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Is It Ever Too Late To Train a German Shepherd?

Last Updated: February 12, 2024

When it comes to German Shepherds, the adage “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is proven wrong time and again.

It is never too late to train a German Shepherd. These intelligent dogs can learn new commands and behaviors at any age, though training might require more patience and consistency as the dog ages.

German Shepherds are capable learners at any stage of their lives, whether you’ve just welcomed an older German Shepherd into your home or want to reinforce new behaviors in your seasoned companion.

It is never too late to start training a senior German Shepherd, whether your dog is six months, one, two, three years old, or older. You can teach a dog of any age basic commands or new tricks.

There are even some advantages to training an older German Shepherd than training a puppy. But if you want to ensure the best chance of success as a trainer, you will need to apply the correct knowledge.

Read on to learn helpful tips and advice when it comes to training your older German Shepherd, as it’s never too late! 

An older German Shepherd listening to its master doing a head tilt.

How to Train an Older German Shepherd

Enroll in obedience classes to train an older German Shepherd, which will help the dog and its owner. Use positive reinforcement, and consider using a clicker. Keep training sessions short and structured.

You can still train older GSDs, but the trainer must show patience and discipline.

Let’s explore these methods in more detail…

Obedience Classes

One of the best resources available for training an older German Shepherd is an obedience class.

Obedience classes are not there to help the dogs learn new commands, but these classes also help us learn how to better communicate with our dogs and achieve the desired outcomes.

If the owner isn’t knowledgeable and doesn’t know what to do, then the German Shepherd isn’t likely to learn!

Obedience classes put your older German Shepherd in a setting filled with loads of distractions from other adults, children, and, of course, many different dogs.

It is a great environment for learning because the dog needs to learn to focus on you and realize he cannot be distracted by other things.

For anyone with a well-behaved pup working one-on-one at home but finding that he has selective hearing when in public, obedience classes help the German Shepherd learn to obey – even with all the distractions around him.

When it comes to training, consistency is key. Even if you attend an obedience class, it is important to keep practicing. Just as humans need repetition to perfect and memorize a skill, you must continuously work with your dog.

Watch How to Train ANY Dog The Basics

If you don’t want to attend an obedience class, several books and online resources can help you become a better trainer.

The more knowledge you can apply to your training methods – the better chance your older German Shepherd has of picking up new commands.

Some guides are specifically tailored for clicker training, which can help train some dogs. More on this later in the article.

However, the biggest takeaway when training an older German Shepherd is to remember that you, as the trainer, are ultimately responsible for most of the work.

German Shepherds are very intelligent and eager to learn, regardless of age. However, if you cannot take advantage of your dog’s learning style and consistently enforce training, he will have difficulty remembering new commands.

German Shepherd being trained, lying on the ground awaiting a command..

Positive Reinforcement

If you adopted your German Shepherd later in life, you might not know what sort of training or obedience experience he has previously had, if any.

Some dogs have had little or no training, while others might have endured more abusive homes and be frightened and unsure of how to behave in a new environment.

Positive reinforcement is the best method for training a German Shepherd, whether you have owned the dog since puppyhood and are just getting in late on the training game or you rescued an older dog.

Positive reinforcement repeatedly rewards your dog when he responds to something you want him to do.

That way, he will likely repeat the behavior as he knows he will get something that he likes, such as a tasty treat.

Find out what sort of treats your dog enjoys, as long as they are healthy, and use them as rewards when he obeys a command or performs the desired action. You can check out my favorite healthy treats here.

If your dog is less interested in treats or struggles with weight issues, you can try small pieces of lean meat or even some fruits or vegetables.

Other rewards for obedience can include giving your dog his treasured toy, a short spell of his favorite play, or even periods of affection if your dog just loves to cuddle!

Positive reinforcement builds a better relationship between you and your German Shepherd.” – World of Dogz

Negative reinforcement is just the opposite. It means taking something away, such as a treat or toy. It also involves providing an unpleasant experience to the dog, which can then be turned off when he complies.

Some examples of negative reinforcement are okay to use in the right circumstances. However, some are not, such as using unethical shock collars.

In fact, these collars are now outlawed in several countries, including the UK, Germany, Scandinavia, parts of Canada, and parts of Australia.

This study from the Journal of Veterinary Behavior showed that using aversive training methods can jeopardize dogs’ physical and mental health.

Negative reinforcement can result in trust issues and instill fear within your dog, which usually does not cultivate a healthy and successful training regime.

Keep things pleasant and enjoyable, and your German Shepherd will obey because he knows it will make you happy and result in a positive experience for him – rather than obeying out of a sense of avoidance and fear of consequence.

It can be a lot of work to train an older German Shepherd who, through no fault of his own, has spent years living with a certain idea of what is permitted.

The earlier you can begin to address any socialization and behavior issues and consistently work towards positive reinforcement training, the sooner your dog will learn the new rules. 

German Shepherd Sitting in Snow

Clicker Training

A common form of training utilizing positive reinforcement is clicker training. This involves a small, inexpensive clicker that creates a distinctive click sound when depressed.

The click is a quick, auditory cue telling your dog he did something right as if you were saying “good dog” or “yes” aloud to him. Clicker training can be more effective than using treats alone. 

One advantage of using a clicker is that it is cheap and easy to obtain. Once learned, it can help replace treats as a form of positive reinforcement. However, you must use treats and the clicker when first starting.

This is great for any dogs who struggle with weight issues or have other health conditions that don’t make constant reinforcement with treats a viable option.

Treats are only used to initially condition the response and then sporadically as needed to maintain the clicker’s effectiveness.

Clicker training can work well with older German Shepherds as well as puppies. ” – World of Dogz

For the best chance of success, ensure your dog is alert and hungry when introducing the clicker. You also want to make sure your environment is positive and calm.

The key to clicker training is all about timing and only clicking immediately following the desired behavior.

If the clicker is used too late or at the wrong time, the dog may associate the positive reward with the wrong action.

In this sense, it is just as important for the trainer to be attentive and consistent with the clicker as it is the dog’s responsibility to respond.

Adult German Shepherds can easily adapt to clicker training methods, even with more advanced commands.

As a trainer, remember that the clicker is not a replacement for praise or reward. Remember to continue to give your dog the love and praise he needs to maintain his strong bond and an overwhelming desire to obey and please you.

Here’s How To Use a Clicker to Train Your Dog…

Training a 6-Month-Old German Shepherd

You can still train a 6-month-old German Shepherd. Younger puppies have short attention spans, but 6-month-old puppies can learn much more at this juvenile stage.

However, start by treating them as if they were an 8-week-old puppy. You may need to undo and re-teach incorrect behaviors that they have already learned.

Start by socializing the dog by exposing him to new sights, sounds, people, and other dogs.

Use short training sessions of 5-10 minutes to avoid disinterest, and work on one command at a time. Avoid distractions and always use positive reinforcement.

Start with basic training, crate training, and leash training, or you can follow my puppy training schedule.

German Shepherd Aged 6 Months on a bed
Willow, my German Shepherd

Can You Still Train a 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6-Year-Old German Shepherd?

You can still train a 1-year-old German Shepherd and a 2-, 3-, 4-, 5-, or even 6-year-old German Shepherd.

All German Shepherds are very intelligent and highly trainable, regardless of age. They are receptive, eager to learn, and immensely desire to please you.

Start by exercising the dog first to get rid of some energy. That way, they are likely to be more attentive.

Treat the dog as a puppy and start with basic commands. Use high-level treats for rewards, especially if the dog is food-motivated.

Training Sessions for an Older Dog

Training sessions are specific time windows you set aside to work on particular commands with your dog. The sessions are usually short, with a structured plan to achieve a particular goal.

Training sessions are great when you first start training a specific command, but they can also be used throughout your German Shepherd’s life to serve as refreshers and keep obedience training consistent.

Older German Shepherds can definitely benefit from training sessions, and they act as a commitment between you and your dog to work together.

They can be used not only to establish basic training commands such as “sit” and “stay” but also to impart more advanced techniques such as “roll over” and “speak!”

Training sessions should be short. If they are too long, your German Shepherd will become disinterested and easily distracted, leading to mistakes and wasting your time.

Be efficient with your sessions and keep them as short, manageable segments of 10 minutes or less. This is usually best accomplished by teaching one command at a time. 

When training an older German Shepherd in a session, it’s important to ensure that the time will be well spent and your dog won’t get too overwhelmed. For this reason, try to practice somewhere quiet and with minimal distractions to start.

As your dog becomes better trained, he will be better prepared for increased distractions such as family members, other dogs, or even a squirrel running up a tree!

Always try to end training sessions on a positive note, even if your dog has not reached the intended goal. 

You should always praise your dog, so if he doesn’t seem to be picking up the new command, try an easier one that he already knows – and still reward him.

This will help reinforce the known command and keep the training session fun and interesting.

Remember that consistency is key, so you must reinforce training outside training sessions. This will enable your dog to continue to learn.

The Upsides of Training a Mature German Shepherd Over a Puppy

There are several benefits to training an older German Shepherd, especially if you have owned the dog for some time.

Older dogs are more likely to recognize some basic commands already. Even if they don’t know any commands, they will probably know some basic words, such as “no” and “good dog!”

German Shepherd With Puppies. Advantages to Training an Older Dog Compared to a Puppy

Older German Shepherds often have a longer attention span than young puppies. They can also be faster at picking up on words and actions:

Old dogs can learn new tricks! In fact, older dogs may be easier to teach. They likely have a longer attention span and more focus than a young puppy” – VMBS

Adult dogs, especially those with an established relationship with you, are often more eager to please. This means they love spending time with you and are keener on training and working on new skills.

German Shepherds are known for their loyalty and intense desire to please their owners. Therefore, they are keen to participate in any training.

Since mature German Shepherds tend to have a higher level of focus than puppies, they can be very enthusiastic about training.

You can often take advantage of their instincts to tailor training to suit. German Shepherds have an astounding work ethic and are eager to perform any job or task. 

Disadvantages of Training an Older Dog

There are not many disadvantages to training an older dog, and as long as the trainer has patience and dedication, an older German Shepherd can learn most commands and new skills.

However, one consideration is that older GSDs may sometimes be unable to perform certain desired skills due to health issues that can come with advanced age.

For example, an older German Shepherd is more likely to have joint pain such as arthritis.

So, he may be a little slower to execute commands, even easy ones such as “sit.” Constantly getting up and down can be hard on his hip and elbow joints, so your dog may take a little extra time to obey.

Don’t be too quick to assume he is disobeying simply because he moves slowly. Remember, too, that the German Shepherd breed is prone to hip dysplasia. However, not all dogs will suffer, but around 20% will have bad hips.

Certain tricks may be too unrealistic for an older dog to achieve. For example, if you want your GSD to leap up and springboard off your back to catch a frisbee, you may no longer have the physical ability to do this!

When considering your training, consider your dog’s age and abilities when attempting more strenuous activities and skills.

Older dogs may also need to be “untaught” of previous bad behaviors, such as jumping up on furniture or people, as you don’t desire this behavior in your home!

It isn’t impossible to unlearn these, but it will be harder. However, with lots of patience and persistence, you can do it.

Socializing an Older Dog

The best time to socialize a dog is when he is in the early development stages as a puppy. Unfortunately, this is not always possible.

Sometimes, you may end up with an older German Shepherd who has not been properly socialized and has trouble accepting anything new, whether experiences, people, or other dogs or pets.

The good news is that you can still socialize an older German Shepherd, but how?

To socialize an older German Shepherd, start by taking the dog on walks and exposing him to new places, smells, sounds, people, other dogs, and different animals.

Invite family and friends around one at a time, monitor your dog’s progress, and slowly work up to taking your dog to a dog park.

When socializing an older German Shepherd, take things slowly to avoid causing the dog fear, anxiety, or aggression.

Introduce one experience at a time, don’t overwhelm him, and use lots of praise. Consider the GSD’s prior experience, temperament, and adaptability before any new situation.

German Shepherd Dog Laying Down
Simply exposing adult animals who lacked early exposure to social situations will not likely meet their needs. These animals can benefit from individually paced interventional programs.” – AVMA

The best way to begin socializing your older German Shepherd is to slowly introduce him to other dogs by first going for a walk.

You do not necessarily need to approach every dog and person you pass, but if your dog greets another dog when you have been walking for a long time, he will likely have less pent-up energy, and any encounter will be much calmer.

If your GSD barks or behaves negatively while meeting other dogs, don’t yell or harshly tug him away.

This will excite him even more and create a negative experience that he will learn to associate with meeting others. At this stage, you can also consider using a muzzle.

If you sense your dog is about to bark or lunge at another dog, it’s important to get the timing of the training right by correcting the unwanted behavior just before it occurs.

As discussed earlier, use positive reinforcement with treats and/or a clicker.

Remember, when socializing an older German Shepherd, it is important not to overwhelm him by asking too much at once. Don’t just turn your dog loose in the crowded dog park and hope for the best! This could be a disaster.

Obedience classes can be another helpful resource.

It provides a structured, calm, and controlled environment to meet other dogs and allows you, as a trainer, to learn techniques to help your German Shepherd adapt and acquire other skills and commands to teach your dog.

If you need some help with biting in addition to the above suggestions, check out my top article, How to Discipline a German Shepherd for Biting.

Final Thoughts

Even if you decide to adopt an untrained German Shepherd or have never properly trained your puppy, it is never too late! Here are some key points from the article:

  • You can still train older German Shepherds.
  • Obedience training can help both the dog and the owner.
  • Use positive reinforcement and consider using a clicker.
  • Keep training sessions short and structured.
  • You can still socialize older dogs. However, take it slowly at first.

German Shepherds are wonderful dogs, no matter what their age. They can learn new commands and tricks both as puppies and adults. This is mainly due to their intelligence and intense loyalty to you, their owner.

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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