When you first bring a German shepherd home, it’s hard to know what to expect. You might be excited about all the adventures your new best friend will take you on or maybe nervous about starting a family pet. One thing that most first-time German Shepherd owners don’t realize about these dogs is their protective instinct. It’s not unusual for German Shepherds to be protective when strangers come near their owners or home. But how do you know if your German Shepherd puppy has developed this instinct? And at what age do German Shepherd dogs start guarding? Let’s take a closer look…
At What Age Does a German Shepherd Dog Start Guarding?
Most guard dogs, including German Shepherds, will start guarding at around 6 months of age. This is the age when they are becoming more independent, aware of their surroundings, and able to differentiate between threatening and non-threatening people or animals.
This desire to guard may stem from the fact that the earliest German Shepherds were bred to herd and protect livestock from predators. Generations after generations, this trait has been passed down, making them a very prominent guard dog.
A German Shepherd’s guarding instinct doesn’t mean that it will always be hostile towards strangers. Depending on how socialized the German Shepherd dog puppy is, the training they’re received, and the way they were raised, your German Shepherd may just bark to warn you of a stranger’s presence rather than become hostile.
However, it is important that you teach your young puppy not to bite or attack strangers; otherwise, you could be facing legal issues and/or a dangerous situation on your hands.
How Do Guard Dogs Work?
There’s a difference between watchdogs and guard dogs. A watchdog’s main purpose is to bark and let you know that someone is approaching your home or property. But a guard dog’s job is to deter a threat from getting near your property. If this can’t be done, then the German Shepherd will take action and attack to cast out the threat, such as bluffing and charging.
German Shepherds are one of those breeds that can excel at both watchdog and guard dog tasks. Some people claim that female German Shepherds make better personal guardians due to their maternal instinct, while male German Shepherds make better patrol dogs because of their territorial nature. This may be true for some individuals, but in general, male and female German Shepherds can be great for both jobs.
If you want to know if your German Shepherd puppy has developed this guarding instinct, watch for the following signs:
- Standing near you, watching who is approaching from a distance, and greeting new visitors to your home in an assertive manner.
- Continually and aggressively barking at someone or something they consider to be threatening. This can include both humans and animals.
- Barking at someone who enters your home when you are not present or when they feel like their territory is being invaded.
- Charging at other dogs that they consider to be threats.
How to Train a German Shepherd to Be a Guard Dog
Although German Shepherds are considered natural guard dogs, they still need to be properly trained to follow commands. If your German Shepherd isn’t trained at a young age, it may begin to take on “guard dog duties” without you knowing what its intentions are, which can lead to aggressive and dangerous behaviors.
When training German Shepherd puppies to be guard dogs, keep in mind that each dog is an individual, so your training will need to match the German Shepherd’s personality. For example, a dog with a very submissive and shy temperament will require more patience and praise than a dog with an outgoing and confident nature.
1. Socialize your German Shepherd Puppy Early
Socializing your German Shepherd from a young age will help him become more comfortable with being around other people, especially those that they are not familiar with. When socializing, you need to expose your puppy to as many different situations, people, and animals as possible.
This will help them later on as a guard dog when they come across an unfamiliar person or animal. The more varied these experiences are, the easier it will be for your dog to determine which ones are the threat and which ones are not.
2. Train Your German Shepherd to Follow Orders
Training a German Shepherd to follow orders will help you have control over your dog when you need it and allow you to keep them from biting someone or attacking another animal on accident. Here are some basic commands that every dog needs to know: sit, stay, come, lay down, rollover, be quiet, leave it.
It would also be a good idea to enroll your dog in a puppy class so you can work on these commands, keep up with the socialization process, and meet a professional dog trainer that will be able to give more information on training GSD puppies.
3. Teach your German Shepherd Dog Puppy to Cease Barking
Your dog needs to be taught to stop barking on command otherwise, they will continue to bark at everything and everyone, becoming a nuisance to you and your neighbors.
You can start teaching your puppy to stop barking by teaching your puppy the speak and shut command. First, tell him to “speak” and praise them when they do. Then, when they start barking, tell them to “shut,” and when they stop, once again praise and reward them by giving them a treat.
4. Create a Situation Simulating a Threat
There are many ways to do this, but my favorite is to create a fake intruder. You can use an old sweatshirt that you no longer wear or get a pair of pants from your dad. Stuff it with newspaper, then take some rope and tie it around the dummy’s waist. Have some friends pull up in the driveway or ring the doorbell and put the dummy near the front door. If your German Shepherd dog starts to act protective, you’ve done a good job training them. Remember to reward your dog with treats or a favorite toy for doing such a good job!
5. Walk Your German Shepherd Around the Perimeter of Your House
This exercise will help your puppy develop a sense of where their territory ends and that they need to guard it. You can take your dog for a walk when you take them outside for a bathroom break. It doesn’t need to be a long walk just enough; 15 to 30 minutes a day is enough. Repeat these training sessions several times a day for about 2 weeks, and you should start to see an improvement in their guarding instincts.
When Dog Guarding Goes Wrong
Sometimes dogs can become aggressive and attack, even on a person that they know. This usually happens when the dog owner doesn’t socialize and train their dog enough.
It can also happen when the owner encourages their German Shepherd to become too protective and territorial. When this happens, a dog can act aggressively towards another person or animal when they get too close to home.
Here are questions to ask yourself:
Is the intensity of its actions proportional? Does your dog bark at strangers and ignore your command to stop? Is your dog growling or barking when you try to calm it down? Do they lunge at every person or animal that walks by your yard?
If the answer is yes, then you need to find a professional who can help trim down that protective instinct. Dog aggression is not something that should be left alone because the worst thing could happen: your dog will start to attack the people and household pets that they are closest to.
Fear aggression is a condition that develops when a dog feels threatened, and they are not confident that they will be able to defend themselves. When this happens, a dog can attack out of fear and self-defense without intending harm on the person or animal.
If you see your dog showing fear aggression, you need to teach your dog confidence, so they don’t feel threatened and deter them from showing aggression. You can do this by increasing socialization and training by yourself or with the help of a professional dog trainer or animal behaviorist who is experienced in dealing with aggressive dogs.
Resource guarding is when a dog is possessive of food, treats, bones, and toys that they have in their possession. If you were trying to take away anything from your dog by using an aggressive motion or action, this would trigger their resource guarding instincts. What usually happens next is that their aggression turns into fighting so they can keep whatever it is they are guarding.
To treat resource guarding, you need to desensitize your dog to your presence around their possessions over time. Start by tethering or placing your dog in a pet cage. Stay 6-8 feet away and toss something such as food or their favorite toys. Then walk closer while tossing the items to your dog.
See their body language and gestures, if they are uncomfortable with you getting closer, back away. Take a break and try again after several minutes. After several approaches, watch your dog’s body language and gestures. If your dog doesn’t growl at you or bark when you approach, continue to get closer without reaching for the item in their possession.
After a week or so, you can try picking the item up while your dog is still holding onto it. You will need to use extra caution because there’s a chance that they are not going to let go without a fight. Continue on with training sessions until you can take your dog’s possession away without them growling or barking. Depending on the severity of the case, it may take anywhere from several weeks to a few months.
If you’re not able to desensitize your dog on your own, then see if you can schedule an appointment with a professional trainer or behaviorist in your area who is familiar with this type of condition and has experience minimizing problems.