German Shepherds have a reputation for being watchful, obedient, intelligent, loving, but also protective of their family.
Why are German Shepherds so protective exactly?
In this educational guide, we look at the reasons why the German Shepherd breed is so protective, so you can understand your dog better, and ultimately have a better relationship.
If you think your dog is overly protective, or even aggressive, it might be worth getting a professional opinion from a dog trainer or your vet.
Let’s jump into it…
(NOTE: this is a general information guide only, and is not professional advice, or a substitute for professional advice. A qualified vet or animal expert is the only person qualified to give you expert advice in regards to your pet/s)
Why Are German Shepherds So Protective?
A dog’s temperament and characteristics are mainly a product of two things:
- Their genes, DNA, quality of breeding, what they were bred for, and their natural instincts and drives
- How they are treated, bonded with, trained and socialised
Let’s look at each of these things in more detail for German Shepherds…
German Shepherd genes, DNA, quality of breeding, what they were bred, for and their natural instincts and drives
Let’s start with what the German Shepherd was bred for.
As we discussed in the guide on the origin, history and evolution of the German Shepherd breed, German Shepherds were originally bred to be the ‘ideal working dog’, and have an ‘obedient fidelity to their master’.
Essentially, their primary purpose was to please their master.
The breed creator liked the non standardised sheep dogs and herding dogs in the local German towns he visited, but wanted to create a standardised breed.
So, we can see that the breed was originally bred as part of the herding group of dogs, and their working ability and traits like obedience and loyalty came first over other traits like appearance (although the first German Shepherds were still visually attractive).
ALL German Shepherds can trace their protective nature back to the original German Shepherds.
If we then go a step further, we look at how the lines of the German Shepherd diverged through the 1900’s.
The main lines are as follows (although these days people might just call them the AKC American and SV European lines):
- North American and Canadian Show Line German Shepherds
- West German Show Line German Shepherds
- West German Working Line German Shepherds
- East German/DDR Working Line German Shepherds
- Czech Working Line German Shepherds
The show lines were bred more for appearance and show conformance but still maintained the original breeding stock traits of obedience, loyalty and being protective of their owner.
The working lines were bred for all types of working applications like military work, patrolling, tracking, law enforcement and police work, guarding, protection, and of course for woking titles like herding, Schutzhund/IPO and more.
Whilst all GSDs maintained the original trait of the breed to bond with and protect their owner, the working lines may had this trait amplified even more so.
These working lines like the East German/DDR in particular usually had a primary handler, and spent long hours with them doing military work, and would have had to protect them with force if required.
A working line may have a more inherent desire to be more alert and intense in their protection of their owner.
In modern times, most German Shepherds once bonded with their owner and family, all display this loyalty and desire to protect them – which comes from their original breeding stock and the different bloodlines over the years.
Because the German Shepherd has been bred for over 100 years now, and breeding has not been regulated to a high standard all over the world, particularly in America, there is a bigger range of German Shepherd temperaments and traits than ever.
Every dog is different in how they express themselves and their natural desire to protect – some show a tendency to be happy and carefree (even a little silly!), whilst others can be intense and focused.
How they are treated, bonded with, trained and socialised
A dog does not really lose their natural temperament and natural drives like working drives and prey drives.
But, how the dog is treated, bonded with, trained and socialised can manage these things and certainly mold behavior.
Ideally, a German Shepherd would be:
- Has a stable temperament – calm and non-reactive most of the time, but will protect or alert if they sense danger or a threat
- Competent with both its show and working ability
- Has a basic obedience level
- Has a basic training level with ability to perform basic commands
- Is socialised and not aggressive around humans
- Is socialised and not aggressive around other animals (although some dogs show higher desire for dominance than others)
- Has a good bond with its owner and family – achieved by spending quality time together
- Shows a love and firm protection for their owner and family – although the protection is not aggressive, but rather passive, unless attacked or there is a serious threat
If as an owner, time is not spent on each of these things, the level of obedience, loyalty and ultimately how the German Shepherd protects its owner will vary.
For an average family pet – protection should not be aggressive or intimidating. But, your German Shepherd will need you to show them how to properly and safely express their protection of you – puppy classes, regular exercise, regular socialisation, and positive reward training to reinforce what is acceptable behavior and what is not always helps.
If you have put time into all these things and you think your GSD may be over protective or even aggressive – it’s worth seeing a professional trainer to help you out, or if you think it’s a serious issue, a vet could give you a referral to an animal behavior professional.
Mistreatment (neglect, abuse etc.) and traumatic events of a dog either as a puppy or a dog can also affect how they might show protection and affection.
What Does A Protective German Shepherd Look Like When Bred And Trained Properly?
Type ‘Baron German Shepherd’ into Youtube, and check out the video about Baron the German Shepherd by Barcroft Animals.
Are German Shepherds Protective Of Their Owners?
Yes – German Shepherds are generally protective of themselves, their territory and possessions, members of their family (their owner, other humans and other family pets) and anything else they value.
At What Age Do German Shepherds Become Protective Of Their Owners?
Generally, a German Shepherd will become noticeably protective when they settle into their environment, recognise that where they live is part of their territory, and when they develop a bond with their owner.
Are Female German Shepherds Protective?
Some people will tell you that Female German Shepherds are more up and down (moodier) in how protective they are, whereas males have a more constant desire to protect, although sometimes maybe not as intense.
However, there is no scientific evidence behind this. It most likely differs between dogs.
Will My German Shepherd Protect Me Without Training?
German Shepherds are naturally protective without training.
However, dogs need socialising, obedience and basic training to understand how to be protective without being overly aggressive.
Further to that, there is specialised protection training available for dogs for either guard work or to become high level protection dogs (usually for security reasons). You can read more about German Shepherd security, protection and guarding in this guide.
What Does It Mean If My German Shepherd’s Temperament Is Alert?
A dog’s temperament can mean a number of things.
If your German Shepherd is alert, it could mean they perceive there is a threat (negative) or something exciting (positive) nearby.
For example, a German Shepherd may become alert and excited inside your house when they think a member of the family is arriving home from work. They might stretch and way their tail and sniff at the door if this is the case.
On the other hand, a German Shepherd might be alert, tense, focus their eyes, growl/bark, bare their teeth, and charge + a number of other aggressive traits if they think a threat is nearby.
The behavior doesn’t have to be to either of those extremes, it came be somewhere in between too.
Each dog is different.
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