German Shepherds were originally bred to be herding dogs. Just before World War I, Captain Max von Stephanitz, began training the dogs to protect German soldiers because he foresaw that the ware was going to reduce the need for working dogs since so many of the men were at war. Strephanitz eventually brought about standardization of the breed and created the training protocol that would later become known as Schutzhund training.
When bred properly, GSDs are highly intelligent dogs and therefore require a lot of mental stimulation. Mental exercise for an intelligent dog is just as important, if not more important, than physical exercise. That is not said to minimize in any way the importance of plenty of exercise.
Basic obedience training is a must for GSDs and should start EARLY. It can be extremely beneficial in establishing the proper foundation for the human/dog relationship. If you do not set yourself up as the one in charge (in my house I call myself the CEO ha) you can expect some behaviors from your dog that will most likely cause you some serious stress and anxiety. This directly causes the same emotions in your dog! This is not to say that every GSD will exhibit negative behaviors if the human is not clearly the leader. Some dogs are born with “soft souls” as I like to call them. Some are so laid back that they just roll with whatever without any negative reactions. These dogs, in my experience, have been the exceptions and not the rules in GSDs. No matter the breed, you cannot and should not ever assume to know the personality of a dog based strictly on breed, or even blood lines. Every dog has their own personality. Breeds are predisposed to certain behavioral “traits” but they certainly are not clones or robots and each dog is as individual as you and me. If your GSD does not know that you are in charge, he/she will take on the job and will exhibit all manner of behaviors that you will find unacceptable (by human standards). I often say that I believe we expect our dogs to be better humans than we are.
German Shepherds are very social and require plenty of attention and companionship. They are also very athletic – unless they have been bred with extremely sloped backs which causes early onset of hip dysplasia. (This causes me to see red because it is 100% the fault of humans.) Moving on, this athletic prowess makes it necessary for them to get plenty of structured, interactive exercise. I often hear “well, we have a big back yard and my dog runs around the fence line 100 times [insert laughter by owner]. Sadly, that running the fence line – unless it’s running with another dog on the other side – is the equivalent of human pacing. This does not leave the dog tired and ready to rest but, rather, frustrated and anxious. Structured, interactive exercise means a human is involved or at the very least another dog buddy with a human present and involved to some degree.
GSDs are bred to be devoted and loyal to their “pack”. Pack simply means family and nothing more. Humans are “group dwellers” and typically live in “pack” situations. They are also very often somewhat aloof and even standoffish with strangers until they are deemed to be a “non-threat”. However, responsible breeders take care to make sure that they breed for temperament that is stable so that they are safely approachable and outgoing. Often, people who get GSDs inadvertently mold them into overly aggressive, over-protective, anxious dogs, which can become extremely dangerous.
German Shepherds, being originally bred for forward herding, tend to want to walk in front and turn frequently. Unless you are well versed on the breed, this can become quite frustrating when attempting to train the loose leash walk. 😊 GSDs are also prone to be constantly “checking in” on their human or humans. This is exhibited by the dog often looking up at their human while walking together, or coming back into their human’s space often if they are out of sight to make sure the human is present and accounted for, so to speak.
NOW THE FUN STUFF:
Some wonderful games to play with your GSD are “Find It” which is nose work and GSDs have terrific noses! This game is simply sniffing out a particularly aromatic treat that you have hidden, somewhere in sight at first until they understand the verbal cue and rules of the game, and then made increasingly more challenging in order to provide the mental stimulation they require.
“Find Me” (much like Hide and Seek):
Again, you must start out making the game simple and easy until they understand the verbal cue of “find me” and the rules of the game. I typically put the dog I a sit and then turn my back. If it is a very young dog I often use a treat lure to bring them around to face me and sit in front of me looking directly into my eyes. This requires solid “sit” and “watch” skills but those are easy squeazy! Then you add distance and higher levels of difficulty in finding you. You can go hide in another room or behind a treat if you’re outside. Be Creative! It’s Play!
“Tug of War”:
Tug is fine to play with your dog as long as you are the last one with the toy in possession. Your GSD, as well as any other dog, should be taught the “drop” or “give” commands as well as the “leave it” commands to ensure that this game is played safely and stays fun and is not accidentally turned into a real competition. Sometimes – and guys I’m not picking on you – men will get right in their dog’s face and growl and say things like “Give it To Me!” while making a real [play] serious face. I have known some to get bitten in the face because of this behavior. Please remember that your dog is not a furry human. They are dogs which means they are animals and they act on instinct. If we trigger purely instinctual responses from them with our behavior, that is on us. We have a duty to learn their language at least enough to know what NOT to do so that we can keep both our dogs and other humans safe.