Written by Dr. Marcelle Landestoy, DVM
If you’re looking to add a canine as an extra member of your family, you probably have a German Shepherd (GSD) in mind seeing that they’re the second most popular dog breed in the US.
Despite being so well-liked, the big question is, are German Shepherds the perfect family dog?
German Shepherds are intelligent, easy-to-train, courageous, and loyal companions making them great family dogs. They’re also playful, have lots of energy, and need regular exercise. They’re gentle guardians and shower their owners with affection. But given their large size, they’re not ideal for families with senior citizens.
In this article, we’ll address the factors you need to consider before adopting a GSD.
With my background in veterinary medicine, we’ll discuss how well this dog breed gets along with kids and other pets, whether they’re aggressive, how much living space they need, and more.
So let’s get right into it.
Are They Good With Kids?
While different dogs have varying temperaments, adequately trained and socialized German Shepherds are generally good with kids of all ages because they’re a patient, loyal, and calm breed.
Additionally, their playful, loving, and friendly nature adds to their compatibility.
German Shepherds also have strong protective instincts meaning they take the responsibility of protecting children from impending threats.
As we all know, kids are curious, and you’ll often find them playing and pulling the pup’s ears, tail, and fur.
This kind of behavior is likely to leave you worried about how your canine friend will react.
Most dogs often react aggressively when startled, but GSDs are patient and tolerant enough to keep up with such behaviors.
However, you shouldn’t assume that every GSD you come across is patient.
It all depends on how they’ve been raised and the efforts put into obedience training and socialization.
Poorly trained or socialized pups can be a considerable threat to your lovely kids.
Such dogs are often short of patience and can easily hurt innocent kids. Therefore, always keep a close eye on their interactions.
Another good attribute of GSDs with kids is their playful nature.
Since they’re full of energy, they blend very well with hyperactive kids.
This duo becomes enviable play buddies and can learn lots of new games and tricks together.
Given that German Shepherds are energetic and need lots of exercise, they can play with your kids for hours without getting bored.
So, they keep children engaged, active, and fit. You’ll find that your kids lose steam before the pup.
However, sometimes they don’t have a sense of their physical strengths and may unintentionally send a kid rolling on the ground or knocking them with their heavily built bodies during play.
Moreover, a German Shepherd’s protector instincts make them gentle guardians to your kids.
They tend to get aggressive anytime a stranger approaches their buddies.
While this may be a good way of expressing love and care, they sometimes overreact by reacting to any stranger, even those who aren’t a threat to your kids.
Therefore, it’s important to socialize your pup as much as possible.
And while most German Shepherds will get along well with kids, it mainly depends on how well trained and socialized they are.
Therefore, to foster a thriving relationship between your kids and your pup, engage both of them in training classes and teach them to respect and maintain boundaries.
Having mentioned that German Shepherds are likely to get along well with kids when adequately trained and socialized, your next question will probably be, what about infants?
Will these young, innocent humans be safe around the gigantic German Shepherds? Are GSDs a good fit for infants? Let’s find out.
Again with proper training, German Shepherds can be a good fit for your little humans.
Since dogs don’t inherently learn how to behave around babies, you should put in extra effort in obedience training and socialization to teach your pup how to behave around these tiny creatures.
And since GSDs are intelligent and easy to train, they’ll quickly learn what is expected of them.
Although a well-trained GSD will never intentionally harm a baby, they sometimes underestimate their weight and may end up knocking down these tiny humans.
This not only happens with adult GSDs but also with puppies who tend to be clumsy and love jumping up in excitement.
Additionally, their protective instincts mean they’ll protect your baby at every cost.
According to a pet expert Michelle Miley, adult GSDs treat infants as if they were their puppies, lavishing them with the love, attention, and care they would give their young ones.
You may find your GSD hugging your baby, licking their feet, arms, and face, sleeping next to them, or cuddling them.
Puppy GSDs too, tend to create a strong bond with babies, which happens much faster than with adults.
You may find your puppy never wanting to leave your baby’s side.
They develop an enviable ‘sibling’ bond. However, the two might fight over toys, so it’s advisable to get different types of toys for each.
Also, teach the pup to stay off the baby’s toys.
Additionally, you should note that a strong and safe bond doesn’t grow naturally.
It comes as a reward for your selfless training and socialization.
Regardless of your GSDs temperament, never leave your baby unattended with your pup.
Don’t turn your German Shepherd into an independent babysitter. Always monitor the GSD-infant interaction.
Helping Your German Shepherd Adjust to a New Baby
Even with their gentle disposition, GSDs are likely to get jealous when a new tiny human joins the family and takes most of their owner’s time and attention.
However, here are a few tips you can adopt to help your pup adjust to a new baby and prevent jealousy from cropping up:
- Don’t just surprise your dog with a new attention-craving human. Instead, start making adjustments and initiating new changes before the baby arrives.
- Introduce your GSD to babies. If there are no babies in the house, you can invite some over for a visit to help familiarize your pup with babies. If inviting babies over seems like a hassle, you can get a doll, wrap it in a baby blanket and assume it’s a baby. Use this doll to train your GSD how to behave around babies.
- Enroll your pup for obedience training. It’s a good idea to enroll your pup in obedience training classes to instill desirable manners in them.
- Introduce them to baby items. Introduce your dog to baby items such as baby clothes, baby cot, stroller, perfumes, oils, and lotions. These items help your pup learn about the smell and sight of baby-related things.
- Initiate changes. If you’re planning on making new changes in your house, such as changing your pup’s sleeping or feeding area, do it before the baby comes. Initiating changes early gives your canine enough time to acclimatize to the new setting.
- Once the baby is born, allow your canine friend to smell a used bib or baby blanket. This familiarizes them with the new scents in the house and reduces curiosity once the baby is home.
- Don’t neglect your dog. Once your new bundle of joy is finally home, don’t forsake your canine companion. If neglected, your GSD may experience separation anxiety, making him aggressive. Therefore, ensure you attend to their needs. Take them for walks and exercise sessions. Additionally, involve them in baby-related activities such as playing and taking walks to foster a bond between them.
If preparations are done well ahead of time, your GSD will have a smooth time adjusting to the new tiny human in the house.
As your baby grows and enters the toddler stage, so does his or her energy level, and curiosity grows.
Toddlers are very curious and will move around the house playing with anything they come across, including the GSD lying on the floor.
Luckily German Shepherds are patient and often tolerate the toddlers’ startles and rough games.
The GSDs’ playful nature will see them engage in active and fun games learning new tricks from each other.
Additionally, their affectionate nature will have both of them cuddling on the couch when tired.
However, GSDs’ large size can be a threat to toddlers. They can easily knock them down while playing.
And since these dogs are energetic, it’s important to exercise them daily to reduce their energy levels by tiring them.
Additionally, you should train your toddler to maintain boundaries with your pup and teach your GSD how to behave around toddlers.
Constantly monitor their interaction.
GSDs are perhaps the perfect match for older kids. Their big size isn’t a threat, and they play together without intentionally hurting each other.
Additionally, older kids can walk them around when it’s exercise time.
Although most kids can handle this gigantic canine breed, it’s still advisable to teach them how to behave around GSDs.
And since they’re highly trainable, your older kids can enjoy the privilege of teaching them new games and tricks.
Is the German Shepherd the Right Size for Your Family?
To tell whether a canine is the right size for your family, you should consider their height and weight.
Generally, GSDs fall under the large canine breeds. The males have a standing height of between 24–26 inches (61–66 cm) and weigh between 65–90 lbs (29–40 kg).
On the other hand, the females grow to a height of between 22–24 inches (56–61 cm) and weigh about 50–70 lb (23–32 kg).
Given their size, older kids can help walk them around, but it can be difficult for them to bathe or carry them.
Therefore, if you’re looking to share pet-related chores with your kids, GSDs aren’t the ideal dogs for you as they’re gigantic for a standard elementary kid.
How Much Living Space Does the German Shepherd Need?
Given their big size and high exercise needs, GSDs are more suited for families with a larger living space.
However, if you live in an apartment and are determined to get a German Shepherd, you shouldn’t be discouraged.
Since these canines are adaptable, you can train them to live in an apartment.
And to meet their exercise needs, you should commit time daily to take them outdoors for walks and physical exercises.
Although German Shepherds were originally bred as herd dogs, they have evolved into companion dogs over the years.
Therefore, although they may appear to enjoy the free outdoor life, leaving them outside on their own may cause separation anxiety since they tend to get attached to their owners and become anxious once separated.
Can German Shepherds Cause Allergies?
German Shepherds have a reputation for shedding a lot of fur. Canine fur contains dander that’s likely to trigger allergic reactions in sensitive people.
Therefore, if anyone in your family is allergic to dog fur, they’re likely to get allergies from your GSD.
However, if you brush your dog every day, you can reduce the hair shedding, lowering their likelihood of triggering allergic reactions.
Do They Bark a Lot?
Since GSDs come from a herding dogs’ family and have strong innate protector instincts, they tend to bark a lot.
German Shepherds bark for many reasons. For instance, when they’re hurt, bored, threatened, anxious, excited, or lonely.
However, like with their other undesirable characters, proper training and socialization can help control their noisy, loud barks.
Therefore, if you have a small baby in the house, the loud barks may continually wake them from their slumber, make them fussy, or even scare them.
Moreover, if there are seniors in your house who are sensitive to noise, a German Shepherd’s loud barks may irritate them.
However, as we keep emphasizing, good training and socialization are the way to go if you want to control your GSD’s irritative loud barks.
Therefore, you shouldn’t give up on your dream of getting a German Shepherd just because you have an infant or a noise-sensitive senior in your family.
Are German Shepherds Aggressive?
Since German Shepherds have strong protector instincts, they tend to be aggressive.
While you can utilize this behavior to make them strong guard dogs, it can also be dangerous.
An aggressive canine can easily hurt people, especially strangers and other pets.
But since GSDs are highly intelligent and easy to train, you can socialize and teach them to control their aggressiveness.
And although their guard instincts have a lot to do with their aggressiveness, specific human actions also trigger them to exhibit this behavior.
Such acts include:
- Invading their territory: These canines are possessive, and if anyone tries to intrude into their space, such as their feeding or sleeping area, they can react aggressively.
- Disturbing them when sleeping or eating: Like most other canines, GSDs hate being disturbed when eating or sleeping.
- Frightening them: Frightening a GSD makes them aggressive as a way of defending themselves.
- Neglecting them: If you fail to meet your GSDs needs, be it giving them attention, food, or even meeting their exercise needs, they may become aggressive. Therefore, always learn to study your pup’s moods and provide for their essential needs to curb aggressiveness.
What About Families With Seniors?
Like most attention-craving dogs, it’s common to find your GSD sleeping or walking in between your legs.
While this is a good way of expressing love to their owners, their big size may trample seniors and lead to accidental injuries.
They’re also fond of jumping on people when they’re excited, which might not be entirely safe with senior citizens.
Again, here, the need for training comes in. It’s advisable to train your dog to obey voice commands such as ‘stop’ to ask them to move away from your legs.
Without adequate training, GSDs can unintentionally cause accidental injuries to senior members of your family.
However, on the positive side, they’re good companions, and older individuals will enjoy their company.
Do They Get Along With Other Dogs?
German Shepherds are generally good with other dogs. They’re usually hesitant and aggressive at first, but they will eventually get along with their canine pals.
To make it easy for your GSD to interact with other dogs, socialize them early in their puppyhood.
Take them out to dog parks and give them time to interact with other dogs.
And while not easily avoidable, you should limit your GSD’s interaction with untrained or aggressive dogs that may scare them or influence their behavior.
GSD’s do well and love to play with other large breeds such as fellow German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, Alaskan Malamute, and Yorkshire Terrier, to mention a few.
While you might think that a Mastiff is an ideal companion for your GSD, this combination isn’t highly recommended.
The two may get into ugly fights, and separating them without risking injury may be difficult.
However, with proper training and socialization in place, a GSD can get along well with almost any dog breed.
Are They Good With Cats?
Given that GSDs are the dog world’s brainiacs, you can easily train them to cope with cats.
Although they may be hesitant at first, supervised interactions, patience, and training foster a good canine-feline bond.
The decision on whether a German Shepherd is a good family dog comes down to a few factors, including the way they relate with children and other pets, their living space requirements, and whether they’re hypoallergenic.
Moreover, you need to consider whether you can provide them with the training and nourishment they need to fit into your lifestyle.
We hope that our comprehensive guide on GSDs gives you the vital information you need to decide whether to get a German Shepherd or not.
- Dogtime: German Shepherd Dog
- Southern Living: The Most Popular Dog Breeds of 2021
- Canine Weekly: Are German Shepherds Good with Kids?
- Cuteness: Are German Shepherds Good With Children?
- American Kennel Club: German Shepherd Dog
- Anything German Shepherd: Do German shepherds bark a lot? Your Guide to GSD barking
- Wag Walking: Why Are German Shepherds Aggressive
- German Shepherd Dog HQ: Are German Shepherds Good with Other Dogs?
Click here to read my one-page German Shepherd parent’s guide
Veterinary Hospital Director at UCE
Dr. Marcelle is a general veterinarian with a Small Animal Medicine Specialty | Director of the UCE School of Veterinary Medicine | Certified by the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society