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Are German Shepherds Dangerous?

 Reviewed 10 March 2019 share-a-picture Or go to discussion?join-the-discussion dogphoto

==> "German Shepherd Dogs are dangerous!"
or "German Shepherds and Children is no good!"
or "The German Shepherd Dog should be classified as a dangerous breed!"

Dog attacks! We've heard it all. So, how true is it?

Or, are GSDs dangerous when we have small kids? A baby? A cat? Other dogs?

aggressive dog?Pictures of German Shepherds (or often, GSD lookalikes/crosses) with bare teeth make many people fear the German Shepherd Dog. Not only robbers and gangsters, but also the average citizen.

But if we leave appearance and yellow-press media coverage aside, how dangerous are GSDs really? And how dangerous is your German Shepherd in your situation?

In this Periodical:

  • Dog Attack Statistics
  • Dog Attacks by Breed
  • How Common are German Shepherd Attacks?
  • What is the Typical Outcome of a Dog Attack?
  • Is the German Shepherd Dog Predisposed to Violence?
  • How Can We Prevent that Our GSD Harms Someone for No Good Reason?

Dog Bite Statistics

Many people look at dog bite statistics and draw their conclusions, without understanding the underlying concepts (eg base population, sample, frequency distribution, etc).

This is a problem that's relevant to all of us because among those people are also law enforcement officers that look into individual dog attacks in the same way - like maybe that of your dog at some point?!

scared dogLife experience and common sense tell us that, as dog owners, we can easily become the focus (and treasure chest!) of litigious fellow citizens. To avoid this, we must know the content of this and the next MYGERMANSHEPHERD PERIODICAL.

So, let's first look at dog attack statistics or dog bite statistics:

  • If we believe that any serious dog attack finds its way into media reports, then media reports are the best sample.
  • If we believe that any serious dog attack finds its way into police reports, then police reports are the best sample.
  • If we believe that any serious dog attack finds its way into medical reports, then medical reports are the best sample.

My point is: It all depends on where the dogs live that are involved in attacks.

If the dog lives say in a remote location in a state in the USA or in a province in Canada, or in a territory in Australia, or in rural India or in any other remote location, then the dog owner (and the dog) may get away with the attack - without it being reported anywhere!

In some regions of any nation in the world (other than densely populated ones like say England), both police and media may not get involved, even if there was a serious dog attack. Only the local doctor may get involved.

So, when subsequently we only look at media reports as the statistical source for dog attacks, then simply because we don't have access to police and medical reports, okay?

Also note that dog attack here means mauling, maiming or death of a human being, whether child or adult - since only such serious dog attacks consistently find their way into media reports.

The most recent statistic about dog attacks by breed we found for the USA and Canada - obviously, because the largest population of registered dogs by far lives on the North American continent.

(In India certainly live more dogs but in the vast rural areas these are unregistered dogs, which somewhat prevents reliable statistics.)

Dog Attacks by Breed

Notes of Warning before you see the ranking!

This most recent North American statistic was compiled by the editor of Animal People, Merritt Clifton, from press accounts between 1982 to 2011. Almost 30 years, this is a good representative time frame.

GSD leapingHowever, the first key mistake they make with their statistic is that they compare all historical dog attacks with the relative dog populations in the most recent year (in this case 2011) - although the relative dog populations have significantly changed over time.

For example, at the peak of German Shepherd Dog popularity in the USA in the mid-1990s, reportedly 16% of the entire US and Canadian dog population were German Shepherds and German Shepherd mixes: ca. 9 million!

While in 2012 apparently 'only' just over 3.5 million German Shepherds lived in the USA (4.6% of total dog population - which by the way shows that during a mere 17 years the USA saw an increase in dog population of at least 22 million!!).

German Shepherd mixes and an estimated 500,000 GSDs in Canada aside, this is a BIG difference.

The second key mistake of Clifton's statistic is that they put all dog attacks in relation to counted classified ads that listed dogs for sale on websites during June 2011. This way they get a GSD population of just 1.4%, although the known GSD population is rather 4.6% for the USA (based on AKC registered dogs, see above).

I am sure that the number of classified ads per breed is NOT representative of the number of dogs of that breed (desirable dogs are typically sold and purchased through other means). On the other hand, it may well be the case that likewise the number of registered dogs per breed is NOT representative of the number of dogs of that breed.

Finally, Animal People's report doesn't actually present the data the way it should be presented: dog attacks standardized per percent of the breed's population - or in their case, per counted unique classified ads.

We have done this mathematical transformation for them, and the result is:

Rank Dog Breed # of Attacks per percent of dogs (based on # of ads)
1 Rottweiler 1603
2 Wolf Hybrid 840
3 Pitbull Terrier 597
4 Bull Mastiff 380
5 Akita 163
6 Boxer 120
7 Chow 77
8 Labrador 64
9 German Shepherd 63
10 Great Dane 44
11 Malamute 43
12 Mastiff 42
13 English Bulldog 40
14 Brittany Spaniel 40
15 Husky 33
16 Sharpei 25
17 Doberman 21
18 Malinois 14
19 Saint Bernard 11
20 Golden Retriever 7

Note that Animal People's report comprises many more breeds, but for the other breeds the data in the report is insufficient to consider them in the above ranking.

If there were a reliable source for breed-specific population data, we could certainly improve on the accuracy of the ranking above. But for the moment, the data found on sites like Statistic Brain (based on AKC figures = registered dogs) is insufficient, and clearly wrong.

So for now, the above ranking (based on numbers of classified ads) may give us the most unbiased insight into 'dangerous dog breeds'.

How Common are German Shepherd Attacks?

GSD chasingPersonally, with my breed knowledge, the above ranking held a few surprises for me, eg:

Without the report from Animal People, I wouldn't have expected that the Boxer is more often involved in serious dog attacks that kill or maim a human being than the German Shepherd!

Almost twice as often. That's a big surprise for me.

Over the long period of almost 30 years, for the whole of USA and Canada, only 89 attacks could be attributed to German Shepherds - which is a mere 3 attacks per year on the entire North American continent!!

If you want to count German Shepherd mixes as well, including the (dangerous!) GSD-Husky mix and the (not so dangerous) GSD-Labrador mix, then the figure increases to 143 attacks - which is a mere 5 attacks per year on the entire North American continent!

Of course, every dog attack that results in maiming or death of a child or adult is one too much, no question!

Nonetheless, considering that there are 351 million people on the North American continent (close to 35 million in Canada and 316 million in the USA), even 5 serious attacks a year of German Shepherds and all German Shepherd mixes(!) is infinitesimal, isn't it?

Hitler with GSDParticularly, once we consider how many people launch serious attacks on other people in any given year (incl. death too, yes!), and when we consider that at least 5 of these criminals will have a GSD, and thus they may very well transfer their inhumane character onto their dog, no?


"Dogs are only as bad as their owners" is a popular phrase for a reason! - It is not reported whether Hitler's GSD Blondi was as bad and nuts as her owner...

So really, 3 serious attacks a year by GSDs for the entire North American continent (or 5 when GSD mixes are included) is a very small number I dare say without any bias towards the GSD!

Further breakdown:

  • 69% of these GSD attacks were towards a child, 31% towards an adult
  • As anticipated, for GSD-Husky mixes this relation is much worse: 83% were towards a child!
  • Of the 89 attacks during those almost 30 years, 12 resulted in death (18%) and 54 in maiming (82%)
  • Again, for GSD-Husky mixes this relation is much worse: 40% resulted in death!

You may wonder why I know that a GSD-Husky mix is dangerous?

The German Shepherd and its Relatives showed you that the Husky is one of the ur-dogs - with a gene pool closest to wolves.

GSDIt was v. Stephanitz himself (the alleged GSD breed founder) who warned German Shepherd breeders already over 100 years ago (remarkable: long before gene analysis was known!!):

Do NOT reintroduce the gene pool of the wolf by breeding a German Shepherd with a wolf. This could prove fatal.

See v. Stephanitz' book (for you the English translation): The German Shepherd Dog in Word and Picture (Note: Do not even consider to get the fake versions that are available much cheaper, their content is imaginary and wrong)

Now what really counts:

Practically all dog breeds were involved in serious dog attacks that resulted in death or maiming of the human victim.

Yes, including the tiny Chihuahua! Chihuahua

However: The 89 attacks that involved a German Shepherd must of course be seen in relation to the total German Shepherd dog population - which was during that period at least 4.6% (not 1.4% as Animal People's statistic purports based on classified ad countings).

Had GSDs been involved in serious dog attacks proportionately often, then GSDs would have been involved in a serious attack 160 times (not 'just' 89 times) during the nearly 30-years timespan.

Admittedly, this 'proportionately often' would be misleading:

In 1,970 (or 56%) of all attacks a Pitbull Terrier was involved, and in 481 (or 13.7%) of all attacks a Rottweiler was involved. These two breeds disturb all proportions, because both dog breeds are fairly common and are often involved in attacks on a human being.

Much more often than other popular dogs: Clearly not 56% of all dogs are Pitbull Terriers, and not 13.7% of all dogs are Rottweilers! - Based on Animal People's ad counting, 3.3% were Pitbull Terrier, and 0.3% were Rottweiler. Yet their figures are misleading, see above.

Final warning

Again, this shows that the base population in Animal People's report is not right: According to the AKC, in 2012, the Rottweiler got rank 9 of the most popular dog breeds in the USA!

If we take an estimated 2 million Rotties (that's 2.5% of all dogs in the USA), then in the above ranking the Rottweiler drops to 192 attacks per percent of dogs, ending up between the Bull Mastiff and the Akita (arguably a more sensible position for the Rottweiler).

Similarly, if we take an estimated 2.5 million boxers (they ranked place 7 of the most popular dog breeds in the USA in 2012), then in the above ranking the boxer drops to 15 attacks per percent of dogs, ending up between the Doberman and the Malinois (again, arguably a more sensible position for the Boxer).

Finally, if we take an estimated 4.5 million Labradors (they ranked place 1 of the most popular dog breeds in the USA in 2012, just before the German Shepherd!), then in the above ranking the Labrador drops to 8 attacks per percent of dogs, ending up between the Saint Bernard and the Golden Retriever (again, arguably a more sensible position for the Labrador Retriever).

And suddenly the revised ranking based on estimated breed populations as per above makes much more sense:

Rank Dog Breed # of Attacks per percent of dogs (based on estimated breed populations)
1 Wolf Hybrid 840
2 Pitbull Terrier 597
3 Bull Mastiff 380
4 Rottweiler 192
5 Akita 163
6 Chow 77
7 Great Dane 44
8 Malamute 43
9 Mastiff 42
10 English Bulldog 40
11 Brittany Spaniel 40
12 Husky 33
13 Sharpei 25
14 Doberman 21
15 German Shepherd 19
16 Boxer 15
17 Malinois 14
18 Saint Bernard 11
19 Labrador 8
20 Golden Retriever 7

Note that some positions would still change if we knew accurate breed populations.

What is the Typical Outcome of a Dog Attack?

Critical to understand further is, dog attack does not equal dog attack:

  • If a Pitbull Terrier attacks an adult or a child, the outcome is typically devastating (if not deadly), because the Pitbull has an inbred bite persistence unlike any other dog, plus a strong bite force too (16% of the victims were killed).
  • If a Rottweiler attacks an adult or a child, the outcome is typically devastating to outright deadly, because the Rottweiler has almost the most powerful bite force (22.5% of the victims were killed). - Similarly with a Mastiff: 23.5% were killed.
  • As expected, Wolf Hybrids killed even more of their victims: 28.4%

Dog attackNow you may wonder: And for a German Shepherd?

Although 18% of the victims died, according to Animal People's report (remember, it's based on media reports), none of the victims died from bite injuries: They didn't have any serious bite injury!

Instead, the victims died for fairly unrelated reasons (like stroke, or an invidious fall at a moment of panic or during a powerful greeting!), or for unknown reasons in cases where other dog breeds were involved as well, particularly at least one Pitbull or Labrador.

This may be surprising, right?

However, Merritt Clifton offers an explanation in the report that many of us may have expected, and others may be able to relate to it from experience with their own dog, or from knowing that the GSD is a herding breed:

German Shepherds have three different kinds of 'bite':

  • The guiding nip, which is gentle and does not break the skin. This is how the GSD (based on its genetical heritage) directs a lamb (or small person like a child!) towards the right path - simply because frequent nudging would hurt the dog's nose.
  • The grab-and-drag, to pull a puppy or lamb or child away from danger. This is when the lamb (or person!) appears rather unable than unwilling to follow the dog's lead - like in an emergency situation (as perceived by the GSD).
  • The reactive bite, usually in defense of territory or a person the dog is inclined to guard. The reactive bite usually comes only after much growling, barking, and other signals intended to avert a conflict. When it does come, it is typically accompanied by a frontal leap for the wrist or throat (unless the GSD is protection-trained).

This is why - if anything serious happens at all - a German Shepherd victim typically suffers rather self-inflicted injuries than any dangerous bite injuries.

Indeed, based on the almost 30-years span of media reports, all GSD cases belonged to one of only two groups of incidents:

  • Upon the guiding nip or grab-and-drag, particularly children sometimes misread the dog's intention and pull away in panic, or
  • In case of mauling, maiming or death, the reactive bite was almost always clearly subject to a form of duress: the dog was deranged from being chained for long periods without human contact, was starving, was otherwise severely abused, was protecting puppies, or was among a pack of dogs of other breeds like the ones mentioned above.

We know why each of these situations of duress is bad for any dog, not only the GSD:

  • Our modern domesticated dogs are the result of thousands of years of targeted breeding with one goal - to make the dog crave to please us. Dogs, and particularly GSDs, need human contact to thrive!
  • The genetic prime quest of every dog still is to secure food!
  • The second-most important genetic quest is to belong to a Pack (our family) - the experience of abuse disturbs this quest and confuses the dog, and confused dogs are stressed dogs, and stress in dogs results in aggression!

The report makes it even more clear: "Hurting someone is almost never the dog's intent ... None of the German Shepherd attacks have involved predatory behavior".

Is the German Shepherd Dog Predisposed to Violence?

Do we need to discuss this after all of the above?

Obviously the original German Shepherd - that was bred for work and temperament, not appearance/looks/show! - is not predisposed to violence. Quite the opposite: The GSD is predisposed to avoid conflicts wherever deemed possible.

Show GSDBut any genetic predisposition of a dog (not only of the GSD) can of course be shaped by the human handler or owner (in the short term), and by the breeder (long-term). It really depends on how we treat and train our German Shepherd.

A dog that is being (or was earlier) abused will soon show the behavioral consequences of abuse: eg the partially unpredictable behavior of a traumatized dog.

With a GSD, this may take just a tad longer because genetically herding dogs like the German Shepherd are very patient - they are not just bred to be weatherproof but situation-proof too. Otherwise they couldn't handle dozens to hundreds of sheep or other lifestock!

They endure more and take longer before they react. German Shepherds are balanced dogs.

Among humans we would say: They have strong nerves. They don't falter easily. - That refers to the original German Shepherd, see above.

How Can We Prevent that Our GSD Harms Someone for No Good Reason?

For example:

  1. Systematic socialization during the four-weeks long development phase that I called Family Socialization in the Puppy Development Guide
  2. A calm and relaxed Feeding Routine incl. Gesture Eating
  3. Giving our dog quality food, instead of industrial kibble crap
  4. Providing our GSD with intense daily exercise - until (s)he is a senior dog
  5. Sharing lots of Together-time with our dog - indoors with puzzle games like say Hide-a-Squirrel and outdoors while say cycling
  6. Using our Behavior Training approach, not the medieval Obedience Training. Meaning, among countless other points, that we never use force, fear, or bribes in our dog training!
  7. Avoiding dog fights and aggressive dogs at great distance when we walk our dog
  8. Making sure that our dog does not leave the property when we are not watching
  9. Using our leash training secrets
  10. And dozens of inconspicuous tips, from using an Eat-Slow bowl to serving rather three meals a day than one or two, from When to use which reward type to providing a comfy resting place near us in every room to help our dog to relax!

You see, it all has a reason, it all makes sense - as already summarized in the Periodical in disguise Stop Farting.



  • In this Periodical we've put an end to another myth: Many people (incl. law enforcement officers!) believe that the German Shepherd Dog should be classified as a dangerous breed.
  • Using the most recent comprehensive dog bite statistics (dog attack deaths and maimings for USA and Canada) published by Animal People (but we qualified it) we found out that such claims are entirely unfounded.
  • Based on their report, German Shepherds are on position 9 of popular dangerous dog breeds, below other popular breeds like Rottweiler, Boxer, and Labrador!
  • After we replaced the base population used by Animal People (number of unique classified ads per breed) with more sensible breed population estimates, German Shepherds dropped further to position 15 of popular dangerous dog breeds.
  • This is because, in our view, it is plain common sense to put the number of human victims of dog attacks in relation to the number of dogs there are of a particular breed! (Say 5 attacks a year of a breed with 3.5 million dogs bear a different weight than 5 attacks a year of a breed with just 100,000 dogs, doh!)
  • Regardless of ranking in a 'dangerous dog breed league table': Over the last 30 years there were only 3 attacks a year on the entire North American continent(!) where a German Shepherd was considered guilty as per media reports.
  • Even when we include all GSD mixes, there were only 5 such attacks a year on the entire North American continent!
  • According to Animal People's report, none of the 12 victims (during almost 30 years) died from bite injuries. More so, none of the 89 victims in total had any serious bite injury!
  • Instead, the victims who died, died for fairly unrelated reasons or for unknown reasons in cases where other dog breeds were involved as well.
  • The report makes clear: "Hurting someone is almost never the dog's intent … None of the German Shepherd attacks have involved predatory behavior" - obviously not: As a herding dog, the (original) GSD does not have predatory behaviors.
  • Dog attack does not equal dog attack - The reason why GSD victims are so rare: Herding dogs like the German Shepherd have three different kinds of 'bite':
    • The guiding nip
    • The grab-and-drag
    • The reactive bite
  • All GSD victims were due to either of these two reasons:
    • Children misread the dog's instinctive intention (guiding nip or grab-and-drag) and pulled away in panic, or
    • In case of mauling, maiming or death, the reactive bite was almost always clearly subject to a form of duress
  • Therefore, the original German Shepherd Dog is not predisposed to violence, rather to avoid conflicts wherever possible.
  • There is no good reason why these GSD characteristics would be any different in say Asia, Australia, or Europe. In general, the above applies to German Shepherds all across the globe.
  • How to prevent that your GSD harms someone for no good reason: see the long list above.

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