German Shepherds are loyal dogs known for their intelligence, bravery, and obedience, but is there an age at which a dog won’t be able to learn new commands? Many of us have probably heard the saying, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” but is there really any truth to this?
Is it ever too late to train a German Shepherd? It is never too late to train a German Shepherd as long as the trainer is dedicated, confident, open-minded, and knowledgeable. It may take some adaptations of methods, patience, and consistency from the owner, but even an older dog can be trained and taught to obey new commands.
There are many rescue dogs or adopted older dogs that haven’t received proper training during their puppy years, and for the pet to live in your home, you will need to establish some general obedience.
The good news is that it is never too late to start training a German Shepherd or any dog for that matter. As long as an owner is dedicated, motivated, and patient, a dog of any age can be taught basic commands or new tricks.
There are even some advantages to training an older German Shepherd when compared to 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!
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Resources to Help Train an Older German Shepherd
One of the best resources available for training a dog, regardless of age or breed, is an obedience class. Obedience classes are not there just to help the dogs learn new commands but these classes also help us as trainers to learn methods of 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 dog 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 who has a well-behaved pup when working one-on-one at home but finds that he has selective hearing when in public, obedience classes help the German Shepherd learn to obey – even with all the distractions going on 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 need to consistently work with your German Shepherd.
Check out this short 5-minute video from celebrity trainer Zak George on how to train ANY dog the basics and the importance of using good communication. I love Zak’s ethical training methods. This particular video has over 6 million views!
If you don’t want to attend an obedience class, there are several books and online resources available to 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.
The biggest takeaway when training a dog is to remember that you, as the trainer, are ultimately responsible for the majority of the work.
German Shepherds are especially eager to learn and very intelligent, no matter what their age, but if you aren’t able to take advantage of your dog’s learning style and consistently enforce training, then he will have a difficult time remembering new commands.
Best Method to Train an Older Dog
If you adopted your German Shepherd at a later stage in his life, you may 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.
Whether you have owned the dog since a puppy and are just getting in late on the training game, or you rescued an older dog, positive reinforcement is the best method for training a German Shepherd.
This means you repeatedly reward your dog when he responds to something you want him to do. That way he is likely to 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 GSD is less interested in treats or struggles with weight issues, you can try small pieces of lean meat or even some fruits or vegetables. Here’s a complete guide of 29 fruits German Shepherds can eat, and for even more ideas, you can find a list of 24 vegetables here.
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 serves to build a better relationship between you and your German Shepherd.
Negative reinforcement is just the opposite, meaning that you take something away, such as the treat or toy. It involves providing an unpleasant experience to the dog so that you can then turn the unpleasantness off when he complies.
One example is the use of 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, to name but a few.
This study from the Journal of Veterinary Behavior showed that using aversive training methods such as negative reinforcement can jeopardize both the physical and mental health of dogs:
“There is no evidence that it is more effective than positive reinforcement–based training. In fact, there is some evidence that the opposite is true.”Science Direct
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 dog 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 that has spent years living with a certain idea of what is permitted, through no fault of his own. 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.
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Can I Use Clicker Training with My Adult German Shepherd?
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. It’s a quick, auditory cue to tell your dog he did something right as if you were saying “good dog” or “yes” aloud to him. It can be a more effective way of training than just treats alone.
Some of the advantages of using a clicker are that it is cheap, easy to obtain, and once learned, it can help replace treats as a form of positive reinforcement, however, you will need to use treats and the clicker when first starting out.
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. For the best chance of success, make sure your dog is alert and hungry when you start to introduce 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 click immediately following the desired behavior.
If the clicker is used too late or at the inappropriate 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 dogs can easily adapt to clicker training methods, even with more advanced commands. As a trainer, simply remember that the clicker is not a replacement for praise or reward. Remember to continue to give your German Shepherd the love and praise he needs to maintain his strong bond and overwhelming desire to obey and please you.
Here’s another cool video from Zak George’s YouTube channel showing how he uses a clicker to train ANY dog (not just puppies) the “Leave It” command:
What is a Training Session, and Can It Help Train an Older Dog?
Training sessions are simply specific windows of time you set aside to work on particular commands with your dog. The sessions are usually short, with a structured plan to bring about a particular goal.
Training sessions are great when first starting to train a specific command but can also be used throughout your German Shepherd’s life to serve as a refresher and to 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” or “speak!”
Training sessions are best when kept short. If a session drags on too long, your German Shepherd will become disinterested and be easily distracted, which will lead to mistakes and end up being a waste of your time.
Be efficient with your sessions and keep them to short, manageable segments of 15 minutes or less. This is usually best accomplished by teaching one command at a time.
When training a German Shepherd in a session, no matter what his age, 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 managed to reach the intended goal.
You should always give your dog some sort of praise, 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 not only help reinforce the known command, but it also keeps the training session fun and interesting.
Remember that consistency is key, so you need to reinforce training even outside of training sessions. This will enable your dog to continue to learn.
Advantages to Training an Older Dog Compared to 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!”
Older dogs often have a longer attention span than young puppies, as well. They can also be faster to pick 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. Additionally, teaching your older dog new things can help to keep his mind sharp and slow the signs of senility.”Harmony Peraza, Veterinary Technician, Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences
Adult dogs, especially if they have an established relationship with you, are often more eager to please. This means that they love to spend time with you and will be keener on time spent training and working on new skills.
German Shepherds are known for their loyalty and have an intense desire to please their owners. They are, therefore, keen to participate in any type of training.
Since mature German Shepherds tend to have a higher level of focus than puppies, they can be very enthusiastic when it comes to training. You can often take advantage of their natural instincts to tailor training to suit. German Shepherds have an astounding work ethic and are eager to perform any job or task.
My 5 Favorite German Shepherd Products to Make Life Easier:
- Walk Your Dog With Love No-Pull Harness. I love this harness, and it’s what I use. There’s just no way your dog can pull. It’s easy to fit and inexpensive. You can read my full review here.
- Midwest Homes for Pets iCrate. A crate is a must-have product. This cool all-inclusive one has a ton of handy features, and there’s nothing extra to buy.
- FURminator Undercoat deShedding Tool. I’ve tried many others, but this grooming tool is by far the best. It gets right through to the undercoat and easily removes all the loose hair.
- KONG Classic. I love KONG toys as they’re super tough and made for your German Shepherd’s teeth! The Classic Toy is fun to chew, chase, and fetch or even stuff with tasty treats.
- Big Barker Orthopedic Dog Bed. Scientifically proven to prevent and reduce joint pain in big dogs. The 10-year guarantee is also pretty cool too! You can also get it on Amazon here, but you don’t get the 10-year warranty.
My full list of recommendations can be found here.
Disadvantages of Training an Older Dog?
There are truly not many disadvantages when it comes 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 – it is never too late for them to learn!
However, one consideration is that older dogs 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 is moving a little 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 be able to leap up and springboard off your back to catch a frisbee, they may simply no longer have the physical ability to do this! When considering your training, take into account your dog’s age and abilities when attempting more strenuous activities and skills.
Older dogs may also need to be “untaught” previous bad behaviors, such as jumping up on furniture or people, as you don’t desire this behavior in your home! These aren’t necessarily impossible to unlearn, but it will be harder. However, with lots of patience and persistence, it can be done.
How to Socialize an Adult German Shepherd
The best time to socialize a dog is when he is in his early development stages as a puppy. Unfortunately, this is not always possible, and sometimes you end up with an adult dog that has not been properly socialized who has trouble accepting anything new, whether it be experiences, people, or other dogs or pets.
The good news is that an older dog can still be socialized, however, the dog’s prior experience, temperament, and adaptability must be considered. Exposing an unsocialized adult German Shepherd to a new environment must be taken slowly to avoid any fear or aggression in the dog:
“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.”American Veterinary Medical Association
A way to begin to socialize your adult dog is to slowly introduce him to other dogs by firstly going for a walk. You do not necessarily need to approach every dog and human you pass but if your German Shepherd 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 performs negative behaviors while meeting other dogs or humans, don’t yell or harshly tug him away. This will only excite him even more and creates a negative experience that he will learn to relate to meeting others.
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. Use positive reinforcement with treats and/or a clicker as discussed earlier.
Remember when socializing an adult dog, 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. Try to make time for at least one controlled social interaction a week, gradually increasing this as positive progress is made.
Obedience classes can be another helpful resource. It not only provides a structured, calm and controlled environment to meet other dogs but also allows you as a trainer to learn techniques to help your German Shepherd adapt, as well as 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.
Why Has My Adult Dog Started Exhibiting Bad Behaviors, and What Can I Do?
Sometimes, an adult German Shepherd that has been relatively obedient for most of his life can suddenly start picking up bad behaviors again. Perhaps he has started chewing on your wooden furniture, or shoes, or maybe he is urinating indoors.
What would usually be expected and considered normal for puppies can be undesired traits in older dogs. So, what does this mean?
If an older dog begins falling into bad behavior, it can be for several reasons. Often dogs will be acting out an emotional complaint, whether it be boredom, loneliness, anxiety, or just a cry for your attention. Some German Shepherds are known for being clingy.
If your dog is telling you that he doesn’t feel okay, he needs your intervention. So, rather than getting upset and punishing him, you need to take steps to eliminate the bad behaviors and make your dog more relaxed and content.
GSDs can also suffer from separation anxiety and if you have changed your schedule and suddenly started leaving him alone for long periods, then this could be the issue. Here’s how to stop separation anxiety in German Shepherds in 10 easy steps.
If your dog is acting out of boredom or a need to dispel excess energy, then you need to start incorporating more activities into his day to help relieve his pent-up energy. Some breeds, like the German Shepherd, naturally have higher energy levels, and no amount of training and discipline will reduce this!
Instead, make time to exercise your dog, and that does not just mean leash walking! German Shepherds need a variety of physical exercise, such as fetch, frisbee, off-leash running and play, agility, or obstacle courses. A minimum of 2 hours per day is the norm.
In addition to this GSDs also need lots of mental stimulation which should be incorporated into their daily routine.
Be sure to reward your dog for any good behavior. This will enforce the positive, desired behaviors and give him the attention or treat he is most likely craving. When your dog exhibits undesired behaviors, turn and move away and don’t give him any attention. Since most bad behaviors are a form of the dog seeking attention, don’t reward bad behavior.
If nothing else, an adult dog training class can be a great way to take the frustration out of teaching a disobedient German Shepherd. Obedience classes give your dog attention, exercise, and a sense of purpose.
They also allow him the opportunity to socialize with other dogs and people. Obedience classes can also be useful for you, the trainer, to learn how to address your dog’s behavior and positively support the adoption of good conduct.
Even if you decide to adopt an untrained German Shepherd or you have never properly trained your own puppy, it is never too late! Here are some key points from the article:
- Older German Shepherds can still be trained but the trainer will need to show consistency and patience.
- Obedience training can help both the dog and the owner.
- Use positive reinforcement and consider using a clicker.
- Keep training sessions short and structured.
- There are some advantages to training an older German Shepherd.
- Older dogs can still be socialized, 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 or adults. This is due to their intelligence and intense loyalty to you, their owner.
Related Posts You May Like:
- AKC: Using Clicker Training to Communicate With Your Dog
- VCA Hospitals: Using Reinforcement and Rewards to Train Your Pet
- Journal of Veterinary Behavior: The Effects of Using Aversive Training Methods in Dogs
- Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences: Senior Dogs, Part II: The Joys of Loving an Elderly Dog
- American Veterinary Medical Association: Welfare Implications of Socialization of Puppies and Kittens