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Are German Shepherds Loyal? Things Only an Owner Understands

Last Updated: December 10, 2023

German Shepherds are popular family dogs because of their intelligence and affection. They also have an aesthetic appearance that blends well with the family image. So, whether you’re considering a German Shepherd as a family pet or as a working dog, you may wonder just how loyal they are.

German Shepherds are loyal to their owners and protective of their families, which is attributed to their high social intelligence. Due to their strong guarding instincts, they see their owners as a child sees their parents and form deep, lifelong bonds that stand the tests of adversity and absence.

This article covers everything you need to know about German Shepherd loyalty, including what causes them to be faithful and how you can optimize their loyalty.

Among other things discussed is what can make a dog turn on his family and what mistakes cause German Shepherds to be distant. I briefly touch upon the difference in loyalty among rescued dogs and ones adopted as young pups as well, so by the end, you know what to expect when you get a German Shepherd.

There are also some things that only a German Shepherd owner will understand. Let’s find out all about German Shepherd loyalty!

A German Shepherd lied down gazing up at his master. Are German Shepherds Loyal?

Are German Shepherds Loyal Dogs?

If there’s one thing the Godfather films have taught us, it is that family means loyalty. So do German Shepherds get a seat at the table?

German Shepherds are loyal dogs due to their high intelligence. Also, their original breeding of herding sheep meant they spent all their time with their owners cementing their loyalty even further. This trait remains, and they will stay faithful to their owners, whom they see as their guardians.

Back when the breed was introduced in the name of Deutsche Schaferhunde in Germany, it was well-known for traits like courage, loyalty, confidence, and intelligence. The American Kennel Club also mentions how German Shepherds stay loyal to their owners.

The breed is smart. They are ranked 3rd for intelligence and have the IQ of a 2.5-year-old child. Due to their level of understanding, they rarely get past the stage of blind loyalty.

They are also versatile, brave, strong, highly protective, and make good guard dogs. Their loyalty stems from an active mind. They love to be trained and will look to you for direction, as they looked to their shepherds many years ago. Their loyalty only grows further when you continue to train them and spend time with them.

“A GSD’s intelligence and time spent together equals loyalty.”

World of Dogz

Most German Shepherd owners, including myself, will tell you how their dog will even follow you to the bathroom. They want to know where you are at all times; such is their guarding instinct and devotion.

You also have to consider why the breed is used in working roles, such as law enforcement, the military, as service dogs, therapy dogs, and search and rescue.

So, why is this?

When working as police or military dogs, German Shepherds stay astoundingly loyal to their handlers. In my policing days, I can’t describe the immense loyalty these dogs will show. They will gladly lay down their life for their owner in times of conflict and danger to protect them.

Learn More About The German Shepherd In This Video…

So, that’s the short answer to why German Shepherds are loyal dogs. I want to take the next few paragraphs to explore this further, but before that, let’s look at why the source of their loyalty even matters.

What Makes a Dog Loyal?

From ancient sacrifice rituals to modern tech innovation, most human progress comes from experimenting with what works. Usually, we decide we like something, then figure out its cause and do more of it until we have an abundance of what we like.

That’s how we invented agriculture, produced social networks, and domesticated wolves to produce dogs. Now let’s look at canine loyalty with the framework above.

We like our dogs to be faithful to us because:

  • It allows us to bond with an otherwise potentially dangerous animal.
  • It turns a foreign entity into a family member.
  • It helps us feel protected and eases us into the kind of comfort needed to befriend them in the first place. 
  • It helps us develop companionship and rely on dogs for emotional support as well.

If we couldn’t trust dogs, we wouldn’t be able to raise them in any context outside of work. The fact that many working-line German Shepherds are raised as pets is evidence that these dogs can be very loyal. Still, knowing the cause is crucial to optimizing your bond with your dog.

German Shepherds are so loyal because they are intelligent enough to cultivate gratitude towards their owners. When you provide for your dog and take care of him, he can process your role as a provider and see you the same way he would look at his parents, which results in spontaneous loyalty.

German Shepherd Sitting in the woods.

Another reason dogs are more faithful than other intelligent animals is that they were bred to be more faithful.

While wolves were being domesticated through artificial selection, those too interested in a working relationship were removed from the breeding pool, leaving behind the ones who seemed to develop an emotional bond with their owners. 

We repeated this a few hundred thousand times before emotional attachment became a universal trait among dogs. To this day, canines are analogous to faithfulness. It means dogs more prone to spontaneous loyalty can develop a bond with you through mere exposure. 

Canine bonding isn’t binary; it exists on a spectrum with the most fierce end of the faithfulness continuum dedicated to providers who show affection and take care of the dog – and the least dedication reserved for those the dog never sees.

Most members of a dog-owning family lie in the middle, whereby with mere exposure, the dog develops a mildly faithful bond. There’s always one family member who the dog sees as his primary owner.

How To Find If Your German Shepherd Is Loyal

Aspects like genetics, training, socialization opportunities, breed line, individual personality, and the treatment of the owner influence the loyalty of a German Shepherd.

If you’re new to raising German Shepherds, it’s essential to look at the following signs to confirm if your dog is loyal or not.

Responses With Strangers

If your German Shepherd has considered as his/her master and like you, he/she can rush to protect you and shoo away strangers. Perhaps, if you’ve a good relationship with the stranger, it’s feasible for your dog to understand the same and calm down.

However, the first response upon seeing a stranger is getting alert. Most dogs bark, growl, and show various signs of uneasiness when you spend time with strangers.

Body Language

German Shepherds are highly expressive breeds, and their expressions can inform you about their loyalty. For instance, when your dog sits in a relaxed position, chooses to stay next to you, walks with you, wags their tail, looks at you, and loves to play with you, these are sufficient to confirm that he’s not only loyal but also affectionate.

Obedience Test

One more way to confirm if the German Shepherd is loyal to you is to conduct the obedience test. Use commands like “sit,” “stand,” “come,” “fetch,” and “stay.” If the response time is instant, it’s a sign that he’s loyal and obedient to you.

Complex Loyalty: Intelligent Dogs and Multiple Masters

Almost all dogs are intelligent enough to recognize their owners are guardian figures. A dog doesn’t bite the hand that feeds it. However, certain breeds are more intelligent than others and can process the role of multiple masters.

German Shepherds are not only loyal to only one person. However, as family dogs, they develop a primary bond with the main provider and a secondary one with other family members. The master will be the favorite, but this doesn’t mean he won’t show loyalty to the rest of the family.

I wrote a complete article on this topic as it’s something I’m often asked about. You can check it out here, Can a German Shepherd Have Two Masters?

The complexity of your dog’s loyalty is directly proportional to his intelligence. Nonetheless, you can adopt a dog that isn’t conventionally smart and still keep him as a family pet. For that, you’ll need to lower his threat radar through consistent socialization.

A dog with lower than average levels of intelligence can be loyal to one person and harmless to the rest if you make him generally docile. On the other hand, a German Shepherd can be devoted to you and your family yet retain his aggressive instincts for those he believes might harm you. This is one of the reasons why German Shepherds are good family dogs.

Faithfulness – Gender-contingent Trait or a Breed-wide Feature?

Some people believe that the degree to which loyalty manifests itself as aggressive protectiveness is dictated by the dog’s gender. Female German Shepherds used to be considered more aggressive, but studies have shown that the females have episodes of higher aggression when in heat while the males are perpetually more aggressive on average.

For example, this study found male German Shepherds to be substantially more aggressive than females (6.75% versus 2.78%). 

If the theory about protective jealousy being a manifestation of loyalty and aggression is accurate, then male German Shepherds should be more loyal as they are more aggressive.

But is this true? Are Female German Shepherds More Loyal?

Female German Shepherds are not more loyal or less faithful than male German Shepherds. Still, they are friendlier and more affectionate than their male counterparts, making their loyalty easy for humans to perceive, leading to the myth of gender-based loyalty.

Loyalty is a breed-wide universal, and gender does not make a dog any more prone to loyalty than its color. We see females as motherly and infer loyalty.

If you need some help deciding how to choose the gender of your new pup, this article may be just what you need, Male vs. Female German Shepherd.

Two GSDs sat side by side. Are German Shepherds Loyal?

To make sure your dog is loyal, you need to avoid the following mistakes as an owner:

Being Absent

You don’t have to be present all the time, but please do not be perpetually absent because the number one contributor to canine loyalty is consistent exposure and company.

German Shepherds are smart enough to see you as the provider when you physically feed them. However, they can’t read invoices and know that you pay for the treats that the dog sitter gives him. If you’re absent all the time, he will not see you as his primary owner.

Not Grooming the Dog 

Grooming can be tiresome if you see it as a chore. I see it as a great opportunity to bond with your doggy. When you miss out on grooming, you miss out on a potential increase in faithfulness.

That’s not to say that your dog will not be loyal if you don’t brush him once a week. You just have a chance to make him more faithful by developing a deeper bond with regular brushing.

Not Taking Him on Walks

When you take your dog on a walk, you play the role of a provider. If you don’t provide him with an avenue to expend his energy, you’re missing out on associating yourself with fun, curiosity, and exploring.

In some instances, a German Shepherd is more faithful to the person who takes him on interesting walks than the one who feeds him. For optimum loyalty, you need to be the one doing both.

Buying vs. Adoption – Consequences in Bonding

Rescue purists believe all dog breeding is unethical breeding and to buy a new dog is to overlook all the dogs in shelters across the world. Whatever your view, rescuing is still a noble act.

Regardless of whether you get a puppy from a breeder or adopt a rescue, among the many things argued about is the question of the dog’s loyalty. And since we’re discussing faithfulness among German Shepherds, you must know what to expect.

Rescued German Shepherds are intelligent enough to process that they were abandoned and be grateful that you adopted them. However, the loyalty of a rescued dog is different from that of the one you raise.

If you want a friend-like loyalty in a German Shepherd, you can rescue one, love him, and treat him well enough for him to eventually trust you. Such a dog will be more grateful for your presence. It is impossible for a puppy who has grown up with you to appreciate you the same way.

You can learn more about how to get a German Shepherd to trust you in this article.

If you want a family-like bond in a dog, though, you have to raise him yourself as you will bond quicker when you watch him grow from a tiny puppy to a majestic adult German Shepherd. More importantly, he will imprint on you and see you as a parent on the most instinctual level.

Loyalty doesn’t have to be a consequence of imprinting but is the deepest when a German Shepherd puppy has made an impression on you.

The following signs can indicate this:

  • Eye contact – There’s aggressive eye contact, and there’s longing eye contact. If your German Shepherd makes “puppy eyes” at you while retaining extended eye contact, then he might have had an effect on you.
  • Looking for clues – If a puppy keeps looking at you when walking and seems to check in with you after every time he gets distracted, you’re probably well-positioned as a parent in his mind.
  • Distinct excitement when greeting – Dogs get excited when their owners return home from work. But if your dog seems to freak out beyond normal upon seeing you, he has probably started seeing you as more than a provider.
  • Relaxed in your presence – German Shepherds can be anxious and can take a while before calming down, even upon their owners’ return. If your puppy seems content and relaxed whenever you are present, then you can assume that he has imprinted on you to an extent.
  • Obedience – If your German Shepherd puppy obeys your commands without angling for treats, his life is already centered around you and wants to please you regardless of the reward.
German Shepherd Sitting

Best Ways To Nurture Your Bond With a German Shepherd

If you’ve read this far, you already know that you can optimize your German Shepherd’s loyalty by deliberately deepening the bond you two have. To deepen the bond, you have to put in the hours; a German Shepherd’s loyalty comes at the price of time and energy but is the best thing you’ll experience.

Take Him on Walks

Dogs love treats, but treats are like TikTok clips: they are pretty easy to deliver even though there’s an immense appetite for them. To get your German Shepherd to be more loyal to you than to anyone else in your family, you need to give him something others don’t.

I don’t know much about the stock market, but if Tesla stock tells me one thing – people don’t like to walk. This is an opportunity as it lets you be the sole provider of the activity your dog enjoys. He will associate you with exploration and novelty when you take him on special walks.

Groom Him Regularly

Again, you must pick something that others don’t do to get your German Shepherd to be faithful to you in ways he isn’t to others. Brushing your dog 2-3 times a week increases the bonding as they enjoy being brushed.

Within weeks, your German Shepherd will start associating with you with a sense of warmth and closeness alongside a feeling of being appreciated. This will make him more loyal to you than others in the house.

Give Him Treats

The most obvious and easiest route to a dog’s heart is through his belly. However, there’s a trick to making a German Shepherd more loyal with treats: make him earn his treats. 

When you make your German Shepherd earn his treats, he associates it with your approval. A dog that is desperate for your approval is loyal, and a dog that is indifferent to your feelings can be an unpredictable one.

Three Things That Make a Dog Turn On Its Owner

If you’ve reached this article by searching for whether a German Shepherd can have split loyalties, then you’re probably adopting one for your family. In that case, I find it essential to mention the three things that can override the breed’s sense of loyalty in favor of self-preservation.

Startling the Dog 

Surprises are fun for humans but can be cruel for dogs. Ensure that children do not “prank” your dog by making sudden noises or poking him without warning; this can trigger a self-defense response that can injure the child if the dog bites through fear.

Not Establishing Yourself as the Guardian 

Suppose you haven’t positioned yourself as the dominant alpha in the relationship. In that case, your German Shepherd might have a distorted sense of loyalty towards you where he might feel like biting you is good for you because it makes you act in the way he believes is right.

Pro-tip: This article can learn how to show dominance over a German Shepherd.

Starvation and Abandonment 

If their trust is betrayed, German Shepherds will not remain loyal to someone they trust as providers. Although prone to separation anxiety, they can still stay loyal if they’re only left alone for a few hours.

However, if the absence is perpetual and the dog goes hungry, you’re losing points. Loyalty aside, please make sure your German Shepherd has company, food and water, even if you’re absent.

Final Thoughts

German Shepherds are among the most loyal dog breeds, provided that you spend time with them and treat them right. If a puppy imprints on you, he will have an instinctual bond with you that will never break.

A rescued German Shepherd will be loyal out of gratitude if you take the time to patiently cultivate a level of trust with him. And if your family resides with you, your dog will develop a secondary sense of loyalty towards them out of his love for you.

Sharon Waddington
Sharon Waddington is the founder of World of Dogz. With over 30 years of experience working with dogs, this former Police Officer has seen it all. But it’s her trusty German Shepherd, Willow, who steals the show as the inspiration behind this website. As Sharon’s constant companion Willow has played a pivotal role in shaping her passion for dogs. Recently, Sharon has become deeply passionate about the plight of rescue dogs and is an active advocate for dog rescue, striving to make a difference in the lives of dogs in need.

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