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Have you noticed behavior problems in your German Shepherd that leaves you wondering why they do it and what you can do to solve them? Well, welcome to the challenging side of owning the mighty German Shepherd.
Behavior problems in German Shepherds include:
- Urine marking
- Destructive behavior
- Separation anxiety
- Excessive chewing and barking
- Rolling in the dirt
Don’t throw in the towel yet, though, because all these German Shepherd behavior problems can be solved with proper training, sufficient exercise, eliminating cues, and the intervention of a specialist vet or dog behaviorist – who can also teach YOU how to train.
In this article, we tell you about behavior problems in German Shepherds and give you practical ways, including tips and tricks on how to stop them.
Before then, however, it is important to quickly address the main causes of behavior problems in German Shepherds. Here, you will learn about both preventing and remedying behavior problems in your GSD.
By the way, if you are thinking about buying a product or toy for your dog, check out my favorite gear below. Also, check out the 10-year warranty on the dog bed!
Let’s get started!
- 8 Common Causes of German Shepherd Behavior Problems
- 7 Common German Shepherd Behavior Problems
- 1. Aggressive Behavior in German Shepherds
- 2. Excessive/Destructive Chewing in German Shepherds
- 3. Destructive Behavior and Separation Anxiety in German Shepherds
- 4. Urine-Marking in German Shepherds
- 5. Hyperactivity in German Shepherds
- 6. Excessive Barking in German Shepherds
- 7. Rolling in the Dirt Among German Shepherds
- Final Thoughts
8 Common Causes of German Shepherd Behavior Problems
Like all other dogs, German Shepherds have innate behavior dispositions that are unique to the breed. Think of their instinctual protectiveness towards their loved ones and how that can cause them to be aggressive towards strangers.
German Shepherds grow to be the dog that you train them to be. So if that is not done correctly, behavior problems will occur.
Here’s a short 6-minute video from celebrity dog trainer Zak George. He explains, in his opinion, the one thing that prevents 90% of behavior problems in dogs, and yes, I happen to agree with him!
Let’s now go into detail about the 8 most common causes of behavior problems in German Shepherds, and yes, as in the video, one of them is a lack of structured exercise!
1. Genetic Disposition to Bad Behavior
It has been scientifically proven that behavior has both genetic and environmental determinants. This fact is recorded in a study on the genetic segmentation of behavior traits in German Shepherd Dogs, which confirmed that multiple genetic and non-genetic factors influence canine behavior.
In simple terms, your German Shepherd may inherit genes predisposing them to aggression from their parents, which does not mean that the behavior cannot be tamed through training. This is one of the reasons why it’s always wise to meet the parents of your prospective German Shepherd puppy.
2. Poor Puppy Socialization
Poorly socialized puppies grow into badly behaved adult German Shepherds. Science has determined that the period between 4 and 14 weeks is the most important in a puppy’s socialization process. If a German Shepherd is not socialized well at this age, he will become an unapproachable and untrainable adult.
Proper socialization training for your German Shepherd means exposing them to different environments where they learn how to interact with other people and pets in a positive way. This makes them more confident and calm as opposed to anxiety and aggression in unsocialized and badly trained dogs.
3. Incomplete Obedience Training
Obedience training is crucial in helping your German Shepherd understand your expectations around the house or in whatever situation you are in. Many new dog owners think a week of training after you bring your dog home is enough. Not so!
You’ll need consistency for weeks and months to help your dog learn all the basic and advanced commands he needs to be a well-behaved dog. Leaving training halfway means your dog has not mastered the commands, and you’ll have to keep starting over.
Consistency also means using the same words to demand certain behavior from your GSD. Otherwise, you’ll confuse your pet and think he’s disobedient when in reality, he’s confused.
To help you with obedience training using positive reinforcement techniques, I have these two helpful guides:
- Beginners Guide: How To Train 8 Week Old German Shepherd Puppy
- Step-by-Step Guide: How To Train a German Shepherd Puppy
4. Aversive Training Methods
Punishing your German Shepherd to make him learn good behavior will only result on the contrary. It has been confirmed that positive reinforcement training produces the best behavior in dogs because you encourage your pet to repeat it by constantly rewarding him.
Instead, research suggests that aversive training methods may not only be less effective in teaching good behavior to your dog but will also harm both the physical and mental health of your German Shepherd.
5. Hormonal Effects and Gonadectomy
Testosterone is often associated with aggression in male dogs. This study discovered that other hormones could be the underlying causes of aggression in dogs. Oxytocin (OT), a hormone associated with social bonding and sexual reproduction, and Vasopressin (AVP), which regulates the volume of extracellular fluid volume and renal handling of water, can negatively impact dog behavior.
Gonadectomy is the generic term for the surgical removal of the male testes or female ovaries. Many owners believe that neutered/spayed dogs are less aggressive. However, research results from a large sample of over 13,795 dogs show that this is not entirely the case.
This interesting study showed that there was no significant increase in aggression in gonadectomized dogs EXCEPT those neutered/spayed between 7 and 12 months of age. Scientists still do not know the reason for this.
The bottom line is that hormonal dynamics in German Shepherds can be an underlying reason for your dog’s behavior problems.
6. Letting Your GSD Have His Way
What if you heard a GSD owner say their dog never behaves badly, only to discover that the owner allows the dog to always have their own way! Would you call that a well-behaved dog?
Not setting boundaries with your dog can be another reason your German Shepherd is having behavior issues. Your dog can pee on your newly purchased couch, and you’ll still feel pity for him (“Poor thing, he could not hold it!”).
Such a dog will show aggression the minute someone tries to set boundaries, such as at the vets or the dog park. Research has shown that “spoiling your dog” is one of the major factors leading to dominance aggression in dogs.
7. Being Under-Exercised
Now here’s the big one! The German Shepherd is a high-energy dog requiring at least two hours of daily exercise. This means more than leash-walks! In addition to this, he will need lots of interactive play and mental stimulation.
If you try to make your GSD a couch potato, he’s sure to have behavior issues, which will manifest mostly in destructive behavior.
Research has confirmed that less active dogs will manifest behavior problems when compared to their well-exercised counterparts. For example, a study revealed that dogs involved in sports and those that practice agility shows are less likely to show aggressive tendencies than those living a more sedentary life.
At the end of the day, a tired dog is a happy dog!
8. Medical Conditions
A final reason your German Shepherd will show behavior problems is if he has medical issues. These could be both physical and psychological. For example, dogs with Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior are often linked with self-directed aggression and self-mutilation, especially through biting.
A study on clinical features in dogs and cats with OCB indicated self-mutilation as the most recurrent of these features.
Other medical conditions that may cause behavior issues in dogs include injury and post-operative pain, which can trigger aggressive behavior.
7 Common German Shepherd Behavior Problems
With the knowledge of what causes behavior issues in your German Shepherd Dog, we can now take a look at 7 of the most common behavior problems in German Shepherds.
1. Aggressive Behavior in German Shepherds
Aggression in dogs can be unpredictable and dangerous. It will often manifest in behaviors such as barking, growling, snapping, lip-lifting, and eventually lunging and biting. German Shepherd aggression may be directed towards both strangers and familiar persons or animals.
Dog aggression can be classified into different categories, including:
- Protective – to protect family members
- Defensive – when danger is perceived
- Territorial – to protect their space or place with owners
- Fear – as a result of anxiety or insecurity
- Possessive – to protect possessions
- Predatory – may be breed-related
- Social – when a dog is poorly socialized
- Pain-elicited – due to injury or medical conditions
- Self-directed – when the dog harms himself
Your German Shepherd may manifest one or more of these aggressions for different reasons. Owner-related factors are the most responsible for dogs’ aggression, including lack of proper obedience training, pampering your dog, neutering/spaying, and spending little time with your pet.
How to Stop Aggression in German Shepherds
It’s important to note that aggression is considered both a training and a medical issue. But lack of proper training can lead to aggravated aggressive behavior that necessitates veterinary attention.
A great example of lack of training is shown in this really cool 4-minute video from expert dog behaviorist Cesar Milan where he solves the problem of an aggressive German Shepherd.
In this case, the timid owner found an unconventional way to build personal confidence, which allowed him to finally put his overly aggressive GSD under control:
When dog aggression is a training issue, a preventive approach should be taken. This includes teaching your puppy bite inhibition, not to jump on people, not to growl when their things are touched, among others. All this should be initiated as early as when your puppy is 6 weeks old.
For example, when you teach your puppy bite inhibition, make a sharp cry each time your puppy bites your skin or clothes, and continue until he lets go. Do this until your puppy stops biting, or better, learns to bite without hurting.
As a medical issue, your German Shepherd will exhibit consistent aggression symptoms, especially around 8-12 months of age, even though proper training has been given. In this case, the best way to address aggression is to seek medical advice and treatment from a vet or procure a dog behaviorist’s professional intervention.
2. Excessive/Destructive Chewing in German Shepherds
Chewing in German Shepherds can be seen from two perspectives:
Excessive Chewing in Puppyhood
When they are born, German Shepherds will explore the world around them using their mouths, even before using their visual, auditory, and olfactory senses. They will use their mouth to explore food and drink flavors, as well as the density and the texture of objects.
Also, in the first six months, puppies have to cope with the discomfort of sore gums because of teething. The itching that comes with teething will cause your German Shepherd puppy to bite on you, your clothes, or on other surfaces to find relief.
How to Stop Excessive Chewing in German Shepherd Puppies
There’s not much you can do about getting rid of your German Shepherd puppy’s desire to chew in the first six months. The most appropriate approach is teaching them not to bite on you, your clothes, couch, or other surfaces but instead provide a range of chew toys.
Specifically, you need to provide your puppy with alternative chew toys that can also serve as bites. Consider these two from Amazon:
- KONG Puppy Toy is made from soft rubber designed for a growing puppy’s teeth and gums but is durable enough to withstand a puppy’s natural desire to chew. This toy is also multi-functional and can be used as a fetch toy or as a treat-dispensing toy as you can stuff it with treats or peanut butter.
- Benebone Real Bacon Durable Wishbone Dog Chew Toy is good for the aggressive chewer that your German Shepherd puppy can be. It gives your puppy a good grip from the wishbone shape and is durable. Your puppy can chew the same bone for weeks while getting real flavor and nutrition from the real bacon used to make the toy. You have a choice of various sizes to choose as your pup grows.
You can also use frozen treats so your dog can get relief from the cold and flavor from the tasty bite. For example, you can try frozen raspberries or other frozen fruits as an alternative healthy treat. Here’s a list of 29 fruits that German Shepherds can safely eat that you may find helpful.
Destructive Chewing in Adult German Shepherds
When your German Shepherd is an adult, excessive chewing is no longer just that; it also becomes highly destructive. Different causes lead your furry friend to chew destructively on couches, surfaces, and shoes. These include:
- Poor obedience training from when your dog was a puppy
- Loneliness from being left alone for too long
- Lack of exercise and mental stimulation
- Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior
- Excessive stress in the home environment
How to Stop Destructive Chewing in Adult German Shepherds
As with the causes, the remedies for excessive-destructive chewing in an adult GSD can be diverse. These will include:
- Retrain your dog if you think basic training was poorly done during puppyhood. You may want to consider the services of a professional trainer, however, it’s good to know that it’s never too late to train a German Shepherd.
- Find ways of keeping your dog busy when you are not around. You can consider giving your dog a bone to chew on. If you do, go for natural or synthetic ones that will not break into pieces and risk choking your dog whilst he is alone. You may find this article helpful: Can German Shepherds Eat Bones? What People Get Wrong!
- Ensure your GSD has the recommended 2-hour exercise daily, which could be distributed into walks and/or runs in the morning and evening, and play and games at other times.
- Ensure that the home environment is conducive to your GSD’s well-being; it does not subject your pet to unnecessary anxiety and stress.
- If you think that your dog’s chewing is more than just the usual bad behavior (you’ve probably tried all other remedies), consult your vet for a medical examination to eliminate the possibility that your dog is suffering from OCB, which could also be genetic.
- Redirect your German Shepherds bad chewing habits by using a selection of chew toys. If you’re not sure what to get, head over to this article, 15 Best Chew Toys For German Shepherds to see the ones I recommend and which my dog uses.
Read more: How to Stop a German Shepherd From Chewing
3. Destructive Behavior and Separation Anxiety in German Shepherds
The German Shepherd is originally a pack dog. That means he finds a replacement for his wild mates in his human family. Besides, the GSD is also a friendly and affectionate dog that loves cuddle time and spending time with family.
As such, leaving your German Shepherd alone can cause excessive loneliness, otherwise referred to as separation anxiety, when it gets into the levels of an undesired psychological condition.
The German Shepherd is among the top 10 breeds that are most predisposed to separation anxiety. This suggests that it could also be a breed thing, and you need to take extra precautions.
Dogs with this behavior problem find something to relieve their nervousness and stress, which is why most of them will turn to destructive behavior.
Common forms of destructive behavior include excessive chewing, house soiling, getting into the trash can, digging, destroying furniture and other items in the house, and increased aggression toward family, strangers, and other pets.
Below is a photo of my German Shepherd Willow at around 18 months old. I would never leave her for more than 2-3 hours in her crate. However, I got delayed in traffic for another 30 minutes on this occasion, and she clearly got bored!
How to Stop Destructive Behavior and Separation Anxiety in GSDs
You will eliminate the most destructive behaviors by solving separation anxiety if that is the cause of destructive behavior. Remember that destructive behavior can be caused by other factors like lack of exercise or a stressful home environment.
Three solutions can be highly effective in stopping separation anxiety in your German Shepherd.
Don’t leave your dog alone for too long
You should never leave your German Shepherd alone for longer than 4 hours, even less for young puppies. More than that becomes too much for your furry friend to bear.
Therefore, you’ll need to consider other solutions to break and reduce the time that your GSD spends alone at home. Suggestions include finding someone to keep them busy and staying connected with them while you are away.
Find a way of keeping your dog occupied while you are away
Keeping your dog mentally and physically engaged can be achieved by employing a professional trainer or a dog walker. An hour’s walk and some playtime when you are not around will go a long way to reducing the amount of time that your dog has to stare at the door in expectation of your arrival. There are also doggy daycare facilities where you can take your GSD.
Find a way of staying connected with your dog while you are away
In an ever-changing technology era, it is easy to stay connected with your GSD using dog cameras. Take, for example, the Furbo Dog Camera from Amazon. Its main features can offer you many ways to stay connected with your German Shepherd. Here are some of them:
- You can follow your German Shepherd’s activity using the live stream video.
- You can toss a treat to your dog to reward him for good behavior.
- You can talk to your GSD to calm him down, especially when the barking alerts come in. You may need to experiment with this as some dogs become worse upon hearing their owner’s voice.
4. Urine-Marking in German Shepherds
Urine marking is an instinctive behavior in dogs that usually starts during sexual maturity. They will urinate on objects to leave a message for other dogs.
For example, male German Shepherds will spray on the walls of a building where there is a female in heat to tell fellow males to stay away. Generally, females only spray when they are in heat to attract any male dogs that happen to be in the area. However, urine marking becomes inappropriate when done inside the house, making it a behavior problem.
The original herding and protective roles of German Shepherds make them quite territorial. As pack dogs, GSDs can also be extremely dominant. These are some of the reasons German Shepherds use urine marking:
- Being sexually active (dogs that are not neutered/spayed).
- Territory marking (you welcome your partner at home, and your dog urinates on their backpack to claim ownership of you).
- The smell of other dogs on you (you may have greeted a friend’s dog on your way home, and your dog urinates on your shoes to reaffirm you belong to them).
- There’s a new pet in the house.
- Your dog has noticed a new dog in the neighborhood, and he wants to mark the house as his territory.
How to Stop Urine Marking in German Shepherds
To prevent or stop urine marking, consider one of these remedies, depending on the cause.
- Neuter/spay your dog while young if you do not plan to breed.
- Keep new and unfamiliar items in the house out of reach.
- Clean places that your GSD has urine marked to remove the smell and prevent your dog from remarking them. Use an enzymatic cleaner such as the Rocco & Roxie from Amazon. I like this one as you can use it on any surface.
- Help your German Shepherd become friends with new persons or dogs in the house.
- Eliminate anxiety-causing situations in the home.
- See your GSDs vet for signs of anxiety in your dog.
- Confine your dog in his crate – a maximum of 4 hours.
- Consult a canine behaviorist if the behavior is out of hand.
For more in-depth information on how to deal with German Shepherd spraying, check out this helpful article.
5. Hyperactivity in German Shepherds
Scientists have likened the features of hyperactivity, or scientifically Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in dogs to those manifesting in human children.
German Shepherds with ADHD will portray behavior problems such as hyperactivity, inability to pay attention, being easily distracted, impulsiveness, poor social skills, aggressive responses, fear, and sensitivity to noise.
The consensus seems to reign about the interaction between genetic and environmental factors in ADHD. Concerning genes, the German Shepherd has been named among breeds most prone to ADHD. Research has also listed some of the environmental factors impacting the condition in dogs:
- Level of affection received from the owner
- Number of social contacts
- Duration for separation
- Frequency of walks and playtime
The German Shepherd Dog is naturally a high-energy dog, and the presence of ADHD can make life difficult for both the owner and the dog. Hyperactive German Shepherds may be uncontrollable during walks, manifest excessive leash-pulling, become overly excited when you remove the leash or return home, and be difficult to engage in obedience training.
How to Stop Hyperactivity in German Shepherds
Experts have used human ADHD questionnaires to detect the condition in dogs since; it seems hyperactivity has similar body chemical markers in dogs as in humans. This explains why testing ADHD in dogs entails observing changes in respiratory and heart rate and behavior.
Also, ADHD has been explained as self-stimulation, which means that the triggers cause the dog to “invent” ways to stay active.
Consequently, solving hyperactivity in German Shepherds entails countering self-stimulation with external stimulation; you’ll need to keep your GSD more physically and mentally stimulated to deter him from finding ways of staying active.
As often repeated, the test for ADHD is to give your German Shepherd a prescribed stimulant in a controlled clinical situation and then observe the change in their respiratory rate, heart rate, and behavior. The levels for these markers will reduce in dogs with ADHD.
It is important to work with your GSD’s vet to diagnose your dog for ADHD and follow any recommended training or medical interventions. Avoid self-diagnosing your dog, and especially self-made remedies.
6. Excessive Barking in German Shepherds
Barking is a normal communication behavior in dogs, and German Shepherds are known to be naturally vocal. Nonetheless, when barking becomes excessive, it can become a nuisance for both the owner and the neighborhood.
Excessive barking means your dog will start to bark for any little stimulant and go on and on and on. It could be a doorbell, a passing stranger, or even the rustling of leaves in the backyard. If your GSD barks excessively, this may be the first sign that there are underlying issues and that he is sensitive to certain triggers.
Triggers of excessive barking include:
- Boredom – your German Shepherd is home alone most of the time.
- Insufficient exercise – both physical and mental.
- Fear and anxiety – your GSD is poorly socialized and gets anxious at the sight of people and other dogs/pets.
- Territorial behavior – your dog is overly protective of you, your home, or his possessions.
- Attention seeking – your dog has been reinforced to receive your attention when he barks incessantly.
- Medical issues – your German Shepherd has a medical condition that causes them pain and discomfort.
How to Stop Excessive Barking in German Shepherds
It is a sad fact that people re-home their dogs every day due to excessive barking. If you do have this behavior problem with your German Shepherd, please watch this video from Zak George on how to teach your dog not to bark by using 3 humane and effective methods.
I’ll warn you that it is quite long at 15 minutes but well worth it as this will stop excessive barking in your dog. It features a high-energy Australian Shepherd dog:
I just love Zak George’s training techniques. Here are the methods that are especially efficient in stopping excessive barking in dogs:
- Using positive reinforcement. The best time to correct unwanted barking is BEFORE it occurs as shown in the above video. If you learn to anticipate when your dog is about to bark, it is at this PRECISE MOMENT that you need to get their attention on YOU by using VOCAL commands and lots of EYE CONTACT and then quickly reward them with a treat. To do this effectively you will need to understand your German Shepherd and what makes him about to bark in the first place. You also need to be CONSISTENT with the training.
- Desensitization and counter-conditioning: desensitization means exposing your GSD to the stimulus that causes excessive barking at a level lower or similar to the real stimulus. You then use counter conditioning to change your German Shepherd’s reaction to the stimulus. In other words, you’ll expose your dog to the stimulus and make them understand that it is harmless. Your GSD will eventually face the stimulus with calm, which you reinforce with rewards until it becomes your dog’s new response to the stimulus (counter-response).
- Eliminating the triggers: this might be a bit difficult, especially if they are beyond your control. For example, you cannot stop strangers from using a path near your house or leaves from rustling. Nonetheless, you can keep your German Shepherd from looking out of windows to witness passing strangers, remove a doorbell that stimulates his bark, or find ways of reducing your dog’s “home alone” time.
Avoid gimmicks such as bark collars and sprays designed to teach your German Shepherd not to bark, as these only address the symptom and not the cause of the behavior problem.
7. Rolling in the Dirt Among German Shepherds
Bathing your German Shepherd is a tough task. You have to lure them to the bathtub and put up with their crazy shaking and splashing unless, of course, you have managed to train them out of it!
But bathing your dog becomes an extra hassle if he is covered with awful-smelling dirt! So, why do German Shepherds roll in the dirt?
There are many speculative theories used to explain why dogs roll in the dirt. Here are some of them:
In the wild, wolves disguise their smell with dirt
History has it that wolves disguise their scent by rolling in the dirt. It might be in the poop of larger predators to convince them that the smells’ original bearer is around rather than the smaller wolf.
Wolves also disguise their odor to confuse their prey, though some will say most of the wolf’s prey will rely on sight and hearing to flee from the wolf.
Since dogs have their ancestry with the wolves, it is speculated that they will roll in the dirt for the same reasons.
Dogs love to leave their smell around
Dogs have an instinct to leave their smell around as a way of claiming dominance or marking their territory. Though this would not make much sense considering that dirt has a bad smell, dogs can’t make that judgment. The strong smell of dirt pushes them to want to claim their dominance with their odor, even when strong smells would overpower it.
It gives them a sensational feeling
As animals that predominantly use their sense of smell to interact with the environment, dogs enjoy extra sensory stimulation and may look for it in an excessive manner, such as lying in a pile of dirt.
How to Stop German Shepherds Rolling in the Dirt
It’s difficult (not impossible) to curb instinctual dog behaviors. Nonetheless, one way to stop your GSD from rolling in the dirt is to use basic obedience commands that you’ve already taught your dog. You could use “No!” or “Leave it!” to stop your German Shepherd from starting to roll in dirt or “Heel!” to encourage him to keep walking beside you when you notice him giving attention to a pile of poop!
Owning a German Shepherd is both exciting and rewarding for most owners. However, behavior problems associated with the breed can sometimes make owning a GSD a challenge altogether.
While owners’ actions and decisions cause most German Shepherd behavior problems, in particular, lack of exercise, some can be genetically triggered, and underlying medical issues can cause others. What is most important is knowing that these behavior problems can be managed.
Exercise, training, eliminating cues to behavior problems, and seeking a canine behaviorist are all possible ways to make your German Shepherd overcome his behavior shortcomings. Remember though that the job of a dog behaviorist or trainer is to not only train the dog but the human too!
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