What’s the best thing to train my dog for?

I am often asked this when  meeting a new client who has acquired his or her first GSD, and want to know the best sport or hobby to pursue with the new wonder dog. Versatility is a hallmark of our breed. German shepherd dogs are very good at lots of things. From herding to tracking, protection, service work, search and rescue, to nosework,  competitive obedience , therapy work and agility to name a few, GSDs can and often do excel. In most cases the only limitation is the commitment and energy of the handle.

Most often I am asked whether owners shoud do “protection training” with their dogs. The truth is most dogs and certainly good German shepherd dogs are naturally protective of their families. In fact this is the trait that often gets them into trouble.  So the answer is, first have complete control with your dog, assess your family situation, and ask yourself whether you have the time and commitment to follow through with the intensive training  and control work this requires. The main components in schutzhund are obedience and control. Its not a matter of tying the dog to a fence and teasing him until he bites. 

For a family dog, early obedience, socialization and manners are a must. I often tell clients that few things are impressive to a visitor as your answering the door with a calm focused well behaved GSD you call to your side from his resting place. The caller  may wonder “ what else does he do that she tells him?”

So, while I have trained and handled police and schutzhund dogs, and continue to do that work with my own dogs, I do it as a professional and as a competitive sport, and know that it is a tremendous commitment and responsibility. It is a sport for dog trainers.

The best thing you can do with your dog is something you both enjoy.   You can search videos on YouTube, or go in person to trials and shows, and start something. You aren’t going to be great at it the very first time. Most sports and hobbies take time to learn and you’ll probably need help along the way.

I know I  was inspired to start training when I saw  war dogs on  TV when I was a kid, and I “borrowed” the neighbor’s dog, Mac, who was pretty much a GSD from what I could tell.

Mac was tied to the porch all day, and I’d go over and get him, and practice the moves I saw soldiers do on TV in 1964. I taught him “ Hit the dirt” which is now called a drop on recall, and “messenger crawl” with a hand drawn map of “enemy territory” in his mouth. ( need I say that I did not play with dolls?)

I am sure my methods were clumsy and archaic, but Mac had a GSD heart if maybe a touch of sled dog in his tail, and was game for whatever I wanted him to do especially since he got to be untied from the porch and share some of my baloney sandwich. I would sneak him back each day retie him with a promise to return, until one day Mac was gone. “Went to live on a farm,” they told me, which  I now understand to be adultspeak for “took him to the pound.”

That brings me to the one thing that you must do with your GSD and that is train him. Teach him basic manners. Teach him  to greet people properly, not jump on them,  teach him to sit and lie down when you ask, and to wait for his food; teach him to walk nicely on a loose leash, and to respect your space when a door opens. And most of all, teach him how to be relaxed and confident and calm in the presence of other dogs.

The number one reason dogs end up in the pound is bad behavior and  bad behavior comes from the owners’ unwillingness to take the time to train the dog when it is young. Dogs are not born misbehaving. They are born to learn, but if no one teaches them, they make up their own rules and get into trouble.

Whether you ever intend to enter the show ring, or trial field or search for missing people, you need to teach your dog to behave. teach him the Basics.