Should you train your German Shepherd for therapy work yourself?
Great question, my friend.
The answer is, it depends! (Surprise!)
What You Need From Your German Shepherd
A German Shepherd is only as good as her temperament. Temperament testing is extremely important. A dog with any aggression or fear is not a good candidate for therapy, generally even if you’re a fabulous trainer.
A German Shepherd that has passed a thorough temperament test, has never shown aggression toward any group of people (men, women, children of ALL colors, shapes and sizes and clothing) and is outgoing and friendly without being overbearing is a great candidate for therapy work.
You really have to be careful about this. German Shepherds are wonderful dogs, but if something goes wrong, you can be in big trouble, so before you start putting work into training. Make sure your dog is right for it.
If your dog is aggressive or fearful in any way, please do not attempt therapy training yourself.
What You Need From Yourself
Good Treatment of Your Dog
You need patience and kindness when training, especially a therapy dog. If you have a temper, if you kick or smack your dog, plan on training with harsh punitive methods (pinch, choke or zap collars), you should not be training your dog… at all, really.
Because you can cause fear in your German Shepherd.
For example, when your dog barks at something and you zap her, often the object that caused the barking is what then promotes the fear of the zap, causing…. more barking when the shock collar is not on/working.
If your dog doesn’t heel because she’s looking at a person passing by and you yank her pinch collar, will she understand it was the not heeling that caused the pressure/pain and not the person? Hard to say.
Positive training yields great results because your German Shepherd doesn’t learn to associate anything with pain, she learns exactly what you expect from her to get a treat and there’s only happy memories involved. Eventually she learns to do things based on habit, so you don’t have to drag treats everywhere with you.
Do you have the time to train your dog or puppy?
We’re talking taking your dog out every day for socialization and practicing training several times a day. You’ll have to invite people to visit your house, to get in your car, you’ll have to go to their house (I mean, they can be people you know of course, but they should be people your dog doesn’t know) to pet and hug and snuggle your dog while you praise and reward her.
Your dog has to be reliable anywhere you go, so it will require time on your part to make sure she is. Once she is, you’ll still have to keep on it to make sure she doesn’t get rusty.
Have you gone through training classes before?
If you haven’t trained before, you might need someone to watch your work to tell you if you’re doing something wrong or to help you if you’re having trouble.
ComeHereBoy is planning on offering online therapy dog training courses in the future with videos and support for people of all skill levels, so even if you don’t have a trainer you trust nearby (or if you don’t want to spend five billion dollars on a group training class) you can train your dog yourself.
If you have trained before, things will be much easier and you can most likely train your dog on your own. However, sometimes people (like me… that’s part of the reason I started this site. haha) need accountability for their training and need a course to follow even though they know what they’re doing.
So Who Can Train Their German Shepherd For Therapy Work On Their Own?
Anyone of any skill level who has a German Shepherd with a steady temperament as long as they follow some sort of course of study. Everyone should use a checklist and an observant, neutral helper to evaluate, in the end, but otherwise you can do it yourself. It might not be easy, necessarily, but you can do it.
Why would you choose to train your German Shepherd on your own instead of with a trainer? Or would you never do such a thing? I’m curious, so let me know in the comments.