German Shepherds are popular, stunning dogs, and their loyalty, intelligence, and energy make them great workers and wonderful pets.
These qualities, however, can also make them difficult to train if you don’t know what you’re doing. This is never more obvious than when trying to train a German Shepherd to walk on a leash.
German Shepherds are energetic and independent dogs, but they can be trained to walk calmly if you find the right harness and leash, use lots of treats, and constantly employ the treat luring method, the start and stop method or the whirl around the method.
Keep reading to find out how to pick the right equipment to train your German Shepherd and how to employ one of these methods to have your dog walking calmly by your side in no time.
The Importance of Frequent Walks for Your German Shepherd
Since German Shepherds can be challenging to train, especially when it comes to containing all their size and energy on a leash, some owners avoid taking their German Shepherd for walks altogether.
This is not a good option, though. Like all dogs, German Shepherds need to be taken for frequent walks for the following reasons:
Mental and Physical Exercise
According to the PDSA, All dogs need exercise, but German Shepherds need more than most. They were bred to be working dogs, and have extremely high amounts of energy. Simply letting them roam your yard is rarely enough exercise to keep them healthy.
If German Shepherds don’t get enough exercise and mental stimulation, they can become destructive and even harder to control. Frequent walks can wear them out and provide them with interesting sights and smell to work out their mental muscles as well.
Establishing a Good Relationship
Modern Dog Magazine talks about the importance of establishing a strong bond with your dog. One way of doing this is to go for frequent walks together. Dogs tend to see walks as a pack experience – the two of you exploring and taking on the world together.
Teaching your dog to listen to you on a walk will also help establish a healthy dynamic of authority between the two of you.
Headstrong dogs need to know who is in charge, and every time you train your dog to listen to a new command or do something the way you want, you are conditioning him to look to you for guidance and direction before doing their own thing.
Even if you don’t walk your dog frequently – and you should – there will come a time when your dog will need to be on a leash, whether this is for a trip to the vet, the groomers, or a friend’s house for a play date.
When that happens, it’s important that your dog has good leash manners so they don’t hurt you by pulling expectantly, or hurt themselves by pulling too hard against their collar.
You especially don’t want your dog to jerk unexpectedly on their leash and manage to get away from you to chase a squirrel into traffic or out of sight through the neighborhood.
How to Leash Train Your German Sheppard
Start With the Right Tools
AnythingGermanShepherd recommends using a harness instead of a collar when walking any dog as a harness will give you better control and will prevent your dog from hurting themselves by straining their necks against their collars.
Harnesses are especially useful for large dogs who like to pull, but you need to use the right harness or you could make it easier for your dog to pull against the leash.
PetMD recommends using a front clip no-pull harness as a tool to help train your dog to walk properly on a leash.
These harnesses won’t solve all your leash problems on their own, but combined with the training methods below, they can help your dog learn leash manners faster while keeping them safe at the same time.
You need a leash that is strong enough to put up with some pulling from your German Shepherd until they leaner better manners.
You also need a leash that is the right length for training or walking. Preventative Vet has a great guide to help you pick the right leash for your dog.
Treats are an important part of any training. For leash training, be sure to have small pieces of high-value treats that your dog loves.
Any treats you use should be tempting enough to overcome the distractions that a walk offers, and easy for your dog to eat quickly while on the move.
The Treat Luring Method
This first method is great for dogs who are strongly food-motivated.
Start by attaching your dog to a six-foot leash, or leave them off-leash if you are working in an enclosed area.
Place a treat in your hand on the side you want your dog to walk. This is traditionally the left side, but you can choose whichever side you prefer.
Show your German Shepherd the treat, then hold it at hip height and give your dog the “heel” command. Once they are standing next to you with their head alongside your leg, give them the treat.
Next, add movement. If your dog follows by your side in the correct position, reward them with a treat. When first starting out, give a treat for every few steps followed in this position.
If your dog leaves your side or gets ahead of you, call them back and start the process over again. Don’t scold them for losing focus.
Once you can move together in a straight line, try adding in turns.
Once your dog gets the hang of walking and turning by your side, start phasing out the treats. Instead of holding them by your side, hold the treat near your face before giving it to your dog.
Once he gets the hang of this, hold the treat in your opposite hand, but still, the point at your face so your dog is looking at you while you walk. Eventually, you want your dog to walk by your side and look at you while walking without the treat being visible.
Once your dog can walk with you, start phasing out the treats entirely by offering them less frequently until you can walk together without the incentive.
The Start and Stop Method
This method is good if you want your dog to be able to walk with you calmly, but not necessarily stick to your side.
Start by putting your dog on a six-foot leash and placing treats in the pocket on the opposite side of where you want him to walk.
Have your dog stand by your side and start walking. If he stays by your side, give him a treat. If he moves ahead of you, stop moving. If he comes back when he reaches the end of the leash, give him a treat. If he doesn’t, call him back gently and give him a treat when he returns to your side.
Continue this process by walking as far as you can before your dog leaves your side. Continue to reward him with a treat every few steps and stop moving if he pulls away.
Once your dog can walk consistently by your side, you can choose to let him walk further down the leash if you prefer, and only call him back to your side if he reaches the end and starts to pull.
You can see how this method is supposed to work by watching this video from Chewy.
The Whirl Around Method
This method is a good way to redirect overly-energetic dogs or dogs who are very destination-focused.
Start by attaching your dog to a six-foot leash and stashing some good treats in your pocket. Have your dog walk by your side, and reward him if he stays with you and doesn’t try to pull ahead.
As soon as he does pull ahead, turn around and walk the opposite direction. Your dog may be reluctant to follow, but call his name and tug gently on the leash until he catches up. Then, reward him with a treat when he’s back by your side.
If he tries to pull away again, repeat the turning process, and only give rewards when he catches up to your side or every few steps that he stays with you.
German Shepherds are large dogs with lots of energy, which can be intimidating when it comes to trying to leash train them. Not walking your dog would be a big mistake, though, and German Shepherds are actually pretty easy to train once you know what you’re doing.
A few good treats, the right equipment, and a proper training method like the ones listed above should have your German Shepherd walking calmly by your side in no time.