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Are German Shepherds Agressive?

Are German Shepherds Aggressive?

Many people who have limited or no experience with German Shepherds wonder… are German Shepherds aggressive?

German Shepherds are large dogs with an intense bark and a seriousness about them that makes their presence intimidating. Add to that the roles they commonly play in security, police, and military situations. Is it any wonder many think they’re so scary?

In actuality, are German Shepherds aggressive? The short answer is no. The GSD breed is best known for its intelligence and stamina, not aggression. But, individual GSDs could be aggressive, just like any dog from any other breed could.

German Shepherds barking

What is aggression in dogs?

Aggression in dogs can involve a wide range of behaviors that could start with warnings (ex., staring and becoming rigid, growling, snarling) and end in an actual attack (ex., lunging, nipping, biting).

These behaviors happen for a wide variety of reasons but are often related to excessive energy, lack of leadership, being scared or insecure, or feeling threatened.

Dangerous Dogs vs. Aggressive Dogs

The term “aggressive dog” typically conjures up images of large, imposing breeds like German Shepherds, Rottweilers, and Pitbulls.

But, the truth is, smaller breeds like Chihuahuas and Dachshunds are equally, if not more prone to biting. In fact, evidence suggests that Chihuahuas are actually less tolerant and more prone to biting than American Pit Bull Terriers.

The difference is that, because of their size and bite force, the damage Chihuahuas can cause are not likely to be fatal or even cause severe injuries. So, they’re generally not considered to be a dangerous breed.

Are German Shepherds Aggressive?

No dog breed is aggressive as a whole, and that includes the German Shepherd. However, GSDs are naturally protective, not to mention incredibly energetic. That can lead to unwanted aggression if they’re not trained and handled correctly.

Are German Shepherds Dangerous?

German Shepherds present a certain degree of danger because of their size, strength, and bite force. If they become aggressive, the situation could definitely become dangerous.

Although they’re not naturally dangerous, many factors and circumstances could turn a GSD – or any other breed for that matter – into a threatening dog.

Things That Can Lead to Aggression in Any Dog

It’s important to note that it’s wrong to label every dog of any particular breed aggressive. Sure, some breeds are more prone to aggression, but it’s unfair to label every dog of a certain breed aggressive.

Aggression is a reaction or outward expression of emotions. Generally, these are the things that can trigger aggression in all dogs, including German Shepherds:

Inadequate Exercise

All dogs need a certain amount of exercise and stimulation every single day. Otherwise, they tend to display a variety of destructive behaviors.

For German Shepherds, the exercise requirement is about two hours per day. If they aren’t given a chance to use up their excess energy, they easily become bored, which could lead to anxiety, destructive and/or aggressive behavior.

GSD puppy socializing outside

Lack of Socialization

Socialization is one of the most important parts of having a well-behaved companion dog.

Early on, your pooch should be exposed to other dogs, people, and animals.

If they’re not socialized, the presence of new things, people, and animals make them anxious because they don’t know how to handle them. They become skittish and fearful, which leads to aggressive behavior.


Abused dogs become aggressive out of fear. When a dog has a history of being hurt by people, they may distrust all humans.

Approaching them could make them feel afraid, trapped, or cornered. That, in turn, triggers a need to protect themselves, which manifests as aggression.

Pain or Illness

Discomfort is a common cause of aggression in dogs. When a dog with no history of aggressive behavior suddenly bites, it’s generally recommended to have them checked thoroughly by a veterinarian. They could be in pain or disoriented by a new and uncomfortable feeling.

Sex Drive

Both male and female dogs can display aggression as part of their mating behavior. This issue is often limited to intact dogs.

Nevertheless, this shouldn’t be an issue when they’re trained for proper behavior and are adequately socialized with other dogs.

Improper Training

Perhaps the most crucial factor that causes aggression in dogs is the lack of proper training.

Dogs in general, and German Shepherds in particular, are protective by nature. They could be protective of their family, territory, and possessions. If trained properly, that could be beneficial.

However, improper training or lack thereof could make them aggressive and uncontrollable in certain situations.

German Shepherds need strong leadership. Additionally, they need to be taught how to react to all sorts of situations.

Imagine, for example, that you’re at home with a GSD who has not been exposed to cats. The sudden presence of a stray cat could make them fearful and suspicious. It could also trigger their protective and territorial instincts, not to mention a natural prey drive.

All that emotion and pent up energy could lead to confusion and anxiety because they have no idea what to do and how to act. But, if they’ve been trained and they trust as well as respect your leadership, they’ll be able to stay calm and defer to you for commands.

Without proper training, German Shepherds could also exhibit aggression out of frustration. That’s especially true if they’re excited by something they can’t get to.

Sometimes, GSDs can also show possessive aggression or resource guarding, which is triggered when they feel threatened that something valuable to them will be taken away. Often, that involves toys or food, but could also concern people or space.

German Shepherd puppies playing outside

Intentional Training

Dogs can be trained to become aggressive. This sometimes done for illegal activities like dogfighting. But often, intentional training for aggression is done when the dogs are meant to work for security.

Generally, the objective of such training is to instill fear and attack, if needed, and in a manner that’s controllable by a handler.

German Shepherd Restrictions in the United States

Over 30 states have breed-specific legislation in the United States, and many of them include restrictions on German Shepherd ownership.

US breed restrictions generally involve larger dogs, not because they are actually aggressive, but because improper care and handling could lead to more dangerous situations as compared to smaller dogs.

Before you get a German Shepherd, make sure you check state and city-wide legislation. Also, make sure you check with your landlord or homeowner’s insurance provider.

These are also necessary steps if you’re looking to relocate with your GSD.

Final Thoughts

Having a German Shepherd can be incredibly rewarding. They’re intelligent, energetic, and eager to please. They’re also loyal and protective of their home and family.

These are the same qualities that could lead to aggressive behavior if they’re not handled properly. Getting a GSD is a decision that’s not to be taken lightly.

But, with a commitment to adequate exercise, proper training, and good leadership, they could really be the best breed to have as a family dog as well as a working dog.

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