by Brother Christopher
The German Shepherd is a very versatile dog. German Shepherds sniff out crime as police dogs, bring calm and security as therapy dogs, lead the sight-impaired, excel at search and rescue, and herd farm animals. And at the top of that resume, they're great family dogs.
The key to this dog's ability to adapt to many places and situations is its relationship with humans. That's what motivates German Shepherds. This is not an aloof breed. Your German Shepherd will be content in a city apartment or a 50-acre farm -- as long as he has a connection to you and can trust you as his leader.
Challenge Your German Shepherd Mentally
The German Shepherd needs stimulation to foster a bond with you. First, it's very important to ground a young Shepherd (about 4 to 8 months) in basic obedience training. But "Sit," "Come" and "Stay" will soon become dry and boring to a German Shepherd.
One of the things people marvel at about our dogs here at the monastery is how our Shepherds remain in a down-stay during our meals, which last 30 minutes. For the Shepherd, it's not a problem. This is a dog you can take to the highest levels of obedience training.
Manage Training Session Time Well
Because German Shepherds are so smart, they need more lessons to break the monotony of ordinary obedience. Keep obedience sessions short and frequent, and supplement them with play sessions. Fetching is great way to reinforce skills, and it also strengthens the dog-human relationship. Some other activities we encourage:
- Learning "place" at home (i.e., designating a spot for the dog to lie down)
- Walking off-lead in the woods with you firmly in command
- Walking in a pack in an orderly, controlled way
- Scent-related retrieving games
Build Your Relationship Too
The important thing to remember with Shepherds is keeping a balance between skill-building and relationship-building. We allow our dogs to sleep in our bedrooms. Again, it fosters that connection -- because the greater your dog's connection with you, the more he'll work on the skills you teach him.
Brother Christopher is a monk at the New Skete Monastery in Cambridge, N.Y., a monastic community of men and women of the Christian Orthodox faith that supports itself in part by breeding, raising and training German Shepherds. The monastery has published several books on raising and training dogs.
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