How to Keep a German Shepherd Busy While You’re at Work


While we’d all love nothing more than to stay home with our German Shepherds and play all day, the real world doesn’t work that way.

Since most of us have to work or attend school most of the week, that means we’ll have to leave our GSDs at home once in a while.

That’s why it’s imperative to have a list of awesome things to do for your dog while you are away. Not only will these suggestions entertain your dog, but they’ll help keep Fido out of trouble, too.

Why You Need to Entertain Your German Shepherd While You’re at Work

Nobody likes to be bored, not even dogs. As a human, you can leave the house and seek exciting new adventures all on your own when boredom rears its ugly head.

However, your dog is probably stuck at home when you have to leave for work or school. While it might be fine to take a nap or two each day while he waits for you to come back, there are still many hours left in the day where a bored GSD can get himself into some mischief.

Sometimes that mischief can result in expensive damage to your home and belongings!

GSDs Need Stimulation

As working dogs, the German Shepherd has a strong need for activities that work his mind and his body. He needs to feel useful, helpful, and appreciated.

German Shepherds are also one of the most intelligent and most social dog breeds you can own.

Because of these aspects, bored GSDs can cause a lot of damage to a home if they’re not given enough stimulation in your absence.

They’re not trying to be naughty; they’re just bored out of their minds.

Thankfully, it’s pretty easy to provide appropriate activities and interesting puzzles for your dog while you’re away.

With a little forethought and some simple additions to your household or routine, you can keep your pup or older dog happy, healthy, and out of trouble until you get home.

Do GSDs Get Separation Anxiety?

It’s true that most damage done by GSDs while you’re at work is caused by boredom, but there is another problem that might be more pressing.

As social animals, dogs can be prone to separation anxiety. What does that mean?

Separation anxiety is fairly common in German Shepherds. When a German Shepherd, or any other dog, suffers separation anxiety, they become sad, scared, or otherwise upset about the absence of their human companions.

This can result in behavior problems such as barking, howling, and crying for hours, which can be disturbing to neighbors.

Separation anxiety can also cause a dog to begin tearing up and chewing your belongings—shoes, clothes, and even your furniture, for example. It can also be so stressful for a GSD that he begins to have accidents in the house.

How Do GSDs End up with Separation Anxiety?

Separation anxiety is seen quite often in young puppies, though it’s not necessarily a natural issue. It tends to happen in puppies that have been pampered and “spoiled” during their early weeks in their new homes.

The pups get used to this royal treatment and showers of love and affection. While there is nothing wrong with loving on your puppy, it’s wise to remember that they are dogs and need to be trained, too.

It’s important to note that many pups outgrow separation anxiety all on their own or with the help of loving humans and good training.

The sad truth is that some never do. An adult dog with separation anxiety can be a real handful, but more importantly, it’s scary and stressful for the dog to feel this way. 

They may begin to feel like a “bad dog” and may start to show signs of depression. They may see the separation as punishment, or they may become overly worried about you.

After all, the German Shepherd takes great pride and enjoyment in being your companion and protector. What happens when you’re not there to protect?

There Is Hope for GSDs with Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety is stressful for humans and dogs. Thank goodness there is help for separation anxiety though, and it’s not as tough as you may think.

Keeping your German Shepherd active and busy can help relieve a lot of anxiety all on its own.

The tips below are designed to entertain, teach, and stimulate your dog even when you’re not home. But they are also great ways to help anxious dogs feel safer and more in control while you are away.

Basically, you’re giving them a job to do until you get back. And that is exactly what GSDs love most: working!

How to Keep a GSD Busy

There are many healthy ways to keep a GSD busy. Some involve a little extra effort on your part and some may require new toys or special equipment.

The most important aspect, however, is that you tailor your efforts to your specific dog’s needs.

Not every suggestion will work for every dog or household, so be ready to try different approaches to find the perfect mix for your German Shepherd.

Keeping a GSD Busy Starts Before You Leave

Keeping a GSD busy while you are at work or school actually starts while you’re still home.

In this phase, you’ll begin teaching your GSD puppy that it’s okay to be alone and what behaviors are expected of her while you are gone.

GSD puppy in a crate missing its owner

There are many ways to do this, but here are some suggestions to get you started.

  • Crate train your GSD early. Crate training helps dogs learn that the crate is their safe space.

    Do not use the crate for punishment. Always make crate time fun with toys, treats, soft bedding, and praise. As den animals, GSDs appreciate having a private, safe space such as a crate to help relax and reduce stress.
  • Section off a part of your house for alone time. Your GSD should be taught that certain areas of your home are safe.

    This is a lot like the crate suggestion above, but it allows for more space to play and stretch out.

    This can be a bathroom, laundry room, or bedroom, for example. Start by using a baby gate, not shutting the door. This allows your pup to still see you, even if she can’t reach you.
  • Start slowly, leaving your GSD alone in a crate or safe zone for just a few minutes.

    Leave a treat or new toy with her, some food, water, and soft bedding, then walk away for 3 – 5 minutes. Do this several times in a row, piling on the praise and love when you return.

    After a few days, extend the time you leave your GSD alone, but always come back and give tons of love.
  • Don’t always entertain or interact with your German Shepherd while you’re home.

    If you show your dog early on that it’s okay to find safe and appropriate ways to stay busy without your help, he’ll be less likely to behave poorly when you do need to leave. 

By starting this training young, you are teaching your GSD to entertain himself while you’re away for short periods.

When you leave toys, food, water, and soft bedding with your German Shepherd in his safe area, you are teaching him which objects are his, too.

Play Hard Before You Leave

GSD puppy playing with toy in yard

A good way to help prevent separation anxiety and to help your dog stay happy while you’re gone is to play hard before you leave. This can be a long walk or job, a rousing game of fetch, or a few rounds on an agility course.

Whatever it is that your German Shepherd likes to do for fun with you, do that before you need to leave for work or school.

By playing hard, you’re working out your dog’s body and mind, leaving her ready for a long nap and relaxing day while you’re gone.

Begin this routine well before you have to start leaving your GSD alone every day.

Follow up your hard playtime with alone time, and you’ll b sending a message to your GSD that this is a good, healthy, and positive way to behave.

Stay Calm When You Leave

When the big day comes and you actually have to leave for real, your dog may not be the only one that’s upset or worried.

Since dogs are pack animals, they can sense your stress level and your anxiety.

Try to remain calm. Don’t act like it’s the end of the world as you walk through the door.

If you’re in tears, your dog is going to start acting up, too. Instead of being dramatic about it, just give your dog a normal amount of affection, put him in his safe zone or crate, and then leave.

Do not look back, do not open the door to check on him; just go. The calmer you are during departure, the less likely it will be that your dog will become anxious.

How to Keep a German Shepherd Busy While You’re Gone

With the right training and preparation, it’s much easier to keep a German Shepherd busy and happy while you’re gone.

If you followed some of the suggestions above, you should be well on your way to achieving dog parent nirvana.

You’re now ready to dive into the specifics of keeping your GSD busy while you’re away for a while, not just a few minutes at a time.

Rotate Toys

It’s vitally important to keep your GSD busy with new and exciting things while you’re away.

If you don’t, they’ll find their own new and exciting things to play with – things like your expensive running shoes, your new gaming headset, or that pretty new rug in front of the shower.

To keep your GSD busy while you’re at work, start a toy rotation system. It can be as simple as a box of toys in the closet that gets switched out every week or month.

Simply pick up the old toys and put them in a box, then bring the new box down. In another month, you can do the switch again.

It’s the same toys in the rotation, but your dog will see them as new and exciting after being out of sniffer range for so long.

Keep it interesting by adding a brand-new toy every week or so, just to keep Spot on his toes.

Don’t Neglect the Favorites

Frequent toy rotations are the easiest, cheapest, and simplest way to keep a GSD busy while you’re gone. But we can’t ignore the appeal of old favorites.

If your German Shepherd is attached to one or two specific toys, keep them out of the rotation. Those are the perfect comfort objects and should always be available and within reach.

Some common favorite toys include rope toys, stuffed animals, and refillable treat toys.

Just keep an eye on your dog and see which toys she gravitates to during sleepy, relaxed times. Those are the ones that will help trigger calming hormones and happy thoughts while you’re away.

Time for Television

television on stand

If your dog is used to hearing the television going or a computer running videos all day and night, this is likely a comforting sound to her. Try leaving the TV or computer going while you’re away.

Some dogs like exciting shows with lots of noise, while others prefer relaxing shows with calm human voices or sounds of nature. Be sure to select something that your dog won’t become overstimulated by.

Believe it or not, some dogs actually enjoy watching television, not just listening. If your GSD is used to sitting with you and watching TV each evening, she’ll likely appreciate that comforting activity while you’re gone.

Radio Might be Better

radio tuner

Some dogs don’t care for television, and that’s okay. If they still seem to enjoy the background noise, try the radio instead.

You can either turn on regular radio stations, use online stations with specially created playlists, or you can queue up your own playlist on your computer or other device using songs your dog is used to hearing you listen to.

The options are limitless, and the familiarity will help soothe an upset or lonely dog.

Take a look at this article I wrote about German Shepherd depression – it expands on the benefits of playing music for your German Shepherd, and how different types of music affect your dog.

Hide Surprises

Many German Shepherds love hide and seek games with their humans. There’s no reason why they can’t play this game alone, too.

Hide small treats, special toys, or other exciting surprises around the house or in your GSD’s safe zone. Don’t make them too obvious—the goal is to spread the surprises out over the whole day.

But don’t make them too hard to find either. Too difficult of a puzzle and your GSD could get frustrated and unhappy.

Just be sure you don’t hide a treat inside or under an object you wouldn’t normally allow your dog to play with. That means it’s best not to hide a treat under your pillow; hide it under his blanket in his crate instead.

Interactive Toys

puzzle toy for dog

There are a ton of great interactive toys on the market these days. The hardest part is letting your dog have a turn with them!

You can find balls that play your voice when nudged, treat-dispensing toys, puzzle bowls or boxes, and even motion-activated toys that respond to your dog’s behaviors. These kinds of toys keep intelligent GSDs alert and happy.

Install a Camera

One way to stay connected to your GSD while you’re away and to keep him busy and happy is to install a camera down on his level.

Some allow the dog to activate the camera and hear a message from you or display a picture, others allow you to activate the camera and microphone so you can watch or speak to your pup from far away. Check out the Petzi Treat Cam!

While many dogs enjoy these types of activities, there are some that don’t.

If your pup seems more stressed hearing or seeing you, don’t push it. You can always work with him when you’re at home so he gets used to it and begins to like it.

Other Dogs Can be Fun

GSD and Border Collie

If your GSD is used to being your only dog, then this tip may not be a good match. However, if your German Shepherd likes the company of other dogs, why not let him have a playdate?

Even better, if you have the room and the love, get another dog to keep your GSD company while you’re gone.

This tip works best with highly socialized dogs and those who were raised around other dogs.

If your GSD has spent most of his life as an only dog, bringing another one home might cause more stress than happiness.

Doggy Daycare

Whether you do this daily or just as a treat once a month or so, doggy daycare is a great option for keeping active German Shepherds happy and busy.

Make sure your daycare has the space necessary for active playtime, running, and exploring. Inside and outside play options should be available, too.

A good daycare will have trained staff, clean toys and grounds, and a set schedule so you know what your dog will be doing all day.

If you’re lucky, you may be able to find a doggy daycare that has cameras in the play areas so you can log in and watch your dog have fun.

Hire a Friend for Your Dog

If you can afford it, you may wish to hire a dog walker to be your dog’s friend once or twice a day while you’re gone.

Even if they stay for just a few minutes, that small bit of human contact may be just what your dog needs to stay happy and entertained until you get back.

The key to using a friend for hire or a dog walker is to make sure you introduce your pooch in advance.

There is nothing quite as upsetting to a German Shepherd as a stranger coming into his house.

Outdoor Access

GSD in fenced in yard

If you have a home with a fenced yard, you can give your German Shepherd access to the yard while you’re away.

This is one of the best ways to ensure your dog can burn off excess energy in a safe and appropriate location without tearing up your curtains or chewing on your couch.

Keep fun toys in the yard that your dog can roll, bounce, nudge, shake, chew, and chase. 

You may even consider creating a small obstacle course for your dog to explore while you’re gone.

Just be sure not to include obstacles that might pose an injury risk such as high platforms or jumps. Agility-style courses should only be used under your supervision.

Open the Blinds

If you don’t have a safe yard for your GSD to play in alone, and your pup isn’t upset by strangers walking by, consider leaving the blinds open.

Many dogs enjoy sitting in front of a window and watching birds fly around, cars go by, and people going about their business.

This option is much easier if you train your dog early on not to bark at people through the window.

Safety Notes for GSDs Left Alone

We like to believe that our dogs are smart enough to stay safe and make good decisions while we’re not around.

Unfortunately, accidents can happen to even the smartest and most well-behaved German Shepherds. For that reason, it’s imperative that you consider safety issues while you’re away from home.

  • Take a quick look around your house before you leave.
  • Are the outlets covered?
  • Have you tied up all strings from blinds and curtains?
  • Are your dog’s toys in good condition, with no loose or potentially broken parts?
  • Are all the windows and doors shut tight and locked?

Heavy chewers may enjoy a good chew toy while you’re gone, but there is a small chance of choking. Puppies and older dogs are more prone to this, but all dogs run a risk of choking.

For this reason, you may want to leave chew toys out of reach while you’re gone. Good alternatives include sturdy treat-dispensing toys.

Final Thoughts

German Shepherds sometimes get a bad reputation for being naughty pups when left alone.

It’s true that they are curious, active, and intelligent dogs, but they don’t always turn those awesome features to the dark side when you step out the door.

With proper training, preparation, and attention from you, a GSD can stay quite busy while you’re at work, all without eating your favorite chair.

Hunter Reed

I've owned and trained German Shepherds for over 18 years now. I'm originally from Indiana, though I've lived in many different states and traveled extensively. The places change, my dogs don't. German Shepherds have been my constant companions. I love every aspect of training them and simply just having them around. I also enjoy sharing my knowledge about German Shepherds with the world, and I encourage all future dog owners to consider one as a companion as well. Read my story here.

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