Are German Shepherds Protective? (4 Training Tips)

Smart, sleek, and loyal to their family, the German Shepherd has a reputation as a protector and it’s one that they seem to have earned. So, is it true? Are German Shepherds protective? In this article, we’ll answer this question and tell you a little more about your Shepherd’s behavior and instincts.

We’ll explain why your Shepherd is or is not being protective of you, as well as what you can do to teach your Shepherd how you want them to behave in this regard. As it turns out, with this breed you’ve got a lot of your work cut out for you if you want a doggie-defender on your side!

Are German Shepherds Protective?

German Shepherds are indeed protectors. Supremely confident and fearless when it comes to protecting their family, this trait comes quite naturally to these dogs. This makes extra training very important, as your dog’s instinctual urge to protect and their abundant energy need a proper outlet to avoid any behavioral issues.

Why Are German Shepherds Protective?

The most accurate way to explain why German Shepherds are so protective would be to say that this is ‘by design. As the name suggests, these dogs were bred to be ‘Shepherds’, guarding animals in their care from the wiles of large predators. Let’s take a closer look at their traits for a better understanding.

Intelligence

The mechanics of herding take a certain amount of intelligence. Some animals stray, and these need to be kept in line, and predators are quite good at sneaking up to pick off animals at the edge of the herd. The German Shepherd is up to the task, being ranked as one of the 3 smartest and most obedient dogs in the world!

Bred To Be Working Dogs

German Shepherds, as a breed, were developed in the late 1800s by an ex-cavalry captain and veterinary student by the name of Max Von Stephanitz. Produced by breeding to isolate the traits of different types of sheepdogs, his goal was to produce a type of dog that was protective of animal herds and could walk for long periods of time for guarding them.  

Herding Instinct

While the modern German Shepherd is more likely to guard families than sheep, those instincts are bred into them and so they have a driving instinct to know where each and every family member is and that they are being protected.

Territoriality

Finally, these dogs are territorial. They know their own areas and they are less likely to tolerate strangers coming into these areas. The Shepherds that do tolerate strangers or are even outright friendly are not uncommon, this just means that they were socialized at an early age not to view strangers as a threat.

This ties back in with their intelligence… with a German Shepherd, it’s all about what you train them to do.

(Find out if German Shepherds make good guard dogs.)

Why Is Your German Shepherd Not Protective?

German Shepherds don’t always behave like guard dogs. Many are quite friendly, sometimes even overly so, but this doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t protect you… just that they feel safe. Other factors can come into play, of course, but here are the most common reasons why a Shepherd is not behaving like the ‘protector’ that you are expecting to see.

Your Dog Might Need More Training

These dogs are highly intelligent, so if you want your dog to be more protective, then you are going to need to teach them how to behave. Once your dog knows that you want them to keep people away from the house or the family, then they will be happy to perform this role.

You just need to start a training program so that they will understand what is expected of them.

They Don’t Feel Like You Are Threatened

Just because your dog is being friendly and maybe even a little ‘goofy’ with strangers that you bring over, don’t think that this behavior won’t change in a heartbeat if someone is aggressive towards you or your kids.

If a German Shepherd is socialized from an early age to be more tolerant of other dogs and of strangers in the house, then these intelligent dogs assume that anyone you bring over is relatively safe. This puts them on their best behavior. If you are willing to put in the training time, you can teach them to still bark to announce the company that they are friendly with.

Once again, it’s just a matter of teaching them what you want!

Your Shepherd Might Be Afraid Of You

If you don’t know how to properly teach a German Shepherd then a failure to be ‘protective’ might indicate that your Shepherd is afraid of you or doesn’t feel that you spend enough time with. If your Shepherd seems protective of the rest of the family, but not you, then simply spending a little more time with them can often remedy this quite quickly.

If they are afraid, then a little positive reinforcement and bonding is going to be vital to get your dog to trust you and to become more protective of you. Don’t worry, we’ll give a few training tips later in this article that can help you to get there. It just takes a little love and a lot of patience!

(Find out how to socialize your German Shepherd.)

Fatigue Is A Possibility

A normally protective Shepherd that is becoming ‘lax in their duties may be a sign that your Shepherd is feeling ill or has a poor diet. These dogs normally have a lot of energy and a healthy diet is important for maintaining these energy levels. If they are getting more treats than vitamins, this can lead to lethargy and poor overall health.

If they have a fairly balanced diet, however, a vet visit is a very, very good idea. A sudden ‘seeming disinterest’ can be a huge warning flag with this breed so a vet visit should be considered critical at this time to find out what is going on.

How To Train Your German Shepherd To Be Protective?

First off, there is a difference between being protective and being trained as an attack dog. Protective training is good, but attack training is not recommended, as it encourages levels of aggression that may make your dog unsuitable for anything beyond ‘guard duty’.

That said, you can still have a friendly Shepherd with a keen eye for security who will definitely still defend you. It starts by teaching them some basic commands and building up from there.

Teach Your Dog To Sit And Stay

You need to be able to ‘call off’ your dog and ‘sit’ and ‘stay’ are the basic commands that they will need for this. Your dog probably already knows how to sit, but if not, here is how you can teach ‘sit’ and then extend it to include ‘stay’:

  • With a pocket full of treats, take one out and call your dog’s name to get their attention. Holding up the treat, tell your dog in a firm and friendly voice to ‘sit’. They may pace around a bit, at first, so be patient, but eventually they will sit down to look at you to figure out what you want. When they do, give them the treat.
  • Repeat the ‘sit’ command at various times over the next few days until your dog immediately sits down. Once they’ve learned this, to teach them to ‘stay’, give the sit command but do not immediately reward them when they comply. Instead, take a few steps back and say ‘stay!’.
  • Practice taking more and more steps back, until you can leave the room for a minute or two and come back to a sitting dog. After each instance where they stay in place, reward them with a treat until they learn to stay on command.

Teach Your Dog When To Go To Other Family Members

Your dog learns to come to you when they hear you call their name quite naturally. Take it a step further, by teaching them to go to other people that they know. One very interesting trait that dogs have is that they understand when we point at something – even better than Chimps, believe it or not.

So, with a treat in hand and a family member in the room, call your dog over and then point at the family member and say, ‘go to momma’, while your family member beckons them to come quietly. When they go to this family member, you or your ‘volunteer’ should give them a treat.

Practice this and combine it with the ‘sit’ command and you can train your Shepherd to run to a family member and sit next to them when you like. How’s that for guarding behavior?!

Barking On Command

Teaching your dog to bark on command is useful and it’s integral to teaching them when to be quiet, as well. Start with a treat in your hand and knock on the door, saying ‘speak!’ when your dog starts barking. When they do, give them the treat, and repeat the exercise throughout the week.

You’ll know they’ve got it when you can say ‘Speak’ and they immediately start barking, without the knocking of the door!

(Find out why your german shepherd is barking.)

Enough

Once your dog has learned to speak, you should teach them the ‘enough!’ command so that they know when to stop. To do this, give them the ‘speak’ command and hold up the treat so that your dog sees it. Say ’Enough!’ in a firm, friendly voice, and repeat it 2 or 3 times until your dog calms and quiets down.

Give them the treat at this time and repeat the process throughout the week. Have a neighbor or family member test it by knocking on the door from outside and in a little time your dog will learn and understand this command.

With these commands, you’re dog will already appear more well-behaved and much more vigilant, and you can teach them more commands easily now that you’ve got some basics in place.

FAQ

Are Female German Shepherds Protective?

Female German Shepherds tend to be more tolerant of outsiders and noticeably gentler than the males. When they have pups, however, this attitude can change dramatically. If your Shepherd has recently had a litter of pups, all handling of these puppies should be supervised until you are certain that the mom will not be overly protective.

What Age Do German Shepherds Become Protective?

 German Shepherds are instinctively protective and this can manifest in their behavior as early as 12 weeks. That said, if you haven’t seen it early, expect your dog to show signs of this by 6 months of age as adolescence kicks in.

At this time, they definitely know their territory and you’ll see some behavioral changes.

Will A German Shepherd Protect You Without Training?

Yes. Even the friendliest Shepherd has a protective instinct that is the product of careful breeding. While they might tolerate ‘roughhousing’ play among friends if your dog thinks that you are being threatened then this can change in a heartbeat.

Training is very important for instances like this to avoid any misunderstandings where your dog genuinely thinks that you are in danger.

Are German Shepherds Aggressive?

German Shepherds are naturally aggressive, as this is one of the traits that they were bred for. This doesn’t mean that they are prone to bite – an aggressive but friendly Shepherd might simply like jumping on people or pushing them around. As with most breeds, it really depends on the dog and how they are raised.

With socialization training and by teaching them some basic commands, you can reroute their aggressive tendencies and abundant energy into healthier avenues. Just show your Shepherd what you want them to do – both of you will be much happier for it!

Recap

As you can see, for the most part, german shepherds are generally very protective dogs. However, there are times when they are not as protective as you want. Fortunately, if you follow the advice, you can definitely train them to be great protective dogs!