How to Train a German Shepherd to Listen to You

How to Train a German Shepherd to Listen to You
Easy difficulty iconEasy
Time icon1-3 Days
General training category iconGeneral

Introduction

Sometimes, dogs can be stubborn. Whether it’s because Fido is easily distracted or is just bored, it can be difficult to get his attention in order to teach him the behaviors you’d like for him to learn. You know he’s smart. You know he can do it. If you could only get him to pay attention to you for just a few seconds in order to teach him!

German hepherds, though generally known for being great at obedience of any kind, can sometimes develop some bad habits. With highly intelligent dogs sometimes comes the capacity to be bored or more interested in something else entirely. German shepherds can also be capable of some pretty high prey drives. Try getting your dog’s attention when a peppy little squirrel darts by. It can sometimes be impossible! But there are a few tips and tricks to get your dog to be more interested in you and what you have to say rather than whatever interesting smell might be lingering in the dirt a few feet away.

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Defining Tasks

Getting your German shepherd to listen to what you have to say doesn’t have to be so difficult. Being able to communicate effectively with your dog is the number one way to practice proper obedience. Remember that dogs don’t always understand the methods of communication that humans tend to use. Using his name over and over with no response will often just teach him to tune you out. Your dog prefers to use body language to communicate or prefers to respond when there is a reward to be had. This is where positive reinforcement comes in.

Teaching your dog to listen can begin at any age, young or old. Stubborn or not, German shepherds are intelligent and willing to work with the right motivation. Grabbing his focus reliably can take as little as one day, but can take up to maybe three for a particularly disinterested pup. His rate of improvement will depend heavily on what you offer in exchange for his attention.

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Getting Started

You’ll want to begin by determining what motivates your dog. Most of the time, it’s treats. But it can also be toys or other rewards. Make sure these rewards are high in value, meaning that your dog only receives them on “special occasions”. Good treats to use are bits of real chicken or other dog-safe meats, cheese, peanut butter (without xylitol), frozen beef or chicken broth, or any type of human food that is safe for your dog to eat. Be sure to double check and research that the snack is healthy for your pup!

Once you’ve gotten together some fun and tasty rewards, then you can get your dog into an area free of distractions. The less distracted he is at the beginning of your training, the more likely he’ll be able to listen to you later on when there are more things that may try to grab his attention.

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The Focus Method

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1

Use a treat

Pick a treat that is high in value. Feel free to rotate them out occasionally to keep the rewards fresh and new.

2

Hold the treat up

Hold the treat where your German shepherd can see it. Keep close to him if necessary to let it grab his attention.

3

Use your dog’s name

Say your dog’s name once and only once. A repeated use of his name will only get him to start ignoring you.

4

Use a verbal command

Use a phrase like ‘look at me’ or ‘focus’ as soon as you have your dog’s attention. This command will later be used to get his attention at any time.

5

Reward

Offer the treat as soon as your dog looks at you. It should be an immediate reward, not a second too late.

6

Repeat

Repeat this a few times a day, but only if you have a treat in hand. Over time, you can begin to wean your dog off of the treat, but stay consistent at the beginning. He should get used to being rewarded when he offers you his attention.

The Timing Method

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Catch the behavior

Keep an eye on what your dog is doing. Do not acknowledge her until she turns to look at you for any reason.

2

Have a reward ready

Have your reward in hand whenever you are training. This method is all about catching your German shepherd at the exact moment when her focus is on you.

3

Use a command when you see the behavior

Use a verbal command to mark the behavior, which you will begin to call it later.

4

Reward right away

Let her take the reward immediately after the verbal command. This will teach her to routinely look back to you whenever the words are said.

5

Practice being quick

Catching when your dog is looking as you is sometimes like catching lightning in a bottle. Be quick to mark the behavior with your verbal command and reward. Do this regularly and getting her attention should become easier over time.

The Play Method

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Use a toy

An interesting toy is best for this method. Something that is colorful, smells interesting, or has a squeaker can all be good traits for a toy that can grab your dog’s attention.

2

Be energetic

Your German shepherd is much more likely to pay attention to you if you’re energetic and all over the place. Jump up and down, make some high pitched noises, and get your dog excited.

3

Run away

Dogs like to chase. Running in the opposite direction can convince yours to go after you with enthusiasm, especially if you have the toy in hand.

4

Reward for response

Reward your dog with the toy when he catches up to you. Have some play time and continue the upbeat energy. The play time with the toy is the reward for wanting to be around you and focusing on where you are.

5

Be consistent

Your German shepherd will only form a habit of paying attention to you if you are consistent in your rewards. Never forego the play time with the toy if your dog isn’t reliable enough to do so. This will often cause a step backwards.

By TJ Trevino

Published: 03/12/2018, edited: 01/08/2021

Training Questions

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Training Questions and Answers

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Max

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German Shepherd

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7 Weeks

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Question

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I want her to be aggressive

April 15, 2022

Max's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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1133 Dog owners recommended

Hello Akinwale, Protection training requires a high level of obedience, socialization, off-leash reliability, trust and respect. Protection training - where the dog is trained to actually bite in a dangerous situation is something that I only recommend a professional with years of experience with such training do - if done wrong by someone less experience you can actually ruin a dog and create terrible aggression instead. Protection dogs are typically trained using drive training - which is like a form of positive reinforcement, where the dog is rewarded with tug of war type bite bag for biting an assistant in a padded body suit who is pretending to attack, not through fear or intimidation to get them to bite. Protection dogs are actually socialized extremely well around people prior to the training so that they are friendly and confident around people when not working, and not spooky or mean. This allows them to tell when someone is acting normal or suspicious - because they understand what normal human behavior looks like, and for the owner to bring the dog places with them safely to protect them instead of being a hazard in public due to aggression. Look for a trainer who understands these things and has a lot of success working with dogs such as Police Dogs and privately trained protection dogs - training protection work. As far as barking, a trainer can help you with this part too, but this is something that can be taught more easily on your own than bite work. To help with this area I would need to know a bit more about what you are wanting to teach. Are you wanting to teach pup to bark at all strangers, strangers who come onto your property, strangers who are acting "suspicious", or just strangers that approach you in general. There are a lot of specifics that you have to decide about when and how often you want pup to bark. The training is then practiced in those locations around people, who are doing those types of things, commanding the dog to "Speak" in those situations, then rewarding pup. After lots of practice you slowly phase the Speak command out and just practice that situation, waiting for pup to bark on their own, then rewarding, giving a Speak command hint if pup doesn't bark after a few seconds (you will need volunteers to help with this part most likely - such as someone to practice walking around your yard suspiciously while you command your dog to "Speak!" and reward him for barking). https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-german-shepherd-to-speak For the heeling, check out the article and video linked below: Heel article - The turns method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel Heel Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTiKVc4ZZWo Most German Shepherds are also naturally protective and have a decent defense drive. Generally instinctual aggression like protectiveness will naturally exhibit itself between 1-2 years of age when a dog reaches maturity. Socialization to build confidence and so pup knows what's normal and isn't suspicious of the wrong things, and obedience should be focused on during the first year. You can encourage that defense drive as a puppy through play, with games like flirt pole chasing and tug, with a release command. You may be interested in joining a local Schlutzhund or IPO group once pup is older and has the necessary obedience and socialization training already. You don't want a dog who is unsocialized, fearful, overly suspicious, and a bite liability - those dogs are often euthanized, owners sued, and owner unable to take the dog with them places for protection. You want a highly trained, balanced, well socialized dog, who has been taught intentionally how to recognize danger, alert when someone new is around, and bite and hold on command if necessary, releasing and not biting when told also. That takes training, not avoiding socialization at this age. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

April 18, 2022

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Bruno

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German Shepherd

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5 Months

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I want my dog to be obedient and it’s such a stubborn dog which he don’t like to listen when ever talking to him

March 14, 2022

Bruno's Owner

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Caitlin Crittenden - Dog Trainer

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Hello Boi, First, at this age most puppies are a bit like rebellious teenagers. The combination of hormones, developing minds, a lack of training - including impulse control practice, and puppy energy makes most puppies this age a bit naughty, rambunctious, and distracted. My advice is often to train anyway. It will often feel like nothing is being learned, but if you can stay consistent and persevere there often comes a day when pup is a little more mature when you notice that pup is actually obeying the training you have been doing. Teaching pup at this age is still important for future outcomes. My guess is that pup has learned or is still learning basic obedience, especially at this age - the initial goal with Basic Obedience is just to teach pup what a word means and motivate them to learn. This usually results in a puppy who can obey when things are calm and somewhere familiar like your living room. What comes next is intermediate obedience. For intermediate obedience, you will gradually work up to distractions and pup developing the skills to obey in those situations too - at first the distraction might be someone walking through the room, a squirrel in the yard, a leaf blowing by, ect...Start with less distracting environments, then gradually move onto harder environments and spend intentional time practicing in each of those new environments until pup can focus there too. For example, in your home without others around is easiest, your backyard is a bit harder, your front yard is even harder, your neighborhood is even hard, your home with guests present is even harder, a pet store is even harder, ect...Go out of your way to practice at the current level pup needs to learn at and to create the distractions pup is ready to learn to overcome during training sessions when you can control things - so that pup can also respond when things are more out of your control in every day life, but keep the distraction level what pup is ready for at that point in the training so pup can still succeed with your help - the goal is to guide pup and provide consistent, calm boundaries at this point. Second, you may need to switch some of your training methods if pup knows the commands well from basic and intermediate practice but is sometimes choosing to disobey. For example, when teaching Sit I would first recommend using the Treat Luring method from the article linked below. Once pup knows that method well and has worked up to some distractions, you could enforce the command using the Pressure method from that same article when pup chooses to disobey something they know. The pressure method will still reward some but will also give a gentle consequence for disobedience to encourage pup to obey even when they don't find it as fun. Sit - Pressure method: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-german-shepherd-puppy-to-sit Some other methods to help enforce commands when pup is ready: Reel In method for Come: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-whippet-to-recall Turns method for Heel: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-poodle-to-heel The Leash Pressure method for down: https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-german-shepherd-to-lay-down Finally, check out the Consistency and the Working method from the article I have linked below. You can use everyday things pup wants as motivators to get pup to obey, such as telling pup to Sit before giving breakfast and waiting until they do so before putting the food down. Often you will have to wait pup out pretty long the first time, fifteen minutes being normal. Repeat your command just once every five minutes. When pup finally complies, give the food and praise calmly. As pup sees that you are consistent, calm, and firm, pup should start to obey more quickly as you practice. https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-doberman-to-listen-to-you A drag leash can also be kept on pup when you are home to supervise, to ensure it doesn't get caught on things. When you give pup a command like Leave It, Place, Off, Come, Out, ect...You can calmly pick up the end of the leash and help pup follow through with your command, like walking pup over to where you called them from originally - showing pup that you mean what you say and they need to follow through without having to get angry or let pup get away with ignoring you. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

March 14, 2022


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