German Shepherd Socialization




German shepherd socialization is probably the most critical thing you can do for your German shepherd. You should introduce your shepherd to as many new experiences and situations as you can, as soon as he is protected by his puppy vaccinations. The best time to introduce your dog to the world is from about 8 to 12 weeks of age.


Why German Shepherd Socialization?




The German Shepherd is bred to be very wary of strange dogs and strange people and highly perceptive of her environment. She is very protective of those she loves and can be territorial when it comes to her home, yard, and vehicles.

But, no dog is perfect and they make mistakes. They misjudge situations, particularly if they have not had similar past experiences. The only way your German shepherd can make the right decisions is if she learns to differentiate between threatening and nonthreatening situations.

Your dog must learn that the crying baby, the wobbly toddler, and two young children who are to are cutting across the front yard are not dangerous. She needs to realize that she can bark to alert you when the deliveryman brings packages to the door, but she can not burst outside and bite him. She needs to be able to discern that the elderly woman with a cane and a teenager swinging his book bag while walking to the bus stop are not threatening or carrying deadly weapons.

To accomplish the goal of owning a trustworthy, socialized German shepherd, you will have to do some work. You will have to continue working on socialization throughout the life of your German shepherd to maintain your dogs good attitude toward people.



German Shepherd Socializing With People




The key to socializing a puppy or a rescued German shepherd is to make sure while you are your introducing your shepherd to new people and acclimating him to a variety of different settings, you are keeping the sessions positive. All it takes is one distressing experience to set back your German shepherd and his training.

The situations you place your dog in are out of his control, so it is up to you to make sure your puppy or adult dog is comfortable at all times and not placed into a bad situation.



Puppies




A puppy from a good breeder will be born with a predisposition for a certain temperament. Environment; however, can play a key role in determining whether your puppy reaches her full potential as a social dog. In other words, a puppy that is predisposed to be timid and fearful can overcome her fears if she is raised in the right environment. Likewise, a puppy predisposed to be a terrific, friendly dog could be permanently stunted in a harsh and isolated environment.

If you have a puppy, you start socialization work immediately. Some experts feel that the puppy should meet 100 strangers within the first 12 weeks of life and visit 50 new places. That is a lot of stimulation. A good start would be to set a goal of meeting at least one new person every day and visiting two or three new locations each week.

When you visit new locations, encourage your puppy to check everything out. Make sure to give her treats to reward good, friendly behavior. Encourage people to pet her so she learns to enjoy handling by different people. Give treats to strangers to offer her so that she associates an outstretched hand with something good.

Your puppy should be comfortable with everyone in your family and anyone who regularly works in your home. For example, if you have children, make sure the babysitter and the puppy are on excellent terms. You do not want to come home to find your sitter trapped in the bathroom with the German shepherd standing guard outside the door. She probably will never work for you again.





Rescued Adults




Rescued dogs already come with the experiences of their early life. For many German shepherds that wind up in shelters, this past is overwhelming. Fortunately, this likely will not be a problem you need to worry about. If you have rescued a German shepherd from a good shelter or a breed rescue, you will know your German shepherd's temperament, weaknesses, and strengths. Your job is to improve upon a solid start.

Start your German shepherd off slowly, working with what already makes her comfortable. Reward her with treats for good behavior. As she becomes more and more self-confident, begin introducing her to new stimuli.

When introducing your shepherd to strangers, watch her body language carefully. If you see any signs that she is getting anxious, stressed, frightened, you have pushed her out of her comfort zone. Take her out of the situation immediately. Dogs bite out of fear more than for any other reason.



The Fearful Puppy and Adult Dog




A fearful puppy or adult dog is twice the work of a stable, friendly German shepherd. It requires dedication, time, and patience to draw him out of his shell. Bashful pups need love too and enough time and care from you can turn yours into a delightful dog. Whatever you do, do not use your German shepherd's shyness as an excuse not to introduce him to people or to take him places.

Whether working with a puppy or an adult German shepherd dog that is timid, you need to be acutely aware of the subtle body language he will exhibit as he becomes increasingly stressed. When a dog is frightened, his ears may rotate back a little bit. He might begin panting, crouch slightly, tuck his tail in between his legs, or shake. He might also back up or start leaning into you.

Whatever you do, do not force your shepherd to meet anyone. This is not only terrifying to your German shepherd, but could also be dangerous for the stranger. The other thing you do not want to do is reward or coddle a frightened shepherd. Instead, move them far enough away from the person so that he is no longer a threat. Let the dog observe the stranger from what he considers a safe distance. Reward him with praise only when he is no longer anxious or showing any signs of stress.

Shy shepherds are highly sensitive to a stranger's body language, movements, and overall demeanor. For this reason, it is important to know the actions that may upset a timid dog.

Some of the things a dog may find threatening include:

Direct eye contact.

A hand outstretched above the dog's head.

Squatting down to the dog's level.

Putting your face in the dog's face.

A sharp loud voice.

Leaning over the dog's back.

If you are making introductions for your dog, tell people not to look him in the eye or pet him, and tell them to let the dog approached them. This will help your German shepherd feel much more comfortable with strangers he meets.

Fearful German shepherds require a lot of work to help them overcome their fears. Some shepherds may never be totally comfortable with all people in all situations. Your help; however, will make a significant improvement.



Adjusting to Normal Stimuli




Everything is new to a puppy, so the first time a puppy sees or hears something unusual in your home, it will startle her. The second time she is exposed to the same thing, she will be curious. By the time she experiences the stimulus a third time, the puppy will have figured out that it is nothing to be afraid of and will ignore it. During this process, do not react to the puppy's startled or curious behavior. She will become more comfortable in time.

Adult rescue dogs tend to find more things in a home startling than puppies, largely because the dogs often have not had much experience living in a house with a family. The flush of a toilet, the hum of a vacuum, or the slam of the door could really startle your dog. For this reason, you need to be prepared to act properly when your dog gets caught off guard.

Desensitization is another method of helping your German shepherd if she is afraid of something. Using this method, you increase your dog's exposure to the stimuli that frighten her. With thunderstorms; for example, you would play tapes of thunderstorms in the home. In theory, she will learn over time that nothing happens to her during a thunderstorm, and her fear during an actual thunderstorm will decrease. With this method, you would also ignore any signs of fear that she might show and reward calm behavior.



Introducing Friendly Dogs




You also need to socialize your German shepherd with other dogs. This may not seem is critical; however, if you have ever attempted to walk a shepherd that is lunging and barking at every dog he sees, you can appreciate the importance of owning a dog-friendly shepherd. Your neighbors will appreciate it too.

If you own a puppy, begin by introducing him to well-trained dogs that you know are friendly and fully vaccinated. You can introduce the puppy to the other dog in a neutral area, allowing the puppy to approach the adult dog. Even though you have choosen and very friendly dog for your puppy to meet, watch the adult dog carefully for any signs of aggression or attempts to control the puppy.

You and your puppy should attend puppy classes as soon as your German shepherd is fully vaccinated. These classes typically include a puppy socialization period prior to the training portion of the class in which the puppies are allowed to romp and play together. The play can sound pretty rough, but for the most part, there is no reason to panic. Playing with other puppies of the same age is one of the ways your puppy will learn to learn good bite inhibition. If he bites a puppy too hard, the puppy will not play with him, which is truly a punishment he will learn from.

If you see that your puppy is being aggressive or picking on another puppy that is becoming distressed, quietly walk up to your puppy and hold his caller. If he is still attacking the other puppy, firmly say, "No!" and calmly remove your puppy from the playgroup. Have him sit next to you for minute, praise him for his good behavior, and then allow him to continue playing.

If your puppy is on the receiving end of a bully's attention, allow him the opportunity to communicate to the bully that he is upset. If he tries and fails or is obviously becoming distressed, step in. Remove your puppy from the situation and consult with the overseeing trainer. The bully should be removed from play.

Friendly German Shepherd





Socializing the Adult Dog




If you adopt an adult German shepherd, the shelter or rescue should be able to tell you whether or not your shepherd is dog friendly. If your shepherd is aggressive toward dogs, do not give up. Behaviorists feel that dog/dog aggression is one behavior that can be modified.

If your adopted shepherd is thought to be good with other dogs, that is great. Give her lots of opportunities to meet other friendly dogs of all shapes and sizes. Dog parks can be great places for your shepherd to play in and meet other dogs; however, they can make for bad experiences if things get out of hand.

A dog park is only as good as the people who are there with their dogs. Aggressive, controlling dogs are not supposed to be allowed in dog parks; however, there is always someone who enjoys breaking the rules. Before you allow your shepherd to play with others at a park, watch the dogs carefully for antagonistic behavior. Talk to the owners, too, to find out more about their dogs.





Other Canine Pets




If you already own an adult dog and are bringing home a puppy, there are several things you can do to help ease any tension between them. The best pairings are usually between dogs of opposite sexes. If you own a male dog, bringing home a female puppy is likely to be more successful than bringing home another male. You should also be sure to spay or neuter your adult dog. This will help calm the dog and ease any sexual tension.

You might also consider keeping your adult dog at a boarding kennel or a friend's house for several hours when you first bring the puppy home. This will allow the puppy to become familiar with his new surroundings on his own. This will also establish the puppy as part of the household before the adult dog comes home. The adult dog finds the presence and scent of the puppy less confrontational if he is already there than if he is suddenly introduced into the home.

It is also important to supervise the two dog's activities together. Separate the puppy and the adult dog when you can not supervise, and do not allow the older dog to harass the puppy or play too roughly. If the adult dog does become obnoxious with the puppy, hold his collar, tell him, "No!" and walk him over to his crate for a timeout. He should quickly learn that beating up the puppy will not get him anywhere. If his aggressiveness toward the puppy escalates, seek professional help immediately.

A final important point to remember is to always provide your adult dog with an escape from the puppy. He should have his own crate filled with his own special toys to which the puppy does not have access. You might find that your adult dog puts up with the puppy pretty well. Just keep in mind that your German shepherd puppy can be extremely active, and this can drive even the most agreeable dogs to be a little crazy.



A Second Adult




Bringing a second adult dog into the home can be a bit trickier if than bringing home a new puppy. If one of the two adult dogs is submissive, things are usually okay. It also helps if the adult dogs are of the opposite sex and altered. However, if both dogs want control and are of the same sex, you might have a major problem on your hands.

Allowing the new dog to acclimate for a few hours or days while the other dog is boarded or at another home may help the older dog accept the new dog. Introducing the two dogs on neutral territory is a good idea. After they have made friends and are playing together, you can bring the two dogs home.

For the first few months, always keep an eye on the dogs when they are together, and separate them when you can not watch. If the older dog is dominant, it could take the new, adopted dog up to a month before she feels comfortable enough in her surroundings to stand up for herself. Once she does, the older dog may back off and the two could settle comfortably in their roles. But if the dogs still have not found a way to get along after a few months, it may just be an unsuccessful match.



Getting Help




Socializing puppies and adults with people and other dogs can be effortless with many German shepherds. It can also be frustrating with shepherds that are exceptionally fearful, extremely dominant, or controlling. If you own a puppy or rescued adult that falls into either extreme category, it is critical that you give your shepherd the help he needs to overcome his problems.

Before you choose someone to work with, make sure you are comfortable with the individual's training techniques and methods.

First, call the breeder or breed rescue from whom you purchased your adopted your shepherd. Explain exactly what kinds of problems you are having and how you have been attempting to handle the situations. If this person can not help you, he will refer you to someone who can. There might be a good trainer or veterinarian behaviorist in the area who works with her fearful or dominant dogs. You might also be referred to a certified animal behaviorists or a veterinary technician who has special interest in animal behavior.

Take the time to find a trainer who is successful, has excellent references, and uses positive, reward-based training. Make sure she is comfortable working with German shepherds and that you are comfortable with her trading style. After all, she will be training you to train your shepherd.

Return to Home Page from German Shepherd Socialization