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 Tracking Method

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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

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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?

The Train All Levels Method

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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?

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Fury
German Shepherd
3 Months
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Fury
German Shepherd
3 Months

I have a 12 weeks old german shepherd she is very eager to learn but i am a bit ensure how. In tue first 2 hours of her being with me i was able to teach her to sit lay give me paw and bite when i tell her too but when we are outside she loses all her manners and gets too excited she wants to jump on other people or barks at themshes also barking at my cats. I want to teach her commands but unsure where to start. She has been showing me she wants to learn and very eager too she would make a perfect police dog

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
662 Dog owners recommended

Hello Jamie, I suggest focusing on the basic commands first: Sit Down Stay Come Heel Watch Me Name Recognition Leave It Okay Quiet Check out Wag!'s training resources page and look for articles that teach each command step by step. You can also find YouTube videos from trainers with videos showing how. I also strongly recommend a puppy kindergarten class where the puppies are socialized together some off leash and handled by the other owners with treats, in addition to practicing commands. Not being able to perform the commands outside is normal now. He needs to practice the commands in gradually more and more distracting locations to gain the skills to be able to perform them in those environments. The training builds on itself gradually as you practice it and ease into distractions as he improves. Check out www.lifedogtraining.com/freedownloads to download a free PDF puppy e-book. Police puppies need socialization and basic training to start as well. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Ruger
German Shepherd
2 Months
-1 found helpful
Question
-1 found helpful
Ruger
German Shepherd
2 Months

I'm having trouble potty training him. I also want to know when the right time is to teach him commands such as "sit", "stay", ect. Should I wait until he is potty trained and crate trained.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
662 Dog owners recommended

Hello Sophia, Check out the Crate Training and Tethering methods from the article linked below. I suggest starting with just the Crate Training method to help pup learn the concept more quickly. Once pup is doing a little better you can use the Tethering method when you are home some as well if you wish for pup to be with you more. https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-german-shepherd-puppy-to-poop-outside As far as obedience commands, potty training, crate training and socialization are most crucial right now, so make those priority if you are limited on time, but you can begin obedience commands as soon as 8 weeks - it's just not as crucial to start that soon, and many people don't have enough time to practice everything so they put it off for a few more weeks. 8 week old puppies can certainly start learning those things though, just know that pup's attention span is short right now, so be patient and practice for short amount of times often, instead of super long sessions at this age. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Maxx
German Shepherd
12 Months
1 found helpful
Question
1 found helpful
Maxx
German Shepherd
12 Months

I am a first time dog owner. Help me train him like a police dog. His temperament is good andche grabs things easily. The problem is that i dont know how to train him. Kindly guide me the various techniques and methods for training him in the most perfect way.

Darlene Stott
Darlene Stott
Dog Trainer and Groomer
85 Dog owners recommended

Hello, the way to start off on the right foot is to enroll Maxx in obedience classes. Dogs that go through police training have the highest of obedience levels under their belt as the first step. They are required to go to Advanced Training classes and beyond. So, start Maxx in first level obedience classes. Often, trainers will offer extra classes once the dog is trained, including scent training, search and rescue, and tracking. These are all skills that a police dog will need. Look online for dog training in your area and look at each website to see what extras are offered. Good for you for wanting to train Maxx to be the best he can be. That is excellent and you will enjoy the learning and training, too. Good luck and happy training!

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Question
seezer
German Shepherd
4 Months
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
seezer
German Shepherd
4 Months

How can i train some basic commands such as barking,stay,lay down,attacking,listening to me when i said anything to him

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
662 Dog owners recommended

Hello Dheeraj, Barking on command: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-german-shepherd-to-speak Down: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-german-shepherd-to-lay-down Stay: https://www.thelabradorsite.com/train-your-labrador-to-lie-down-and-stay/ For the attack, you will need to hire a professional protection trainer to do the protection training. Done wrong, dogs can become dangerous toward their owners or friends, instead of just those they are protecting you from. The right protection training utilizes positive reinforcement via bite bags and tugging, and utilizes a dog's natural defense drive, building confidence and control, instead of teaching suspicion of fearfulness. You might want to consider joining a schlutzhund or IPA club if you would like to learn how to do more of this training yourself also. Obedience classes or resources like www.wagwalking.com/free training are great places to learn more about teaching individual commands you with to teach. Know that it will take time for a puppy this age to learn greater focus. Practice often, starting with less distractions during training and progressing to more as pup improves. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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