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Monday, May 31, 2010

ASK THE DOG TRAINER: Training the Intelligent German Shepherd

by Judith Joseph, D.O.I.
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German Shepherds are Highly Trainable
Focus on the Basics to Get Control

Hi Judy,
I noticed you have a German Shepherd, so you may be able to help me with my shepherd's need to be mouthy. I have tried all the suggested tricks: holding the lower jaw, giving him a toy...but he still does it. 

My GS is under a year old, but he tends to get mouthy if you pet him, when he is trying to get attention or just walking beside you. I've tried various things, but can't seem to break him of this bad habit, which I want to get rid of before he gets much older and becomes a bigger problem.

I have two older dogs and they correct him when he gets too mouthy with them. But, he it still doing it.

He barks when we walk up to new dogs. I take him to dog parks, Petsmart..etc. Sometimes he is fine, then suddenly he starts barking when we go to greet a new dog(s). He is fine if he gets to meet and play with them, but if you pull him away or if the owner of the other dog does not want to let the dogs meet (he is a big , black Shepherd) then he acts out. He does seem to do it more when he is on-leash.

I don't think it is aggressive, because he is really sweet. But, he is scaring off other dogs and owners. 

What do you think?

Dear Vic:

The German Shepherd Dog (GSD), developed to be loyal, sturdy, fearless, protective, and sometimes all knowing, is highly intelligent and easily trained.  Did I mention they talk back; they just have to have the last word.  GSDs take themselves way too seriously, flaunting their AKC character standards like an Olympic gold medal.  These proud dogs love to work and seem to never tire.   Being pushy, assertive, and mouthy when young is part of the breed’s herding and protecting instincts.  Teaching him how and when is his owner’s responsibility.

By 12 months, the GSD should know and obey sit, stay, down, come, leave it, loose leash walking, here/recall, heel, off, and many other commands like wait, find it, drop it, pick it up, speak and quiet.  The GSD is so intelligent and eager to learn, showing him what you want and rewarding the right behavior a few times usually results in him mastering yet another command.  Unwanted behaviors (nipping, chewing, jumping, barking), should be under control by this age too.  A clearly visible line of who’s the boss should be drawn in the sand; that way you can re-draw it when necessary.  And it will be necessary with a GSD.

When your older pup nips, you must teach him manners (“sit” and “stay”) and to respect you (“leave it”).  Teach sit using plenty of tasty treats.  Wait for him to sit.  As he does, say sit and offer a treat.  If he stands he doesn’t get the treat.  Wait patiently letting him sniff your hand.  He’ll soon sit, and as his bottom touches the floor, command “sit” and release the treat.  Walk 3 steps away.  Repeat.  If he does not sit after 10 – 15 seconds put the treat away and leave the room.  Wait 5 minutes and start again. 

Once he sits reliably, delay his treat 10 seconds, then 20, building up to 1 minute.  Tell him ‘stay’ as he waits.  When he stays for 20 seconds, take 4-5 steps back.  Keep him in position repeating “stay”.  If he gets up, correct him with “eh eh”, and return him to the same spot.  Slowly add time and distance.  Always return to him.

‘Leave it’ helps with self control.  Place a tasty treat in your hand keeping it tightly closed.  Extend your hand for him to sniff without releasing the treat.  The instant he moves his nose away, or turns his head away say “leave it”, and give him a treat that was hidden in your other hand.  Repeat many times.   When he understands he must move away to receive a treat, command “leave it” before he moves.  When he responds correctly, use the “leave it” command to stop his nipping.  Do not move your hand from his mouth.  Firmly say “NO, leave it”.  Remember, he must move away.  Be patient and always reward your GSD’s correct responses.

Good luck, Judy

Need additional training information?  Visit Total Control Dog Owner Assistance.

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