German Shepherds are often seen with one of two lenses: as big fluffy teddy bears, or as vicious monsters. The truth is, German Shepherds are wonderful dogs who should be treated as just that- dogs with strong instincts and loving hearts.
When my German Shepherd started showing aggressive tendencies, I knew I had to address the problem for the safety of my dog and the people around us. In order to help you help your dog, we’ve broken down the facts about German Shepherds, aggression, and how to solve the problem. Read on to find out more.
German Shepherds are genetically herding dogs. This means they were originally bred for a purpose- to herd sheep and other animals and protect livestock on a farm. This breeding results in some pretty strong protective instincts, and lots of loyalty. There’s one thing you can be sure- your German Shepherd has got your back.
German Shepherds can have short, long, or medium coats. Due to their breeding, they can develop problems with their bones throughout their lives, such as hip dysplasia.
It’s important to watch out for these conditions, because sudden bouts of or developments of aggression can often be caused by unseen painful conditions. Any sudden onset of aggression in a dog should always be reported to a vet, to understand if there is a physical problem underlying the aggressive outbursts.
Like any other breed, the temperament of your German Shepherd will vary just as human personalities do. However, there are some generalizations that can be made.
German Shepherds are typically cuddly, affectionate, and sweet with their family members. To strangers, they can be aloof, and take time to warm up. They need plenty of exercise, and shouldn’t be left alone for long periods of time.
German Shepherds and Kids
Due to their loyalty to family members, German Shepherds are generally considered to be good with kids. A properly trained German Shepherd who is raised with kids can generally be trusted with them, and can be an excellent playmate.
Due to their temperament towards strangers, however, caution should be used around kids the dog does not know, especially young kids who may unknowingly annoy the dog or approach him too quickly.
As with any large breed, German Shepherds should be supervised around kids of all ages. As a bonus, you can feel sure that if he’s a family dog, your German Shepherd will not hesitate to protect your child from any threat. With a German Shepherd in the house, you always feel safe.
Until dogs reach adulthood, they rarely show any signs of aggression. All puppies bite when they are teething, and the intensity with which they bite can seem alarming and sometimes be mistaken for aggression. This is especially true for German Shepherds, being large dogs that are already a huge size by 6 months old, the tail end of the teething phase.
Puppy biting occurs because your dog’s baby teeth are in the process of being replaced by its adult teeth. This starts around 12 weeks old, and finishes around 6 months old. Teething is very painful for dogs, and they seek something to bite on in order to mitigate the pain. Sometimes, this can be your hands and feet!
The solution to puppy biting is simple- provide your dog appropriate chew toys and show them how to use them. Redirecting your dog to a rubber chew toy every time they start nibbling on you can help solve the issue. If your pup is really struggling, putting a wet washcloth in the freezer for your dog to mouth can help with the pain.
Puppies can also bite out of frustration or as an attention seeking behaviour. This is something that you must nip in the bud with proper structure and obedience training in your house. Try incorporating crate training and plenty of positive reinforcement training into your pup’s routine- you’ll be sure to see a big difference.
Aggression issues in German Shepherds manifest in their adulthood, usually between 1-3 years old. They can also sometimes present later in life. It’s important to identify markers of possibly aggressive behaviours early on, in order to remedy them before they turn into something more serious.
It’s important to understand that most dog aggression does not usually stem from aggression in its purest sense, but from a combination of fear and instinct. If your German Shepherd feels that he or you are unsafe in a situation, he may attack the person or dog he perceives as a threat.
This is where their protective instincts kick in. German Shepherds are bred to protect their herd, and they classify you as in their herd. They are powerful, and they know they are powerful, so their reaction to stress is not to run and hide, but to attack. It is essential to ensure your German Shepherd knows you are in charge and in control of the situation, so they don’t feel the need to protect.
For example, if a strange man approaches you in the street, or your child is roughhousing with other kids, your German Shepherd may attack the man or the other children. While it’s good to have a protective dog, you must be able to control when and how your dog reacts to situations he perceives as dangerous. German Shepherds can also become overprotective of one family member, and “protect” them from other members of the family.
In addition, a lack of exercise or mental stimulation can cause your dog to become aggressive. If they don’t have enough of an outlet to release anxious energy, they can become stressed and in turn aggressive.
Your German Shepherd may also become aggressive towards other dogs if he was not socialized properly with dogs from a young age. He may not understand play cues from other dogs and feel insecure in his interactions with them. If you have an adult German Shepherd who is aggressive towards other dogs, seeking the help of a trainer to teach him how to socialize properly is important.
If your dog is aggressive towards you, his owner, this could be a dominance issue. This issue can also be addressed with training, which we will detail below.
Although it’s always serious when a dog bites, it’s much more alarming when a German Shepherd bites than when a Chihuahua does. This is not only due to size, but due to the bite force that a German Shepherd has, which is among the strongest bite forces of any dog.
A bite from a German Shepherd can cause a lot of damage. It can result in lawsuits, or horrifically, your dog being euthanized. This is not the dog’s fault, but the fault of an irresponsible owner. As the person responsible for a powerful animal, it is essential that you take all steps to remove him from situations wherein he may show aggression, and undertake a training program to solve the problem.
It’s important to teach your puppy bite inhibition (how to control the force of his bite), when he’s young, especially if he was taken away from the litter at a young age. Puppies teach each other this when they play, and they learn from their mothers. If the puppy is taken away too young, it becomes your job to be the teacher.
Solving The Problem
Before we get into how to fix aggression in a German Shepherd, it is important to accept that this is a serious problem which requires professional help. If your German Shepherd is showing aggression, it is very important to consult a reputable trainer in order to understand your dog’s case specifically and approach it in the proper way.
Fixing aggression in your German Shepherd comes down to a combination of setting structures and boundaries for him, and desensitizing him to his stressors. Through doing so, you are showing your dog that you are in charge and in control of the situation, and relieving him from the burden of protecting himself and those around him.
Setting structure and boundaries can also help with a dog who is dominantly aggressive, because you show him that you are the one who controls the resources. When things are not freely available to your dog, he will look to you for guidance.
One of the best ways to do this is to implement structure into your dog’s routine. Incorporating crate training into your dog’s day is essential. Training your dog to sleep in a crate gives him a sense of security and safety when guests come over.
Similarly, teaching your dog a solid place and down-stay command works well for new environments or situations where the crate isn’t available, or for situations like the doorbell ringing. By teaching your dog that it is his job to go to a marked place or hold a down stay in the face of new people or stressors, he won’t assume the job of protecting you and act aggressively.
Finally, and especially in cases of severe aggression, you will have to desensitize your dog to the things that worry him. If your dog reacts badly to people approaching you, you will have to have someone approach you from a far distance, slowly, and reward your dog whenever the person comes closer.
Additionally, teaching your dog to focus on you and maintain eye contact will show them that they should not be taking their own decision to attack, but look to you for direction instead. The BAT method is an excellent example of a desensitization program you can follow.
I know from personal experience that having your German Shepherd act aggressively can feel like a disaster- but it doesn’t have to be.
Properly understanding why your German Shepherd is acting aggressively, and working to fix the problem with the help of a trainer are sure to improve your relationship with your dog, and your dog’s relationship with the world around him.
Aggression is a serious issue, and prevention is key, but it’s never too late to try to help your dog and your family. If you have any more questions about aggression in German Shepherds, please let us know in the comments below. We’ll be sure to answer your questions as best we can!