Are German Shepherds Difficult???

Discussion in 'Homesteading Questions' started by Peacock, Apr 20, 2006.

  1. Peacock

    Peacock writing some wrongs Supporter

    Apr 12, 2006
    SW Ohio
    I admit to being sort of an animal novice and softhearted, and finding the thread about the GSD who attacked a neighbor horrifying.

    Most of my life I've been afraid of dogs, because I grew up with this nasty little poodle who constantly bit me. But I gave in to the kids' and DH's begging and last summer we adopted a black Lab mix. Rocky is 10 months old now and is an AWESOME dog. I love him to bits. I'm glad we have him out here too, on my "mini-homestead" because though he's really a wimp, strangers don't know that. :)

    Now DH wants to adopt a 2nd dog, a GSD that an acquaintance is giving away. The dog is 2 years old and has had obedience training, is used to kids and other animals. He's neutered, current on shots and his crate is included. The reason he's being given away is that the guy's wife "hates dogs". The owner thought that if the dog lived outside only and had obedience training his wife would come around, but she didn't.

    I haven't met the dog yet, so a lot hinges on that. But I've known other GSD's and their temperaments seem to range from mellow and watchful to hyper and defensive. What I've seen is that they're wonderful with their families, but a pain in the rear or an outright menace to anyone who isn't in "the circle of trust."

    Whereas, by comparison, my Lab mix barks in outrage when someone comes close to his territory, but then gives up and bounds forward with a wagging tail and tongue. He's just a big loving goofball.

    Advice and info? Thanks!
  2. sancraft

    sancraft Well-Known Member

    Jun 7, 2002
    They are extremely intelligent dogs and really need a job to do. They have to be exercised mentally and physically. They are strong, powerful dogs. They can be quite headstrong and training should be reinforced often. I grew up with a GSD that was wonderful. She was fiercy protective of us kids and the other dog, but never aggressive. She'd only act defensively. Now I have this knucked head that I am sadly going to have put down. I would take the dog on a trial basis and see how she fits into your situation.

  3. ChickenTracy

    ChickenTracy Well-Known Member

    Mar 20, 2006
    West Virginia
    I've had 2 GSD in the last 10 years. Last one for 6 years & lost him & got another GS 4 years ago. It's all in how they're trained & handled. They are very protective of their owners. I love my GS & personally don't care if I ever own anything other than a GS. I've never had a problem with mine biting anyone. They are my favorite breed & have been given a bad rap. jmho
  4. MorrisonCorner

    MorrisonCorner Mansfield, VT for 200 yrs

    Jul 27, 2004
    Credentials: Golden Retriever Rescue, 11 years. Breeder, champion dogs (international, USA/Canada) 22 years. Dog Handler... 30+ years.

    Don't do it.

    The characteristics that make your Rocky the kind of dog you love and can live with MAY be present in this GSD but it is very unlikely given the characteristics GSD's are bred for.

    People who are attracted to and successfully own GSD's tend to be powerful personalities in their own right who have the time and energy to work with the dog. GSD owners (successful ones) are looking for a working dog, not a family pet, and successful GSD ownership practically requires the dog has some job which requires extensive training for the dog to perform it correctly, constant reinforcement, and constant monitoring. One does not just let this dog out into the yard in the morning, for example... because he'll decide to make his own work. Which quite well may evolve into "walking the boundaries," and taking on anything that happens to come within those boundaries.

    Which might be excusable or even desirable if the dog decides those boundaries happen to coincide with your property lines, but he may well decide they include your property and several other people's as well.

    I order a golden retriever put down immediately if the dog overcomes bite inhibition and snaps at someone, even if that someone was doing something like taking a bone away. The logic behind this is that people simply do not expect vicious behavior from golden retrievers, and so ignore warning signs from them. For example, if a golden is growling and a GSD is growling, and you're in the middle.. which one are you doing to back away from?


    I've seen mothers with toddlers, at an event, push their children toward the golden who is showing every tooth in his head, ruff fully up, and rumbling... unmistakably warning anyone from moving much closer. Right next to this animal was a handler with a young GSD. The GSD was leaning forward with a happy smile, the whole back end is going, the whole dog is saying "KID!! ITS A KID!!! COME PLAY WITH ME!!"

    Toddlers have a surprising sense of self preservation, so the kids would quail before the golden and try to reach for the shepherd. Whereupon Mom would say "oh no.. bad doggie.. play with (pointing at the fangs are snarling) that doggie."

    Shepherds do indeed have a bad rap... but there is nothing about this dog that will make him like your current dog, and if I had your application for adoption in front of me: inexperienced dog owner, slightly timid around dogs from childhood experiences, I would never place a dog with a strong personality, like a shepherd, in your home.

    Bad idea. It might work out. It might be a great dog. But the odds are not in your favor.
  5. Obser

    Obser "Mobile Homesteaders"

    Feb 13, 2006
    Highly Variable
    There are good and bad individuals in any breed of dog (no different from humans in that regard). It depends upon their individual temperament and their environment.

    The “Working Breeds”, dogs that traditionally had a job to do like herding and protecting sheep, are inclined to WORK. They make excellent guide dogs, police dogs, explosive sniffing dogs, etc.

    When those dogs are bred and purchased as “pets” (as is true for the vast majority of all dogs in this country), their energy is not directed toward a job and can become a problem. Keeping them chained out or in a small dog run is not in keeping with their nature.

    A well-trained German Shepard (or any other breed) is a pleasure to behold. An untrained or neurotic dog of any breed is not. Many are dangerous.
  6. michiganfarmer

    michiganfarmer Max Supporter

    Oct 15, 2005
    Near Traverse City Michigan
    I have never owned a german shapard. I have heard from many people that german shepards are very intelligent, loyal, and docile with their owners,a nd kids. Ive also heard they are very agressive toward strangers.
  7. bostonlesley

    bostonlesley Guest

    I've never had a problem with any dog I've owned..

    Yet I agree with MC..if you are more comfortable with an "I love everybody and everything who touches me dog"..and you have a basic fear or leeriness of dogs in general, then you may wish to think twice about a working breed. It's not that these dogs are "difficult"'s that they do BETTER around people who have a total understanding of how to relate to them, how to train them, and what they NEED in order to be at 100% and have no problems.

    It's been my experience that folks who have an innate fear of dogs tend to misinterpret a LOT of what the working breeds think is fun and quickly think that they are agressive. There's nothing quite like being body-checked by a GSD at 20 MPH because he likes you while playing ball.
  8. sparrowhill

    sparrowhill sparrowhill

    Jul 7, 2005
    Well, I love my GSDs. We have owned 3. We do not have "powerful"
    personalities and our dogs do not perform a job. They are just very
    beloved family pets.

    They do require a lot of attention in the form of exercise and play.
    They are not lay around "lap" dogs. They want to be right in the
    midst of all the fun and their greatest joy is a good game of fetch.

    Our dogs have never bitten anyone. They have all loved children,
    ours, the neighbors, visiting relatives. They get along with other

    We would never have to deal with a problem of putting a dog down
    because it snapped at someone for taking it's bone away. From the
    minute a dog enters our home, the entire family purposely touches
    the food dishes while the dogs is eating, the water dish, all chew
    bones and toys. We let them know from the start that a person is
    allowed to touch all that the dog considers its own.

    Our dogs are NEVER let out of the house on their own, so I don't
    know if they would police and defend their property or not. I can
    trust our female off leash as she will always listen to commands, but
    our year old male can not be trusted as yet and is always on a leash.
    He is a big, goofy sweetheart and with the excitement of going out-
    side, sometimes his training is temporarily forgotten.

    Our female looks and acts like she could tear you apart if you knock
    on the door. In fact, she is a gentle soul, who would never hurt anyone.
    That is the reason we have these big dogs. We want them to look
    threatening to strangers.

    Our male will only bark at one thing. He totally ignores all of the Amish
    buggies that go past our house, except the ones full of teenagers
    playing their loud rock music. He can't seem to understand why some
    of the horses can sing.

    As far as mothers pushing their toddlers to touch an obviously aggressive
    dog, I find that a little far-fetched, but I guess there are some people
    who are not very bright. I would think that a proper handler would tell
    the mothers to steer clear before they got their children close.

    Credentials: Someone who has actually owned and loved GSDs.
  9. farmgal

    farmgal Well-Known Member Supporter

    Nov 12, 2005
    I raise and train german shepherd dogs. They are wonderful. I breed to improve the breed not make money and I work with other breeders. When I have a litter of puppies, which isnt often, you can see the temperment right from birth of each puppy. Some are shy and docile and will never change. Others are aggressive, some just want to play. I let the owners know this and try to pick the right owner for the right dog.

    Only 1 of about 10 german shepherds will make it through all the training up to attack dog. Most are too mellow to attack, unless they become a family dog, then they will attack to protect their family. German shepherds need training just like any other dog. However, I think their minds have a third dimension unlike most other breeds. They take what you train them and grow from it. They process information differently.

    My oldest german shepherd is now 15 years old. she looks both ways crossing the street, Visits neighbors by knocking on the door. walks a half mile to go swim in our pond then comes home and takes a nap. She still dont like to sit still. Every morning she wonders. She used to be more vicious but has mellowed over the years. I dont think chaining an intelligent dog like a shepherd, is a good idea. All that energy will turn into meaness. Just like a child, you need to channel their energy.

    You can train a shepherd very detailed. in this, I mean I have taught her which houses she is allowed to visit and which she cant. When taking a walk down the road she understands she can wonder farther away when there are no houses and she is right at my heels when we are in a town. no leash. She understands to attack and hold down, the person who is doing the aggressive behavior without peircing the skin (provided they hold still). You give them a command to let them know its ok. Like when the mail guy comes by. Or as in someone you dont know you give a command to be on watch.

    If you give them a command for everything you are doing, They will remember it. words like bird,horse,cow your childrens names, up,down,left right. My dog will go to whoever's name you tell her to. My dog also searches. She knew what the term bird means. we lost a new parrakeet in the house once. all I said was gypsy search bird. She found the darn thing up stairs in a closet behind boxes. I'd a never found it there.

    My puppies are ofa, akc. OFA is the orthopedic foundation. This ensures your dog wont have hip displasia. There are different degree's of grading on this certification. Back yard puppy mills have ruined the breed and are breeding dogs that have severe hip displasia. People breeding dogs that should be ofa and arent, will tell you ofa dont matter and thats a lie. they have invested in bad lines and are trying to make money anyway. This goes for any large bone breeds. Dont forget the older your shepard becomes the more enjoyable and intelligent. Having to put one down for hip displasia is a sad thing that could be prevented by not buying non-ofa approved puppies.

    As in your case the dog is not a puppy. Does it play with your children gently? can you take her food away or stick your hand in it while she is eating without any agression? If yes is the answer, you have a good chance it will make a great family dog. Dont crate her, train her.
  10. Wendy

    Wendy Well-Known Member

    May 9, 2002
    SE Indiana
    I had a german shepherd/lab cross that I had put down last summer because of old age. He was almost 12. Was deaf & could hardly walk. My nephew ran over him one day because he did not hear the truck & my nephew did not see him. :( He was the best! I miss him a lot. I now have a female german shepherd, full blooded. She is great also. Very good with the kids & very protective of the place. People are scared to get out of their cars when they stop because she looks intimidating. She is fine when we are out with her. Not sure what she would do if someone got out & we weren't home. They are definitely my breed of choice.
  11. wvpeach1963

    wvpeach1963 WVPEACH (Paula)

    Feb 8, 2006
    west virginia
    German Shepards are great dogs, but must have owners that can be the leadrer of the pack.

    Once a sheppard knows your the boss they'll be a loyal , faithful dog.

    They will try to assert thier place in the pack sometimes as above kids.

    So it's important they be introduced to the kids by a strong owner , so the dog understands the kids are yours and not open to pack behavior.

    Personally with no expierence with strong headed dogs, and a family of small kids I always suggest a smaller mixed breed or a lab, golden retriever .
  12. NCGirl

    NCGirl Well-Known Member

    Jan 5, 2006
    German Shepherds!! Not Shepards :)

    We have 10 or so at the house at any given time. 4 Full-time housedogs.

    I believe 90% of the GSD's in America are not sound dogs. If buying a puppy I would do extensive research....But if this is a full grown dog you can see what you are are getting. Take the dog to a professional for an evaluation. You do not want to take on a problem dog.

    Having said that, if you find a Good GSD, there is nothing out there that can compare!!! ** as long as you don't mind the terrrible shedding **
  13. Wolf Flower

    Wolf Flower Married, not dead! Supporter

    Dec 20, 2005
    Northern CA
    I agree with everything MorrisonCorner said.

    Some of the best GSD owners can probably be described as "control freaks". ;)

    GSDs are not the type of dog you can just let in and smother with love and give free reign. If you have a lingering fear of dogs, even though the lab mix has gotten you over most of it, the GSD will find whatever shred remains and deftly exploit it.

    I have had several GSDs over the years, and with all of them, there was a strict, structured program of socialization, obedience, exercise, play, and discipline for at least the first two years. Once they are reliably staying within the acceptable boundaries of behavior, then you can relax the goose-stepping a little bit, but you must ALWAYS be watching.

    At first, my guy-buddy didn't understand why he couldn't just open the door and let my GSD come barging inside whenever she felt like it. Part of responsible ownership of a large, intelligent, headstrong, potentially aggressive breed is making subtle, but constant control a way of life, and not everyone understands this. Especially husbands and children.

    GSDs are a lot of work, and sometimes I think "I'm tired! Why didn't I just get a Golden?" ;)

    That said, I love them. Properly trained and socialized, they are wonderful companion dogs. They are DEFINITELY not for everyone and part of the reason they get a bad reputation is because people don't understand proper management of the breed. Fully 75% of the people I know who own GSDs should have gotten a Golden.
  14. MorrisonCorner

    MorrisonCorner Mansfield, VT for 200 yrs

    Jul 27, 2004
    Ok, first of all... I got a BIG laugh out of the "singing horses." I'm with the dog.. why do some horses sing mom?

    Secondly.. trust me on this.. people are INCREDIBLY STUPID around dogs, and they assume "all goldens are nice." Which is why we have a zero bite tolerance. Even if the dog is sitting there showing fangs, it's a golden retriever, all goldens are nice, therefore the dog doesn't "mean it."

    Yea. Right.

    This can work in our favor, of course. People see our pack and react with joy.. "ooo.. goldens!" instead of running in panic which will trigger a prey drive.

    But it also makes an aggressive golden very, very, dangerous because people, even when it is right in their face, won't recognize the warning signs and give the dog space.

    I wish I could tell you this was an isolated incident, but I've seen it happen on my own property, with people pushing their kids toward my alpha female dog, who is backed up against a wall, rumbling, occasionally flashing warning teeth.. saying to the kids "that's Mercedes, you know Mercedes.. you go pat her."

    Hello? Can you hear the growl? Because your kid sure can!

    Aggressive goldens, out in public, are very dangerous... not because they're unpredictable to the owners, but because the public is predictable. They'll reach for the dog whether it is appropriate or not. Several people have learned from our dogs never to reach into a vehicle to "pat the nice golden" because the nice golden may react like a trained guard dog, seize your wrist, and, making sounds which make you think he's going to rip it clean off your arm, not let go of it.

    I imagine this is rarely an issue for GSD owners. If a GSD looks peeved the person of even sub-average intelligence is going to give it some space. But the flip side is people behave poorly around GSDs. They panic and run, for example, and then get further paniced if the dog thinks it is a game and runs after them. Even if the dog never touches them, injuries can happen which the runner attibute to the dog (it's the dog's fault, he "attacked" me).

    Frankly, working with GSDs was our first choice. Then we thought about the fact that our dogs are constantly exposed to trespassing tourists and we decided that prudence dictated we work with a breed the public sees as "safe," instead of one the public sees as "potentially dangerous." Not because goldens are "safe," and GSD's are "dangerous," but because the reactions to the goldens MAKE the goldens "safer." Screaming and fleeing in fear will trigger a prey drive in any dog. Even a Yorkshire Terrier.

    By the way.. a couple of years ago I saw stats which said the dog in the USA that caused the most bites (some insurance company study)? Yea, you guessed it.. the golden retriever. The popularity of the breed has something to do with this (there are more goldens than other breeds around) but a big part of it is perception... people just don't realize a warning golden retriever is serious and keep right on coming into the dog's space.

    Trust me.. break into my house in the dark and you'll believe you're facing trained GSD's.. until you flip on the light.

    Try not to bleed on the carpets.
  15. sparrowhill

    sparrowhill sparrowhill

    Jul 7, 2005
    Thanks, MorrisonCorner for all the info. on aggressive goldens. You're right, I
    don't think most people think of them as being aggressive.

    The sweetest and most loving dog that I have ever known was a beautiful
    male golden, named Hobbes. He belonged to a friend and when my friend was
    ill, my son and I would go to her house and walk and play with Hobbes. What
    a sweetheart. He came down with incurable cancer that was only diagnosed
    in its final stages. He lasted only a very short time before they had to have
    him put down. What a sad day.
  16. RandB

    RandB Well-Known Member

    Aug 13, 2002
    southern New Jersey
    I own Belgian shepherds, which physically look much like a smaller GSD, although there are many differences between the 2 breeds. I just want to jump in and agree with most of what has been put forth here .... There is a lot of difference between dogs of the herding/working breeds and hunting type breeds such as Labs and Goldens. I would be very careful introducing an adult dog into a family with children, not to say that there would definitely be a problem, but just to be VERY careful until you know the dog very well. As others have said here, shepherd dogs are different from more mellow, laid back breeds. They want to do a job to help you, they want to be with you all the time, they expect to be included as part of the family, they are not happy if just stuck out in the yard or a crate with nothing to do. They thrive on training and being given tasks to do. If left to their own devices, many will "invent" their own jobs, which you probably won't like, such as emptying the trash, cruising the kitchen counter, digging under the yard fence, etc...
    Just be aware that these type of dogs require more time and attention then other breeds, many people find this out too late and regret the choice, which is bad for both the people and the dogs.
  17. Maura

    Maura Well-Known Member Supporter

    Jun 6, 2004
    Michigan's thumb
    GSDs can be the absolute best all round family dog. But, the beautiful Rin Tin Tin of yesteryear has been bred for the show ring instead of performance, has been bred for heightened aggression, has been bred by puppy mills. Find out what kind of reputation the line has. Before taking a dog that could be dangerous or have medical problems, call the breeders of this dog. Find out if the dog's parents had their hip x-rayed and were checked for other problems a GSD may have. If they were "bred for pets" and not checked for the problems GSDs get, do not take this dog. Call the GSD rescue in your area and do your own background check on the breeders.
  18. Peacock

    Peacock writing some wrongs Supporter

    Apr 12, 2006
    SW Ohio
    THANK YOU all so much for the advice and insight!

    FWIW, the dog wouldn't be chained up or in a pen. We have a 1.25 acre lot, 2/3 of which is the fenced backyard, and that is where the dogs will hang out. Rocky's only crated when we leave the house, to keep him out of trouble. We'd leave him in the backyard but since we just moved here we're not 100% sure of the fences, plus we're afraid someone might steal him. He's not a valuable purebred but you never know! Rocky sleeps in his crate at night ---by choice. We often just leave the crate door open.

    This GSD is used to living outdoors; Rocky just visits the outdoors. :) I don't want a purely outdoor dog, I want a house pet too. I don't mind a bit of shedding - goodness, we have 4 cats already and Labs shed too. But I understand GSD's are champion shedders.

    I also understand that most breeds come in two varieties - those who are actually bred to work, and those bred to be pets. Even traditional working breeds are bred for good temperament as pets, and maybe this GSD is one. I'll have to meet him to find out.

    Surely he'd get a lot of exercise and play, with another playful dog, two kids (age 7 & 10) and a Dad who's just a big kid himself. :)

    And on the plus side, extra protection from a strong, menacing dog might be a very good thing.

    STILL...the points you mentioned really hit home. I want another loving, adaptable goofball like Rocky-roo. We want a dog we can take for rides, take camping, snuggle up with on the couch, and a GSD probably ain't it. Heck, Rocky practically trained himself. Yeah, maybe we should get a Golden.
  19. hisenthlay

    hisenthlay a.k.a. hyzenthlay

    Feb 23, 2005
    Southwestern PA
    I agree with pretty much everything that's been said so far, so I won't repeat it. I'll just say that you CAN do ALL those things (camping, snuggles, car rides) with a GSD. But he may not like every Tom, Dick, and Harry that walks up to him on the street to do the same thing. And in addition to fun things, he'll also need the training and exercise everyone described above.

    My biggest worry would be those cats of yours--are you sure this guy will be ok with them? It may work out, but GSDs generally have a much higher prey drive than labs.

    hisenthlay<--prefers serious, smart dogs to happy goofballs :)
  20. Wildtim

    Wildtim Well-Known Member

    Mar 12, 2006
    Lots of good advice here.

    Only one thing that hasn't been mentioned yet. Are both dogs males? I would assume "Rocky" is but the GSD, I don't know. You refered to it as a dog not a female dog so... Integrating two males even if they are nutered can be a challenge if you have any dominance issues come up. I would never sell a male pup to a house with inexperienced owners and another male dog unless I knew their other dog well enough to know that should the new pup try and take the dominant role the older dog would let him, and not resent it.

    With your previous issues with dog aggression how would you react to the new dog squaring off to Rocky and picking a fight? I'm not saying it's likely, but it is something to consider.

    If you didn't already have a great dog I'd say that this one sounds like it has a good possibility of fitting into your household. With one great dog fitting in well with the family dynamic I'm not sure I'd take the chance of messing it up. Unless the guy said something like "you don't take it i'm putting it down" then I'd try.