How to Deal with an Unruly German Shepherd Mix

German Shepherds (and most other working breeds) can be quite the handful. It’s not uncommon to have a German Shepherd who bites at clothing, plays rough, or doesn’t listen.

Let’s take a look at how to deal with this problem in our latest Ask a Trainer.

Dealing with unruly German Shepherds (and other breeds) is easiest with the help of a trainer. I can help – no matter where you live.

Want more on teaching impulse control and other real-life skills? We’ve got a product for that! Purchase our 29-page e-book, Polite Greetings and Life Skills 101.

I offer 15 minute behavior help calls1 hour calls, and month-long email support packages to suit your needs, no matter where you live.

In our most recent “Ask a Trainer” question, a reader asked,

“Hello. I recently adopted a around 2 year old lab/German Sheppard mix dog. He tends to bite at humans arms, hands, clothes when excited and will not stop when told to. As well he plays rough with others dogs. Also he doesn’t really listen when asked to come or stop his behavior. Is there anything I can do to stop this behavior or should I seek a professional trainers help due to his age? Thank you.”

Should I Hire a Trainer to Help With My German Shepherd?

I’m going to answer this question in three parts based on the three main problems. But first, I’ll answer the last question – “Should I seek a professional trainer’s help due to his age?”

In general, it’s much easier to work with behavior problems under the guidance of a trainer! Trainers and behavior consultants (like myself) have spent years reading, attending seminars, and working hands-on with thousands of dogs. Even if you’ve owned several dogs over your lifetime, you probably can benefit from the experience and knowledge of a trainer.

It’s like owning a car – I can tell when my car has a problem, and sometimes I can even tell what’s wrong. But aside from a few basic fixes, it’s probably best for me to get help even if I could learn myself with the help of the Internet!

If you’re not going to hire me for help, that’s ok. But I still recommend working with someone affiliated with the IAABC, PPG, or CCPDT. Dog training is kind of the Wild West as far as professions go, and any old person can call themselves a dog trainer.

Only hire a trainer who adheres to the Humane Hierarchy or LIMA. If your new trainer’s first suggestion is a training collar or corrections, find a new trainer.

Dealing With a German Shepherd that Bites Sleeves and Arms

It sounds like our writer’s two-year-old gets excited easily. This is very common for newly adopted dogs, working dogs, and two-year-olds. Our writer has all three of these!

Here’s how to help:

  1. Exercise the Dog Appropriately. For a dog of this age and this breed mix, this probably means at least an hour of hiking, running, walking (with plenty of time to sniff), training, nosework, or other exercises.
  2. (Triage): Throw Treats. If the dog is jumping and biting, don’t try to give commands just yet. Just throw treats onto the ground (called a “treat scatter”) and let that distract the dog. Walk away, close a door, or put the dog away.
  3. Stop Jumping and Biting Before it Starts. Figure out when your dog is most likely to jump, bite, and nip at you. Then avoid that situation. This might mean putting the dog on a leash when guests come over, installing a baby gate to keep your dog back until he’s calm when you come home from work, or other management solutions.
  4. Teach a New Strategy. Your dog is probably jumping and biting because he’s too excited and he really wants attention. Your scolding, pushing at him, et cetera is attention! Teach him a new way to get this. I prefer to teach my dog to hand target. Teach this so that your dog is really good at it before attempting to use it when your dog is excited.
  5. Put it All Together. Now that your dog is getting enough exercise and you know how to keep him away from you when he’s too excited, you can start practicing when he’s a bit more excited. Slowly add distraction and excitement to your training scenarios. Ensure that your dog can hand target reliably in exciting situations before trying to take it “live” and using it while you’re dog is jumping.

Want more on teaching impulse control and other real-life skills? We’ve got a product for that! Purchase our 29-page e-book, Polite Greetings and Life Skills 101.

What to Do When Your New Dog Plays Rough

Some dogs really enjoy rough-and-tumble play. The problem is that not all dogs enjoy this! Worse, many of the rough-and-tumble players aren’t good at “reading” the body language of their playmates when their friends aren’t having fun anymore.

As a human, it’s really hard to teach your dog appropriate play strategies.

Instead, I focus on finding a few friends for your dog so that they can learn to play well together.

Most dogs aren’t well-suited to the “rave like” atmosphere of a dog park. They’re too easily excited or startled to be trusted with a ton of strangers.

Find your German Shepherd mix a few good friends who can both tell him when they’ve had enough and enjoy his play style. Then schedule small play-dates with them instead of heading to the park!

Normal dog play can be pretty rough. If there’s good back-and-forth between the dogs, then it’s generally ok.

It’s ok if there’s chasing, some play growling, some biting, and so on if both dogs are doing it.

But if one dog is doing all of the growling, chasing, tackling, body slamming, or biting, it’s not fair play! Time to interrupt by gently pulling the “bully” dog away. Use a back-clip harness (with or without a leash) for this.

A good way to test if everyone is having fun is to remove the rougher dog from the melee.

If the other dog returns and keeps trying to play, everyone is having fun and it’s all good.

If the other dog says, “Phew! Thanks for getting me out of that!” Then it’s time to find a new playmate.

What to Do When Your Teenage Dog Doesn’t Listen

Since your dog is a newly adopted shelter dog AND a teenager (yep, even at two years old), it’s not surprising that he’s not a great listener.

It’s time to work on practicing a lot, using rewards to show your dog that listening to you is great.

Start teaching new skills in boring environments before adding any difficulty.

Don’t try to practice come when called at the dog park or “leave it” at a barbeque!

Instead, slowly modulate the Three D’s of Dog Training, one at a time:

  • Duration. Start with just a one-second sit-stay, for example.
  • Distraction. Start with changing up the rooms that you practice in. Then see if your dog can listen to a cue when your back is turned, when you’re sitting down, while a plane flies overhead, while a car drives by, while a dog walks by, etc.
  • Distance. Start just training while your dog is in front of you. Then practice while your dog is tied to a door and you’re three feet away, then six feet away, and so on.

If you haven’t practiced anything ike given training situation yet, it’s really likely that your dog won’t be able to listen when that happens! So if your dog can’t “come” around a bowl of kibble, he almost certainly can’t “come” when you’re at a party.

Try not to think of your dog as stubborn. It’s like learning any new skill – at first, it’s really hard to do it under pressure or when you’re excited! Even though I know what 7×4 is, it’s much easier for me to answer that question when I’m at home than if I’m in the middle of a tempo run or while driving through traffic.

If you do multiplication as part of your daily life, though, you will be better at performing this task under distraction than me!

Finally, be sure you’re motivating your dog properly. 

If you’re not rewarding him with food or something else awesome, he won’t keep listening – just like you wouldn’t show up to work if you weren’t getting paid.

To learn more about motivating your dog to listen, check out my blog post on dogs that don’t listen.

Dealing with unruly German Shepherds (and other breeds) is easiest with the help of a trainer. I can help – no matter where you live.

I offer 15 minute behavior help calls1 hour calls, and month-long email support packages to suit your needs, no matter where you live.

Want more on teaching impulse control and other real-life skills? We’ve got a product for that! Purchase our 29-page e-book, Polite Greetings and Life Skills 101.

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