German Shepherds, bred originally for herding sheep, have origins dating back to 1899. They’re highly intelligent, strong, easily trained, and extremely obedient. They have served many different functions over the years, including serving as military, police, and government service dogs. They make excellent performers in agility courses, they’re great disability companions, and their powerful nose makes a great inspector for airports and even search and rescue dog. But German Shepherds, like Pit Bulls and Doberman Pinschers, have received a bad reputation for aggression over the years. So do German Shepherds make good pets? Are they good to have around your family?
The Root of the Behavior
German Shepherds are medium to large dogs, their weight varying depending on genetics. Apart from their adorable perky ears, they are skilled sniffers and want to please their owners. They’re also a highly effective guard dog and can be protective of their home and family. Even in a professional capacity as police or military trained dogs, they bond with their partner and are very protective and loyal. Since German Shepherds are so versatile, they’re one of the most popular and desired dog breeds. Their breeding is not always monitored as closely as it should be. Some bloodlines may suffer personality and health flaws, including aggression, aloofness, and a range of physical maladies. Responsible, informed breeders may be able to limit the effect of some of the chronic illnesses that affect German Shepherds, but their lifespan is about 10-11 years. In regard to behavior problems in ill-bred lines, those bred from work or service bloodlines, for example, may be more inclined toward a “businesslike” demeanor rather than a loving, family-oriented dog.
Their energy is also varied through different bloodlines and genes, some requiring much more exercise than others to keep happy and out of trouble. German Shepherds require a great deal of mental exercise as well as physical, including thorough obedience training, advanced tricks, or agility courses. Even additional courses like herding or tracking are a good idea. Intelligent dog breeds like German Shepherds, Border Collies, and Poodles are often very easily trained. But not doing sufficient training can result in behavior issues. For starters, intelligent dogs are often higher energy than others, and keeping active and stimulated is a great way to keep them out of trouble. Boredom may set in sooner in a smart dog, who will look to other, potentially forbidden outlets to assuage their boredom, from chewing or digging to wandering away from home. Bad habits are also easier for smart dogs to pick up, since they learn very quickly.
Encouraging the Behavior
German shepherds can make wonderful, obedient, incredibly skilled family dogs, but only if they’re trained and socialized appropriately. German Shepherds aren’t a dog breed that thrives on independence or neglect. They need to be exposed to children and strangers from an early age. Poorly socialized dogs may become distrustful, overly protective, or even aggressive of strangers or house guests. The more experiences you can give your German Shepherd from an early age, the better they’ll react to those situations in future. Training and mental stimulation are always important in German Shepherds to keep them happy and well-behaved. Continuous training and training reinforcement are essential throughout their lifespan, not only in puppyhood.
Teaching your dog new, creative tricks or games is a great way to keep their brains engaged and out of boredom. Making plenty of time for physical exercise is also important. A tired dog is much less likely to resort to destructive behaviors. Since German Shepherds, like other large dogs, may have a predisposition toward hip and elbow dysplasia and other illnesses, it’s also important to get your German Shepherd from a responsible, experienced breeder. “Backyard breeders” may not have the knowledge or awareness to explain the lineage and prevalence of these health and behavioral problems. Finding a good breeder may be difficult, since German Shepherds are so popular and in such high demand.
Other Solutions and Considerations
German Shepherds can be amazing, wonderful pets, but they aren’t for everyone. They need a lot of time, effort, activity, and attention. Socialization and training are extremely crucial if you want a great family dog. Smart dogs are great, easy to train, and enjoy learning. But if you don’t devote the time to giving them that basic requirement, they can develop bad habits or behavior problems. Their tendency to guard can be great if they’re trained well, but without adequate training and socialization, guarding can become outright aggression. Especially if you have or know any children, that training and socializing is paramount.
If you’re able and willing to put in the work required, German Shepherds can be wonderful pets. But just like any other dog, they do come with caveats: specifically, health and behavior problems if they come from inexperienced breeders or if they’re not trained and socialized appropriately. Having an intelligent dog can be wonderfully fun or an ongoing challenge. The outcome is up to you.
By a Border Collie lover Charlotte Perez
Published: 03/29/2018, edited: 01/30/2020