Common German Shepherd Behavioral Problems and Personality Traits
Over the years working as a dog trainer, I’ve probably worked with as many German shepherd dogs as any other breed.
Most often, they are an incredibly loyal breed, are devoted to their owners, and have really sweet and fun personalities. And so, to those of you who love the breed and wouldn’t consider anything but a German shepherd in the future, I understand!
Yet, some people are terrified of them and feel they are dangerous dogs to own.
To those of you that are wary of German shepherds, I understand where you are coming from, too! First off, they are very large dogs and can come off very intimidating.
Second, their instinct to protect their family or property is strong and can lead untrained German shepherds to becoming very protective, aggressive, and scary dogs.
The keyword here is untrained, as any untrained dog–regardless of breed–can have the same problems.
Over the last decade I really feel like I’ve come to understand German shepherds and have personally fallen in love with this breed. I’ve also realized that they’re so misunderstood due to poorly trained German shepherds often ending up in the news and how they are portrayed on TV and in the media.
For this reason, I wanted to write today’s post in hopes that, if you are someone who fears this breed, are looking for help and direction with your dog, or you know someone who is wary of German shepherds, then this honest truth about this lovely breed might change your mind.
Let’s start by taking a look at the breed itself…
German Shepherd Breed Overview
The German shepherd as a breed originated in Germany. No surprises there. But, believe it or not, their name was changed soon after the war. Before the war this breed was commonly called the Alsatian in Great Britain and parts of Europe.
There are still parts of Europe that refer to the German shepherd as the Alsatian; however, most of the world has converted back to calling them German shepherds.
Pretty interesting, right?
As for life expectancy, German shepherds normally live for around 9-13 years.
The color of a German shepherd can range considerably from gray to black to tan, and even a silvery color.
The males grow to be approximately 24 inches at the shoulder and the females tend to be a little shorter, measuring around 22 inches at the shoulder.
As for weight, males average around 80 pounds and the females are a bit lighter at around 60 pounds. There is no denying that these are big dogs!
Now, as I mentioned earlier, German shepherds are known for their physical strength and intelligence. As working dogs, they were bred to be confident and powerful…two traits which often scare people away from wanting anything to do with the breed.
It’s this combination that makes them quite incredible beasts. They have strong muscles. They’re obviously large, and yet, in their minds, they’re also very confident, watchful, and alert.
So, it’s very likely that you’ll really have your hands full if you choose to get a German shepherd, and for those of you who already have one, you may well know exactly what I’m talking about.
Yes, they are a lot of dog to handle. But, I don’t want that to scare you. Any dog, regardless of whether it’s a Labrador retriever or a chihuahua can be a lot of work. All dog breeds require proper training and daily handling. This is especially true when your dog is a puppy as proper training can prevent a lot of behavior issues down the road.
If you have a puppy, I encourage you to check out my Puppy Coach training program.
So, that being said, a German shepherd really isn’t that much more of a commitment than any other dog breed. And, as long as you’re willing to put in the time and effort to work with your German shepherd and you know what you are doing, they can turn out to be incredibly beautiful, gentle, and loving pets.
I know this for a fact, as I’ve spent many years working with countless German shepherds of all ages and behavioral problems who were very enjoyable to be around. So, here’s a little more about my own personal experiences with German shepherds…
My Personal Experience with German Shepherds
As with any breed, there’s the whole range of different personalities and characters and temperaments that you can come across. But today, I want to share what my general experiences with German shepherds has been like.
I can confidently say that the breed description given to German shepherds is pretty accurate. I have encountered many German shepherds who are physically and mentally strong, courageous, and often have a hard time backing down.
Of course, not all German shepherds fit this description. I’ve come across many who are very fearful and nervous. But mostly, I’ve seen the confident, strong-willed shepherds.
What’s fascinating to me with German shepherds is that, despite a strong personality, they do seem to want to work alongside you. They all seem to have a deep desire to connect with you, work for you, and do a great job.
It’s almost like they want to be your partner rather than work independently. However, this means, if you’re not sure what you’re doing, they will very quickly step into the driving seat, which is a problem. You really don’t want your German shepherd in charge of making the decisions!
That’s where they’re not a dog for everyone, because German shepherds play this game of “Who’s in charge, me or you?” at a very high level. I call it the dog code.
It’s basically the psychology of the dog. They have a code or a set of rules, which they follow. That code decides “Who’s calling the shots around here?” That’s where it can often fall apart for people who don’t know the dog code, but they own a German shepherd dog.
A guy that I knew down the street had an issue with his German shepherd and I happened to know that deep down this German shepherd was a beautiful boy. He wanted to do right, but left to his own devices, he was going to make mistakes.
The guy was actually going to get rid of him after a serious incident and was ready to hand him over to another family because he felt that his dog had tasted blood and that was the end of him as a good dog. It was only by stepping in and explaining a little bit to him about why his German shepherd had actually bitten another animal—a sheep he owned—that he decided to keep the dog.
I explained that it wasn’t the German shepherd’s fault. I said to my neighbor, “This is not Walt Disney.” He basically had the German shepherd and a sheep—believe it or not—almost feeding from the same bowl so it was a recipe for disaster.
I told him that he needed to pull his socks up as a dog owner and start putting into place some really simple training techniques, and it was very effective. Basically, I taught him the dog code! He still has that dog, but I was very tempted to say, “I’ll take him off your hands!” because secretly I knew he’d be a beautiful member of our family. He was still an amazing dog deep down, but you needed to know what you were doing!
Since then, I’ve fallen in love with German shepherds. I could certainly see myself ending up with one in the future. And yes, I would fully trust this breed around my kids, my wife, and my other dogs.
Like I said, with proper training and boundaries put in place, German shepherds are beautiful, friendly dogs. You just have to be willing to put the time and energy into working with this breed of dog (and understand the dog code) so that you don’t end up with some of the most common German shepherd behavioral problems, which we’re going to talk about next.
Most Common German Shepherd Behavioral Problems
Before we dive into the most common behavioral problems associated with German shepherds, I think it’s important to look at where the breed has actually come from.
Over the last century, German shepherds have been used for tracking, search and rescue—especially for the police— and protection and guarding. So, it’s no surprise that a lot of the issues are in this exact area.
They have been intentionally bred for traits such as fierce loyalty, intelligence, and strength.
This leads to one of the first common problems for German shepherds, which revolves around aggression and the need to protect. It’s very possible that an untrained German shepherd would be likely to bark or lunge at other dogs or people, especially on his own property.
It’s not at all that this type of dog is being mean or nasty. In fact, from the dog’s point of view, he believes he’s just doing his job of protecting his family or territory.
It’s a very, very common problem, and, at the end of the day, it is what the German shepherd has been bred to do a lot of the time.
The good news…this behavior can be untrained. Or even better yet, if you’re working with a German shepherd puppy or a young German shepherd, you can easily avoid this behavioral problem. And in case you are wondering, this does not automatically mean, that if you ever really do need help, that they won’t rise to the occasion!
The second issue that I have found to be common for German Shepherds—which I think is probably due to the determined nature of the German shepherd and their size—is pulling on the leash.
When a German shepherd wants to pull, they are very strong, obviously due to their physical design. If you’ve just got a standard collar on them, it can be an absolute nightmare, almost impossible to hold them back when they’re pulling forward so it makes it very tricky.
Once again, with some basic training and a good sturdy harness, this behavior can be easily prevented.
The third most common issue I come across with this breed is biting and nipping, especially with adolescent German shepherds that are around 6 or 7 months of age.
They can be really, really nippy, and they seem to enjoy using their teeth on people’s arms—again, something which has been bred into them in certain areas for certain reasons.
Here’s something I want you to think about though…most dogs around this age range are nippy due to teething and simply have a natural desire to chew. German shepherds are big dogs, so this issue might seem scarier with this breed. I totally understand that.
But, like any other dog, all you have to do is redirect your dog’s need to bite and chew a toy and make it clear from the get-go that biting hands, arms, legs, etc., is not ok.
And for those of you that are wondering, nipping and biting should really stop at or before 4 months of age. So, if your puppy is still doing it past this stage, watch out because that’s not so cool!
The last major issue I’ve noticed while training German shepherds is separation anxiety.
When this breed is left alone, they can become very stressed. This is due to their fierce loyalty to their humans and their desire to stay close to and protect their pack.
When a dog is stressed out due to separation anxiety, he may show a variety of different behavioral problems like digging holes, trying to escape, or barking. You have to remember that these problems are caused because your German shepherd gets upset about not being able to protect you when you’re going.
These problems are annoying, frustrating, and should not be acceptable, but they do happen out of love.
(If you have a puppy, good news! You can curb these issues early before they become a bigger problem with my Puppy Coach Training program! Learn more about the program here!)
Once again, many dog breeds suffer from separation anxiety and will show the exact same behaviors when left alone. This is where the training comes in. Work with your dog to put an end to his separation anxiety, and regardless of whether he’s a poodle or a German shepherd, you’ll be able to put an end to these unwanted behaviors.
The Dog Code
At the end of the day, all of the common issues associated with German shepherds come back to what I call “the dog code.”
All dogs have wolf ancestry. And like wolves, all dogs have a family pack mentality and a desire to protect and look after and love each other. I would say the German shepherd follows that dog code to the letter of the law.
So, if you want to have a good German shepherd, you really need to understand the rules of the dog code—and you need to learn those rules quickly.
And because German shepherds are so smart, they are often playing on their “A game.” But, if you’re playing a “B game,” your dog won’t listen to you. With the German shepherd, you need to be playing on your “A game” or an “A+ game.” You’ve got to be an intelligent dog owner.
It’s like a game of chess. A lot of people know how to play chess, but there are masters and then there are grandmasters, and it just seems to me that German shepherds are the grandmasters of this dog code. They will take you to the next level, and you make your move, and they will do something else to outwit you.
Until you actually understand the basics of how to win that German shepherd’s mind, you’re always going to struggle.
If you are looking for a comprehensive training program for your German shepherd pup or a comprehensive training program to stop any of the above listed issues, then be sure to check out my online training program—The Dog Calming Code.
In the program, I give you solutions to a bunch of different dog trainer problems, from fixing aggressive behavior and leash training to recall training and puppy training.
So, that’s my summary of the German shepherd. I hope that you now know a little bit more about their history and why they behave the way that they do.
If you’ve got a story to share about your German shepherd I’d love to hear it! Please share your story in the comments below! I’ve heard a few good ones over the years 🙂