Here’s a video answering a couple of burning questions about 1-year-old GSDs: When is biting other dogs while playing OK? And what to do with a 1-year-old German shepherd that barks at strangers, and jumps up at home?
Whether for agility, obedience, rally, dock diving, search and rescue, Schutzhund, IPO, hiking or for fun, teaching your German Shepherd to jump is an important part of his foundational training.
You can start training your German Shepherd the basics of jumping as a young puppy, using poles on the ground, or uprights with no poles. German Shepherds should not jump higher than six inches until at least 18 months of age. Check with your dog’s breeder or veterinarian for the go-ahead to jump higher.
Once your German Shepherd’s growth is complete, you can start him on jumps. Start off low — set the bar an inch or two off the ground.
I prefer to teach my dogs to jump without using a leash. I find the leash causes the handler to get in the dog’s way, or is used to drag the dog over the jump. At best, you risk the leash getting caught in the jump and knocking it down. At worst, the leash gets caught in the jump and pops your dog’s collar, or drags the jump, which could scare her.
You will practice Leave it and Stay with your dog every time you do jump training, so don’t worry if she doesn’t do them well at first!
Keep your first several jumping sessions short and fun, using low jumps. You will gradually raise the height of the jumps as your dog becomes more confident.
I use an oxer (two-bar spread) jump like the one featured in the video. I place a toy or bowl of treats a few feet after the jump, to teach the dog to jump round, quickly and straight. If you don’t have enough equipment to create an oxer, a single jump with a pole on the ground will do. You may use guide poles to help keep the dog straight. Or, a fence or wall to one side with whatever artificial barrier you can create on the other, will also work.
I always reward my GSD for looking straight over the jump before releasing or rewarding him. This is a technique from Susan Garrett’s fantastic agility training DVD, Success With One Jump.
Place the treat or toy a few feet after the jump, and tell your dog to “Leave it.” Be sure the reward is centered as you look at the jump. You don’t want your dog to jump crooked trying to get to the toy! Bring your dog a few feet in front of the jump and ask him to stay. I like to feed these stays almost every time, to get the dog accustomed to waiting until I release him to jump. You may stay with your dog after you ask him stay, or walk a few feet away, then release.
Practice sometimes returning to your dog to feed him a treat, instead of releasing. This will prevent him from anticipating your release. You will need to adjust the dog’s distance before the jump, as well as the reward’s distance after the jump, for higher jumps or multiple jumps in a row.
If your dog is doesn’t want to go over a jump, go back to using a pole on the ground, or use two uprights with no pole. Practice asking your dog to stay, and then release him through the uprights to the treats or toy. You may need to move the bowl of treats between the uprights at first, and put your dog close to the jump, so he can be successful.
Encourage your GSD with lots play between jumps, and an excited tone of voice. As your dog progresses, try different jump configurations and distances. See Agility Nerd’s List of One-Jump Drills and Susan Salo’s Jumping Grid Workbook for ideas.
Is your German Shepherd difficult to brush? Above is a video of Jabber the wooly mammoth, demonstrating a grooming trick you can try, along with a training strategy for teaching your dog to stand for brushing.
German Shepherds blow their coats twice per year: in the spring and again in the fall.
First, note whether your dog has any problems or sensitivity when you handle the following areas:
If so, you’ll want to resolve any handling issues before you begin teaching your dog to stand for grooming. (If your dog is growling at you or otherwise behaving aggressively when you attempt to touch him, do not attempt to train him on your own — contact a qualified animal behavior consultant or veterinary behaviorist!)
Be sure to start brushing your German Shepherd in the easy-to-handle places (usually her chest and back) before you move onto trickier areas such as tail or skirts. Eventually, you can use the release as a reward, along with brushing areas he or she likes (such as the chest) as rewards for brushing the harder areas.
*You can drop the clicker at this step, unless you happen to be great at holding treats and a clicker while you brush! I do not use a clicker in the video above when I get to the brushing step, and carry the treats in my pocket.
The socialization process for German Shepherd puppies begins the day they are born! An educated breeder will have plan for daily neonatal handling of the litter, and by eight weeks of age, Dr. Ian Dunbar recommends that puppies have been handled by at least 100 people!
You must continue to socialize your puppy after you bring him home. The window for a dog’s socialization to people continues until 16 weeks (four months) or so. During this time, it is essential that your puppy be carefully introduced to a variety of people, objects and experiences. It’s your job to make sure your German Shepherd grows into a reliable, friendly adult dog, instead of a growling, quivering mess.
German shepherd puppies should stay with the breeder until at least 7 or 8 weeks of age.
If your breeder is keeping the puppies longer, he or she must pick up where the owner would normally take over in terms of socialization and training. Keeping puppies beyond 7 or 8 weeks and not doing the critical work of early socialization and training may be more damaging than letting them go too soon.
Puppies go through a fearful stage between 9-12 weeks (sometimes earlier or later, depending on the individual). During this time, it’s important that you give your puppy plenty of time and space to explore unfamiliar objects, people and places on his own. Don’t force him into anything!
It’s also important during this time not to expose your puppy to trauma. Avoid any restraint that could upset your pup, people who might scare or harm the puppy, and strange dogs whose behavior with young puppies is unknown.
One of our favorite socialization programs is Operation Socialization. Operation Socialization offers a complete program for socializing your new puppy. The program includes a list of participating local businesses, where available.
Here is a short checklist of exercises to complete with your young German Shepherd:
Experts agree that the socialization window for puppies is fairly short, and begins to close around 15 weeks. But sensitive breeds such as German Shepherds need careful introductions to new people and places, and plenty of positive reinforcement for appropriate behavior, until 2-3 years of age.
Many breeds experience what is sometimes called a “second” fear period, between 6 and 12 months. This resembles the first fear period at 9-12 weeks, in that a bad experience could have lifelong repercussions for your dog. For example, an 8-month-old male German Shepherd with no history of problems at the veterinarian’s office was muzzled and forcibly restrained during a routine blood draw. He became so frightened that he emptied his anal glands. From then on and into old age, he would bark, growl and lunge at the veterinarian, and needed behavioral intervention during office visits.
If your puppy frequently hides, growls at people or avoids new things, get professional help now. Don’t wait until your German shepherd is big enough to scare or hurt someone. We can prevent many of the behavior problems we see in adult dogs with early training and behavior modification.
Q: My German shepherd has been growling at me when I go to put on his harness. He fusses when I put it on, but lately he’s been more of a handful, and I have to struggle to get it on him. I’m worried he might bite me.
Owning a dog, especially a German shepherd, that you’re afraid might bite you is no fun. You are asking the right question — dogs growl to warn us that if we persist in our behavior, they may bite.
Besides the fear of injury for yourself or family members (or liability, should your dog bite someone else), when you’re afraid to interact with your dog because you might be bitten, your German shepherd is at risk for physical neglect and worsening behavior.
First things first:
Your next job is to learn about dog body language. When you know the signs of a dog who is feeling uncomfortable or on the offensive, you can better protect yourself and others against a bite. There are many resources online, and sites such as Dogwise.com and Tawzerdog.com offer videos and instruction on defensive handling and dog bite safety:
The more you know, the better you will be able to determine whether your German shepherd is a threat to yourself or others, and to take steps to remedy the problem. Maybe your dog has been acting especially rowdy lately, or has growled at you over a bone or a special resting place. Perhaps you have trouble getting your GSD back into his crate, or away from the door when people arrive.
Some areas in which German shepherds sometimes need help and training include:
Remember: If you are worried about your German shepherd’s behavior, you are not alone. Talk to your veterinarian, and find a trainer or behavior consultant who can help you sort out your dog’s behavior, before it’s too late.
Q: I’m trying to problem solve one of my German Shepherd’s behaviors. It happens at least once and occasionally twice when we are doing off-leash walking. I will call her from a far distance and she will get so revved up in the process of racing towards me that she will zoom past me, turn around and zoom back towards where she came from, zoom towards me again, and eventually be sniffing around near me, or sitting right in front of me. I’m worried that she’ll be hit by a car, or run into another danger, in the time it takes her to get to me.
A: I would build massive value for targeting (your hand, a particular target stick, sitting in front position), then use that as your recall when you suspect she’s in a racing mood. I’d also try to avoid calling her when she’s in zoomies, just turn and walk in the opposite direction and then quietly praise and feed your most high-value treats when she does catch up to you, and tell her to “Go run” again. This will reduce her desire to fly by, as well as put the zoomies on cue.
You could also start to keep notes of how many off-leash recalls result in the zoomies (location, immediate previous activity, etc). That’s about the only sure way to tell if your training is working and to predict when/where/how she’ll perform the behavior correctly.