In spite of their large size and formidable bearing, German shepherds always make the lists of the best family dogs and are consistently named the second favorite dog by the American Kennel Club (AKC). One of the reasons German shepherds are so loved is the dog's fierce loyalty to its human family. They have kept their herding instinct from the days when German shepherd dogs (also called GSD) were used to herd sheep, so they can often be seen herding their human family with a soft nudge from their noses, or leading the group and checking to see that you're following. They will protect you, stay by your side, and die for you, but they will not "turn" on you as long as they have been properly trained with firmness and love.
Dog bite research
The American Animal Hospital Association reported on a dog bite study conducted by the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center over 15 years of dog bites in children. The dog breed that bit the most was, not surprisingly, of unknown breed. Second were pit bulls, third mixed breeds, fourth German shepherds, followed by terriers and rottweilers. It shouldn't be a shock that German shepherds made the list since they are the second most popular dog in the U.S., according to the AKC.
For all the breeds, victims were mostly children bitten by their family dogs. And usually, they were teasing the dog, pulling its tail, "hugging" the dog, pulling its hair, etc. Just as owners train their dogs, they must also train their family members, especially children, how to act around a dog, and particularly that dogs don't think it's fun to be pulled or tugged, and of course the classic warning not to bother dogs when they are eating.
Training German shepherds is a must
If you see a GSD acting out or biting its owner, that's a sign that the dog was not properly trained. German shepherds are very smart and take to training well, but this training should begin at the puppy stage. The breed is known for being "mouthy," meaning they will chew anything, including your hand, if you allow it. Note that this is not considered a dog bite; it is instinctive behavior, but one which should be curbed.
Starting the first time they mouth your hand, say no kindly but firmly, and substituting something else to chew on. Realize also that, at first, they don't understand the meaning of "no." When they come to you without mouthing or biting, reward them with praise and sometimes a treat. Remember that your love and attention are what they want, so use loving words and gestures. Never yell at your dog; pat them on the head, say "Good dog/boy/girl," and beam with pride. When you see the sign that your dog is going to bite or nibble your hand, slip a chew toy into their mouths instead.
Teach your German shepherd to come to you when you call their name just once so they learn to come when they hear it. Repeatedly saying the name becomes nagging, and from that they learn that you'll repeat the nagging so they will ignore it. German shepherds have very good hearing and will come to you when they hear their name, unless you repeat it over and over, and then they'll learn they don't have to come when you initially call them.
Provide lots of exercise
Active and athletic, German shepherds need exercise to release their energy; otherwise, they will show their frustration with unwanted behaviors. Obedience training and learning new commands should continue throughout their lives, which can be as long as 12 to 14 years or so. When you notice your dog chewing madly and getting rambunctious, those are signs that it's time for exercise, preferably with you.
Letting your GSD out in a fenced yard alone is not exercise, nor is it fun. Exercise means going outside and playing Frisbee or fetch, taking a long walk together, or going to a dog park, assuming you have properly socialized your German shepherd. Of course, if your GSD is a puppy, you'll need to provide exercise in shorter bursts, followed by rest time.
While German shepherds love being around their owners and human family, they are known for being aloof to other people and dogs until they get to know them. They should not be aggressive to others, however, just hesitant to make friends. Get your dog accustomed to being around strangers as soon as your GSD joins your family.
Being instant friends is not in a German shepherd's nature, so give your GSD the time to get acquainted slowly and repeat getting together with the same people and dogs until they are "friends." Your GSD is a watchdog, ever protective of you, and will always be wary of new acquaintances until they have been thoroughly checked out.
Be the leader of the pack
German shepherds are pack dogs, and if you don't lead the pack, they will. It is fine for them to sometimes step out ahead of you, leading but looking back to see that you are following; this is a form of shepherding called "following ahead." But, it's important to establish that you are the leader of the family pack, even if the pack only consists of you and your dog. Call your GSD by name, demonstrate your mutual affection, and lead the way.