Written by Dr. Marcelle Landestoy, DVM
According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), German Shorthaired Pointers remained the 9th most popular dog breed from 2018 to 2021.
While most dog parents will agree that pointers make for excellent pets, concerns about this breed’s tendency to exhibit aggressive behavior are rising.
Is aggressive behavior in German Shorthaired Pointers fact or fiction?
German Shorthaired Pointers are generally not aggressive dogs. However, they are energetic dogs that enjoy physical activity and have strong hunting instincts. Without proper training, they can grow up to develop problematic behaviors.
Let’s look at whether you need to be worried about GSP’s tendency to exhibit aggressive behavior in more detail.
Near the end of the article, I’ll also tell you how to differentiate between aggressive and protective behaviors and the appropriate remedial actions you should take if your Pointer is being aggressive.
Are They Aggressive to Humans?
German Shorthaired Pointers aren’t typically aggressive towards humans. They are very playful and active, so you must regularly engage them in activities. Otherwise, they might have to expend all that pent-up energy doing something you wouldn’t want them to do.
Let’s take a look at how this species behaves around different people.
Shorthaired Pointers showing aggression towards members of their family is nearly unheard of.
This is because they are very playful and intelligent dogs that bond very well with their pet parents.
Since they were bred as hunting dogs, GSPs stand out as loyal companions to humans.
And because family members are typically around the dog for long durations of time every day, the Pointer faces no difficulty getting used to them.
Overall, GSPs are great family dogs as long as they have access to regular physical activity–even twice a day isn’t too much for them!
If your Pointer shows sudden aggression towards a family member, something’s probably wrong.
We’ll discuss how to deal with such a scenario in a later section.
Regardless, any aggressive behavior that’s uncalled for warrants a consultation with an animal expert or, if necessary, a visit to the vet.
While German Shorthaired Pointers are typically very delicate in handling babies due to their high intelligence, leaving your Pointer with your child for too long is not the best idea.
As we discussed earlier, this breed of dog is playful and energetic.
They were originally bred as hunting dogs, so they are very fond of activity and movement.
Unfortunately, this can sometimes lead to your dog unintentionally hurting your baby by accident if they get too excited—also, babies like pulling hair and can start crying unexpectedly, which may stress your GSP out.
Don’t worry, though! With a bit of practice and care, you can teach your GSP to keep themselves calm around babies.
Also, remember that what I’ve just described isn’t aggressive behavior.
It’s just the fact that babies are very fragile and vulnerable to physical forces.
GSPs are not aggressive towards toddlers. It’s also much safer to let toddlers play and interact with GSPs because toddlers are much more robust than newborns.
Toddlers crave activity, too, so more often than not, they get along very well with GSPs.
With a little bit of initial supervision, toddlers and GSPs can nurture a lifelong friendship.
However, you still want to watch for any signs of emotional distress.
Know that while most babies stop by the time they’re toddlers, some still tend to pull hair.
According to this source, some experts recommend not having GSPs in households where children under the age of seven reside.
Like toddlers, older kids and GSPs can become great friends. At this point, kids can more or less keep up with GSPs during playtime.
Older Kids also know how to treat the GSP properly and have a better idea of what might cause stress, so aggressive behavior on the dog’s part is seldom seen.
Adults and GSPs form great bonds. Especially if you’re someone who knows and understands dogs, you might not see any aggression from your GSP whatsoever.
They’re excellent at bonding with adults. As an adult in a GSP-owning family, it can be beneficial and fun to engage in playful activities with the pet!
GSPs are generally reserved around strangers. They won’t show aggression that’s uncalled for, but they might not want to make friends with every stranger they see.
We’ll talk about how they treat strangers inside and outside your home.
In Your Home
GSPs are territorial dogs, so they do notice when someone unknown enters your home.
Let’s further divide strangers into the two most common subcategories.
Your GSP will notice when a guest visits your home. Since you’ll probably be engaging in a light-hearted, or at the very least, non-hostile conversation with the guest, your pet will know that everything is okay and that there is no need for them to do anything in particular.
They’ll probably just hang around like normal.
If the visitor is a recurring guest, your GSP may even warm up to them.
They’re intelligent dogs with an excellent memory. However, there’s a good chance they won’t approach for a greeting if the guest is a first-timer for them.
In addition to being excellent hunters, GSPs have historically been used as vigilant watchdogs.
Their sharp senses tell them if something is off within mere moments.
If they detect an intruder, their first step will likely be to alert you.
Naturally, they will bark at the intruder. This is an intimidation tactic intended to discourage the intruder from approaching while also gathering the attention of allies (since dogs are social animals).
GSPs have a relatively loud bark which can work well to deter intruders from coming any closer.
If your GSP considers the intruder a threat to their territory or family (which includes you), they will most likely step in to protect you.
GSPs are not timid by any means–they won’t abandon you for their own sake.
Unfortunately, GSPs don’t make the best guard dogs. While they have a decent-sized, athletic build, they can’t offer you a level of protection comparable to a dedicated guard dog.
This is technically considered protective behavior, not aggressive behavior.
Outside Your Home
Outside your home, you will frequently run into strangers on the sidewalks and just about everywhere else.
Similar to how they behave with guests, GSPs do their own thing when around strangers in public.
They have no reason to be aggressive. Rather, they enjoy the outdoors because it’s a chance for them to get some physical activity.
In fact, GSPs are less likely to display hostile behavior in public because their territorial instincts aren’t on full blast.
Are They Aggressive to Other Animals?
German Shorthaired Pointers generally aren’t aggressive towards other animals. They even get along well with other dogs. They have a hierarchical social structure which can cause some tension if you get multiple of them, but that’s just nature running its course.
Since GSPs behave differently indoors and outdoors, let’s subcategorize them:
Other Animals in Your Household
Dogs are social animals with a complex social hierarchy, and GSPs are no exception.
If you get multiple dogs, there will initially be a phase of rough play between them.
While this may appear concerning, it’s probably okay to let your dogs duke it out until they figure out who gets to lead the pack.
Allowing them to establish a concrete social structure on time means they can learn to get along faster.
I should clarify that normal rough play should not injure your dogs. If your GSP hurts another dog in what initially seemed like rough play, separate the two animals immediately and contact an animal expert or a certified animal behaviorist.
Oh, also, GSPs are notorious for chasing cats around because of their hunting instinct.
This hunting instinct doesn’t apply to cats exclusively, though.
All small animals, such as rodents, are at risk of being targeted by your GSP, so proper training and conditioning will be necessary if you plan on having them live together.
Animals They Encounter Outside
That hunting drive I just mentioned will be more of an outdoor issue, where there’s no shortage of small animals to chase after.
German Shorthaired Pointers were bred as sporting dogs, meaning that they used to go and collect small prey after hunters shot it down. These instincts have stuck around.
Thankfully, using a leash can easily prevent your GSP from running after small fry.
If you would rather not use a leash (which is ill-advisable), you’ll need to train them to stay by your side even in the face of tempting distractions.
Are Female or Male German Shorthaired Pointers More Aggressive?
Male German Shorthaired Pointers are more likely to be aggressive than female GSPs. Male GSPs usually engage in roughhousing with their fellows to establish a social structure. This usually doesn’t hurt them and can hardly be termed aggressive behavior.
Female GSPs, on the other hand, are typically less aggressive than their biological counterparts.
The sole exception is when they’re nurturing puppies. Mothers will attack, without respite, if they deem someone to be a threat to their offspring.
Even the puppies’ father has to take care not to do something that may come off as hostile.
What Can Cause Aggressive Behavior?
Aggressive behavior in German Shorthaired Pointers is typically either behavioral, pathological, or idiopathic. Medical or expert assistance will be necessary in pathological or idiopathic aggression cases. The best-known example of pathologic aggression is that caused by rabies.
Behavioral aggression is usually deeply rooted within the dog’s genetics but can easily be remedied with proper training and attention.
Many cases of human-directed aggression are caused by emotions such as stress, fear, and anxiety.
Often, dogs subject to abuse and cruelty develop aggressive behaviors as their only bet to protect themselves.
Is Your German Shorthaired Pointer Being Aggressive or Protective?
Dogs, including GSPs, are very protective animals. They protect whatever is dear to them, such as their offspring, territory, family, or pack.
German Shorthaired Pointers can show protective behavior when they sense something or someone dear to them is in danger. This behavior can often be confused with aggression, so you should consider whether your GSP is protecting something when figuring out if it’s being aggressive or protective.
How do you tell if GSPs are being protective or aggressive?
A telltale indicator is the presence of puppies. Dogs, especially mothers, are very protective of their offspring. Other indicators of protective behavior include:
- Being alert, with ears up, and a stout posture.
- Barking at threats but not charging or attacking.
- Putting themselves between the perceived threat and who they wish to protect.
Admittedly, it can sometimes be difficult to tell the difference between the two behaviors.
It can be helpful to start with this thought: Is your GSP trying to protect something or someone?
Learn To Recognize the Signs That Your Dog Is About To Get Aggressive
If your GSP has exhibited aggressive behavior in the past, it can be helpful for you to learn to recognize the signs of impending aggression.
They are as follows:
- Growling; baring teeth.
- Charging at the target.
- Attacking unexpectedly and attacking first.
- Head butting
- Nipping or scratching, although this is rare.
- Staring; unbroken eye contact
- A standing, stiff tail.
What To Do During an Aggressive Episode
You should attempt to de-escalate the situation during an aggressive encounter with a GSP.
Showing your dog who’s boss won’t help you in the long term.
In fact, it will only make things worse by damaging the relationship between you and your dog.
Try to get your dog to calm down. Give it some space. Stay calm and use a firm voice because panic and turmoil will only serve to increase the likelihood of an attack.
Unfortunately, if your GSP decides to go on an all-out attack, your priority must be protecting yourself and your family.
GSPs are medium to large-sized dogs and can cause severe damage.
When To Get Professional Help
Get professional help immediately if your GSP displays unwarranted aggression towards a family member.
If your dog attacks and injures another pet within your house, get in touch with your vet.
If your dog used to be calm but started showing aggression only recently, get in touch with an expert.
This is a time-sensitive scenario. Be on the lookout for symptoms of discomfort and illness.
Diseases that cause pathological aggression can be life-threatening and need to be looked at as soon as possible.
This goes without saying but if you or a family member has been bit by your GSP, get immediate medical assistance followed by a consultation with a certified animal expert.
The good news is that most cases of aggression in GSPs can be treated with training and rehabilitation.
An animal therapist will provide your dog with behavior therapy.
They will also instruct you on how to behave around your dog, tell you if they spot any triggers, and help you rebuild your relationship.
- GSP Owners: Can A German Shorthair Pointer Get Along With Cats?
- Pet Educate: Are German Shorthaired Pointers Aggressive? [Temperament Guide]
- American Kennel Club: 10 German Shorthaired Pointer Facts
- GSP Owners: Why is My German Shorthaired Pointer So Aggressive? (Useful Solutions)
- HoundGames: German Shorthaired Pointer Aggression
- GSP Owners: Are Pointers Good Guard Dogs? (Solved)
- Orvis: The German Shorthaired Pointer (GSP)
- Medical News Today: How does rabies cause aggression?
- WTOP News: Is your dog aggressive? Here are some warning signs and what you can do
- WBUR: Why Dogs Attack, And What To Do If A Dangerous Canine Approaches You
- Pet Parents: Is My Dog Protective or Aggressive?
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