How to Train a German Shepherd to Not be Aggressive

Medium
2-8 Weeks
Behavior

Introduction

There is no doubt that he has a fierce exterior. However, for the most part, your German Shepherd is calm, gentle and loving inside. Unfortunately, though, he does have moments where he lives up to his German Shepherd characteristics when he’s overly protective. You’ve caught him barking and even trying to bite other pets and strangers. You’re fed up with worrying when new people come over to the house. 

Training your Shepherd not to be aggressive will alleviate that concern. It will also reduce the chances of him causing harm to someone else. The result of which is that he may need to be put down. His aggression could also get him into a fight with another pet, which could lead to pricey vet bills. Training him not to be aggressive will also mean you can stop fitting him in a muzzle whenever you leave the house.

Defining Tasks

Training a German Shepherd not to be aggressive can be challenging. The first thing to do is identify what is causing the aggression in the first place. You can then go about tackling the underlying problem. Training will need to consist of socialization with other pets and people. You will also need to use obedience commands to increase your control. Some deterrence measures may also be required to prevent his aggression developing further.

If he’s a puppy he should be a fast learner and receptive to training. This means you could see results in just a couple of weeks. However, if he’s older and this habit has developed over many years, then you may need a number of months and the help of your veterinarian or a professional dog trainer or behaviorist.

Getting Started

Before you get to work, you will need to get a few bits together. A water spray bottle and deterrence collar will be needed for one method. You will also need treats and toys for incentives and rewards.

Set aside 15 minutes each day for training over the next few weeks, and be ready with a confident and positive attitude. The more consistently you train, the sooner you will see results.

The Deterrence Method

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Step
1
Privacy
This is particularly important if your German Shepherd is a puppy. He must have a safe space he can escape to. Just like humans, dogs can get frustrated and want some time alone. So make sure his crate or bed is his safe space.
Step
2
Water spray bottle
Whenever he gets aggressive, barks or growls, go over and give a spray of water near his face. This will quickly get him associating being aggressive with negative consequences.
Step
3
Deterrence collar
They are available both online and in local stores. A remote control allows you to give your dog spray of citronella if he needs to be deterred from biting. Use this consistently and he will soon think better of being aggressive.
Step
4
Don’t wind him up
It’s important you don’t get him too worked up when you’re playing games, such as tug of war. It’s also crucial that young children don’t tease him too much. You need him to remain relatively calm.
Step
5
Don’t laugh it off
It’s vital everyone in the house reacts in the same way. If one of you laughs or shakes it off, he will be confused by the rest of training. So sit everyone down and ensure all are on board.
Recommend training method?

The Introductions Method

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Step
1
Obedience classes
Sign him up to group obedience classes from an early age as possible. This will help socialize him with other pets and people. Here will learn what sort of behavior is and isn’t acceptable.
Step
2
Basic commands
Teach him ‘down’, ‘stay’ and other useful obedience commands. This will increase your control and reinforce your position as pack leader. All of which should limit his aggression and make him more submissive.
Step
3
Stand ahead
If your German Shepherd is in front of you when you meet other people and pets, he will think it is his job to protect you. However, if you are in front, he will relax and believe it is your job. This will prevent initial aggression when strangers approach and reinforces you as his leader.
Step
4
Keep it short
When he does meet new people and pets, stay close to him and watch his behavior. If you see his tail drop or he starts to get tense, ask them to step back. You need to respect his boundaries.
Step
5
Reward
Give him verbal praise and the odd treat for as long as he remains calm when he meets strangers. This positive reinforcement will help him associate being calm with positive consequences.
Recommend training method?

The Routine Method

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Step
1
Increase his exercise
He’s a big dog, he will need lots of exercise. His biting may be a result of pent up energy. So take him out for an extra or longer walk. Playing games as you go will also tire him out. A tired dog is a calm and gentle dog.
Step
2
Tug of war
If he does start getting aggressive, it can help to pull out a toy and play tug of war. Directing his aggression down a safe avenue will help show him where aggressive behavior can be released.
Step
3
Cold shoulder
If tug of war doesn’t seem to catch his attention when he turns aggressive, you may want to give him the cold shoulder. If his aggression is attention seeking behavior, simply turning away and ignoring him could show him this will not get him what he wants.
Step
4
Encouragement
You also need to constantly reward him for calm play. Relax and stroke him, while giving him the odd treat and verbal praise. He needs to start associating calm behavior with positive consequences.
Step
5
Never punish him
German Shepherds are big, strong and capable of doing serious harm. So do not anger him by punishing him when he is aggressive. This may only worsen the problem. German Shepherds respond best to positive reinforcement.
Recommend training method?

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Hank
German Shepherd
1 Year
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Hank
German Shepherd
1 Year

Would a beep vibrate and shock collar help me with hank? He’s a great dog. I just don’t know what my other options are. I’ve tried everything.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainier
80 Dog owners recommended

Hello Alyssa, I would need more information about Hank, his temperament, his aggression, and exactly what you have tried so far to say for sure, but I can say that I have seen those types of collars work very well for treating certain dogs with certain forms of aggression when combined with the proper training techniques and used by someone who knows how to properly train with it. When used wrongly or if a poor quality collar is used, then they can also make the problem significantly worse. For that reason I recommend that anyone looking to use one find a local professional in their area, with extensive experience in dealing with aggression and with the use of remote training collars. These collars are typically best used as interrupters and as low level stimulus' to improve a dog's obedience and self-control enough to create windows where positive reinforcement can also be used to deal with the dog's emotional state at the root of the problem. For some dogs aggression is fear based and a collar could cause more damage when used wrongly or it could provide enough interruption in the poor behavior for the dog to receive communication about what he should be doing instead, and that would give him enough opportunities doing the correct behavior to change his views about whatever he is aggressive toward. Aggression can also be due to a respect issue or be a learned behavior, meaning that the dog acts aggressive simply because he has learned that it gets him what he wants. Aggression can also be a genetic trait. To assess everything involved you will either need the help of a trainer or will need to learn the information that trainers spend time learning about: canine behavior, body language, training methods, and the proper use of training tools such as electric collars. That can take a lot of time and work, but I do know of committed owners who have successfully done it and have been able to help their dogs due to their own hard work and knowledge. If you do choose to use such collars, then do not simply punish your dog when he acts aggressively, he needs to be told not to do something, corrected, shown what to do instead, and then rewarded for correct behavior. There are a lot of other things that go into that, such as fitting the collar properly, finding which level your dog responds to without going too high, knowing your dog's body language, avoid dangerous situations, communicating clearly, and being able to tell what is working and not working and adapting, rather than simply increasing the collar level. A collar alone without proper training and positive reinforcement for the right behavior can make aggression worse. As confusing as all of that is, I actually recommend such collars over the use of Citronella collars though because citronella collars can punish a dog for an extended period of time when the dog continues to smell it, but other types of vibration, stimulation, and tone collars are instant and do not continue the punishment for long. Collars that use only air do not punish a dog for an extended period of time though, so those are less unpleasant for a dog. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Brady
German Shepherd
8 Months
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Brady
German Shepherd
8 Months

Brady is a great dog at home and does well with our three boys but when I took him to the park the other day he barked at every person that walked toward us. While at the park he also snapped at my niece and bit her (he did not leave a mark or break skin - he didn't hur her just scared us all). He was fine with my niece when she was at my house but not at the park. How can I get him socialized without fearing that he is going to hurt someone?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainier
80 Dog owners recommended

Hello Kristina, I would recommend getting Brady used to wearing a basket muzzle. A basket muzzle will allow Brady to open his mouth while he is wearing the muzzle and it will allow you to pass small treats to him through the muzzle's holes. You can also use a straw dipped in Peanut Butter or soft cheese to reward him, by poking the dipped straw through the muzzle's holes to let him lick the food off of it. While he is wearing the muzzle you can take him to places safely and reward him with treats for behaving calmly, for looking at people without reacting, and for focusing on you. You can also work on his obedience exercises while he is there to keep his focus on you, to increase his respect and trust toward you, and to keep him from becoming overly aroused and reactive. If the idea of putting a muzzle on him in public is daunting, then I would recommend trying to find a group that regularly goes on walks or trains their dogs together, that would be more supportive of him wearing a muzzle. Some of these groups can be located through websites like Meetup.com or local dog clubs or rescue organizations. Getting together with these groups with Brady while he is wearing the muzzle regularly and working on his reactions and fear while there, should help his overall socialization. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Johann
German Shepherd
5 Months
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Question
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Johann
German Shepherd
5 Months

I got Johann Neutered 2 weeks ago and thier policy was to leave him over night for observation. Since I have picked him up he has been barking aggressively at others on a walk, and in his obedience class. The first 3 sessions in his obedience class he was very timid, so when others went up to him they did not make eye contact but laid food near him so they would not scare him. Then this last class he barked aggressively and tried to lunge towards them. Is this caused by aniety or me not socializing him enough. Also, how do i socialize him now to not make him scared/anxious towards others. When on our walks he will see a person and his hair will stick straight up.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainier
80 Dog owners recommended

Hello Amanda, Without a medical evaluation I cannot say for sure. A couple of things could be going on. He could be in pain from something that happened during the surgery or simply from a lengthy recovery. He might have some sort of chemical imbalance going on that needs to be addressed. He might be acting aggressive out of fear due to the emotional trauma of the stay and surgery recovery, or it might be simple coincidence that his aggression appeared around the same time as the surgery. Puppies go through several fear stages throughout their first eighteen months of life, and it's possible that he just happened to hit one and is responding aggressively out of fear. If it is a fear period, then he needs TONS of positive socialization, where he is given treats for calm behavior, for looking at things he is afraid of and not reacting aggressively, for looking at you when he is near something that he is afraid of, and for generally being in the same area as a source of fear and not reacting negatively. He also needs to have a lot of people feed him treats while he is calm like you did in that class. If he is likely to bite someone, then desensitize him to wearing a basket muzzle, and then feed him treats and peanut butter on a straw through the muzzle holes. I would definitely suggest hiring either an Animal Behaviorist or a Veterinary Behaviorist in your case. Johann needs to be evaluated both medically and temperamentally by a trained professional. Someone with both medical training and training in animal behavior, such as a Veterinary Behaviorist should be able to help with both, and to suggest whether or not medical testing might be needed and what type of training protocol should be followed. An important thing to also consider, is whether or not he was showing smaller signs of aggression before the neutering. If he was acting aggressive or fearful before the surgery, but it was simply not as bad as it is now, then the issue is probably trauma and a lack of socialization. He may have been suspicious of people before the surgery, and his stay simply convinced him that his suspicions were correct, and so now he acts defensively toward people because he believes that he has to keep them away from himself to be safe. A qualified Behaviorist should be able to help you with that also though. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Dax
German Shepherd
8 Months
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Dax
German Shepherd
8 Months

My new wife and I have recently bought a purebred German Shepard pup from what we believed to be a reliable breeder. She had elbow and hip certification and DM testing done. Also said her main focus when breeding was on temperament. So we chose to bring home an 8 week old male which we love dearly. I own my own construction business so I took him everywhere with me. The breeder had puppy socials to help get the young dogs used to being around other dogs so once to twice a month we took him to those. He was well behaved as a puppy for the most part not chewing on things, growling at people, etc. One issue we did have was peeing, when my wife got home and greeted him he would pee or when new people would come over he would pee. Since then we have altered how we greet him and have guests greet him - we ignore him until he is calm which has helped nearly overcome the urination issue; it happens much less. Around six mounts he started to show signs of aggression such as barking at people and at times being protective of his toys. This all started right before we took him to his breeder for a 2 week board and train. They then asked to keep him for an extra week to help build his confidence up ( my fear being that they didn't have time to work with him the first 2 weeks but do not know for sure). When we got him back, the first night one of my friends came over to the house and when he walked in Dax barked aggressively lunged and bit him (not breaking the skin). We had already had him signed up for basic obedience lessons so we believed that this would be good for the socialization. When we went to the class he lunged and barked aggressively at the other dogs on occasion but as the class went on he got significantly better. After the class we had another act of aggression (lunging, barking, and biting not breaking the skin) towards a person - this time a worker that walked past him. Long story short, we called the breeder he had spent 3 weeks with and she wanted anther week with him; we took her up on the offer of helping, but this time I honestly believe they just boarded him with no extra attention. He was worse when we brought him home having more out bursts. For example, he was sitting next to me on the beach and a young kid came up probable 15' away, Dax charged the kid pushing him to the ground barking and growling (he did not hurt the kid) but looked very scary. He is not fixed, we were told to wait till he was at least 12 mounts. Please help, I am dedicated and will do what it takes to solve this problem.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainier
80 Dog owners recommended

Hello Brandon, First, I would recommend no longer boarding him with his breeder. Either intentionally or simply because of the environment there, staying there seems to be increasing his defensiveness and possibly fear aggression. I would recommend looking into Jeff Gelhman from SolidK9Training's free educational resources. He has a YouTube channel and a couple of other places where he speaks regularly online such as on Periscope. The help you need is beyond what I can tell you here but his resources provide in depth information about high drive working breeds and aggression issues. It is important for you to hear as well as see what to do, which makes videos easier resources. I would also recommend desensitizing him to wearing a muzzle so that you can safely modify his behavior and socialize him around people without risking any type of injury. The fact that he has not drawn blood during several attacks is actually a good sign. That means that your work socializing him around other puppies while he was a young puppy hopefully helped him develop good bite inhibition, which makes his case easier to work on. The behavior behind the aggression is just as much of an issue however, and does need to be addressed, but it will be less dangerous to address it than if he had drawn blood. To desensitize him to the muzzle spend a couple of weeks, or longer if needed, showing him the muzzle while you feed him lots of treats. Let him sniff it and feed him a treat. Let him touch it and feed him a treat. As he begins to like the muzzle because of the treats, then gradually move it onto his face more and more and feed him a treat every time that you do so, until you can finally place it on him completely and feed him treats through the hole while he wears it for gradually longer and longer periods of time. You can also dip a straw in peanut butter and poke that through the muzzle for him to lick off as a reward. Use a basket muzzle for this or another muzzle that also allows him to still open up his mouth inside the muzzle while wearing it. If you feel at all uncertain about how to work with him on the aggression after looking into training, then I would highly recommend hiring an experienced trainer in your area to work one on one with you either at their facility, at your home, or ideally some of each. Look for someone who has several co-trainers that can socialize him and work hands on with him to get him use to people up close, as well as someone who has extensive experience dealing with aggression, high drive breeds, and protective and defensive instincts. Also look for someone who utilizes both positive reinforcement as well as fair corrections, rather than just one of those things. Also work on teaching very reliable obedience so that you can more easily manage the aggression when situations do arise. That will also have the added benefit of increasing his respect toward you, which is very important during tense situations when he feels the need to control situations. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
LEO
German Shepherd
4 Years
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LEO
German Shepherd
4 Years

Hi there. Ive recently recsued Leo from a very poor environment, neglect and hoarding of multiple shepherds. He was in poor condition health wise with fleas and undernourished. He apparently spent his time on a small run outside and slept inside in a crate. He has bonded with me almoaat immediatly. After proper introductions to my resident female shepherd whos is 4 years old, leo is becoming very guarding of me. Dixie, the resident girl is verynwell trained and is off leash on hikes and our adventures. I have had her since shewas 10 weeks old from an excellent breeder. Excellent bloodlines, both sable working parents. Leo has some limited basic obedience skills but its apparent that he was never ssocialized properly or worked with for any amount of time. He spentbthe majoritynof his time outside on a run and slept in a crate indoors. He will be going to my trainer in 2 weeks for evaluation and board and training. Until that time i have worked with reinforcing his recall and basic skills and have found that he works nicely for a tennis ball as he doeant have much of a food drive. Inknow his potential is there and he will become a fantastic dog. Would it be a detrement to him to use an ecollar for correction at this point? I dont want to cause any more issues for this boy but i also wont tolerate any agression to my girl. Any suggestions and help would be grratly appreciated.
Please note that my trainer is highly qualified but currently out of the country and unavailable for consult.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainier
80 Dog owners recommended

Hello Emily, An e-collar would probably be a good tool for Leo but he needs to have a foundation set before you jump into e-collar training or it can cause problems. If your trainer plans to use one with him, then go ahead and purchase the one that he or she recommends and put it on Leo but do not turn it on, to make training with that trainer faster when you do start. Do this to prevent Leo from becoming collar wise and only responding when the collar is on. He needs to wear the collar for a couple of weeks while it is off to get used to wearing it, so that he will not realize that it is the collar correcting him when you start training. In two weeks you will be seeing your trainer so you can prepare ahead of time but you will not be able to use the collar stimulation yourself before then. You also need to find Leo's working level of stimulation before you can properly use the collar. If you do not know how to do this yourself, you will need your trainer's help with that. Each dog responds to his own level and a level that is too high or too low can cause major issues. Last, I recommend teaching a dog a couple of obedience, instructional commands, so that you can clearly communicate with the dog what to do instead of act aggressively. This creates less potential frustration. If you put your dog in a situation where he is being corrected but he does not understand what to do instead, or he does not realize that he can avoid the correction, then that is when stress and frustration can build and create worse behavior issues. For now, get him used to wearing a soft silicone basket muzzle. Teach him an "Out" command, which means leave the area. Once he understands the "Out" command, when he starts to act aggressively tell him "Ah Ah!" in a firm tone of voice, then tell him "Out" and herd him out of the area with your body. When he gets several feet away, then back up again to where you were. If he tries to follow you tell him "Ah Ah!" and walk toward him again until he is where you want him to be. Repeat this until he stops trying to come back into that space. He does not have to stay in that particular area. He can walk away, sit down, lay down, or remain there, but he cannot come back into the imaginary circle of space around you, your other dog, or whatever you told him to get away from, until he is invited back. Your attitude should mean business when you do this. Do not be afraid to bump into him a bit if he will not move. You are using your attitude and presence to command respect rather than a tool. This is extremely important. Have him wear the silicone muzzle every day while you are establishing this unless you are in a situation that is not likely to trigger a reaction from him, like outside without your other dog around, playing ball. You might want to look into getting a flirt pole for him to use as a reward since he is play motivated. That will give you something to reward him with other than treats and a ball. Although the ball is a good reward too when you can use that. Since he is fearful, showing aggressive tendencies, and lacks socialization, being firm with him could cause him to try to bite you or your dog, so the muzzle needs to be part of the equation right now while you are establishing the rules. The muzzle with also prevent him from learning that he can get what he wants by using his mouth. If he bites and who he bites backs down, he may quickly learn that that is an effective way to control things. When you cannot be present to supervise both dogs, keep them separate until Leo is behaving better. There will be other things that Leo needs addressed such as his lack of socialization, insecurities, dominance, and aggression. Your trainer will help you with the big picture but for the next two weeks work on the "Out" command using the silicone basket muzzle. Also work on rewarding Leo for being tolerant and calm. He needs to learn what is acceptable even more than be corrected for poor behavior. You also may need to keep a prong collar on him if he gets really feisty while you are enforcing "Out". Ideally, wait until your trainer can help you, but if you find that you need a tool, a prong collar is simpler to use than an e-collar and is easier to use right away. Make sure that it has rounded prong ends and that the collar is fitted properly high on his neck, with the prongs lightly touching his neck all around and not pinching him or hanging loose. You can check out Jeff Gelhman from SolidK9Training's YouTube channel for videos on how to properly fit a prong collar. Only keep the prong collar on him when you are directly supervising him. You can attach a one foot leash to the prong collar to make corrections or maneuvering him easy without having a leash dragging behind him. Keep the same principles in mind with the prong collar. Make sure that you are clearly showing him what he should be doing instead of the bad behavior, and showing him that he can avoid the correction by being obedient. Essentially, focus on teaching him things rather than simply punishing him. The definition of discipline is to train someone to obey rules or a code of behavior using punishment to correct disobedience. Make sure that he is learning instead of simply getting frustrated. I wish you the best training him. It sounds like you have done a wonderful job with Dixie and will no doubt do a good job with him. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Chewy
German Shepherd
5 Years
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Chewy
German Shepherd
5 Years

Hello, I adopted Chewy from a shelter about 3 months ago, He has been amazing and has gotten along with our foster cat and her litter quite well. He has always barked and gotten anxious as other dogs passed us on walks etc. We treated this by leading him away and when he was done barking to give him a treat and continue the walk. This has not helped. He now barks at dogs when they are just outside using the bathroom and he is inside and has been pulling me and running at dogs lately. (since he is a 78 pound German shepherd I have a hard time controlling him when he acts like this). I bought him a gentle leader harness a few months ago and it was working well until the past few days when he has been aggressively lunging when even seeing a dog. He also tried to attack a dog that got too close to me at a store today, when we have never had these problems with him before. My friend (who has dealt with this same exact problem with his dog) has stated to me its because he feels he is the leader of the pack and needs to protect me. How do I go about breaking him of this as we do not have a detailed history of him from the shelter and the shelter told us he was great with the dogs there when he was there. I bought a training collar today but have yet to use it, it just seems like positive reinforcement doesn't work but I don't want to be too aggressive with him for training.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainier
80 Dog owners recommended

Hello Cheyenne, I am sorry you are struggling with his aggression. This is honestly something you need to hire a professional trainer who uses both positive reinforcement and fair corrections to help you. Look for someone who has a lot of experience with aggression and high drive, protective breeds like German Shepherds. Check out Jeff Gellman from SolidK9Training on YouTube. He is an aggression expert who has a lot of free videos, with Q&A talks, how to's, and demonstrations. Look for a qualified trainer or behaviorist in your area though. You will need someone to watch your dog's reaction and teach you how to respond in the minute, and someone to give you a preventative plan to deal with the root cause of his aggression. Building Chewy's respect toward you is always a good idea when dealing with aggression. You want to do this in a more mental way rather than a physically confrontational way though. A great way to do this is through obedience training and making him work for what he gets daily. Being very consistent and patiently ensuring that he follows though when you tell him to do something, even if that means waiting for him to do it for a long time, also helps. Check out the article that I have linked below. If at any point he shows any aggression toward you, consult professional help right away. You can combine all three methods from the article that I have linked below. https://wagwalking.com/training/train-a-doberman-to-listen-to-you Jeff Gellman is also proficient in the use of e-collars for training, look into his videos on how to properly fit, introduce, and use e-collars. James Penrith from TakeTheLeadDogTraining on YouTube is also a great e-collar use resource. He works with aggression less though, and more with livestock chasing behavior and off-leash training. Spend time really learning about e-collar use and how to train with one before you try it yourself. They are wonderful, effective tools when used correctly at the right level for that particular dog, but they can be incredibly damaging, ineffective, or abusive if used wrong. The idea is to train your dog to do an acceptable behavior or to condition an acceptable emotional response to something primarily with different types of rewards and to simply use the e-collar as a way of being extremely consistent and insistent, and as a way to interrupt a dog's behavior or state of mind so that you can have the opportunity to teach the dog, who was previously not able to learn. Do not simply put the collar on your dog and punish him without other training combined with it. That type of use alone can actually make aggression worse. A qualified trainer should be able to show you how to use the collar to teach rather than just punish, and Jeff Gellman's videos will demonstrate training also. Whenever you are training simply keep in mind whether or not you are educating your dog. The education may involve discipline but is your dog learning what he is supposed to be doing in addition to what he is not supposed to be doing. Behavior problems often need both types of training. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

I guess the biggest question I have is where do I find a trainer willingly to train a German Shepherd? Every place Ive checked says I can't enroll him in group classes and they won't work with him one on one

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