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How To Discipline a German Shepherd Puppy: Dos & Donts

Last Updated: December 21, 2023

Disciplining a German Shepherd puppy often conjures images of harsh methods like spanking or withholding food. However, these approaches are not only unacceptable but also ineffective in shaping your puppy’s behavior.

So, the question arises: How to discipline a German Shepherd puppy in a way that’s both humane and effective?

To discipline a German Shepherd puppy, distract your dog from unwanted behavior and redirect the bad behavior to something interesting such as a toy. Use positive reinforcement by rewarding good behavior with treats, praise, or playtime.

This blog post is dedicated to guiding you through the process of positive reinforcement, a proven method for training your German Shepherd puppy.

We’ll explore strategies that focus on encouragement and reward rather than punishment, to help you build a strong, respectful bond with your furry companion.

Join us as we delve into the art of positive discipline, ensuring your German Shepherd grows into a well-behaved and happy adult dog.

Let’s dive in!

German Shepherd hiding his face with his paw as if shamed

How To Discipline a German Shepherd

To allude to “what not to do” when disciplining your German Shepherd puppy, punishment only instills fear and doubt in your dog – it compromises the positive connection you have with him.

So, here’s how to discipline a German Shepherd – the right way.

An infographic explaining dos and donts in the process of disciplining a GSD
Disciplining a GSD: Dos and Don’ts

1. Distract Your Dog From Bad Behavior

When your German Shepherd puppy engages in unwanted behavior, it’s crucial to intervene by distracting them. This can be done by using a loud noise, such as clapping your hands or using a specific command they recognize.

The key is to interrupt the behavior without scaring or harming your dog. Once you have their attention, you can redirect them to a more appropriate activity. This technique is effective because it breaks the dog’s focus on the negative behavior and provides an opportunity to teach them what is acceptable.

2. Redirect the Unwanted Behavior

If your German Shepherd displays undesirable behavior, such as chewing on furniture or digging in the garden, redirecting their attention is a constructive approach.

This involves guiding them towards an alternative, acceptable behavior immediately after they display the unwanted one.

For example, if they are chewing on something, offer them a chew toy instead. This method teaches them what is appropriate and helps them form positive habits.

3. Offer an Interesting Toy

When your German Shepherd puppy is bored or anxious, it may engage in destructive behavior. To counter this, provide it with something interesting and engaging, like a toy or a puzzle feeder.

This not only keeps their mind occupied but also helps them positively expend their energy. Toys that stimulate their senses or require problem-solving can be particularly effective in keeping them engaged and out of trouble.

German Shepherd With Football
My dog, Willow, with her favorite ball

4. Use Positive Reinforcement

Discipline is a German Shepherd owner’s way of telling their pet that specific behavior is appreciated, and another is not. To be successfully trained, the dog must determine what actions please its owner and which don’t.

If training has been done and the dog faults, a “don’t do that” message should be given, or as we usually say, we should discipline our German Shepherd. 

As already indicated, the most efficient way of disciplining your German Shepherd puppy is through positive reinforcement training. Here’s what that means.

Positive reinforcement implies adding some reward to increase the frequency of response. For example, when you direct a command such as “COME” to your dog, your dog will not understand that immediately, and that’s normal. You’ll need to use gestures to make the pet understand that “COME” means walk towards you. 

Once that is picked, giving a reward sends the message that going towards you is what should be done every time “COME” is heard.

How Positive Reinforcement Happens

In positive reinforcement, rewards include:

  • A treat: Should be healthy and given in moderation to avoid health issues. It could be a single kibble from their food or a tiny piece of meat, or you can try healthy fruits or vegetables.
  • Expression of physical attention: A hug, a gentle pat, or a caress on the head or behind the ears. You can find out more about petting a German Shepherd here.
  • Verbal praise: “GOOD DOG!” or an enthusiastic “YES!”
  • Toys: Reward him with his favorite toys.

Negative reinforcement means taking something away or removing a reward to increase the response frequency. It does not mean “bad” or “to punish,” as often mistakingly thought.

A typical example of negative reinforcement is when you get your dog to sit. You gently push his bottom towards the floor, easing him into sitting. Once the sit is accomplished, you reward him by releasing the pressure.

You have removed something the dog doesn’t like (the negative part) to increase the behavior. By repeatedly doing this, the behavior is reinforced.

How Negative Reinforcement Happens

Now that you know the best way to discipline your German Shepherd puppy, I’ll tell you what not to do when it comes to chastising your dog.

5. Reward Your Dog With Treats, Praise or Playtime

Consistently rewarding your German Shepherd for good behavior reinforces positive actions. Whenever they follow a command, behave well, or stop an undesirable behavior, immediately reward them with a treat, praise, or playtime.

This not only reinforces the behavior you want to see but also makes the training process enjoyable for your dog. The type of reward can vary depending on what motivates your dog the most.

6. Ignore Demanding Behavior

Sometimes, the best way to discipline your German Shepherd puppy is to ignore its demanding behavior. If it barks, paws, or jumps for attention, do not respond immediately.

By not giving in to their demands, you teach them that these behaviors are ineffective ways to get what they want. Once they calm down or display a more acceptable behavior, you can give them attention. This approach teaches patience and good manners.

German Shepherd sat at the front door demanding a walk
Is someone demanding a walk?

7. Use Short Effective Timeouts

Timeouts can be an effective disciplinary tool for your German Shepherd. If they exhibit unacceptable behavior, place them in a quiet, safe area away from distractions for a short period. This should not be longer than a few minutes, just enough time for them to calm down.

The timeout area should not be used as a punishment but rather as a chance for them to reset their behavior. After the timeout, allow them to rejoin the family or activity. This method helps them understand that certain behaviors lead to a temporary removal from the situation.

Disciplining Your German Shepherd: The “DON’TS!”

We’ve already indicated that discipline does not imply punishment. Instead, it means reinforcing good behavior and deterring unbecoming conduct. In other words, you should not punish your German Shepherd when disciplining him. 

Learn How NOT To Discipline Your Dog In This Video…

Don’t Use Physical Punishment

If you have a German Shepherd, it’s because you wanted him as a pet companion. That means you love your dog and want the best for him. Consequently, you do not wish to hurt your dog, and you want your German Shepherd to trust you

If all that is true, it is easy to indicate that you should never apply physical punishment to your pet. Whether that means spanking, kicking, leaving him without food, caging or tying him for days, or other forms of punishment that could bring the dog some form of physical harm.

Do you want to learn how to show dominance over your dog correctly? Check out this article, Showing Dominance Over a German Shepherd.

These forms of punishment do not achieve any good results. First, dogs do not have the reasoning capacity to associate punishment with their action and are, thus, unlikely to change. Instead, they will develop fear and aggression towards you, which could strain the relationship with your GSD.

Second, from an animal rights perspective, physical punishment is a form of pet abuse that could make you count among the thousands of people who are perpetrators of animal cruelty in the US, inflicting physical pain.

To avoid these negative outcomes, seek the help of a professional trainer if you think that your dog’s behavior is becoming too much for you to handle. 

German shepherd dog sits locked in a cage.

Don’t Yell at Your Dog

Unless they have a physical impairment that limits their hearing, dogs have the perfect auditory ability.

In fact, a dog’s ear is wired for prey and can detect the highest and softest pitch sounds. That also means they can tell the difference in your voice pitch, and they know shouting indicates anger and displeasure.

Yelling can cause fear and aggression in German Shepherds, which could make them turn against you with a bite, or they could just run away.

With time, dogs may also adopt a form of indifference to your shouting and learn to ignore your yelling. This would imply that you’ll never achieve anything with them regarding training and discipline.

From a well-being approach, continuous shouting as a punishment can cause a poor quality of life for your German Shepherd. This study found that dogs trained with aversive methods (shouting is an aversive method) had poorer welfare than those trained with reward-based techniques (positive reinforcement).

Rather than shout, therefore, you will be more efficient if you use a calm voice and make clear and confident commands.

Don’t Rub Your Dog’s Nose In His Dirt!

Some dog owners think that rubbing their dog’s nose in wrongly disposed poop or pee will make them never repeat it. Wrong! Your dog might change position next time, and that is because your punishment did not teach him that doing it in the house is bad.

Dogs like their space clean, especially from their dirt. So, if you force them to their poop that they don’t like having next to them, the most you can do is create anxiety and fear. 

Instead, if your German Shepherd puppy soils your carpet, clean the mess with a detergent that removes the stain and odor, and then redirect your dog outside.

Also, reward him when he relieves himself during a walk and withdraw the reward when the same is done in the house. This will teach your German Shepherd to associate doing his thing outside with a good treat and avoid that which takes it away.

German Shepherd laying on grass

Don’t Encourage Your Dog’s Bad Behavior

Sometimes, German Shepherd owners will have a good laugh at their dog’s bad behavior in the name of “so cute!”

If your puppy is chewing your shoe and you find it funny and cute, you will have a hard time asking him not to chew your leather belt when he gets a hold of it! 

Similarly, if you find it amusing when your teething puppy is sinking his razor-sharp teeth into your hands and ankles and biting, I’m pretty sure you won’t find it funny when your dog’s teeth are much bigger, sharper, and stronger!

If you have a problem with your German Shepherd’s biting behavior, whether teething or not, you can check out my separate article on how to discipline a GSD for biting.

The point is, if you don’t want your dog chewing or biting anything he lays his sharp teeth on, you have to be consistent in saying no. Letting it go once creates the expectation that you can let it go another time. 

Instead, insist on chew toys for play or dog teething toys if your pup is still at the teething stage. Most pet stores have you spoilt for choice regarding chewing and teething toys.

Don’t Reward Negative Behavior in Remorse

The reason you should not reward negative behavior is apparent; your dog will presume that is what you want to be done! As a dog owner with lots of love for your German Shepherd, you might be remorseful that you denied your pet a treat for not following your command and decided to give him three in compensation. 

As much as I appreciate your great love for your German Shepherd puppy, I’m sorry to inform you that you just failed your trainer’s test!

If, as a dog owner, you realize that you cannot be firm with disciplining your German Shepherd, seek the help of a professional trainer immediately. You may also want to learn a few “heart-hardening” tips while you are at it so you do not undo everything your dog’s trainer achieves as soon as you are alone with your buddy. 

To help you avoid these “don’ts,” you may want to remind yourself that dogs are dogs, after all. And even though they learn what they should do through training, they might sometimes make mistakes and need understanding from the loving owner they look up to.

Reasons Your German Shepherd is Not Listening

There are two key moments when disciplining your German Shepherd is most successful.

The first is when your dog is still a puppy during the initial training. German Shepherds are an intelligent and receptive breed. But they are also assertive and can be stubborn or disobedient if you don’t establish yourself as the alpha. It’s also recommended to set boundaries with confidence in the first place.

For this reason, the early years are crucial in helping your furry friend differentiate between acceptable behavior and unacceptable behavior. The puppy is still fresh and learning behavior rather than correcting it.

The second effective discipline moment is when your grown German Shepherd performs unbecoming behavior. When that happens, you should immediately send a message that the action is unacceptable. You should do this with a reproach (“no” message) or the withdrawal of a reward. 

Reproaching and denying rewards soon after an unbecoming action is performed helps your pet relate the behavior with an unpleasant experience of no reward.

If this message is given later, a disciplinary moment is missed. 


Because dogs have a 2-minute short-term memory and will not remember what happened 15 minutes ago, they will recall your immediate training message through associative memory. This means they can remember associations between commands, situations, and behavior.

But there are times when a behavior that needs disciplinary action is not a question of poor training or a dog’s short memory. Instead, your dog is “consciously” or “subconsciously” putting out bad behavior with a motive.

Dog Being De-shedded
Looks like someone doesn’t want to keep still to be brushed!

Here are five reasons your German Shepherd will defy the principles of good conduct that you have taught him:

  • You have no time for your German Shepherd, and he is seeking attention. If you are too busy and have no time to spend with your GSD and often leave him in a crate, your dog will find ways of getting your attention. If the good ways don’t work, your dog will seek any form of reaction from you, and that could be by defying what you have trained him to do.

    Reacting negatively to your pet’s behavior won’t stop him from misbehaving. It might actually reinforce it; at least he gets some attention from you! Instead, ignore the bad behavior and reward your pet when he resumes the learned positive behavior. And, of course, find time to be with your dog.
  • The recommended two hours of daily exercise for an adult German Shepherd are not adhered to. German Shepherds are high-energy dogs and require at least 2 hours of exercise daily, ideally in two stints. If this is not done, your dog gets exposed to health problems such as obesity and behavioral problems.

    Pets with no energy outlets develop destructive behavior like chewing any object they find on their way, scattering the garbage, jumping on people, and scratching. Rather than punish, find time to exercise with your GSD as a preventive measure.
  • Your discipline skills are wanting, and your dog is confused. If you are consistently punishing your German Shepherd and probably doing so hours after the action is performed, you are certainly missing the discipline point. All you will achieve is confusion, fear, anxiety, distrust, and aggression.

    Discipline your German Shepherd by withdrawing the reward as soon as the action is done. Also, redirect the bad behavior to the expected one and reward the good action when performed.
  • Poor initial training was done, and the behavior was not mastered. If you bring home a puppy that has already learned unbecoming behavior in a different context, you’ll have to re-introduce the rules of his new home. This requires patience on your part. 

    Similarly, if training is initiated and left uncompleted without the German Shepherd completely mastering the intended behavior, then it is possible to regress, and that will mean starting all over again. Be sure to complete the training process this time and avoid inefficient methods such as command nagging.
  • Your dog may be manifesting symptoms of separation anxiety. This means that your German Shepherd is going through a period of distress and is upset about being separated from a person they are attached to, or even a former owner or a member of the family who is no longer in the home. 

    Common behavior problems of dogs with separation anxiety include urinating and defecating where they shouldn’t, escaping from home, and breaking things in the house, including exit points like windows and doors.

    The best way to tackle separation anxiety is to find an alternative company for your pet if you can’t be with them. Some severe cases may require the attention of a vet.

If your German Shepherd’s unbecoming behavior is beyond your disciplinary skills, it is advisable to seek a professional trainer’s help. If they are an expert, they’ll know that correcting dog behavior is not done through punishment. 

Note: In any case, consistency matters and shouldn’t be compromised in the dog training process.


How do I establish boundaries with my German Shepherd?

A firm yet gentle approach, combined with positive reinforcement, will help mold your German Shepherd into a well-behaved and disciplined companion. Establishing a consistent routine, setting clear boundaries, and using commands such as “sit,” “stay,” and “leave it” will further aid in their training and discipline.

Consistency is key when disciplining a German Shepherd, as they thrive on routine and clear expectations. 

Should physical punishment be used to discipline a German Shepherd?

Physical punishment should not be used to discipline a German Shepherd. It can damage the owner-dog relationship and cause fear or aggression. German Shepherds are intelligent and respond best to positive reinforcement training with treats and praise for good behavior.

Final Thoughts

Disciplining your German Shepherd puppy is an essential aspect of training. However, it is important to differentiate discipline from punishment. While punishing may cause harm to your dog, disciplining is intended to reinforce positive behavior.

Rewarding good behavior through rewards-based training and rekindling it when your dog faults through negative reinforcement are the two most effective ways of using discipline to train your German Shepherd.

Sharon Waddington
Sharon Waddington is the founder of World of Dogz. With over 30 years of experience working with dogs, this former Police Officer has seen it all. But it’s her trusty German Shepherd, Willow, who steals the show as the inspiration behind this website. As Sharon’s constant companion Willow has played a pivotal role in shaping her passion for dogs. Recently, Sharon has become deeply passionate about the plight of rescue dogs and is an active advocate for dog rescue, striving to make a difference in the lives of dogs in need.

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