The German Shepherd breed was developed over 100 years ago, as the name suggests, for herding sheep. That activity is less common in the world today, but the basic skills are still much in demand.
GSDs, as they’re sometimes known, will patrol a border for hours, keeping strangers at bay and protecting those within. Seeing some dogs roam back and forth along a fence would suggest a mental problem, or at least a high level of frustration. But German Shepherds enjoy routine, never tire of doing their jobs and thrive when they have a role that keeps them active.
Their training should work with that nature, not against it. While German Shepherds can be content to sit and stay for long periods, a certain amount of activity keeps them mentally and physically healthy.
At around three months, a German Shepherd is ready to begin more than just ‘sit, stay, heel’ though those should be part of the routine. Start slowly, keeping in mind that their bones are still developing. Still, early obstacle course training can begin at that time. Learning to navigate through barriers, and finding a desired object at the end, isn’t just for police dogs. It can keep even a household companion alert and satisfied.
Take care not to stress their hindquarters and joints excessively, however. The dog should be chosen from a line that lacks Hip or Elbow Dysplasia, but the condition is possible even when undetected in ancestors. Look for any sign of weakness in running and jumping, which will sometimes manifest itself as early as six months of age.
As your German Shepherd matures, they can take on more strenuous tasks. At 6-8 months, they are not far from entering their ‘early teen years’. Their minds and bodies have developed to the point that more complex routines and active tasks are possible.
A mile-long gentle run, a short hike up hills, or a 10 minute game of Frisbee are good exercise for your dog by this time. At the same time, you can begin to train their minds for taking on more complicated jobs. Even non-working dogs do well when their minds are stimulated. Training them to fetch a newspaper, locate and return a favorite toy or open a door can start now.
By the time your German Shepherd reaches 18 months to 2 years of age, they are mature enough to take on any training regimen. The actual training will take weeks or months depending on the ultimate goal and continues for years. But they can do just about anything you ask by now. Many drug sniffing dogs, guard dogs, guide for the blind dogs and others with regular jobs are at work by this age.
Work with your German Shepherd every day, for at least an hour if you can. They learn quickly, but even the best of breeds needs regular reinforcement, especially at the younger age periods.