German Shepherd Temperament
What's Good About 'Em,
What's Bad About 'Em
German Shepherd Temperament, Personality, Behavior, Traits, and Characteristics, by Michele Welton. Copyright © 2000-2014
The AKC Standard says the German Shepherd "has a distinct personality marked by direct and fearless, but not hostile, expression, self-confidence, and a certain aloofness that does not lend itself to immediate and indiscriminate friendships. The dog must be approachable, quietly standing its ground and showing confidence and willingness to meet overtures without itself making them."
That's a great description of an ideal German Shepherd.
Unfortunately, it's very difficult to find an ideal German Shepherd today. Nowadays, this breed is all over the map in temperament. Lines that are bred for protection work and the sport of schutzhund tend to be "hard-tempered" and businesslike. Show lines range from mild and mellow, to hyperactive and skittish, to downright dumb and dopey. And many German Shepherds bred by backyard breeders have risky temperaments and suffer from a host of health problems.
Energy levels vary from vigorous to laid-back, but all German Shepherds, to maintain their athletic shape, need brisk walking every day and all-out running in a safe, enclosed area as often as possible.
Mental exercise (advanced obedience classes, agility classes, schutzhund, tracking, herding) is even more important for German Shepherds. This is a smart, thinking breed (at least the good ones are!) and his intelligence is often wasted in a home that simply wants a casual pet.
Finally, early and ongoing socialization is a must to develop a stable, confident temperament.
Most German Shepherds are fine with other family pets, if introduced when young. However, some individuals are cat chasers, and many individuals are dominant or even aggressive with strange dogs of the same sex.
One of the most capable and trainable breeds in all of dogdom, exceedingly eager to learn and work, an ideal German Shepherd, when well-trained by a confident owner, is a magnificent companion.
If you want a dog who...
- Is strong, athletic, and natural-looking
- Thrives on challenging activities and exercise
- Looks stern and imposing, so makes an effective deterrent
- Is exceptionally intelligent, loyal, and versatile -- when well-socialized and well-trained, can learn and do almost anything
A German Shepherd may be right for you.
If you don't want to deal with...
- An extremely careful search to find a stable-tempered German Shepherd with a decent chance of staying healthy
- Providing plenty of exercise and interesting things to do
- Providing careful socialization
- Destructiveness when bored or not exercised enough
- Potential aggression toward other dogs
- Constant heavy shedding - 365 days a year
- Legal liabilities (public perception, future breed bans, insurance problems, increased chance of lawsuits)
- Concerns about a multitude of serious health problems
A German Shepherd may not be right for you.
- choosing the RIGHT breeder and the RIGHT puppy
- or choosing an ADULT dog from your animal shelter or rescue group – a dog who has already proven that he doesn't have negative traits
- training your dog to respect you
- avoiding health problems by following my daily care program in 11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy
More traits and characteristics of German Shepherds
If I was considering a German Shepherd, I would be most concerned about...
- Legal liabilities. German Shepherds may be targeted for "banning" in certain areas, or refusal of homeowner insurance policies. In this day and age, the legal liabilities of owning any breed that looks intimidating and has a history as a guard dog should be considered. People are quicker to sue if such a dog does anything even remotely questionable.
- The wide range of temperaments. German Shepherds are so very different from each other, and different breeders produce very different temperaments. If you want a family companion, you do not want high-energy working lines, and if you want a dog for protection work, you do not want show lines. With German Shepherds more than most other breeds, you must carefully research your lines or you will end up with a dog who isn't at all what you were looking for. In this breed more than most others, individual dogs are so, so different. And unfortunately, many German Shepherds are badly bred by unknowledgeable people. The result is that obedience instructors and behavioral consultants see lots of German Shepherds with neurotic behaviors, especially aggression, skittishness, and extreme fearfulness. Again, you need to carefully research your lines.
- Socialization requirements. Most German Shepherds have protective instincts toward strangers. They need extensive exposure to friendly people so they learn to recognize the normal behaviors of "good guys." Then they can recognize the difference when someone really does act abnormally. Without careful socialization, a German Shepherd may be suspicious of everyone.
- Potential animal aggression. Most German Shepherds, when introduced at a young age, are very good with other dogs and cats in their own family. But many German Shepherds are dominant toward other dogs of the same sex, which can result in aggression if the other dog feels the same way. Some German Shepherds develop predatory behavior toward cats.
- Heavy shedding. German Shepherds shed only once a year – for 365 days. In other words, they shed constantly. You'll find hair all over your clothing, furniture, and carpeting. Frequent vaccuming will become a way of life. Make sure you're really up for this. Most people have no idea how much hair these dogs can produce. I know – I've lived with them!
- Finding a healthy one and keeping him healthy. From hip and elbow dysplasia, to heart disease and cancer, to stomach disorders and skin diseases, German Shepherds are, unfortunately, one of the riskiest breeds in terms of long-term health. The list of serious health problems to which they are susceptible is dismayingly long. To avoid these problems, you need to buy your German Shepherd from the right breeder. And once you have your puppy home, you need to keep him healthy, starting with feeding the best foods.
- Providing enough mental stimulation. German Shepherds are so intelligent and capable. I hate to see them chosen by owners who just want a dog to hang around the house and yard. German Shepherds thrive when you find interesting things for them to do that challenge their minds. Bored German Shepherds, especially when young, can become rambunctious and destructive.
I've written a dynamic training program that will keep your German Shepherd busy – and happy.
Teach Your Dog 100 English Words gives you a unique vocabulary to use with your dog AND teaches my Respect Training Program. Your dog will look at you when you speak to him and do what you say. Not just when he's hungry for a treat or feels like it. But all the time. Because he respects you.
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Copyright © 2000-2014 by Michele Welton. All rights reserved.
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