Nobody wants an aggressive dog. And, even less desirable, is an aggressive German Shepherd who can seriously hurt whatever he’s aggressive towards. These dogs are powerful animals with incredible bite pressure, speed, and agility, which are just a few of the reasons why they’re commonly used in police K9 units.
We’ve personally been on both ends of this spectrum with aggression and are going through the motions with a puppy again, right now.
We’ve found that the adult GSD we adopted had severe aggression issues, but only toward anything with fur. He was totally fine with all the people we ever introduced him to.
On the other end of the spectrum, our 10 year old German Shepherd we currently have now has never shown a sign of aggression in her life, outside of general puppyhood things that are often misunderstood anyway.
And, while I’d hate to say it, I do believe that raising your German Shepherd from the puppy age is key, if you have that luxury. We were able to exercise the following bullet points with her that we just weren’t able to do with our big boy, Jumbo, who passed away more than a decade ago.
I’d also like to note that we’re doing it all again, right now with our current puppy.
German Shepherd Socialization —
The best thing to do is to prevent your dog from ever getting aggressive to begin with. This means introducing things to your German Shepherd that he may become aggressive toward or possessive of early enough that it becomes a regular part of his life and thinks nothing of it.
For example, you don’t want your GSD to be aggressive toward other animals, so you’ll want to introduce him to other animals and dogs early in his life.
You don’t want him to become aggressive toward people, so you’ll need to introduce him to people outside of your family. The sooner you can do this the better off you’ll both be.
One of the best places to do this is at a dog park if your area has one. You have to be careful because some people bring dogs to these parks that have no right being around other dogs because they’re aggressive themselves, just trying to get them to release some energy.
Always ask the other dog owners at the park if their pooch has any history of biting other dogs. We learned this the hard way.
Another great place to introduce your dog to others is at a regular park that allows dogs. And if your dog is a puppy everyone will want to pet her, which will get her used to being around other people.
If you start to bring your dog early, they’ll get used to everything they see there and will stand a much lower chance at developing aggression toward people later in life.
GSD Animal Aggression Example:
Our Jumbo was clearly never socialized by his previous owner. At least, not with other pets.
When he was alive, he wanted to kill everything he could that was on more than two legs. Whenever he was in close contact with another animal he lost control of his mind and body until it was out of sight. And up until the time when it was out of sight, he’d be foaming at the mouth with anger, spit flying about with each furious bark.
No matter what we tried, and we tried a lot, we couldn’t get this behavior to stop.
What we ended up doing was walking him during the night when all the other animals and people went in for the night.
We’d also use a modified Dog Whisperer collar technique to help keep him under control. That basically means that we used a regular collar that would sit up higher on his neck, instead of down low just above the shoulders where a collar usually sits.
This would offer us greater control over him, which was beneficial because trying to control an angry 100+ pound dog was no easy feat, even for me who was just out of the Marines, 250 pounds and 6’4″ tall.
I was no slouch, and he was hard.
He also bit two dogs at two different times, before we really had an understanding of what was going on. Thankfully they were both family members’ dogs, and our fault for putting him in such a predicament, but it was surreal to see such a massive animal with the teeth he had giving a warning bite to another dog.
I have no doubt that he could have killed either one, but thankfully he didn’t because again, it was a warning bite.
Aggression To People Example:
When I was a kid my family had a different dog who was also never socialized, only this time, he wasn’t socialized around people. This one was admittedly not a GSD, but our other main dog, a Rottweiler.
He was fine with animals but he didn’t like anyone outside of the immediate family. Fine for me, but my best friend almost lost an ear because of it.
Another time my uncle stopped by and ended up jumping over a fence that was taller than he was, simply because he hadn’t realized the dog was out and was very protective of the entirety of the house.
Curb German Shepherd Aggression With Exercise —
One way to address aggression in dogs is with exercise. One of the reasons why they can get to this point is because they’re either bored out of their minds (remember how smart they are) or because they’ve got pent up energy just waiting for a release.
This step will work with adult dogs, as well as with puppies.
Wearing them out so they don’t have the energy to be aggressive, or at least not for long, can be a good thing. The problem is that the GSD has excellent stamina and will need a lot of exercise.
Going on regular walks, playing fetch, frisbee, agility training, and so much more will help your pup with aggression, to at least some degree. But, this tends to be more of a band aid than an actual solution.
The most important thing is being able to prevent that aggression before it even starts, as mentioned above.
Mental Exercise is Important, Too:
Going on walks and the above-mentioned exercises are great, but the thing about German Shepherds that many people don’t realize, is that they’re also very intelligent and need mental stimulation to keep them worn out.
We’ve got an almost 15 week old German Shepherd puppy who needs a tremendous amount of mental stim to make her a happy, exhausted little pup. She’s not aggressive, but since she’s a puppy it’s kind of like a form of aggression because she doesn’t really know any better.
We play brain games with her to try and and get her to wear her brain down a bit. And, it works. We’ll cover this more in a future article.
German Shepherd Puppy and Aggression —
I think a lot of people mistake general puppy behavior for aggression. I’ve even read other doggo blogs saying that puppy biting is a form of aggression, but it’s not. Furthermore, it’s actually quite normal for puppies to bite things for several different reasons.
- Puppies have a painful teething process and biting makes it feel better
- They don’t have hands and use their teeth to feel and pick things up
- They’re learning how to control their bite
- They’re trying to play with you, after being born into a litter of other dogs and playing with them, with their teeth, it’s all they know
- And so much more …
I actually go more into detail on this in our article, here.
It has been our experience that a puppy is going to bite things more often than not, not out of aggression or bad behavior, but because her teeth hurt or she just doesn’t know any better.
You know who else bites things when they’re teething? Babies. I’ve had three babies with my youngest being 8 as of this writing, and they’ve all gone through the biting and teething process. That’s why they sell teethers.
One of the best ways to curb this biting is to exercise your puppy. Or, simply walk away. If you’re fighting with the puppy to try and get her to stop biting, you’re actually reinforcing it saying it’s okay because she thinks you’re PLAYING with her.
It can, however, turn into aggression if you don’t treat it properly. Then, one day, if she starts to growl while biting you — that can be aggression.
What About Tug of War?
Finally we come to the topic of tug of war. I see a lot of other dog blogs talking about this as being a good outlet for aggression and getting exercise and it is a controversial topic.
While it may be good exercise, I’m one of those people out there who thinks playing tug of war is actually a bad thing that reinforces bad behavior. I’m not sure if it’s because one of the dogs I had growing up was nuts and wanted to kill everyone, but loved tug of war, or what, but I do believe that it’s not good.
I do think that it depends on the dog and the method of tug you’re doing, but I’d rather just not play it. We skipped it altogether with our 10 year old GSD that we’ve had since puppyhood and she’s a great member of our family.
Because of this, we’re also skipping tug of war with our current 10 week old puppy. Why?
First, it teaches the dog that she doesn’t always have to drop the thing in her mouth. If I want the thing in the dog’s mouth because it’s dangerous for her to have, I better be able to get it without going fishing. A single drop it command better yield me that thing.
I’d regret it if I didn’t inform you that this can be trained away, however.
Also, every dog I’ve ever played tug of war with growled while doing it. I don’t know about you but I don’t want my dog growling at me, even if at play.
It teaches possession. And when a dog is possessive over something she may get protective over that thing. I don’t want her protecting her rope toy, the name of this blog is Protective Pooch because I want them to protect my family.
Toy, Food, and Body Aggressions:
It’s important to note that German Shepherds can’t just be aggressive toward other living things, but can show extreme possession toward items or even their own body parts that can lead toward a type of aggressive behavior.
I’ve found that the best way to deal with these types of aggression are to nip it in the bud as quickly as you can, and even before the aggressions start.
For example, I’m a firm believer that you must get your German Shepherd dog used to being touched in areas where they may not like it. Places like their feet, ears, tail, and anywhere else need to be touched or your German Shepherd may overreact when the veterinarian does touch that spot.
That is bound to happen, and the sooner you can touch and continually pet these areas the better off they’ll be for it in the long run.
We’ve never had a German Shepherd that was aggressive because their body was touched because we’ve always conditioned them to that touch.
Same with food and toys. I’m working on another article that goes much further into depth on resource guarding, and I’ll be sure to link to it when it is done.
But suffice it to say that training your German Shepherd to know that these resources are actually yours is possible.
AT the end of the day the best way to stop aggression from happening is to prevent it in the first place. While this isn’t always possible, there are other ways to get that aggression to subside like with exercise and training.
In a future article, we’ll go more into depth on how to tackle resource guarding because this one is getting very long.