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How To Show Dominance Over a German Shepherd

Last Updated: February 9, 2024

As a proud German Shepherd owner, I know that German Shepherds can be stubborn, making it hard to differentiate between stubbornness and dominant behavior. You must assume the alpha position to ensure your dog isn’t too dominant.

To show dominance over a German Shepherd:

  • Hold the first position.
  • Raise your standards regarding behavior.
  • Use verbal corrections promptly.
  • Do not be nervous around your German Shepherd.
  • Discourage domination by short, effective timeouts.

When establishing dominance over your German Shepherd, you should walk first, eat first, and have him move out of your way when he is blocking you.

Raising your standards for discipline while remaining compassionate will firmly position you as his guiding guardian. You need to put your dog in short, effective time-outs for displaying dominance.

In this article, you will learn exactly how to show dominance over a German Shepherd by cultivating certain habits, sticking to high-standard demands, and implementing a compassionate discipline regiment that establishes you as the one in charge.

Let’s get started!

A young German Shepherd being walked on the leash with its master in full control.

Are German Shepherds Dominant?

Before I tell you exactly how to train a dominant German Shepherd, we need to answer the question, are German Shepherds dominant?

German Shepherds are a naturally dominant breed due to their genetic purpose to protect and herd sheep. It was their job to be the leader of their flocks.

However, with early socialization and proper training, you can teach them to be obedient and respect you as the master.

So, in other words, if you don’t sufficiently train your German Shepherd, he will definitely try to run the show and display all kinds of commanding behavior.

This behavior must be nipped in the bud to prevent it from turning into aggression.

Young German Shepherd laying attentively on the grass

Disproving the Dominance Theory

Forcing dogs into submission to prevent and correct behavior is known as the dominance theory. I will go one step further and label it as animal abuse.

However, thankfully, science has now identified that this outdated method of dog training does not work.

Many animal organizations openly publish their stance on the dominance theory. For example, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior clearly states that dog training should “follow the scientifically based guidelines of positive reinforcement.”

“German Shepherds who use aggression to “get what they want” do not exhibit dominance but stress or anxiety-based behaviors due to fear. ” – World of Dogz

These unwanted behaviors will only worsen if the dog is subjected to verbal or physical punishment from its owners. 

Many studies have scientifically proven that confrontational dog training techniques only cause further aggression, fear, and distrust.

One such study found that aversive methods triggered aggressive responses. Some of the methods used were:

  • Hitting or kicking the dog.
  • Using the “alpha roll.”
  • Growling or yelling.
  • Staring at the dog.
  • Physically forcing the release of an item from the mouth.
  • Grabbing the dog by the jowls and shaking.
A GSD Puppy being trained and looking up to its owner.

Examples of Dominant Behavior

So, what exactly do I mean when I say dominant behavior? Let’s discuss some of these…

Protecting You From Social Interaction

When German Shepherds become too possessive, they exhibit dominant traits to keep their owners from social interaction.

While some assume that this results from high threat-detection activity, others believe that such behavior manifests itself due to the dog assuming a higher status than its owner.

This is a little nuanced because protectiveness can trickle down the social hierarchy or rise upwards. A father protecting his son is a dominant protector, whereas a bodyguard protecting a celebrity is an enrolled protector. 

It is easy to confuse the protection perspective with big dogs like German Shepherds and end up with a dominant protector instead of one enrolled for your service.

“You don’t want your guard thinking he owns you because he protects you.” – World of Dogz

If the German Shepherd interferes with your interaction with other humans or dogs more than 50% of the time, he likely believes he has the dominant protector role.

Yanking His Leash or Refusing to Walk

If your German Shepherd cannot help but bite and yank his leash whenever you take him for a walk, he can be excited or refuse your position as an accompanying guardian.

Again, this is nuanced and might manifest without any dominance assumption. 

You must look at the context to ensure this is a sign of a commanding German Shepherd and not an indication of harmless excitement.

If your German Shepherd pulls on his leash despite having room to walk, he acts out because he assumes a dominant position.

In contrast, if your dog walks at a speed where the leash reaches its limit, he might pull it just to get more room.

This takes me back to when my German Shepherd was a young adolescent, and she would bite at her leash while out walking, especially if I didn’t go the way she wanted to!

She was undoubtedly trying to be the boss, and I had to learn how to correct this behavior quickly.

Sometimes, your dog might blatantly refuse to walk. As long as he isn’t ill or injured, you can safely say he is either being disobedient or is trying to command you.

He might want to go to the dog park and run around with his doggo pals, whereas you had other ideas and didn’t plan to let him off the leash.

German Shepherd Puppy Refusing to Walk on Leash.

Mounting/Humping Dogs, Humans, and Inanimate Objects

Sexual dominance is one of the most common forms of domination, which is why when your GSD starts humping anything that moves, you must take it as a sign of the dog assuming a dominant position.

While there might be a sexual appetite rationale for the act, because the dog carries out his desires, it shows that he believes he is dominant. 

Here, the subject matters. If the German Shepherd humps other dogs, he assumes dominance over them, but if he starts humping your leg, you have to be extra cautious as your status as the guiding guardian is in question.

Refusing Movement Commands

Let’s suppose your German Shepherd is on a piece of furniture. If you command him to move and he doesn’t get off, he asserts dominance over you.

However, domination isn’t binary. Sometimes, a GSD might think he is dominant enough to get away with acting like he didn’t hear you. 

In other instances, the dog might feel comfortable outright refusing your command despite obviously understanding what you want.

Both degrees of disobedience aren’t acceptable, but the degree to which your German Shepherd assumes dominance can indicate how much work remains to be done to get him to accept your leadership.

How To Show Dominance Over a German Shepherd

1. Hold the First Position

Animals are quite literal in their interpretation of the world. That means you have to be first to be considered first.

Humans who fall into the “people-pleasing” category make considerations for dogs that lead to the wrong assumptions. 

While others can understand the accommodations you make out of courtesy, a German Shepherd can’t.

So, when you let him walk ahead of you, he assumes he is socially ahead of you in both authority and status. Always walk first.

But how do you do this?

Even when you give your German Shepherd his food, you can assume the alpha by having a snack yourself in a spot where he can see you will help reinforce the idea that you come first.

2. Raise Your Standards Regarding Behavior

Dogs and humans have different standards of discipline. The amount of freedom we need to have on an average day is the kind of freedom that makes a German Shepherd think he runs the world.

So, when dealing with dominance in dogs, make sure you discourage spontaneous desire-chasing.

You get to decide the playtime and walking hours. 

He should not get to dictate random hours for being brushed, walking, and eating. Many dog trainers recommend taking the dog out at a specific time to relieve himself.

How much do you need to raise your standards for dog discipline? It depends on the level of rigidity he currently possesses.

German Shepherd Pup

If you already have set eating and sleeping times, you need to add more controls to communicate the value of your preferences.

If he currently does whatever he wants, then becoming more assertive regarding his eating and sleeping hours might be all you need.

As much as it might pain you to have your German Shepherd get up because he is in your path, you have to do so, or he will assume an alpha position.

3. Use Verbal Corrections in a Timely Manner

Two of the spontaneous rebellious acts of big dogs in a commanding position are jumping and biting. If your German Shepherd jumps, you must see it as more than harmless fun.

Big dogs haven’t evolved in a context where jumping is fun. Pouncing is a part of hunting, and doing so around a peer is an act of dominance.

Whenever your GSD jumps, discourage him verbally right away. The same applies to biting and scratching – and other unwanted behaviors.

When disciplining your German Shepherd for biting, be sure to discipline him at the moment of the poor behavior so that he will quickly learn and remember that his biting behavior is inappropriate.

When disciplining a dog, I’m referring to teaching him rules and learning the correct behavior. In this example, we are teaching the dog not to bite.

Dogs have a very short-term memory and will typically forget an experience in about two minutes.

However, if you train your dog well, he will remember your commands through associative memory. This means he will remember experiences, places, and people established by different associations.

4. Do Not Be Nervous Around Your German Shepherd

German Shepherds quickly pick up on the mood of their owner. That’s why an angry person will have a dog with anger issues.

However, when it comes to nervousness, your dog will likely detect your anxiousness and see it as his cue to step up and assume an alpha position. 

You have to be your most confident self around your German Shepherd. Remain calm at all times.

“German Shepherds can be stubborn, but their dominant self emerges exclusively in the absence of an authoritative figure.” – World of Dogz

Learn to control your emotions around your doggo and get to know your German Shepherd’s body language so that you can read the signs.

Knowing that you’ll be able to take care of your dog can help inform your body language and convey your alpha position.

5. Discourage Domination by Short Effective Timeouts

Now that you know how to spot dominant behavior, you must train your German Shepherd to be receptive to your authority.

Punishing him for refusing you as the master is the wrong way to go about it because a true alpha doesn’t need to force others to follow him.

Instead, focus only on moments when the dog tries to assert his dominance.

Whenever you see those signs, use the ” SIT ” command to put your German Shepherd in a short time-out.

If that doesn’t work, place your dog in a separate part of the house or a playpen if he’s still a puppy. Never use the crate for time-outs, and they should be around 60 seconds for puppies and no more than a couple of minutes for older dogs.

This is just one tip you can learn in this related article on training a disobedient German Shepherd.

You need to create a neutral power vacuum. Your dog shouldn’t see you as the enemy. When his dominant position is stripped, and you carry yourself right, he will fill the power vacuum by deferring to your authority.

However, that won’t happen if you are unkind to your German Shepherd and he starts seeing you as an enemy.

Key Takeaways

Here are some key takeaways from the article:

  • Understand your German Shepherd interprets the world in a literal way. You should sit higher and walk first. 
  • Use your authority to put him in a timeout. Whenever he acts up, you should ground him in a compassionate way.
  • Do not make compromises for his convenience. If you project human psychology onto a dog, you might want to make things more convenient for him. 

Make sure you work on your mindset and body language so your German Shepherd can pick up that you’re confident and not anxious around him. That way, you’ll tell him he can’t run the show.

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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