Breed of the Month

The German Shepherd

bark busters

published 1st April 2017

The German Shepherd is rated as one of the most intelligent of all breeds and continues to be very popular around the world. The German Shepherd has a loyal fan base and continues to trend well amongst dog lovers, despite many other popular breeds emerging over the last 20 years.

The breed ranks high in popularity in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, US and the UK.They are great family dogs but will usually still attach themselves to one member of the family. This usually will be a person that they respect and see as someone they perceive to be a strong individual with leadership qualities and traits.

Bark Busters rates this breed as 2nd to the Labrador for the most trained breed we see, coming in second to the Labrador in United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand and coming a close third to the Staffordshire Terrier and Labrador in the United Kingdom.

We believe their popularity is due to their undying loyalty and naturally protective nature, which stems from their heritage as guarders of sheep. They originated as a wolf-like breed that was capable of herding and controlling sheep and a formidable force, capable of fending off wolves in the country and hills of native Germany.

They are very trainable but not the easiest dog to train, due to their determined, strong-willed nature. They won’t comply for just anyone and will need strong, determined leaders. Once trained correctly, they generally stay trained with only small amounts of regular maintenance and consistent rules needed.

The Right Stuff

The German Shepherd needs expert training, that uses a method that is breed specific, something aimed towards understanding their personality that is kind and humane.

Dog owners nowadays understand the importance of locating kind and humane training for their pets that is dog-friendly and fits into their busy time-scale and training needs.

German Shepherds are slow to mature. In some cases, reaching full maturity can take up to 4 years before you see the personality of a mature dog kick in. Meanwhile, you might have to contend with a puppy’s brain, housed in a full grown powerful dog. The wait is worth it!

It is for that reason, we recommend that you practice some good management of your German Shepherd puppy from an early age on to reduce any property damage, while they mature and develop.

Don’t leave your puppy confined for long hours. Not only will they not like it, but they need to have their intellect challenged on a daily basis, so make sure you provide the right kind of entertainment for them. Ideally, they need to be mentally stimulated and busy or they will find something to occupy their brain that could result in the damage of your precious possessions.

Personality and Temperament

  • The German Shepherd’s temperament/personality is generally energetic, outgoing and stable.
  • The breed’s natural wariness of strangers is what makes them the ideal guard dog.
  • The AKC describes the ideal German Shepherd as having a distinct personality marked by direct and fearless, but not hostile, expression, self-confidence, and a certain aloofness that does not lend itself to immediate and indiscriminate friendships.

They are a highly intelligent breed with a high level of energy that needs lots of activities to keep them entertained, content, and mentally challenged.

The breed’s natural wariness of strangers is what makes them the ideal guard dog; however, they do need to be strictly controlled or they will over-step the mark and someone could get hurt.

The German Shepherd is a powerful dog that needs an owner that has the patience, understanding, and knowledge of how to stay in control of their behaviour.

  • Act the way you want your dog to be, not the way he wants you to be.
  • Have rules and address them with kindness and firmness.
  • Keep them busy and don't allow behaviour you wouldn't want your dog to continue doing.
  • Look for a reputable trainer and hopefully get a guarantee on the training as they are masters on bending the rules and the owner might need some extra help later on as he or she matures. Bark Busters it's the right choice and we are the german shepherd experts.

Some are over friendly and others are at the other end of the scale making them wary of strangers or aggressive.

This can be dependent on its breeding; the dog’s bloodlines as well as its upbringing; the type of environment it is raised in, and the education it receives as it grows and develops.

Dogs Have Four Basic Needs

Points of Interest of the German Shepherd

  • Has a very dense undercoat, that needs regular grooming and ongoing care.
  • All around versatile dog that adapts to any surroundings.
  • Great watch dog, but needs education and training to ensure they are not allowed to take liberties and can control their watchfulness.
  • Great family dog, providing they receive early basic canine education and consistent, ongoing management.
  • A loyal and loving nature.
  • Energetic and athletic – a great companion for the fitness-loving dog owner.
  • Fearless personalities, that can be prone to aggression if not educated correctly.
  • Staying power and high energy levels.
  • Need lots of brain stimulation and interactive toys.
  • Big barkers, which stems from their natural protective natures, so stay in control of this.Highly intelligent and capable of being trained to do almost anything. They are strong-willed so you might need expert advice and help.
  • Natural suspicion of strangers, but will make friends if introduced properly.

Food - Select the right diet for your dog, one that possesses all of your dog’s nutritional needs. Remember that a slow-maturing breed will need the right nutrition, so do your research on the best diet for this breed.

Shelter - They need a place to call their own, a bed of its own, or a place where it can feel safe such as a den-like crate or sturdy box.

Safety - Your dog’s feeling of security comes directly from your leadership. You must quickly let them know you are in charge or chaos will occur.

Entertainment - Your German Shepherd dog needs to be entertained to reduce boredom. Toys and activities are vital to ensure that your dog is less destructive.

Behavioural Issues

German Shepherds have their fair share of behavioural issues, things such as barking, aggression towards strangers and over-protectiveness of home and family, which can stem from their natural suspicion of strangers.

Pulling on the Lead

Pulling on the lead ranks quite high in their list of behavioural and training issues as they have this innate need to always walk ahead of their owners, regardless of how much they are corrected.

Getting your German Shepherd to walk correctly on the lead, by your side, needs expertise and the right walking technique or you could struggle to control such a powerful dog.

Other issues can be things like ‘dog aggression’ which in some cases, can take time and effort to effectively solve this behaviour satisfactorily.

Chewing or over-exuberance

Chewing or over-exuberance are usually more prevalent in German Shepherd puppies. Like all breeds, they need entertainment to satisfy their intelligence levels, as well as exercise and education. Don’t take on a German Shepherd dog/puppy unless you have the time to devote to them and the energy levels that they deserve.

German Shepherds will generally attach themselves to one person in the family, but they can still be a good family dog.

Although they have their fair share of behavioural issues, these generally stem from a lack of leadership on the part of their pet parents. They are very trainable but they do have strong personalities that need the right type of pet parent and the right type of training that is just and fair. Then you will see how wonderful they can be.

They are definitely worth the effort if you can stay the course and they will repay you tenfold. If you can just spend time educating and training, you will reap the benefits in the long run.

Sibling Rivalry Case Study

Adding Another Dog to Your Family

If you already have a dog and want to add another, there are some things to consider before doing so.

If possible, match the size of the dogs and look to add the opposite sex. Female dogs traditionally ‘rule the roost’ and adding a neutered male will cause few issues. Adding a neutered male to the family when you already have a similarly-sized neutered male will normally go off without a hitch, providing you treat them equally.

However, matching two females is a bit harder and we do encounter many situations where we are asked to treat what is commonly referred to as “Sibling Rivalry’’ even if they are not true siblings.

If you encounter such a situation, separate the dogs and call us. Bark Busters is always here to help.

Sibling Rivalry Case

Bess a 12-month old German Shepherd was the apple of her owner’s eyes, whom we will refer to as John and Shirley.

John and Shirley had nursed Bess through a serious illness over many months. They felt that she was a special dog and believed that she was such a gentle soul that would never harm a fly.

One day while John and Shirley were out visiting a friend who worked at a rescue shelter, they spotted an adorable female Bull Terrier puppy named Snowflake. It was an instant attraction and they both fell in love with this cute, white wriggly creature. They just knew in their hearts that Bess would love her too. They felt that she would be a great friend for Bess who John and Shirley felt spent too much time alone while they had to work.

They signed the papers and immediately adopted Snowflake.

Things appeared to be okay in the beginning and both Bess and Snowflake seemed to get along. Bess would tolerate Snowflake jumping on her and biting her face and tail. At night, Snowflake loved to be wherever Bess was and would always curl up nearby or climb into bed near her when she settled down for the night.

Things continued like this for months until one day when Snowflake was about eight- months-old and the two dogs got into a fight. John and Shirley were shocked because they had to drag them apart. Thinking this was just a minor disagreement, they immediately put them together again but to their dismay the same thing occurred.

Soon the two dogs seemed to hate the mere sight of each other and John and Shirley had to have them living in separate parts of the home, each in their own room. This was an impossible situation with dogs and humans on edge all the time.

Bess was still the love of their life and they still held a special place in their heart for her and if anyone had to leave they knew in their hearts it had to be Snowflake. They were conflicted because they had adopted ‘Snowflake’ in good faith. Over time, they were wishing they had never brought her home.

The Reality of the Case

The reality was that this was a miss-match from the start. John and Shirley had made a common mistake of not seeking professional advice before choosing another dog and in believing that if they loved a dog that their other dog would too.

Female dogs generally rule the roost in most households. In our research, we have discovered that if there is an issue with Sibling Rivalry or dog fights in the home, it will usually be the female dog that instigates them in some way.

We advised John and Shirley that this was not going to be an easy fix and we needed their dedication to make it work. They were adamant they wanted to try.

The matching of two or more female dogs can work, but more times than not, it doesn’t and fights and battles to be the “Top Dog” continue to occur.

The better situation would have been to match a neutered male with a spayed female of equal size and energy. However, Shirley and John were determined to making it work by following our training advice to see if they could rectify this issue.

There was also another issue that we uncovered during our training in the Bess and Snowflake case -- it was John and Shirley’s deep affection and sympathy for Bess who had been sick and ailing for a long time. This caused them to deal with her differently. They tended to be firmer with Snowflake than they were with Bess, which had caused an imbalance in the relationship. Therein was one of the root causes of many of the fights.

Once we were able to have John and Shirley put in place some ‘canine communication’ and instilled in them the importance of treating both dogs equally, the fighting stopped and dogs and humans were able to live together again.


The main causes of sibling rivalry (dog fighting with other dogs in the household) is where owners treat dogs differently, where they have a favourite or where one dog has been sick or injured. Once we point that out and people change their approach and then put in place some canine communication, we can usually rectify the problem. It takes dedication and commitment from the dog parents.

Bark Busters




The best type of safe socialisation for your German Shepherd puppy, is with dog-owners you know that have a friendly dog, that is sensible and not intimidating towards puppies. Some dogs are too bossy with puppies and this can instill fear in very young and inexperienced pups.

The wrong kind of socialisation is a dog that is intimidating which is possibly going to frighten an inexperienced puppy and possibly cause it long-term behavioural issues. This could lead to late onset aggression towards other dogs. So be selective which dog you choose to play and socialise with your puppy.

You can liken it to allowing your children to socialise with the wrong kind of children, whose parents don’t share your values of rearing and educating children regarding socially acceptable behaviour.

Dog Parks

If you are determined to take your dog to a doggy park, we recommend that you wait until they have reached 12 months of age. The concern about dog parks is the natural intimidation that older dogs project when they encounter puppies. This can give your puppy lasting bad impressions, which can later lead to dog-aggression as your puppy reaches maturity.

Even other puppies can bully and intimidate your dog, so don’t rush off to a dog park, let your puppy enjoy pleasant experiences with well-behaved dogs or puppies.

However if fully immunised, you can sit with your puppy on your lap in a public area or park, where it can watch the world from a safe place. This way it won’t be intimidated or frightened by over-exuberant mature dogs or other puppies.

Breed Capabilities

It is the German Shepherd’s inherited attributes that has seen them become the most selected dogs for police work, assistance, therapy, support dogs and scent detection dogs. They are adept at all types of detection work, including drug and bomb detection.

They will master any task you set out for them, but you will need patience and determination to get the best out of them.

The German Shepherd does very well at obedience training and agility work. They love to be kept busy and to have an outlet for their energy and intellect.

Search and Rescue

They have great scenting attributes and are ideal for Search and Rescue work. You can start your German Shepherd puppy off with simple scenting tasks.

Start by hiding food and getting your dog to find it. Then hide their favourite toy and encourage your dog to follow the scent trail.

Repeat a command, over and over using a command like “seek, seek, seek”.

Eventually, that word will see your dog place its nose to the ground and bound off in the direction of where you hid the toy.

Add a degree of difficulty incrementally, growing on your dog’s ability to find lost items until you are ready for more advanced work.


Speak to your vet about the best diet for your dog or research online as to what might be the best diet for your German Shepherd puppy.

The German Shepherd needs good quality food and nutrition, or they will suffer from a form of growing malnutrition; where the food being fed is not sufficient to feed a growing and developing dog.

Energy Levels

The German Shepherd has very high energy levels and can be the type of breed that will charge through the house, jumping on everything and everyone, sweeping knick knacks off the table with their tail as they go.

Their strength is something that their owners complain about and find hard to control

You definitely need to learn to “Speak Dog” by learning to communicate with them in the pack language they understand.

Address some of these energy levels by exercising your dog’s mind and body. Hiding treats around the garden or home can help and providing the right toys and obedience training that stimulate their active mind.

Child’s Play

Due to their size and energy levels, you must give thought to how your dog and children will interact. Any play between dog and children must be monitored and controlled at all times. Children have a way of getting dogs excited and this can lead to the dog inadvertently hurting the child through their natural excitable, boisterous behaviour.

Make sure that you educate the children to play sensibly and instruct them to play games that are less likely to lead to over-exuberance, such as hide and seek games or fetch games, not the rough and tumble type of games.

Wrestling games can cause your dog to become over-excited and to mouth and play-bite every time it sees the children. In turn, your children will try to avoid the dog, because they fear getting hurt.

Adult Play

Any form of play, ‘fetch the ball’ and especially tug-of-war games, must end with you taking control of the item. Once the game is over, take the item out of play, with a ‘Finish’ command and lots of praise.

This technique is designed to show the dog in a subtle way, that you are the decision maker and that you control the game.

Encourage your German Shepherd to use its brain by hiding items that he can find or playing a controlled game of fetch, where you teach him to wait until he is told to go get the thrown ball.

Puppy Selection

If selecting a puppy from a breeder, try and view both parents to determine the type of personality your puppy might grow up to be. Don’t concern yourself if one of the parents is the type of dog that barks on your approach to the property, providing they are friendly once you have gained access.

Puppies inherit a lot from their parents, including their personality and genetic DNA. So if you spot a parent that has some signs of serious aggression or fear issues, this dog is not likely to produce the offspring that will grow into the ideal pet.

Puppies also learn a lot from their parents while they are in that environment. Their mother guides their behaviour. If she is tolerant and outgoing, then the puppies will usually be the same. If they get a lot of human contact, then they will be accustomed to humans and generally feel good about them.

All of this early education is important and therefore it is not wise to take possession of your puppy until at least 8 weeks of age. Experienced breeders will want to adhere to this as they know that the puppy gains a lot of education if it is allowed to stay in that environment a little longer.

Don’t trust anyone who says that you can take a puppy away at the age of 4 to 5 weeks. That is bad advice!

Select the Puppy that Suits your Personality and Lifestyle

When selecting a German Shepherd puppy, identify what type of personality you are looking for:

  • Companion dog?
  • Family dog that is safe with children?
  • Watch dog that is a good family dog?
  • Active dog to match your active life?
  • A dog that can be trusted to spend some time alone?
  • A dog that can be trained to be a search and rescue dog or agility dog?

Do your homework and make sure you know what type of dog you want that best suits your lifestyle. The slow maturing type of German Shepherds are usually those that have strong German bloodline breeding in their pedigree. You won’t always know what their bloodlines are, especially if you are rescuing a dog, but you should take the time to assess their personality and check with the rescue staff who will have some insight into the dog’s behaviour.

Should We Adopt One Puppy or Two

Prospective puppy parents often ask us, whether they should adopt one or two puppies and our answer is always the same – only adopt two if you actually want two dogs.

Getting two puppies because one might be lonely is not a good idea. A puppy is adaptable if given the right environment and education in which to thrive. They soon look upon you as a two-legged dog and they can fit right into that social structure

Some folks find this hard to fathom, that a dog might look at them as they would another dog, yet the same people will think of their dog as a little four-legged human.

Some Things To Look For During Dog/Puppy Selection

Always check out how the dog walks, look at its hind legs and see if you can spot any weakness there. Is the puppy/dog friendly with you or are you being told he will be okay when he gets to know you? That is a warning sign that the dog or puppy has issues with strangers and once he has a property and family to protect, he could cause you some issues. It is best to select the dog that loves everybody because he’s the most stable and will be the dog that you can trust to be a great companion.

A dog regardless of how friendly he is, will more than likely still bark when they hear strangers approaching their home.

Check out the animal shelters, rescues or speak to breeders, to find the right dog for your needs.

Bringing a New Puppy Home

Always try to bring your new dog or puppy home early in the day. The reason behind this is to give him as much daylight time as possible to become accustomed to his new home. If you can bring something from his/her old home, some bedding or a toy, this will help him to get settled.

You need to ensure that you have pre-selected where your new dog or puppy will sleep and start to get him used to this by feeding him there during the day and spending time with him there. If you have selected a crate, you will need to make sure that you place your dog in there well before bed time, so you have time to see how he’s going to react when you leave it.

Be sure to select a place that is practical and it should not be your bed, unless you are determined to always have your dog sleep with you. It might not be a habit you can break easily in the future.

If your dog or puppy begins barking or crying, don’t rush back to him. That will only make the situation worse. Instead stay close by and address his concerns with a correction. This will calm him down faster than rushing back into view each time he barks or cries out or else he will soon learn that crying equates to attention. Puppies are like newborn babies that want to be constantly held versus being put in a crib

Remember he/she did have a home before this one and he will need time to learn that this is now his new home. Those first couple of days away from mama can be scary!

Games to Play with your German Shepherd

You need to identify those games that will enhance your dog’s behaviour, versus increase its unwanted behaviour.

We recommend that you don’t play hand games or chasing games that encourage a dog to bite or chase or where you chase your dog or puppy around the house or garden. These games encourage biting and running away, causing recall issues. You will be teaching your dog bad habits, not good ones.

Always be mindful of what you teach your dog and make sure it is something productive. You hold the key to how your German Shepherd will grow and develop, so make wise choices.

Puzzle and Treat Dispensing Toys

When providing entertainment for your dog, we recommend educational toys. These are the ones that you fill with treats and where your dog has to work out how to get the treats out. These are highly recommended to stave off destructive behaviour and to provide an outlet for your German Shepherd’s intellect.

Want to stave off destructive behaviours and keep your dog physically and mentally challenged? Buy toys that slowly dispense treats to keep him occupied, prevent boredom and help with separation anxiety. These toys can help your dog to direct his energy in a positive direction.

Check out the behavioural aid- GameChanger® by Bark Busters. It is a treat and chew toy all in one! German Shepherds rate this high on their ‘favourite toy list’ and some dogs have been known to choose this over all their other toys.

This toy is quiet and won’t damage your hardwood floors or furniture, unlike the Kong Wobbler or other hard plastic toys. This toy is flexible and made of PBA-free polyurethane. It won’t break teeth and won’t hurt your dog’s mouth.

Traditional Kongs and Buster Cubes are also worthwhile toys.

Genetic Faults

If possible, check bloodlines or have a vet do an appropriate examination before you select a puppy or adopt your German Shepherd.

No dog with identified genetic faults should ever be used for breeding purposes or you will just pass on genetic faults to their off-spring.

Common breed faults are:

  • Hip dysplasia and elbow problems.
  • Degenerative Myelopathy.
  • Von Wilderbrand disease --a bleeding disorder.
  • Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency that requires a pancreatic supplement that has to be given with food-speak to your vet for more details.
  • Retinal dysplasia.

These are heredity ailments and you can learn more about these by speaking with your veterinarian professional. It is always wise to ensure your German Shepherd has regular vet checks throughout its life and that you seek their advice on any medical issues.

Most modern-day shelters spay and neuter their dogs and conduct vet checks for medical soundness before placing them up for adoption. So visit your local shelter or rescue to see what great dogs they have available.

Choose reputable breeders as they usually “score” their dogs, which means they have them X-rayed for common genetic faults and will be able to provide a score.

So if buying a puppy from a breeder ask for the score results. Shelters and rescues won’t have these luxuries, but they are generally experienced at spotting obvious problems which is based on an informed opinion, based on experience.

General Guidance

Toilet Training

There are definite times when your puppy will need to toilet. Bark Busters has identified six critical times.

They are:

  • Immediately after eating or drinking.
  • When they first wake up in the morning.
  • After exuberant play.
  • If they are woken up during the night; the phone rings or you get up to use the bathroom etc.
  • When you arrive home and your dog greets you.
  • If they get frightened or scared by something or someone.

Remember these times and be sure to take your puppy to a designated toilet area. Grass or dirt is best as we don’t want them associating their toilet with anything related to carpet or floors in general.

Toilet Training Aids

If you have to leave your dog/puppy for any length of time indoors or locked up, it might be wise to provide an indoor toilet that you can eventually transition to the outdoors. An artificial grass product or a product called Astro Turf is a great product and one we definitely recommend.

Expert Training for Your German Shepherd

Our Bark Busters trainers are highly experienced and skilled at training all breeds of dogs, especially German Shepherds that rank as Bark Busters second highest breed of dog that we are called in to train.

Having trained over one million dogs across our organisation, Bark Busters is well positioned to assist you with all of your dog’s training needs.

Our methods are dog-friendly and are based on the natural way that dogs communicate.

Check out the trainers review section on this website for more info on how effective our methods are.

This article is based on the findings of Bark Busters, the world’s largest home dog training company, founded in 1989 and now established in seven countries. The information is based on our company’s experience and findings in the training of over one million dogs. The information contained here is based on our research worldwide, as dog training and behavioural experts and in the interest of animal welfare. The information in regards to the popularity of this breed was updated in 2017 after a poll of our international operations worldwide.


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