German Shepherd aggression can have various causes, as we discuss below. But whatever the cause of the German Shepherd aggression, you need to address it now straight away or it may soon become both scary for you and others, as well as dangerous.
Causes of German Shepherd aggression
There are many potential causes of aggressive behaviour in a German Shepherd:
- Your GSD may not yet have accepted you as the alpha leader in the pack
- Your GSD may feel threatened if you or someone else is sometimes intruding its territory in a disrespectful way
- The aggression could lead back to an attack by another dog or by any person during the dog's life
- Dog aggression may result from a mistake made with the puppy
- Dog aggression could be triggered by heredity and genetics
- Most of the time however aggressive behaviour in German Shepherds is down to stress and fear
Stress and fear, and generally the environment a GSD is living in, is the most likely cause of aggressive behavior in a German Shepherd. When you subscribe to the MYGERMANSHEPHERD PERIODICAL for free here on the site, you will over time get countless German Shepherd tips.
Factors contributing to German Shepherd aggression
In the wrong environment every dog can become aggressive - just like every human too really. A German Shepherd that has poor living conditions, harsh owners or handlers, no or bad socialization, or that has been frightened or attacked by another dog or human is far more likely to become aggressive. In the vast majority of cases German Shepherd aggression is the result of stress and fear in their environment.
Despite what many photos of a GSD with fledged teeth seem to suggest, GSDs are not prone to aggression. A German Shepherd from purebred breeders that has been treated and trained well will only ever show aggression as a means to protect its owner and the family it has accepted as its pack. Remember that a GSD's genetic heritage is that of a guard dog for herding sheep.
In other words, German Shepherd aggression is a reflection of their protective nature. The fact that many police forces in the world employ German Shepherds is not due to the GSD's ability to fight off terrorists but due to the dog's personality attributes. In fact, while a German Shepherd is very well suited as a guard dog and protection dog, its ability to fight is surpassed by various other breeds.
Genetically, aggression can grow from the need to establish a pack pecking order. Biting, posturing, and other aggressive signals are often the result of a German Shepherd testing its dominance. Therefore you, the owner, must establish dominance at a young age and maintain that alpha position throughout the German Shepherd's adolescence to ensure it doesn't take a lack of leadership in the pack as a signal to take control over you, the family, or others.
Also note that German Shepherds that have not been neutered or spayed are more prone to aggressive tendencies if there are other contributing factors.
The seeds of German Shepherd aggression
German Shepherd aggression can start as young as 5 weeks of age, the age at which the puppy should be socialized with other dogs and people and be given the required training that will also prevent German Shepherd biting in the future. This period of socialization lasts until the German Shepherd turns 12 to 16 weeks of age. Rarely it should take longer than this.
A GSD puppy needs to have been adequately socialized with plenty of people and other dogs by the time it reaches 16 weeks of age, or else it may become difficult to avoid future German Shepherd aggression issues.
You should never take a puppy away from its litter before it is about 8 weeks old. Never use harsh discipline with the puppy, and certainly no discipline punishment at all before the age of 10 weeks. Always ensure that your German Shepherd is being treated gently and considerately, making use of positive reinforcement. Any form of yelling, hitting, beating, kicking or similar punishments can breed aggressive behavior in German Shepherds that manifests over time to become a serious problem.
In other words, if you or another handler lose temper, your GSD will too. To learn more, also read German Shepherd Puppy Training.
Controlling and Stopping German Shepherd Aggression
If your GSD shows aggressive behavior after 16 months of age or when it has reached sexual maturity, you should address the problem immediately. First, ensure that you have established yourself as the alpha leader. Never reward your German Shepherd for aggressive behavior by giving it special attention, even if it is due to the dog being scared.
Use German Shepherd Dog Training and in particular German Shepherd Obedience Training to make your German Shepherd respond to your dog commands. Maintain consistent feeding and walking times, and make sure that the dog has a strong alpha leader in the house. If you defer to your German Shepherd or if you allow it to take liberties in your house, then it may develop stronger aggression towards others.
If your German Shepherd is defensive-aggressive, then it may strike out at a person in fear. These German Shepherds may not have been properly socialized or may have been treated badly. Keep them away from children (which they may see as direct threats) and attend a few hours of formal gsd courses or visit German Shepherd trainers who can slowly acclimate your dog to a social atmosphere.
Although German Shepherd aggression would be a severe problem, it certainly can be controlled - both at a young age and also as your dog gets older. If your own stress ever advances to violence, consider hiring a professional dog trainer to intervene before someone gets hurt and your German Shepherd is wrongly held responsible.