Smart, loyal, and confident, German Shepherds are often chosen as a pet for the feeling of safety they bring to the house. Even walking through a dangerous neighborhood is not scary anymore when you have a strong, wolf-looking dog on a leash. But the same protective instinct that makes them great human companions is also often the source of problems. Many untrained German Shepherds display aggressive behavior towards other dogs or strangers.
Why is your German Shepherd aggressive?
- Protective behavior
This pedigree was selectively bred for protecting the pack. As recent dog brain research proved, dog breeds have different brains. The task-specialization developed through the process of selective breeding is reflected in the dogs’ brain anatomy. Even though your German Shepherd had never been taught herding, it is in its nature to protect the pack and to be on the lookout for potential predators. In other words, your German Shepherd is wired to protect you.
(here insert a link to the article on dog brains once it is published on your site)
Anything new and unknown is scary. That’s why during the process of socialization, it is crucial to expose your dog to different stimuli it can encounter during everyday walks. For your dog, children, people with beards or hats, and other scary monsters are a source of potential danger. An in-born, evolutionary wired way of dealing with possible threats is to scare them away. Moreover, your dog might have accidentally learned that growling and barking is a good strategy. If it growled at a stranger and he backed off, then this event taught your dog that aggressive displays are an effective way of reacting to unknown situations.
- Not enough socialization
Humans can be scary. They don’t play by the dog rules. When they see a “cute” dog in a park, some people instantaneously rush to say hello. They approach the dog directly, making eye contact, their arms outstretched, speaking in a high pitch voice… To them, they are cheerful and friendly. To the dog, they are intimidating. If you had ever paid attention to how dogs greet each other, you must have noticed that they do it in a specific way. They never approach each other directly, but in a C-shaped line. They start the greeting side by side, not face to face. They initiate eye contact when both of them are ready.
Every dog needs to go through the process of socialization. It has to learn to accept the weird, scary human behavior. If your dog behaves aggressively towards strangers, it may be because it didn’t have enough time to learn and understand how to deal with people it doesn’t know.
Dogs learn through association. Some day in the past, a painful event might have happened, and since then your dog associates strangers or other dogs with something potentially dangerous. The association could have been accidental. In your dog’s understanding, if two events coexist, that means that they are linked. A loud noise or sudden pain experienced when in contact with a specific object may be interpreted as that object being dangerous. Your dog’s natural way of dealing with something he is afraid of is aggression: fighting off the threat or scaring it away. The way of dealing with your dog’s hostility behavior is to make it unlearn the offensive behaviors. By gradual, controlled exposure, you can make your dog feel safe and secure with the previously feared object.
- Health issues
Your dog may simply be in pain. Quite often, increased nervousness is a by-product of various orthopedic issues. Among German Shepherds, a prevalent ailment is hip dysplasia. Another common chiropractic dog problem may be a slipped disc.
It is a good idea to take a video recording of your dog during your everyday walk. Analyzing the video in slow motion will allow you to pick up on the abnormal patterns of movement that you wouldn’t notice otherwise. Look for anything that looks strange. Maybe your dog is slightly dragging one paw behind, or some part of its spine looks stiff?
When visiting a vet, ask him to run blood tests. Your dog may be mineral or vitamin depleted. For instance, vitamin B shortage may result in aggressive behavior.
The good news is that your dog’s fears and aggressive behavior can be dealt with. The answer for your problems is behavioral training. Find a dog trainer near you and make an appointment. Asking for professional help may be the best solution not only to make your dog unlearn the unwanted behavior but also to provide you with greater insight into your pet’s psychology.