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German Shepherd for an Older Person?

– Posted in: Dog Behavior Miscellaneous Articles, Newsletters

Dear John,

Some time ago, I was planning on getting a shepherd , it did not happen. I am now planning for that shepherd at the age of 65. Is this a good dog for me at my age? I have always owned Chow’s so am familiar with large strong dogs. I feel with the right help and accessories I can deal with a shepherd of any size. This is planned for spring so between now and then I would like to purchase your WadeCollar and whatever else I may need for the dog to be trained.

Thank you John.


Hi Betty,

Age is less a factor then is energy level, life style and handling ability. When you’re thinking of those factors you have to think in terms of the next 12ish years the approximate life span of a German Shepherd (unless you’re thinking of getting a German Shepherd that’s older in age.)

Another factor is that the bloodlines of German Shepherds have shifted a bit over the last decade or so, as the working lines that police have been importing for several years have seeped into the companion dog market and those dogs need to work, work, work. They’re my favourite kind of German Shepherd but they make for poor companion dogs for most people. You’ll want more of the watered down version I should think.

I can’t say that a dog’s physical and mental needs or its genetics vs a person’s are not a factor, however lets face it, once a dog hits 10 weeks of age most are going to be faster and more agile then a human being of any age. Good training is a mind “game as opposed to a “might is right” game or who has the best treats game.

By the time they’ve hit young adulthood, earlier in some breeds, some dogs are going to be physically stronger. This shouldn’t matter if you are following good training principles. It’s not how fast, strong, agile you are vs the dog, it’s how strong, fast and agile the dog you’re training ‘thinks’ you are. I don’t want you to get the idea that you’re using these psychological advantages in an overt way. It’s applied subtly. Causes no fear in the dog. You just ease them into it, a little here and a little there. Good training is never entirely dependent on heavy handed physicality and shouldn’t require the “yank and crank” you see in some training schools. It is however at least for the first bit of training a good idea to give the dog the impression of “Has she been working out?” In other words you want to influence perception even if the reality is different. (This is one of the motivations behind why puppies get so mouthy and pushy with each other (and their owners). They want to see how their “playmate” reacts and that gives them a sense as to who should be listening to who.)

I have a rhyme I teach clients. “If a dog can’t be caught, the dog can’t be taught.”, and “Give a dog a chance to think it’s stronger and it probably won’t listen to you much longer”. For the most part good training is a head game and if you stay away from might is right trainers and no behaviour can’t be solved when you’re all positive all the time trainers you’ll have a much better chance of convincing your pup that you are the teacher and they are the student.

If you’re going to be looking for a puppy be very careful as to where you decide to buy. You want an exceptional breeder. (1 in a 100) Someone that can show you examples of what your dog is going to be like in a few years because they can introduce you to people similar to you with siblings or half siblings from earlier litters. You want a breeder that has the pup well on the way to being entirely house and crate trained before you pick the dog up at 7 1/2 weeks of age.

You’ll need to set aside a fair amount of time between 7 1/2 and 12 weeks to continue with imprinting to take full advantage of the dog’s critical socialization period. If you have found a good breeder (1 in a 100) they will have already started this. I can send you great socialization cheat sheet I put together for clients so you can learn about what I’m talking about regarding socialization period. Most breeders and dog trainers are truly amateurs and think that socializing a puppy means going to puppy socialization classes which are a horrible idea. Critical socialization is what you’ll find in the in my  Socialize Your Puppy for Everything e-book and socialization cheat sheet.

To get a good dog you’ll have to start looking now. Here are the tasks I would recommend.

  1. Learn what a good breeder really is.
  2. Learn what critical socialization is and how important it is to you and your dog’s future. (I can send you my cheat sheet but I also have an inexpensive  e-book you can buy – Socialize Your Puppy for Everything. You’ll learn a lot and it will help you separate the good breeders (1 in a 100) from the bad and mediocre.
  3. Start searching for that good breeder.
  4. Picking the right pup or having the right pup selected for you. (Good breeders can help, bad breeders not so much)
  5. Start Critical Socialization at 7 1/2 weeks (picking up hopefully where the breeder has left off)
  6. Start House Training (again hopefully just picking up where the breeder has left off)
  7. Book an in-home training appointment with a true professional (the dog training world is similar to the dog breeding world) so that the visit coincides no earlier then 10 weeks of age. (Pups have a fear imprint stage starting at around 8 weeks of age and wrapping up around 10 weeks of age.)


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