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Is It Ever Too Late To Train a German Shepherd?

Written By: Sharon Waddington

Last Updated:

German Shepherds are loyal dogs known for their intelligence and obedience, but is there an age when an older dog won’t 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 even older German Shepherds are highly intelligent and can still be trained to obey new commands with positive reinforcement training. Older GSDs still love to learn no matter their age, but it may take longer than training a puppy.

Many rescue dogs or adopted older dogs 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 an older German Shepherd, whether the dog is 6 months, one, two, three years old, or older. As long as an owner is dedicated, motivated, and patient, 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! 

German Shepherd being trained. Is It Ever Too Late to Train a German Shepherd?

How to Train an Older German Shepherd

To train an older German Shepherd, enroll in obedience classes to help both the dog and the owner. Use positive reinforcement and consider using a clicker. Keep training sessions short and structured. You can still train older GSDs, but the trainer will need to show patience and discipline.

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 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 work with your German Shepherd continuously.

Find How to Train ANY Dog The Basics in This Helpful YouTube Video…

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 especially eager to learn and very intelligent, no matter their age. But, if you cannot take advantage of your dog’s learning style and consistently enforce training, he will have difficulty remembering new commands.

Best Method to Train an Older GSD – Positive Reinforcement

If you adopted your German Shepherd at a later stage in his 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.

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.

Positive reinforcement is when you repeatedly reward 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 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.

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 a treat or toy. It involves providing an unpleasant experience to the dog so that you can then turn the unpleasantness off when he complies.

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

Clicker Training for an Older 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.

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 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 ANY Dog on the “Leave It” Command…

Can You Still Train 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 GSD puppies can learn much more at this juvenile stage. However, start as if they were an 8-week old puppy as you may need to undo and re-teach incorrect behaviors already learned or trained.

How to Train a 6-Month Old German Shepherd

To train a 6-month old German Shepherd, 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 GSD puppy training schedule.

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

You can still train a 1-year-old German Shepherd. You can also still train a 2, 3, 4, 5, or even a 6-Year-Old German Shepherd. All German Shepherds are very intelligent and are highly trainable, no matter what their age. They are receptive, eager to learn, and have an immense desire to please you.

To train a 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6-year-old German Shepherd, 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 to Help Train an Older GSD

Training sessions are 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 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 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 managed to reach the intended goal. 

You should always give your dog some 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 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 of Training an Older GSD 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!”

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, as well. 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. 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 are 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 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 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 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 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, 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! These aren’t necessarily impossible to unlearn, but they will be harder. However, with lots of patience and persistence, you can do it.

How to Socialize an Older German Shepherd

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 out on walks and expose 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 a dog park.

When socializing an older German Shepherd, take things slowly to avoid fear, anxiety, or aggression in the dog. 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. How to Socialize an Adult German Shepherd

“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

The best way to begin to socialize your older German Shepherd is to slowly introduce him to other dogs by firstly 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 performs negative behaviors 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 relate to meeting others. You can also consider the use of a muzzle at this stage.

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.

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

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 you have never properly trained your own 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.

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.