Stop bad behavior before it starts

One of the first tools in every dog trainer’s toolbox is what we call “management,” or managing your dog’s environment, so he or she cannot practice the unwanted behavior. In fact, many behavior problems can be eliminated using management alone. So, what do we mean by “management”? And why is it such an important concept in dog training?

What we mean by “management”

Managing your dog’s environment simply means to observe and make choices about the setting to prevent unwanted behavior. For example, if your dog has a terrible cat-chasing habit, you would make sure he or she is on a leash every time the cat enters the room. You have removed the opportunity, using the leash, for your dog to chase the cat. This prevents the dog from practicing the unwanted cat-chasing behavior (and remember, practice makes perfect), while we teach the dog an alternate, acceptable behavior.

For example, what if your dog gets into the kitchen trash? This behavior is not ideal, because not only is the dog making a mess, he is endangering himself with anything inedible or poisonous he might eat. The easiest way to stop this behavior is to use management — put the trash can inside a cabinet, get a trash can with a lid the dog can’t open, or put a gate up in the doorway so the dog can’t get to the trash. “Management” is not a single solution, but looking what happens before the behavior, and altering the situation to make the behavior less likely.

Proactive vs. reactive

Management has two components: Observation and proactivity. This is opposed to what we sometimes do when our dog behaves in a way we don’t like — observation and reactivity. When we manage our dogs’ behavior, we want to be on the lookout for environmental triggers, or scenarios, in which the dog might perform the unwanted behavior before it occurs. We then make the choice to be proactive — to react to that potential situation before the dog does, and to change our behavior to help the dog.

Let me give you an example. If I am out walking my dog, and she sees another dog, I might tense up because I think she is going to bark at that other dog. I hold my breath and tug on the leash as the other dog gets closer. When the other dog is close, sure enough, my dog lunges and barks. I yell, “No!” and yank the leash.

That’s reactivity on my part. I am reacting to my dog’s behavior after it has happened, even though I saw the other dog before my dog did, and I predicted she would bark and lunge. Not only is this a useless way to train my dog, but she’s being rewarded for barking at the other dog. How is she being rewarded? Usually the other dog moves away, which makes her feel safer.

So, what would proactivity look like in this situation? One proactive action would be for me to turn and walk in the other direction as soon as I saw the other dog, before my dog had a chance to react. In this way, I both prevent the barking and lunging behavior, and prevent reinforcing (rewarding) the dog for that behavior. You can likely think of other ways to alter the picture to keep the lunging and barking behavior from happening.

Why is it so important to manage our German Shepherds’ environments?

The short version is this: Managing the environment can prevent the dog from practicing an unwanted activity. When your GSD practices a behavior you don’t like and is rewarded for it, the stronger that behavior will become! We use management to protect the dog’s training. Our goal is to teach our German shepherds a new behavior we do like. Without management, we are teaching dogs that unwanted behavior still pays.

And, most importantly, management is a requirement when the safety of the dog, other animals or people is at stake. German Shepherd owners know the importance of management for dogs who don’t yet come when called. Another example: If I think my German Shepherd is likely to jump up on a child, I can put pressure on the lead close to my dog’s collar, to keep her feet on the ground. While this action alone won’t train my dog not to jump, it prevents her from knocking the child down or jumping up or bumping the child’s face. Holding the leash changes the picture, so I can give my dog a massive reward for sitting, or turning her head away from the child.

Management gives us a chance to teach our German Shepherds calm behavior, while minimizing or eliminating those we don’t want.


How much does a German Shepherd puppy cost?

As of this writing, you can expect to pay between $1,000 and $2,000 US dollars for a quality-bred German Shepherd puppy.

Why are German Shepherd puppies so expensive?

The main reason German Shepherd puppies cost so much is that the cost of breeding German Shepherds and raising the puppies is not cheap.

Below is a chart breaking down the approximate costs associated with breeding.

Approximate cost1
Training and showing $3,500/year
Health screening $500
Stud fee $1,000+
Whelping supplies $100
Vet bills $750+
Food $100 per litter
Registration $25 + $2/puppy
Utilities $300
Emergencies $700+
Total (approx.)

1. Based on estimates from “Cost to Breed and Raise a Litter” and “Litter Costs.”

When you add this to the cost of feeding and maintaining the dam for one year, a single litter is often setting breeders back by $8,000 or so. (Not to mention the cost of buying a quality bitch and/or sire and raising them to adulthood!) Add to this the intangible expense of the breeder’s time and expertise in whelping, raising and training the litter.

I found GSD puppies advertised locally for $400. Why do I need a dog from a fancy breeder?

Once you start asking your $400-per-puppy breeder a few questions, the answer as to why anyone would want to pay more for a German Shepherd puppy will become obvious.

Here are the questions to ask any breeder from whom you are considering buying a puppy:

  • What health testing have you done on the parents (sire and dam)?
  • Do the sire and dam both have a ratings, OFA grades or PennHip scores declaring them free of hip and elbow dysplasia?
  • Do either the sire or dam have allergies – chronic ear infections, drippy eyes, skin problems, poor coats?
  • What kinds of health problems might be typical in the lines that you breed?
  • How old do the dogs in your lines tend to live?
  • Have your dogs ever growled at or bitten a person?
  • How are your German Shepherds with young children?
  • How do your German Shepherds behave around cats?
  • Can I meet your dogs before I decide to buy a puppy?
  • What titles do your dogs have?
  • Do you sell your puppies on a contract?
  • Does your puppy contract include a guarantee to take back the puppy at any point in its life, if I can no longer keep him?
  • Does your puppy contract include a hip guarantee?
  • Are your puppies crate trained?
  • How do you socialize your puppies before they leave?
  • What vaccinations will my puppy have before I take him home?
  • Can I talk to some of your previous puppy buyers?

In addition, the breeder you are considering should ask you questions about your lifestyle and reasons for wanting a GSD. He or she should also ask you what your plans are for training and exercising your new puppy.

Saving enough money to buy a German Shepherd puppy

If you can’t afford a quality German Shepherd right now, don’t worry. You can always start saving today! You’ll have time to build your savings, as most breeders of good pups only breed a few litters each year. Finding a breeder may take several weeks of research, as well. Expect to pay a non-refundable deposit to get on a waiting list.

In addition to the cost of your puppy, don’t forget to factor in the initial costs of a crate, toys, veterinary appointments, training classes, pet insurance, a basic pet first-aid kit, good-quality food, and a starter supply of flea and heartworm treatment.

Here are a few savings tips I’ve used for a puppy savings fund in the past:

  • Set a savings goal. I love SmartyPig, because it lets you break your savings account into goals and track them online. It’s free and features automatic withdrawals, too. But you don’t need to get fancy — your regular savings account or a glass jar will do, too.
  • Save all unexpected cash flow. Once your bills and credit cards are paid, stash any “surprise” income into your savings account. Bonuses, tips, extra odd jobs, birthday and Christmas checks, rebates or refunds fall into this category.
  • Set aside a certain amount each month. Even if it’s $25, that’s an extra $100 towards vaccinations or a crate after just four months! Automatic withdrawals from your checking into a savings account will save you from remembering.
  • Do extra work or odd jobs. Do you have a marketable skill that you can trade for a few dollars? Can you wash cars, walk dogs, or help a friend with his or her web site? Adding $50 here and there can get you to your savings goal faster than you’d think.
  • Give up another expense until your savings goal is met. Whether it’s fast food, coffee, an online subscription, or impulse buys at the grocery store, most of us can find a way to save an extra $5 or more each week by skipping those purchases. Remind yourself — it’s temporary, and for a good reason!
  • Sell something you own. Regularly clearing out stuff you no longer use is not only healthy, but can be profitable as well! List your used goods on eBay, or hold a yard sale. See if there’s a Facebook group that lists the stuff you’re trying to sell, and join.

Is spending the money to get a high-quality German Shepherd pup worthwhile?

After 19 years of owning and raising German Shepherds, and helping other people with their GSDs’ behavior, I can say without hesitation that any money you spend on a good-quality pup from a reputable breeder is well worth it. A German Shepherd with a stable, friendly temperament, in good health and properly socialized by a knowledgable breeder is priceless.

The rest — making sure your German Shepherd is a terrific canine citizen — is up to you! But by investing up front, you’ll be motivated to continue where the breeder left off and have a fantastic companion to share with the world.

Teach your German Shepherd how to jump

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.

Your dog will need to know two skills before learning to jump without a leash: Leave it and Stay.

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.


Teach your German Shepherd to stand still for grooming

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:

  • Ears (Does your dog have a history of ear infections?)
  • Tail
  • Skirts (hind legs)
  • Legs and paws (Any bad experiences with nail trims, in the past?)
  • Reaching toward her collar
  • Collar
  • Head

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!)

Steps for teaching your dog to stand on a platform while grooming

  1. Start by clicking for two feet on a platform.
  2. Once your dog will stand for 30 seconds or more on the platform, introduce the brush or grooming rake by showing it to the dog while he is on the platform, then clicking (or saying “Good”) and feeding. Don’t touch your dog with the brush yet! Repeat 4-5 times, or at least until your dog stops moving off the platform when you pull out the brush.
  3. Brush in short bursts, 2-5 seconds long, then stop, and feed.*
  4. Continue brushing 2-5 more seconds, then feed and release your dog.
  5. Start again, this time making some brushing sessions a few seconds longer before you feed / release.

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.

How to socialize your German shepherd puppy

When does socialization begin?

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.

How old should your puppy be when you bring her home?

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.

The fear period

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.

How do I socialize my GSD puppy?

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:

  • Voluntary approach of children of all ages (at least 30 different kids offering treats)
  • Voluntary approach to men (at least 30 different men offering treats)
  • Voluntary approach to women (at least 30 different women offering treats)
  • Voluntary approach to people in wheelchairs, using canes or other walking equipment, in unusual dress, etc. (at least 10 different people offering treats)
  • Regular car rides (at least once per week to somewhere other than the vet’s office)
  • Resource guarding prevention training
  • Handling exercises (at least three times per week)
  • Exposure to a variety of surfaces (grass, concrete, wood floors, tile floors, carpet, etc.)
  • Exposure to livestock at a safe distance
  • Play (with frequent breaks) with other puppies and adult dogs known to be safe with puppies.
  • Crate training

When is socialization finished?

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.

What if I’m having trouble socializing my German shepherd puppy?

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.

Visit or to find a qualified dog behavior consultant near you.

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