5 Reasons Your German Shepherd Attacks Other Dogs (And How to Fix It)
It’s terrifying when your German Shepherd shows aggression towards other dogs or worse…
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 aggression towards other dogs and why they might be attacking other dogs in the first place.
Why does your German Shepherd attack other dogs?
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 to avoid serious injuries to either of the dogs…
Or yourself and others.
Here are the most common motives if your German Shepherd attacked another dog.
1. 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 (2).
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.
2. 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. They just haven’t learned how to interact appropriately and instead show aggression towards other dogs.
3. 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.
4. Territorial Aggression When Other Dogs are Around
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 that cause your German Shepherd aggression towards other dogs may be:
- their food bowl
- a favorite dog bed or spot to lie
- another dog they favor
- potential mates (especially if the other dog is female and in season)
- or toys, such as bones, treat chews and any other prised toys around
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.
5. Unknown Health Concerns
Some owners overlook taking their German Shepherd to the vet when their German Shepherd is aggressive towards other dogs, but this should actually be your first step.
Especially if your German Shepherd attacks your other dog living with you.
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 aggression toward other dogs?
Preventing dog attacks is a priority to avoid any damage your German Shepherd may cause other dogs or the people around trying to stop the attack.
Consider the following to help your German Shepherd with better behaviors around other dogs.
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 to other dogs or attack them.
German Shepherd Aggression and Attack Warning Signs
Watch out for signs that your German Shepherd is getting ready to attack another dog.
These warning signs may include:
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 their aggression and 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.
Whenever your dog is around other dogs they might show aggression to, offer them small bits of cooked bacon or the Ferrari of training treats…
Set aside special treats that you only give your dog when other dogs are nearby so your German Shepherd makes a strong connection between the treat and giving you their attention.
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 so they focus on 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 by starting your GSD obedience training at home.
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. Use the right walking tools for more control.
Remember that a dog sometimes attacks or acts aggressively when they feel threatened, and they can exert great amounts of power over you.
An aggressive or fearful and reactive German Shepherd can pull you down the street, knock you to the ground, or even hurt your wrist, arm, and shoulder.
Dogs that are aggressive to other dogs tend to lunge with great force.
Use the right equipment to walk your aggressive German Shepherd and regain more control over them, if needed.
- Attaching a short lead to them at all times outdoors. A padded handle short dog leash gives you more power when your dog reacts badly by shortening the distance between you and your dog. This gives you greater stability and control. It’s not necessary to use the short leash for walking, but clip it on your dog so you’re able to grab it for emergencies.
- Using a head collar instead of a regular collar. Some owners prefer to use a head halter, or halti, on their dogs. These humane headcollars allow you to guide your dog away from danger more easily by attaching to their heads, but they do require time for your dog to adjust to using them. See the best head collars for your German Shepherd to help them stop pulling.
Having more control over a powerful German Shepherd that becomes aggressive is a key step in keeping to a walking routine safely. The right walking tools allow you to walk your dog in more comfort and with more confidence.
Never allow yourself to lose control of your dog or they might escape and show aggression towards other dogs, or even attack another dog.
6. Discipline your aggressive German Shepherd in the right way.
While your first instinct might be to harshly punish your German Shepherd for showing aggression, this could make matters worse.
Instead, you’ll need to learn how to have the right discipline techniques for a German Shepherd.
Discipline them the same way to ensure they understand that your actions will remain consistent and they’ll know what to expect.
The best way to discipline an aggressive German Shepherd is to always have them on a leash and to direct them away from what’s upsetting them. Don’t jerk them on their leash, but call them to you and walk away without yelling or screaming.
Avoid getting them more worked up by not using harsh reprimands or physical violence or force.
Your job is to help your aggressive German Shepherd not encounter any stressors by anticipating what they react to and avoiding it. Plan ahead for what you’ll do when you see another dog coming your way.
7. Get the right amount and type 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 at least 2 walks a day which last 1 hour each 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.
But, it’s not just about the amount of exercise you give your aggressive German Shepherd, but the variety and type.
Try a few different ideas from this German Shepherd exercise routine to offer your dog the opportunity to try something new.
Plus, if your German Shepherd is acting aggressively toward other dogs, you might find yourself neglecting their walks out of anxiety or fear. So, give them exercise in other ways to keep their stress levels low.
Aggression Inside the Home with Your 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.
Management Tips to Help Your German Shepherd Avoid Attacking Your Other Dog
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 for Your Aggressive German Shepherd
Some things can make your German Shepherd’s aggression worse. It’s best to avoid doing the following which will slow your training.
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 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!
Don’t set your dog up for failure. If you keep having issues with your German Shepherd attacking your other dog don’t let them ever be together unsupervised.
Don’t think it’s just a one-time event. Most likely, your German Shepherd and your other dog have issues with each other that you’re not aware of. Thinking this is just a one-time thing could put your dogs in danger when they attack each other again.
Training With Your Aggressive German Shepherd
If you haven’t already started, you should include positive reward-based training with your dog.
This means you use rewards, such as treats, toys, or praise, to encourage your dog to respond and behave the way you want. It also gives you some options when you’re out on walks and need to get more control over your dog.
Not only does training give you a more reliable dog, but it gives your dog a way to help ease their stress and to bond with you in positive ways.
Use a scientifically-based dog training program that you can use from the comfort of your home. The last thing you want to do is throw your stressed GSD into a class full of other dogs if they’re showing aggression to other dogs.
So, start small with at-home training that’s fun and proven to work on behavior issues, like this inexpensive program called Brain Training for Dogs that’ll walk you through step-by-step obedience training.
I know it’s difficult to bond with an aggressive German Shepherd, and training should be included in your daily work so that you can feel closer to your dog. One-on-one home training with your dog helps you to feel more confident with your dog’s behaviors later when out on walks or in public.
Your aggressive German Shepherd might also benefit from these scientifically proven German Shepherd enrichment ideas. These activities can not only increase your bond but help your GSD to focus on you more and provide them healthy, safe outlets for their energy.
Avoiding Future Attacks From Your German Shepherd With Other Dogs
German Shepherds who attack other dogs are a potential threat and a safety hazard.
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 toward 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 avoid aggression towards other dogs or other dog attacks.
References and Resources
(1) Whole Dog Journal, “Aggressive Dog Training and Socialization”
(2) PDSA, “German Shepherd Breed Information”