The German Shepherd temperament means different things to different people – based on personal experience, and what they have heard about the breed from different sources.
But, what actually is temperament, and how can you determine for sure what the temperament of a German Shepherd is if you want to find out, or you just want a bit more information on it?
German Shepherd Temperament: 7 Most Important Things To Know
Below we have compiled information on what temperament is, how it relates to your German Shepherd, and particular situations you need to be aware of with any German Shepherd when it comes to temperament.
We’ve also look at male/female German Shepherd temperament, and White and Black German Shepherd temperament, commenting on whether there are differences to be aware of:
1) What Is The German Shepherd Temperament?
The German Shepherd temperament consists of:
“a collection of drives, thresholds, traits and instincts that are inherited and innate”.
Temperament is something which is core, or permanent to an individual dog based on mainly their genetics.
Behavior of the dog can be modified through various factors (discussed below), but modification only takes place and stays in place if the behavior is encouraged consistently – on a day to day basis.
German Shepherd Temperament includes things such as:
- Drive: Does your dog have a high DRIVE to work or take on new challenges?
- Thresholds: What limits or thresholds does your GSD have in relation to its behavior? For example, can it be patient around and tolerate little kids in a family environment?
- Mental Traits: What traits do your GSD have – patient, friendly, scared, courageous, obedient, destructive, aggressive?
- Instincts and Natural Re-actions: What are the GSD’s instincts to certain situations – e.g. does the GSD sit and wait to see your reaction to a strange human entering the house before reacting, or does it instinctively start snarling and baring its teeth?
2) AKC (American Kennel Club) Description of The Ideal German Shepherd Temperament
In their standard, the AKC (American Kennel Club) describes the ideal German Shepherd temperament as –
“The breed has a distinct personality marked by direct and fearless, but not hostile, expression, self-confidence and a certain aloofness that does not lend itself to immediate and indiscriminate friendships.
The dog must be approachable, quietly standing its ground and showing confidence and willingness to meet overtures without itself making them.
It is poised, but when the occasion demands, eager and alert; both fit and willing to serve in its capacity as companion, watchdog, blind leader, herding dog, or guardian, whichever the circumstances may demand.”
The Alsatian temperament (GSD temperament) description used in the standard is derived from the original creator and breeder of the German Shepherd. Max von Stepanitz registered the first ever German Shepherd with a dog called Horand von Grafrath, and started a breeding program using Horand as the dog from which all current day German Shepherds get their genetics.
He wanted to create the ideal working and herding dog. Max Von Stepantiz said –
“The most striking features of the correctly bred German Shepherds are firmness of nerves, attentiveness, unshockability, tractability, watchfulness, reliability and incorruptibility together with courage, fighting tenacity and harness”
The reality today is that well bred, and responsibly bred German Shepherds do in fact possess a temperament very close this.
On the other hand, over time, the German Shepherd has become the second most popular dog breed in the US among dog breeders, and similarly popular in most other areas of the world.
With such heavy breeding and cross breeding both between the lines of GSDs and between GSD breeds and breeds of other dogs, some German Shepherds have varied and sometimes poor temperaments.
3) What Factors Determine a German Shepherd’s Temperament?
In one word – genetics! The DNA passed onto German Shepherd puppies from their parents and relatives is the main thing that determine the German Shepherd temperament!
The quality and regulations of breeding over the years has played a part in the current day purebred and full breed German Shepherd temperament.
Always look at the quality of the breeding, or ask questions when buying from a breeder or adopting from a rescue centre.
To get an idea of genetics, look at the parents, and the GSD’s ancestors. Which line of GSD does your GSD come from? Show or working type GSD? American/Canadian or European? Which specific GSD line?
Here is a quick summary of the German Shepherd types or lines, and the associated German Shepherd temperaments (we explain German Shepherd breeds/types and lines in full in the Ultimate Guide To German Shepherd Dogs and Puppies):
American and Canadian Show Line German Shepherds
Were bred for their appearance and not necessarily for working. These GSDs generally have a ‘softer’ temperament than their working counterparts, and are widely used as family dogs.
West German Show Line German Shepherds
Bred for their appearance, health and temperament standards.
They still have a softer temperament and make great family dogs, but because they posses a higher working drive than American Show lines, they tend to have more energy a more of a need to be challenged mentally.
East German/DDR Working Line German Shepherds
Bred specifically for protection and military services like guarding, patrolling, tracking and attack.
They display high intensity, high energy and are not suitable as a family dog. They are generally aloof, defensive and have demanding exercise and training requirements.
West German Working Line German Shepherds
Bred for sometimes its appearance, but mostly its working ability. High energy and drive to be challenged mentally, but calm and relaxed in temperament which makes them a good family dog.
Czech Working Line German Shepherds
These dogs were part of a very isolated breeding program on the Czech and German Borders, for mainly patrolling and protecting members of the military.
In terms of temperament they are similar to the East German/DDR German Shepherd working lines. They display all the same energy, drive, endurance, athleticism, and exercise/training requirements of DDR German Shepherds. They are similarly not recommended as family dogs.
Various Mix Line German Shepherds
German Shepherds that are bred between the lines, which is most dogs these days. German Shepherds are also bred between breeds, like Golden Retrievers, Labradors, Huskies and more. Read about the 15 Most Popular German Shepherd Mix and Hybrid Breed Dogs at The Daily Shep.
The temperament of these mixed German Shepherds can really be anything, and you should do your research before buying.
Irresponsible/poor breeding of German Shepherds with mental/physical defects, or mix breeding with other breeds of dogs can severely effect the DNA and German Shepherd temperament.
TheDailyShep.com wrote a German Shepherd Puppies Guide From Buying To Owning, where we explain the right things to look for when buying and owning a GSD of your own.
These things can help you identify German Shepherd temperament problems and hopefully prevent them before they come into your life.
4) What Factors Modify a German Shepherd’s Behavior?
What do you think would be the learned or modified behavior of a German Shepherd living in a family home with love and discipline?
What do you think would be the modified behavior of a German Shepherd living in a place where they are neglected by an irresponsible owner who is never home, or never spends time with their GSD?
Do you think the first German Shepherd might learn that if they are friendly, loving and sociable, they will receive the same?
Do you think the second GSD will misbehave in order to get it’s owners attention and stay sane?
In extreme cases, dog raised in fighting organisations are a bad example of what happens (the dog has to be aggressive to other dogs to survive) when a dog is in a bad environment.
How much did the German Shepherd puppy socialize with other dogs, animals or humans growing up? Dogs that haven’t been socialised early and regularly:
- Don’t have positive impressions of other dogs and humans from a young age
- Don’t know how to behave around other dogs and humans – they haven’t been taught what is acceptable behavior and what isn’t
3. Obedience and Training
German Shepherds need daily training and obedience, as well as limitations, boundaries and, expectations and standards of behavior that will indicate to the puppy or dog how to behave on a daily basis.
4. Good Leader/Owner
The owner needs to be firm, positive and disciplined daily. A strong leader is required for a GSD. They are a dominant dog breed, but will look to you first to provide leadership for them.
You often see with lazy and mean owners that their dogs are scared of them or don’t respect them.
5) Specific Situations to Monitor A German Shepherd Puppy and Dog’s Temperament
German Shepherd Temperament With Children and Kids
GSDs love and protect their immediate family. If your GSD grows up with your kids or children, they are extremely gentle and protective of them. They become a best friend in a way.
Because the GSD is large though, they can sometimes physically overpower smaller humans by accident, which you may need to keep an eye on.
Also keep your eye on a German Shepherd around unfamiliar children, particularly if they want to start prodding and playing with your GSD.
German Shepherd Temperament With New Pets, Other Dogs and Cats
Generally if your GSD grows up with your other pets and dogs, they will co-exist fine with early socialisation and discipline by the owner. German Shepherds are territorial though and they do have a herding/chasing instinct.
They may sometimes get territorial with a new dog, and may exert dominance over or try to chase/intimidate a cat.
See how your GSD gets along with other dogs, cats and family pets before introducing them to each other.
German Shepherd Temperament With Unfamiliar People and Strange Guests
German Shepherds naturally want to protect their territory and you – their family. They will always be skeptical and ultra aware/not immediately trusting around unfamiliar people and animals that come near you or the house.
The best way to deal with this is early socialization as a puppy, and puppy training and obedience. Teach them what is a real threat, and when unfamiliar faces should be ignored.
German Shepherd Temperament When They Have Come From A Bad Environment
A GSD that comes from a bad environment might develop fear, anxiety or aggressive behaviors. Read the following articles at The Daily Shep to learn more:
- Why Is My German Shepherd So Scared? And How You Can Fix It!
- German Shepherd Dog Anxiety And Separation Anxiety: What Is It? And How To Treat It
- German Shepherd Aggression, Attacking and Biting: What To Do?
6) Black German Shepherd Temperament, and White German Shepherd Temperament – Are They Unique?
Coat color hasn’t scientifically been proven to contribute to temperament specifically. Genetics in the form of the line of the GSD has a bigger influence.
There are instances of people reporting White German Shepherds as being more laid back and relaxed, but this might be a by product of a history of breeding show line GSDs in that area or country. The same is true for Black German Shepherds.
7) Female German Shepherd Temperament, and Male German Shepherd Temperament – Are They Different?
There is thought among some people that female German Shepherd temperament is different to male German Shepherd temperament, but this has no scientific basis.
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