A well-trained female German Shepherd is a great companion – I should know as I chose the breed for my first dog! Since German Shepherds are strong and intelligent, they also make excellent guard dogs, but sometimes they can get a little confrontational and zealous, whether a working or companion dog.
So if you don’t harness this potential the right way, you may spend sleepless nights worrying about how to train your aggressive female German Shepherd…
To train an aggressive female German Shepherd, you must identify the cause of her aggression, eliminate it, reward her for calming down using positive reinforcement, and gradually build her indifference to what previously angered or upset her. Be patient as punishing her will only undo any initial progress.
This article will help you discover a step-by-step strategy to train your aggressive female German Shepherd so that you can confidently take her out on walks and socialize her with people and other dogs without worrying about sudden outbursts of aggressive behavior. More specifically, you will learn how to:
- Find out what is causing the aggression
- Isolate and eliminate the cause
- Reward her when she calms down
- Set a calming anchor command
So if you want to learn exactly how to train an aggressive female German Shepherd, you’ll enjoy this helpful guide. Let’s get to it.
Why is my Female German Shepherd Aggressive?
Let’s start by identifying the cause. As you know, a disciplined dog is happier over the long run as she gets to socialize positively with other dogs and humans. You are rightfully concerned when you notice signs of aggression like growling and even biting. The best way to remedy this is to know why your German Shepherd is acting like this in the first place.
Your female German Shepherd is aggressive due to territorial aggression, resource guarding, dominance, boredom, sexual aggression, fear, or pain-induced aggression, which can all affect her mood. While more than one of these can occur simultaneously, there is usually one dominant reason.
Since this article is your complete guide to training an aggressive female German Shepherd, you will learn more about isolating the cause of your dog’s aggressive behavior in the first stage of treating her hostility.
The rest of the post will explore different strategies you can use to calm your German Shepherd and keep her from getting aggressive again. While you may be tempted to focus only on one cause, it is helpful to know how to handle aggression due to all of the potential stimuli. That’s why I would encourage you to read through each subheading carefully.
Watch the Consequences of this Dog’s Aggression Around Other Dogs and How the Situation is Brought Under Control…
Identify and Isolate the Dominant Cause of Aggression
Most surface-level advice regarding female dogs’ aggression involves spaying without proper research. While most female German Shepherds over the age of six months may have some degree of sexual aggression, spaying your dog after her first heat is a controversial topic. Therefore, you have to be sure about the cause before implementing a solution.
However, it’s important to understand that there is very little evidence to back up the idea that spaying your dog is a successful way to reduce aggression. The jury remains out!
If you’re unsure whether to neuter your dog, you should talk to your veterinarian. They can also advise you on what age is appropriate, as this varies amongst breeds.
Signs That Your Female GSD is Aggressive Due to Her Heat Cycle
If two or more of the following apply to your German Shepherd, then sexual aggression is likely to contribute to the problem.
If your dog has gone in heat twice already, spaying is not recommended, and you can use other strategies to neutralize her aggression. You can learn what to expect when your GSD is in season in this article, German Shepherd First Heat and Cycle.
Your Dog is Significantly Older Than Six-Months of Age
German Shepherds go into heat for the first time from six months to 12 months of age. Before this, they aren’t sexually mature enough for their reproductive hormones to contribute significantly to any behavior. But if your dog is older than six months, you cannot rule out sexual frustration as a part of the problem.
Your Dog Pees a Lot
Female German Shepherds urinate a lot more when they ovulate. This is often accompanied by other urine-related behaviors, including but not limited to:
- Sniffing male dogs’ urine.
- Licking urine (especially that of male dogs).
- General indifference to soaking in their own urine.
Your Dog Grooms Her Sexual Region
If your German Shepherd constantly licks her vaginal area, then sexual frustration is apparent. She might not hump things or get visibly excited upon being touched, but that does not mean she isn’t going through a phase of sexual aggression. It can be challenging to see this if your dog barely socializes with other dogs. The dynamic between your German Shepherd and other dogs will make it clearer that she’s in heat.
Your Dog is Submissive Around Male Dogs
If you notice your German Shepherd being receptive to male dogs, her aggression is most likely due to her sexual frustration. During different stages of the cycle, your dog’s behavior towards other dogs varies.
You should watch out for extreme deviation from how she regularly interacts with other dogs. Generally, you can expect her to either be highly aggressive or very receptive. Regardless of the stage she’s in, she can display aggressive and territorial behavior towards you or other humans.
There’s Vaginal Discharge
Finally, the most obvious sign that your German Shepherd is in heat is the presence of vaginal discharge: this will, initially, be red and then turn to a straw color. Any aggression that occurs for a short period and coincides with this is natural and results from your girl’s desire to mate.
Signs That Your German Shepherd is Territorial or Dominating
Territorial behavior is normal in dogs as they are territorial animals that protect a specific area. The German Shepherd is even more territorial and protective due to being bred to defend and herd livestock.
If your female German Shepherd is spayed or has gone through heat cycles without showing as much aggression as you’ve recently noted, chances are, she has turned more territorial. If you’ve adopted a puppy or your dog has had puppies, this is somewhat expected.
Related: Can German Shepherds Kill?
However, territorial behavior doesn’t necessarily have to be a result of maternal instincts. Below are some signs to watch out for.
Your Dog Growls When You Go to Clean Up After Urine-Marking
Dogs mark their territory by spraying (urine marking). In fact, the reason your dog urinates when in heat is that she is marking the territory in which she’s comfortable getting mounted. German Shepherd non-sexual territorial urinating is more specific and, unfortunately, can sometimes happen all around the house or your backyard!
If you’ve been feeding your German Shepherd in the same place repeatedly, you might notice that she has urinated there. Whenever you try to clean the region, you may hear her growl or even bark at you. This is a prominent indicator of territorial behavior.
Your Dog Tries to Bite Your Hand When You Take Her Bowl
Dogs get territorial about two main things: food and shelter, although it can occasionally be a person. If your German Shepherd has developed a strong habitual pattern around feeding, she can get territorial about her food bowl, known as resource guarding. You, of course, need to take the bowl to add food, but she doesn’t understand that!
If you find yourself walking on eggshells trying to keep her calm while adding/replacing her food, then your German Shepherd is definitely territorial and possessive about her food. Some people take this personally and might try to put the dog in a timeout, but this only reinforces the threat in the dog’s mind.
While you may believe you’re educating her as to why she shouldn’t get aggressive when you’re trying to feed her, she comes to believe that she was right in seeing you as a threat all along; not only are you taking her food but also being unfriendly.
But you cannot reward her for being aggressive either, as that would normalize her behavior! There’s a fine art to neutralizing territorial behavior, which I will discuss in the remedies section below.
Your Dog Tries to Dominate You!
Since wolves live in a pack (and don’t forget, your dog is a direct descendent!), they have a hierarchical structure in which one of each sex assumes the alpha’s role. As a result, if you try to control your female German Shepherd, she may become aggressive and exhibit bad behavior. This arises because she wants to be the dominant one and does not take orders well.
I can absolutely relate to this, as Willow often tried to dominate me during puppyhood! I always believed it was because she was female, and I was the only human female in the house. She tried to boss me for months, but I remained calm and assertive, and she gave up in the end.
Signs Your German Shepherd is Bored
Raising a dog is quite a responsibility, and while some pets just need food and shelter, dogs require positive engagement, socialization, and exercise. German Shepherds are a large breed with lots of energy, and if you don’t find productive outlets for this energy, you’ll have an aggressive dog who is poorly socialized and frustrated.
We often overlook our own boredom but doing the same with our canines is unfair. The consequences of boredom vary, and you should watch out for the following signs that indicate that your German Shepherd is bored.
Your Dog Chews and Digs a Lot
While chewing things and digging soft earth are natural tendencies among canines, if you notice a spike in such behavior, you can be sure that it is because your girl wants to alleviate her boredom.
In case you’ve never adopted a dog before, you may talk to a friend who has dogs and ask them to observe whether the frequency with which your German Shepherd digs or bites is typical for her age/breed. Please note that you’ll need to train your dog to avoid such behavior, even if this is not excessive. You can check out this article, 7 Common German Shepherd Behavior Problems for greater insight into this topic.
Your Dog Pants and Claws Sans-Stimuli
Your German Shepherd will claw or scratch the carpets and other large objects. This is normal, as is panting. But when these two tendencies surface in the absence of any stimuli, then her frustration is evident. For instance, she might pant when her body temperature gets too high.
However, if she begins panting in conditions when she’s not too hot, it is because of her pent-up energy. Aside from clawing, you’ll notice a lot of pacing, especially in open spaces. When these signs coincide with aggressive behavior, you know you have to eliminate boredom.
Signs Your German Shepherd is in Pain Due to Hip Dysplasia
While this is rarely discussed, one of the reasons your female German Shepherd displays aggressive tendencies is that she is in pain. While most sickness types lead to laziness and social avoidance, hip dysplasia is a joint issue that hurts your dog and angers her in the process.
X-rays can reveal it with certainty as experts will notice the ball and socket at the hip not fitting perfectly. Other symptoms may indicate the condition (or its likelihood). If two or more of the following are evident, you should arrange a vet visit.
Reluctance to Climb Stairs
German Shepherds are very active and usually don’t mind climbing stairs. However, because they’re large, they’re also at a higher risk of hip dysplasia. Latest statistics from The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals assert that 20.6% of German Shepherds suffer from this condition.
If your German Shepherd has hip dysplasia, you’ll notice her avoiding the stairs and pretty much any other activity that puts pressure on her hind legs. When this coincides with aggression, she’s likely quick to anger because of the pain. This is in drastic contrast to aggression that comes from sexual frustration or boredom, both of which increase your dog’s activity levels.
Hops When Walking a Long Distance
While no two dogs handle their condition the same way, there’s a broadly similar change in large animals’ gait as they manage chronic pain from hip dysplasia. The dog will do a “bunny hop” or limp depending on which leg she feels the least pain in. With more emphasis on the front legs, you’ll notice some degree of lameness in one or both of her hind legs.
Weak Thigh Muscles
Hip dysplasia can occur due to genetic issues caused in the breeding process. Therefore, dogs can develop coping mechanisms at a young age. One of these is a constant avoidance of pressure on hind legs. If your German Shepherd has suffered from this condition for a long time, you’ll notice that her thigh muscles are pretty lean.
Generally, German Shepherds have fuller thighs, but if they aren’t exercised due to limping or the dog’s own reluctance to climb, the muscle mass is lost to idleness. If you notice this, you should take her to the vet as soon as possible because she may have developed secondary complications trying to manage pain without assistance.
How to Calm an Aggressive Female German Shepherd
Now that you have learned the main causes that lead to aggressive behavior in your female German Shepherd, you can apply specific remedies to get her to calm down and chill out. In this section, I’ll unpack different ways you can get your aggressive German Shepherd girl to calm down.
To calm an aggressive female German Shepherd, assert your dominance if she is territorial and disrupt her routine when resource guarding. Give her lots of attention when in heat, provide lots of exercise to relieve boredom and frustration, and reward calming behavior using positive reinforcement.
Concentrate on one trigger at a time!
How to Get a Sexually Frustrated GSD to Calm Down
If you’ve learned that your female German Shepherd is behaving aggressively because of her heat cycle, you’re already too late to the spaying solution. Spaying is more of a preventative measure, and sterilizing your dog after her first heat comes with pros and cons and mixed opinions. You may discuss this at length with your vet before making that call, but what can you do to get your German Shepherd girl to calm down while she’s in heat?
Give Her More Attention and Emotional Support
Your German Shepherd is confused and anxious about the changes in her body. This makes her quick to anger, and while she may be loud and might frequently lash out, withdrawing your presence will only aggravate her more by giving her time to reflect on the changes instead of distracting her.
Please be careful not to wait for her to bite and bark before you give her attention. This might anchor aggressive behavior as the cause for attention. Instead, you can use a gentle voice and calmly talk to your German Shepherd.
When she’s barking aggressively or growling, using a calm voice (and being calm yourself), you can soothe her. Once she calms down, you can proceed to the next stage, which involves rewarding self-control. I expand upon this in the final section of this article.
Maximize Engaging Distractions
This is more of a preventative tactic as opposed to a solution! Generally, you only need to get your female German Shepherd through her heat cycle, and her aggression issues diminish with sexual frustration.
To minimize aggression, you simply need to maximize distractions. But instead of bombarding her with distracting stimuli, you need to rely on activities and toys that make use of her pent-up energy and frustration.
This is similar to what you would do if your German Shepherd were aggressive because of boredom. However, when she’s in heat, you have to do so in the absence of other dogs. One way to keep your dog distracted is to take her on walks (on a leash) on different routes.
That way, she is in “discovery mode.” Keep these walks short, though, and use other drills (especially ones you can perform in a fenced backyard) to keep her engaged.
How to Get a Bored GSD to Calm Down
If your girl is aggressive because she’s bored, you have to use a high-engagement strategy to get her to calm down and release pent-up energy. This is similar to what you would do to get a sexually frustrated dog to relax, albeit with two distinctions: these tactics must be sustainable over a longer period, and you don’t have to isolate her from other dogs.
You should adjust your engagement strategy because while heat cycles pass in three weeks, more or less, boredom persists across a lifetime if you don’t give your dog appropriate channels to be active.
Get Her a New Toy
German Shepherds are comparatively low-maintenance when it comes to being content with their toys. You can go years without replacing a durable toy, and your canine friend will remain content with her plaything, especially if you choose my recommended best chew toys.
However, if your girl outgrows the toy’s engagement factor, you should get her a more complex or engaging one so that she doesn’t stay bored, such as puzzle toys.
Take Her for Long Walks and Vary Exercise
Unlike the walks designed to minimize sexual aggression, these walks are longer and preferably on routes where your German Shepherd gets to interact with other dogs. That said, you have to be a hundred percent sure that said aggression is due to boredom and not other reasons. Engage your doggo in different types of exercise such as off-leash running, frisbee, fetch, or agility.
How to Get a Territorial German Shepherd to Calm Down
If your German Shepherd exhibits signs of being territorial, chances are you need to assert your dominance while helping her feel secure about her food and shelter. You must first establish yourself as the pack’s alpha! This shouldn’t be confused with punishing the dog. Your dog takes the lead from you, and if you’re aggressive, she will retain her aggressive attitude as well!
I recommend you check out my top article, How To Discipline a German Shepherd. This article goes into a ton more detail about positive and negative reinforcement and some great tips on what not to do when you’re disciplining your dog. But check out this cool video first…
Expert TV Dog Trainer Victoria Stilwell Explains the Meaning of Positive Reinforcement…
Below are two ways to get your German Shepherd girl to let go of her territorial attitude.
Disrupt Her Routine
If your GSD is getting territorial about her food bowl, you have to start placing a different bowl in a different location every time you feed her. This removes the need for a tug-of-war with her bowl!
You may need to move her bed as well, and that might undo some of the location-oriented training you’ve given her. However, that’s the price you have to be willing to pay to teach your German Shepherd that you’re the only constant factor associated with food. This establishes your authority without the need for you to be too stern.
Reward Her Calm Behavior
Even if you can’t imagine it right now, your German Shepherd will give in and calm down after an aggressive fit, provided you have enough patience to deal with the situation calmly. When this happens, you should reward her with positive words, a praising tone, and treats.
How to Get a Sick Dog to Relax
Finally, there is the possibility that your female German Shepherd is acting aggressively because she suffers from chronic pain. While you’ll need a professional vet’s help with the specific diagnosis and treatment, having a calm and appreciative tone and being there for your dog always helps.
Some people get overwhelmed seeing their canine companions get too aggressive. But with sufficient empathy, you can re-center and realize that your German Shepherd is only acting out because she is confused and hurting. You should take your dog to the vet as soon as you practically can so that they prescribe appropriate medication.
Reward Your German Shepherd for Calm Behavior
While the previous few sections covered specific ways to neutralize aggressive behavior and keep it from emerging, they all feed into this stage. Regardless of why your female German Shepherd has been aggressive, you must encourage her calm demeanor by using positive reinforcement, such as giving her treats or a favorite toy to calm down.
After two weeks of doing this, you’ll soon notice that your doggo starts connecting the reward with her good behavior. While you can continue to do this till the aggressive behavior is eradicated, it is advisable to take the step listed below as it has more practical utility.
Anchor a Command to Calm Down
When you notice the exact moment your German Shepherd begins to chill out, simply use the words “CALM DOWN, GIRL” or something to that effect, or whenever your girl is in the process of re-centering from a state of aggression.
Since German Shepherds are pretty intelligent, she will start to associate your command with calming down. Continue to give treats for cooling off and behaving correctly. The addition of the command will also link it to the treat, so whenever she gets aggressive, take it as an opportunity to test the relaxation trigger and reward her appropriately for responding.
In case she doesn’t relax despite your command, you should wait a longer period until you can test the trigger again. Remember, you should set up your dog for success whenever trying a new command and never rush to the testing stage.
You may want to help your female German Shepherd get over her aggression issues quickly, but the process takes time! Your dog might be aggressive because of being territorial, bored, sexually frustrated, insecure, or in pain. Regardless, following the steps listed above will help get it under control. Here’s a recap you’ll find helpful:
- Use a calm tone and relaxed voice to talk your dog down from a state of aggression.
- Reward her for being calm.
- Find out the cause of her aggression and work on slowly removing it.
- Anchor a command to get your dog to calm down.