Behavior

Managing Aggression in German Shepherds: A Complete Guide

Are German Shepherds Aggressive?

Don’t get us wrong: German Shepherds make great dogs.

They’re protective, intelligent, and eager to please. Well-behaved German Shepherds are among the most loyal, active dogs and they fit in well with many families – unfortunately, not all German Shepherds share these tendencies.

It’s not uncommon to adopt or meet an aggressive German Shepherd. People breed them to be powerful, alert guard dogs – not companions.

While a well-adjusted German Shepherd makes a great friend to have by your side, an aggressive one can be challenging to live with.

If you adopted an aggressive German Shepherd, you may wonder why they act the way they do. We don’t blame you – it’s important to know the root cause of their behavior.

Fortunately, German Shepherds are intelligent dogs. Even when they’re aggressive, they’re easier to train than many other breeds.

With the right training methods and persistence, you can teach your German Shepherd better behaviors and manage his aggression.

What Are Common Aggressive Behaviors in German Shepherds?

Aggressive behaviors in German Shepherds vary among each individual dog. For example, one may exhibit mood swings and another could be intolerant of other animals.

Below, we’ll take a look at some of the most common aggressive behaviors you might experience when you adopt a German Shepherd.

1. Incessant Barking, Even When You Say “No!”

German Shepherds are naturally protective and as such, are more likely to bark at movements, sounds, and animals than other breeds.

Unfortunately, this can turn into aggressive barking you can’t control. A well-trained and well-behaved German Shepherd can learn to stop barking when you tell them to – if your dog continues barking after you want him to stop, it can be a sign of aggression.

By barking after you’ve given a signal to stop, your German Shepherd is openly defying your authority as the pack leader.

He isn’t respecting you and he’s going against your command. This translates as aggression and can be a sign of more dangerous behavior.

Barking isn’t necessarily a sign of aggression by itself – in fact, many anxious dogs bark because they feel uneasy.

You can differentiate between anxious and aggressive barking by the tone and volume. If your dog barks louder after you tell him to stop, he’s likely feeling confrontational

2. Your Dog Chews Your Belongings and Furniture

Like barking, a well-behaved German Shepherd will stop chewing on something when you tell him not to. He may mistake a shoe for a toy – after all, they are a curious breed – but he should respond when you ask him to leave it alone.

If he ignores your command, this is another act of defiance. He’s asserting his dominance with antagonistic behavior to act out.

Again – some dogs respond to commands better than others. Don’t be surprised if your German Shepherd is playing with your shoe because he thinks it’s a toy.

You can know if he’s being aggressive if he begins growling or barking when you give a ‘no’ command. Highly-aggressive dogs may snap at you if you try to take the belonging away from them so it’s important to resolve this behavior early.

3. Your Dog Chases and Barks at Other Animals in the Home

Well-adjusted German Shepherds should act as protectors for you and other members of your family. They’re usually great with other dogs and cats, rarely causing issues with other pets in the home.

However, naturally aggressive German Shepherds are less likely to be accommodating. They may chase other animals and bark at them to intimidate them, establishing their dominance in the home.

These behaviors can be scary and may escalate to dangerous levels without proper training. Don’t cast it off as playful behavior, either – aggression and playfulness are distinctly different and it’s important to distinguish between the two to avoid accidents and keep your furry friends safe.

4. Your Dog Growls or Nips at You When You Try to Touch Him

Your German Shepherd should never nip at your or growl when you try to touch him. This is a distinct sign of aggression and it may lead to more dangerous behavior in the future.

When your dog growls at you or nips when you try to touch him, he’s telling you that you’re a threat. He doesn’t trust you and that’s not good for either of you – if your dog doesn’t trust you, it’ll be more challenging to train him.

If your dog nips and growls when you try to touch him, take him to training lessons as soon as possible. You don’t want this behavior to evolve into full-on biting, especially if your dog will be around children.

5. Your Dog Growls and Barks When You Have Food

It’s common for German Shepherds to “beg” when your eating – after all, your dinner smells great!

Drooling and laying near your feet while you eat is annoying, not aggressive. You can easily train a German Shepherd to leave you alone while you eat.

The issue starts when your dog barks and growls while you’re eating. Some may even lunge toward you, trying to grab your food before you take a bite.

This can be scary, especially the first time it happens. Food aggression is one of the most common hostile behaviors in German Shepherds and it can be challenging to address.

Before you fix the issue, it’s important to keep your dog away from other animals while they eat and seek professional help – you don’t want to hurt yourself doing this kind of training at home.

Why Are German Shepherds Aggressive?

German Shepherds may be aggressive for many reasons. There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, it depends on your dog, their upbringing, their age, and their training history.

According to Psychology Today, there’s often a lifestyle factor that triggers aggressive behavior in German Shepherds. When you address these factors, you can influence better attitudes and mitigate hostility.

Let’s take a look at why your German Shepherd may be aggressive and what you can do to fix it.

Your Dog Isn’t Getting Enough Exercise

German Shepherds need a lot of exercises – more than 2 hours a day, according to some sources. If your dog isn’t getting an adequate amount of exercise – be it through walking, running, or playing – he may use other behaviors to expend his energy.

Before you adopt a German Shepherd, remember they’re one of the most active breeds – they need more exercise than other dogs because of their natural physical condition.

Similarly to human kids, dogs may feel ‘cooped up’ or confined if they don’t get enough exercise. It can impact their attention span, cause mood swings, and make them restless.

A restless German Shepherd is far more likely to be aggressive that one with adequate exercise and playtime.

Fortunately, this is one of the easiest causes of aggression to address – it’s as easy as walking your dog more!

If you don’t have the time to give your dog at least 2 hours of exercise each dog, consider hiring a dog walker. There are many services on the internet (like Wag! and Rover) that make hiring walkers easy.

Remember – walking your German Shepherd is non-negotiable. If you plan to adopt an active dog, it’s your responsibility to help him get adequate exercise.

Your Dog is Bored

Like human children, dogs may ‘act out of line’ if they’re bored or they aren’t getting enough attention. Depending on the individual, this may include aggressive behaviors.

German Shepherds are remarkably loving, loyal dogs. They attach closely to their owners and enjoy their company. They need a certain amount of social stimulation and affection to feel satisfied.

If your dog doesn’t get the engagement and interaction he needs, he may act aggressively out of boredom. This could include:

  • Biting/chewing the furniture and your belongings
  • Nipping at your hands and feet for attention
  • Chasing other animals
  • Barking at noises outside

There are dozens of reasons your dog could be bored. You may leave him along too much, he may not have enough toys, or he may feel not socialize enough with other dogs.

By fixing the cause of your dog’s boredom, you can mitigate aggressive behaviors. It may take time to find what triggers their boredom but once you figure it out, it should be easy to correct and promote healthier, more well-adjusted behaviors.

Your Dog Doesn’t Socialize

You need to socialize your dog from an early age to encourage healthy behaviors, according to a report by the University of Pennsylvania.

If you don’t, he may become aggressive toward you, other dogs, and other animals, making him a potential danger.

If you adopt an older dog whose previous owners didn’t socialize properly, it’ll be harder to correct his aggressive behaviors.

It may require professional help, as poorly socialized dogs are more likely to act belligerent around other animals and pose a threat.

When you adopt a German Shepherd puppy, make sure he spends adequate time around other dogs. Take him to puppy play dates and dog parks where he can learn healthy interactions with others.

By socializing your dog, you’re mitigating territorial behaviors before they take hold. As your dog grows up, territorial aggression will get worse if you don’t address it – by stopping it before it starts, you can positively influence your dog’s emotional development.

He Feels Overprotective of You

Sometimes, your German Shepherd won’t be aggressive toward you but he will antagonize other people. In these cases, he may feel overprotective and act out of line, assuming it’s the right thing to do.

If this is the case, your dog needs more training. He needs to learn what’s a threat and what isn’t – after all, you can’t have your dog barking at your family members or chasing your other pets.

The idea is to change your dog’s perception of a threat. They need to learn when protective behaviors are necessary and when it’s safe to relax.

A professional trainer can help you teach your dog these basics. Once he learns to differentiate between threats, family members, and guests, he’ll change his aggressive behaviors accordingly.

Final Thoughts

German Shepherds are one of the most loyal dog breeds you can adopt. They’re protective and intelligent, making them exceptional guard dogs and family members.

On the other hand, they’re more naturally aggressive than other breeds. Because they’re bred to protect their families, they may act belligerently under certain circumstances.

Fortunately, German Shepherds are smart and it’s easy to teach them healthier behaviors. Oftentimes, their aggression is a sign of other factors at play, like boredom.

When you figure out why your German Shepherd is acting aggressive, you’ve figured out the first big step to helping feel more secure and well-adjusted.

It’s important to understand that you can fix aggressive behaviors in most German Shepherd with enough time, patience, and dedication.

Best of all, you don’t have to do it alone. Do some research and look for German Shepherd trainers in your city.

They’ll know exactly how to teach your dog healthier behaviors, teach him to respect you as his leader and mitigate dangerous aggression before it gets worse.

Additionally, training lessons can be a great place for your dog to socialize – he’ll learn alongside his classmates in group training sessions, giving him valuable time to work on his behavior.

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