Is your German Shepherd displaying challenging behaviors like howling, jumping, or nipping?
You’re not alone!
These intelligent and energetic dogs often express themselves in ways that can be perplexing and sometimes problematic for their owners.
From aggressive tendencies and destructive chewing to separation anxiety and hyperactivity, German Shepherds can exhibit a range of behaviors that may leave you seeking solutions.
But fear not! With the right approach, including positive reinforcement training and ample exercise, you can transform these issues into a thing of the past.
In this comprehensive guide, we delve into the most common German Shepherd behavior problems, offering practical advice and effective strategies to address them.
Not only will you learn how to correct existing issues, but you’ll also discover proactive measures to prevent future problems. Join us as we explore the dynamic world of German Shepherd behavior, equipping you with the knowledge and tools to foster a harmonious relationship with your loyal companion.
Let’s get started!
German Shepherd Behavior Problems
Let’s take a look at the most common German Shepherd behavior problems. Each section will also detail exactly what to do to fix the issue.
1. Aggressive Behavior
Aggression in dogs can be unpredictable and dangerous. It often manifests in behaviors such as barking, growling, snapping, lip-lifting, and eventually lunging and biting. Aggression in German Shepherds may be directed towards 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 defend 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 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 German Shepherd Aggression
It’s important to note that aggression is considered both a training and a medical issue. However, a lack of proper training can lead to aggravated aggressive behavior that necessitates veterinary attention.
When dog aggression is a training issue, you should take a preventive approach. This includes teaching your puppy bite inhibition, not to jump on people, and not to growl when their things are touched, among others. These practices will go a long way in ensuring your German Shepherd exudes the best manners.
The nurturing of your puppy should be initiated at the earliest, starting from around the tender age of 8 weeks. The size and weight of the responsibility might seem daunting, but the solution is to start early.
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 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. Destructive Chewing
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 and the density and 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 other surfaces to find relief.
Redirecting Puppy Chewing Behavior
There’s not much you can do to eliminate your German Shepherd puppy’s desire to chew in the first six months. The most appropriate solution is teaching them not to bite on your clothes, couch, or other surfaces but instead provide a range of chew toys.
Specifically, you must 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 from as your pup grows.
Note: Clicking the above link(s) will take you to Amazon or an online store where we have an affiliate relationship. If you make a purchase, we may earn a commission at no additional cost to you.
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 a healthy alternative.
Destructive Chewing in Adult Dogs
When your German Shepherd is an adult, excessive chewing is no longer just that; it also becomes highly destructive. Different causes make your furry friend 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 German Shepherd Chewing
As with the causes, the remedies for 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.
- 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 while he is alone.
- Ensure your GSD has the recommended 2-hour exercise daily, which could be distributed into walks and 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.
- Consult your vet for a medical examination if you think your dog’s chewing is more than just the usual bad behavior (you’ve probably tried all other remedies). Eliminate the possibility that your dog is suffering from OCB, which could also be genetic.
- Redirect your German Shepherd’s bad chewing habits by using a selection of chew toys. If you’re unsure 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. Separation Anxiety
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 cuddling 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 to the levels of an undesired psychological condition.
The German Shepherd is among the top 10 breeds most predisposed to separation anxiety. This suggests that it could also be a breed thing, and you must take extra precautions.
Dogs with this behavior problem find something to relieve their nervousness and stress, so most will turn to destructive behavior.
Typical forms of destructive behavior include excessive chewing, house soiling, getting into the trash can, digging, destroying furniture and other items, and increased aggression toward family, strangers, and other pets.
Watch our video below about separation anxiety.
Below is a photo of my German Shepherd Willow at around 18 months old. I would never leave her in her crate for more than 2-3 hours. However, I got delayed in traffic for another 30 minutes on this occasion, and she clearly got bored!
How to Stop 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 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 your GSD’s time 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 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, staying connected with your GSD using dog cameras is easy. Take, for example, the Furbo Dog Camera. Its main features can offer 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 (Spraying)
Urine marking is an instinctive dog behavior that usually starts during sexual maturity. They will urinate on objects to leave a message for other dogs.
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 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 highly 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 wants to mark the house as his territory.
Preventing Marking Behavior
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 where your GSD has urine marked to remove the smell and prevent your dog from remarking them. Use an enzymatic cleaner such as Rocco & Roxie. 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 GSD’s vet for signs of anxiety in your dog.
- Confine your dog in his crate for a couple of hours.
- Consult a canine behaviorist if the behavior is out of hand.
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.
- Level of affection received from the owner
- Number of social contacts
- Duration for separation
- Frequency of walks and playtime
The German Shepherd is naturally a high-energy dog, and 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 removing the leash or returning home, and be challenging to engage in obedience training.
How To Stop Hyperactivity in Your Dog
Also, ADHD has been explained as self-stimulation, which means that the triggers cause the dog to “invent” ways to stay active.
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.
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 its respiratory rate, heart rate, and behavior. The levels for these markers will be reduced in dogs with ADHD.
It is essential 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, especially with self-made remedies.
Nonetheless, you can find some good tips in this article, 5 Quick Ways To Calm A Hyper German Shepherd – or watch our YouTube video below…
6. Excessive Barking
Barking is a typical 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 of underlying issues and that he is sensitive to specific 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 your 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
Sadly, people re-home their dogs every day due to excessive barking. If you have this German Shepherd behavior problem, below are the methods that are incredibly 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 must understand your German Shepherd and what makes him 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 actual trigger. You then use counter-conditioning to change your dog’s reaction to the stimulus. In other words, you’ll expose your dog to the stimulus and make them understand it is harmless. Your GSD will eventually face the stimulus calmly, 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
Bathing your German Shepherd is an arduous task. You have to lure them to the bathtub and put up with their crazy shaking and splashing unless you have managed to train them out of it!
But bathing your dog becomes an extra hassle if covered with awful-smelling dirt! So, why do German Shepherds roll in the mud?
Many speculative theories are 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 smell’s original bearer is around rather than the smaller wolf.
Wolves also disguise their odor to confuse their prey, though some say most of the wolf’s prey will rely on sight and hearing to flee from the wolf.
Since dogs have their ancestry from wolves, it is speculated that they will roll in the dirt for the same reasons.
Dogs love to leave their smell around
Dogs have the instinct to leave their smell around to claim dominance or mark their territory. Though this would not make much sense considering that dirt smells bad, dogs can’t make that judgment.
The pungent 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 excessively, such as lying in a pile of dirt.
How to Stop Your Dog 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 the dirt or “Heel!” to encourage him to keep walking beside you when you notice him giving attention to a pile of poop!
Reasons For German Shepherd Behavior Problems
German Shepherds have innate behavior dispositions unique to the breed, like all other dogs. This can include behaviors like mouthing or destructive chewing.
Think of their instinctual protectiveness towards their loved ones and how that can cause them to be aggressive toward strangers via nipping or jumping at strangers.
But German Shepherds grow to be the dog you train them to be. And if that is not done correctly, behavior problems like howling will occur. However, that is not the only reason why your GSD may be misbehaving.
German Shepherds have behavior problems such as howling, mouthing, jumping, and nipping due to poor or incomplete socialization and training, letting your dog have his way, insufficient exercise, hormones, health reasons, and using aversive training methods.
Genetics can also cause poor behavior, which is easily solved by training.
Let’s now detail the most common causes of behavior problems in German Shepherds.
Genetic Disposition to Bad Behavior
It has been scientifically proven that behavior, including howling and jumping, has both genetic and environmental determinants.
This fact is recorded in a study on the genetics of behavior traits in German Shepherds, which confirmed that multiple genetic and non-genetic factors influence canine behavior, such as mouthing and nipping.
In simple terms, your German Shepherd may inherit genes predisposing them to aggression from their parents, which does not mean you cannot tame the behavior through training.
This is one of the reasons why it’s always wise to meet the parents of your prospective German Shepherd puppy.
Poor Puppy Socialization
Poorly socialized puppies grow into badly behaved adult German Shepherds exhibiting undesirable behaviors like jumping up and biting.
Science has determined that 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 positively.
This makes them more confident and calm than anxiety and aggression in unsocialized and badly trained dogs.
Incomplete Obedience Training
Obedience training is crucial in helping your German Shepherd understand your expectations. This includes managing behaviors such as play biting and improving the overall trainability of your pet.
Many new dog owners think a week of training after bringing their dog home is enough. Not so! A confident German Shepherd is not born – it’s made through consistent and thorough training.
You’ll need to show consistent training for weeks and months to help your dog learn all the basic and advanced commands he needs to be a well-behaved dog. This is also key to ensuring your dog feels confident when interacting with visitors.
Consistency also means using the same words to demand certain behaviors from your GSD. Otherwise, you’ll confuse your pet and think he’s disobedient when in reality, he’s confused.
Miscommunication can result in undesired behaviors like play biting, especially when your pet meets visitors.
I have two helpful guides to help you with obedience training using positive reinforcement techniques. These guides incorporate strategies to improve trainability and build confidence in your dog.
- How To Train an 8-Week-Old German Shepherd Puppy
- How To Train a German Shepherd: 7 Quick and Easy Ways
Aversive Training Methods
Punishing your German Shepherd to teach him good behavior will only result in the contrary. It has been confirmed that positive reinforcement training produces the best behavior in dogs because it boosts their confidence.
Also, you encourage your pet to repeat it by constantly rewarding him.
Instead, research suggests that aversive training methods may be less effective in teaching good behavior to your dog. It will also harm your German Shepherd’s physical and mental health. This can also negatively affect their interactions with visitors.
Hormonal Effects and Gonadectomy
Testosterone is often associated with aggression in male dogs. This research study discovered that other hormones could be the underlying causes of play biting and 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 neutered/spayed dogs are less aggressive and more welcoming to visitors. However, research results from a large sample of over 13,795 dogs show this is not entirely true.
This fascinating study showed 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, impacting their trainability, confidence, and behavior around visitors.
Letting Your Dog Have His Way
What if you heard a GSD owner say their dog never misbehaves, only to discover that the owner allows the dog always to have their way? Would you call that a well-behaved dog? This is especially notable when visitors come to the house, and the dog exhibits poor behavior.
Not setting boundaries with your dog can be another reason your German Shepherd has 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 when someone tries to set boundaries, such as at the vet or the dog park. Research has shown that “spoiling your dog” is one of the major factors leading to dominance aggression in dogs.
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 to manage his health and build confidence.
If you try to make your GSD a couch potato, he will have behavior issues, manifesting primarily in destructive behavior, negatively affecting his play-biting habits and behavior around visitors.
Zak George, the well-known dog breeder and trainer, often emphasizes this point in his teachings. He says, “Exercise resolves over 90% of behavior problems.”
Research has confirmed that less active dogs will manifest behavior problems compared to their well-exercised counterparts.
For example, a study revealed that dogs involved in physical activity and those who practice agility shows are less likely to show aggressive tendencies than those living a more sedentary life.
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, primarily through biting.
A study on clinical features in dogs and cats with OCB indicated self-mutilation as the most recurrent of these features. Such practices are often seen as a sign of distress in dogs.
Other medical conditions that may cause behavior issues in dogs include injury and post-operative pain, which can trigger aggressive behavior. In this case, having a breeder or vet advise on handling the dog can be beneficial.
What are some possible causes of dog behavior problems?
The causes of German Shepherd behavior problems are lack of socialization and exercise. German Shepherds are highly intelligent and social dogs and must be exposed to various people, animals, and environments to develop correctly. They are also active and energetic dogs that need plenty of exercise to stay healthy and happy.
What other resources can help me deal with German Shepherd behavior problems?
Many resources are available to help you deal with German Shepherd behavior problems. The most important is a qualified and experienced dog trainer. A good trainer can help you identify the source of the problem and develop an effective plan to address it.
They can also provide valuable tips and advice on managing your dog’s behavior. Another great resource is books and online articles written by experts on the subject.
How do I stop my dog from chasing after cars or bicycles?
You must keep your dog leashed in areas with traffic and avoid rewarding chasing behavior. Redirect them with commands when distracted, and praise them for ignoring vehicles during training to discourage chasing.
What should I do if my German Shepherd is digging up the yard?
If your German Shepherd is digging up the yard, fill in any holes and remove your dog whenever you see them digging. Offer an acceptable digging area and plenty of exercise, and distract them with toys when they display the behavior in unwanted locations.
Be patient – it may take time to stop unwanted digging.
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, particularly lack of exercise, some can be genetically triggered, and underlying medical issues can cause others. What is most important is knowing that you can manage these behavior problems.
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 train the dog and the human too!