To help you build the BEST relationship with your German Shepherd Dog!
==> German Shepherds are very special in their own right
The German Shepherd breed is as distinguished as a composition of Giacomo Puccini
Core Areas of German Shepherd Psychology
If you love your dog a LOT, you may feel closely related to your dog, so close that you may often feel that you two share quite a bit of the same psychology, right?
However, believe it or not, there ARE a few differences between your German Shepherd and yourself.
Or, for that matter, more often misunderstood, between your German Shepherd and your children: Because too many dog owners treat their dog (particularly their puppy) like they treat or would treat their children. Which is very wrong indeed.
Let's look in this PERIODICAL at some core aspects of the psychology of the German Shepherd dog breed, because you have to
Difference between dog genetics and dog psychology
As a baseline, German Shepherd dogs are fearless, energetic, intelligent and protective. But, while some of the German Shepherd traits are genetic, others are the result of the environment we are providing to our GSD. All these factors impact on our dog's psychology, expressed in its daily behavior.
Dog Psychology = All of the dog's genetic and environmental traits that manifest in behavior
Therefore it's helpful that we always learn more about our German Shepherd, so that we can become a better caretaker day by day. And so that your dog can become a better caretaker of you too.
To start with, just try for a moment to IMAGINE yourself in your GSD's place, to connect with the dog's psychology. We will start with the rather general and obvious areas, and then smoothly expand this to the more specific and inconspicuous areas.
German Shepherd Dog Psychology
Much simplified, we can start off by saying: The German Shepherd dog has needs and traits like every other domesticated dog, but more extreme. This becomes apparent already with the first facet of the dog's psychology:
While every modern domesticated dog still inherits from its wild-dog ancestors the genetic NEED to be the accepted part of a pack, for the GSD this need is more pronounced because the GSD is a herding dog, and the herd (sheep etc) always has been the dog's pack (together with the shepherd).
But it goes further: What makes domesticated dogs domestic is that they have acquired a genetic NEED to be not just the accepted part of any pack, but the accepted part of a human Pack!
This need for a human Pack in order to stay mentally healthy and balanced is unique in the animal world (as far as I know): No other animal, not even the chimpanzee, needs us humans to stay mentally healthy. Quite the contrary: The presence of humans with their hectic, erratic, and emotional behaviors makes many animals sick.
Now again, this NEED to be the accepted part of a human Pack is much more pronounced in the GSD than it is in other dog breeds like say the Poodle, Terrier or Rottweiler. The experience of its pack structure in a human Pack gives the GSD peace, position, confidence and a sense of belonging. A German Shepherd does not like to be alone.
Does not "like" to be? No, that was the wrong wording. A GSD genetically NEEDS a human Pack to stay healthy. Not feeling to belong to a Pack makes this dog anxious, fearful and aggressive. A GSD feels particularly incomplete without its Pack.
But it goes even further: Like all domesticated dogs and their wild ancestors too(!), the GSD does not just seek to be the accepted part of a human Pack, but to be the accepted Pack leader. The leader of your family, oh yes! Again, this trait is particularly pronounced in the German Shepherd dog breed.
We will of course get back to this in future Periodicals, but let me make clear already here: To have the BEST relationship with your GSD (see our mission statement that you already read on the subscribe page!), you must not let your GSD dominate your family Pack in any way! - Instead, make your GSD an equal part of your family, except as regards food and feeding (see in a future Periodical, why and how).
So, make your dog feel accepted, make your dog feel integrated, but do not let your dog feel (s)he's the boss in the family:
Give your dog space, responsibility, care, and love beyond feeding and walking your dog. Never exclude your GSD from the family happenings, but don't make your dog the center of the attention either. To match the German Shepherd dog psychology, most of the time an equal treatment in the family Pack is best (with the exception mentioned above).
Guarding the herd
Deep engrained in the German Shepherd breed is its instinctive desire to GUARD. This is the result of this dog's genetic roots - the guarding of a herd of sheep. For today's domesticated German Shepherds, the 'herd' is your family, the dog's Pack. Your GSD needs to feel to have your 'permission', and (s)he needs to have the chance (the degree of freedom!) to GUARD your family.
So, once completelyhouse trained, let your dog have free run of the house and premises. Then you will often notice that your dog is trying to 'collect' the 'herd': The GSD is trying to bring all family members together. (S)he will walk around the house to locate every family member and will give them a nudge to move about, towards the others.
Again, this sense of integration is more pronounced with the GSD than with other breeds. Inclusiveness is an important part of the German Shepherd dog psychology: The GSD desires to include and take care of all sheep, ie all family members. Very unlike most other dog breeds (its closest psychological neighbors in this regard are the Collie and the Spaniel). Unless you (or the prior owner/breeder) UNtrained your dog its instinctive behavior, your GSD will frequently reveal its genetic roots and its psychology through its daily behavior.
UNtrained, you may wonder? Can it not be that my breeder "UNbred" this trait through selective breeding?
No, I would argue. Definitely not. Here's why: The breed-specific character traits that we know of various dog breeds today did not just 'suddenly' emerge on the date a breed (any breed!) was officially established, ie registered by a "kennel club" - which for the German Shepherd Dog would be just 120 years ago. No, the breed-specific character traits like those discussed here have been selectively "raised" in each dog breed and their ancestors for thousands of years!
But the "modern" GSD only became a "couch dog" in the last 60 or so years (and only in certain "yuppie" countries anyway). Genetically it is not possible to change fundamental character traits in this short period of time. - But this does not mean that you, the prior owner, or breeder cannot have trained your dog in a way that made certain GSD-typical characteristics become almost unnoticeable.
Need of Alpha leader
The prior point is closely related to this next point. Continue to IMAGINE yourself in your GSD's place for a moment... ie think you are a dog.
In the world of your German Shepherd, the status of Alpha (leader) is significant. Like ALL dogs, (s)he sees the world in the way of being either dominant or submissive. In the psychology of dogs there is no concept of "two even partners". This is a human concept!
However, the psychology of a GSD comes almost closest to this human concept: Maybe just behind the Collie, the German Shepherd is easiest with accepting an even partner, and being treated like an even partner - without the resulting behavior problems that this would entail with other dog breeds. Again, unless you (or the prior owner/breeder) UNtrained your dog this genetic component of its psychology - eg through excessive focus on "Obedience Training" methods.
This is what too many GSD owners get wrong: To strike the right balance between giving their GSD the necessary freedom to play its role as guardian of the family Pack, and nonetheless maintaining the Alpha role at all times (the Pack leader position).
Again, maintaining the Alpha role at all times does not mean that you shouldn't strive for a pretty much equal position with your GSD, but it means that you should nonetheless establish yourself as the accepted Pack leader in your dog's family Pack - the one who ultimately determines what happens when: whether it's about giving attention, feeding the dog, throwing a ball, or whatever.
When you become your GSD's Alpha, your dog will experience you as a source of confidence and positive energy. This is crucial support for the German Shepherd in order to be able to guard all its 'sheep' - which is a huge management exercise already for a human shepherd, and more so, for a dog shepherd!
Note that GSDs generally have a strong willingness to follow you - if you are the accepted Alpha. Because then they respect you as the 'shepherd', and they are eager to fulfil their role as guardian of the 'sheep' (ie of all family members).
*** But maybe you are worried that if you establish yourself too much as the Alpha leader, your dog might not guard (protect) you too? ***
Indeed, this is a common question of many GSD owners. Some of them even express:
"I got the German Shepherd to protect ALL of us in the family, including myself. I fear that if I become too dominant then our dog might think that I can, or should, look after myself in the face of danger, because I am the 'boss'."
You need not worry about this! Yes, your GSD would still guard and protect you too when you are in need (unless of course you have treated your dog badly with harsh methods of "Obedience Training"!). You may or may not have noticed that on a meadow the shepherd dog is not only circling the sheep but also the shepherd himself. - To guard its entire pack is engrained in the German Shepherd psychology! And the accepted Alpha is considered part of the pack too.
As said above, 'guarding the herd' and the 'need of an Alpha leader' are closely related:
If you are the accepted Alpha, your German Shepherd will always look for your instructions, PRAISE, and APPROVAL. Note that the word 'instructions' is in small letters, while the words 'PRAISE' and 'APPROVAL' both are in capital letters. - Why I did this?
Because your GSD - once fully trained indoors (see the House Training guide) and fully trained outdoors (see the Leash Training guide) - will need fairly few 'instructions', what to do, where, and when. The German Shepherd is a very autonomous, self-organized breed. In fact, I don't know of any other dog breed that is as autonomous and self-organized as the GSD is. Hence 'instructions' in small letters.
Conversely, the GSD needs a lot of PRAISE and a lot of APPROVAL. Compare the 'job' of your dog (to manage all the 'sheep', ie the family members) to the job of the CEO of a company (who also manages all the 'sheep', ie the staff). Being the manager of everything, the CEO's most likely chance to get PRAISE is to collect it eagerly at home from the spouse, and to get APPROVAL he hires 'Business Consultants' and 'Auditors' and makes the shareholders pay them for confirming that HE did a great job...
Now if you don't PRAISE your GSD and APPROVE its actions, who will? No one will!
And like the CEO cannot stay sane without at least the PRAISE of the spouse, and cannot stay in the job without the APPROVAL of his actions (towards the shareholders and the media), the GSD cannot stay sane and remain the family dog if you don't PRAISE your dog and APPROVE its actions. Frequently.
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Disclaimer: Always apply your own common sense when you follow anyone's suggestions. As much as your dog is special (s)he may react different too.
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