The German Shepherd Dog

The success of the German Shepherd Dog breed is primarily the result of the remarkable work and vision of Captain Max von Stephanitz. Stephanitz, a German calvary officer of the late 1800's, was impressed by the work ethic and intelligence of dogs used for herding sheep and other work. He purchased a dog by the name of Hektor Linkrshein and changed the dog's name to Horand von Grafrath (pictured below). Horand became the very first German Shepherd Dog. Stephanitz later said of Horand,

"Horand embodied for the enthusiasts of that time the fulfillment of their fondest dreams. He was big for that period, between 24" and 24 1/2", even for the present day a good medium size, with powerful frame, beautiful lines, and a nobly formed head. Clean and sinewy in build, the entire dog was one live wire. His character was on a par with his exterior qualities; marvelous in his obedient fidelity to his master, and above all else, the straightforward nature of a gentleman with a boundless zest for living. Although untrained in puppy hood, nevertheless obedient to the slightest nod when at this master's side; but when left to himself, the maddest rascal, the wildest ruffian and incorrigible provoker of strife. Never idle, always on the go; well disposed to harmless people, but no cringer, mad about children and always in love. What could not have been the accomplishments of such a dog if we, at that time, had only had military or police service training? His faults were the failings of his upbringing, never of his stock. He suffered from a superfluity of unemployed energy, for he was in Heaven when someone was occupied with him and was then the most tractable of dog."

Any true breeder of German Shepherd Dogs takes these words very seriously. The breed was always intended to produce well rounded working dogs, dogs that love to work and are great companions. We can never allow the breed to lose that working drive that made Horand the impressive animal that he was. Once we lose that trait, we've lost the breed. Stephanitz was well aware of that, and one of his most famous quotes about the German Shepherd Dog is this: "Take this trouble for me: Make sure my Shepherd dog remains a working dog, for I have struggled all my life long for that aim."

At Old West Shepherds, we've learned that training German Shepherds is incredibly fun!  It's not for everyone, but if you love animals and have patience, you'll find that the rewards and accomplishments that come from spending time training your German Shepherd are hard to beat!

Here is some advice to consider when training your dog.

1. Learn How Dogs Learn

Its easy to think of dogs as thought they learn in the same way that people learn. But dogs do not think logically or conceptually like people do.  Anyone who has tried to train a dog that way will quickly learn that such an approach is frustrating both for the dog and the trainer.  The old saying that dogs are creatures of habit is quite true.  Consequently, the best outcome in training a dog is that he ends up with a whole lot of good habits and no bad ones.  You teach dogs good habits by positively reinforcing the desired behavior, and repeating that behavior over and over again.  This is especially critical when the dog is still in the puppy stages of life.  No puppy or even a highly trained adult dog will acquire a new habit in a single repetition. The fact that you have to repeat the desired behavior over and over again is a source of frustration for many people.  But with a little practice it can become a fun way to connect with your German Shepherd.  A well-bred German Shepherd has an innate desire to please you and will enjoy training as much as you will!

2. Make It Fun

Since dogs learn by repetition, it is important to be consistent when it comes to training.  Training dogs is not like doing income taxes.  You're allowed to have fun!  And having fun is the easy part, because dogs really want to play.  Find a toy that your dog loves to have, and turn it into a reward.  Dogs love balls, tugs, kongs, retriever sticks, and just about anything they can get a good grip on.  By using toys, you unleash the dogs natural prey instinct, and that makes training irresistibly fun for them.  At Old West Shepherds, we aim to build that natural prey drive into our breedings so that our puppies have an enhanced desire to work. 

3. Use Simple Words, and Reward Quickly  

Dogs don't understand meanings of words. Dogs simply learn to associate sounds with particular behaviors. Since words are just sounds to the dog,  it is important to use words that sound distinctive, are short, and convey the appropriate tone.  German Shepherds have long been trained with German words.  One of the reasons for using German words is that the they tend to have short, distinctive sounds that dogs can easily follow.  Once your dog produces the behavior that you have asked of him, reward him quickly so that he begins to understands his reward came from that behavior.  As you do this over and over again, the dog will recognize the sequence of  command - behavior - reward.  Once the dog clearly understands this sequence, you can begin to occasionally leave out the reward and simply praise the dog verbally.  

4. Keep Your Dog Healthy (Exercise, Good Food, and Care)   

If you eat poorly, never exercise, and avoid preventative care, you can't expect to live a healthy, happy life.  The same is doubly true for dogs!  Since German Shepherds are working dogs, they need to have plenty of exercise.  Otherwise, they will find a way to use their energies and intelligence to satisfy their need to work.  This usually means developing destructive habits such as chewing, scratching, escaping, biting and just about anything else you don't want them to do.  This behavior frequently leads to owners abandoning the dogs to shelters or worse.  For this reason, Old West Shepherds takes great care in selecting homes for puppies. Prospective owners must demonstrate they have the ability, resources, and commitment to give the dog proper care and attention.  At minimum a German Shepherd needs 45 minutes of vigorous exercise each day.  This is easily accomplish with a combination of walks, short training sessions, and playing fetch with a ball.  German Shepherds also deserve to be fed the best food you can buy.  Too often, owners buy the cheapest food or the most recognized dog food brand at their local grocery store.  This food is often very low quality, leading to increased health issues that reduce the dogs everyday health and increases the need for costly visits the the veterninarian.  In the long run, cheap food is not worth it!  Give your dog a chance and buy respectable premium dog foods such as Eagle Pack.

5. Learn By Watching Others  

Modern dog training methods are the result of decades of trial and error.  We have discovered that there are many ways to train a dog.  We have also discovered plenty of ways to fail at training dogs.  It is always important to realize you are ultimately responsible for your dog's behavior.  One of the best ways for you to excel at dog training is by watching accomplished trainers work their dogs.  You will observe essential techniques that they use to attract and hold the dog's attention.  Learning how to respond to your dog at critical moments in training, is not something you can easily learn from a book or even a video.  Books and videos are great for lectures, but training dogs is largely a practical exercise.  One of the more difficult things for beginners to learn is when to correct the dog and when to praise the dog.  Watching an accomplish trainer work with an untrained dog can give you great insight into how to approach your own dog's training.  Fortunately, there are clubs that exist specifically for training working dogs.  Consider joining a club or enrolling in an obedience class that is taught by a qualified, experienced, and highly-regarded instructor! 

Old West Shepherds LLC Daniel & Christina Scott 306 N Main St. Nappanee, IN 46550 (574) 221-0974
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