There is a common misconception that German Shepherds may turn on their owners and attack them. This fear often leads to new owners avoiding the breed altogether. But if you have your heart set on this breed and have a family, you may wonder about the German Shepherd’s instinct to attack.
Yes, a German Shepherd may attack its owner, but it is rare. Proper training, socialization, and care can prevent such incidents. German Shepherds are loyal and protective, and their aggression is usually directed toward strangers or perceived threats, such is their protective nature.
As an owner of a German Shepherd, I will tell you that the German Shepherd is not only a friendly dog but also an excellent family guardian with a natural affinity for children.
However, I’ll also tell you when a German Shepherd might attack its owner key and signs you must be on the lookout for with a potential attack. You’ll also discover the best practices for minimizing aggression to prevent your German Shepherd from attacking you.
Ultimately, I’ll provide you with the facts and information you need to decide about owning one of these magnificent dogs.
- German Shepherds and the Likelihood of an Attack
- What Makes a German Shepherd Aggressive? (Bonus: Prevention/Solution Table)
- What To Do When A German Shepherd Attacks You
- How Can You Reduce German Shepherd Aggression?
- How to Be Safe Around a German Shepherd?
- Recap: Do German Shepherds Attack Their Owners?
German Shepherds and the Likelihood of an Attack
German Shepherds are excellent family dogs if acquired early and appropriately socialized.
Their size deters those who intend to break and enter even when the German Shepherd is not specifically trained to be a guard dog. And as a retired cop, I can tell you just how intimidating these dogs can be toward the bad guys when trained to show aggression.
But this intimidating look can sometimes scare a potential owner as well, me included!
German Shepherds attack their owners extremely infrequently when one or more of the following conditions are met:
1. The German Shepherd has Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
You must carefully examine the dog’s history when adopting a German Shepherd from a shelter. If the dog’s previous owner was abusive, or if the dog was neglected, it might have trust issues and not feel safe around a new owner.
While it is okay, and even positive, to adopt a rescue, one must be prudent and patient. It takes time to forge a bond of trust with an abandoned dog, and you must put that time in before you can engage in behavior that is even mildly annoying to the dog.
2. The German Shepherd is Threatened
Another instance where the German Shepherd might attack its owner or show aggression to family members is when the dog feels threatened or is attacked. From taking a dog’s puppies to replacing its food bowl, plenty of actions that owners view as harmless might trigger the German Shepherd into defense mode.
Chief among these is physical punishment, which I never condone. If someone attacks a German Shepherd, he might attack them. And I won’t say they don’t deserve it!
Studies have shown that using aversive punishment techniques such as physical force, yelling, using the “alpha roll,” and rubbing your dog’s nose in his dirt only makes a dog aggressive through fear.
3. The German Shepherd is Startled
GSDs can get startled if you behave unpredictably or in a way that accidentally hurts them. Anything from opening a door when the dog is on the other side to unintentionally stepping on its paw can produce a primal response. This behavior is entirely natural.
The GSD is immediately remorseful if it snaps at its owner in such circumstances, and the consequences are rarely harsher than loud, aggressive barking or jaw snapping without catching anything. Still, you must be careful not to startle your dog or accidentally hurt him.
4. The German Shepherd is Aggressive
Finally, the most ambiguous and confusing condition when a German Shepherd’s owner might get attacked is if their dog feels on edge. German Shepherds can be aggressive if left unchecked, and this aggression can translate into a physical attack.
If you feel like your dog “just isn’t acting right,” check these signs, as they may be the precursor to an attack:
- The dog’s tail position indicates alertness. Check out this article for more clues, German Shepherd Tail Positions Meaning.
- The German Shepherd starts low growling.
- The GSD makes prolonged eye contact. Learn how to read your GSD’s body language.
- The German Shepherd raises his hackles.
What Makes a German Shepherd Aggressive? (Bonus: Prevention/Solution Table)
German Shepherds can be aggressive for various reasons, including (but not limited to) sexual frustration, lack of exercise, and chronic pain.
There are ways to ensure your German Shepherd doesn’t become too aggressive. The table below covers possible solutions (or prevention tips) for GSD aggression:
|German Shepherd Aggression Type||Prevention Method/Solution|
|Sexual frustration/Heat||Spay/neuter the dog|
|Excess energy||1-hour walk twice per day|
|Chronic pain||Veterinary visit|
|Competitiveness with other pets||Create physical barriers and slowly bring the dog closer while rewarding it for not getting aggressive|
What To Do When A German Shepherd Attacks You
While it’s less likely for a German Shepherd to attack the owner, it’s essential to be wary of the course of action to protect yourself.
When a German Shepherd attacks you, do the following:
- Identify a shield to protect your body from the attack/bite. Don’t bring in a huge object, as it can increase aggression.
- Don’t move from your location when the German Shepherd is getting ready to attack you. Movements from your end can get the dog excited or frustrated.
- Fight back to escape from the location only when the dog gets unmanageable (this is a rare instance).
- Try diverting the attention of the dog towards treats or any other object of his interest. This can control aggression and mitigate the possibility of an attack. If the attack still happens, remember not to run back to the dog.
- Don’t disturb the dog after an attack. Perhaps, don’t attack the dog in lieu. Instead, get yourself treated by a physician.
In an aim to protect yourself, don’t create loud noises or yell for help, as these can aggravate the dog’s temper and worsen the situation. Try to handle the scenario as smoothly as possible.
How Can You Reduce German Shepherd Aggression?
As mentioned above, there are different ways to prevent a German Shepherd from getting aggressive. But don’t worry; you don’t have to execute all these prevention tips as a new owner. You can do one thing to reduce aggression: socialize your German Shepherd properly.
To do this, get him to interact with other adults, children, dogs, and pets and expose him to many different places, noises, smells, and situations. If the GSD learns not to feel threatened in your presence or around other dogs, or people, he will not get aggressive.
Aside from timely socializing, spaying is one of the best things you can do to keep your dog from getting aggressive. Puberty can also make the German Shepherd aggressive as it doesn’t understand what is happening but can notice something changing internally.
A confused dog is an aggressive dog, but it will find peace in your company and understand that it will be alright if it trusts you.
How to Be Safe Around a German Shepherd?
You can be safe around a German Shepherd by connecting with him early. When a GSD bonds with you, he almost imprints on you and starts treating you like a parent. Unfortunately, there is no way to guarantee this type of trust from a German Shepherd you get as an adult.
But if the German Shepherd has been socialized in his previous household, he is not likely to attack you. In other words, the best thing you can do to avoid getting attacked by a German Shepherd is to acquire a dog you are sure won’t attack you.
Recap: Do German Shepherds Attack Their Owners?
German Shepherds do not attack their owners unless they feel threatened. Any dog’s threat perception can be skewed by past experiences, trauma, and pent-up energy.
Consider getting a German Shepherd while it is a puppy, socialize it well (so it doesn’t perceive threats when it is safe), and exercise it regularly to avoid aggressive behavior.