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Why Does My German Shepherd Walk In Front of Me: Understanding This Common GSD Behavior Pattern

Written by Shannon Cutts


Posted on June 6, 2020

German Shepherd dogs are beloved throughout the world for their many stellar qualities. GSDs are known to be brave, affectionate, loving, protective, noble, and very intelligent.

These are all great qualities to have in your companion canine!

But the specific combination of traits that German Shepherds have can also lead to some behaviors that can puzzle new GSD owners.

For example, why does your dog always seem to want to walk in front of you?

In this article, we will break down this behavior for you so you understand what it means to your dog and how to address it.

Why Does My German Shepherd Walk In Front of Me? The simplest reason your German Shepherd walks in front of you is often the right one – your dog is protecting you!

Another common reason many owners say their GSD walks in front of them is that their dog is so eager to exercise and burn off some of that famous German Shepherd energy.

But there can be other reasons as well, which we will spend the rest of this article explores.


Watch a German Shepherd Learning to Be a Protection Dog

This YouTube video gives you a quick look into the process of properly training a German Shepherd to be a loyal protector and guardian dog.

Understanding the German Shepherd Dog Breed History

A German Shepherd is first and foremost a working dog breed with a very unique breed history.

As the American Kennel Club (AKC) explains, German Shepherds were first bred to work beside people herding and protecting livestock and guarding people as well.

After livestock dogs were no longer in such high demand, the breed because well known for their abilities in personal protection, police, military and guard dog work.

German Shepherds are also an eternally popular breed choice to serve as guide dogs for the blind, search and rescue dogs, scent and tracking dogs, hunting dogs and therapy, and service dogs.

What do all of these job descriptions have in common? German Shepherds live to serve with their people.

These dogs are famous for doing whatever it takes to get the job done well and keep their charges (whether animal or human) safe.

This is why one of the most common reasons a German Shepherd will walk in front of you is to make sure they stand between you and any threat that may approach you.

Understanding the German Shepherd Dog Activity and Energy Level

As the German Shepherd Dog Club of Victoria explains, German Shepherds are dogs that really appreciate having lots of daily exercise and playtime.

If you have ever asked your German Shepherd puppy or adult dog if they would like to go on a W.A.L.K., or held up the leash, or even made a move towards the door and seen your dog’s eyes light up, you already know this is true!

The German Shepherd’s working dog background has given this breed a very high natural energy level. This is great when your dog has an energetic job to do.

But it isn’t so great when your dog’s only real “job” is to be a companion canine.

How will they ever burn off all that extra energy every day?

So sometimes if your GSD is walking in front of you, it may simply be that they are raring to get going and eager to run and jump and romp and play and move about as these dogs love to do.

What You Need to Know About Exercise and Young German Shepherd Dogs

However, if this is your first time caring for a large dog breed like the German Shepherd, it is also important to know these dogs take more time to grow up.

When your German Shepherd is a puppy, they are growing fast. Their bones and muscles and ligaments and whole-body systems are growing and thus are more vulnerable to injury.

The growth plates in the bones are the centers that tell your dog’s bones when to keep growing and when to stop. As long as the growth plates remain open, you need to be careful with exercise.

Exercising your GSD puppy or young adult dog too much too soon can cause pain, damage, and sometimes irreparable injury to the growth plates and thus the bones and skeletal structure.

The American Kennel Club (AKC) explains that a German Shepherd may grow to reach anywhere from 50 to 90 pounds, which means larger GSDs will grow for a longer period of time.

Learning the size and weight range of your puppy’s parent dogs can help you guesstimate how much growing your puppy may have left to do.

But the only way to know for absolute certain that your GSD’s growth plates have closed for good is to have your dog’s veterinarian do X-rays.

Smaller German Shepherd dogs may have growth plates that close as early as seven to eight months. Very large GSD puppy may have growth plates that stay open as long as 14 to 18 months or even longer.

All this to say, even if your German Shepherd acts like no amount of exercise will ever be too much, talk with your dog’s veterinarian about the appropriate daily amount of exercise so you don’t unknowingly cause damage that can’t be undone.

For general purposes, you should steer clear of strenuous walks, jogs, or hikes and avoid any distance over one mile until your dog’s veterinarian says it is safe to proceed.


When Your German Shepherd Pulls On the Leash and Walks Ahead of You

Thus far we have discussed some very positive reasons why your German Shepherd may insist on walking in front of you – protection and eagerness to exercise and play.

But there can also be some times when your dog’s insistence on walking in front of you stems from some training or even behavior issues.

It is important to be able to tell the difference because you don’t want to put your dog, your family, or others in harm’s way because of un-met training needs.

Poor leash training can put you into the emergency room

In fact, most dog owners don’t realize that up to 88 percent of falls (up to 240 falls per day) that land people in the urgent care happen because the person’s pet trips them!

You definitely don’t want this to happen to you or anyone else in your family who takes your dog for walks.

Sometimes your German Shepherd may do this because they simply haven’t learned how to walk properly with you yet, as VetStreet explains.

German Shepherds are an incredibly smart dog breed (in the top 10 of 79 dog breeds) that can master new commands in five tries or less, on average.

But puppies may have more trouble minding you and remembering commands they have learned. So you will need to have some patience and continue re-training your GSD puppy.

Once your dog is an adult, you should absolutely expect your GSD to mind you and remember what they have learned, including common walk commands like “heel,” “sit,” “stay,” “leave it,” “come” or any other words you use to tell your dog what to do.

The difference between protection and aggression in GSDs

Some German Shepherd owners may not realize that properly training a dog doesn’t mean your GSD won’t still protect you if the need arises.

This is a common area for the confusion that comes from not understanding the difference between protection and aggression.

The German Shepherd is a dog breed that is steeped in protective instincts, which means your dog needs more training, not less, to understand when protection is really needed.

When your dog obeys you at least 95 percent of the time, you don’t have to worry that your dog will act out of aggression because they are getting mixed signals from you, their owner.

You will be able to give a single command and your dog will instantly come to your aid.

This is when German Shepherds really shine and are in their protective element because the dog is confident when you are clear.


Consider Special K-9 Training or Sports for German Shepherds

Because German Shepherds are so naturally high-energy, athletic, and protection-oriented, these dogs tend to star in canine athletics, competitions, and all kinds of service work.

German Shepherds love learning new skills and especially love anything interactive with “their” people (aka you).

Schutzhund, obedience/rally, agility, dock diving, guide dog, search and rescue, nose work, tracking, therapy dog work, service dog work, show competitions – all of these are great activities you and your dog can enjoy together.

By taking the time to teach your dog to walk beside or slightly behind you and to mind your training commands, you help your dog learn to manage those protective instincts for everyone’s safety.