A dog that will stand by your side in life, a friend, protector and confidant?
The German Shepherd Dog has long been mans most loved breed when the man, or woman wanted a very capable dog. Over time though, more and more of this incredible breed ends up in trouble, rescue, rehab and worse.
Why does this happen to this magnificent breed?
Well human intervention is at the centre of many of the worlds problems and I think we play a big role here too. There are at least three “types” of German Shepherds these days where originally there was one, very versatile dog.
This is not a Working Line vs. Show argument here either, it is more of an education article for those who want to get a German Shepherd or have one.
The types or German Shepherd
Show line German Shepherds
People who show their German Shepherds, often focus heavily on confirmation principles that are winning in today’s show rings. When these dogs are titled they are often bred and reproduce more of the parents traits.
The dogs full working ability may not be the primary consideration or even a consideration to some.
These dogs if bred with solid nerves can be a great pet dog for the average person (who is willing to train them) but they will not keep up with some of the working line Shepherds when it comes to performance, which is totally fine.
The Working Line German Shepherd
These are often bred primarily on performance elements that the breeder feels that he or she wants to produce. Elements such as high prey drive, aggression, dominance etc may all be desirable to some breeders.
These traits are awesome but these dogs will often fail to function easily in a pet home unless the owner is going to satisfy the much higher needs of this type of dog, and this is often a lot more than they bargained for.
Incredible amounts of barking and screaching when stimulated, disobedience and lack of responsiveness around distraction are all common when not trained effectively.
The third group of German Shepherd
This group of dogs does not have the punchy drives or extreme aggression potential of the working lines nor is the breeder focussed on confirmation showing so they may not have pushed the confirmation angle as much as dedicated show breeders.
This third group I feel, does not have the same specific breeding goals like the show and working line breeders do but instead try to produce what they feel is a good German Shepherd.
This does not mean there are no good dogs in this group, it means you need to look at the parents and and speak to the breeder and ask what are the goals and see if his or her dogs meet those goals in your opinion.
This is good information when it comes to selecting any dog though.
There are very many great dogs in each of these groups, so long as you choose what is right for you and invest time.
When the German Shepherd goes wrong
It goes wrong when a person ends up with a dog that does not meet their needs, this could be either a person that gets a working line dog when they have no need for this level of dog or a person that gets a dog that lacks drive for the work they need the dog to do.
A dog that fails to live up to the owners needs may just end up as a pet or re homed but a working line German Shepherd with higher drives and natural aggression can be dangerous in the wrong hands.
This is like getting in a car that is way more car than you can drive.
I think at times breeders need to home their pups and when there are pups left in the litter that did not go to ideal working homes, they can be marketed towards pet homes as a very healthy “energetic” dog.
This may not be fair to the puppy buyer or the dog long term.
The same happens when perhaps a dog sport hopeful goes to find themselves a German Shepherd and are told that this show line pup will easily meet their needs.
The pup is a dog with low to moderate prey drive and little interest in food, so it does not take long before reality sets in and this pup will never do well in a high end dog sport.
I have met many people at the wrong end of a German Shepherd in my many years of training. They chose to have a Working Line German Shepherd and they believed they knew what that would entail.
By the time that puppy was a year old they were in way over their heads, the pup was dog and perhaps human aggressive, disobedient, dissociative, unsatisfied and out of control.
I feel German Shepherd is a powerful, robust, agile, prey driven intelligent animal who deals well with pressure. Can easily give an aggressive response when he or she is threatened and can be gentle and calm at times.
As people breed them for different purposes some or even all of these traits may change or be amplified or suppressed so you will get a different mix of them which may produce better or worse results depending on your needs.
An example is our very own German Shepherd Diesel. He is a working line dog that was sold to a person who wanted a pup that was from lines used to produce Police dogs in Australia.
He got what he was looking for but within the first week, they no longer wanted him because he was everything they didn’t want.
They said he was aggressive, chewed everything, would not listen, bites them and never stops.
He was given to a rescue and a client mentioned him to me. I temperament testing him at 9 weeks of age and he has lived with us ever since.
He is the perfect dog, for US. He was totally wrong, even at 9 weeks for the first owner.
He will protect our property if you come un announced, he is friendly with our friends and their dogs too. He is gentle with kids and highly trustworthy. He has insane prey drive and great food drive. He is a good size, not to big which means he is fast and agile.
He can walk down the street with my wife and pram and does not leave her side, no leash pulling, lunging or so on and very little worries him.
Now of course we didn’t buy those behaviours, we taught them to a very capable dog that is just the right platform to host these lessons.
If he did not receive the quality training he needed, with ample drive satisfaction I know he would be just like many dogs that turn up for training way out of control.
There are memes and inspirational quotes floating around but when you see the one about German Shepherds that says
“Training me is not an option it’s a necessity”
None rings more true than this.
German Shepherds need quality training, and by that I mean you need to get your game on and learn specific training systems that suit the dog you have.
Training needs to be planned before you get the pup and you should have good management strategies in place and training plans before the puppy arrives in your home.
You need to make a number of training sessions happen every day and these need to include daily socialisation events in environments you will be in lot and around other animals and people.
There needs to be a process for getting your pup socially right and good training exercises will help you do this.
But plan to invest time, time every day. Time every day after work and before.
Same goes when you’re tired or sick and this will need to be from 8 weeks until 14 – 18 months.
If you go to puppy class once a week and that’s it, you can probably count on needing some management and or rehab for the rest of the dogs life.
There are very few puppy classes out there for general pets that will suit your German Shepherd. Many times Shepherd puppies will be preying on the other pups and having a ball tormenting them whilst the Cavalier is being traumatised.
So many problems are created in free for all puppy classes, be warned to know what type of class you need versus what is local.
Here is an article that may help “Puppy Schools, the good, the bad and the ugly“.
I believe that controlled exposure to other dogs with German Shepherds is a must, ALL other dogs not just German Shepherds.
This MUST include small dogs that could later be treated as prey and chased and killed.
By controlled exposure I mean that the enjoyment and excitement that a German Shepherd gets from playing with other dogs should not exceed or come close to the excitement and enjoyment they get from their owners.
When this ratio is wrong you often end up with very poor obedience and aggression problems in the German Shepherd Dog.
So I would have a social value for other dogs set at quite low on the reward scale of value.
Take a look at this article to understand Socialisations Values. “Socialisation, what is it exactly?”
All German Shepherds have prey drive, some working line dogs have extreme prey drive and some others have very little prey drive but I feel all of them need access to prey stimulation you can control from a very early (8 weeks) age, or younger.
Early access to prey stimulation helps your pup understand that he or she will be able to enjoy prey drive activities with you and this can later be converted to a reward system.
Many times I see German Shepherds that are predatory aggressive. This is an aggressive behaviour which is developed in prey drive through frustration.
Take a look at the German Shepherd in the video below to see Predatory Aggression.
The dogs prey drive is often satisfied via playing with or chasing other dogs and at some point the owner uses the leash to prevent their German Shepherd from accessing another dog, this causes frustration and predatory aggression is the result.
This gets reinforced through high energy repetition until the dog cannot control his or her behaviour on sight of another dog.
So the answer is to teach your German Shepherd pup what prey drive is, and that it is satisfied by playing with you and that other dogs are low value relationships that don’t compete with you.
Take a look at this video, this is me giving some of my 4 week old pups prey drive satisfaction.
With all that power a dog needs to be able to control his or her impulses.
Although there will be prey drive satisfaction provided by you, at times other animals, toys, cars and perhaps bikes, prams or kids could be seen as a prey drive trigger.
Your pup over time needs to learn how to control him or herself around these and not chase or engage them.
So the way you avoid predatory aggression is to satisfy prey drive, build impulse control and socialise your pup to have a low value for other dogs.
Whilst every man and his dog will go for sit, down and shake these can be taught any time and will be useless at preventing dog aggression issues.
Education is key
They say German Shepherds are smart, but what does that mean?
To me Smart means, they have the ability to learn.
Having this said, it means they need you to educate them. I mean it goes hand in hand when you own this breed or it least it should do.
Letting the dog be a dog and not teaching him or her will no doubt see the dog make mistakes, so rather than chastise him or her when he does the wrong thing, why not start early and teach the dog what he or she should be doing.
Start the relationship off right and teach your pup to enjoy prey drive games with you such as structured tug and ball games.
Manage your pup until he or she is trained rather than turn your home into a mine field where your pup is just waiting to be yelled at (again) for tripping a mine they didn’t know existed.
Develop a rewarding relationship where your puppy will get paid to do things you like, this can come in the form of food, toys or affection but make sure the pup does find it valuable.
Teach your pup how to control him or herself around distractions by setting social values lower than you but with plenty of exposure.
And then you shall have one of the best dog breeds available in my opinion. Like anything that is truly great, the German Shepherd will not come cheap in terms of time input, but the return can exceed every dream you ever had.
We are booked out with consults for dogs that have behaviour problems, so focus on getting the behaviour right, any one can teach almost any dog to sit.
Honour your German Shepherd with the valuable asset you have, your time.
If things have not gone the way you planned for you and your dog, we have some great remedial programs that can really help turn bad behavours good, check out our YouTube channel for hundreds of videos, you will see many German Shepherds there.
This information is general enough to use with most any breed.
As always we welcome any comments and we encourage you to share this article.