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Canine Behavior/a one year old German Shepherd?


Sher photo
Sher photo  
QUESTION: I got a one year old GSD from a friend, I'm having some issues with the dog, I think the reason is that his old owner didn't spend a good time with the dog and the dog didn't got any kind of training. When I got him to my home he was a fried and shy, I tried to feed him from my hand but he still feeling a fried from me, is that normal? if any strange person comes to my home he run away and hide? how can I make him feel more comfort for his new place? then how can I train him the commands, knowing the fact he didn't got any commands training? his name is Sher but when i call him he is not listing to me? if I want to change his name is it to late to do so or not? is it to late to train him on the commands? is it to late to give him the correct training to be a house guarding dog?


ANSWER: Thank you for your question. He's a beautiful dog.

GSDs are naturally quite wary about the world around them and do tend to spook easily. This is one of the reasons why people like them as guard dogs. But it means that you must work extra hard to help him feel comfortable in his home and with his people and with invited guests.

The best home guard dogs, really, are those who have a tight bond to their family and get to spend as much time as possible with their human family and are extremely well socialized and quite comfortable with visitors. That may sound counter intuitive because you want him to be a guard dog for those people who are not invited guests. But if we really think about this - 99% of the people entering your home will be invited and welcome. Therefore, we don't really want to leave it up to the dog to decide who is a friend and who is a potential threat. If the dog expects everyone to be a friend, but then you or someone else he knows is acting afraid - the dog will pick up on this and likely also react to that perceived threat.

The short answer to your question is that it's still very possible to help him feel comfortable with you and your family and to teach him all sorts of skills. However, please keep in mind that this dog's nature when frightened is to run and hide. His nature is not to fight first and ask questions later. That means that for the strict purpose of guarding the house, he is not a suitable candidate. If your only goal is to have a dog who will attack potential threats, then you need to seek out a dog whose instincts is to move toward the threat - bark/threaten as opposed to run and hide. And even then, you still want that dog to be very well socialized and to assume everybody is a friend until you tell him otherwise.

That last bit is important. If your dog is deciding who is a threat and who isn't, or if he assumes everyone is a threat until you tell him otherwise, you set yourself up for some serious liability issues that dog will be quite likely to cause damage to people when you don't want him to. Much better for the dog to believe all people are his friend, but when he's scared or sees you're scared he's likely to threaten rather than cower.

Now, if your aim for Sher is to be a family pet who is also intimidating to strangers, then you may be able to work well with him - even with his shy nature.

You will need to go back and do some remedial socialization to help him feel comfortable with you, your family and the world around him. The best skills to teach a guard dog are a solid Sit/Stay a few feet behind you, a bark on cue and a quiet on cue. The word you use for the cues can be anything you like, so you can choose intimidating sounding words so that the person you're trying to scare will believe your dog is under complete control and a trained attack dog.

I frequently guide clients to teach the Sit/Stay about 5 feet behind the client while the client is at the front door. Use a phrase like "First Warning" as the cue for the dog to start barking and a phrase like "Stand down" to quiet the dog. For any stranger, seeing a GSD sitting still and then barking continuously from that seated position and then quiet when told to... that is likely enough to turn away anyone threatening you.

To help Sher feel safer in his world, I recommend you seek out books or in-person guidance from a local dog professional who is familiar with counter conditioning.

Some of my favorites are:
The Cautious Canine - How to Help Dogs Conquer Their Fears , by Patricia McConnell

I recommend On Talking Terms with Dogs - Calming Signals , by Turid Rugaas to every single client I have. Understanding how to read your dog's much more subtle signals will open up a whole new world of communication and you'll be able to tell when your dog is feeling anxious or nervous well before he feels a need to run and hide (sudden startles being the exception), and this can guide you to intervene and either adjust the environment or help him make new associations that are positive and not scary.

Help for Your Fearful Dog: A Step-by-Step Guide to Helping Your Dog Conquer His Fears , by Nicole Wilde

There's a DVD of a seminar by Dr. Sophia Yin (world renowned veterinary behaviorist) called Dog Aggression: From Fearful, Reactive and Hyperactive to Focused, Happy and Calm

It runs 3.5 hours and may be a bit dry for the average pet owner. But it should have good examples including video clips demonstrating techniques to help dogs feel safer about their environments.

These will be a great place to start. The main thing with fearful dogs is to give them plenty of space (a place to escape to if they feel they need more space, so don't trap in him a small room or a corner - work in an open space where he can choose to move away if he needs to. And also give them plenty of time. Being quietly encouraging and patient with him, will go a long way toward building his trust in you.

Instead of trying to feed him by hand, Sit on one side of the room or yard and toss a kibble or bite of food to him. Toss it close enough to him that he doesn't need to come closer to you to get it. Then, after he eats that bite and looks at you, toss another bite. Toss a bite a few feet away from him - but still not so that he has to move closer to you. Then toss a bite a few feet closer to you, but plenty far that he's comfortable. Then... toss a bite BEHIND HIM so that he is moving away from you to get that bit of food. By tossing food behind him we do 2 things: first, we reduce the social pressure by giving him more space. We also set him up further away from you so he can now decide if he wants to move toward you. If he does, GREAT! toss a bite of food directly to him a couple times and then toss a bite behind him again so we again reduce that social pressure and give him the choice to come closer to you or not.

As he gets comfortable, you'll find that he'll move closer and closer and eventually be comfortable eating right near you and then out of your hand. Patience and quiet encouragement and no pressure on him to do something that frightens him is the best way to build his confidence.

If you seek out local professional help, be sure that they use a force-free, positive reinforcement approach to training. Do not work with anyone who uses aversive or coercive tools or approaches. Do not work with anyone who tells you to use a choke chain (infinite slip collar/Check Chain), prong/pinch collar or any electronic collar that vibrates, uses static shock or citronella. Each of these tools will only serve to further heighten your dog's fear. They will not help him feel confident. Don't work with anyone who will strike your dog (poke, hit, kick, throw to the ground or otherwise assault your dog) as that will also increase his fear and is most likely to result in your dog either completely shutting down (just living in terror and cowering all the time) or creating a reactive dog who will attack at any time, without warning and no matter who it is....

By focusing on staying force free and creating positive associations for him, he will learn that you are safe, your family is safe and his environment is safe. He may never feel brave enough or confident enough to be a true guard dog, though. So if that is your main purpose, then I encourage you to find him a home where he can be a great family pet, but not have the pressure of having to fend off intruders, while you look for a dog who is more confident, or at least who is more prepared to offer a threat when frightened than one whose instinct is to flee when frightened.

I hope this proves helpful. Please feel free to followup if I can be of any further assistance.

Los Angeles Behavior Specialist

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QUESTION: Dear Jody:
Thank you so much for your answer, it really help me to understand how the dog can feel comfortable with me and my family, I will look for these books as I believe most of the professional we have here in Iraq are hitting the Dogs which is something that I don't want my dog to face.

So if he start feeling comfortable with us, then he will start listening to us right?

So it's not late to train him the dog commands? is it possible for me to change his name? is he going to be familiar with his new name if I will change his name?


It's never too late to teach a dog new skills - especially when you're using kindness, cooperation and force free, positive reinforcement techniques.

You can absolutely teach your dog a new name. It's actually pretty easy.

1. Say the name you want him to respond to.
2. The moment he looks in your direction, toss him a bite of something he thinks is super tasty - a bite of cooked meat or a piece of cheese is usually best.
3. Repeat - when he's looking elsewhere, say the name you want him to respond to and when he looks at you or moves toward you, reward him.

If he doesn't respond when you say his new name, then get his attention in some other way.

Example: Fido.... (he doesn't look at me and it's been 2 seconds), I make kissy noises or whistle lightly or hum or say something like "yoo-hoo" in a sweet, high-pitched, inviting tone. The dog looks at me and I say, "Yea!" and toss him a treat.

After just a few repetitions (maybe a dozen), you'll start to see him respond faster and faster to this new name. Within a few days, he should be readily responding to that new name because you've taught him that when you say that word, it pays for him to respond to it.

Dr. Ian Dunbar (founder of the Association for Professional Dog Trainers and pioneer of force free training) uses the following method for training ALL skills:

1. Tell the dog what you'd like him to do - give the cue (e.g. Sit, Down, Come, his name, etc). Then wait for 2 full seconds to see if the dog will comply

2. Lure the Behavior (help him succeed by using a food or toy lure to help the dog do the behavior you're teaching.

3. The dog DOES the desired behavior

4. Mark it (say 'Yes') and reward the dog with a bite of food and praise.

As the dog learns the skill and is demonstrating so by doing the behavior with the verbal command - before you have to lure him, then you change up how you praise and reward. At that point, if he does the behavior on verbal-only cue, he gets a big reward (the tastiest treats or play with the favorite toy or the favorite activity with you such as a belly rub, or an outing or whatever your dog loves) and a big verbal praise - "Oh my gosh! You're amazing!!! You are soooo smart!!! I love you so much!!!"

If he needs to be lured with an empty hand (just the hand signal, but no food or toy to lure), he gets a medium verbal praise ("That was pretty good!!! Good job!" and medium reward - a medium value treat or toy or activity.

If he needs to be lured with food or toy to get the behavior, then the praise is "thank you. Now let's do that again." No reward...

This reward commensurate to performance is for once the dog KNOWS the skill. In the beginning we want to have a very high treat frequency and so we want to reward each time he does the behavior, but we want to give him a chance on each request to show us if he knows the word yet, so we always tell him and then wait 2 seconds to see if he'll do it.

You may find a couple of books helpful for teaching you how to teach him basic obedience skills...

After You Get Your Puppy , by Dr. Ian Dunbar

Perfect Puppy in 7 Days , by Dr. Sophia Yin

Both of these will be relevant, even though he's already a year old. The training for the skills is the same.

Another one you may like is Grisha Stewarts, The Official Ahimsa Dog Training Manual: A Practical, Force-Free Guide to Problem Solving and Manners

These three books should set you up nicely for learning how to teach your dog basic obedience skills without the help of a local professional if they're using more forceful techniques than we want with this fearful dog.

You may also find some good youtube videos from these three authors that have demos. You can also check out some of my demo videos on my youtube channel. I don't have as many as some of these more prolific authors, but there are a few intro-to-training demos that you may find useful there.

Good luck. Let me know how it's going in a few weeks. :-)

Los Angeles Behavior Specialist

Canine Behavior

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Jody Epstein, MS, CPDT-KA


IF YOU BELIEVE YOUR DOG IS ILL OR INJURED, PLEASE CONTACT YOUR LOCAL VETERINARIAN IMMEDIATELY. THIS IS NOT THE FORUM TO ADDRESS URGENT MEDICAL ISSUES. I AM NOT A LICENSED VET AND HAVE NO DIAGNOSTIC SKILLS. ***I have been answering questions on All Experts for over 8 years now. I enjoy being able to offer assistance in this forum. I do need to be clear, though. If you’re looking for free advice about a specific behavior question, you MUST submit your question to me via All Experts. If you bypass All Experts and write to me directly through my website, I will ask you to submit via All Experts. On the flip side, if you’re local to Los Angeles and you wish to speak to me privately about an in person consultation, please go through my website. I appreciate your assistance in keeping my volunteer work on the volunteer site.*** I can answer questions about the following canine behavior issues: obedience, timid/fearful & fear-based aggression, nuisance behaviors, families that are expanding with either new human or new animal members and many other issues. If you have potty training questions please first read my trio of blogs at If you still have questions after reading the blogs you can post your specific questions here. PLEASE be as specific as possible when asking a question. Give me a detailed example of the situation - dog's behavior, body language, circumstances surrounding the issue, what the consequences are (another dog's response, your response), etc. I can only provide insight if I can get a picture of the whole scenario. If I ask for further details, please provide them. In person I would normally observe for at least 90 minutes to assess the situation and the dynamics before offering tools and suggestions to modify it. In writing it is ever so much more difficult. Thank you for your participation in the process.


I have been a professional obedience trainer for 9 years, and specializing in behavior modification for 8 years. I have owned dogs my entire life. I own my own dog training and behavior modification business called Nutz About Mutz.

I am a Certified Profession Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA), #2133301 ; I am a member in good standing with the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT), #77763 ; I am an AKC certified Canine Good Citizen evaluator (CGC), #71253

Publications ; ; Multiple articles in the local pet magazine Pet Press (found across Southern California)

I have a masters degree (MS) in Animals and Public Policy, with a minor in Animal Behavior, from Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. I also have 3 years of graduate education in Animal Behavior and Learning from UM-Missoula and UL-Lafayette. I continue to educate myself to canine-specific behavior through extensive reading, online interactive workshops, vidoes and attending canine behavior conferences, workshops and seminars. Beginning in March, 2017, I will be the Behavior & Training Manager at Second Chance Center for Animals in Flagstaff, AZ.

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