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How To Socialize a German Shepherd: 7 Easy Ways

Last Updated: January 7, 2024

Do you want to know how to effectively socialize your German Shepherd?

As a devoted German Shepherd owner with years of experience, I’ve gathered a wealth of knowledge and effective strategies on how to socialize this specific breed, transforming them into well-adjusted, confident, and sociable pets.

To socialize a German Shepherd, begin early and consistently expose them to diverse environments and beings, using positive reinforcement. Regular, controlled interactions and obedience training are crucial for developing a sociable and confident dog while attentively gauging their comfort levels.

My journey in canine behavior and training, specifically with German Shepherds, has equipped me with valuable insights that I’m eager to share with you.

If you seek practical, breed-specific socialization techniques, you’re in the right place. Together, we’ll build a strong foundation of trust and confidence in your furry companion, fostering a harmonious relationship and a well-adjusted, sociable German Shepherd.

A German Shepherd socializing with other dogs

The Right Time to Start Socialization

Dealing with a German Shepherd’s socialization can be daunting. Their protective nature, coupled with their size and energy, often leads to anxiety and behavioral issues if not addressed properly.

You should socialize your German Shepherd puppy when you get him, usually around eight weeks old.

The breeder would have started early socialization from 3-4 weeks, and it’s your job to continue to expose the puppy to many different sights, sounds, smells, experiences, and interactions.

Socialization is a crucial part of your German Shepherd’s development. It will set your puppy on the right path to becoming a well-behaved, friendly, and confident dog.

How to Socialize a German Shepherd Puppy

To socialize a German Shepherd puppy, you must ensure his curiosity is incentivized – and his threat detection radar is lowered.

For this, you must introduce new objects and people into his home environment and then take him outdoors to encounter the same stimuli. Above all, reward him for being social.

Let’s look at the seven easy ways to socialize your German Shepherd.

1. Build His Explorers’ Confidence

To socialize your German Shepherd puppy properly, you need to orient him in the social world by making him more confident.

Your puppy can’t join the Toastmasters or the local improv classes to build his confidence, so you must usher him into his most confident self by incentivizing exploration.

If you’ve read my post about training an 8-week-old German Shepherd, you know that, for the most part, your job is to wait until your dog does something right, then appreciate him for it.

For example, to make your dog sit on command, you must wait until he sits and then use the word “sit” to build that correlation. Then, you have to reward the association.

Of course, when socializing a new puppy, your puppy isn’t mature enough to process sitting and standing commands at eight weeks, but incentives and appreciation still drive him.

So, to build his confidence, you should start appreciating his curiosity and make sure you never scold him for being an explorer. 

Harsh rebuke at this age can turn your dog into an asocial introvert. And given that your German Shepherd will grow up to be a big dog, turning him unfriendly and self-conscious isn’t a great idea.

German Shepherd Puppy Sat Staring

Here are a few things you can do to raise your German Shepherd puppy’s comfort level in the first two weeks of bringing him home (weeks nine and ten).

  • Dangle a scarf from the side of his crate. Introducing new items helps your dog adapt to changes, turning the unfamiliar into the familiar and reducing the perception of new things as threats.
  • Place a broom against a wall in the room. This encourages your dog to look upwards, aiding in better interaction with adults and not just their ankles, while also familiarizing him with new objects, similar to the scarf effect.
  • Keep balls in the room. As long as these balls aren’t at risk of bursting under puppy claws, they provide a gateway into the human-canine conventions of play. If your dog can associate “play” with “ball,” he’s likely to “play ball” with others instead of being asocial.

2. Lower His Threat Threshold

Getting your German Shepherd to be confident in his space is one thing; making sure he’s not confident enough to go and bite the old lady crossing the road is another.

“To balance his confidence, you need to lower his threat-detection radar by familiarizing him with objects he will see outdoors.” – World of Dogz

It also helps to have him learn what normal is while he is young and easier to control. This is something you’ve already started doing by the second week of bringing him home.

Familiarizing him with balls is the first step towards creating familiarity with objects he will encounter outdoors.

Here are a few things you can bring home and place at a walking distance from his crate or bed to build a sense of “normal” that aligns with the outdoors:

  • A stroller. If you know how excited dogs get upon encountering cars and motorbikes, you already know that that’s not what you want from your German Shepherd when he encounters a stroller. When he becomes familiar with a stroller while it sits in the house, he won’t categorize it as a vehicle. 
  • An open umbrella. An umbrella is a source of shadow, something that people from wet climates are grateful for and dogs are afraid of. By having an open umbrella in your house, you get your dog to start seeing the object as a normal, harmless thing.
  • A walking stick. To prevent your dog from mistaking every stick for a toy or threat, keep a heavy, stationary walking stick around that he can’t play with. This teaches him to ignore sticks, reducing the likelihood of him grabbing someone’s walking stick outdoors.
German Shepherd puppy with a parakeet sat on its back.

3. Take Your Pup Outdoors

Your young German Shepherd puppy needs to experience a whole new world, see many different sights, hear various sounds, and experience stimulating smells.

Taking your German Shepherd puppy to a market that welcomes dogs will help socialize him in a low-engagement capacity. This is a stepping stone to better, more engaged socialization. German Shepherds can become shy if you skip this step. 

When you take him to a store or a shop, you allow him to process new environments while feeling secure.

But this works if you have adequately acquainted him with the “new to old” phenomenon by following the advice above. Otherwise, your doggo might start barking because he sees “new” as a “threat.”

This is explained more in the video below. Watch how the trainer exposes the pup to simple things like experiencing the shopping cart corral and walking along a bench.

Watch How To Socialize a German Shepherd Puppy For The First Time…

4. Improve His Sitting Discipline

German Shepherds are visually appealing pups, so they don’t have to do much to socialize. The only two things they must do are:

  • Avoid barking angrily at any and every new thing/person. 
  • Sit obediently in one place.

While the outdoor trips to open markets and parks will improve your dog’s normalcy radar and lower the volume and the amount of barking that comes with threat detection or excitement, it will not help build his sitting discipline.

To improve your German Shepherd’s ability to sit without getting overwhelmed by stimuli, you’ll need to take him to a dog-friendly cafe.

Have him sit close by as you have your coffee. Taking treats with you is a good idea to reward your puppy for obeying your commands.

Upon developing the discipline to sit relatively quietly, your German Shepherd will become a social superstar, ready to be admired and cuddled by your friends and family.

Puppy GSD Sitting at Beach

5. Have Friends and Family Come Over

Once your German Shepherd puppy has settled in after a week or two of bringing him home, he should be comfortable enough to entertain visitors. Having a friend come over by then is a good idea.

German Shepherds love you unconditionally, but giving treats sure accelerates this love.

Having your friend load up on treats before entering the house is a great idea to promote friendliness. More importantly, this can create an association between “new people” and “treats.”

To ensure that the friend’s visit is better received, you can do the following things to signal your dog that the friend isn’t a threat.

  • Smile at your friends and hug them with open arms. 
  • Keep your body language open around your friend. Dogs can sense any nervousness.
  • Have your friend call your pup by his name within a few seconds of being seen by the puppy. The name provides instant familiarity.

6. Let Him Meet Friends Outside

The friend who has visited and passed your puppy’s vibe check needs to visit a couple more times before becoming your German Shepherd’s socializing friend.

They will be the familiarity anchor when you take your pup out to meet other people. If your familiar friend is present, your German Shepherd will feel less anxious around people he sees for the first time. 

An outdoor introduction is placed after an indoor interaction because there are more stimuli outdoors.

If your puppy isn’t already comfortable being around people, he can get overwhelmed being around people alongside an infinite number of distractions.

7. Take Your Pup To Meet Other Dogs

Once your German Shepherd puppy is familiar with human norms, you can focus on intraspecies socializing. Dogs aren’t born asocial, and puppies in a litter don’t fight like grown-up dogs without adequate socialization. 

“That’s why setting up playdates is essential. ” – World of Dogz

If you have friends who have dogs, even if not of the same age, you can still arrange to visit or have them come over so they can be around each other.

If the other dog is senior, make sure he belongs to a smaller breed, as he may not appreciate the energy of a young pup.

A GSD playing with 2 kids in the park.

Socializing a 1-Year-Old German Shepherd

Although a German Shepherd is fully grown by 18 months, shifting from a young dog to an adult around the one-year mark can be as challenging as a teenager’s awkward phase.

If your German Shepherd is around one year old and lacks socialization training, perhaps due to a late adoption from a shelter, you can facilitate his social development.

To socialize a one-year-old German Shepherd, you must gradually expose him to indirect social stimuli by taking him on walks, having guests over, and making him feel secure about his status with you. A confident German Shepherd is one ready to go to a dog park.

Project a clear “okay” mood through your tone of voice, body language, and facial expressions.

Demonstrating contentment and satisfaction helps your dog recognize safe and positive situations. When he observes you relaxed and smiling around new people, he’s more likely to mirror that calmness.

Watch How To Socialize a Young German Shepherd…

Just like with puppies, getting your 1-year-old German Shepherd to be comfortable with people starts at home. Having people over gives you more control over your dog’s reaction and how you manage it.

Most importantly, your nervousness regarding your dog’s potential reaction is picked up by your German Shepherd as a sign of danger, which puts him on edge.

“This was an early mistake I made with my German Shepherd. I quickly realized that I needed to relax more when exposing her to new situations.” – World of Dogz

So, an essential piece of advice for managing the social compatibility of a 1-year-old German Shepherd is to have him indirectly meet people in contexts where you are genuinely and visibly relaxed. 

German Shepherds are very intuitive, especially regarding their owners’ emotions. Your mood is the easiest path to managing your GSD’s mood. If you master your mood, you can socialize your German Shepherd well into adulthood.

Socializing a 2-Year-Old German Shepherd

Let’s suppose you have had a German Shepherd for almost two years and haven’t gotten intentional about his social compatibility, or you may have adopted a 2-year-old unsocialized German Shepherd.

Now, you feel like he should be able to deal with people.

To socialize a two-year-old German Shepherd, ensure you are entirely relaxed around company. Your dog may bark aggressively in some instances and act unbothered in others.

Whenever he behaves right, reward him. This combination of social cues and positive reinforcement will socialize him.

You mustn’t take your dog in crowded places while he is learning to digest social interaction without getting overexcited.

If people have a sudden adverse reaction to the dog because he is barking or snapping at them, he will associate people with discomfort.

Instead, you can take him on walks on relatively desolate routes. You should also ensure that your German Shepherd doesn’t have contact with other dogs until he has learned to behave properly around people. 

Young GSD Sitting on Steps

Transforming an Aggressive Dog into a Social Companion

A German Shepherd behaves well around people when he feels secure and confident. Dogs do not bark out of bravery; they do so upon detecting threats, and this combination of aggressiveness and insecurity can make them highly antisocial.

Most German Shepherds aren’t inherently aggressive, but if you have recently adopted one from a shelter, you might find him to be on edge more than a regular dog. So, how do you socialize an aggressive German Shepherd?

To socialize an aggressive German Shepherd, you must make him feel secure and at ease. Understand that aggression comes from fear and self-preservation.

Persisting positive treatment and reinforcing a calm demeanor can help make him a lot less aggressive.

Here are a few things you can do to further decrease aggression.

  • Make a list of possible triggers that seem to get your dog anxious. This could be anything from people who wear beanies to people of a certain height.  
  • Check your dog’s tolerance. Knowing how aggressive your German Shepherd gets in the presence of each trigger will help you expose him to said trigger more gradually.
  • Control the environment. Whether you use a harness or a crate, you should have mechanisms in place to control your German Shepherd.
  • Slowly expose your dog to a trigger. Let’s say he barks at people with beards. Have a friend with a beard appear near his crate without trying to interact with him. Your German Shepherd will start barking but should be ignored. Once he stops barking, you can not just cuddle him but can give him a treat. 
  • Repeat the above steps until your dog is desensitized to the trigger. This will take a lot of patience, but eventually, he will be unbothered by the trigger, which will now come undone.

Training an aggressive German Shepherd requires a lot of care and is better left to professionals, especially if you start to get nervous when he growls or snaps at people.

Your nervousness reinforces your dog’s discomfort, making him more aggressive.

Socialization Tips for Older German Shepherds

Getting an older German Shepherd to be more social should not wait because the later you socialize, the harder it is to pull it off.

To socialize an older German Shepherd, slow down the socializing clock and take each of the following steps across four weeks:

  • Introduce outside objects indoors.
  • Reward indoor exploring.
  • Invite friends over.
  • Take him outside on walks with gradually escalating levels of crowding and stimuli.

Some people believe it is harder to socialize an older German Shepherd.

So, what’s the deal?

It is incredibly hard, practically impossible, to socialize an older German Shepherd quickly. But if you have enough patience and benchmark with the dog’s advanced age in mind, the path is pretty straightforward. 

As a rule of thumb, assume he will take a month or five weeks to learn what a puppy would understand in a week.

“That’s because he isn’t just learning something; he is unlearning what he has picked up across a significant portion of his lifetime.” – World of Dogz

German Shepherds are generally socially neutral. However, it’s crucial to understand the baseline from which an older dog is being inducted into social improvement.

If an older German Shepherd is aloof and unbothered but not too interested in people, it might take a few weeks – and a few dozen treats to socialize him.

On the other hand, if he has had negative experiences, such as with other dogs, then you’re going to have a much harder time getting your German Shepherd to accept other dogs.

Related: Is It Ever Too Late To Train a German Shepherd?

Tips for Dog-to-Dog Interaction

Adult German Shepherd and Bernese Mountain Dog Playing (Socialization)
Young German Shepherd Playing With a Bernese Mountain Dog

To socialize a German Shepherd with other dogs, start by walking close to a dog park but not too close, or he might feel anxious or threatened.

By gradually bringing him closer with each walk, you can slowly expose him to other dogs by taking him into the park.

If your German Shepherd is older, you’ll have to make this process much slower. The following can serve as a guide:

  • Up to four months – A puppy within this age range can be taken into the dog park after a week of trips outside the park’s boundaries once vaccinated. 
  • From four months to twelve months – A German Shepherd within this age range might take three weeks to enter the dog park without getting stressed or anxious.
  • From twelve months to two years – An adult dog who hasn’t behaved too well around dogs might take a month of walking outside a dog park before he feels secure enough to enter the park.
  • Two years and above – German Shepherds who haven’t socialized with other dogs at this age are quite introverted. It might take anywhere between three to eight months to get them to feel comfortable around other dogs. 

You must be prepared for your GSD to bark endlessly. He might even try to tug you as he leaps forward. You must ensure he is in a suitable harness where firmly holding the leash won’t choke the dog. 

Please don’t take a harness as a license to yank the leash, as you can still hurt him and further aggravate him. Finally, make sure to keep your composure and not be upset when he starts being aggressive. 

Your German Shepherd won’t be able to tell you’re upset at his aggressiveness. Instead, he will assume you’re upset at the same thing he is angry at and will take your negative mood as an encouragement to be more aggressive.

In contrast, when you stay calm and ignore his aggressiveness, the behavior gets discouraged without punishment. GSDs are intelligent, which means they will soon learn two things:

  • Aggressiveness is useless. 
  • He gets attention by being calm.

Common Mistakes To Avoid

When it comes to socializing your German Shepherd, there are some common mistakes that you’ll want to avoid to ensure a successful experience for both you and your furry friend.

  • Start Early: Socialize your German Shepherd between 3 and 14 weeks old, the critical period for forming positive associations with new experiences.
  • Avoid Overwhelming: Introduce your dog to new situations at a comfortable pace to prevent fear, anxiety, or aggression.
  • Balance Protection and Exposure: Protect your German Shepherd from danger, but also expose them to various experiences, including meeting new people and animals, in a safe, controlled way.
  • Consistency is Key: Regularly expose your German Shepherd to new environments and experiences; sporadic socialization can lead to fearfulness or anxiety in new situations.

However, here’s a video explaining common things to avoid for your German Shepherd, which every pet parent should watch.

Fun Socialization Activities

Socializing your German Shepherd doesn’t have to be a chore – in fact, it can be a lot of fun for both you and your furry friend! Here are some engaging and enjoyable socialization activities that you can try with your German Shepherd:

  1. Puppy playdates: Arrange playdates with other puppies around the same age and size as your German Shepherd. This will help your pup learn how to interact with other dogs in a safe and controlled environment.
  2. Dog-friendly outings: Take your German Shepherd to dog-friendly places like pet stores, dog parks, and outdoor cafes. This will expose them to new sights, sounds, and smells while allowing them to interact with other dogs and people.
  3. Training classes: Enroll your dog in a training class, such as obedience or agility training. This will not only help them learn new skills but also allow them to socialize with other dogs and people in a structured environment.
  4. Hiking or walking: Take your German Shepherd on hikes or long walks in different environments, such as the beach, mountains, or city streets. This will expose them to new sights, sounds, and smells while providing great exercise and bonding time for you both.
  5. Car rides: Take your dog to new places, such as the park or a friend’s house. This will help them get used to traveling in the car and also expose them to new environments.
  6. Playtime at home: Play games with your German Shepherd, such as fetch or hide-and-seek. This will not only provide great exercise and mental stimulation but also help build a strong bond between you and your pup.
  7. Socialization walks: Take your dog to different neighborhoods or areas where they can interact with new people and dogs. This will help them get used to different types of people and dogs and provide great exercise and socialization opportunities.

These approaches work really well in making the process more engaging and successful as well.


How can I tell if my dog is overwhelmed in social situations?

Signs of being overwhelmed include excessive panting, yawning, hiding, or showing aggression. If your dog exhibits these behaviors, it’s time to step back and slow down the pace of socialization.

Can socialization help reduce aggression in German Shepherds?

Yes, proper socialization can significantly reduce aggression. It helps German Shepherds learn appropriate behaviors and become more comfortable in various situations.

What should I do if my dog reacts aggressively during socialization?

If aggression occurs, calmly remove your dog from the situation. Consult a professional dog trainer or behaviorist for tailored advice and training strategies.

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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