The American Kennel Club has always listed the German Shepherd as one of the smartest breeds of dogs. However, just because a certain breed is known for their intelligence, it doesn’t always mean they’re easily trainable.
This article will answer the question of “are German Shepherds easy to train” as well as look at what makes the breed easier or harder to train.
Are German Shepherds Easy to Train?
Yes, German Shepherds are definitely easy to train. Their intelligence is not only superior to many other dog breeds, but their instincts and natural abilities also contribute to their remarkable capacity to learn.
However, it is important to note that GSDs need experienced or dedicated owners, who are consistent and use positive training tactics that keep their German Shepherd enthusiastic about learning and staying on their best behavior.
Why German Shepherds are Easy to Train
The German Shepherd is classified under the Herding Group, which already tells you that they’re built for work. However, many factors contribute to their trainability. Here are some of the most significant ones:
German Shepherds find its roots in wolf-like dogs that could herd and protect sheep, even with barely any training. From the time they were discovered, dog enthusiasts were able to develop the breed, cultivating not only its physical strength and endurance but, more importantly, its instincts and intelligence as well.
After the first German Shepherd Dog was registered, breed standards were developed and helped preserve all the good traits that allow us to enjoy the highly trainable GSDs we have today.
If you have spent any amount of time with a German Shepherd, you’ll notice how fast they pick up on things. This is very valuable for being an easily trainable dog breed.
Teach a GSD something once or twice and they will have it down for life. Sometimes, they will even pick up on what you want them to do just by observing your behavior in certain situations.
Eagerness to Please
GSDs are incredibly loyal and tend to attach to their handler or their family members. Once they’ve attached to you, the first thing you’ll notice is their eagerness to please.
They can tell when you’re delighted and when you’re disappointed, and they’ll do everything they can to see you happy. That’s especially true if your happiness earns them treats and praises.
German Shepherds are also easily motivated. Apart from their eagerness to please you, they have a natural desire to excel and get the job done.
Depending on your training methods, they also quickly learn to become motivated by treats, praises, scratches, and belly rubs. By knowing what incentives work best for your GSD, you unlock the secrets to making them easy to train.
Strong Work Ethic & Drive
German Shepherds are considered high drive dogs and enjoy having a job, which is evident by their frequent roles with the police and military. GSDs need both mental and physical stimulation to keep them engaged.
They will focus their energy on any task you set out for them, plus they don’t easily give up. Although they might become frustrated or excited at times, they’re always keen to keep trying until the job is completed.
Potential Difficulties in Training a German Shepherd
The same characteristics that make the German Shepherd an ideal dog to train could also make them more difficult to handle. Sometimes, they’re too smart, too strong-willed, and too energetic for their own good.
Apart from these traits, the following scenarios are what commonly leads to challenges when training a GSD:
They Need Proper Handling
Whether they’re your pet, teammate, or work companion, your GSD will learn the dynamics of your relationship as a dog-and-handler team. Make sure they see you as their handler and respect you as such.
Give them structure and let them understand that you’re the one calling the shots in that relationship. Otherwise, they will use their smarts to try to manipulate you and get around the rules to get what they want.
If you aren’t in control your German Shepherd will take control!
They Need Proper Training Tactics
Studies have proven that positive reinforcement is the best way to train dogs. Through positive training methods, German Shepherds respond better to instruction, feel less stressed, and form better bonds with their handlers.
But, because they’re also strong-willed and highly confident dogs, GSDs sometimes need firmer training methods.
That’s especially true for behavior modification training where it’s essential to get through to a stubborn dog. Firm training, however, doesn’t mean violent or abusive methods, it just means you can’t back down from what you want even when your dog isn’t listening.
They Need Consistency
When training German Shepherds, consistency isn’t just about having a regular, dedicated training schedule. It also means you need to be consistent in your rules, and you need to make sure your German Shepherd is consistent in following those rules.
If you’ve taught them to stay off the couch, don’t let them get away with it “just this once.” Otherwise, they don’t develop the proper appreciation and respect for rules.
Your German Shepherd won’t understand why being on the couch is ok one day, but the next day they get told it’s not allowed. Stay consistent and there will be no confusion (but you may have a sneaky GSD trying to get away with breaking the rules now and again).
German Shepherd Training Disciplines
Combined, the German Shepherd’s mental and physical abilities allow it to excel in practically all training scenarios. These include:
Although the more advanced formal training generally starts at 6 months old, German Shepherds as young as eight weeks old already respond very well to training.
In fact, this is an excellent time to teach them basic obedience commands like sit, stay, and come. During this time, they’ll also start to respond to their name. Puppy training classes can also help with this!
As you teach them the basics, you reinforce good manners and give yourself the ability to control their behavior. Additionally, this is your opportunity to teach them the dynamics of your handler-dog relationship.
All dogs will inevitably show some undesirable behavior. While some might pass off as forgivable quirks, others might pose some dangers and should be corrected.
With German Shepherds, correcting behaviors could be more difficult because of their strong wills, their sheer size, and abundance of energy.
No matter what you’re trying to correct, you’ll need structure, consistency, and tons of repetition to reinforce good behavior. The good thing is with all of these things your GSD will be quick to catch on to the appropriate behavior.
German Shepherds love learning tricks not only because of their eagerness to work but also their eagerness to please.
You might not realize it, but your GSD can tell how happy you are when they get things right. If tricks training involves food or toys, that might motivate them even more.
Some tricks don’t really serve a practical purpose. For example, in what scenario will you really need your GSD to roll over or shake your hand? Nevertheless, teaching your dog fun and entertaining tricks is a good way to stimulate their mental faculties, spend time with them, and strengthen your bond.
Training your German Shepherd with recreational activities gives you more opportunities to enjoy their company. Plus, such activities can double as their exercise, which is essential to keeping a GSD on their best behavior.
Whether you want to teach your dog to play fetch or train them to join you on your bike rides, you can expect them to be enthusiastic, quick to learn, and content just to spend more active time with you.
Because of their high drive and active nature, German Shepherds excel in a wide variety of canine sports. In fact, the elite sport of Schutzhund was developed specifically for the breed.
If you ever become inclined to take part in agility training or other highly physical and mentally stimulating canine sports with your GSD, you can expect them to be always ready for the challenge.
Dogs might not comprehend the concept of winning competitions, but they do appreciate hard work. They also feel a sense of accomplishment when they make you happy through good performance.
People rely on German Shepherds for a wide variety of sensitive work. In particular, GSDs excel as police dogs most especially because of their intelligence, temperament, and athleticism.
But whether it’s herding, police work, or even helping with household chores, they’re propelled by their respect for their owners, their eagerness to please, and their enthusiasm to serve a purpose.
There’s no denying the intelligence of German Shepherds. In fact, they’re one of the most popular breeds in the world — whether as working dogs, companion dogs, or family dogs — because they’re easy to train.
Needless to say, their cleverness can go both ways. Without proper training, structure, and a strong-willed handler, they can learn to assert themselves and get away with bad habits.
It is important to remember that our behavior influences our dogs behavior. If we aren’t consistent with our rules and our training we can’t expect our dogs to be consistent in listening to us.