German Shepherds are among the most celebrated dog breeds in the world, and their intelligence, as well as stints in Hollywood, have only added to their popularity. But not everyone gets a German Shepherd for their charming appearance and empathetic nature. Many seek German Shepherds for protection.
German Shepherds are protective because they were selectively bred to herd sheep and have the desire to protect. Their alertness, agility, and initiative to protect vary from GSD to GSD, but they can be protective without training, as their natural instincts can inspire them to defend their owners.
If you’ve visited my website before, you’ll know that I served as a UK cop for almost 30 years, where I witnessed many times the extraordinary protectiveness and loyalty of the police German Shepherds.
In this article, we’ll discuss the mighty German Shepherds’ natural protectiveness in detail, so you’ll know what to expect. You’ll also learn when GSDs start to become protective and at what age range they are the best guards.
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But first, we must discuss the reason behind the German Shepherds’ protectiveness. Let’s begin!
- Why Are German Shepherds Protective?
- Are All German Shepherds Protective?
- What Age Does a German Shepherd Become Protective?
- How to Tell if Your German Shepherd is Protective?
- Pros and Cons of German Shepherds’ Protectiveness
- Advantages of a Protective German Shepherd
- Disadvantages of a Protective German Shepherd
- Final Thoughts
Why Are German Shepherds Protective?
Dogs, in general, are protective. As descendants of pack animals, their protectiveness extends to the family that raises them. However, a Poodle wouldn’t make a great guard dog. Different breeds are protective to different degrees, and their ability to defend makes their protective instinct valuable.
German Shepherds are protective because of artificial selection, higher energy levels, emotional intelligence, and loyalty. Combining these factors makes them apt at spotting threats and taking the initiative to ward them off.
But as mentioned above, their protective instinct is worth something because of their strength. Their ability to chase away the threat makes it matter that they can detect a threat. When the breed was in its infancy, most studs were protective by default. That’s because the ancestor farm dogs used to create German Shepherds were already bred to be protective.
Reason 1 – Artificial Selection
The founder of German Shepherds, Max von Stephanitz, bred them in the late 1800s in Germany to herd sheep and protect them. So unlike the Border Collie, who excels at rounding up sheep, the GSD can go one step further by also protecting the herds.
Since German Shepherds are strong enough to defend against animal attacks and chase away intruders while protecting their flocks, their natural protectiveness is quite valuable. Even the ancestors of the breed were big dogs. The breeders wanted to encourage protectiveness, so the studs that showed a higher desire to protect were preferred.
Reason 2 – Higher Energy
While German Shepherds’ physicality makes their protectiveness more valuable, it also adds to the dog’s inherent desire to act. They have a lot of energy, which motivates them to find ways to expend it. In some cases, that manifests itself in torn homework and shredded furniture!
But with the proper training and daily exercise, a German Shepherd can channel his energy into being more alert and chasing away intruders. Of course, in the absence of intruders, you need to rely on daily walks to bring down your GSD’s energy levels.
Reason 3 – Loyalty
While I don’t advise skipping your dog’s walks, the fact is that even neglectful owners have loyal German Shepherds. Whether they deserve the loyalty is debatable, but German Shepherds are generally loyal and want to protect their owners as much as they want to protect themselves.
The human-canine relationship amplifies the GSD’s desire to protect their owners even when they are in danger. Sometimes, their loyalty excels to a new level.
Reason 4 – Emotional Intelligence
Let me present two scenarios: you notice your child in danger or your infant being present when you are in trouble. Who do you think will be more protective?
You, of course.
But you won’t be more protective because you’re a better human; you’ll have a greater desire to protect because you’re aware of the danger. An infant, in most cases, cannot even perceive a threat in the first place. The issue with dogs is somewhat similar.
Dogs with lower IQ cannot register threats unless the threats are very obvious. Even then, they might not have the aggressiveness required to override fear. Meek dogs can opt for the “flight” end of the fight or flight response.
On the other hand, German Shepherds are pretty intelligent. They cannot just perceive threats but can even process what might happen if they don’t act.
Moreover, their emotional radar is strong enough to pick up on your anxiety even if the situation hasn’t been established as a threat to them. Theoretically, a German Shepherd can be smart enough to defend one person from another in domestic abuse cases.
Therefore, it is reasonable to ponder whether your GSD will be loyal to you or your family members. I have an entire article on whether GSDs can have two masters and be loyal to more than one person for a greater insight into this topic.
Watch This Cool Compilation of Protective German Shepherds…
Are All German Shepherds Protective?
All German Shepherds are naturally protective, though to varying extents. Different types of GSDs are raised in different situations, and the context in which a dog is raised contributes to how aggressively protective the canine becomes.
For example, working line German Shepherds such as the Czech Shepherd will have deeper protective traits than the show lines, who are often bred as companion dogs, such as my German Shepherd, Willow. You can learn the difference between working and show-line GSDs in this article.
Aside from the environment in which the dog is raised, other factors affect his ability and desire to protect.
Protectiveness is not just an instinct but a skill. German Shepherds are emotionally intelligent and can get better at exercising emotions that they are regularly exposed to. If you train your dog on managing stress and differentiating norms from suspicious stimuli, he will get better at protecting you and your family.
I’m often asked whether German Shepherds can protect you without training.
A German Shepherds’ color doesn’t affect their default protectiveness. All GSDs have an instinct to protect. However, different colored coats invite different reactions, and how people react to the dog affects his self-image.
For example, Black German Shepherds have an intimidating appearance, which results in people being on edge around them. This makes the dog trust other humans less.
A Black German Shepherd is protective like any other GSD, but his intimidating presence makes him more effective at warding off potential troublemakers.
A White German Shepherd is also protective, but the rarity of such a dog makes it likely that he is raised in a very sheltered situation, which might decrease how effective the dog is at defending his family. A white GSD raised in a harsh environment can be more protective than the average dog.
Ultimately, color doesn’t affect protectiveness or aggression. It simply introduces differences in the dogs’ experience, making them protective to varying degrees. Regardless of whether your German Shepherd was brought up in a harsh environment or a safe one, he possesses the baseline genetic trait of protectiveness.
The dog’s gender plays a significant role in his aggressiveness but makes little difference in how naturally protective the dog is. Female German Shepherds are an exception in the instance they have puppies. If she accepts another puppy as her own, the motherly instinct argument still applies.
Female German Shepherds are protective due to their maternal instincts and make excellent family guard dogs. Even though they are smaller than their male counterparts, their bite strength and size are still a significant deterrent for intruders and attackers.
Even when a female isn’t a mother, she will have the baseline protective drive thanks to her genetics. After all, every German Shepherd today descends from canine ancestors that proved their mettle as guard dogs for livestock.
So, what about males?
Male German Shepherds are protective, and their higher aggression makes them more likely to act to protect. Whereas a less aggressive dog would only growl and bark, a male would pounce. This makes male GSDs excellent guards for straightforward protection jobs and law enforcement.
When choosing either a male or female German Shepherd, this is something to consider.
An older German Shepherd isn’t as good a guard dog as an adult. German Shepherds younger than 18 months can do an excellent job sounding the alarm when an intruder tries to break in but isn’t capable of formidable offense.
As the pup grows up, he develops the physical prowess (and size) necessary to ward off intruders but starts losing his aggression after crossing the five to six year mark. With a decrease in aggression, a German Shepherd is still protective, but his response time is longer.
That doesn’t mean the older German Shepherd is not protective; he simply isn’t too eager to engage in a fight. Before he acts aggressively, such a dog has to be 100% certain that his family is in danger.
What Age Does a German Shepherd Become Protective?
Since age is a factor in GSDs’ protectiveness, you need to have a healthy idea of what to expect at different stages of your German Shepherd’s growth. This will help you determine whether your puppy lacks the standard protective instincts and needs more training. You can also use the information to decide if the dog is ready for guard duty.
A German Shepherd becomes protective at 12 weeks, but his desire to protect becomes noticeable at 6-months. When the pup reaches adolescence, he categorizes his world into in-group and out-group. You should socialize him before this stage, so he isn’t aggressive towards your friends.
The German Shepherd’s natural protective instincts last a lifetime. Regardless of how old he gets, he will always want to protect you and your family. This is one of the key reasons German Shepherds are good family dogs.
Still, your doggo will not be able to protect you in his senior years the way he can as a youth. You can offset this by getting a King Shepherd or a darker-colored variety.
Larger GSD hybrids and darker varieties maintain an intimidating presence despite aging. If protection is the number one reason behind you acquiring a German Shepherd, then prioritizing size and awe-inspiring colors will add longevity to his effectiveness as a guard.
After all, the German Shepherd is required to act as a deterrent more than he is meant to physically keep intruders from breaking into your property.
My post on the different types of German Shepherds can help you find out more about which varieties will be an excellent guard dog at the youngest age and will continue to keep away troublemakers well into his senior years.
I would recommend the below German Shepherds for people looking for a guard dog.
- King Shepherd – This isn’t a recognized German Shepherd breed and refers to a collection of GSD hybrids that have a large size. A King Shepherd is one half German Shepherd and one half Alaskan Malamute or Great Pyrenees. As they grow to up to 31 inches, the protection potential is obvious.
- Sable German Shepherd – These types resemble the original German Shepherds and have a darker appearance that sets them apart from the average show dog. When a troublemaker sees a sable, he doesn’t dismiss him as a harmless pet.
- Reverse Mask German Shepherd – This type of GSD, especially if black and silver, resembles a wolf. It is quite easy to confuse such a dog for an actual wolf. Needless to say, even at an advanced age, a reverse mask dog will keep intruders at bay.
While the above types have the potential for long-term protection, it is worth noting that eventually, all GSDs reach a point of diminishing returns. Whether you already have a German Shepherd or are thinking of getting one as a guard dog, knowing when he’ll retire can help you strategize accordingly.
Any instances of a 9-year-old German Shepherd working for the police force likely involve community service and therapy work. The agility and energy required to be good at protection rarely last beyond this.
Of course, a family living in a relatively safe neighborhood doesn’t have as high a standard as the police. You can still have a German Shepherd as a deterrent, but you cannot rely on a senior to detect suspicious activity, track thieves, or put up a fight. The same also applies to dogs that have health problems.
My German Shepherd Willow has joint issues. That’s why I don’t rely on her alone as my protection, although she does a pretty good job. I got Willow as more of a companion than a guard, and that’s what your best friend will be for you as a senior.
All in all, a German Shepherd can provide the best protection from the age of 12 months onwards. That’s seven years of decent protection and guarding.
How to Tell if Your German Shepherd is Protective?
If you already own a German Shepherd, you might want to know if there is a way to tell whether he’s protective.
German Shepherds are naturally protective, which is why the easiest way to determine whether your dog is protective is to make sure he is a GSD. “If he’s a German Shepherd, he is protective” might not be the answer you’re looking for if you want specific indicators of protective instincts.
So, what can you do?
You can tell if your German Shepherd is protective by pretending to be in danger and noticing his reaction. This doesn’t require an elaborate drill; pretending to fall can convey that you’re hurt. If your GSD barks and paces around you, you can be sure that he has a desire to shield you from harm.
While the above exercise can showcase that your doggo cares about you, the following convey how good he is at protecting you and your family.
Alert When Walking into New Territory
If you notice your dog’s ear movements and tail position indicate alertness whenever you’re in a new territory, you can be sure he is protective. Check out my article on the subject if you’re interested in how to read a German Shepherd’s body language.
Quick to Notice Changes
German Shepherds rely on a baseline sense of norms to decide whether they should go into defense mode or not. If your GSD notices that things are slightly different, he is protective.
Picks Up on Your Mood
GSDs are intelligent, and one of the ways they realize they have to come to someone’s defense is by sensing emotions. A German Shepherd that’s not protective will not seem to identify angst and nervousness. However, that is only a theoretical scenario as they are generally quicker to pick up on emotions.
Pros and Cons of German Shepherds’ Protectiveness
No authoritative article on the German Shepherds’ protective instincts would be complete without an honest discussion of the pros and cons of these tendencies. Protectiveness is not an inherent virtue and can be a flaw in many situations. Let’s explore both sides of having a protective dog.
Advantages of a Protective German Shepherd
Unlike firearms, German Shepherds protect without the fatal impact. In rare cases, a German Shepherd can kill an intruder, but in most cases, they are a deterrent that keeps break-ins from happening in the first place. They bark loud, which announces their presence.
A German Shepherd can be loyal to you and your family, which means he will protect the entire household. This isn’t true for more specific means of protection, such as a ballistic vest. You can share the security of a big loyal dog.
Disadvantages of a Protective German Shepherd
They Can’t Always Protect You
The protection by any dog is essentially a placebo since most situations that require protection cannot be handled by dogs, no matter how big they are.
In my article on whether German Shepherds can kill various predators, you’ll notice that a German Shepherd cannot kill wolves and can be killed by other dogs, too, in certain situations. Ultimately, the dog’s function is to create a potential nuisance that other parties wouldn’t want to engage with.
They Might Get Overprotective
If a German Shepherd’s protective instincts are a good thing, then there can definitely be too much of a good thing. Some dogs might not know the difference between a new and dangerous situation and may end up attacking someone who means no harm.
This is not the fault of the dog, but that of the owner. It is crucial to socialize your German Shepherd, or their protectiveness can turn into possessiveness.
They Might Hurt Other Pets
German Shepherds aren’t always friendly with other animals, especially if you mess up the introduction. This is due to their strong prey drive. You must know how to introduce your dog to your pets and even your children.
They rarely attack anyone out of malice. Whenever a German Shepherd does attack, it is due to insufficient training and socialization, which causes fear aggression in the dog.
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German Shepherds are protective as they descend from other shepherd dogs bred to have strong protective instincts. Canines that didn’t show a certain level of empathy were removed from the breeding pool.
Consequently, all German Shepherds have loyalty and empathy alongside a desire to protect in their blood. Many will defend you with their life.
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