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How to Train a German Shepherd Puppy: Step-by-Step Guide

German Shepherd puppies are intelligent and highly trainable but tend to want to take control over situations. They require proper training to acquire a loyal, friendly, and protective temperament of a good family dog. But how do you train a German Shepherd puppy?

Train your German Shepherd puppy from an early age, from around 8-weeks old. Use verbal and gestural cues to teach basic commands like “sit!” “come!” and “no!” and treats and praise to reinforce your commands. Never yell or use physical punishment as this only causes fear and distrust.

This is my practical guide to training your German Shepherd puppy. I’ll help you learn how to use positive reinforcement to teach basic and advanced obedience commands and achieve the best results in your German Shepherd puppy. You’ll learn:

  • Principles of German Shepherd puppy training – without knowing these, you’ll get nowhere, so don’t skip this part!
  • Positive reinforcement – the best training approach.
  • The key commands in training your German Shepherd puppy – from basic to advanced.
  • The 5 steps of training, including all the tools you’ll need. I’ll also walk you through two examples using these 5 steps.
Two German Shepherd Puppies

So, if you want to know exactly how to train a German Shepherd puppy, you’ll love this guide! Let’s get started!

Principles and Facts of German Shepherd Dog Training and Learning

Every good and well-behaved German Shepherd Dog you see around should immediately tell you of a dog well trained. While some people assume that dogs can guess what is in their mind and execute it, this is never the case. 

Your German Shepherd puppy relies on your communication to become a well-behaved companion. But you need to train him to decipher the communication codes first. Also, training is more effective if rewarded positively and if commenced early during puppyhood.

By the way, if you are thinking about buying a product or toy for your dog, check out my favorite gear below. Also, check out the 10-year warranty on the crate pad!

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The below five facts and principles explain the importance of the dog-owner communication dynamic in training and the need to use a positive approach and start early when training your German Shepherd puppy.

1. Your German Shepherd is Particularly Receptive to Your Sound 

Dogs have an innate tendency to act according to their breeding purpose. As such, a German Shepherd might be quick to protect its owner in a dangerous situation by following its “herding genes.” 

To become the friendly family dog you are looking for, a German Shepherd will rely on verbal commands to understand your wish, and they respond remarkably well with proper training.

Even though most of us have never considered it, researchers have discovered that dogs can understand some human words because their brains process language in a way that is similar to humans. A dog’s right side of the brain deals with emotion while the left processes meaning. 

But it is also suggested that, before your dog understands your words, they first notice the intonation of your voice. They will know when your tone communicates pleasure or disappointment. 

“It’s not what you say, but how you say it that sends him the desired message.”

VCA Hospitals: Human-Canine Communication

Hence, regardless of what is being said, dogs will first respond to voice pitch, which is not only crucial for training in general but also for obtaining your dog’s attention when he can’t see you.

2. Coupling Verbal and Gestural Cues Help Your Dog Learn Better

Most professional dog trainers will tell you to couple a verbal command with a gesture. The good reason for this advice is that body language is a canine’s primary mode of communication, and they have an excellent capacity to read visual cues. 

Dogs will make out when you are sad from your face just as they will understand your hand and other body signals in training. This fact has been used to explain why deaf dogs will learn as well as those with optimal hearing capacity. 

Research has confirmed that coupling your word with a gesture has a better impact on dog obedience, and this gets even better if the words and gestures are placed in a context. For example, telling your dog to search while pointing to the direction you want him to go will be more effective in a context where the search was done before.

3. Dogs Stick to What They Have Learned

If you have a second thought about investing your time and resources on your German Shepherd puppy’s good training, then this fact will make you decide in favor of it.

Research testing the tendency of dogs to “go with the crowd” revealed that dogs would stick to what they have learned and not conform to other dogs’ behavior even under different manipulated situations.

This means that the good training you give to your German Shepherd puppy will stick with him, and you can expect your dog to portray good behavior in any situation.

4. Your German Shepherd Will Learn Best as a Puppy

German Shepherd Puppy aged 8 weeks
My German Shepherd Puppy Willow at 8 weeks old

Experts in canine behavior say you should train your German Shepherd steadily when he is still a puppy. Your pet will learn from a young age what is expected of him, and that helps your dog be more at ease and confident.

While most of us already know that the best time to bring home a puppy is between eight and ten weeks old, we might be interested to know that the puppy’s social training should already begin a little before that. 

According to scientists, the period between 4 and 10 weeks is the most crucial in a puppy’s socialization. The socialization and training experiences in this period have lasting effects on the dog’s adult behavior.

It is suggested that good training in this period makes a puppy respond better to humans and that lack of training at this age can make some dogs untrainable and unapproachable as an adult.

5. Reward-Based Training is the Best Approach for Your Puppy Obedience Training

It’s no secret in the dog world that reward-based training (positive reinforcement) is the best dog training approach.

Studies have compared and ascertained that positive reinforcement has the best outcome on dog behavior and temperament. In contrast, aversive training methods (negative reinforcement and positive punishment) can harm both the mental and physical health of a dog.

Positive reinforcement is built on the principle of rewarding your dog whenever they perform positive behavior or heed your command. Aversive training methods follow the principle of punishing your dog when it does not heed a command.

A reward can be anything that your dog values. It could be a scratch behind the ear, verbal praise (“good dog!”), a favorite toy or game, and most commonly, a tasty treat. 

Dogs have the cognitive ability to associate a reward (effect) with an action/behavior (cause). If we could put our words in their mouth, they would be saying, “If I am told to come, and I do so, the yummy liver biscuit is going to be pulled out of the bag, and I can enjoy it!”

Even though your dog may obey the “come” command to get the reward in the beginning, consistency in the command-reward dynamic will create a behavior pattern, as shown below.

As your dog progresses, you can alternate rewards (change kibble for verbal praise, or a favorite toy). Even when you eventually withdraw the rewards because the behavior has been formed, praise and contact rewards (scratch behind the ear) will always remain a key part of your relationship with your German Shepherd. 

Check out this short video from celebrity dog trainer Zak George discussing the effectiveness of positive reinforcement vs punishment. I love Zak’s ethical training methods and positive reinforcement training techniques.

Positive Reinforcement vs. Punishment: Which is more EFFECTIVE?

To strengthen his point, and to learn more, here’s my top article on how to discipline a German Shepherd – and what NOT to do!

So, in what behavior are you using positive reinforcement to train your German Shepherd puppy? Let’s address that in my next section.

The Key Commands in Training Your German Shepherd Puppy

Most dogs will need obedience training in basic and advanced skills. But obedience training levels can be further broken down to basic, intermediate, advanced, and behavior correction.

Here’s Zak again on how to teach your new puppy 3 easy things; his name, and the commands, “sit!” and “down!” This particular video went viral and has over 11 million views!

3 Easy Things to Teach your NEW PUPPY!

A German Shepherd puppy will be initiated in the basic obedience training, but it doesn’t hurt to know what the other levels of obedience training entail.

  • Basic obedience training is usually done on a leash and involves the very first commands that your German Shepherd pup should learn.
  • Intermediate obedience training entails the removal of the leash to teach the same basic commands.
  • Advanced obedience training involves teaching obedience commands to your German Shepherd puppy at a higher level and in situations that may include distractions and the effort for greater concentration.
  • Behavior correction obedience training is meant for dogs with behavior problems that the owner may sometimes find hard to correct (e.g. extreme barking, biting, leash chewing, jumping, or digging). For example, if your dog is biting other than during normal puppy teething, check out this article on how to discipline a German Shepherd for biting.

Your German Shepherd puppy will need training in the following 15 and other basic commands:

  • Sit! – The very first command your German Shepherd puppy learns. It can be on or off-leash and is especially useful when your dog’s movement can be distracting (when you have visitors at home or talking to someone during your dog’s daily walk.
  • Come! – Used to call your German Shepherd puppy to you and can be on or off-leash. Especially important should your dog start wandering away from you.
  • Stand! – At this command, your dog should change its sitting or lying position to a standing position.
  • Down! – Directs your GSD to go down into a lying position. It could be coupled with the indication lying flat with your palm. In advanced Schutzhund training for military German Shepherds, the “down” command tells your dog to lie low.
  • Leave it! – This command stops your German Shepherd puppy from picking up something it shouldn’t. It could be some toxic food from the kitchen counter such as chocolate or grapes, or a toy that’s meant for your child.
  • Stay! – You use this command to direct your dog to stay put and not move from the spot where he is, whether on or off-leash.
  • No! – prohibits your German Shepherd puppy from doing something or interrupts his behavior. Should always be said in a gentle tone. 
  • Attention! or Look at me! – This command is extremely important in German Shepherd puppy training. It calls your pup’s attention so that you can give instructions for the next command or when your dog is not paying attention to you. Your puppy should focus and look at you on the call to “Attention!” It could be accompanied by a tap of fingers or a vertical pointing finger.
  • Heel! – This command directs your dog to walk beside you. In competition sports, the “heel” command directs your German Shepherd to walk on your left side on a loose leash with his head at the same level with your knee. 
  • Let go! – you are telling your GSD to drop whatever is in his mouth. It could be food from the dining table or stuff on the roadside while you take your daily walk.
  • Go inside! – You command your German Shepherd pup to enter inside a room. Maybe he’s outside the door barking at people or other dogs who are passing by your home.
  • Go out! – You command your dog to leave the room. He might be reluctant to go for the day’s advanced obedience command session. 
  • Kennel/Crate/bed – Your GSD should climb into his crate, kennel, or bed.
  • Good! – A congratulatory verbal reward that tells your dog he has done well. May be paired with scratching behind the ears or a treat. May also be used as “good dog!” Just be consistent in the beginning until your German Shepherd puppy can make out that the two have the same meaning. 
  • OK – This command gives your dog the go-ahead. He might be looking at you to get the approval to eat his food.

Here’s my final video of Zak where he shows how to train a 10-week old puppy the first 7 basic things; sit; leave it; look at me; come; leash walking; name learning; and house training:

How to Teach The First 7 Things To Your Dog: Sit, Leave it, Come, Leash walking, Name...)

With time, as your German Shepherd puppy advances into adulthood, he’ll need training in the following eight and other advanced commands:

  • Jump! – The command directs your dog to jump over a barrier, fence, or a wall, etc.
  • Fetch! – You direct your dog to pick an item and bring it to you. It could be a couch blanket, a newspaper, etc. It is also used as a sports/play command when an object is launched, and your German Shepherd should retrieve and bring it back. 
  • Track! – The command directs your dog to track a person or an object. Especially useful for police/military German Shepherds.
  • Speak/Bark! – You command your German Shepherd to bark or be vocal. Maybe there is an intruder, and you want your dog to scare them away.
  • Quiet! – Directs your dog to quit barking at a visitor or other stimulants.
  • Bite! – You direct your dog to bite into an object. You will train your German Shepherd puppy with toys or other objects, but your dog might be directed to bite at an aggressor later.
  • Guard! – Directs your GSD to keep watch at the door or be alert around an item.
  • Go ahead! – You direct your German Shepherd to stay ahead of you. Also used in agility competitions to command your dog to go ahead of you. 

With all the knowledge on the facts and principles of dog training and learning and the basic and advanced training commands, I can now give you my step-by-step guide on how to train your German Shepherd puppy.

The 5 Steps of Training Your German Shepherd Puppy

It’s important to indicate from the onset that there is no “one size fits all” rule when it comes to training your German Shepherd puppy. Every dog is unique, and you’ll have to adapt to your dog’s individuality. 

Nonetheless, some training basics are universal, as shown in the following five steps of German Shepherd puppy training.

Three German Shepherd Puppies playing

1. Gather Your Training Tools

Before initiating the learning session, ensure you have all the training essentials:

  • Treats: Purchase tasty and healthy training treats for your German Shepherd puppy, like Zuke’s Puppy Naturals from Amazon. These are not just delicious but ideal for training as they’re nice and soft and only 3.5 calories per treat, making them perfect for obedience training.
  • Crate/kennel: When you teach your GSD puppy the command “kennel/crate,” you’ll need to point at one. Choose one large enough for your puppy to grow into. A size 48″ is perfect, and you can get a divider while he is small. I recommend a crate with convenience features like double doors and a tray such as the Midwest Homes for Pets iCrate from Amazon. This one also comes with an all-inclusive divider, so you’ve nothing else to buy.
  • Toys: Toys serve both as a reward and play objects. You might want to give your puppy his favorite toy when he learns a new command or teaching the “let go” command. I love the KONG Puppy Toy from Amazon as it’s ideal for German Shepherds as it’s highly durable and will last a lifetime! This toy is incredible for chewing, playing chase, and fetch – or you can even stuff it with treats!  
  • Leash: A leash is essential at the beginning of training. You can use it to control your pet and later to test his ability to execute a command off-leash. A harness would be a good idea, so it is also used for outdoor training and walks. Many dog owners find a no-pull harness such as the Julius-K9 from Amazon does just the trick, and I have used this one before. However, I now prefer a front attached harness for even less pull, such as the Walk Your Dog With Love No-Pull Harness.

To know exactly what dog gear I personally use, check out my Recommended Gear page.

With your tools ready, you can now proceed to the other obedience training steps.

2. Call Your Puppy’s Attention

You’ll need your German Shepherd puppy’s attention to have him learn the session’s command. To do so, direct your dog to a quiet place with no distractions. Squat in front of your pet so that you can both look at each other in the eyes. This is very important.

Then, conceal a couple of treats in your folded palm and make your furry friend smell them. You can also show them, but don’t let him have them yet. Some great alternatives to store-bought treats that you can use are small pieces of meat or tiny pieces of vegetables.

Once your puppy has understood that there are some goodies on the way and you have his attention, it’s time to proceed to real training. 

3. Get Into Real Training

Begin by introducing the command for the session. If it’s “sit,” say it once and let your German Shepherd puppy smell the treats again. Say it a second and third time while indicating the sitting posture with your arm. 

When your dog sits, reward him with a treat and praise and repeat the process 5 to 6 times. Reward your pet every time he gets it right.

4. Recap

To understand if the command has been learned, take a short break, and allow your puppy to wander around the training area for a minute or two. 

Start over by calling your puppy’s attention, and once you have it, say the command that has just been learned. If your German Shepherd puppy responds to the command, reward him with a treat and lots of praise. 

Always remember to keep the sessions short so your pup does not lose concentration or get frustrated. A 10-15 minutes training session is good enough. You can do two-three of those in a day. The length of the session can increase as your GSD puppy grows and gets used to the drill.

5. End on a Positive Note

Always end every training session on a positive note, even if your German Shepherd puppy did not succeed in learning the command for the day. That might mean a few minutes of play or a quick walk in the neighborhood.

These five steps can be applied to all the basic and advanced commands listed earlier. Let’s concretize the five steps using the examples of the “come!” and “let go!” commands.

Teaching your German Shepherd puppy the command “come!”

You’ll use the command “come!” to call your dog to you when you want to feed him, go for a walk, redirect him towards you in a park, among other situations. Follow these steps to teach your German Shepherd puppy the “come!” command:

  1. Find a quiet place in your home for the training session. It is better to start in a location without distraction for the basic commands, like the living room or the yard. Bring your dog and squat so both can look at each other in the eyes. 
  2. Hide some tasty treats in your hand and make your puppy smell them. 
  3. Put out your hand to show the treats without letting your puppy eat them yet. 
  4. Say the command “come!” and repeat it a second time.
  5. Move a little away from your German Shepherd puppy so that you have some distance between you.
  6. Say the command “come!” again, this time with your arms put out towards your puppy.
  7. When your GSD puppy comes to you, reward him with the treat or praise him with a “good boy!”
  8. Repeat 5 to 6 times and reward every time the command is obeyed. 
  9. Take a short break and recap the session once or twice to see if your German Shepherd puppy has learned the command.
  10. Take your pup for a short walk to conclude the session on a positive note.

You can repeat the session later in the day to help your puppy memorize the command. Also, repeat daily until you are sure your dog has learned the drill. 

When the command is learned, repeat the same in different contexts. It could be in a park, during a walk, or in the house when you want to distract your pet from something he’s about to do. 

Repeating the command in different contexts helps your German Shepherd puppy generalize the command, meaning they will heed the command regardless of the context.

Watch this 2-minute video explaining why dogs don’t generalize easily and how to help your puppy generalize commands. If you’ve ever wondered why your pup doesn’t “sit” on command when new guests arrive, and you KNOW that he can do this, this short video has all the answers:

Why Dogs DON'T LISTEN Around Distractions

Teaching your German Shepherd the command “let go!”

You’ll need to use the “let go!” command to stop your dog from picking stuff on the road while you walk, taking your kid’s toys, or picking food from the floor, among other situations. Follow these steps to teach your dog the “let go!” command:

  1. Bring your German Shepherd puppy to the yard/garden where there are no distractions. Squat to establish eye contact and gain your pet’s attention. 
  2. Hide some tasty treats in your hand and make your puppy smell them. 
  3. Put out your hand to show the treats without letting your GSD puppy eat them yet. 
  4. Say the command “let go!” and repeat it a second time.
  5. Drop a toy bone on the floor and move away to allow your German Shepherd puppy to notice it.
  6. Allow your pup to pick the toy bone and repeat the “let go!” command. You can also shake your hand as a sign you are forbidding him to keep the toy bone in his mouth.
  7. When your puppy drops the toy bone, reward him with the treat or praise him with a “good boy!”
  8. Repeat 5 to 6 times and reward every time the command is obeyed.
  9. Take a short break and recap the session once or twice to see if your German Shepherd puppy has learned the command.
  10. After the session, give him his favorite toy and engage him in some playtime for a while.

Remember to repeat the session later in the day and during the week while changing contexts and objects. This will help him generalize the “let go!” command.

Final Takeaways on German Shepherd Puppy Training

Here is a recap of the main points of the article:

  • Dogs notice first the intonation of your voice. So, always use a calm and friendly voice tone when training or talking to your German Shepherd puppy.
  • Using a command with a gesture helps your pup learn faster. Body language is a canine’s primary mode of communication.
  • Your German Shepherd will always stick to the good behavior you have taught them because dogs naturally stick to what they have learned and do not follow the crowd.
  • 4-10 weeks of age is the best time to socialize and train your German Shepherd puppy in good behavior. This should be done by positive reinforcement and never aversive methods. 
  • Be consistent in giving a command only once; otherwise, you’ll confuse your puppy.
  • When teaching a command, find a quiet location, and then seek your puppy’s attention. Teach the command and recap before ending the session with something your German Shepherd puppy enjoys. 

I hope you have found this article informative and helpful. Good luck with your German Shepherd puppy obedience training! Remember to stick at it and you’ll get there!

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