Brave, strong and dignified are popular ways to describe the German Shepherd. Thanks to their good looks and loyalty, they’ve become wildly popular dogs – both on the field and in the home. But, there are things parents should consider before bringing one home.
So, are German Shepherds good with kids? The German Shepherd can make a great dog for older kids, though they can pose a danger without proper socializing. But according to the ATTS, the GSD has one of the best pass rates (85.3%) for temperaments. So, they’re stable dogs that respond well to unpredictability, such as kids.
The decision to bring such a large dog into your home with children is a tough one. There are too many things to consider, especially when it comes to safety of the kids. However, there are good reasons why they’ll get along just fine.
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Table of Contents
- German Shepherd Temperament
- German Shepherds with Kids
- Pitfalls: German Shepherds & Kids
- Training German Shepherds For Kids
German Shepherd Temperament
From appearance alone, the German Shepherd doesn’t look like the typical “kid-friendly” dog. In fact, they look quite the opposite. With a huge, muscular frame and sharp snout, the GSD is not a dog many people would willingly approach.
However, the temperament of these dogs may say otherwise. The most important factor in an ideal dog for kids is arguably the breed’s temperament. Kids are unpredictable, and having a dog that doesn’t aggressively respond to uncertainty is crucial.
Fortunately, we have data that suggest GSDs have stable temperaments. That is, according to the ATTS (American Temperament Test Society), German Shepherds have a passing rate of 85.3%, which is higher than average (83.4%).
Measuring GSD Temperament
The ATTS is an established non-profit organization that’s been evaluating breed temperaments since 1977. In the last few decades, they’ve evaluated tens of thousands of individual dogs in all parts of the country. Many of which, were German Shepherds.
Their temperament tests are simple, yet effective. Dogs are put onto a loose leash (6-foot) in an enclosure. The German Shepherds are then exposed to a variety of factors and the responses are documented by three judges.
Each judge will assign a pass or fail score for the dog with the best 2 out of 3 being the final score. If the dog reacts negatively to any factor, such as panic, anxiety, consistent aloofness or sustained aggression, they will fail.
Since inception, the ATTS has tested over 3,383 German Shepherds. As such, 2,885 GSDs have passed with flying colors, while only 498 failed.
While individual dogs will have their own varying temperaments and personalities, having such a high percentage of GSDs pass is a good sign. It means that many German Shepherds tend to remain calm and stable when interacting with children.
GSD Temperament Overview
German Shepherds are extremely popular dogs all around the world. And, it isn’t by chance. A GSD will naturally be protective and affectionate. They are, after all, highly regarded guard dogs entrusted by millions to protect their home.
While they are shepherd dogs originally tasked with protecting and herding, German Shepherds have come a long way since. Today, they’re primarily loyal family companions, though they still retain their strong work ethics.
But with all the good, it’s possible for them to develop behavioral problems, such as separation anxiety. They’re highly affectionate dogs that devote themselves to their owners, which means that they hate it when their owners are gone.
Calm GSDs are a crime against nature. I’m sure there are some, but true shepherds are bred with energy and high drive.– EscapingToronto (HST)
Most of the time, you’ll get a highly energetic and active dog. Given their high intelligence, a German Shepherd needs plenty of physical and mental stimulation daily. Otherwise, you’ll likely see destructive behaviors with your GSD.
On the bright side, German Shepherds tend to adapt well. For example, they’re able to thrive in apartments, as long as they have the necessities. Caring for a GSD is not an easy task. They’ll require plenty of work, especially with kids in the home.
German Shepherds with Kids
Overall, the temperaments of German Shepherds make them ideal dogs for children. But what is it specifically that renders them great playmates for kids? Read on to learn the all the reasons why the dog-child relationship can thrive with this breed.
The Loyal Shepherd
If there’s one quality this dog breed is known for, it’s their unwavering loyalty. In fact, Rover thinks they’re the 4th most loyal breeds, ever! No matter what your situation, you can always count on a GSD to have your back!
This type of behavior is also no coincidence. As they were originally bred to be working dogs, the GSD was developed with the instincts to work hard and obey their owners. That is, the dog breed lives to work for their owners.
When I have to go away on business trips, she will grab pieces of my clothing and bring it into her crate. She really is stuck to my hip.– Brandon B. (GSD Forum)
It doesn’t get more loyal that that. As such, they’re often described as “people-pleasing” and “velcro dogs.” But in actuality, the behavior is just their immense loyalty. It’s why so many GSDs are used for public services, including police and military work.
The good news is that German Shepherds will extend their loyalty to the kids, as they’re also viewed as “part of the pack.” So with the proper training and socializing, the GSD will trust and respect your children – just like with adults.
Ultimate Guard Dogs
When you think of guard dogs, chances are, you’re imagining the German Shepherd. According to The Spruce Pets, these dogs are one of the 5 top guard dog breeds. Millions of homes rely on these dogs for protection, and it’s easy to see why.
These dogs are built with a muscular frame, weighing nearly 90 pounds with an athletic build. I don’t know too many people that would mess with a GSD. However, they’re more just powerful dogs. German Shepherds have the brains and brawn.
Breed standard calls for German Shepherds to be protective. If the genes are there, that’s half the battle already won.– Fodder (GSD Forum)
The GSD is by no means an “out-of-control” dog. They’re highly intelligent dogs that’ll have high adaptive intelligence. Combined with proper socializing, they’re able to learn and understand what is a “threat” and what isn’t.
Another reason why they’re great guard dogs is because of their loyalty. But it’s also because of their naturally protective instincts. German Shepherds can be territorial and tend to look after their family, including the kids.
Of course, it all boils down to how well the dog is treated and trained. But if your kids are ever in trouble, you can count on your German Shepherd stepping in. Even if they get approached by unfamiliar people, the dog will likely investigate.
Durable German Shepherds
Not many dogs can withstand the “punishment” that comes with a child’s rough play. If you’re a parent, you understand exactly how rowdy and noisy kids can be. But fortunately, the sturdy yet durable GSD was built to handle the rowdiness of your kids.
German Shepherds, depending on the gender, can weigh anywhere from 50 to 90 pounds as an adult. In addition, they’ll likely stand somewhere between 20 and 26 inches at the shoulder. They are anything but small dogs.
Some dog breeds, such as the Chihuahua, tend to snap back at rough play. They’re a lot more fragile and small, which means this behavior is only to protect themselves. It’s also been well documented that dogs bite when you inflict pain.
No matter how sweet and gentle a dog may be, pain-induced aggression is often a reflex. Of course, it’s much easier for a child to hurt a Chihuahua than a German Shepherd. Though, this doesn’t mean kids should purposely tug or jump on their GSD.
However, we understand accidents happen. Not every kid is capable of controlling themselves all the time. But when accidents do happen, it’s more likely a German Shepherd will be more willing to brush it off, especially when well-trained.
German Shepherds are, without question, highly obedient dogs. As such, they’re easy to train to play nice and act accordingly around children. The German Shepherd will happily learn all the “rules” and kid-friendly habits, making them ideal playmates.
According to Stanley Coren, a pHD and canine psychologist, there are only two dog breeds that are more obedient than the GSD: the Border Collie and Poodle. Out of 138 breeds, the GSD is third place for obedience & work intelligence.
German Shepherds tend to come when you call them. They excel at obedience training and are excellent ‘Canine Citizens.’– Tigerlily24 (City Data)
All this means is that German Shepherds are capable of learning new commands with less than 5 repetitions! Plus, they’re willing to obey known commands (on the first attempt) with a 95% or higher success rate. Truly, super obedient dogs.
Being highly obedient means that children can easily participate in training sessions. When the kids are helping refine the dog’s obedience, the relationship between the two will be stronger than ever. It establishes trust between child and dog.
Pitfalls: German Shepherds & Kids
When it comes to finding the perfect companion for children, there are a lot of good points with the German Shepherd. Even so, it’s possible for these dogs to pose a danger to your small and fragile kids. That said, here’s what parents should be aware of.
Like many shepherd and herding dogs, German Shepherds are very vocal dogs. That is, they’ll bark, howl and “speak” for various reasons. And while this isn’t necessarily a huge threat to the kids, it can make life difficult in the home.
For starters – babies and loud noises, such as barking, don’t go well together. Plus, it does not take much for these shepherds to start barking. After all, they’re natural guard dogs developed to have a vigilant and alert nature. They’ll let you know if something’s off.
Copper, my GSD rarely barks. She’s still very vocal and makes this weird yodel or grumbling noise like she’s trying to talk to me. It’s still pretty amusing though.– Astrovan (GSD Forum)
This problem doesn’t just involve babies, but small children too. In fact, it’s not uncommon for a small kid to be afraid of loud noises as well. And if your kids are “scared” of the dog, trying to foster a loving relationship between the two will be difficult.
The good news is that teaching the “quiet” command won’t be too hard with your GSD. It will take some consistency and patience, though German Shepherds are typically very responsive when it comes to obedience training.
Nipping the Kid’s Ankles
Before German Shepherds became the face of the K-9 Police Unit, they were originally bred to be herding and guarding dogs. Not only would they protect sheep flocks from wolves and other dangers, but also “move” (or herd) them.
And while these instincts may seem cool, it can become a problem with children in the home. It isn’t unusual to see a young German Shepherd nipping at the heels of your kids. It’s not really an aggressive behavior, but rather their herding instincts.
Biting and mouthing are all normal in German Shepherds. That’s how they learn, explore and communicate.– Stosh (GSD Forum)
Kids will be kids. In other words, they’ll likely run around and make loud noises. However, your GSD may interpret them as sheep running awry. And as a natural response, they may start to chase the children and nip them towards a direction.
This may not seem so bad, but it can certainly lead to injuries and shed tears. Small children aren’t the most balanced people, and nipping can easily cause them to trip and fall. I’ve also heard of cases where the dog breaks skin while nipping.
Again, this will take plenty of socializing and obedience training to curb the habit. Instincts likely will never go away, but you can still minimize this type of behavior. Plus, an 80 pound dog with this behavior is not the best idea.
The Prey Drive
In the dog world, the term “prey drive” refers to an instinct or rather, an eagerness to work hard, especially when it involves chasing and capturing a prey. These behaviors include tracking or searching, stalking, chasing, capturing and killing.
And while German Shepherds aren’t typically used for hunting, some dogs may have a strong prey drive. Again, the GSD was bred to protect sheep. So when predators come, they needed the instincts to quickly chase or kill them.
Now, we’re not saying a German Shepherd will actually bite a child due to their prey drive. But when kids are running away from the dog, the prey drive may very well kick in. The action of running away is very prey-like behavior.
Of course, socializing and obedience training will be key in subduing the prey drive in the GSD. Without proper handling, this prey drive, combined with their herding instincts, can spell trouble for your home with smaller children.
Big, Excitable Dogs
Being big and sturdy may have its benefits for handling the roughness of children. However, it can also be a pitfall. Even if you have the sweetest German Shepherd ever, it’s possible that they’ll unintentionally hurt the child.
According to Wag Walking, the GSD is an excitable dog breed. Whether it’s because they see another dog or even your kids, it doesn’t take much for them to get excited. While this may lead to a hyper dog, it’s all part of their loving and affectionate nature.
The truth is, many young dogs don’t know their true strength, especially if they’re big dogs. The German Shepherd is no exception. If a child starts to play with them, it’s possible for the GSD to get excited and jump or run, thus knocking over the child.
Training will, once again, be crucial to minimize this behavior. They’ll need to learn to not lunge at or jump around the children. But the good news is that this isn’t an aggressive behavior. It’s just your GSD being playful with the kids!
Training German Shepherds For Kids
Training can “make or break” the dog-child relationship, especially with German Shepherds. In a situation with no training, GSDs may become fearful, anxious and nervous dogs. All of which, are dog qualities not suited for play with kids.
That being said, you’ll want to focus on a few things: obedience training, socializing and finally, training the children. All three are very important in raising a German Shepherd that’ll thrive in a household with children.
Training the Kids for GSDs
The first step should be training the children. That is, teaching them how to respect the GSD. They’ll need to learn what types of behaviors are okay and what aren’t. It’s an effective way to minimize unpredictable behaviors, and ultimately mishaps.
And if your children aren’t old enough to understand how they should treat the dog, then they’re probably too young to play with them.
You’ll want to establish a set of rules for interacting with the German Shepherd. Of course, this may vary depending on your kids and the individual dog. However, we’ve come up with a good list of rules to start off with:
- Always ask for permission before playing with the German Shepherd.
- Never pull on the German Shepherd’s skin, tail or ears. It can cause pain and an aggressive reaction.
- Don’t try to ride on the dog’s back. Again, this may inflict pain on the dog.
- Try to not make loud noises, such as yelling or banging, at or around the German Shepherd.
- Don’t run at the GSD, as it may scare the dog. Rather, approach the dog slowly.
- Similarly, never run away from the GSD. This action may trigger their prey drive.
- Don’t bother the German Shepherd when he’s eating or playing with a toy. Give them space.
- If the dog is trying to jump on you, turn your back away from them. Don’t give them attention for negative behaviors.
Children are very much like dogs, in the sense that they’re great visual learners. So, it’s best if you show them how to follow these rules and properly interact with the dog. The more they’re exposed to these behaviors, the quicker they’ll learn.
Learning the Dog’s Body Language
According to the UPMC, more than half of dog bites involve children. Most of the time, it’s due to the kids not understanding when the dog should be left alone. So in addition to the rules, you may want to teach them body language and communication signs of dogs.
For example, if the German Shepherd’s barking is directed towards the kid, they will want to leave the dog alone. Or, if the hair is lifting on the back of the dog’s head and neck, it’s time to be cautious, as he’s trying to keep a distance.
Obedience Training with GSDs
Given the German Shepherd’s high intelligence, obedient nature and ability to learn quickly, you should have little problems with obedience training. Nonetheless, it’s still an essential part when it comes to raising these dogs with children.
There are benefits to obedience training – mainly, it gives you the ability to better control your dog in different scenarios. If your untrained German Shepherd is roughing up a child, you have no way of explicitly telling them to stop. This can lead to mishaps.
In addition, obedience training develops trust between the owner (you) and the dog. And when you let the children participate in training, it does the same for them too! It’s a great way to build a lasting bond while establishing “alpha status” over the pack.
That being said, we suggest starting with at least the 5 basic commands: down, sit, come, drop it and heel. This way, if your GSD becomes aggressive with a child, a simple “down” or “come” command can correct their behavior.
For more information on how to teach these commands, we highly recommend checking out this guide by Figo Pet Insurance. And given the vocal nature of German Shepherds, you may want to consider teaching them to be “quiet.”
Socializing German Shepherds with Kids
The final component to get your German Shepherd kid-ready is just as important as the rest. As a puppy, German Shepherds need to be frequently socialized. In other words, they’ll need to be exposed to as many different kids, of all ages.
This is the best way for German Shepherds to learn that kids are friends that should be treated with care – not prey to be chased. In fact, it’s hard to curb their prey-drive and herding instincts without the proper socialization.
Socializing your dog goes beyond learning to understand children. It’s how they’ll learn to live a comfortable and anxiety-free life in our society. When your GSD is exposed to all types of noise, people, sights and sensations, they’ll be less scared as an adult.
And according to the Humane Society, the best time (golden window) for socialization is within weeks 3 to 20 of puppyhood. During this period, your young German Shepherd will be brave, and curiously explore the world with little fear.
When these dogs are young, they’re smaller. So, they’re less likely to seriously injure a child when meeting them. Even so, you’ll still need to supervise all interactions between children and dog. Remember, you’ll want to correct wrong behaviors here!
We think German Shepherds and children can be something truly special. What do you think? And are you a parent with a German Shepherd? Let us know in the comments.
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