Are German Shepherds Good With Children?

The German shepherd is the second most popular dog breed in America, according to 2014 American Kennel Club data. But is it good with kids? The answer, as with many things in life, is yes and no. While these dogs are patient and loyal, they're large enough to accidentally overwhelm small children. For this reason, unless a German shepherd is mature and well-trained, the dog is better suited as a pet for older children and adults.

German shepherd sitting, 4 years old, isolated on white
The German shepherd has moderate grooming needs.
credit: GlobalP/iStock/Getty Images

To Protect and Serve

The German shepherd, or GSD, is known for being energetic, courageous and, above all, loyal. These dogs are willing to endanger themselves to protect their families, including the smallest members. German shepherds are also highly intelligent, learning many tricks and commands with ease, and they usually get along well in homes with multiple dogs. While these characteristics make the breed sound like the perfect pet, potential owners should know that German shepherds require daily exercise and companionship -- without them, they can become depressed or destructive.

Children and German Shepherds: The Benefits

German shepherds are great with kids for a number of reasons. While they are sometimes aloof with strangers, GSDs will usually bond with all members of the family, no matter their ages. This bonding brings out the dogs' protective side, making the GSD a formidable guardian for young children.

Patience is another hallmark of the breed; when little fingers poke the GSD or pull his fur, he's not likely to become upset or to snap. And because the German shepherd's sharp mind helps him learn quickly, busy parents can train them into well-mannered, gentle animals.

Children and German Shepherds: The Drawbacks

Having a German shepherd and small children is not without challenges. The German shepherd grows rapidly to a large size, standing between 22 and 26 inches at the shoulder. Excited play can accidentally become harmful to a child. Puppies, especially, are ungainly and are unaware of their power -- they can knock over little children in an instant.

Expect a long puppyhood; breeders say that most GSDs don't mature until they are 3 or 4 years old. German shepherds, as well, are herding dogs and prone to mouthing or gently nipping to move animals and people, particularly small kids. This isn't aggression, but it can still be dangerous to children who are not equipped to handle this behavior.

Playful Pup or Gentle Grownup?

Parents often want cute puppies to go with their adorable babies. The German shepherd makes an odd pairing. Young German shepherds need firm, consistent training to become well-behaved children's pets. They have a lot of energy so they need a lot of exercise, and they must be housebroken. A parent with a very young child may not have the time to adequately meet these needs, which means that a trained adult GSD is a better choice.

Older children, on the other hand, can help with training and can gain from it -- so a puppy might be an acceptable option. But German shepherds, because of their size and natural temperament, need steady training to integrate well into a family. If proper care can't be provided, choose a different breed.