German Shepherds are great in demeanor and appearance and make for excellent companions. It is often said that active singles get the most fulfillment from owning a German Shepherd.
But that doesn’t mean fitness enthusiasts who live solo are the only candidates for GSD ownership. So, are German Shepherds good family dogs?
German Shepherds are good family dogs as they are loyal, protective, and affectionate to the entire family unit, including children. Being intelligent and easily trainable, they quickly become a part of the family. As long as they are properly socialized and trained, they are ideal for any home.
If you have young children or are planning a family, you might be interested in knowing if German Shepherds are kid-friendly. Alternatively, you could be a part of a big household and might want a guard dog who also befriends the entire family.
There are many myths about the German Shepherd, the most common being that they are aggressive or dangerous and are not good around children. I’m here to bust these myths and tell you the truth.
There is no such thing as a dog with behavior problems, but there are problematic owners who either don’t know how to train their dogs or are simply lazy.
So, if you’re wondering if German Shepherds are good family dogs, you’ve come to the right place. By the end of this article, you’ll know what to expect when you get a German Shepherd puppy.
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There’s a lot to this article, so let’s get started!
- What Makes a Good Family Dog?
- Are German Shepherds Good Family Dogs?
- Adopting a German Shepherd as a Family Dog: The When
- GSDs: A Smart Family Member
- Before You Get a GSD: The Family Allergy Check
- Before You Get a GSD: The Family Responsibility Brief
- Before You Get a GSD: The Family GSD Color Discussion
- Final Thoughts
What Makes a Good Family Dog?
Most people ask if a particular breed is family-friendly without knowing the specifics that make a dog suitable for a family. Generally, “family-friendly” is a stand-in for “won’t be a problem for my family” or “will make my family happy.”
But when wondering if German Shepherds are good family dogs, let’s get more specific and look at the desirable traits of a good family dog.
The first thing that makes a dog better-suited for families is his intelligence. The smarter your pet is, the more complex his conceptualization of “human partner” is. The least intelligent dogs will be single-mindedly loyal to a single person.
A smarter dog has enough intelligence to understand the role of his owner and the relationship between his owner and the owner’s family. This leads to consequent loyalty that gets cemented with more time together.
Almost no one uses the term “couple-friendly” because anything other than “single-friendly” is “family-friendly.”
This means dogs that are good for couples are often confused with dogs that are safe for kids. A true family-friendly dog provides intelligent company for adults and safe company for kids. Again, this stems from high-IQ but also requires sufficient socialization.
It is said that with the right degree of social training in a dog’s formative years, one can even make a Pitbull child-friendly. So the question really is about effort, as alluded to above.
If you know you won’t put in a lot of work, then you should consider getting a dog that is inherently more kid-friendly, such as a Pug or a Bichon Frise.
Easy To Take Care Of
When you have a family, you’re not only taking care of yourself. This is perhaps the most significant difference in the experience of having a dog as a single person and having one as a family. The time you can spend with your dog is reduced when you have other responsibilities.
Meanwhile, the social experience of the dog is automated due to the presence of others in the house. Notwithstanding, you need to make sure the dog is easy enough to take care of, given your family responsibilities.
Good Guard Dog
Preferences vary, and some people prefer to have docile dogs that aren’t a threat. This non-menacing quality is desirable mostly in upscale suburbia, where a dog that can seem threatening to a neighbor can lead to an HOA complaint. But for most of America, a good guard dog can give company and protect the entire family.
You don’t just want a dog that is aggressive towards intruders and protective towards your family. You want a dog that can truly love your family. Most dogs can be affectionate with people with whom they develop a bond.
However, they express their love to varying degrees. When you’re looking for an affectionate dog, you’re not just looking for a pet that cares; you’re looking for one that can express his love. This again circles back to intelligence. Ultimately, you want an emotionally intelligent dog.
Good With Other Dogs
The last thing you want is to take your dog to another family and have him embarrass you by misbehaving with other dogs.
This manifests in two ways: first is the lack of friendliness that can trigger a barking contest, and the second is an untethered fondness that might lead to unscheduled humping. The second can be controlled and isn’t tied to a dog breed.
The first, however, is contingent on the type of dog you have, as some can be more aggressive than others. Ideally, you want a dog that can socialize with other dogs, and the minimum you can settle for is a dog you can train to be nice. Any other option is too aggressive to qualify for family ownership.
Are German Shepherds Good Family Dogs?
Now that you know what makes a dog good for family ownership, let’s dive into the German Shepherd profile. You’ll notice that all the traits mentioned above are unconditionally present in German Shepherds. Now, let’s look at these traits and the degree to which they are shown.
Child-friendly and Affectionate
The German Shepherd breed was bred to herd and protect sheep. Although their primary role was to allow the sheep to graze in one field while keeping the flock out of the field of crops next door (due to the lack of fences), they spent night and day with their shepherds and were immensely loyal to them.
So, as they spent most of their time with adults, you may wonder whether German Shepherds are kid-friendly.
German Shepherds are kid-friendly when appropriately socialized. Their intelligence allows them to recognize toddlers, and they can even start seeing them as masters at a young age. They naturally want to protect the family’s children, similar to how they watched their flocks as a guardian breed.
Pro-tip: To learn how to socialize a German Shepherd, check out this article.
Still, they should not be left alone with kids, like any breed. You can trust a well-behaved German Shepherd with a child, but you cannot trust a child with any big dog. Kids might unknowingly tease the dog and trigger a defensive reaction which isn’t fair to the dog or the child.
The child doesn’t know that despite being incredibly domesticated and loyal, the German Shepherd is the descendant of wolves and has self-protective instincts that override rational bonds. Do you want to know more about GSDs and kids? Check out this detailed post, 5 Reasons Why German Shepherds Are Good With Kids.
German Shepherds are among the most affectionate dogs while also being the smartest dogs. That’s not a coincidence: an animal’s intelligence is directly proportional to its empathy, and your German Shepherd will have a lot of compassion and love for you and your family.
Gets Along With Other Dogs
German Shepherds are good with other dogs, provided they’ve been exposed to dogs at a younger age. A GSD raised in isolation is poorly educated in canine networking, making it harder to understand social signals. That’s why setting up playdates with other dogs is critical for your puppy.
German Shepherd playdates are an essential step you cannot take unless your dog has proven that he doesn’t see other dogs as threats. For this, taking him on a walk where he might spot other dogs at a distance is the first step. Then, you can graduate to taking him closer to other dogs, albeit in smaller increments.
Finally, you’ll be able to pass by a dog park without seeing your German Shepherd become reactive.
Once a German Shepherd is ready to enter a dog park, he’s already socialized enough to be dog-friendly. Playdates are your way of ensuring that his core experiences with other dogs are positive ones.
By curating meetings with puppies of mellower species, you provide him with a barrage of positive experiences that build the foundation of his social confidence.
Pro-tip: If you already have a dog at home, you should choose a German Shepherd puppy of the opposite sex to prevent same-gender aggression or dominance fighting.
Can Double as a Guard Dog
German Shepherds are protective of their owners and their families, making them excellent guard dogs that double as family pets. Their protective and guarding instincts from their sheep herding days remain a characteristic of the breed today.
However, you need to train your German Shepherd in the norms of your lifestyle, so he doesn’t try to protect you from harmless visitors and guests.
The training needs do not stop there. While it is crucial to teach your dog to stand down when a neighbor walks by, it is also equally essential to teach him to sound the alarm when there is suspicious behavior.
You have to start with teaching your dog to back off and be open because he already knows how to be protective. But once you start teaching him to relax, you have to reinforce his protective instincts. I have written a separate post on German Shepherds as guard dogs, which goes in-depth on the subject.
As a former police officer, I’m always fascinated by the protective instincts of the breed.
And as a German Shepherd owner, I witness daily how protective my dog is – albeit from the squirrels that dare to walk along the back fence in their quest to steal food from the neighbor’s bird feeders!
You’ll see the classic protective dog in action if you come to my house. Head on a swivel, she is constantly scanning the yard area and will prick up her ears when a squirrel comes into view. She is always alert when pesky squirrels are around.
If a threat is perceived, she will growl or bark – doing just enough to warn away whatever she feels is threatening her family. Although squirrels aren’t a threat, I wouldn’t say the same for the hungry fox that often appears. This is what a protective dog does, no matter the animal or danger.
Note: Be Prepared To Put In the Effort
German Shepherds don’t just require the proper training; they also need a high-quality diet and extensive exercise. There are lower-energy breeds that qualify as family dogs. However, few of them can double so well as quality companions and skilled guards. But, how easy are they to take care of?
German Shepherds are easy to take care of as long as you spend time with them. They need twice-weekly brushing, daily exercise, and mental engagement to feel content, or they will turn aggressive to seek your attention due to pent-up energy. Getting a GSD is a commitment no smaller than having a toddler.
Though taking care of your German Shepherd is an investment of energy and emotion, it is gratifying in entertainment and company.
They can understand what upsets or pleases you simply by being with you for a long period. Again, you have to be present in the first place for them to learn.
Check Out This Cool Video on The German Shepherd Breed…
Once your German Shepherd is trained, he is pretty easy to take care of. I just cannot label the entire breed easy to handle without putting in the work, especially when their intelligence can make them stubborn and some novice dog owners resort to punishment as their most convenient training tool.
For those types, having a German Shepherd will be frustrating.
Adopting a German Shepherd as a Family Dog: The When
German Shepherds are easy to train due to their high intelligence and desire to please their owners. If you adopt them as puppies and teach them to see you as a protective guardian, they will be highly obedient and quickly learn new commands. You can train even older German Shepherds.
Pro-tip: To train an 8-week old German Shepherd puppy, check out my beginner’s guide.
However, if they don’t accept you as their guide, teaching them to do anything will require exponentially higher patience. This leaves the GSDs with the most unjust history, the most vulnerable and challenging. Grown German Shepherds who have been abused have trauma issues, making it difficult for them to trust humans.
When you get a German Shepherd who has been treated poorly, you commit to having more patience and earning your dog’s trust before he can sit on command or do party tricks.
That’s not to say all older dogs from rescues or shelters have been mistreated. You can still find an older German Shepherd to adopt that will be easy to train as they will thrive on your love and attention as gratitude for their forever home.
GSDs: A Smart Family Member
Given that a dog is a human’s best friend, intelligence is a universally desired quality among dogs.
Nonetheless, intelligent dogs are expensive, and German Shepherds are no exception, especially if you get them from a reputable breeder. And I recommend getting yours exclusively from a licensed breeder who can show papers and test results to make a case for the dog’s health.
When choosing a puppy, you have to look at its health, appearance, and showability because these factors vary from dog to dog. However, intelligence is one thing you don’t have to specifically sniff out in an individual German Shepherd because it is a trait present across the breed.
German Shepherds are smart and have an IQ of a 2.5-year old child. That’s also among the peak IQs for a dog, and they are ranked 3rd for intelligence amongst dog breeds. Therefore, a well-trained GSD can provide smart, empathetic company as they can understand you the same as a small child.
They are intelligent enough to understand commands, learn over 150 words, and tell friends and strangers apart.
Before You Get a GSD: The Family Allergy Check
You can control a German Shepherd’s dominance, aggressiveness, and sociability. However, you cannot change one thing: allergies he can trigger.
GSDs shed a lot of fur, especially from their undercoat. And just like most high-shedding breeds, they can cause allergic reactions. This can be disappointing for those looking for a hypoallergenic dog for their family.
German Shepherds are certainly not hypoallergenic as they shed heavily all year round being double-coated. Their dander can trigger an allergic reaction, and their fur can trap pollen particles. You should ensure that your family members aren’t allergic before getting a GSD.
Failing this, you can consider one of the many German Shepherd mixes. For example, a Shepadoodle may just be the answer with its low shedding coat.
Before You Get a GSD: The Family Responsibility Brief
When you decide to bring a German Shepherd home, you’re choosing as a family. But, while not everyone has to participate in house training, everyone must adopt the responsibility of socializing the dog and giving him positive experiences.
Getting him to associate humans with positive encounters is crucial if he is to assimilate into your family.
Let’s bust the myth that German Shepherds are dangerous.
German Shepherds are not dangerous if appropriately socialized at a young age. An asocial and untrained GSD can perceive normal human behavior, such as advancing one’s hand to pet him as a threat and snap or bite people who intend no harm. To avoid this, expose him to many people while still a pup.
I can’t spell it out any simpler:
Socializing your German Shepherd simply means teaching him to be well-behaved around other people and animals. A well-socialized puppy will grow into a well-behaved, relaxed, and safer dog.
Your doggo will be less likely to use aggressiveness in times of fear if they are comfortable in a wider range of situations.
You will be surprised at how friendly your German Shepherd can be. More importantly, receiving positive attention from people will make him more receptive to being social. This kicks off a positive feedback circle where the dog is treated well because he is social and becomes more friendly because he is treated well.
Before You Get a GSD: The Family GSD Color Discussion
The final decision you must have before getting a German Shepherd as a family dog is the kind of dog you prefer. While you don’t need a consensus on the dog’s looks, it would still be nice to have everyone on board.
My post on different German Shepherd colors alongside pictures can be a great starting point. However, clicking that post in the presence of kids can prove to be quite expensive. Your child might fixate on rare types that cost more than his college fund; he doesn’t know any better.
So before you conduct a family discussion on the dog’s coat type, color, and pattern, I advise you to read the entire article and decide the colors that are within your budget. After you’ve prepared the shortlist, you can offer the option to your kids and get a final confirmation on the type of German Shepherd that will get to be a part of your family.
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German Shepherds are good family dogs when trained well. Getting a show line GSD can even turn dog shows into something that the entire family can rally behind.
German Shepherds are intelligent, compassionate, and protective, and as long as you induct them into your social norms and match their activity needs, you don’t have to worry about aggression and awkward behavior. Let’s just say – I’ve busted the myths.
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