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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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
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
32 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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Question
Brady
German Shepherd
8 Months
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Question
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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
32 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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Question
Hank
German Shepherd
1 Year
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Question
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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
32 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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