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Crazy German Shepherd Behavior! Discover the Why and How

Last Updated: February 5, 2024

Are you puzzled by your German Shepherd’s behavior?

Dog owners often pride themselves on understanding their loyal companions, from their expressive barks to their enthusiastic tail wags. Yet, amidst this familiarity, there remain certain behaviors that leave even the most seasoned owners puzzled.

German Shepherds exhibit a fascinating array of behaviors that are both endearing and intriguing. From the affectionate licks to the soulful howls, the gentle nibbles to the playful mouthing, these behaviors paint a vivid picture of their emotional and physical world.

You might find your loyal companion rolling blissfully on their back, contentedly laying at your feet, or even amusingly sitting atop you as if claiming their favorite spot. The quirky tail chasing and the intense, thoughtful stares they give are just as much a part of their unique character.

These enigmatic actions spark curiosity and a bit of bewilderment: why do our German Shepherds behave in such ways, and what are they attempting to communicate?

This blog delves into the heart of these mysteries, unraveling the subtle cues and hidden meanings behind your German Shepherd’s craziest behaviors.

German Shepherd rolling on her back.
My German Shepherd, Willow, rolling on her back!

Deciphering German Shepherd Behavior

Decoding the Licks: Understanding Your Dog’s Affectionate Gestures

Licking is one of the most common German Shepherd behaviors, and most dog owners will enjoy a lick from their furry friend.

But have you wondered exactly what your GSD tells you when they lick your face, a fellow dog, or themselves?

Why Do German Shepherds Lick You?

The most obvious reason your GSD will lick you is to show affection and joy. When you’ve been away, and your German Shepherd has been all alone, your arrival is a cause for jubilation, and your dog will want to tell you how much they love you and show immense joy at your homecoming.

Your German Shepherd will also lick you to investigate you and give you information. Since your dog cannot ask you with words how you are or what you’ve had for lunch, they will lick your face to detect the smell of what you’ve eaten.

They will also lick you after their lunch to tell you they are grateful, kind of, “Lunch was good, Mom, thanks!”

If your visual expression tells your dog something is amiss, your German Shepherd will lick you to calm and soothe. They will come to the couch where you are lying down and lick you to say they are sad you’re unwell and want you to be up again. 

But dogs will also lick you to seek attention. If you have ignored or not given them a treat all morning because you are busy, your dog will lick your face to draw your attention. 

But your German Shepherd does not just lick you. They will also lick themselves.

Understanding Self-Licking Behavior

German Shepherd Licking its nose while sitting next to the owner

Have you ever seen German Shepherd behavior where your dog licks his mouth just after looking at someone? If yes, check the person for an angry face. 

Researchers in animal behavior in the UK and Brazil have discovered that dogs lick their mouths in response to angry human faces. So, don’t think your dog likes your angry face if he licks his mouth. He is just trying to communicate with you!

But dogs will also lick themselves for medical reasons, especially pruritus. Therefore, if you notice the first signs of excessive itching in your dog, you should seek the intervention of your dog’s vet. 

Some of the medical conditions that will cause your German Shepherd to lick his paws and other parts of his body include:

  • Allergies (seasonal allergies, atopy or contact allergy, and flea allergy dermatitis)
  • Gastrointestinal issues (food allergies)
  • Sarcoptic mange (mites) and bacterial/fungal/parasite infections
  • Injury and arthritis pain (as pain-relief behavior)
  • Some prescription drugs 
  • Hormonal imbalance

Note, however, that dogs will often lick their paws as part of self-grooming, and those who are obsessive groomers may do so a bit exaggeratedly. 

Licking Other Dogs Mouth, Ears, or Faces

The affection and communication reasons discussed earlier why your German Shepherd Dog licks you also apply to his licking other dogs and pets.

Below is a photo of my female German Shepherd “Willow” licking the face of her Boxer dog friend. Looks like he was more interested in the forthcoming treat!

German Shepherd licking the face of a Boxer dog.
“Hey! Stop looking when I’m kissing!”

But did you know that in the doggie world, licking behavior also has a dominance element?

People who have lived in a multi-dog household know that one dog may lord it over the other and will access things first (e.g., food or toys), always win fights, go for attention first from the owner, and receive more licks from their subordinates.

In a study on dog dominance, licking their subordinates less was one of the indicators of dominance in 83% of dogs rated as dominant by their owners.

Why Do German Shepherds Nibble?

Nibbling is the gentle bite your dog will make on your body, especially on your toes! This German Shepherd behavior is generally considered an instinctual behavior characterizing puppies of all breeds, especially during teething.

When young puppies play, you will notice that they will display behavior consisting of gently biting each other as part of the game.

Your doggo can transfer this nibbling behavior to you or your furniture if no other puppies or pets are around, which is why teething toys are essential.     

But German Shepherd Dogs tend to bring this “growing up” behavior into their adult life. Naturally, newborn German Shepherd puppies will explore their world with their mouths before using their sight and smell.

It appears that this instinct is maintained throughout life for important reasons, as shown by some studies. 

A study investigating the meaning and emotion associated with nibbling in dogs concluded that the behavior is not related to negative personality traits. Instead, nibbling has two functions:

  1. It manifests the highly positive emotions of one dog towards humans or other animals.
  2. It is a special form of communication used to create and strengthen emotional bonds between animals, irrespective of their social status.

My German Shepherd will display nibbling behavior when she is having fun playing with other dogs. She will nibble at the other dog’s ears during play, especially when running alongside them.

Despite these facts, nibbling behavior in German Shepherds can also be triggered by several other factors:

  • The itching and soreness that comes with teething.
  • A “doggie way” of telling you that you are not giving them enough attention or doing something they are not pleased about.
  • An expression of extreme excitement. 
  • A sign that they are unhappy about something (nibbling may graduate to nipping).

Other ways to control your dog’s nibbling are avoiding jerking when your pet nibbles on you (acts as learned behavior), keeping your dog well exercised, and, most especially, training your German Shepherd pup against the behavior.

If your German Shepherd has become a destructive chewer, you must curtail this behavior sooner rather than later.

Why Are German Shepherds So Vocal?

As a herding breed that tends to be protective and territorial, the German Shepherd can be excessively barking, groaning, whining, and moaning.

But these German Shepherd behaviors may also be triggered by positive situations and other breed-related temperament traits such as its friendly family-dog nature. 

Also, leaving your dog consistently alone at home and for long periods may cause him to be vocal. The German Shepherd is among the top 10 dogs most prone to separation anxiety. As such, your GSD may also groan, whine, or moan to express his loneliness. 

As a rough guideline, your German Shepherd may manifest any of these behaviors for one or more of the following ten reasons shown in the table.

German Shepherd BehaviorBarkGroanWhineMoan
Seeking your attention
Enjoying something
Anxious or afraid
Injured or in pain
Under-exercised or bored

Why Do German Shepherds Howl? 

German Shepherd Dog howling.
“I need someone to come and play with me!”

Most people will associate howling with the wolf-like Siberian Husky. You may realize that German Shepherds look like wolves, but did you know your German Shepherd also manifests this wolf-ancestry behavior occasionally? 

Usually, howling is a form of communication that dogs will use with you and other dogs outside their usual barking, groaning, or whining. And unless it is incessant, you have a normal dog, and you need not be worried. 

Here are some reasons your German Shepherd will howl:

  • You have not had time for him all day, and he’s looking for attention.
  • He’s sensing some danger, and he wants to warn you about it.
  • Another dog in the neighborhood is howling, and he is responding as the pack dog that he is.
  • He’s reacting to high-pitched sounds like an ambulance siren. 
  • He’s alone and lonely at home and suffering from separation anxiety.
  • He has medical issues that are causing him pain or itching, and he wants you to know and do something about it.

Why Do German Shepherds Lay on Your Feet? 

German Shepherds are pack dogs and, therefore, have remnants of the tendency to stick close together. German Shepherd behavior consisting of lying or sitting on or next to your feet can have 3 different meanings.

1. Seek and Offer Protection

Your German Shepherd will sit at your feet to feel safe and offer you protection at the same time. Among pack dogs, the alpha has a prominent position. So, laying at your feet shows that your dog recognizes you as the alpha. But your dog also feels safe and secure close to you. 

2. Be Warm

Have you ever wondered why dogs tend to lie close to each other or on each other most of the time? Especially in cold weather, most pack dogs would lie close to each other to preserve the warmth.

Whether it’s cold or not, it is warmer near your feet, and your GSD seeks that natural doggie closeness that is wired into their nature.

3. Seek Affection and Attention

Your German Shepherd may lie on or close to your feet to simply seek affection and attention. German Shepherds enjoy a warm cuddle, and sometimes they can even become extra clingy.

If you are sitting at a chair tapping at your computer’s keyboard for an hour or two, your furry friend will take what he can of your closeness, hoping to remind you that he exists. 

Why Do German Shepherds Lay Down to Eat?

Some people say fatigue, aging, pain, and injury are reasons for this German Shepherd behavior. While these are valid, there is one reason that seems to be a more logical explanation of why your GSD lays down to eat.

In their wild nature, before we domesticated them, dogs had to hunt their food and protect it from intruders. This meant keeping sight of their prey from the hunting stage to when they were ready to eat was important.

Hence, dogs lie down to eat so they can see who is approaching from the front while they enjoy the fruit of their labor. 

Below is a photo of my German Shepherd displaying this dog behavior.

A German Shepherd laying down eating from her bowl.
“Just checking no one is coming for my dinner!”

What is most interesting is that a dog’s natural laying position while eating is better for his health.

Feeding your German Shepherd from his usual bowl can affect your dog’s oral and spinal health. This is because eating involves not only a dog’s teeth but also other bones and muscles.

Eating unnaturally can cause misalignments in these bones and muscles and disrupt the body’s acidic pH, which explains the health risks to the spine and the tartar, gingivitis, and loose teeth. 

Next time your German Shepherd eats lying down, just smile and say, “Well, my dog is being natural today!”

Why Do German Shepherds Twitch In Their Sleep?

Watching your German Shepherd twitch and move around in their sleep can be quite amusing, but have you ever wondered why they do it? Well, the answer is simple: it’s completely normal!

Just like humans, dogs go through different stages of sleep, and one of those stages is called the rapid eye movement (REM) stage. During this stage, dogs can experience muscle twitches, eye movements, and vocalizations.

While there’s no need to worry about your German Shepherd’s sleep twitching, there are some things you can do to help them get a better night’s sleep.

Make sure they have a comfortable and cozy sleeping area, and avoid any loud noises or bright lights in the room. Additionally, giving your German Shepherd plenty of exercise and mental stimulation during the day can help them sleep more soundly at night.

Decoding the Butt Scoot

Have you ever noticed your German Shepherd dragging their butt across the floor? While it may seem like a strange behavior, there’s actually a good reason for it.

When dogs scoot their butts, it’s usually a sign that they’re experiencing discomfort or irritation in their anal area.

One common cause of butt scooting is anal gland problems. Dogs have two small glands located near their anus that produce a smelly liquid. When these glands become full or infected, they can cause discomfort and itching, which can lead to butt scooting.

Another reason why German Shepherds may scoot their butts is due to worms or other parasites. These can cause irritation and itching in the anal area, which can lead to scooting. Regular deworming and parasite prevention can help prevent this issue.

Why Do German Shepherds Eat Poop?

While it may seem like a disgusting behavior to us, there are actually a few reasons why dogs do this.

One reason why German Shepherds may eat poop is due to nutritional deficiencies. If your dog isn’t getting enough nutrients from their food, they may turn to poop as a way to supplement their diet.

Make sure your German Shepherd is eating a balanced and nutritious diet, and talk to your veterinarian about any supplements that may be necessary.

Another reason why German Shepherds may eat poop is due to boredom or anxiety. If your dog is left alone for long periods of time or doesn’t get enough exercise and mental stimulation, they may turn to poop-eating as a way to alleviate their boredom or anxiety.

Make sure your German Shepherd is getting plenty of exercise and playtime, and consider crate training or hiring a dog walker if they are left alone for extended periods of time.

Why Do German Shepherds Sit on You? 

If you noticed that your German Shepherd likes sitting on you whenever you sit or lie down, what would you make of that? Here are 4 different reasons to explain this behavior:

1. Dominance

Dogs seem to tell their owner that you belong to them by spreading their scent on you. To do so, they’ll need to be close to you as much as possible.

So, sitting on your lap whenever you sit down or on your belly when you lie down may be their way of labeling what is theirs with their scent. 

2. They Are Initiating Play

If you tend to react to every one of their behaviors, German Shepherds may sit on you to simply get you to send them away and give them a chance to climb back and be sent away again – a bit as kids do! 

If you’re laughing or showing signs of enjoying this back-and-forth game, you’ve successfully rewarded your German Shepherd with some playtime. Expect them to climb on you the next time you lie down in a similar position!

3. They Seek to Cuddle

German Shepherds have a warm temperament and love to cuddle. They are a very affectionate breed and will even follow you to the bathroom! Climbing on your lap may simply be a way of reaching out and getting a warm hug.

4. You’ve Let Your GSD Have His Way With You!

A study comparing dogs’ behavior showed that dogs would choose to be closer to people who are nicer to them, play with them, talk to them, and stroke them.

So, if your German Shepherd likes sitting on you, it might be you’ve let him have his way, and he’s become used to sitting on you!

Spinning Into Slumber: Exploring Circling Behavior

Many wonder why their dog will circle their bed or a spot on the carpet before lying down. Here are some suggestions:

1. To Make a Nest

The first reason is that dogs would circle a spot to trap grass or shrubs and create a little nest for themselves in the wild. This innate behavior seems to linger in their system despite centuries of domestication. 

2. Security Reasons

The second reason dogs will circle a spot before lying down is to assess the spot’s security by ensuring there are no threats in the surroundings.

Those who live with a GSD in a secluded home may have noticed that the dog will often make a couple of rounds around the home before settling and lying down. 

3. Assess Their Laying Spot

It seems your German Shepherd doesn’t trust the safety of his bed or lying spot. It will also circle the spot to ensure there are no vermin or harmful objects that will make your pet’s rest uncomfortable.

There is little scientific data to prove the above 3 examples – except for the idea that dogs circle before lying down to make a nest. 

This small study of 62 dogs implied that dogs are more likely to circle before lying down when given a soft, uneven surface to make a temporary nest to sleep in. 

4. A Medical Issue

The last reason for dogs’ circling behavior is that they may be suffering from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, but this is a rare condition in dogs.

OCD is a psychological health condition that often has a genetic predisposition in some breeds. Dogs repeatedly perform normal canine behavior and often fail to respond to therapy.

Why Do German Shepherds Roll on Their Backs? 

German Shepherd Rolling on his back in the snow.

Dogs may roll on their backs on different occasions. This German Shepherd behavior might occur when he is playing with you or other dogs. The dog in the photo above is clearly having a super time playing in the snow.

We often interpret a roll on the back during dog play as being submissive. However, research has shown that rolling on the back is a winning rather than a losing position. Your German Shepherd will roll over when playing with other dogs for two key reasons:

  • To avoid a nape bite (on the side of the neck)
  • To launch an attack (be offensive)

But German Shepherds will also roll over to scratch their backs since they cannot reach it with their paws. This could just be normal scratching, but it could also result from a flea/tick infestation.

Check your dog and take measures if you find out that they are rolling over because they have fleas! Also, ensure their flea prevention treatment is up to date.

When playing with you, dogs will roll on their back to get a scratch on their belly. Granting his desire reinforces your GSD behavior. So, avoid it if you do not want him to always ask for it! 

German Shepherds that rest or sleep on their backs briefly feel very relaxed with their environment and are at ease exposing their belly. They feel safe and secure in this position.

Other reasons dogs may roll on their backs are attention-seeking, as an expression of joy, or as a show of confidence. They may also display this behavior to regulate their body temperature as it helps them to cool down.

Why Do German Shepherds Pee When Excited? 

German Shepherd spraying against a tree.

Excitement urination in dogs is especially associated with puppies, and it’s expected that they will grow out of this behavior with age. 

When you scratch your GSD’s belly, arrive home from work, or a visitor greets them, all these can cause extreme excitement, and your puppy may pee small amounts of urine.

Of course, this is a problem if your pup is on the carpet or lying on your new couch!

According to UC Davis Veterinary Medicine, excitement urination in dogs may also be triggered by a few other causes:

  • Accidental reinforcement – this means that you sympathize with and excuse your German Shepherd’s inability to always hold their urine, and they begin to use it as a way to find sympathy from you. 
  • Bladder sphincter – this is a bladder dysfunction that comes with decreased bladder control.
  • Genetic predisposition – your dog’s parents were predisposed or had the condition.

Excitement urination should be differentiated from urine-marking (spraying), which is a behavior problem. Dogs will spray to mark their territory or communicate their belonging to you.

Why Do German Shepherds Chase Their Tail? 

Do you find it amusing when your German Shepherd chases his tail? Well, maybe you shouldn’t! It seems that the reasons behind it aren’t at all humorous. Here’s why your dog might display this behavior:

1. Lack of Exercise

YOU are to blame for the first reason your GSD will chase his tail! If you don’t exercise your dog and he finds himself idle all day, he will eventually find a way to amuse himself, which might mean engaging in a “chase my tail” game.

German Shepherds are high-energy dogs, and most behavioral issues stem from insufficient exercise. They need at least two hours of daily exercise consisting of a variety of walking, off-leash running, frisbee, fetch, or agility.

2. Attention-Seeking Behavior

If you laugh every time your German Shepherd chases his tail, you inadvertently reinforce his attention-seeking behavior.

GSDs love to please you, and your encouragement acts as a positive reinforcement for your dog. He will, therefore, keep doing it, especially if he needs you to notice him!

3. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

As mentioned earlier, OCD can sometimes be genetic. Check your German Shepherd for triggers to his tail chasing. If his behavior starts suddenly with no noticeable causes, then it might be that he has OCD, and it’s time to visit your vet.

4. Other Medical Problems

If your dog chases his tail not just to amuse himself but also to bite it, you might be in for a medical surprise.

Discomfort in the tail area can often cause dogs to nip at their tails.” – VCA Hospitals

Your German Shepherd could be experiencing discomfort from (itching or pain) and is trying to get some relief, especially if this behavior starts suddenly. See your vet ASAP to rule out any medical issues. 

Why Do German Shepherds Stare at You? 

A German Shepherd Staring.

There are several reasons your German Shepherd will stare at you. Some of these stares may be sweet, others hard. Some may be broken by blinking, and others not.

You must be able to read your dog’s communication message from his eyes:

1. Seek Attention 

Generally, dogs will stare at you to seek your attention. It might be that you are eating a nice meal, and your dog has not had his dinner. His stare reminds you that he needs to eat his meal, too! 

When German Shepherds stare at you with eyes of pity, they want you to melt and let them have their way. It might be an undeserving or untimely treat or a nap on the couch where you never let him climb.

My German Shepherd will sit in front of me and stare at me when she wants me to play. She will do this every evening without fail when she is ready for her evening playtime!

Although German Shepherds can’t have two masters, they often choose a favorite person to do certain activities with. So, sometimes, a dog’s favorite person is not always their master.

2. Send a Reminder 

If you have forgotten your dog’s usual potty walk and are getting on with your chores or watching a football game, your German Shepherd may walk to the door, sit, and stare at you to remind you that you should be attending to them!  

3. It is in Their Wolf Ancestry

In the wolf world, where dogs have their ancestry, staring is rude and threatening. So, when your dog stares at you continuously, he might be manifesting an evolutionary holdover from his ancestral roots and communicating some displeasure.

And if the uninterrupted hard stare is directed at a stranger, they should back away and not stare back! 

4. Guarding What is Theirs

Your German Shepherd may also give hard stares if he is guarding his food or favorite toys. Continuous hard and aggressive stares in dogs should be addressed through training or by a canine behaviorist.

Remember, if you stare back (especially toward a dog that you don’t really know), make sure the dog isn’t feeling scared or threatened.

Why do German Shepherds Tilt Their Head?

There is nothing cuter than a German Shepherd head-tilt, and you will find tons of pictures and videos of dogs tilting their heads on all social media platforms. Many owners will make plenty of strange sounds just to see their pup perform an adorable head tilt.

German Shepherds tilt their heads when they become interested in something different. They use the position of their head and, more specifically, their ears to learn the direction of the new sound. They also tilt their head when trying to understand what you’re saying and to increase visual cues.


What is the best age to start training a German Shepherd?

It is advised to begin training your German Shepherd as early as 8 weeks of age. Starting young allows ample time to reinforce good habits and behaviors throughout their development.

How much exercise do German Shepherds need daily?

German Shepherds require at minimum an hour of vigorous exercise daily. This energetic breed benefits from activities like walks, playtime in a securely fenced yard, and interactive games.

How do German Shepherds typically react to strangers?

German Shepherds can display a range of reactions when encountering unfamiliar people. Most commonly, they will be cautious and observe from a distance until their owner offers reassurance. Early socialization aids in developing confidence around strangers.

Final Thoughts

Every German Shepherd enthusiast dreams of bringing one home, but their behaviors can often be puzzling. From licking, nibbling, and howling to rolling on their back and chasing their tail, these behaviors are typical of the breed.

They usually signify seeking attention, showing affection, or asserting dominance, but some can indicate medical issues.

While most of these actions are normal canine behaviors, understanding their meanings helps you identify when a vet visit might be necessary.

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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