A German Shepherd's powerful body, keen senses and strong devotion and loyalty make it the prime choice of canine to fill a number of roles, from best friend to police dog to herding on the farm. Despite their natural inclination to help, Shepherds must be trained from a young age to properly fill these roles, so instruction must begin when they are puppies to ensure success.
One of the most important things to remember about your Shepherd is that it's a strong-minded and firm-willed animal. In dog society, members earn the respect of other dogs in the pack by asserting dominance, and your German Shepherd will try to do the same with you. In other words, to truly get it to respect and obey you, you must show your Shepherd who's boss. From day one, be firm, but not harsh. Make sure your puppy understands that you control how fast it walks on the leash, when it gets to go outside, when and how much it eats and other basic requirements. This lets your Shepherd know that it's important and loved, but you are the one in charge.
Reward vs. Punishment
Similar to providing a child a tap on the hand or on the butt when they misbehave, many dog owners assume that a tap on the snout or the behind when something is done wrong will teach a dog how to properly behave. Punishment of any kind, however --- even if it is only a light tap --- will lead your German Shepherd to mistrust you and stop listening. Instead, work on a system of rewards. If your Shepherd behaves, it receives an edible reward. It should not receive this type of food at any other time. If your dog does not do what it's told, it does not receive the treat and is firmly told "No." Do not yell or try to scare your Shepherd; it will only mistrust you more and you'll have trouble teaching it anything.
Shepherds are extremely smart, and therefore want to know what is going on around them. To get your dog to pay attention only to you during training, you must remove all distractions. There should be no toys, other people or animals in the training area: only you, your Shepherd and the reward you will give it for doing well. As your dog gets older and becomes partially trained, you may need to use toys as training tools, such as dummies for rescue dogs or herding eggs for farm dogs.
Where to Begin
If you're not sure where to start with your Shepherd puppy, try the basic "come" command. This is an important one for your dog to understand from the beginning. This will allow you to take it more places for training and for fun, and even let it off the leash at a dog park or similar area with confidence. Remember to withhold the treat until your dog comes right to you and sits down; reward it each time it successfully completes the task.
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