How to Discipline a German Shepherd: And What Not to Do!


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When disciplining your German Shepherd, one might imagine that disciplining implies spanking, denying food, or some other negative punishment that makes your dog feel the pinch of poor behavior. But any dog expert will tell you that these actions are neither acceptable nor efficient ways of disciplining your dog. So, how do you discipline a German Shepherd?

To discipline a German Shepherd, redirect unwanted behavior, such as destructive chewing, by distracting your dog and offer an interesting chew toy instead. Use positive reinforcement by rewarding good behavior with treats or toys. Don’t use physical punishment, yell, or encourage bad behavior.

Top Tips on How to Discipline a German Shepherd:

  • Distract your German Shepherd
  • Redirect bad behavior
  • Give your GSD something interesting instead, such as toys
  • Use positive reinforcement training
  • Use negative reinforcement techniques, but ONLY in the right situations
  • Reward good behavior with treats or playtimes
  • Use short effective timeouts
  • Ignore demanding behavior, such as demand barking, pawing, or jumping
  • Don’t use physical punishment or yell at your GSD
  • Don’t rub your German Shepherd’s nose in his dirt!
  • Don’t encourage or laugh at your GSDs bad behavior
  • Don’t reward unwanted behavior in guilt

This article will uncover exactly how to discipline your German Shepherd, whether a puppy or an adult dog. Many dog owners also get confused with positive and negative reinforcement, so we will also look at the exact meaning of these (with examples) in more detail.

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

German Shepherd hiding his face with his paw as if shamed. How to Discipline a German Shepherd: What Not to Do!

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If you want to learn how to discipline your German Shepherd, and especially what not to do, you’ll love this all-new guide!

Disciplining Your GSD: Why Your GSD is Not Listening?

Below is a great video on how to discipline your dog. It shows 5 common mistakes owners make when disciplining their dogs. By using the wrong methods of reprimanding your dog can make matters seriously worse:

There are two key moments when disciplining your German Shepherd is most successful. The first is during the initial training when your dog is still a puppy. German Shepherds are an intelligent and receptive breed. But they are also assertive and can be stubborn if you don’t establish yourself as the alpha. 

For this reason, the early years are crucial in making your furry friend differentiate between behavior that is acceptable and that which is not. The puppy is still fresh and is 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 not acceptable. You should do this with a reproach (“no” message) or the withdrawal of a reward. 

Reproaching and denying reward 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. 

Why? Because dogs have a 2-minute short-term memory and will not remember what happened 15 minutes ago. But 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. Rather, your dog is “consciously” or “subconsciously” putting out bad behavior with a motive.

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 taught 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. In case you’re wondering, here’s how long you can leave a German Shepherd in a crate.

  • 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 action 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 was already learning unbecoming behavior in a different context, you’ll have to re-introduce the rules of his new home. That 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. If you do, be sure to complete the learning process this time around 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 it shouldn’t, escaping from home, and breaking things in the house, including the exit points like windows and doors. You can learn more about the risk factors and behaviors associated with separation anxiety in dogs in this study.

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 dog is a sufferer, check out this article, German Shepherd Separation Anxiety: Training, Help & Treatment, that I’m sure you’ll find helpful.

If your GSD’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. 

So, how do you discipline your German Shepherd without punishment? Find the answer to that in the next section.

Disciplining Your German Shepherd: Positive and Negative Reinforcement

Discipline is a German Shepherd owner’s way of saying to their pet that certain behavior is appreciated and another is not. To be successful, the dog must be able to determine what actions please its owner and which ones 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 is through positive and negative reinforcement. 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 some 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.

Here’s how positive reinforcement happens:

In positive reinforcement, rewards include:

  • A treat: Should be healthy and given with 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/boy/girl!” or an enthusiastic “yes!”
  • Toys: Reward him with his favorite toys.

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

A typical example of negative reinforcement is when getting your dog to sit, you gently push his bottom down towards the floor, easing him into the sit position. 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.

Here’s how negative reinforcement happens:

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

Disciplining Your German Shepherd: The “Don’ts!”

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

German shepherd dog sits locked in a cage. How to Discipline a German Shepherd: What Not to Do!

Punishment here implies “what not to do.” Here are five “don’ts” when it comes to disciplining your German Shepherd:

Don’t Use Physical Punishment

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

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

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. 

Don’t Yell at Your German Shepherd

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 that they can tell the difference in your voice pitch, and they know shouting is an indication of 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 when it comes to training.

From a well-being approach, continuous shouting as a form of punishment can cause 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 methods (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 of 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 wrong.

Dogs like their space clean, especially from their dirt. So, if you force them to the dirt 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.

Don’t Encourage 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 comprehensive 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 when it comes to chewing and teething toys.

Don’t Reward Negative Behavior in Remorse

The reason you should not reward negative behavior is obvious; 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 decide to give him three in compensation. 

As much as I appreciate your great love for your German Shepherd, 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 pet, 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 stay away from 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.

Final Thoughts

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

Rewarding good behavior through positive reinforcement and rekindling it when your dog faults through negative reinforcement are the two most effective ways of using discipline to train your dog in good behavior.

There are several reasons why your German Shepherd may be involved in unbecoming behavior. Loneliness, lack of exercise, or poor training as a puppy are some of them.

If you have to discipline your GSD, avoid rewarding negative behavior, shouting, and physical punishment. After all, you don’t want to lose the intense connection between you and your German Shepherd due to negative disciplining.

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Sharon Waddington

I am the owner of World of Dogz. I have a female German Shepherd named Willow, and I've worked with dogs for almost 30 years. I love spending time with her, and I enjoy sharing my knowledge and expertise of all things dogs on this site!

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