Are German Shepherds Prone to Turn on Their Master?

By Sam Kellenberg

According to the American Kennel Club, the German shepherd is recognized as one of the top 10 most intelligent dogs -- alongside border collies and standard poodles. Many attribute this fact to the breed's founder, Max von Stephanitz, who crossed many older breeds of farm and herding dogs to create the ideal working dog. Today, German shepherds are frequently exhibited for conformation, used in competitive dog sports (such as Frisbee and flyball tournaments), search and rescue, herding, and police and military applications.

German Shepherd Myths

The idea that German shepherds -- or any other type of dog -- are prone to turning on their handlers is a widespread myth that has little bearing in fact. While some German shepherds have been known to display unwarranted aggressive behaviors, in many cases this is a result of abuse, or a lack of or poor training. In many cases, these myths may be aggravated because of the widespread use of German shepherds as military and police trained attack dogs; but German shepherds have been chosen for use in these applications specifically for their loyalty to and protectiveness of their handlers.

German Shepherd Attacks

According to DogsBite.org, a national nonprofit working to support dog bite victims and reduce dog attacks, attacks by German shepherds and German shepherd mixes account for less than 2 percent of all reported dog attacks between 1982 and 2010. Huskies and pit bull terriers both far outpace German shepherds in aggressive incidences, accounting for roughly 8 and 4 percent, respectively.

Training and Aggression

In many cases where German shepherds do display unwarranted aggression, corrective training can be employed to reduce the stimuli that produce those aggressive responses. And German shepherds are far from the only breed for which such training can be necessary; every dog, from golden retrievers to terriers, has the capacity to develop aggressive habits.

German Shepherds with Families

German shepherds were bred to be loyal to their owners and families, and in large part this has held to be true; protectiveness to the handler and the family is part of the AKC standard for the breed. German shepherds are also recommended by the AKC to be good dogs for families with children, and ideal watchdogs for any household.