Dog Breeds Dog Training

Are German Shepherds Dangerous? – Here’s What New Owners Need to Know

German Shepherds are not dangerous dogs if properly trained and socialized.
Written by Richard Jeng

Described by the American Kennel Club as “confident, courageous, and smart,” the German Shepherd Dog (GSD) is America’s 2nd most popular family dog. But because they’re such big dogs, safety is always something to consider with a GSD.

So, are German Shepherds dangerous? German Shepherds can be dangerous dogs. They were bred for herding livestock and not as aggressive dogs. However, many GSDs do have aggressive tendencies that needs to be kept in check. But with the right nurturing, a German Shepherd can be a loving and protective pet.

When dealing with dogs as large and powerful as the German Shepherd, there are things to be aware of. Plenty of care and attention is needed. Continue reading to find out whether their reputation as aggressive dogs is accurate.

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German Shepherd Origins

The GSD belongs to the family of German herding dogs. There were once many variations of the breed. But towards the end of the 1800s, Captain Max von Stephanitz, a German cavalry officer, set out to develop an ideal herder.

During the breeding process (that spanned over 35 years), many strains were mixed in, which resulted in the German Shepherd Dog (Deutsche Shäferhund).

But despite their early origins, it wasn’t until the early 20th century that the German Shepherd became popular in the United States. This was partly due to movie stars such as Strongheart and Rin-Tin-Tin – who won the hearts of Americans.

However, the GSD did suffer during the World War as anti-German sentiment was rife. For a while, they became known as the Alsatian, which many Britons still use despite the official breed name being reverted back “German Shepherd” since 1977.

Qualities of a Dangerous Shepherd Dog?

German Shepherds are highly intelligent. In fact, they're the 3rd smartest dog.

Because the German Shepherd was bred from sheepherding dogs, they carry various traits you would expect from herding dogs. And while these traits can be ideal on the farm, they may also be potentially dangerous without training.

For example, these dogs are extremely athletic and responsive. After all, their bodies are built with a lean muscle frame. In addition, German Shepherds have a compulsion to run and chase after moving objects, given their herding instincts.

Their other roles include high-end sentry dogs and military messengers, as well as police dogs and protection dogs. For these specialized jobs, they had to be protective and territorial while retaining a certain aloofness among strangers.

German Shepherds are powerful dogs that can be trained to be attack dogs. They also have some predispositions toward aggression more than other dogs.

– Traciek88 (Dog Forums)

German Shepherd dogs have also been bred to carry out search and rescue tasks, drug and bomb detection, and as guide dogs for the blind. In the world of canine service, few dogs are as versatile and essential as the GSD.

These dogs are more than just the brawn, but also the brains. As such, German Shepherds tend to demonstrate high intelligence, are highly trainable and can easily keep focused on the most crucial tasks under pressure.

There’s no doubt that German Shepherds are impressive canines with outstanding physical and mental strength. But do these qualities translate into a dangerous dog? Let investigate.

Why German Shepherds Are Not Dangerous

Though German Shepherds have a reputation for having aggressive tendencies and behaviors, most German Shepherds are not innately aggressive dogs. That is, they weren’t bred for jobs that required aggression – unlike fighting dogs.

However, the difference is that German Shepherds can easily be trained to show aggression. On the other hand, it’s rather difficult to train a Pug for these behaviors.

For example, if a German Shepherd is raised to be a guard dog, then you can expect the breed’s aggressive tendencies to be encouraged. After all, guard dogs are expected to be intimidating in certain situations.

Most German Shepherd owners do not need a guard dog and so, with the right training, will have a GSD that is calm and protective rather than dangerous and aggressive. Their adult temperament is heavily influenced by the owner.

One of the most important things you can do is study your dog and learn how he behaves in all types of situations. Just because your dog barks or lunges at another dog or at a stranger, does not mean he is being protective or aggressive (although it could).

It could also be that your German Shepherd is attempting to hide behind a façade because he is insecure or frightened.

Nature vs. Nurture

German Shepherd Dogs are, by nature, an intelligent dog breed. This means that they can be trained fairly easily and quickly in tasks and commands. Plus, they’re adaptively smart, which means they’re great at picking up cues from owners.

For these reasons, German Shepherds can easily develop a tendency to be aggressive. But it is even more important that you don’t encourage this side of character or behavior.

As a puppy, if your German Shepherd acts aggressively towards other dogs, animals or other humans, you must stop it immediately. Let them know early on that the behavior is not okay. They are loyal and loving dogs, so they’ll likely learn.

Failure to properly train a German Shepherd could prove to be dangerous and in rare cases, fatal. As an owner, the last thing you’ll want is for someone or another dog to be injured from your dog. It’s not a great feeling.

How to Stop German Shepherd Aggression

There's more to a dog's IQ than just obedience and working intelligence.

Whenever your German Shepherd shows an undesirable or aggressive behavior, you must contain him and stop the behavior. But how do you actually stop or prevent this from happening in the first place?

If you’re a novice owner, here are some things you can do to prevent and stop the dangerous behaviors from developing.

Beginner Tips

At least in the beginning, it is important that you keep your German Shepherd on a leash for walks. This isn’t meant to isolate the dog, but rather keep a safe distance from other people and dogs – just in case.

If your GSD is showing aggressive traits frequently, it may be a good idea to get professionals involved. This is not something that can simply be brushed under the carpet.

This can mean obedience school and training with professionals. And in the worst case, you can also hire a canine behavioral specialist to help, though it may be more expensive.

One of the first things you can do to prevent aggression is to be wary of its likelihood. By that, I mean to keep a close eye on your dog’s body language. You can learn a lot from your GSD if you took some time to learn about canine body language.

If your dog is in an aggressive mood, he will bare his teeth, have a low-pitch bark or growl. In many cases, the dog will have a recognizable aggressive stance. However, each dog may be different and have varying signs.

If you see any of these warning signs, you need to act quickly to stop the behavior. Be firm and consistent with this training. Don’t let them get away with it, ever. And when in doubt, always resort to positive reinforcement training.

Physical Activity

Another effective method of preventing aggression is to ensure your German Shepherd gets a good dose of exercise each day. This can be in the form of walking, running, dog games or even a swim in the lake.

As herding dogs, German Shepherds have a ton of energy that needs to be dealt with. It’s so essential to avoid having pent up energy in the dog. With that said, a GSD needs opportunities to release their stress or anxieties.

According to The Kennel Club UK, German Shepherds need at least 2 hours of exercise every day. And ideally, they should be kept in a spacious backyard where they can run on their own. So, better dust off your running shoes!

Not all German Shepherd owners meet this recommended requirement. However, the more run they get, the less chance for aggression. By tiring out your GSD, they’re also less likely to show destructive behaviors like excessive barking.

Mental Exercise

Something equally as important as physical activity is mental exercise. Because GSDs are so smart, they need mental stimulation every day. Without it, boredom may cause they to be destructive in the home.

Mental exercise can come in many forms. For example, daily obedience training is probably the easiest and best way to deal with mental stimulation. In fact, German Shepherds are some of the most responsive dogs when it comes to obedience.

Though a German Shepherd could probably stay engaged with obedience training for a whole afternoon, 30 to 45 minutes a day is sufficient most of the time. You can also supplement this with other things, such as dog puzzles and dog games.

Here are just a few of my dog’s favorite dog puzzles:

  1. Nina Ottosson Dog Puzzle – Hide your dog’s favorite treats and let them figure out how to get to the goods. It’s fun, interactive and simple. A GSD would absolutely love this!
  2. StarMark Bark-A-Lot – This bobble toy also acts as a food dispenser for your GSD. The dog needs to tilt the toy in a certain way to release treats or even a full meal. Get a size large!
  3. Outward Hound Hide & Seek Plush – This is a fantastic plush toy and the reviews speak for themselves. Sit back and watch your dog figure out this puzzle.

You don’t have to pick one of my recommendations. What’s more important is that you pick something for your GSD.

Fortunately, Amazon has the largest collection of these smart dog puzzles to choose from. Pick anything that you looks interesting and see if your dog enjoys it!

Training From Puppyhood & Beyond

With proper training at the right age, it’s more likely you’ll see an adult German Shepherd that doesn’t show unnecessary aggressive behaviors.

Socialization is key with these dogs. Take advantage of every opportunity for your puppy to play with unfamiliar adults, children and dogs. The more often, the better. And the earlier they start, the less anxious they’ll be to meet new friends.

The point of socialization is that your German Shepherd interacts with as many types of people as possible. This way, they’re more likely to be able to differentiate “good people” from “bad people” and develop less anxiety in environments.

This is especially important if you plan to have your German Shepherd as a guardian of the home. After all, you wouldn’t want him attacking the visiting neighbors.

It’s possible that a young GSD won’t react well to an strange people and dogs. However, being young means that they are unlikely to cause significant harm.

It is important to note, however, that even though a mature dog is well-trained, it could end up becoming aggressive later on as ailments and pain take hold. If this is the case, a trip to the vet should help discover the cause of aggression.

So, Are German Shepherds Dangerous Dogs?

We measure a German Shepherd's intelligence based off obedience and working intelligence.

In short, German Shepherds can be dangerous without proper handling. An adult GSD does have exceptionally strong bite strength but, with the right training and nurturing, you’re more likely to develop an loving and calm dog.

The dangers of owning an aggressive GSD (as opposed to an aggressive Chihuahua) is that they are large and powerful. In other words, the stakes are much higher with the large German dog when compared to a lap dog.

So, what is the most dangerous dog breed? There really shouldn’t be one.

That might come as a surprising answer but actually, breeds that are labeled as ‘dangerous’ are not really any more aggressive than other dogs. The problem with “dangerous dogs” is actually dog owners themselves.

There is a complex interplay at play – a mixture between a dog’s genetics giving the dog the capability to be aggressive and the dog’s owners who nurture (or not) these capabilities.

It’s not so much a question of “are German Shepherds dangerous?” but “are German Shepherd owners dangerous?”

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About the author

Richard Jeng

Richard has been raising dogs his whole life, including a Poodle, Pomeranian, Corgi and Australian Shepherd. He's always working with animal shelters and dog rescues because of his passion for all dogs. Fun fact: his all time favorite breed is the German Shepherd. Read More.

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