Do you, like many others, have a large dog in a small space? If so, you have nothing to worry about. Dogs, like many other mammals, crave safety. The best way to offer your companion what he craves is to crate train him.
An adult German Shepherd Dog (GSD) can range anywhere from 80 to 120 pounds and can live just as comfortably in a one-bedroom apartment as he can in a five-bedroom house. This is why crate-training is so vital to a happy, emotionally-stable dog. An appropriate sized crate can offer your GSD his “haven.” A place he can curl up in to feel safe and, most importantly, happy. Which is why the crate must always be used as part of positive reinforcement training and never punishment. If your GSD connects the negativity in your voice to time spent in the crate, he will never willingly accept that it’s “OK” to go in it.
Crates are great for apartments dogs because they can act as your GSD’s “apartment” as well. You have your belongings in your home, why shouldn’t he also have a place to call home? If your GSD is still a puppy, use this golden opportunity to teach him all the things you want him to understand as an adult. The first and easiest way to introduce a new crate to a puppy is to feed him in it. Offering a positive thing (food) in the crate will automatically initiate those happy feelings you want your GSD to have while in his crate. Let him have his favorite toys in his crate and leave the door open after placing the toy inside. He will have to go in and get it, and when he does, reward him. Offer a soft blanket or pillow (monitor your pup to make sure all toys and blankets stay intact) to make the crate comfortable. Develop a routine that works best for both of you and stick to it. Go for walk at the same time every night or practice basic obedience repeatedly until treats have no bearing on the results. Dogs do best with consistency and when he can learn to expect what’s coming, the crate won’t be so scary. This means that sleeping on the bed with you is out of the question. Don’t worry though, I’ll get to that transition later. For now, sleeping in the crate every single night until he has a minimum of 6 months of drama-free nights is an easy guideline to follow.
One day your GSD will reach “crate-nirvana” and realize that big metal cage is actually his favorite place to hang out. One thing I did to make the crate more appealing was this: I covered the top and sides with a large tapestry so as to darken the inside (great for bedtime) and not reveal the “cage” appearance so much. Let’s face it, a dog crate isn’t the most aesthetically-appealing thing in the world. You can even get some plywood to cover the top and place some fabric over that to give yourself a hard surface to keep toys, bowls, and food/treats. The door was left open and within days whenever I couldn’t find Eli, he was curled up in his crate with his stuffed penguin. That moment is priceless and you’ll know that you’ve made a huge step towards having the most well-behaved dog in the neighborhood.
There’s another reason why crate-training and training your GSD to feel safe is so important. It keeps you safe too. When a dog feels safe and happy in your home, the natural urge to protect his territory begins to develop quickly. When he is bonded to you and to his “safe zone” and feels confident in his ability to protect what’s “his” there should ideally be no question as to how he would respond to a threat against that precious territory. After all, not a lot of people seek ownership of German Shepherds without being attracted to the safety factor. They are fiercely loyal and would go to any length to prove it, regardless of your address.