German Shepherds are the second-most-popular dog breed in the United States. They can be great family pets. However, they can also bring to mind vicious attack dogs.
So, what’s the truth? Are German Shepherds aggressive?
The short answer is: sometimes. Read on for more about German Shepherds and any aggressive tendencies they have.
German Shepherd Breed Overview
The German Shepherd was originally developed in the late 19th century by German cavalry officer Captain Max von Stephanitz. His original aim was to create the best sheepdog in Germany. As technology replaced the need for sheepdogs, he repurposed the breed as military and police dogs.
Thanks to their trainability and devotion to their handlers, they became (and remain) one of the most popular police and military dog breeds.
As working dogs, they retain some aggressive attributes that can be honed to help them catch and detain people. However, too much of an aggressive personality would make them poor candidates to be trained to work alongside a handler all day.
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About the German Shepherd’s Temperament
German Shepherds are loyal, intelligent, and protective. Families love the devoted and protective nature of the breed. However, without proper training and socialization, those personality traits can become aggression toward strangers or other dogs.
Are German Shepherds Aggressive?
As a breed, German Shepherds are not inherently aggressive. However, their loyal, protective nature can cause them to show aggressive behavior if they aren’t properly socialized and trained as puppies.
In essence, aggressive German Shepherds are created by their environment. They aren’t born with an inherently aggressive temperament.
Common Aggressive Behaviors
How do you know if your German Shepherd is showing aggressive behavior before the dog bites somebody?
Here are a few examples of common aggressive behaviors in German Shepherds:
- Growling. A German Shepherd growling harmlessly during play will have their ears up and their tail wagging. Aggressive growling is usually accompanied by low ears, pulled back lips, and a low tail.
- Barking while chasing other animals or after you’ve told the dog to stop a behavior.
- Snapping is NEVER an appropriate behavior, even during play.
- Biting. Even puppies should be discouraged from biting. Don’t allow biting during play because it can trigger aggressive behaviors.
What Can Make a German Shepherd Aggressive?
If a German Shepherd’s environment or upbringing can cause aggression, then what can make a German Shepherd aggressive? Here are the most common things that can trigger aggressive behavior in German Shepherds.
Not Enough Exercise (Physical or Mental)
German Shepherds were bred to work all day long. They need plenty of physical and mental stimulation to keep them happy.
Plan on giving your German Shepherd at least 2 hours of exercise each day. Running is better than walking, but walking is better than nothing. Dog sports can be a great way to give your dog physical exercise while also challenging their brain to learn something new.
Beyond physical exercise, German Shepherds need to have mental stimulation. When you’re home, training your dog to do tricks can help engage their minds. When you are away from home, leave treat balls (Amazon)and puzzle toys (Amazon) to keep your German Shepherd’s mind busy.
A bored German Shepherd with too much energy can become cranky. Physical and mental exercise can help prevent your German Shepherd from becoming aggressive.
It’s Overly Protective or Possessive
German Shepherds tend to be very loyal to and protective of their family. That may seem like a desirable trait if you have an intruder in your home. However, that protectiveness can become a liability if your dog decides that your next-door neighbor (or their dog) is a threat because they’re standing too close to you.
That’s one reason that German Shepherds must receive plenty of socialization as puppies. They must learn that most people and pets are not a threat to your family.
Be sure to take your German Shepherd puppy to a variety of places to meet lots of people and other animals. That helps them understand that there are few actual threats to your family.
Just like a lack of exercise, boredom can cause a German Shepherd to become aggressive.
Solitary confinement can cause massive psychological harm to human prisoners. A German Shepherd that does not get enough physical or mental stimulation can develop similar psychological problems that may lead to aggression.
If you work long hours, consider taking your German Shepherd to doggy daycare. Your pup will get exercise and socialization rather than being bored all day while you’re gone.
Lack of Training
With some dog breeds, you can get away with not training them much. German Shepherds are not one of those dog breeds.
German Shepherds can weigh as much as 100 pounds and may develop aggressive tendencies. Because of that, early and consistent training is crucial. Your dog must learn what you want from them and what behaviors are and are not acceptable.
Consistent training from a young age helps your German Shepherd understand that you’re “the boss.” Without that understanding, the dog may decide to take matters into their own hands. That’s one way they can become aggressive.
Nature vs. Nurture
Are German Shepherds born aggressive, or do they become aggressive based on how they’re raised?
The answer is a little bit of both. German Shepherds are born with an instinct to bully sheep or chase bad guys. However, that instinct can be overcome with good training and socialization.
On the other hand, a German Shepherd raised with too little (or too aggressive) training can lean heavily on that instinct. That’s why bored German Shepherds are more likely to bite than, say, a bored Labrador Retriever since Labs don’t have that inherent instinct to bite.
Solutions for Aggressive German Shepherds
Do you have a German Shepherd who is displaying aggressive behavior? Or perhaps you have a German Shepherd puppy, and you want to make sure they don’t grow up to become aggressive. Here are some solutions for aggressive German Shepherds.
Socialization as a young puppy is one of the best ways to prevent a German Shepherd from becoming aggressive. A soon as you bring your puppy home, you should take them to puppy play dates, stores that welcome dogs, friends’ houses, and anywhere they can safely meet other dogs.
It’s much harder to socialize a dog after 6 months of age, so it’s crucial to start as soon as possible. The more people, animals, and situations you can introduce your German Shepherd puppy to, the less likely they are to develop aggressive tendencies.
Training a German Shepherd should begin as soon as you bring your puppy home with something simple, like “sit.” Puppy training classes are a great way to train and socialize your German Shepherd puppy at the same time.
An obedient German Shepherd is less likely to become aggressive than one with little to no training. Invest in your puppy’s training to develop a confident, calm, and mindful adult dog.
Note that German Shepherds respond best to positive reinforcement training. Dominance training methods can cause aggression as your dog attempts to retain a dominant position in your household.
Do you have an adult German Shepherd who is already aggressive? At this point, you probably need to invest in professional help. One on one sessions with a certified professional dog trainer will be required to help tame your German Shepherd.
Reducing or eliminating your German Shepherd’s aggressiveness can be a time-consuming process. However, it’s better than the alternative of your dog biting a person or killing another dog. Those situations could lead to your German Shepherd being euthanized.
Why German Shepherds Aren’t Always Aggressive
Why aren’t all German Shepherds aggressive? While German Shepherds do have a loyal, protective nature that can predispose them to aggression, there are many things you can do to prevent your dog from becoming aggressive.
Aggressive German Shepherds aren’t (usually) the result of their heritage. Most aggression is caused by a failure on the part of their humans.
Rest assured that if you socialize, train, and exercise your German Shepherd, they should not develop any aggressiveness.
Wrapping Up: Are German Shepherds Aggressive?
As you can see, not all German Shepherds are aggressive. They can easily be trained to be aggressive, and a lack of exercise or training can lead to aggressiveness. However, German Shepherds are not born aggressive.