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7 Easy Ways To Socialize a German Shepherd: Pup to Adult

Written By: Sharon Waddington

Last Updated:

So, you’ve already decided to get a German Shepherd, and you cannot wait until the breeder releases him into your custody. But alongside the excitement comes the nervousness: what if I mess things up? But don’t worry, as that’s what every new dog parent thinks.

Fortunately, socialization is the one thing with the greatest “good enough” factor. If you get this part right, your German Shepherd will be fine. Here are the seven ways you can socialize a German Shepherd from pup to adulthood:

  1. Build his explorers’ confidence
  2. Lower his threat threshold
  3. Take him outdoors
  4. Improve his sitting discipline
  5. Have friends and family come over
  6. Let him meet friends outside
  7. Take him to meet other dogs

In this article, you will learn how to socialize a German Shepherd puppy step-by-step and the importance of socialization. I’ll also tell you how to socialize an older German Shepherd and an aggressive German Shepherd.

So, whether your German Shepherd is a young puppy or an older introvert, this article has it covered. Now, let’s get started by looking at when you should begin the socialization process in the first place.

A GSD Puppy with a Cat. A How To Socialize a German Shepherd

When to Socialize a German Shepherd

You should socialize your German Shepherd puppy as soon as you get him, usually around 8 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 need to 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, then take him outdoors to encounter the same stimuli. Above all, reward him for being social.

Let’s look at the 7 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 have to 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 have to 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 the German Shepherd will grow up to be a big dog, turning him unfriendly and self-conscious isn’t a great idea.

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. This gives him something “new” to process as an entry into his environment. After a day, it will be “old news.” Making your dog capable of seeing something new turn into a staple in his environment makes him more open-minded to novelty. This keeps him from seeing everything new as a threat.
  • Place a broom against a wall in the room. Doing so will help your dog look up vertically to process the entire structure. This helps when the puppy meets adult humans as he isn’t interacting exclusively with their ankles and looks up toward their faces. It also provides the same “new to old” effect as a dangling scarf.
  • 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.
German Shepherd puppy with a parakeet sat on its back.

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. You want your dog to not see every stick as a toy or as a threat. The best way to get him to chill upon noticing a stick is to have one lying around that he cannot play with. A walking stick made from heavy wood is almost impossible to use as a plaything, especially for puppies. At the same time, since it is stationary, the pup isn’t likely to see it as a threat. Consequently, when you take him outside, he won’t be pulling someone’s walking stick.

3. Take Him Outdoors

Your young German Shepherd puppy needs to experience his whole new world, see many different sights, hear a range of 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 below video. 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, which means 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 so you can 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.

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 to your dog that the friend isn’t a threat.

  • Smile at your friend 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 Him 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 of a litter don’t fight like grown-up dogs without adequate socialization do. 

That’s why setting up playdates is essential. 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.

How to Socialize a 1-Year-Old German Shepherd

To make sure your dog isn’t just well-behaved but also likable, you must socialize him in stages. The above section covers how to socialize your German Shepherd when he is a puppy. A German Shepherd is considered fully grown at 18 months. However, you’ll not find anyone who refers to their 1-year-old German Shepherd as a puppy.

This transition from a young dog to an adult can be challenging. Just like teenagers have their socially awkward phase, young dogs do as well.

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.

Let’s suppose your German Shepherd is 1 year old and hasn’t been given any training on how to socialize. Maybe you got him from the shelter. To make sure such a dog quickly catches up on social norms, you can create a very prominent “okay” mood that he can detect from your voice tone, body language, and facial expressions.

By playing up the expression of contentment and satisfaction, you give your German Shepherd easy clues to tell when things are okay. Once your dog can see you smile, be relaxed, and use a calm tone in the presence of new people, he too can begin to relax.

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 when it comes to their owners’ emotions. Your mood is the easiest path to managing your GSD’s mood. If you master your mood, you can socialize a German Shepherd well into adulthood.

How to Socialize 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. 

How to Socialize a 2 Year Old German Shepherd. German Shepherd Pawing.

How to Socialize an Aggressive German Shepherd

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 focus on making 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 a drop in 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.

How to Socialize an Older German Shepherd

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 each: 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?

How to Socialize a German Shepherd With Other Dogs

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 will be able to 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 have to make sure he is in a suitable harness where firmly holding the leash won’t choke the dog. 

My German Shepherd wears the Walk Your Dog With Love Harness as it is front fitting allowing more control, and steering, and as it says on the tin – your dog just can’t pull.

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 Socializing A German Shepherd

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

First and foremost, one of the biggest mistakes people make is waiting too long to start socializing their German Shepherd. It’s important to begin socialization as early as possible, ideally when your puppy is between 3 and 14 weeks old. This is the critical period when your puppy is most receptive to new experiences and will be more likely to form positive associations with new people, animals, and environments.

Another mistake to avoid is forcing your German Shepherd into social situations that make them uncomfortable. While it’s important to expose your dog to new experiences, it’s equally important to do so at a pace that they’re comfortable with. Pushing your dog too far too fast can lead to fear, anxiety, and even aggression.

On the other hand, another common mistake is sheltering your German Shepherd too much. While it’s important to protect your dog from potentially dangerous situations, it’s equally important to expose them to a variety of experiences so they can learn how to navigate the world around them. This includes introducing them to new people, animals, and environments in a safe and controlled manner.

The final mistake committed by people is not being consistent with their socialization efforts. Socialization is an ongoing process that requires regular exposure to new experiences and environments. If you only socialize your German Shepherd once in a while, they’re less likely to form positive associations and may become fearful or anxious in new situations.

However, here’s a video explaining common things to avoid to your German Shepherd and it’s something that every pet parent should watch.

Fun Socialization Activities For A German Shepherd

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 also giving them the opportunity to interact with other dogs and people.
  3. Training classes: Enroll your German Shepherd in a training class, such as obedience or agility training. This will not only help them learn new skills, but also give them the opportunity 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 also providing great exercise and bonding time for you both.
  5. Car rides: Take your German Shepherd on car rides 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 at home, 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 German Shepherd on walks in 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 also provide great exercise and socialization opportunities.

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

Final Thoughts: The Importance of Socialization

German Shepherds are big dogs with incredible bite strength and single-mindedness that can turn into stubbornness if not managed. It is crucial to socialize them well, not just so they’re easier to control outside but also because a well-behaved dog gets treated better, which improves their life experience.

You have to teach them how to behave.

Dogs are socially conscious, and when your German Shepherd is socially compatible with other dogs and people, his self-esteem and happiness will both improve because his canine cousins and people will be happy around him.

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Photo of author

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.