Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.
Finding out why my German Shepherd is becoming aggressive helped me to avoid a catastrophic nightmare.
You already know that aggressive dogs are a liability when not handled correctly and are stressful to control!
But, there’s a way that’ll allow you to take charge of the situation and learn how to make your German Shepherd less aggressive starting today.
Here’s the process that’ll help you.
What Age Does a German Shepherd
A German Shepherd becomes aggressive at around 3 to 6 months old. This escalates during the adolescent stage from 6 months to two years old as sexual maturity arises and hormones fluctuate. This aggressiveness is part of their hormonal progression but worsens through poor training, inappropriate socialization, and lack of guidance.
Ensure the basics of socialization occur by the time your GSD is 14 weeks old. This helps deter hostile actions. It’s easier to deter aggression than it is to resolve it as an adult.
Aggression is one of the most common behavioral complaints in veterinary practices.
Puppy Rough Play
Anger is a natural, normal emotion for any animal.
Puppies go through phases of aggression that are part of their learning. But they use this in play with a set of play rules.
Look for these clues to decide when your puppy is playing rough:
Down on elbows with the hind end in the air (called a play-bow)
Wagging tail with a relaxed facial expression
Lying down and rolling over
Barking mixed with play growls
Mouthing or chewing you or other objects
Running in circles and bounding leaps
While these behaviors are natural as a puppy, they can become more apparent as your dog grows and doesn’t receive corrections or redirections.
It’s not natural when your GSD creates a health and safety issue by not
controlling their emotions and actions!
Other Reasons Your German Shepherd is Becoming Aggressive
There are many reasons that your GSD reacts with hostility. Most commonly, these behaviors have underlying issues and need addressing before they become uncontrollable.
An aggressive German Shepherd needs an entire training program to adjust her behaviors to function in socially acceptable ways. But you must first understand the basis for your dog’s reactivity.
The following chart explains the different ways aggression shows in dogs and the behaviors you might expect.
Aggression Types and Behavior Chart
Makes your dog feel distressed or uneasy; they’re reactive
Makes your dog overprotective of what he perceives is his home; they guard their property
Makes your dog defend his resources from possible threats; this includes feeling possessive over people and is known as resource guarding
Makes your dog react if restrained when aroused
Makes your dog frustrated by an inability to reach an object or person who causes its aggression; they lash out at the closest object
Makes your dog hostile when there is a lack of communication in the social relationship
Makes your dog challenge your authority and seek control of you and the situation
Makes your dog snap and bite when they are in pain; they may think you’re causing their pain
Aggression in German Shepherds could stem from any number of problems.
When it comes to labeling the type of aggression your German Shepherd exhibits, the label is less important. The type of aggression doesn’t really matter when using a reward-based approach to treat the problem.
What matters is that your dog doesn’t like something and thinks that thing is bad. It’s your job is to make it not bad for them anymore.
Signs Your Dog is Experiencing
Fear or Stress
Stress and fear are some of the first signs of aggression.
But, maybe you aren’t sure when your dog shows stress or shows fear?
This section helps you learn to recognize your dog’s body language to help understand your dog’s aggression triggers.
Here’re the most popular signs your dog experiences fear or stress:
Avoiding eye contact
Stiffened body posture
Lowered head and tail
Horizontal lip retraction
Ears to the side or back and down
Yawning or licking lips
Crouched body posture
Deliberate slow movements or freezing
Typical Overlooked Stress
Besides triggers (things that are directly related to your dog’s aggression immediately) there’re also many overlooked life stressors.
These stressors add to or cause aggressiveness in some GSDs. Sometimes, making sure your dog is comfortable by meeting all their basic needs and adjusting their environments helps keep aggression under control.
Watch out for these stressors and adjust your behavior and action to create a less stressful environment for your dog.
Lack of chew toys
Insufficient relaxation or sleep time
Other animals harassing your dog
Lack of positive attention from you
Inconsistent or unclear behavior rules taught by you
Insufficient physical or mental exercise
You give incorrect attention during arousal behaviors
Motherhood, hypothyroidism, and physical pain all contribute to stress and hostile episodes. While motherhood passes, other medical conditions need treatment.
Talk to your vet before trying to address aggression on your own as an underlying medical condition may exist.
What Are Your Dog’s Triggers?
Triggers are immediate actions or behaviors that increase or begin the act of aggression in your dog.
Determine what sets off your dog by watching their body language signs listed above and noting their environment.
Some triggers include:
Small children that act unpredictably
Unusual or loud noises
Bicycles, scooters, or skateboards
Strangers they aren’t familiar with
Overstimulation or overarousal
Threatening behavior from another dog or person
Keep track of triggers so you can work with your dog to lessen the behavior.
Once you determine your dog’s triggers and understand your dog’s body language, you can help your German Shepherd become less aggressive by keeping them away from those triggers.
How To Make My German Shepherd Less Aggressive: Step-by-Step
This process involves a whole program of training to instill new or different actions in your aggressive German Shepherd.
This requires identifying the trigger, eliminating any stressors, and creating a training modification program that is consistent to meet your GSDs end goals.
1. Eliminate Any Overlooked Stress
Adjust your environment to eliminate any stress that may increase your dog’s unwanted aggression. Use the stress list, found above, to help you figure out stressors that you can control.
2. Identify Your Dog’s Triggers
Make a note of what sets off your dog’s aggression and avoid this trigger while you’re working through the training. Track what things cause your dog to react hostile.
3. Avoid the Trigger While Working on Training
In the beginning, it’s best to avoid any triggers that upset your dog. Choose a new route to walk them, don’t meet strangers, and take up all the toys if these are triggers.
4. Create a Training Modification Program
Contact a behaviorist or use a home behavior modification program to lessen your dog’s aggressive tendencies. While it’s best to seek professional help, I understand we all can’t afford that option.
5. Use Safety Precautions to Prevent Injury
Try a control management tool such as a muzzle or headcollar to regain control when out in public. It’s best to prevent biting accidents before they happen and head collars give you better control during training.
Gentle Head Collar
This control tool provides gentle corrections and prevents jumping, lunging, and pulling. The head collar is painless and doesn’t cause choking, but gives you more control over your German Shepherd.
Using a head collar won’t solve your German Shepherd’s underlying aggression issues.
It does, however, provide better safety and control. If you need more confidence in handling your aggressive German Shepherd, then place the head collar on them before going outside.
To have the best chance of success with training an aggressive German Shepherd, use the entire treatment protocol listed below.
Using all the steps of treatment gives you and your dog more positive results.
The following chart provides the training step and the action to help lessen aggressive behavior.
The program can take many months depending on what issues your dog exhibits and how deep those issues are.
Avoid triggers, use a muzzle, use treats and not force to get your dog moving in the right direction (away from the trigger), keep your dog on a short leash outdoors
Create a safe area
Place your dog in a correct fitting crate, exercise pen, or use pet-safe baby gates to keep them away from the trigger areas, give them safe chew toys to keep them occupied
Use reward-based training, don’t use aversive punishment, work on basic obedience skills to help them build trust and confidence in themselves and you
Use pet-safe baby gates to keep them away from triggers inside the home, walk with a head collar for better control outdoors
Antidepressants, speak to your vet for other options
Counterconditioning and desensitization
Identify triggers, slowly expose to triggers, use rewards to change emotional responses from negative to positive
German Shepherd aggression treatment plan.
Don’t just focus on one aspect of your German Shepherd’s aggressiveness. Instead, take an approach that touches on all of the daily life skills.
Using the “Say Please” or Nothing in Life is Free Technique to Regain Control
The Nothing in Life is Free (NILIF) or “Say Please” technique is a wonderful way to integrate control and order back into your German Shepherd’s life.
It’s easy to integrate into your day and helps you to regain leadership status to help with your German Shepherd’s aggression issues.
In a nutshell, the NILIF technique means that for everything your dog wants in life they must perform a command that you give them.
You can make yourself more predictable to your dog by teaching them that rewards only come when he asks nicely with a calm behavior, like a sit. Your dog earns all rewards such as food, treats, praise, and affection by giving you the behavior you want.
Teach your dog the basic obedience skills to reinforce your expectations and use this obedience training in your daily routines.
Leash corrections and punishment-based techniques don’t address the underlying issues.
They rarely don’t sustain long-term benefits and are very short-lived. Instead, use positive reinforcement that promotes and rewards desired behaviors.
Here are some problems and solutions to help prevent your German Shepherd from becoming aggressive.
Use counterconditioning and desensitization to associate the other dog with something positive (like a high-value, tasty reward)
A threat to resources like toys and food
Use hand feeding, remove toys and chew left out, work on (NILIF) “Say Please” method of training
Practice desensitization methods, associate the doorbell with positive experiences
Passers-by outside the living room window
Minimize exposure by using closed blinds, keeping the dog out of the room
Trips to your vet
Use counterconditioning to associate the vets with positive interactions by going to vets and offering rewards (don’t book an appointment just stop in to say hi for a brief period), you can also live with this behavior if it’s low-level stress
Use counterconditioning and desensitization, offer rewards for getting near the car or stepping through car back doors and exiting to begin
Teach the dog to use a scratch pad, use desensitization methods if you need to use nail clippers or grinders
Seek vet treatment, use natural and holistic methods, use massage
What sets off your German Shepherd’s aggression determines the help you can give them.
Rather than think your German Shepherd has simply become aggressive, look for the areas of their life that tend to upset her. There’s a cause of their aggression that needs to be addressed.
German Shepherd Aggression Prevention
There are many reasons you must consider when wondering why your German Shepherd is becoming aggressive.
But once you learn your dog’s triggers, you can help your GSD move forward. Use a complete training regimen to ensure success.
Aggressive German Shepherds are a potential threat and a safety hazard.
Safety is your priority. Both for you and your dog.
Don’t give up!
Your patience and persistence help your GSD become a success story!
The correct thing to do is to make sure your dog is kept away from harming any person or animal. Use training that supports a healthy, stable German Shepherd and seek professional help if you’re still concerned.
Catherine Krasavin owns Shepherd Sense, a dog website aimed at German Shepherd owners and lovers. She has a Bachelor of Science degree, with Honors, and has been training dogs for over a decade. Catherine’s currently attending continuing education courses to keep up with the latest in animal science, as well as earning her diploma in dog training. She owns a plush coat German Shepherd who was awarded Kennel Club Good Citizen Dog Scheme Gold Award - the highest level of achievement.
You need German Shepherd training to get the best behavior from your dog and enjoy a happy life with them. Read these posts to find out what type of German Shepherd training works the best for your breed.
Your German Shepherd’s health, as well as your dog’s specific breed history, contributes to their overall life span. These posts will help you become aware of your dog’s health problems and how to help solve or improve them.