The German Shepherd dog is a large and imposing dog breed. These dogs have been bred to work alongside people doing some pretty dangerous jobs in some very high-risk situations.
A German Shepherd at work as a protection or security dog can be a ferociously fearsome sight. For this reason, some people get the idea that GSDs are aggressive. But what you don’t see is all the training that goes into getting these dogs ready to do their job.
In other words, as the old saying goes, “anything with a mouth can bite.” But it is how and when a German Shepherd barks, or bites, or charges, or runs away, that speaks volumes about that dog’s ability to be trusted.
How can you know whether or not you can trust your German Shepherd dog? What signs should you look for? And how can you make sure your GSD is trustworthy? These are the questions we will be looking at today.
About the Incredibly Popular German Shepherd Dog Breed
German Shepherds as a dog breed would not have risen to become one of the most beloved companion canines in the country and the world if they did not have great personalities and basically loving temperament.
For instance, did you know that in the United States the German Shepherd dog is the second most popular companion canine in the country? This ranking is based on the popularity of 195 registered purebred dog breeds. So the GSD is pretty popular!
However, the way you interact with your dog can also influence how your dog acts (and reacts) with you. In other words, you have a lot of influence over how trustworthy your German Shepherd dog is!
As this short and sweet YouTube video from a GSD owner highlights, gaining a German Shepherd dog’s trust and receiving trustworthy behavior in return is all about one relationship: yours with your dog and theirs with you.
Just like one person can be trustworthy while another person may not be, so too can one German Shepherd dog be very trustworthy and another GSD may not be so trustworthy.
So what can you look for to know if your German Shepherd dog can be trusted? Let’s find out!
How to Know You Can Trust a German Shepherd Dog
While it is true that you and your dog are two different species, it is also true that people and dogs have evolved over tens of thousands of years to live and work and share life together.
What you can learn from this is that the German Shepherd dog breed (and all modern domestic dog breeds) are genetically predisposed to trust people.
But in order to earn that trust, you still have to behave in trustworthy ways. For a GSD, trust is the same as consistency.
For example, if you always train your GSD using positive reinforcement and rewards, your dog will come to associate you with love and kindness, and encouragement.
On the other hand, if you use punishment and harshness and negativity to try to train your dog, your GSD will associate you with anger and fear, and pain.
Either way, there is trust – trust that you will behave in a certain way.
You learn whether your dog is trustworthy in the exact same way. Remember the video you watched in an earlier section here and how the owner was able to walk away from her dinner and find it still there when she returned? This is trust.
That owner knew her dog wouldn’t take her dinner. The dog knew if she didn’t eat her owner’s dinner, she would be rewarded with love and kindness (and likely treats). So there is trust flowing in both directions.
A Simple Experiment to Find Out if Your GSD Is Trustworthy
One of the best ways to identify whether your GSD is behaving in trustworthy ways is to watch what happens when you are not around.
Just like the owner in the short video from earlier, who knew the best way to find out if her German Shepherd could be trusted was to leave, you can conduct the same type of experiment at home.
This is also a great way to determine if or how well your current training methods are working.
If your GSD only behaves when you are there watching, this is better than no behaving at all. But it is not as good as knowing your GSD continues to behave when you are not there.
To conduct this experiment, you will need some way of remotely monitoring your German Shepherd. Alternately, you will need to be able to go to a place where your GSD cannot follow you. You and your dog must be separated for the experiment to work.
You can just follow the video as your guide to complete these steps:
1. Interact with your German Shepherd as you always do.
2. Leave a high-value item out – a toy, a treat, your snack.
3. Give the command you always use to leave it alone.
4. Leave the area.
5. Wait a few minutes.
6. Come back and see what happened while you were gone.
How did your German Shepherd do? Did they pass the trust test? Or do you have more work to do?
It is interesting to read the stories of other dog owners and hear how they knew their dogs could finally be trusted. And you will notice that often it was up to the dog to let their owner know in no uncertain terms they were trustworthy!
This Reddit feed shares lots of stories about how dogs let their owners know they could be trusted when “home alone.”
The most important takeaway from these stories is that there is no one single right way to establish trust between you and your German Shepherd. Some owners use crates and others don’t. Some owners use baby gates and others don’t.
Some owners let their GSDs sleep in their bed at night and others don’t. It is up to you what method you use, but just be sure to be consistent. Remember, in your dog’s world, when you are consistent you are trustworthy.
When you behave in a consistent and trustworthy way towards your GSD, you are much more likely to receive the same consistent, trustworthy behavior from your dog in return.
How to Know When You Can’t Trust a German Shepherd Dog
As the Missouri German Shepherd Rescue Charity (MOGS) points out, there may also be situations where expecting trust from your GSD is unwise and unrealistic.
Here, there may be differences based on whether you are raising your GSD from puppyhood or rescuing a juvenile or adult German Shepherd dog.
Either way, the first thing to do before deciding to extend your trust is to learn absolutely everything you can about the German Shepherd dog breed. This will help you understand your GSD’s genetic programming and deeply embedded natural instincts.
Once you understand this, it will help you sidestep situations that could turn into real disasters of broken trust.
As the MOGS charity explains, German Shepherds have been bred to herd and guard livestock. This gives the GSD an extremely strong prey drive.
Unless your GSD has been socialized from birth to live with livestock or small prey-type pets, it is unwise to put your dog in this situation and expect them to override their own instincts to herd – and perhaps harm – these animals.
In the same way, if your GSD comes to you as a rescue dog with an uncertain past or a history of abuse or neglect, leaving your dog home alone or in other scary or compromising situations will likely result in broken trust.
Here, it is not that your GSD does not want to obey you and earn your trust. It is that you have not yet earned your dog’s trust! They may have learned from a past owner or situation that humans are not trustworthy.
So you must show your dog you are different. Your method of training and the consistency of training sessions is the best way to show your German Shepherd that you are worthy of their trustworthy behavior.
When to Ask for Professional Help With German Shepherd Trust Issues
German Shepherds are very popular because they can be so loving and loyal and they are great guard dogs.
But so many GSDs are relinquished or abandoned each year because people don’t understand the breed or how to train a GSD properly.
Don’t hesitate to ask for the professional help from a dog trainer or canine behavior expert, especially if this is your very first time owning and training a German Shepherd dog.
With the right training and guidance, you can enjoy the very best traits of this highly popular and beloved dog breed. Investing that time now will pay off in years of love, connection, and shared trust between you and your dog.