You recently adopted a German Shepherd, one of the most popular dogs in the United States. You are super excited because you know this breed is highly trainable and intelligent, and your kids already love him. You’re ready to teach him some fun tricks with the whole family. In the short time you’ve had him, though, you’ve noticed that he paces, sometimes during the day and sometimes during the night. He walks back and forth in front the windows or in the yard, turning his head to survey the area. Your loyal pup’s pacing is becoming concerning and you’re not sure what to do.
The Root of the Behavior
German Shepherds were bred as herding dogs. They would spend their time rounding up sheep or other animals as a farm hand. In more recent years, they have become famous for their amazing ability to learn new tricks and trades. German Shepherds are loyal, obedient, and energetic dogs. These qualities make them great police dogs and they’re used in searches, often sniffing for lost people or illegal substances. They also train well as dogs for the blind, work with the sick or elderly to provide comfort, and serve in the military. These active dogs are ready for work and a purpose and have the energy to spare.
German Shepherds need to have a lot of mental and physical stimulation, otherwise, they become bored and can become destructive. Pacing is one of the ways German Shepherds show they’re bored. This behavior stems from their instinct to herd. The back and forth motion in a living room or around the house can simulate herding. Your German Shepherd might not be sure why he is pacing, but he is.
Pacing also happens if the dog is anxious or stressed. Dogs may become anxious because they are unsure of the future or worry about being separated from you. German Shepherds might experience anxiety as a result of their genetic makeup and how they were bred. They also might not have been properly socialized at a young age or may have even had negative experiences. This dog is known for his hypervigilance to his environment, and as a result is more susceptible to anxiety and therefore pacing.
Dogs also pace when they are ill and are trying to tell you something is wrong. Usually, in this situation, their pacing is combined with other symptoms. Liver disease, Cushing’s disease, dementia, and brain tumors are all possible medical reasons your German Shepherd would pace.
Encouraging the Behavior
As your German Shepherd paces around the house or yard, he isn’t hurting anyone, just worrying you. However, he is trying to tell you something. Pacing is a way for him to keep busy when bored or show you that he is upset, so frequent pacing is not a good sign and should be handled quickly. He might be telling you he is bored. German Shepherds need a lot of exercise, at least 30-60 minutes of exercise daily. Their walks should be long enough for them to sniff the neighborhood and get out that energy once used to gather flocks of sheep. It’s even better if they have a fenced-in yard to run around in. These smart dogs also need mental stimulation. If your dog is bored, consider teaching him new tricks, giving him a job, or giving him interactive toys that stimulate his mind. German Shepherds are trainable and committed to their tasks.
An anxious dog might display symptoms other than just pacing. He might also whine, lick his lips, flatten his ears, or show the whites of his eyes, also known as whale eyes. Anxious dogs are also known to bark, chew, dig, or demonstrate other destructive behaviors. If you recently adopted an older dog, he might not have been socialized properly and has anxiety. It’s also possible he has separation anxiety and needs to spend more time with you or people. If you are spending more time out of the house than usual and aren’t taking your four-legged friend, he might be lonely, bored, or anxious.
Other Solutions and Considerations
When your dog paces, monitor him for other signs. If he is trying to tell you he is sick, he will likely have other symptoms, such as digestive, joint, or cognitive problems. Visit your vet if his pacing is constant. Even if it is anxiety or stress related pacing, the vet can give you tips on how to improve your dog’s condition. If you think your dog is bored and would like to train him to do some tricks, but aren’t sure where to start, call a trainer. The trainer can review techniques for you to use with your dog to teach simple commands and build up to more complex tricks. She can also help assign your German Shepherd a job in the home so he feels a sense of purpose.
This lovable, courageous, and loyal dog is a great addition to many families, but he does come with a lot of needs. Make sure you have time to exercise and play with your German Shepherd so he doesn’t become bored and pay attention to his behaviors that might indicate health problems. Keeping your dog happy and healthy is your responsibility, and you’re the right person for the job!