If you have just brought an 8-week-old German Shepherd puppy home, you know that you’ve just added dog training to your list of daily chores. What you might not know is how easy or challenging your new job will be.
Your new German Shepherd is young, and you’ve never owned a dog before, and even if you have, each puppy is different.
To train an 8-week-old German Shepherd puppy, initiate him to being gently handled, and teach him his name. Train him early with basic commands using positive reinforcement. Let him know that you are the alpha, be consistent, don’t yell or use physical punishment, and discipline at the moment.
There are three golden rules when training an 8-week-old German Shepherd:
- Train your German Shepherd puppy young.
- Establish a steady pattern with consistent training principles.
- Target the five core areas of puppy training.
These three golden rules of dog training summarize the details you will find in this article. I’ll tell you why training your German Shepherd puppy young will yield success, the principles you should follow when training your German Shepherd puppy, and the core training areas you should target.
If you’ve never owned a dog before, don’t worry, as German Shepherds are good first dogs – as long as you have the time and energy to devote to them, which includes lots of socialization and training. My German Shepherd, “Willow,” is my first dog, and yes, I made a few mistakes along the way, but we got there in the end.
So, let’s go straight into the precise information on each rule to help you avoid some of the mistakes I made!
Training Your German Shepherd Puppy Young: It’s Easy and Possible!
The rule of thumb is that you train them young when dog training. This does not imply that you cannot teach adult dogs; it simply means that the success philosophy of “bending the tree while still young” applies.
In fact, the German Shepherd Dog Club of America (GSDCA) indicates that the first 2-6 months are essential in laying the foundation for a German Shepherd puppy to integrate into the family.
All this means is that when you bring your German Shepherd puppy home at eight weeks (2 months), the dog has most likely interacted with few realities and is fresh enough to learn and follow the rules of a new home.
The truth that young puppies learn quickly has been scientifically proven. A study with 8-week-old puppies found that they easily learned to open a puzzle box motivated with food and retained the skill. Surprisingly, these puppies learned the skill better from a conspecific than they did from their mother.
Other studies have also proven that it’s significant to train puppies instead of older dogs for future behavior. In this study, puppies who attended a command and socialization training class for one hour daily for six months showed better behavior towards strangers than adult dogs attending the same classes.
Apart from the age factor, other breed-specific reasons make training a German Shepherd puppy easy and possible. Here are 3 of those reasons:
- German Shepherds are intelligent dogs, which is a breed trait. The AKC lists them among the smartest dog breeds. So, even at just eight weeks, your puppy has it in his blood to learn and effect commands.
- To perform their original herding job for which they were bred, German Shepherds had to be vigilant. This is a basic learning trait, even though the trainer has to consistently give treats and praises to get the attention of the German Shepherd Dog (GSD), especially in the beginning.
- As herding dogs, German Shepherds were also originally bred to be obedient. This is another core training requirement that makes your German Shepherd puppy easy to train.
To succeed in your training task, however, there are specific principles you need to follow. Read about these training codes in the next section.
How To Train an 8 Week Old German Shepherd Puppy
The purpose of any dog training is to have behavioral skills picked and maintained. As in human training, a good dog trainer is one who bears in mind that the trainee learns better when treated right, with utmost patience, and with consistent regard to the dog’s feelings.
I explain these training requirements in 10 key principles of successful German Shepherd puppy training.
1. Initiate Your German Shepherd to Being Handled Gently
Dogs are great at giving and receiving caresses and hugs. But they also have to handle grooming which can feel uncomfortable. Your German Shepherd puppy can learn to handle this uneasiness if taught to take it when young.
You can do this by gently handling your pup’s ears, paws, ears, and coat. You can find out more about whether German Shepherds like to be petted in this article.
2. Let Your Dog Know That You Are the Alpha
In dog training, your pet must know that you are the point of reference from the beginning. If this is done right, your dog won’t do things without consulting you; he will look up to seek your confirmation before proceeding to give a hug to a stranger and obey any command that comes from you.
Pro-tip: Looking for more info on how to show dominance over a German Shepherd? Read this article first.
3. Reward Your German Shepherd’s Positive Behavior
This is an indispensable approach in dog training. Thanks to Skinner’s operant conditioning theory, we know that rewards reinforce behavior. So, if you are training your pup to pick a toy and bring it to you, affirm him with a “good boy” compliment and couple that with a treat. By the time the command is executed thrice, your German Shepherd pup knows that it is a good thing to do because it also yields good outcomes.
4. Stub Out Negative Behavior As Early as Possible
Dogs were not created as domestic animals; they had to be tamed. This is why, now and then, they will tend to go back to their wild behavior, like biting or insistently barking when food is in sight. You need to tame that as early as possible.
For example, if your puppy tends to demand his meal by barking when you appear with his food bowl, hold on to it, and give the command to “stop.” Give the food only when he stops. Your pup will quickly learn to associate silence with the food bowl being placed in front of him.
If your puppy is having difficulty mastering his bite inhibition or if you need some help with puppy biting, check out my top article, How to Discipline a German Shepherd for Biting.
5. Call Your Furry Friend by Their Name
How does your German Shepherd puppy know you are talking to him if you just make commands? You need to call his name first, then make the command. That way, your pet knows the “sit” or “come” command is specifically meant for them. Besides, it feels good to be called by your name, even for a dog.
6. Start With Basic Skills and Commands
If you intend to make your dog the intelligent pet who hears “don’t do that” and refrains from doing it, or the neat pet who doesn’t eat scraps from the floor, you need to start with baby steps by teaching basic commands and skills.
Teach your pet to first obey simple “NO,” “SIT,” “COME,” and “GO” commands before teaching the advanced trick commands like catch and fetch. Also, have him learn not to pick scraps from the floor with a firm “NO” or “LEAVE IT” before teaching him not to scatter the meal all over and retrieve it once the bowl is empty.
7. Make Commands Only Once
When it comes to training, what you give is what you get. If you train your German Shepherd puppy to listen to commands three times before obeying them, that’s exactly what he will learn. Don’t let your pup become disobedient.
Teach your pup to heed a command at its first mention. If a command is not executed the first time, show your puppy what you want them to do and make the command again. Repeat that until they can learn to obey the first time the command is made.
8. Shouting at Your German Shepherd Puppy Is an Absolute No!
Unless he is born with a hearing defect that is detected by a vet, your German Shepherd puppy has a perfect hearing ability. You, therefore, don’t need to shout the commands.
If you do, you will train him to be anxious or eventually create the idea that shouting is the norm. You certainly don’t want that; therefore, be calm and patient. Here’s how to discipline your German Shepherd, and more importantly, what not to do.
9. Be Consistent in Your Expectations and Actions
If your puppy barks for a meal one day and you say “NO” and withhold it till he is quiet, but you give it to them while barking on a different day, you’ll never achieve any good results with your training.
Let your “NO” always be “NO,” and your soft voice always so. Otherwise, your poor puppy will be confused about what you expect and will not know how you want them to behave.
10. Eventually Wean Your German Shepherd Puppy off Training Treats
At some point, your puppy needs to learn that skills and commands are not learned or obeyed for the sole motive of a treat. For this reason, it is important to wean your puppy off treats when the time is right.
The AKC Pet Insurance advises that this should be done when your dog has repeatedly performed the behavior or trick that you are training him in and mastered it completely.
Nonetheless, your German Shepherd puppy is still a dog in training, and you need to replace the treat with some emotional reward. That could mean continuing the praises that were coupled with the treat or replacing them with an activity that your puppy seems to enjoy a lot, say playing “fetch” or “catch.” You can learn a few tricks to weaning your dog off treats from the AKC article.
With these ten principles, you can now apply them to the key areas that your German Shepherd puppy needs to be trained in.
Areas of German Shepherd Puppy Training
Your GSD will need some form of training throughout his life. It might be training for a sport in their early adult years or training to cope with an age-related life change.
But, as a puppy, there are five key areas in which you must appropriately train your 8-week old German Shepherd. In the next section, I tell you what training entails for each of these areas. If you are looking for a step-by-step guide on how to train a German Shepherd, I have just the article for you.
Socialization: Teach Your German Shepherd Puppy to Behave Well Around People
They say humans are social beings, but that is also true about dogs. Humans become social through socialization. Canines become social with training. Humans who are well trained in the first years of life will be well behaved as adults. If you didn’t know it yet, the same is true with dogs.
If you want some scientific proof to the rule that training your German Shepherd young is important for their adult life, here are two key findings from this study:
- Dogs that are well socialized as puppies will behave more positively with humans and are less likely to display behavioral problems such as fear and aggression.
- These dogs learn better how to play games with humans than those without proper socialization as puppies.
Your dog will learn social skills throughout his life, depending on the situations that he gets exposed to. As a puppy, however, you can teach your German Shepherd socialization through intentional training moments in the family, in public places, or by sending the pup to socialization classes.
Taking your German Shepherd out often to social places like parks exposes him to other people and dogs. This helps the canine to be less wary or aggressive around strangers. Being among other puppies also helps your little furry friend build confidence.
The earlier mentioned study indicates that puppies can learn social skills better when put in socialization classes with other puppies. Just don’t do so before his second round of vaccines at around 10-12 weeks.
Potty Training: Train Your German Shepherd Puppy Not to Make Stinky Messes Around the House!
Those tiny packages that your pup will leave around the house if you don’t teach him where to do it are not a pleasant sight or odor to behold!
Check Out This Video On The 5 Most Common Potty Training Mistakes…
So, potty training is crucial and should be done with the natural rhythm of your dog in mind. So, what does that mean?
Usually, dogs will need to relieve themselves early in the morning and once they have had their meal. Use that natural rhythm as a reference for his daily pee or poop walks. Here’s a possible routine you could use to potty-train your 8-week-old German Shepherd puppy in 7 days:
- Walk your dog first thing every morning to give him a chance to relieve himself. Dogs hate messing up their sleeping space and will usually hold it. Nonetheless, young puppies might be unable to do so. If they learn that a relief walk happens first thing in the morning, though, they will eventually make an effort to hold it.
- Walk your dog after his morning meal and hang around for 15 minutes or so to give him time to do his thing. Repeat the same in the evening.
- 8-week old German Shepherd puppies will need to be allowed to relieve themselves every hour. In addition to this (for dogs that have had their shots), a short walk every 2-3 hours is an ideal routine to prevent your dog from peeing around the house. Remember that your puppy should stay hydrated, and that means they’ll need to pass urine.
- If you crate your puppy because you are out, find someone to help you stick to the routine. Repeating this routine for seven days will give your new furry friend time to master and stick to it, but even if he doesn’t learn it in that period, stick to it until the puppy has mastered it.
You might want to reward your puppy after they’ve done their thing so that they associate short walks with time to do it out of the home and a little treat along with it.
Crate Training: Train Your German Shepherd Puppy to Consider a Crate Its Space
Crate training is an essential element of house training, but it also comes with benefits for your dog’s safety and comfort when traveling. The best dog crates will give your pet enough room to stand, sit, turn, and lie down comfortably on his side with paws outstretched.
There shouldn’t be too much room for an 8-week-old puppy, but you might, however, want to buy a crate that your puppy can grow with for a couple of years, like the ones with adjustable dividers. A size 48″ is best for German Shepherds.
When purchasing a crate for your puppy, you might go for the standard metal model with either a single or double door. My favorite is the MidWest Homes for Pets iCrate from Amazon, as it’s strong and sturdy and ideal for large breed dogs. I like the double door one as it gives you more options where you can place it in your home, and this one has a carrying handle which makes it easy to move around.
Travel kennels like this Petmate Ultra Vari Kennel (check Amazon for the latest price) are also hardy when you are on the move with your dog, and this one even meets the cargo specifications for airlines.
Here are five key things you should practice when crate-training your German Shepherd puppy:
- Keep your puppy in the crate at night always. Letting him into your bed should be a complete no. Here’s why you shouldn’t let your German Shepherd pup sleep with you.
- Initiate crate training from the very first day you bring your puppy home. It will be harder to succeed in crate training if your puppy gets the idea that there are other options. You will likely hear your 8-week-old German Shepherd puppy cry during the first night, but after that, he will be just fine.
- Keep your dog in the crate when you are out of the house and for his own safety, such as cooking in the kitchen or in exceptional situations like when you have visitors.
- Do not let your puppy out of the cage for mercy when it’s barking too much or giving you those eyes that seem to beg you to let them out. If you do so, you’ve just communicated the idea that they can have their way. Instead, reward good behavior in the crate.
- Keep your pup’s crate in the same place to avoid confusing him and to help him create an idea of “his space” where he can retreat to relax. A blanket and some toys will offer some comfort for your dog. Put a blanket over half of the crate to give it a “den-like” feel – German Shepherds love this.
No Sharp Biting: Train Your German Shepherd Puppy to Bite Without Hurting
Biting is part of being a dog, especially among puppies. Older dogs may refrain from biting because they have been trained to. What’s more, unless it’s intended to hurt, biting is an important part of playing and of being a guard or police dog, which is common among German Shepherds – but these dogs are trained to catch without maiming.
So, rather than talk of training puppies not to bite, let’s talk of training them to bite without hurting. Here’s an excellent short video on acquired bite inhibition (ABI) which gives useful information on why puppies bite, why we should not try to stop it, and how to train puppies to a soft, non-maiming bite:
Contrary to the widespread idea that we should yelp like a puppy and quickly withdraw our hand or clothing when a puppy bites, the best way to teach your German Shepherd puppy that his bite hurts is to cry like the human that you are. That sends the message that your pup’s bite hurts humans. If you watch the video, you will see what I mean.
So, when your puppy bites, cry “OUCH” hard enough and leave your hand in his mouth until they let go. That’s a sign they are beginning to understand not to bite you. Do the same when they bite your clothing and other parts of the body like ears or hair. While doing this training, let your dog differentiate between a bite that hurts and one that is soft and part of playing.
Also, training your puppy to soft bite is best initiated early in the first six weeks and continued until 4 to 5 months, or when they have mastered the art of soft biting.
Walking on a leash is not an innate skill in dogs – they need to learn it, and it’s best to do it when your puppy is young. The best way to do this is to practice at home first before going out for walks with your pup. Consider the following steps:
- Introduce your German Shepherd puppy to a harness or collar and leash by first allowing him to get used to it gradually. Do this by having them wear the collar/harness and leash for short periods inside the house. You can play with your puppy for a while and give a treat before or soon after removing the leash. I find the best no-pull harness to be those that are not rear-attached. I use the Walk Your Dog With Love No-Pull Harness as it gives more control, is ideal for large, strong dogs such as the GSD, and your dog just can’t pull!
- Teach a leash cue to call your dog’s attention when you want to put on the leash or to come to you as a way of learning to walk while on a leash. It could be a “COME!” while holding the leash when you need to put it on or just a “COME!” when learning to walk on a leash. Give a treat when the command is obeyed. You can also introduce a “NO!” when your puppy tries to chew the leash.
- Introduce your puppy to short walks outside on a leash. Your puppy will get distracted during the walk and may try to pull. Do not pull back; instead, stand firm until he gives up and walks back toward you. Here, too, introduce a word cue that calls your puppy’s attention to you when he seems like they’re about to lunge toward another dog or object. Timing is crucial here. Reward every time commands are obeyed and gradually reduce the rewards as the art of walking on a leash is perfected. You can learn how to stop a GSD from pulling on the leash in this article.
Always ensure that your puppy’s leash is comfortable.
8-weeks-old is a good time to train a German Shepherd puppy in key areas such as socialization, crate training, potty training, leash training, and not biting.
To successfully train your puppy in these areas, you must train them young and follow other good training principles like not shouting at your puppy, being consistent in your commands, and rewarding obedience to commands, among others. Just don’t forget to wean your pup off rewards when commands are well-learned.
Always bear in mind that a puppy is just starting. So, be patient and begin with basic commands before introducing the more complex trick commands. Good luck with your new friend!