toy on command, a firm Stay and Come command - which will be needed during times of high pressure, teaching a release cue, and eventually starting on bite bags and increasing pup's interest in mouth games. Depending the specifics of the work pup will be doing as a police dog, agility can be helpful for building confidence and skill with navigating obstacles and jumps, teaching to find something by scent through scent games can help prepare pup for later nose work, and getting pup used to a lot of different types of environments and building focus on you or a task even in the distraction of the environment are all good things to prepare pup for more formal training later. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Add a comment to Jack's experience

Was this experience helpful?

Question
Jiji
German Shepherd
8 Months
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Jiji
German Shepherd
8 Months

He doesn't compete in anything he's afraid of soccer ball he doesn't listen to command

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1101 Dog owners recommended

Hello Abdul, I would pursue something like agility, to build overall confidence. I would also make sure any police type training you are doing is using positive reinforcement like games of tug of war, interesting scent work with treats for finding, and is generally fun, and not intimidating. Dogs who make good police dogs need to have naturally strong defense drive. That's an inherited drive, that can be encouraged, but needs to be there to begin with. Usually between 1-2 years is when you start to see that drive the most. Up to one year, I would focus on building confidence through thorough socialization and obedience commands through training like relationship based training and positive reinforcement mostly. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Add a comment to Jiji's experience

Was this experience helpful?

Question
Lucy
Mixed
1 Year
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Lucy
Mixed
1 Year

Can this dog be a guar dog

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1101 Dog owners recommended

Hello Aman, I would need to know a lot more about pup's temperament and history to accurately answer your question. A good guard dog generally needs to be alert of their surroundings, have a good defense drive (will hold their ground or move toward a source of pressure instead of flee), be confident around people and not overly fearful or aggressive of everyone, so they can differentiate a threat and a family member entering the property, and be taught a few specific commands so they will defend or move away from a threat on your cue as needed. There are many breeds and mixes of breeds that can have those traits. Your dog may or may not have inherited them. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Add a comment to Lucy's experience

Was this experience helpful?

Question
Bonita
german shepard
12 Months
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Bonita
german shepard
12 Months

I would like to check her possibilities. She is really smart. Bonita finished one training: Good Dog Manners. She likes working all time, she knows a lot of commends, in some seconds she is finding any things, does not afraid of walking nothing, she likes climbing on the trees,watches TV ( she likes serious music), she is active so much and obedient.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1101 Dog owners recommended

Hello Elzbieta, It sounds like she has great potential. Intelligence, confidence, a balanced temperament, and good obedience skills are a very good foundation. A good police dog also needs a fair amount of defense drive - which is when a dog can naturally holds their ground or moves into a situation instead of retreating when there is pressure. Think about dogs who run into a fight on command in the army or police work to protect their handler and take someone down, instead of running away when things get loud and scary. It's the natural push forward and confidence that can be paired with the specialized obedience training later. This is different than fear aggression. This is a confident dog that has control over themselves and can keep a clear head when things are tense - Not a dog who just reacts to everything aggressively. How does pup do under pressure? Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Add a comment to Bonita's experience

Was this experience helpful?

Question
Shi Tou
German Shepherd
5 Months
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Shi Tou
German Shepherd
5 Months

To follow the order!

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1101 Dog owners recommended

Hello Jessica, I need a bit more information to answer your question. How is Shi Tou reacting right now when you give commands? Do they know the commands well enough? Are they disobeying when distracted? Are they struggling to learn the commands to begin with? Are they acting fearful? Are they acting aggressive? Sometimes the issue is that pup doesn't understand a command well enough, using a different training method or practicing more can often improve that. For reliability dogs have to progress through three general obedience training levels - Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced. Basic involves simply teaching a dog what a command means and practicing in calm environments - most dogs only gain this level and most puppies are only at this level. Intermediate specifically works on practicing the commands pup learned in Basic, but gradually adding in more distractions, distance, and duration as pup improves. These things have to be worked up to with hundreds of repetitions often to gain true reliability around all types of distractions. If someone gives a dog a command around another dog in a busy park and expects that dog to obey but they haven't first worked up to calm parks, dogs without park distractions, new people, and whatever else is going on, as individual distractions - that dog won't be able to obey with their current level of self-control and focus when all of the sudden all the distractions are combined. Advanced involves those same skills around distractions being practiced, but using long training leashes and sometimes low level e-collar training or whistles to gradually transition the dog to fully off-leash obedience. Sometimes their is an underlying respect issue and that's why pup ignores commands. The method from the article below can often help with simpler respect building needs not complicated by things like aggression or a general lack of training and communication. If there is an aggression issue more safety measures like a basket muzzle and help from a trainer will be needed. https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-doberman-to-listen-to-you If pup is fearful or aggressive, I would need more information about pup's history and behavior to address that, and I recommend hiring a professional trainer to help in person with aggression. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Add a comment to Shi Tou's experience

Was this experience helpful?

Book me a walkiee?
Pweeeze!
Sketch of smiling australian shepherd