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 second most popular dog breed. But, 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. But with the right nurturing, a German Shepherd can be a loving and protective family pet.

When dealing with dogs as large and powerful as the GSD, there are things to be aware of. 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 which resulted in the German Shepherd Dog (Deutsche Shäferhund).

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.

However, the German Shepherd Dog did suffer during the World Wars as anti-German sentiment was rife.

It became known as the Alsatian, which many Britons still use despite the official breed name being reverted back “German Shepherd Dog” from 1977.

Characteristics 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.

For example, these dogs are extremely athletic and responsive. In addition, German Shepherds have a compulsion to run and chase after moving objects.

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

These dogs have also been bred to carry out search and rescue tasks, drug and bomb detection, and as guide dogs for the blind.

Therefore, they demonstrate high intelligence, are highly trainable and can easily keep focused on tasks.

Why German Shepherds Are Not Dangerous

Although German Shepherds have a reputation for having aggressive tendencies and behaviors, most German Shepherds are not innately aggressive dogs.

However, the difference is that German Shepherds can easily train 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.

One of the most important things you can do is study your dog and learn how he behaves in different situations.

Just because your dog barks or lunges at another dog or at a stranger, doesn’t 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 breed. This means that they can be trained really easily and quickly.

Because German Shepherds can easily develop a tendency to be aggressive, it is important you don’t encourage this side of character or behavior.

As a puppy, if your German Shepherd act aggressively towards other dogs, animals or humans, you must stop it immediately. Let them know early on that the behavior is not okay.

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 get injured from your dog.

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 stop or prevent this from happening in the first place?

If you’re a new owner, here are some things you can do to prevent and stop 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 is probably 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. Or 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.

If your dog is in an aggressive mood, he will bare his teeth, have a low-pitch bark or growl, and will have a recognizable aggressive stance.

If you see any of these warning signs, you need to act quickly to stop the behavior. Be firm and consistent with this training. 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 enough exercise each day.

As herding dogs, German Shepherds have a ton of energy. It is essential to avoid him having pent up energy. 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 physical activity every day. Better dust off your running shoes!

Of course, not all German Shepherd owners meet this recommended requirement. However, the closer you can get to that, the less likely you’ll experience aggressive behavior.

By tiring out your German Shepherd, they’re also less likely to exhibit destructive behaviors and excessive barking.

Mental Exercise

Something equally as important as physical activity is mental exercise. Because German Shepherds are so smart, they need mental stimulation every day.

Mental exercise can come in many forms. For example, daily obedience training is probably the easiest and best way to deal with mental stimulation.

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.

If you don’t have the time for this every day, you can supplement 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.

The point of socialization is that the GSD 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.”

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

It is possible that a young GSD won’t react well to an unfamiliar person or animal. However, being young means that it’s unlikely they can 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 and whether any treatment may be possible.

So, Are German Shepherds Dangerous Dogs?

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

In short, they can be but not always. An adult GSD does have an exceptionally strong bite strength but, with the right training and nurturing, you’re more likely to develop an affectionate and calm GSD.

However, the danger of owning an aggressive German Shepherd (as opposed to an aggressive Chihuahua) is that they are large and powerful.

If trained from puppyhood with good socialization, you and your family can enjoy your German Shepherd without any of the associated aggression of this breed.

So, what is the most dangerous dog breed? Realistically, there isn’t 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 is 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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