German Shepherds are known for their signature look, easy trainability, intelligence, loyalty, and devotion toward their owner or family. Unfortunately, they can sometimes get a bad rap because of their protective nature and reputation as a good guard dog. They can get aggressive when it comes to anyone threatening their pack. But are German Shepherds dangerous?
German Shepherds aren’t inherently dangerous animals but they can be aggressive. Like many other breeds, they can and will bite under the right circumstances. It just depends on the situation and how they were raised. GSDs make excellent guard dogs for a reason. They have a tendency to be very protective and territorial.
While considered an aggressive dog, this is one of the main reasons they are so popular as family guard dogs. They will do anything to protect the ones they love. On rare occasions, this leads to someone getting attacked or bitten.
Why Are German Shepherds Considered Dangerous?
There are a few reasons that might lead to people thinking that German Shepherds are dangerous. But before we get into it, keep this in mind:
Fun Fact: You have a 1 in 118,776 chance of dying from a dog bite. You are much more likely to die from choking, falling or heart disease.
This is probably the most common reason that people assume German Shepherds are threatening. And there is some truth to their aggressive behavior.
This study, published by Scientific Reports back on May 3rd of 2021, ranked GSDs 4th on their list of dog breeds with aggressive behavior. The Rough Collie came in first, followed by the Miniature Poodle, and Miniature Schnauzer.
The caveat to that study is that while breed and genetics play a factor in aggression, several different factors play a more important role. Aggression increased based on age (older), gender (male), fearfulness, size (smaller), being around other animals and whether or not it was the owner’s first dog.
While German Shepherds may have some hereditary aggression from their parents, it can be dealt with when they are puppies. Young GSD pups usually start to exhibit some aggression between the ages of 3-6 months.
If a puppy is trained properly with commands and socialization from a young age, they will be less aggressive towards unfamiliar people or pets. The rule of thumb is to make sure they are handled by at least 100 people including children, men and strangers before they are 2 months old.
German Shepherds have a powerful bite and a strong jaw. They can look and seem intimidating when they growl and show their sharp canine teeth.
This is one of the reasons they are so popular among law enforcement and the military. Few criminals know how to deal with the bite force of a GSD. Once they latch on, it is very hard to get them off.
While German Shepherds don’t have the most powerful bite in the canine kingdom, they are in the top 20 with 238 psi. That is 238 pounds of pressure per inch clamping down on whoever happens to be on the receiving end of an attack.
That is almost double a human’s bite force and enough to break a bone in the human body.
Unfortunately, certain breeds get a bad rap. The German Shepherd is one of those and is banned or restricted in 11 different countries as it is considered a “dangerous dog.”
Florida is the only state in the U.S. that has a ban on GSDs. Many apartments in cities won’t allow owners to have what they consider “dangerous breeds.”
However, they are working to change that. A new bill, if passed, would classify dogs as “dangerous” based on their behavior and not the breed.
The full list of countries with bans on German Shepherds include:
- United Arab Emirates
- United States
Overall, more than 58 dog breeds have been involved in fatal attacks since 2016. German Shepherds are one of those breeds.
According to this multi-year study by DogsBite.org spanning from 2005 to 2017, GSDs were number three on the list for dog bite fatalities in the U.S. Pit bulls were first with Rottweilers a distant second.
German Shepherds accounted for 20 total deaths or 4.6% of the total fatalities recorded during those 12 years. That is a little less than 2 deaths per year from the breed.
Some people might get the idea that GSDs are dangerous because of certain types of training. German Shepherds are highly trainable and can remember up to 250 words.
Their intelligence allows them to retain many different commands. This makes them super popular as guard dogs. They can be trained to attack an intruder attempting to enter the yard or house.
Additionally, GSDs are the top dog when it comes to the sport of Schutzhund training. “Schutzhund” in German means “protection dog.” The sport measures a dog’s skills in 3 areas: obedience, protection, and tracking.
To prepare a dog for the sport, one of the main training tools is bite work. A handler will teach his dog how to bite on command using bite sleeve. Often people ask if Schutzhund training makes a dog more dangerous.
Experienced trainers say that it doesn’t and in fact, they say it makes the bond between handler and dog even stronger.
“I have seen more civilian pet dogs that are much more dangerous then a dog that has participated in the sport.”DaveKroyer.com – Will Schutzhund make my dog dangerous?
He goes on to say that it actually does the reverse, because originally Schutzhund was used to selectively remove German Shepherds with a bad temperament from the breeding pool.
How Dangerous Are German Shepherds?
Overall, German Shepherds are not that dangerous. In fact, they make great family companions. There is a reason they were ranked the 4th most popular dog breed in the United States in 2021.
Now do occasional attacks happen? Yes, but that can happen with a lot of different dog breeds. The bottom line is, you have a better chance of being struck by lightning than being fatally attacked by a German Shepherd.
The American Veterinary Medical Association did a peer-reviewed summary on the role of breeds concerning dog bites. They found some interesting information.
Firstly, GSDs were highly represented as far as biting incidents. However, there is high inconsistency with the risk of the breed, depending on factors like regional subtypes and who owns the dog.
Secondly, they concluded that you can’t predict how dangerous a dog is based solely on the breed. Therefore, it is hard to prevent dog bites without all of the factors. They quoted Deborah L. Duffy who said the following back in 2008 regarding canine aggression:
“it is inappropriate to make predictions about a given dog’s propensity for aggressive behavior based solely on its breed”HeartsofGoldPitRescue.com – Position on Breed Specific Legislation
We agree with this statement as do many dog organizations. It is just too hard to determine the specific intent as far as aggression based on the breed of a dog.
Are German Shepherds Dangerous To Strangers?
Once again, this completely depends on the dog but generally yes, they can be dangerous to strangers. German Shepherds are already considered aloof towards strangers.
It is in their nature to guard and protect the ones they love. If you are on a walk with them and they perceive someone as a threat to you, they won’t hesitate to spring into action.
However, it all goes back to their training and socialization skills. If they were instilled early on and properly, a GSD should have restraint and only act upon your command.
Are German Shepherds Dangerous To Their Owners?
This is tough to state factually because there isn’t any evidence to suggest that German Shepherds attack their owners more than any other breed.
If trained properly from an early age, the chance of an owner attack is very slim. Now if you adopt a GSD from a shelter that’s another story.
Any dog that has been neglected or abused from a young age could lash out with aggression towards their owner or strangers. It just depends on their background.
German Shepherds can be dangerous but so can many other breeds. That being said, they do have more aggression that a lot of other breeds. But when raised and trained properly, the risks are minimal and far outweigh the rewards of owning a GSD.
Do your homework and your due diligence before deciding to own one. They require a lot of attention, love and training. Make sure that you can dedicate the time necessary to train them with basic commands and proper socialization to ensure that they can be around other people and pets without being aggressive.
Please leave a comment below and let us know what you think!
Are you considering owning a German Shepherd? If so, what is your biggest concern? Let us know! We would love to hear about your personal story!