German Shepherds are incredibly intelligent, loyal, and protective dogs. Their popularity as family pets has skyrocketed over the years. However, their intelligence means they can easily pick up unwanted behaviors if not properly trained.
As a German Shepherd owner, you need to be alert to certain behavioral issues that may arise. The good news is that most of these problems can be prevented or corrected with proper training techniques. This article explores some of the most common German Shepherd behavioral problems and provides effective solutions to stop or curb them.
1. German Shepherds are intelligent but need proper training and socialization from an early age to prevent behavioral problems.
2. Common issues like aggression, separation anxiety, excessive barking, digging, jumping, and leash pulling can be prevented and managed with consistent training.
3. Use positive reinforcement, not punishment, to train German Shepherds and curb unwanted behaviors.
4. Physical and mental stimulation are crucial to prevent acting out due to boredom or pent-up energy.
5. Start training and socializing your German Shepherd puppy before 12 weeks old to set them up for success.
6. While you can resolve some basic issues, seek professional help from trainers and behaviorists for serious or long-term problems.
7. With early socialization, training, exercise, proper leadership and meeting their needs, you can have a well-adjusted German Shepherd as part of your family.
Common Behavioral Problems in German Shepherds
German Shepherds are naturally protective dogs. Without proper socialization and training, they may show aggression towards strangers, other dogs, or even family members. Aggression usually stems from fear, dominance, possessiveness over toys/food, or lack of socialization.
- Socialize your German Shepherd extensively as a puppy to people, dogs, sights and sounds.
- Use positive reinforcement training to establish yourself as pack leader.
- Do not punish aggressive behavior as this can backfire. Redirect to a positive behavior instead.
- Consult a professional dog trainer or behaviorist for help with aggression issues.
German Shepherds form extremely close bonds with their owners. Being left alone for long periods can spur separation anxiety, causing destructive behavior, excessive barking or whining, or elimination issues.
- Avoid prolonged absences when your German Shepherd is a puppy.
- Practice short solo departures to gradually get your dog used to being alone.
- Provide interactive toys to keep your dog occupied when left alone.
- Consider doggie daycare a few days a week.
- Medication may be required in extreme cases under veterinary supervision.
German Shepherds are vocal dogs that will sound the alarm at every suspicious sight, sound or movement. Nuisance barking directed at passersby, mail carriers etc. needs to be controlled.
- Provide adequate physical and mental stimulation to avoid boredom barking.
- Use positive reinforcement training to teach the quiet command.
- Address the root cause like fear, loneliness or lack of exercise that triggers frequent barking.
- Use citronella or ultrasonic anti-bark collars as a last resort if barking is excessive.
Digging up your garden and chewing household items are common problem behaviors stemming from boredom, anxiety or pent-up energy.
- Ensure your German Shepherd gets adequate physical exercise and mental stimulation.
- Provide plenty of sturdy chew toys to satisfy their need to chew.
- Keep them confined to a specific area when left unsupervised.
- Use remote correction devices or booby traps to teach them which areas are off-limits.
German Shepherd puppies may jump on people to greet them enthusiastically. This behavior needs to be curtailed before they grow into 75-pound adults.
- Teach your puppy to sit immediately when greeting people. Reward and praise for sitting.
- Ignore jumping puppies by turning your back on them or stepping on the leash.
- Use pet correctors or ultrasonic trainers to startle jumpers into stopping.
- Install baby gates to restrict access when greeting guests.
Pulling on Leash
A common problem behavior, leash pulling results from excitement and lack of proper leash manners. It’s dangerous and difficult to control in strong adult Shepherds.
- Start leash training early using force-free methods. The best two are the red-light/green-light method and the 180-degree turn method.
- Use front-attachment harnesses and head collars like the Gentle Leader to deter pulling.
- Do not use traditional choke collars, prong collars or shock collars which can harm your German Shepherd.
- Stop moving when your dog pulls and reward for slack leash.
How to Prevent Behavior Problems in German Shepherds
Preventing behavior issues is more effective than trying to correct them later. Here are some tips:
1. Start training early: Enroll your German Shepherd in puppy kindergarten for basic obedience as young as 8 weeks old. Begin socialization even earlier.
2. Exercise adequately: German Shepherds need 60-90 minutes of vigorous exercise daily to prevent behavior issues stemming from pent-up energy.
3. Meet mental needs: Provide puzzle toys, snuffle mats and training sessions to engage their intelligent minds.
4. Be a strong pack leader: Use positive reinforcement training to establish yourself as the consistent pack leader. Never use dominance or punishment-based techniques.
5. Provide enrichment: Rotating toys, food puzzles, chews etc. prevents boredom which can cause acting out.
6. Manage the environment: Supervise your German Shepherd puppy to prevent developing bad habits like chewing, digging, jumping etc. Use baby gates, crates and leashes as needed.
When to Seek Professional Help for Behavior Problems
While you can resolve some basic behavior issues with training, more serious long-term problems require professional intervention. Seek help from certified dog trainers or veterinary behaviorists for:
- Aggression that puts people or pets at risk
- Separation anxiety that results in destruction, self-injury
- Fears and phobias that limit quality of life
- Compulsive disorders like excessive licking, tail chasing, pacing
- Treatment may involve desensitization, counter-conditioning, medication, or a combination.
With their intelligence and protective instincts, German Shepherds can develop problematic behaviors like aggression, anxiety, excessive barking and more. However, most issues can be prevented or resolved with early socialization, regular exercise and training, proper leadership and by meeting their mental needs.
Seek professional help for serious behavioral disorders or those that do not respond to your efforts. With time, patience and the right approach, you can help your German Shepherd be a well-adjusted canine companion.
Frequently Asked Questions
At what age can German Shepherd behavior problems first arise?
Behavior issues can start as early as 8 weeks when German Shepherd puppies begin teething, socializing, and exploring their surroundings. Problems like nipping, chewing, digging, anxiousness etc. can develop unless managed properly.
Should I punish my German Shepherd for problem behavior?
No, punishment usually backfires by increasing a German Shepherd’s fear or anxiety. Instead, use positive reinforcement and redirection to desired behaviors. Only use fair corrections for things like house training. Harsh punishment can damage your bond.
Can neutering help with German Shepherd behavior problems?
Neutering may reduce certain problems like roaming, mounting and some types of aggression. However, issues like separation anxiety, fearfulness, or compulsive disorders are unlikely to improve with neutering alone. Use it alongside training.
At what point should I seek professional help for my German Shepherd’s behavior?
Seek help immediately if your German Shepherd shows aggression that puts people or pets at risk. Also contact a professional right away for separation anxiety resulting in destruction, or fears/phobias limiting quality of life. Don’t delay getting expert help.
What qualifications should a dog trainer have to deal with German Shepherd behavior issues?
Look for dog trainers certified by respected organizations like the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT), the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC) or the Karen Pryor Academy. Avoid trainers who use punishment or dominance techniques.