How to Train a German Shepherd for Show

Hard
3-6 Months
Work

Introduction

For many owners of purebred dogs, the ultimate goal of raising a prize-winning pup is often on the horizon as soon as the puppy is born. Purebred dogs are often chosen to be bred and trained for competitive dog shows right from the get-go, displaying the best of the ‘ideal’ breed standards while demonstrating exceptional obedience and behavior out in the show ring. However, not every dog is capable of being show-ready, and no dog is going to be ready for a show right out of the gate. In fact, many owners put in months, if not years, of hard work in order to prepare their dogs for the ring. It’s not often you see a dog show participant running amok with poor behavior and etiquette.

One of the most prominent breeds for show is the German shepherd. While there is some debate about the development of the breed for show purposes, they are still widely regarded as dogs of prestige and beauty both in and out of the show ring. German shepherds are responsive to training with the right motivation and are often quick to want to please their owners which makes for a great show companion. However, as with all dogs, the preparation for competition is arduous and requires a great deal of commitment.

Defining Tasks

A dog show typically consists of multiple dogs of the same breed entering the ring and being observed by a panel of judges who look for particular traits in things like the dog’s gait and walk, the dog’s coat and fur colors, their idle stance, and the health of their ears, eyes, mouth, and paws. While some dog shows pit one dog against the other, other shows may compare each dog to a “standardized” look. No matter which type of show, however, your German shepherd must be trained to perform the appropriate behaviors within the show ring.

The first important thing is the walk, as dogs are often instructed to walk at a certain pace around the ring with a handler. The second is their stance when standing, where most German shepherd owners prefer to utilize a stance called the “stack”. The third is general obedience and how it comes into play within the show ring. Each of these is a potential milestone for German shepherd owners who wish to show their dog.

Getting Started

Before getting started, be sure that your dog meets the requirements for competing within the show that you wish to compete. Most dog shows are accepting only of purebred dogs with traceable lineages and pedigrees. Comparatively, while show rings are open mostly to purebreds, dog sports competitions like agility and rally obedience are open to dogs of all breeds, mixed or otherwise. But for breed shows, you’ll want to have your dog’s papers on hand to be able to prove that he is, indeed, the breed that is being shown.

Second, you’ll want to be sure your dog is vaccinated. Dog shows can bring him around any number of other dogs and illness can readily spread without the proper precautions. In addition to a health check, you’ll want to have a leash and collar that is standard in the show ring. This will help your dog adjust to the sort of gear that will be used later on.

The Heel Method

ribbon-method-1
Most Recommended
1 Vote
Step
1
Start early
German shepherds should be learning heeling techniques as soon as they are vaccinated and safe to do so. This means beginning in puppyhood.
Step
2
Adjust to the collar and leash
Offer treats while trying to fit your dog with the right collar and leash that you will want when teaching him to heel and walk at your side. Be sure that the collar fits appropriately and is not too tight or too loose.
Step
3
Bait your dog into position
Use a treat to lure your dog to stand to your left. Don’t start walking until he can remain in that position for a good few seconds.
Step
4
Use the command ‘heel’
When your dog sets himself into the right position, use the word ‘heel’ to mark the behavior. Reward whenever he maintains the position.
Step
5
Start the walk
Use a treat to lure your dog forward a few steps, but keep him in the position at your left side. Reward him for managing those steps. Gradually increase the number of steps you take before giving a reward.
Step
6
Keep training short
Repeat the training often, but keep the length of the training sessions to a maximum of ten to fifteen minutes. Keep the training fun and rewarding. Always end on a good note with plenty of treats or some play time with a favorite toy.
Recommend training method?

The Stacking Method

ribbon-method-2
Effective
0 Votes
Step
1
Teach your dog to stay
The basis of a good “stack” is to ensure that your dog doesn’t move from her position. Work on a ‘stay’ as a part of her usual obedience work.
Step
2
Stack on flat ground
Working on a hill or other slanted surface may make it more difficult to stack your German shepherd the correct way.
Step
3
Align the front legs
Hold your dog’s head by the collar to keep it straight while aligning the front feet. Both legs should be side by side and straight up from the ground. You should only be able to see one leg if viewed from the side.
Step
4
Align the hind legs
The foot that is farthest away from the “viewer”, if viewed from the side, should have its toes aligned with the beginning of the hips. The foot that is closer to the viewer should be placed further back with the heel of the foot aligning with the tip of the tail.
Step
5
Learn the anatomical terms
There are many terms that typical show dog owners use for stacking a German shepherd. Among them are terms like ‘withers’, ‘hock’, ‘croup’, and other similar terms. Use these when referring to different parts of your dog.
Step
6
Reward for holding the stack
Never keep your dog in a “stack” position for longer than is necessary. It can be uncomfortable to remain in that posture for too long. Reward often for holding the position and quickly move on to something else when possible.
Recommend training method?

The Obedience Method

ribbon-method-3
Effective
0 Votes
Step
1
Socialize early
Show dogs are handled by all manner of people, including strangers like the judges and other handlers. Socialize your German shepherd to many different types of people and dogs.
Step
2
Accepting touch
Get personal with your dog often by placing hands along his nose, ears, eyes, mouth, and paws. These are often areas that judges will inspect when performing their judging, so your dog will need to know how to tolerate it. Keep touches gentle and reward often when your dog allows you to touch these areas without a fuss.
Step
3
Learn the basics
Every show dog should have basic obedience on their resume. ‘Sit’, ‘stay’, and ‘down’ are all important for a show dog to know. Make it easier for him in the show ring by also teaching him ‘stand’, ‘quiet’, and a release word that means it’s okay for him to relax like ‘okay’ or ‘all done’.
Step
4
Potty training
Show dogs can easily be disqualified for relieving themselves in the ring. Start potty training early and work on holding it when indoors. If you’re at a competition, be sure to take your dog outside when necessary to use the bathroom before you have to be in the ring.
Step
5
Rest breaks
Dogs are much happier when they have time to just be dogs. While showing is important and can create a good sense of a job well done, your German shepherd should still be allowed to play, run around, and get plenty of exercise when he isn’t in a competition. Remember that your dog is still a pet with needs.
Recommend training method?

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Lupo
German Shepherd
4 Months
1 found helpful
Question
1 found helpful
Lupo
German Shepherd
4 Months

My puppy doesn’t allow unknow people to touch him and we have our first show soon. Also, he tries to bite if somebody tries to pet him. How can I deal with this?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1125 Dog owners recommended

Hello Christina, First, you may need to postpone pup's first show. They will be passed over for showing any aggression toward the judge anyway if that's still present by then, and pushing pup into that type of environment while this is still an issue could effect pup's long term outcome in this area and thus pup's overall show career. Confirmation shows are about not only structure and coat but also temperament conforming with the standard. Prioritize addressing this and general socialization right now, postpone showing pup for a little while if needed, to ensure pup is on the right track to handle such environments long term. Once pup is doing well with touch and handling and smaller crowds through training, I would start shows by having pup attend one, so pup can get used to that atmosphere without you feeling stressed about how pup performs (your attitude will effect pup's stress level), and without the pressure of being handled by the judge or as close with the other dogs. Once pup is confident in that atmosphere and touch, then it's time to consider entering shows with pup. Recruit friends and family pup doesn't know to walk past them while on leash. Watch pup's body language and have the person stay far enough away that pup stays relaxed. As the person passes pup and pup is reacting well (don't reward while aggressive or acting fearful), then have the person toss several treats gently toward pup's paws and continue walking. Have lots of different people do this in lots of different place - without approaching pup after. You want pup to begin to associate the people with something fun happening and take the pressure of petting away at first before pup is ready for that part. As pup improves, have the people gradually decrease the distance between them and pup. Once pup can handle people walking right by and dropping treats, practice the protocol from the video linked below, keeping pup's leash short enough that if pup were to lunge while practicing this, they won't be able to get to someone to bite. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KIJoEJfTS-E Finally, during all of this, practice desensitizing pup to handling and touch using their food. As often as you can, feed pup their meals one piece at a time. Gently touch pup in an area while feeding a piece of food. Touch their should - feed a piece. Touch their back - feed a piece. Touch an ear - feed a piece. Touch their collar - feed a piece. Touch their paw - feed a piece. Touch their belly - feed a piece. ect... Do it gently and start with areas pup is most comfortable and work up to the other areas as pup improves. When pup enjoys your touches, add in other people pup knows touching, like family members. When pup can handle that add in gentle strangers once pup has completed the other training and is more comfortable with strangers. Don't rush these things but do practice very often and with lots of different people. Watch pup's reaction and go at a pace where pup can stay relaxed - the goal isn't just for pup to act good but actually feel better about people - so pup staying relaxed and happy around people is what you want to reward, which will mean going at the pace or distance pup an handle. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Add a comment to Lupo's experience

Was this experience helpful?

Question
Coco
German Shepherd
2 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Coco
German Shepherd
2 Years

Want to train her basic obedience

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1125 Dog owners recommended

Hello Mohammad, Below I have included some articles for teaching most of the commonly taught basic obedience commands. Place command: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O75dyWITP1s Down-Stay: https://www.thelabradorsite.com/train-your-labrador-to-lie-down-and-stay/ Sit - Treat Luring method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-german-shepherd-puppy-to-sit Heel- Turns method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel Come - Reel in method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-whippet-to-recall The below commands are not technically considered basic obedience for things like obedience classes, but I find these commands also helpful for having a generally well mannered dog in your life, if your goal is that, opposed to competition obedience. Off- section on The Off command: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-train-dog-stay-off-couch/ Thresholds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-w28C2g68M Out - which means leave the area: https://www.petful.com/behaviors/how-to-teach-a-dog-the-out-command/ Leave It method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bite Quiet method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-shih-tzu-puppy-to-not-bark Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Add a comment to Coco's experience

Was this experience helpful?

Question
Sunil
German Shepherd
2 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Sunil
German Shepherd
2 Years

Dear Trainer,

My dog Merlin Fixfrutta is a 31 months old male German Shepherd. The only problem with his is he pulls with too much force in the ring and very difficult to handle. He trots very nicely but pulls with full force while some other dogs in the ring doesn't pull at all and bounce when they walk as they are very light feet.

Please guide how can I train like that.

Thanks

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
1125 Dog owners recommended

Hello Sunil, I highly suggest joining a Canine Good Citizen class or Intermediate Obedience class so that you can have opportunities to practice heeling around other dogs more often. Many dogs do fine walking when there are no distractions but other dogs are highly distracting and in order to handle heeling around them, there needs to be a lot of practice heeling around other dogs, simulating the conformation ring's distractions. Another option is to check out the article that I have linked below, follow the "Turns" method, and then join a group of regular dog walkers or hikers, who practice training or walking with a group of dogs often. Such groups can often be found on meetup.com or through local obedience clubs. You might feel silly but join that group and practice the steps from the article as you walk with your dog around other dogs, making turns, doing things to keep his interest on you, and correcting any pulling as soon as his head begins to move past your knee. If you turn too late to correct the pulling, he will be too far ahead for it to be effective. The key here is lots of repetition around other dogs, so that other dogs become less exciting and his focus increases with practice, just like any other skill. There are other tools that you can use to correct pulling that do work faster, but because you are doing conformation, you will not be able to take shortcuts with tools since you cannot use most of them in the ring. Instead you simply need to practice using your own body language and rewards to gain his attention. https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

Add a comment to Sunil's experience

Was this experience helpful?

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