The American Kennel Club (AKC) describes the German Shepherd dog as courageous, loyal, confident, and steady. This sure doesn’t sound like a dog that would bite their owner!
And yet the truth is, anything that has a mouth can bite. What this means is that whether a German Shepherd dog bites their owner has a lot more to do with the circumstances and situation than with the dog or even the dog breed.
The AKC states that the German Shepherd dog breed is the second most popular (out of 195 purebred dog breeds) choice for individuals and families in the United States.
While it is impossible to know exactly how many people in America own a GSD, it seems safe to say that a lot of people choose this dog as their companion canine.
This also implies that the GSD breed is not known for biting their owners (after all, most people don’t go about the process of choosing a pet dog by identifying which breed is most likely to bite them).
But let’s take a closer look at this issue. Do GSDs ever bite their owners? If yes, what might cause this type of behavior to happen? Is there anything you can do to prevent being bitten by your German Shepherd? Let’s find out now.
Why Do Dogs Bite People?
To hear the Canine Journal tell it, every year about 4.7 million people get bitten by dogs in the United States.
This means you have a one in 69 chance of getting bitten by a dog each year, whether it is your own dog or another dog.
This is a relatively high frequency of dog bites, especially considering how many people choose to share their lives with companion canines! What causes dogs to bite people with such frequency?
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), here are the top reasons why dogs typically bite people:
- Dogs bite because they are scared.
- Dogs bite because they get startled.
- Dogs bite because they are protecting a high-value item (like a toy or treat or their dinner).
- Dogs bite because they are sick or injured.
- Dogs bite because they feel threatened.
- Dogs bite because they are teething.
- Dogs bite because they get excited (such as in a play).
Fear, pain, and excitement (whether positive or negative) are the main themes here.
But what do all of these reasons have in common, you might ask? They are all reactions.
Every single reason to bite on the AVMA’s list results when something happens and the dog reacts it by biting.
What you don’t see is dogs just arbitrarily biting people. Dogs don’t just go around with their jaws open ready to bite for no reason. When a dog bites, there is a reason behind it.
When you start to understand and decode what those reasons are, this is when you are able to reduce the risk you will ever be bitten again in the future by your dog or any dog.
Biting Is Just One Way Dogs Can Communicate With Owners
For people, it becomes unacceptable to bite other people starting in the toddler years. We learn quickly that biting others is a no-no and we find other ways to communicate. Luckily, toddlerhood is also when we start talking and so we can use words instead.
But dogs can’t talk to people using human language. Instead, throughout life, your German Shepherd dog will have a more limited vocabulary to talk to you.
Your GSD can bark, whine, growl, howl, lick, jump, and bite to communicate. What this means is that biting doesn’t necessarily happen to hurt you. It happens to talk to you.
Your job is to find out what the bite means. What does your German Shepherd want to say to you? When you can decode the message behind the bite, you are already on your way towards stopping the biting behavior for good.
As the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists explains, dogs, in general, do not bite all of a sudden. There is a reason – some provocation.
The Biggest Reason Why Most GSDs Bite Their Owners
It might surprise you to learn that the number one reason most GSDs will bite their owners is simply a lack of training.
This video, made by a professional dog trainer, explains very well why a poorly trained or untrained German Shepherd might choose to bite as their main method of communication.
When the trainer first meets the GSD, Zeus, the dog mouths everyone all the time. He even mouths and bites at a child’s feet!
After just a handful of days working closely with the dog trainer, Zeus has nearly stopped mouthing all together and is clearly calmer and more confident. By the end of the training period, it is like Zeus has been replaced by a different dog.
The trainer highlights the main reasons why Zeus is biting everyone in his human family. He is afraid! He is afraid of the vacuum cleaner, the trainer’s dog, cardboard boxes, the car, the trash can – everything causes a fear response, which is biting.
Zeus needs to learn how to tell the difference between genuinely scary things and ordinary things. He also needs to find another outlet for his excitement other than mouthing and biting.
Once he does this, the biting stops.
Is There Ever a Chance Your German Shepherd Will Bite You For No Reason?
As this Deutscher-Schaeferhund site points out, the chance that a GSD will ever bite their owner “for no reason” is very low.
However, there is a wealth of documentation linking past or current abuse to biting behaviors for German Shepherds and many other dog breeds.
This is particularly important to remember if you are thinking about adopting a rescued German Shepherd where you don’t know a lot about that dog’s past situation.
If the dog was abused, neglected, or harmed by someone, they may be more prone to bite until they learn to trust you and get the right training to stop biting.
It is especially important to research this in advance if you have other family pets or young children in the home.
A Bored German Shepherd Is a Destructive German Shepherd
As one expert The German Shepherder highlights, a German Shepherd that gets bored can become destructive.
The German Shepherd dog breed was originally developed to have a very strong work ethic, high energy, and tireless activity levels. Guarding and herding livestock is a 24/7 job and these dogs were specifically bred to do that job well.
But in a companion canine setting when you pick a German Shepherd as a family pet, your dog doesn’t have a job to do. Unless you are prepared to spend many hours daily playing and doing activities with your dog, your GSD is likely to get bored.
A bored GSD will find something to do. That might mean you come home to find your carpets destroyed or your draperies on the ground or your mini-blinds in tangles.
It might also mean your dog starts to bite you to get your attention and try to get you to take some action. Your German Shepherd is biting or mouthing you to let you know they are bored, frustrated, ready to play, or get some exercise.
But if you don’t understand what is going on, you may assume your dog is becoming aggressive towards you.
As the short video you watched earlier explains, once Zeuss the German Shepherd was given things to do, new skills to learn and lots of human attention and activities, the biting and mouthing simply stopped.
German Shepherds do not do well if they are left alone for long periods at a time even if there is another dog in the household.
As the video showed, Zeus was initially even afraid of another dog. He craved attention from his human family, not another canine.
How to Make Sure Your German Shepherd Doesn’t Bite You
Given how popular the German Shepherd dog breed is in America and around the world today, it is clear that lots of people are living very successfully without getting bitten by their GSDs.
You have to expect some degree of mouthing (if not biting) during puppyhood when your dog goes through teething. But you can ease their teething pain with toys and frozen treats.
By setting up the right types of training with positive reinforcement and making sure your dog gets enough exercise and activity and play every day, you are creating a very strong trust-based bond between yourself and your dog.
When you build this type of close bond with your German Shepherd, it is highly unlikely your dog will ever bite you on purpose because they won’t need to. You will have other, effective methods of communicating so your dog will never need to use their mouth to talk to you.