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Do German Shepherds Play Rough? How Rough Is Too Rough?

Last Updated: January 5, 2024

As a devoted German Shepherd owner, I often encounter the question, “Do German Shepherds play rough?” This isn’t just idle curiosity; it’s a crucial aspect of understanding this beloved breed’s behavior.

If you’re worried about your German Shepherd’s play style, wondering if it’s spirited fun or a sign of aggression, you’re not alone.

These concerns are common among owners, and I’ve faced them too. It’s vital to recognize the fine line between healthy play and behavior that needs attention.

German Shepherds play rough and are known for their energetic and vigorous play style, often engaging in rough-and-tumble activities. Their play can sometimes appear aggressive due to their size and strength, but it is generally a normal part of their behavior and social interaction.

This article is for you if you want to navigate your dog’s play habits. Let’s delve into the world of German Shepherds together and discover the balance in their playful nature.

Key Takeaways:

  • German Shepherds naturally engage in rough play due to their high energy and strength, which is a normal aspect of their behavior and not inherently aggressive.
  • Proper training and socialization from a young age are crucial in ensuring that their rough play remains controlled and does not escalate into aggression.
  • While rough play is typical, there are distinct signs that differentiate playful behavior from aggression, such as body language and the response to commands, which you should be aware of.
Two German Shepherds playing rough

Do German Shepherds Like to Play Rough?

If you have a German Shepherd who plays rough, you might hesitate to stop him because you might interrupt his fun. For the most part, you would be right not to stop the play. 

German Shepherds like to play rough because they can endure rough play, which makes “fun” and “rough” interchangeable.

That means you must know when to step in and limit how rough they can get during play fighting. Otherwise, they will be incompatible with smaller breeds or children.

Recent research has shown that both veterinarians and the public believe that different dog breeds differ in their sensitivity to pain. The results of this survey included the German Shepherd.

Interestingly, ordinary people attributed the breed’s size to breed variations in pain sensitivity, with big dogs seen as less sensitive.

In contrast, veterinarians disagreed with this view, claiming that body size was a minor indicator of pain sensitivity. But whatever your view, German Shepherds love to play rough.

My German Shepherd girl will nibble and play-bite other dogs’ ears when she is playing hard. Sometimes, it’s great fun to watch, but I can see how it may look like fighting if you’re unfamiliar with the breed.

Watch Two Awesome German Shepherds Play Fighting…

Fortunately, there’s a section in this post on when rough play is too rough. Once you learn where the boundaries are, you must be assertive and step in no matter how much fun your pooch might seem to be having.

He doesn’t know what’s best for him long-term. You do!

Let’s now explore some situations why you may want to know whether German Shepherds play rough. The solution differs for each context and is detailed in the respective subheadings.

I Am Adopting a German Shepherd Puppy and Have Another Dog at Home

If you’re looking to adopt a GSD pup and you already have a dog at home, you’re in luck. German Shepherds are intelligent and receptive to training.

Remember, they have the strength to herd livestock yet have historically aided in nurturing and securing them.

Some people deny their role in raising a poorly socialized GSD and spread the myth of their “beastly nature.”

As the 4th most popular breed in the US, we can safely assume that many German Shepherds live with families, including children.

If they’re gentle enough to be compatible with families, they’re safe enough to accompany other dogs. The non-negotiable aspect of this is proper socializing.

Fortunately, I have a complete guide on how to train a German Shepherd puppy. I’ve written it specifically with the socializing and command adherence aspects in mind.

“German Shepherds are strong, and you want to make sure that that isn’t a drawback during doggy dates and your daily walks.” – World of Dogz
Two German Shepherds playing hard. Do German Shepherds Play Rough?

Pro Tip! Experts recommend adopting a dog of the opposite gender. For the happiest dogs and the safest homes, opposite-sex dogs almost always get along better.

Many same-sex combinations will fight as they want to be the dominant pet. For greater insight into this, check out this post, Will Two Female German Shepherds Get Along?

I Am Adopting Another Dog and Already Have a GSD

If you’re adopting a dog and your German Shepherd has never been around smaller breeds, you must supervise playtime for at least two months.

During this period, you’ll find that your GSD may try to go too far. It is your responsibility to let him know that isn’t okay.

Get comfortable putting your German Shepherd in an effective timeout a few times. Since GSDs are intelligent, it will take less than four timeouts before understanding where the limit is.

An effective timeout means marking the behavior at the precise moment it occurs, and the duration should be no more than a minute for adult dogs and just a few seconds for puppies.

Letting your German Shepherd know that there are limits is not the challenging part. The challenging part is figuring out where the boundaries are. You cannot stop him too early, or you’ll be oppressing him too much.

You must draw the line where the play is rough enough to be in sync with your German Shepherd’s nature but not too harsh for his companion.

If the other dog is yelping, it’s already gone too far. Also, if the other dog gets hurt in your GSD’s “educational journey,” he may have trust issues. Later in the post, there’s more on knowing how rough is too rough.

A German Shepherd barking and displaying aggressive body language.

I Want to Raise a German Shepherd and Have a Baby

Regardless of who came first, your dog and baby can coexist. Your German Shepherd must be well-disciplined. He should know when to let go, stop being aggressive, and stand down.

There must be no exceptions to command obedience before the toddler is allowed near the GSD. If your dog takes his time releasing a chew toy despite your command, it’s safe to say he’s not ready to be around a kid.

One-year-old German Shepherds are generally as smart as four-year-old kids. This means they may want to play, but the vast difference in their physical abilities can prove to be a problem.

You must teach your child not to antagonize the dog, and you should train your GSD to play without biting or harming smaller beings.

This brings us to the question of whether your GSD can play with your toddler unsupervised. The answer is no!

When you bring a German Shepherd to a house with a baby or a baby to a house with a GSD, the minimum commitment you must make is to have an adult present anytime the dog is in the same room as your child.

Do German Shepherds Play Well With Other Dogs?

A German Shepherd playing with another dog.

Now that we have established that German Shepherds like to play rough, the question is how well that inclination works out for other dogs.

You may want to know if your GSD might be a problem at the local dog park. You’ll be pleased to know that well-socialized GSDs aren’t a cause for concern.

German Shepherds play well with other dogs as long as they’re properly socialized and are of relatively similar sizes.

They can play rough with other GSDs without either dog getting hurt, but the same level of roughness can endanger a small dog, which is why you must exercise caution.

With that said, I need to emphasize that the above is generally true but doesn’t have to be the case.

If you raise a German Shepherd puppy with other small dogs and supervise playtime in his formative years, he’ll know how to get along with others without hurting them.

The opposite also applies: if your German Shepherd has been raised with other big dogs, he is not capable of being gentle with miniature Poodles! This means your answer to this query varies according to your specific situation.

How Rough Is Too Rough For a German Shepherd?

Since German Shepherds love rough-and-tumble play, you must wonder when it is too much. Usually, nothing stops you from redirecting the dogs to treats or other activities if their rough play makes you uncomfortable. 

If anything, that’s generally the right time to make them quit. That being said, I am not a fan of using treats as a distraction when the dogs are roughhousing, as that can anchor a reward with being too rough – more on limiting rough play later.

Rough play is too rough for a German Shepherd dog when neck biting is involved, and he breaks the skin.

Usually, this does not happen between adequately socialized and exercised dogs. If it occurs, you must put the dog in timeout and work on exercising away his aggression.

How to Recognize Rough Play from Fighting?

I get asked this question often by other concerned dog owners, “Are those two German Shepherds playing or fighting?”

The secret is to understand and recognize your dog’s body language and take it into context. Despite the overlap in behaviors, some clear differences exist between play fighting and real fighting.

Play bow to initiate playNo play bow
Allowing to be caught during a chaseOne dog trying to get away from the other
Voluntary rolling on the backNo submissive signs during combat
Mouthing and nibblingBiting
One dog is trying to get away from the otherQuick and efficient movements
Loud play growlingLow warning growling
Relaxed wide open mouthClosed mouth, curled lip, and snarling
Relaxed postureStiff posture and raised hackles
Relaxed ears put backPinned ears to the head
Differences in canine ‘play fighting’ and real fighting

How Can I Stop My Dog From Playing Rough?

Playing rough isn’t a problem for German Shepherds. It only becomes a problem when they use rough play as an outlet for aggression that can cause harm to other dogs.

Let’s consider some solutions.

1. Discourage the Behavior

If you have two German Shepherds, they’ll sound like they’re fighting when they play. You must pay attention and teach them to “KNOCK IT OFF.”

They must learn to associate the command with voluntarily ending their rough play sessions. You must supervise their play and wait for them to call it quits naturally.

When that happens, say “KNOCK IT OFF.” assertively but with a positive tone, and reward each one with a treat.

You cannot make your GSD feel like he’s doing something wrong by following his nature and playing hard.

The command anchored in this context and delivered positively teaches your dog that rough play is fine, but now is the time to bring the session to a natural end.

Two Female German Shepherds

2. Meet Your Dog’s Exercise Needs

German Shepherds are a high-energy breed, and you need to ensure you provide sufficient daily exercise. Leash walking alone will not be enough.

An adult requires up to two separate hourly sessions consisting of a mixture of off-leash running, frisbee, fetch, agility, swimming, or hiking.

You should also provide mental stimulation such as ongoing training, interactive toys and games, and plenty of chew toys. Avoid tug ‘o’ war and other similar games that promote rough behavior.

3. Recognize Body Language

Different dogs, their age, and other variables affect how they play, but they usually understand each other’s body language.

The first step in teaching your German Shepherd to play along with others is to become well-versed in dog body language so that you can recognize when tensions are building.

This is important because when dogs play, they often emulate certain fighting behaviors, such as mouthing, biting, vocalizing, jumping, body-slamming, and rearing up.

If you notice that your German Shepherd is becoming over-excited, call him to you and redirect his behavior.

4. Separate Your German Shepherd from a Puppy

It is your responsibility to separate your adult German Shepherd from a puppy if he is playing too rough and not acknowledging that the other is unhappy.

He will know you mean business if you say a firm “NO” or “AHH AHH!” Separate them and put an end to the game. You may need to put your GSD in a timeout to get him to understand.

Read more: How To Discipline a German Shepherd


Can rough play lead to aggressive behavior in German Shepherds?

Rough play in German Shepherds doesn’t inherently lead to aggression. However, without proper training and boundaries, it can escalate. Consistent training and understanding their body language are key to preventing aggressive tendencies.

How can I safely play with my German Shepherd to avoid encouraging rough behavior?

To safely play with your German Shepherd and avoid encouraging rough behavior, engage in structured play like fetch or agility training, which channels their energy positively. Avoid games that encourage biting or overly rough behavior.

What are the signs that my German Shepherd’s play is becoming too rough or aggressive?

Watch for signs like growling, snapping, stiff body posture, or ignoring commands during play. These behaviors indicate that play is escalating beyond safe limits and needs to be addressed immediately.

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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