Aggressive Behavior in German Shepherds: Fact or Fiction?

Written by Dr. Marcelle Landestoy, DVM

GSD RUNNING

Are you considering getting a German Shepherd at home? You must know whether or not this type of dog is aggressive.

Plus, you want to understand what kinds of situations can get a fierce reaction from them.

German Shepherds have many aggressive tendencies and behaviors. Many people choose the breed for a guard dog because of their protective nature. But a properly trained German Shepherd will only use that aggression when warranted, so training is essential with this breed.

If you have a German Shepherd at home or plan to adopt one, you’ll want to keep reading.

Using my knowledge as a veterinary doctor, I made sure to include all of the essential information on German Shepherd behavior in this article. Here’s what you need to know!

Are They Aggressive to Humans?

German Shepherds can be aggressive towards humans, but their behavior is usually a result of how you raised them or the situation that they’re in. If the dog appears aggressive, it means they’re in a situation that scares them, often with new people or unfamiliar surroundings. 

You’ll want to remove your dog from the situation and wait for them to calm back down.

Not all German Shepherds are aggressive, but you’ll still need to train them from a young age.

If your dog shows aggression towards people, you’ll want to find the root cause.

There are a few main reasons why your dog might be uncomfortable around humans. These reasons include:

  • Not getting enough exercise
  • They think they’re protecting their family or territory
  • They feel like you’re dominating them
  • They’re too bored
  • They’re protecting their food or toys
  • They’re afraid
  • Their parents didn’t train them properly
  • They feel trapped
  • They’re in pain

You’ll want to visit your local vet if your dog is often displaying signs of aggression.

GSD WALKING

A professional can help you determine that root cause, so you can work towards helping your pet develop better behaviors.

Family Members

It’s essential to know how your dog will react to the members of your family.

You don’t want your new German Shepherd to act aggressively towards the people that you care about.

Here are some things to consider.

Babies

Most of the time, German Shepherds are fine with babies. However, the breed does better with them when socialized from a young age.

The dog will be very patient with newborns and be very loyal to all family members. 

You’ll always want to keep an eye on how your dog interacts with your baby.

While most German Shepherds are fine with babies, some may not like the crying or try to “herd” the baby when they start to walk- it’s an instinct for them. 

Toddlers

German Shepherds are great with most kids, including toddlers. They’re very patient and have a lot of energy to play with kids.

You never want to leave your dog alone with a toddler, however.

Plus, German Shepherds tend to be much larger than toddlers, making it easy to knock them down accidentally. 

Older Kids

German Shepherds are wonderful with older kids! The breed is very loyal and will make sure the kids aren’t in any danger.

Older kids also enjoy training dogs and playing with them- which is excellent! It will help if you encourage your kids to interact with the dog to get more used to them.

It also helps if they take them for walks and play outside with them.

Adults

German Shepherd should get along just fine with the other adults in your family, as long as they see them often and socialize from a young age.

German Shepherds enjoy living in a “pack,” so they’re sure to adopt the other members of your family very quickly.

GSD CLOSE UP FACE

Strangers

German Shepherds are protective of their “pack,” so they’re naturally very wary of strangers.

If they decide that a stranger is a threat, your dog will start acting very aggressively towards that person.

They may snap at them or put themselves between you and the stranger.

In those cases, it’s best to remove yourself and the dog from the situation ASAP.

In Your Home

If you have a visitor, make sure they know not to make any sudden movements around the dog.

Then, allow your German Shepherd to sniff them.

This breed is amiable when they feel comfortable, so it might help if your visitors can offer them some good treats!

I recommend that you try the WoofWell German Shepherd Soft Chews (available on Amazon.com).

The treats are bacon-flavored and offer health benefits, including supplements for your dog’s joints and immune system.

Guests

German Shepherds are very good at picking up on their parents’ emotions, but they are not so good at putting them into context.

If you are nervous about keeping your German Shepherd under control when a guest comes to your house, they may think you fear the “intruder.”

GERMAN SHEPHERD

The best way to gain confidence is to enroll your German Shepherd in obedience training as early as possible.

If your German Shepherd obeys your commands, you know they will behave when company comes over.

Your Shepherd will quickly realize they are among friends.

Intruders

German Shepherds are incredibly aggressive with intruders- they’ll attack them.

For this reason, many families choose to have a Shepherd at home as a guard dog.

The breed provides exceptional protection from unwanted guests. 

A German Shepherd will defend you and your family at all costs.

None of your guests must walk into your home unannounced, so your dog doesn’t mistake them for an intruder. 

It’s straightforward to train your Shepherd to attack an intruder. If you teach them, they shouldn’t act aggressively to strangers unless you give the dog your command.

Outside Your Home

If you’re walking your dog and a stranger approaches, keep an eye on your pet.

GSD ON A PARK

You want to see how they react to the stranger. You can train your Shepherd not to act aggressively towards those you run into outside of the home.

Although, your pet might be wary of others out in public.

Are They Aggressive to Other Animals?

German Shepherds can be aggressive with other animals if they aren’t used to interacting with them. Your dog also might be trying to show their dominance. In those cases, you’ll want to meet with your vet and talk about ways to stop this behavior as soon as you can.

Other Animals in Your Household

German Shepherds may fight with other dogs in your home for dominance.

This breed always wants to be the “top dog”- you’ll need to train them to stop.

However, once trained, your German Shepherd should get along with the other dogs in your home just fine.

That can’t be said for cats, however. German Shepherds are loud and instinctually hunt smaller animals- they’ll probably show interest in your cat and bother them.

German Shepherds often chase cats, which can be very dangerous for your feline.

Luckily, since this breed is easy to train, you can teach them to leave your cats alone.

Animals They Encounter Outside

German Shepherds have a robust prey-hunting behavior. That means they’re likely to kill any small animals they encounter outside.

You’ll want to make sure that you keep small pets away from your dog because of this.

Are Female or Male German Shepherds More Aggressive?

If you’re sure you want a German Shepherd in your family, you should next determine what gender you want.

Both males and females can fit in any home life, but you’ll need to spend a lot of time training them.

According to Shepherd Sense, males are more aggressive than females. If you’re looking for a family shepherd, then a female would be the better option for you. If you want a German Shepherd guard dog, then you should adopt a male.

Female Shepherds also are a bit easier for you to train. The males will guard their territory, while the females tend to protect their families.

It’s up to you which you think will fit in better with your home life. 

What Can Cause Aggressive Behavior?

In German Shepherds, you want to watch out for signs of aggressive behavior. The breed reacts strongly to intruders or other strangers in their territory. 

GSD PLAYING WITH ANOTHER DOG

Overall, you want to make sure that your dog feels comfortable. German Shepherds lash out when they feel threatened or in danger. You want to reinforce positive behavior in your Shepherd whenever you can. Make sure they have many good experiences with many people.

Aggressive behavior always stems from something. If you’re not sure what’s causing it, you’ll want to contact your vet.

They’ll be able to give you some more insight into ways to correct your dog’s behavior.

Is Your German Shepherd Being Aggressive or Protective?

German Shepherds are naturally very protective dogs. They want to make sure that their friends and family stay safe.

However, if they notice an intruder, they’re likely to switch to aggression right away.

Your German Shepherd will determine whether or not to be aggressive or protective by their surroundings. If they feel that something is wrong, your dog will change to aggression very quickly. You’ll want to comfort them when they’re protective, to let them know you’re alright.

These are some signs of protective behavior, so you know what it looks like:

  • Growling at others who come too close to you
  • They seemed stressed
  • They put themselves between you and others
  • They won’t let you out of their range of sight

Learn To Recognize the Signs That Your Dog Is About To Get Aggressive

Aggressive behavior is more intense than protective behavior. Your dog will react if they feel there’s a threat in their territory, whether towards you or them.

These are the signs that your dog is being aggressive and could become violent.

  • Lunging
  • Baring teeth or growling
  • Guarding their food or toys
  • They crouch often
  • They bark loudly and often
  • They urinate in the home
  • They raise their hackles

Each dog is unique and displays its own signs of aggression. You’ll want to make sure that you know how your dog reacts so that you can remove them from these situations. 

This quick YouTube video will explain all of these signs of anxiousness aggression in dogs:

What To Do During an Aggressive Episode

When your dog is first starting to show signs of aggression, you should do your best to remove them from the situation.

These signs mean that your dog feels uncomfortable for some reason.

If you can figure out what’s making them so nervous, you can deescalate the situation without them acting violently. 

When a dog is acting aggressively towards you, you don’t want to panic.

Instead, back away slowly and calmly, without yelling. You want to speak to your dog in a very calm voice and let them know it’s alright.

Also, you should avoid looking in their eyes or smiling at them- dogs can interpret these actions as signs of aggression.

Overall, it would be best if you stayed calm when your dog suddenly becomes aggressive.

You’ll want to remove the dog from the situation that’s bothering them as soon as you can. 

This YouTube video covers dog aggression and what you can do to stop it:

When To Get Professional Help

You should seek out professional help as soon as your dog starts showing frequent signs of aggression.

They might be in pain, stressed, or have something else going on with their health.

A professional will assist you in determining the cause of their aggression, as well as the best ways to correct it.

You’ll want to let your vet know what’s happening, including what situations seem to make your dog behave this way.

This information could give you all the insight you need into how to change your dog’s behavior.

You can always reach out to your vet with questions that you might have. A simple call might be all you need to do to clear things up.

However, your vet might also ask that you bring in your pet so that they can see them in person.

Final Thoughts

The German Shepherd is a naturally aggressive dog. However, they’re also wonderful family pets.

The difference has to do with how you raise and train them. You want to make sure that your German Shepherd puppy receives socialization from a young age.

No matter what, German Shepherds are excellent dogs to have in the family.

If you’re not sure why your pup is acting so aggressive lately, it would be best if you reached out to your local vet. The professionals will know the best way to assist you and your dog.

GERMAN SHEPHERD BARKING AGGRESSIVELY

References

  • Wag!: Why Are German Shepherds Aggressive
  • Jubilant Pups: Are German Shepherds Aggressive To Humans
  • Breeds List: Are German Shepherds Good With Babies?
  • Canine Weekly: Are German Shepherds Good With Kids?
  • TrainYourGSD: How To Train A German Shepherd To Attack In 7 Steps
  • Wag!: How to Train a German Shepherd to Not Chase Cats
  • Shepherd Sense: Male vs Female German Shepherd: Which is Better?

Learn more about this breed on my one-page German Shepherd guide

Marcelle Landestoy

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