If your German Shepherd has been behaving in an aggressive way then you are probably wondering why and what you can do about it.

This post will show you why your German Shepherd is aggressive and a number of things that you can do about it.

So, why is my German Shepherd aggressive? Common causes include it being mistreated, the owner becoming highly reactive causing the German Shepherd to act in a similar way, inadvertently reinforcing the behavior or being in some kind of pain.

There are actually a number of reasons why your German Shepherd might be behaving in an aggressive way and there are a number of things that you can do about it.

Why your German Shepherd is aggressive

There are a number of different reasons why your German Shepherd might be aggressive and each of them will likely come with a number of clues.

Below, I will mention a number of reasons why your German Shepherd might be being aggressive and the clues to look for.

Previous owners

One reason why your German Shepherd might be aggressive could be that previous owners mistreated it or neglected it in some way.

This would be much more likely if your German Shepherd is adopted from a shelter. However, it could also be the case if you bought it from someone and it was still young.

You’re too emotional with it

One reason why your German Shepherd can become aggressive could be that you get too emotional yourself.

If you start behaving in a more reactive way then the German Shepherd will pick up on it. This could cause it to feel like something is wrong and to become aggressive.

This would be more likely to be the reason if it only tends to become aggressive in situations where you tend to become highly reactive to it yourself. It would also be more likely if you tend to shout at it often and make large frantic movements around it.

Related post: How to tell if your German Shepherd loves you

You’re too aggressive towards it yourself

Another possible thing that you could be doing wrong could be that you are being too aggressive towards it yourself.

If you are aggressive towards it yourself then it can cause behavioral issues such as aggression. This is because it will cause it to react to your behavior, to distrust you and because it may not understand that it is being punished for being aggressive.

A lack of exercise

German Shepherds were bred to be highly active dogs. If they do not get enough exercise then it can cause them to display behavioral issues. This is because they will need to find another way to get rid of their excess energy when they do not get enough exercise.

Generally, it is recommended that a German Shepherd get at least an hour of exercise per day. If your German Shepherd is not getting much exercise then it is likely to be contributing to its aggressive behavior.

Related post: Ways to exercise your German Shepherd.

A lack of socializing when younger

When German Shepherds are young they will interact with the world and learn what to trust and what not to. If they do not get many interactions with other dogs and people when they are young then it may cause them to become untrusting of them.

This would be more likely to be the reason why your German Shepherd can be aggressive if you know that it did not interact with other dogs much when it was younger. Even if this is the cause, it will still be possible for you to do something about it as will be mentioned at a few sections below this one.

Pain

Dogs will often hide their pain and show that they are in pain in different ways. The reason why your German Shepherd has been acting aggressive could be that it is in pain in some way.

This would be more likely if something recently happened that could have caused it to be in pain.

You have been rewarding the behavior

As will be shown below, positive reinforcement training can be highly effective in getting your German Shepherd to behave the way that you want it to.

However, it can also work against you if your method of getting it to stop being aggressive is to reward it with things that it likes.

If you tend to give your German Shepherd treats or other things that it likes, when it is aggressive, then it would help a lot if you were to stop doing so. More will be discussed about this below.

A lack of training

If you have not been giving your German Shepherd much training then it would make it more likely that it will behave in ways that you do not want it to.

This is because it will not know what behaviors you want it to display so it will behave in the way that it naturally wants to instead.

Protecting territory or its owner

German Shepherds are, naturally, a very protective breed. If your German Shepherd tends to become more aggressive when it is around other people or dogs with you then it would make it more likely that it is trying to be protective. This would especially be the case if it tends to only do it in certain environments such as the home.

If you do think that it does it because it is being protective then positive reinforcement training would be likely to work particularly well. How to do positive reinforcement training will be discussed below.

German Shepherd puppy barking

Things to consider

Before trying to train your German Shepherd to be less aggressive it would help a lot to understand what causes it to become aggressive.

There are a number of things that you can consider when trying to get your German Shepherd to be less aggressive. Below, I will mention a couple of important things to consider.

If it has only started to become aggressive recently

If your German Shepherd has only started to become aggressive recently then it would make it more likely to be due to things including:

  • Being mistreated by someone or something
  • Being injured
  • Being in a new environment

If it has only started to be aggressive recently then it would help to consider what else has changed recently when trying to understand why it is happening.

When it becomes aggressive

It would also help to consider when and where your German Shepherd becomes aggressive.

If your German Shepherd becomes aggressive around other dogs, people or in certain environments then it will be necessary for you to train it to have a positive association with those things in order to get it to stop. You can read about how to do so in the section below.

It is important to note that there are certain situations where it is not unusual for a German Shepherd to become aggressive. For example, it is not unusual for a German Shepherd to bark at a stranger, that it does not know, who is in the place that it lives.

With that being said, there will still be some things that you can do to reduce how aggressive it is that I will mention in the section below.

How to get your German Shepherd to be less aggressive

If you want to get your German Shepherd to be less aggressive then there are a number of things that you can do that I will mention below.

Positive reinforcement training

One option you have is to train your German Shepherd to stop being aggressive by using positive reinforcement training.

This is where you teach your German Shepherd that it will get things that it wants when other dogs or people are around and when it behaves appropriately. This will help to get your German Shepherd to have positive feelings towards you, other dogs and other people.

One way to do this is to try the “open bar” technique where you give your German Shepherd positive attention and a treat when you see other dogs or people on a walk. The positive attention and treat should stop when the other dog or person goes away.

The treat should also be a special treat that you only give to your German Shepherd when other dogs or people are around. You might think that doing this would reinforce bad behavior but behaviorists argue that it creates a strong positive association with other dogs and people that overrides the bad behavior.

You can also try “shaping” where you reward your dog for making small steps towards being well behaved.

You would start by rewarding it for not reacting when it sees other dogs and people and then you would gradually build up to rewarding it for playing with other dogs and being well behaved near other people.

When you’re doing this you will want to reward your German Shepherd for being well behaved before it has a chance to become aggressive so avoid making large jumps in what you ask of it. If you reward it after it becomes aggressive then you will run the risk of reinforcing the behavior that you do not want.

For example, if you start out by rewarding it for being well behaved at a distance then don’t close the gap between you and the other dog or person too quickly.

Instead, do so gradually so that your German Shepherd can make small steps without being poorly behaved.

You can apply the positive reinforcement technique in any situation where your German Shepherd would normally become aggressive. Just have some treats ready, reward it while it is being well behaved, stop when it starts showing signs of aggression and then continue to reward it when it shows signs of being well behaved.

You can look at the book Training Your German Shepherd on Amazon to get more tips about how you can train your GSD.

Avoid positively reinforcing bad behavior

While positive reinforcement training can be highly effective in getting your German Shepherd to do the things that you want it to do, it can also work against you.

If you reward your German Shepherd when it acts in an aggressive way, you could be reinforcing the behavior.

For example, if your current method of getting your German Shepherd to stop being aggressive is to give it a treat or to let it get what it wants then it will likely be reinforcing the behavior.

Instead, a better option, would be to wait for it to start to show signs of being well behaved and then to reward that behavior. If it then continues to show signs of aggression you would stop rewarding it until it shows positive signs again.

Train it to listen to your command

One option you have is to train your German Shepherd to respond to your command when you say things like “stay” or “down.”

I have written about how to get your German Shepherd to stay in the past here. I have also written how to teach your German Shepherd “down” in the past here.

Once you have taught your German Shepherd to do these things you’ll want to tell it to “stay” or go “down” before it gets the chance to become aggressive.

This is why it’s important to stay calm in these situations so that you can monitor your German Shepherd for signs that it is about to become aggressive. Once you’ve done that give it the chance to calm down and then reward it with a special treat for doing so.

It will also help to get your German Shepherd used to following your command which will make it easier in getting it to follow your instructions when it is full of energy.

The nice thing about this option is that you don’t need to be around other people or dogs to do it. Instead, you can do it whenever you see other dogs or people when you’re walking your German Shepherd. 

Avoid being high energy yourself

When trying to get your German Shepherd to be calmer and less aggressive it is important not to be full of energy yourself. If you are then it will, likely, imply to the German Shepherd that its behavior is warranted and it will encourage it to continue to misbehave.

Instead, a better option is to be less reactive around your German Shepherd when it is being aggressive and to wait for it to act the way that you want it to. Then, when it acts the way that you want it to, you would reward the good behavior.

Avoid punishing the dog

Another thing to avoid doing is punishing it when it becomes aggressive. It won’t necessarily understand why you are punishing it and can also cause other problems. If you punish your German Shepherd after the event then it might actually think that it’s being punished for being quiet.

Make sure that it is getting enough exercise

As mentioned above, it is important to make sure that your German Shepherd gets a sufficient amount of exercise. If it does not then it can cause behavioral issues including aggression.

It is generally recommended that a German Shepherd get at least an hour of exercise every day. You can do this by walking it for an hour or teaching it to play fetch.

Be consistent

It is unlikely that you will be able to get your German Shepherd to behave exactly the way that you want it to in one training session.

This is why it is important that you make sure that you are consistent with the training over a long time period. By doing so you will be able to ensure that its behavior will improve over time.

Get help from a dog trainer

If you are unable to get your German Shepherd to be well behaved then one option you have is to get help from a dog trainer or a dog behaviorist in your area.

You can watch the video below to see how the trainer is able to get an aggressive German Shepherd to become much more well behaved. This should help you in training your German Shepherd yourself. The channel also has a number of other videos that you can watch about how to train an aggressive German Shepherd that you can find on Youtube here.

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