Why Your German Shepherd Attacks Other Dogs (And How to Fix It)

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It’s terrifying to know your German Shepherd attacked your other dog and could have seriously hurt them! 

Watching them fight leaves you confused and bewildered.

But, I want you to feel confident that you’re doing what you can to prevent another disturbing scene of dog aggression. 

Here is how you can keep your German Shepherd from attacking your other dog and why they might be attacking other dogs in the first place.

Why does your German Shepherd attack other dogs?

why does a german shepherd attack another dog
You need to understand why your German Shepherd attacks in order to stop and prevent it from happening.

Dog-on-dog aggression is one of the most popular problems that many owners face (1). One of the steps to helping avoid dog attacks by your German Shepherd is to figure out why your dog attacks.

It’s important to take the time to figure out why your German Shepherd might behave this way and to put an end to the behavior as soon as possible.

Here are the most common motives if your German Shepherd attacked your other dog.

Lack of Socialization

One of the top reasons why a German Shepherd attacks other dogs is poor socialization skills. Some German Shepherd puppies are not properly exposed to socialization and struggle to develop appropriate skills to understand other dog’s body language. 

When German Shepherds are puppies they naturally interact with their littermates throughout the day, allowing them to learn the right social behaviors when in a pack with other dogs. Social play between puppies includes rough play, biting, nipping, and other forms of normal expression. 

In litters of German Shepherd puppies, they experience the ways in which social play is and isn’t acceptable. If your German Shepherd wasn’t exposed long enough or at the proper times, then they didn’t learn the right and wrong ways of dog interaction. 

They Display Dominant Behaviors

Contrary to popular belief, true dog dominance is quite rare. However, if your German Shepherd is dominant they may try to assert their power over other dogs by being aggressive towards them. 

Some dominant behaviors include:

  • mounting behaviors (even between dogs of the same sexes)
  • rough play where the dominant dog is always on top (winning position)
  • and/or chasing another dog until they cower down or show submission.

Keep in mind that some German Shepherds lack social skills and might not be really dominant.

Too Much Excitement Around Other Dogs

Another reason dogs attack one another is that one dog may have too much excitement or energy. This means that the dogs are more prone to become overly aroused during initial meet-and-greets or even casual play.

When this happens, your German Shepherd may resort to showing aggressive behavior to calm the other dog or protect itself. Such behavior may present as nipping, lunging, growling, or even biting.

Territorial Aggression

If your German Shepherd attacked your other dog then your other dog may have gotten too close to a prized possession. Some highly valued possessions may be:

  • you
  • their food bowl
  • a favorite dog bed or spot to lie
  • or chew toys

Your German Shepherd may feel the need to protect these resources and become confrontational or attack your other dog. Be aware of adding in a new puppy to your home and allowing it to invade your older dog’s food dishes, beds, toys, or space, which can upset the older dog and cause a dog attack.

And, a female German Shepherd could become territorial and dog aggressive when she’s given birth to puppies in order to protect her litter.

Unknown Health Concerns

Some owners overlook taking their German Shepherd to the vet when it attacks their other dog. If your German Shepherd is usually a sweet, mild-mannered dog, then a vet visit is in order to rule out any underlying medical or health problems.

A normally happy-go-lucky GSD that becomes easily provoked or irritated may be experiencing a health issue that you might not notice. This could range from something as small as a torn nail to other major medical complications that require immediate treatment.

How do you get your German Shepherd to stop attacking other dogs? 

how to stop your german shepherd from attacking your other dog
It’s your responsibility to train your German Shepherd to prevent dog-on-dog attacks.

Correcting dog attacks is a priority to avoid any damage your German Shepherd may cause.

Consider the following to help your German Shepherd with better behaviors around other dogs.

  • Counter Conditioning (Also known as Positive Association) – using treats and rewards to positively associate other dogs with good things your Shepherd likes and enjoys
  • Desensitization training – having your German Shepherd around other dogs in short spurts to get them used to other dogs
  • Shaping your dog’s behavior – rewarding tiny steps toward good behaviors
  • Training competing behaviors – teaching your dog basic commands so you have a different behavior that competes with their aggression or attacking 
  • Visiting your vet – a checkup can rule out any underlying medical conditions
  • Finding an animal behaviorist – a dog behaviorist can help you build a program to treat the aggression
  • Getting the right exercise – aggressive dogs do better with their behaviors when their physical fitness needs are met

It’s important to remember to stay calm and to not yell, jerk, or cause your dog any more anxiety than they already have around your other dog. Instead, stay focused on signs that your dog is about to become aggressive or attack.

Dog Attack Warning Signs

german shepherd attack warning signs
Know the signs to avoid a German Shepherd attacking another dog!

Watch out for signs that your German Shepherd is getting ready to attack your other dog. These warning signs may include:

  • a focused stare on their intended target
  • raised hair on their back
  • a stiff body and muscles
  • pulling toward the other dog
  • and growling.

You may even have to avoid your dog’s stressors temporarily if your dog is becoming that upset. So have a plan of action in mind, such as crossing the street safely to avoid another dog walker or choosing a new route to take your dog for exercise.

Give your German Shepherd the chance to choose a good behavior, instead of adding to their stress and causing them to attack unnecessarily.

How do you get your German Shepherd to stop attacking other dogs?

It can be tough to stop dog attacks once they start, but there are plenty of things that you can do to prevent an attack from starting.

The following techniques help to prevent your German Shepherd from attacking your other dog.

1. Use rewards to increase positive behaviors around other dogs.

Another option you want to use is to train your German Shepherd to enjoy being around other dogs more by using positive reinforcement training and “counter-conditioning”. Counter conditioning teaches your German Shepherd that it will receive good things when other dogs are around it.

Basically, you’re training your dog to like other dogs through rewards. You might think that training your Shepherd this way would reinforce bad behavior, but counter-conditioning creates a powerful positive connection with other dogs. This strong association outweighs their bad behavior.

Trainer’s Tip: Set aside special treats that you only give your dog when other dogs are nearby. Need a special treat? Try Ian Dunbar’s, the founder of the Association of Professional Dog Trainers, favorite… freeze-dried liver treats.

2. Apply desensitization training. 

Another way to keep your German Shepherd from attacking your other dog is to begin desensitization training. Using desensitization training means other dogs are around your dog, but at enough of a distance so that your Shepherd doesn’t give an unwanted or aggressive reaction.

If you see your Shepherd become too agitated while around other dogs it means you’ve pushed them too far. So, take them further away from the other dog until they’re calm. Then, start at a farther distance from other dogs when you try again.

Offer your dog a reward when they look at the other dog and look back to you. You can show them the treat or place it in front of their nose and draw the treat back to you to move their attention to you.

3. Shape your German Shepherd’s behavior.

“Shaping” refers to where you reward your dog for making small steps toward the wanted behavior.

Start by rewarding your dog for not showing aggression when it sees other dogs, and gradually build up to rewarding your dog for getting closer to other dogs. You must reward your German Shepherd for displaying good behavior before they have a chance to become aggressive or attack another dog.

This means you need to avoid asking for large increases in their actions. For example, don’t ask your dog to play with another dog when they can only act calmly when they’re 50 feet away from them.

Don’t rush your dog or you may increase the problem by not allowing your dog enough time to adjust to the other dogs.

4. Ask for competing behaviors.

In order to ask for competing behaviors, your German Shepherd must know a handful of basic German Shepherd commands. The idea behind using competing behaviors is that you’ll give your dog a command, such as “sit” or “down”, instead of them focusing on the other dog and becoming agitated.

You can learn a variety of useful cues to give your German Shepherd to start your GSD obedience training.

Before your German Shepherd has a chance to become aggressive, have them perform the cue you give. Then, offer their reward.

This, in turn, distracts them from the other dog momentarily while also giving them another, more positive, option to perform. 

5. Vist your dog’s vet for a checkup.

Remember that a dog sometimes attacks or acts aggressively when they feel threatened, and this can include if they are injured. Your German Shepherd may have an injury that you can’t see or don’t notice immediately.

Get your dog checked out by your vet to rule out any physical ailments. It’s not unusual for an aggressive dog to have an underlying health condition that needs treatment. 

6. Contact a dog behaviorist.

If you still need additional help and your dog has been check by your vet and is healthy, then consider contacting a dog behaviorist in your area for further support. Your vet may have a list of dog behaviorists that can best assist you. 

A professional dog behavior specialist can provide a program of training that’s custom-made for your German Shepherd’s specific aggression. You’ll follow the program for the best results and have someone to ask questions to make sure you’re doing the right things.

7. Get the right amount of exercise.

You might not realize your dog is underexercised until there’s a problem with their behavior. Some German Shepherds that have attacked other dogs are in need of the right amount of exercise in addition to the previous training.

German Shepherds need plenty of exercises since they’re a high energy working breed. Exercise also decreases stress and anxiety and can give your GSD a positive outlet for their energy.

Find the right exercises that meet their needs by reading this helpful article: 9 German Shepherd Exercise Routines for Rock-Solid Health

Aggression Inside the Home with Other Dogs

Some dogs are hostile to other dogs they live with inside the home. For these dogs, there are different management techniques.

New dogs need to acclimate themselves to one another in neutral territory. Don’t bring a new dog home and just put him inside and expect both dogs to befriend each other.

This is asking for a fight!

Instead, take them on long walks on a leash outside of the home for initial meetings. 

Best Management Tips to Avoid in Home Fights

If you have dogs that have known each other for a while but fight, then try these tips.

Spend separate one-on-one time with each dog. This gives them the attention they crave while decreasing any chances of jealousy while the dogs are together.

Feed your dogs in separate rooms or in separate crates. This also lets them develop a positive association with their crate.

Never leave toys out unsupervised. Keep higher value chew items like bones, rawhides, and antlers put away. Only give them to your dogs when they are physically separate from each other.

If one of your dogs guards its toys, figure out which toy it is and eliminate it from your toy selection. Only let that dog play with the toy when it’s alone.

Physically pet and praise your dogs equally. It’s important that all your dogs get similar amounts of attention when they’re together and apart.

What NOT to do

Don’t punish a dog for aggressiveness toward another dog in your home. Your dog will associate the punishment with the other dog and with you. This breaks down the social relationships.

Don’t allow your dogs to fight to work things out on their own. One of your dogs could seriously injure the other!

Avoiding Future Attacks

German Shepherds who attack other dogs are a potential threat and a safety hazard. Learn the underlying reasons why your GSD attacked to prevent and avoid future attacks. 

Safety is your number one priority for you and your dogs.

Schedule a vet visit to make sure your dog doesn’t have any health problems. And make an appointment with a dog behaviorist if you can’t handle the situation alone. 

Stay patient and positive. Training your German Shepherd to stop acting aggressively to other dogs is not something that you can fix overnight.

It requires consistent training and a plan of action to help avoid future problems. Follow these tips to help you and your German Shepherd.

References

(1) Whole Dog Journal, “Aggressive Dog Training and Socialization”