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8 Easy Ways To Get Your German Shepherd To Trust You

Last Updated: December 10, 2023

By temperament, German Shepherds aren’t the type of dogs who warm up to strangers immediately. You’ll need to work harder at winning their trust than you would with stranger-friendly dog breeds. If you’ve just adopted a dog from the shelter or have volunteered to look after your friend’s dog while they’re away, you may wonder how to get a German Shepherd to trust you.

Here are 8 ways to get a German Shepherd to trust you: 

  1. Approach the German Shepherd calmly. 
  2. Respect the German Shepherd’s space. 
  3. Stoop to the dog’s level. 
  4. Let the German Shepherd approach you. 
  5. Engage the GSD in rewarding play. 
  6. Do what your German Shepherd loves. 
  7. Let the dog sleep in your bedroom. 
  8. Use positive reward-based training methods. 

Keep reading to learn more about how to get a German Shepherd to trust you, how to gain a German Shepherd’s trust easily, and what tactics you can implement to ensure you build a strong bond with your dog. 

German Shepherd Waiting For Adoption

How To Get a German Shepherd To Trust You

Earning the trust of a German Shepherd will take some time and patience, but it’s not impossible. You may need to dedicate daily sessions of training and practice time to get your dog to open up more and become trusting. 

But, once you do, you’ll begin to create valuable social habits for your German Shepherd.

Here are 8 steps to building trust with your German Shepherd:

1. Approach the German Shepherd Calmly

As a new owner or stranger approaching a German Shepherd, doing so calmly is crucial to avoid presenting yourself as a threat. Approaching a dog you’ve never met with excitement or in an abrupt manner can make him excited, causing him to jump on you or flee towards the owner. 

Even though German Shepherds are known to form strong bonds with their owners, they, like many other dog breeds, can show aggression to stranger closeness as a co-occurrence with reactivity to stimuli

Instead, approaching the dog calmly is a way of telling him that you have come in peace and are seeking his friendship. Doing so gives you better chances of earning the German Shepherd’s trust. 

2. Respect the German Shepherd’s Space

Call it pride or whatever name you like, but most dogs, including German Shepherds, don’t appreciate strangers who go straight to patting their heads and bellies or giving a hug. That’s reserved for their owner and family! 

Also, being among the ancient herding breeds that take longer to establish eye contact with humans, German Shepherds will appreciate it if strangers don’t look straight into their eyes before they can establish some form of familiarity. 

So, if you are meeting another person’s dog or your new pet for the first time, ensure you respect the German Shepherd’s space to gain their trust by doing the following: 

  • Ask their owner if you can greet the dog if you are not dealing with your own German Shepherd. You should never approach someone else’s dog without asking!
  • Restrict petting on a strange German Shepherd to the side, back, neck, and chest, and never on the head or belly. You may also want to ask the owner what their dog’s preferred petting spot is. 
  • Avoid direct eye contact until the German Shepherd looks into your eyes first. Some dogs may feel threatened if you give them direct eye contact before being introduced.
GSD puppy in a crate being fed treats. How to Get a German Shepherd to Trust You

3. Stoop to the German Shepherd’s Level

Stooping to your German Shepherd’s level might sound strange, but think of how you crouch when you want to address a child at their level. That works well, too, with your dog. 

Crouching or kneeling on a German Shepherd’s side while facing the same direction lets you into the dog’s space without imposing. 

However, if you are trying to gain the trust of another person’s German Shepherd, ensure that one of your feet is flat on the ground. Keeping one foot on the ground will give you the footing to stand up and get away quickly in case the German Shepherd turns against you. 

Avoid head-on approaches like standing in front of the German Shepherd face-to-face, as this communicates aggression for most dogs. 

4. Let the German Shepherd Approach You

One of the ways a German Shepherd will show they trust or like you is by coming to you. So, if you want a German Shepherd to like you, do not impose yourself by going toward them. 

Instead, wait for the dog to approach you. That will tell you that the dog is comfortable and interested in becoming your friend. 

If you are home with your new German Shepherd, pretend to ignore the dog until he approaches you. Then reward the courage with a treat without turning to the dog first. If he tries to engage with you by licking or touching you with his muzzle, reward that too. 

By licking or touching you, your German Shepherd is giving off signs that he trusts you, and you can proceed to pet him.

5. Engage the German Shepherd in Rewarding Play

Making your dog associate you with good things is crucial when figuring out how to get a German Shepherd to trust you. One way to do that is to engage your dog in rewarding play. 

There are many games you can choose from. I recommend the “Treat and Retreat” game. Here’s how you play the treat and retreat game to gain your German Shepherd’s trust: 

  1. Take a few tiny but tasty treats in your hand or a small bowl. If you don’t have any smaller treats, try using small bites of plain, boiled chicken.
  2. Sit in an appropriate position. This should be somewhere your German Shepherd can move towards or away from you to pick treats. 
  3. Toss the first treat beyond your dog so that he turns away to go and pick it. Your dog should turn towards you for more after eating the first one. 
  4. Toss a second, third, fourth, and as many treats as you need to make your dog learn that they can move closer to you. At some point, toss some of the treats between you and your dog to bring him closer, then throw more beyond him so he can choose if he wants to keep picking treats away from you or closely interact with you. Change direction and distance each time you toss a treat to give variety to the game. 
  5. When your German Shepherd is confident and is close to you, allow him to pick the treat from your hand. That should already be a sign you are winning your dog’s trust. 

You Can Watch a Simple Demonstration of The Game From This Video… 

6. Do What Your German Shepherd Loves

In your efforts to learn how to get a German Shepherd to like you, find out what your new pet loves and makes him happy, and use that to bond with your dog. 

It could be a game of fetch or a toy that fascinates him. Try the Wobble Wag Giggle Ball from Amazon. Your new friend will not resist the interactive sounds from the ball as you play fetch with him. The six clutch pockets will also help your dog pick the ball quickly and return it to you, an excellent way to build trust between you and your pet. 

7. Let the German Shepherd Sleep in Your Bedroom

This way of winning your German Shepherd’s trust may come as a surprise. But, yes! At least in the first days when he tries to adapt and find his way around the house, sleeping in your room will reassure him and give him the idea that you belong together. 

Although some dog owners and trainers will tell you that letting your dog sleep in your bed or bedroom will trigger aggression and dominance issues, this is only an opinion. According to the Veterinary Centers of America (VCA), wildlife biologists have not found any evidence to suggest that dogs dominate you if you let them into your space. 

Nonetheless, find out my view on this topic: Should You Let Your German Shepherd Sleep With You?

Of course, it’s up to you to train your dog properly and ensure he doesn’t develop aggression and territoriality when occupying specific spaces in the house, like your bed or bedroom. 

8. Use Positive Reward-Based Training Methods

Every new German Shepherd parent does some training with their dog. It could be the first housebreaking, socialization, or obedience classes before you can entrust your dog to a professional trainer. 

If you are chancing your luck at learning how to earn a German Shepherd’s trust through training, positive training methods are your best bet. 

Science shows positive reward-based dog training is best and is associated with increased attention towards the owner during training. This lays a good foundation to gain your German Shepherd’s trust. 

How Do You Know if Your German Shepherd Trusts You?

Dogs put their trust in us for their care, protection, companionship, and their entire welfare. How we play these roles impacts how a dog feels and lives. While a German Shepherd has his way of testing whether he can trust you, it might be a bit more complex in the beginning to know if your German Shepherd trusts you.  

You can tell if your German Shepherd trusts you by analyzing his body language towards you. Signs that your dog trusts you include moving closer to you, sniffing your hand or asking for pets, or licking your face and hand. Some German Shepherds may even give you eye contact or follow you around. 

Wagging his tail and ear positions can also signify that a German Shepherd likes you. However, do not rush to interpret tail-wagging as a sign of trust as tail-wagging has varied meanings, including: 

  • Happiness 
  • Anxiety and agitation 
  • Aggression 
  • Negotiation 
  • Curiosity 
  • Fear

You can better understand the meaning of tail wagging in your new German Shepherd by noticing some of the other signs listed above to tell if your dog is wagging the tail to communicate trust. You can read more about the meaning of German Shepherd tail positions in this article.

Let’s Wrap This Up

German Shepherds are incredibly loyal and affectionate once bonded with their owners, and in most cases, you won’t need to do a thing, as these are innate traits of the breed. However, sometimes the affection swings the other way, and they can become too clingy.

In any case, once you’ve earned your German Shepherd’s trust, be prepared for your dog to follow you everywhere, even to the bathroom.

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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