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Are German Shepherds Aggressive?

Smiling German Shepherd Sitting In The Grass

German shepherd dogs have a reputation for aggressive behavior, but the reality is a bit more nuanced regarding their breed. These herding dogs also acted as guard dogs, which might have contributed to their aggressive behaviors towards strangers. Their protective instincts and territorial behavior can be mitigated through early socialization, and owners can prevent aggressive behaviors through proper training and care.

German shepherds have been used by search and rescue teams for decades, which again speaks volumes about their complexity and somewhat undermines the accusations of their aggressive tendencies. Since they are larger than other breeds, like pit bulls and Rottweilers, the German shepherd breed is subjected to certain strict breeding guidelines and regulations.

These vary from one municipality to another. German shepherd owners should also be aware that they are subject to dog bite laws that differ from state to state apart from breed-specific legislation. 

If a German shepherd bites other dogs or people, the dog owner will be liable for all the damages depending on the applicable dog bite laws of the state in which the attack occurred. If you want to learn more about these laws or are a victim of a dog bite incident, contact Agruss Law Firm, LLC, for a free consultation. 

Here is what you should know about German shepherds’ aggressive behavior, what contributes to it or how to prevent aggressive behavior, debunking some myths surrounding their aggressivity, and important laws and regulations surrounding dog bites and breed legislation.

Embarking on a Journey: Understanding the Temperament of The German Shepherd Breed

Originally bred for protection, the German shepherd’s territorial behavior helped it guard the sheep flock from predators. Since they make excellent guard dogs due to their guarding instincts and protective nature, they also serve as police dogs, leading some to believe they are naturally aggressive.

This isn’t necessarily true. As they also serve as search and rescue dogs, which would be counterintuitive, it begs the question: are German shepherds dangerous or not? They are not inherently aggressive dogs when socialized and properly trained.

They are a naturally protective and intelligent breed with a strong desire to please their owners, which also makes them highly trainable. These working dogs can easily become loving and faithful family dogs as they are not meant to be just guard dogs or police dogs but actual companions. 

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, although the German shepherd has been involved in serious biting incidents, their breed isn’t necessarily an indication of aggressivity. German shepherd aggression and overall temperament are dictated by proper socialization from a young age, positive reinforcement training, and responsible ownership.

The American Temperament Test Society also backs up the claims of the American Veterinary Medical Association as German shepherds scored 85.7 on temperament tests, which is significantly higher than other dog breeds that aren’t so often involved in most dog bites.

This again highlights that properly socialized purebred dogs do not exhibit aggressive behavior depending on their breed but are more likely due to irresponsible dog owners who fail to take care of them and mitigate these undesirable traits sooner. Older dogs, for example, cannot be properly trained, and the dog’s behavior is mostly influenced by its upbringing rather than the dog’s breed. 

Factors That May Contribute to Aggression in German Shepherds: What Makes an Aggressive Dog?

A well-socialized dog is less likely to attack other animals. The protective nature of working dogs, such as German shepherds, will make them aggressive toward a new dog, as many dogs do not like to share their territory unless they are properly socialized and trained.

The German shepherd dog has been a guard dog for decades, which might have heightened its territorial behavior, but training can mitigate this. Individual dogs can be aggressive for a variety of reasons, such as:

  • Traumatic experiences or abuse
  • Lack of proper training or socialization, especially during critical developmental periods (early age)
  • Genetic predispositions such as heightened protective instincts and breach of responsible breeding practices (backyard breeders)
  • Medical issues or pain that can trigger aggressive responses 
  • Protective nature for their pups or mating season

German shepherd dog owners can implement obedience training to mitigate aggressive tendencies and learn more about a dog’s body language, and become more aware of their dog’s behavior to prevent dog bites and attacks.

Training and Socialization Techniques to Manage German Shepherd Behavior

Large dogs, such as German shepherds, must be trained from an early age and be accustomed to family members. A professional dog trainer usually takes in German shepherds when they are between 3 to 9 months old.

To become powerful and healthy, a German Shepherd puppy will need mental stimulation, physical exercise, and consistent training. You can opt to take the German Shepherd puppy to a professional dog trainer if you want to implement obedience training and ensure that you won’t have an aggressive German shepherd or other undesirable traits. 

You can train the dog yourself as well. Take note that they are highly active dogs and will need lots of attention and mental stimulation. Proper training implies positive reinforcement when they behave and early exposure to various stimuli.

For example, if you want the German shepherd as a family dog but have another pet, gradually introduce them and observe behaviors. All family members should be aware of the commanding words you use to make it easier for the dog to follow instructions. Treats play a huge role in proper training as well. 

Tips for Preventing and Addressing Aggression in German Shepherds

When German shepherds exhibit aggressive behavior, you should contact a certified trainer, identify the root cause behind the aggression, and address it right away. An aggressive large dog is dangerous, much more so than an aggressive toy breed.

German shepherds have a bite force of 238 psi (pounds per square inch) which makes them the eighth most powerful dog breed when it comes to biting force. If you do not provide them with proper training and socialization, an aggressive dog can get you into a lot of legal trouble. In 2016, for example, over 4.5 million dog bites occurred in the U.S. alone. Fortunately, 81% of these attacks did not result in injury.  Still, dog owners can face liability in some states even if the dog attack does not result in direct injury.

Legal Aspects Surrounding Dog Bites and German Shepherd Ownership in Various States

Although German shepherds make excellent guard dogs and are known for their loyalty being one of the most popular breeds out there, they still face a certain degree of discrimination. German shepherd dogs, along with pit bulls, or Rottweilers, are dog breeds commonly viewed as dangerous and aggressive.

Because of this bad reputation, dog owners must adhere to various dog bite laws and breed-specific legislation depending on the area they live in. Here is what you should know about German shepherd dog laws in various states:

Dog Bite Laws and Breed Legislation for German Shepherds in California

If you own a German shepherd in California, you are not subjected to restrictions based on the breed alone but rather the dog’s temperament and behavior. An aggressive dog might be targeted by local ordinances.

This state follows a strict liability system when it comes to dog bites. This means that a German shepherd dog that engages in aggressive behavior and attacks another animal or individual will get their owner in trouble, even if it’s their first time displaying aggressive tendencies.

Dog Bite Laws and Breed Legislation for German Shepherds in Florida

The state of Florida also follows the strict liability rule for dog bites. Although the state had many prior breed-specific legislations that banned or restricted certain dog breeds, this is no longer the case.

However, community associations can still ban large dogs, such as German shepherds, but not directly. As long as they do not target the dog’s breed directly, community associations can impose certain pet requirements such as weight or size. 

Dog Bite Laws and Breed Legislation for German Shepherds in Kentucky 

German shepherds are the most popular dog breed in Kentucky; no other breed comes close. As a German Shepherd dog owner, you should always keep the dog on a leash to comply with local laws. 

You might be able to unleash it in dog parks if allowed, but always stay informed before doing so and ensure that your dog is properly socialized. Kentucky also follows a strict liability system for dog bites, so you can get into legal trouble regardless if you know or not about the dog’s aggressive tendencies. 

Dog Bite Laws and Breed Legislation for German Shepherds in Illinois

The state of Illinois once followed the one-bite system, but nowadays, it is also a strict liability state for dog bites. In Illinois, dogs that bite or injure someone are labeled as dangerous or vicious and will be subjected to other rules. In Illinois, you should always keep your dog on your own property, and it must be fenced by a structure of at least six feet, as stated in statute 510 ILCS 5/2.11a.

Under statute 510 ILCS 5/2.18b, if your dog escapes your property and kills other dogs, you will be deemed a reckless dog owner. This will mean that you will lose ownership of the German shepherd or other dog under your care. 

Lastly, under 510 ILCS 5/2.05a, German shepherds can be labeled dangerous if they are unattended, unleashed, and unmuzzled outside your property.

Dog Bite Laws and Breed Legislation for German Shepherds in Mississippi

In the state of Mississippi, dog owners cannot be held liable for dog bites if this is the first time their German shepherds engage in aggressive behavior and the owner has no prior knowledge of it. 

However, in cities such as Laurel, German shepherds are subjected to restrictions. In the Town of Monticello, German shepherds are banned unless owners obtain a special permit. In West Point, mixed cross-breed German shepherds are declared “vicious” and are subject to local ordinances.

Dog Bite Laws and Breed Legislation for German Shepherds in New York

New York follows the one-bite rule, which means that owners might escape liability if they had no prior incidents of dog attacks on other people or animals and, therefore, did not know that their dog was dangerous. 

However, as an owner, there are some other dog bite laws that you should know about. In New York, dogs that are older than four months old must be licensed. You need to have proof of rabies vaccination. Since German shepherds’ aggressive reputation is spread across the states, if your dog goes missing, it must be reported within five days to the city you live in to prevent dangerous dog encounters.

A German shepherd acting as a guard dog must be registered and have the guard dog’s license tag on their collar. In New York, there are various leash laws that owners should be aware of. They apply in certain localities rather than the state as a whole.

For example, in Albany, dogs must always be restrained by an adequate collar and leash, regardless of breed. The person controlling the dog must not be under the age of 12, and the leash should not extend more than six feet.

Tying your dog for more than three hours is also illegal in New York. The New York City Housing Authority also states that German Shepherds aren’t allowed in households unless they were registered before January 31, 2010. Under New York law, dangerous dogs are defined as:

  • A dog that attacks other animals or people without justification
  • Behaves aggressively towards other animals or people

If you own a declared dangerous dog in New York and the animal causes a serious injury to another person, you can be subjected to criminal penalties. Therefore, German shepherds’ aggressive behavior can easily get you into trouble if you do not properly train or socialize the pet. 

Dog Bite Laws and Breed Legislation for German Shepherds in North Carolina

The state of North Carolina also follows the one-dog bite system. However, injured victims can still sue the dog owner if they can prove willful misconduct or negligence on the owner’s part.

This means that dog bite victims can recover compensation for their injuries and other damages if they file a claim within the state’s statute of limitations. German shepherds do not appear to be labeled as dangerous in this state.

Regardless, dog bite lawyers can help you recover the necessary compensation for your dog attack injuries and prove fault if your incident involved a careless owner.

Dog Bite Laws and Breed Legislation for German Shepherds in Wisconsin

In Wisconsin, dog bite victims do not need to prove negligence to pursue a claim against a dog owner for an attack since this state also follows a strict liability system. If dogs are classified as dangerous, they can be subjected to certain additional regulations.

Dangerous dogs are classified based on their breed, actions, or the owner’s actions. Fortunately, German shepherds are not considered dangerous dogs in Wisconsin, but pit bulls and wolf hybrids are in several counties.

Although the German shepherd may have a wolf-like appearance, their breed is pure and not associated with wolf heritage and, therefore, cannot be labeled as a wolf hybrid and subjected to breed-specific legislation in this state.

Dog Bite Laws and Breed Legislation for German Shepherds in Georgia

The state of Georgia follows the one-bite system, but German shepherds are considered potentially dangerous in various cities here and subject to local ordinances. For example, in College Park and West Point, German shepherds are considered potentially dangerous and vicious. 

This means that in these areas, German shepherds must be registered, and dog owners will receive a certification attesting to their ownership. They must keep the dog in a specified secure enclosure on their premises and post warning signs that alert visitors of the dog’s presence and danger.

In cities where German shepherds are labeled as vicious, owners must microchip them and possess liability insurance of at least $50,000. Furthermore, owners are subjected to yearly inspections to attest to their dog law compliance.

If owners of vicious or dangerous classified dogs wish to relocate to another city, they must notify the city within ten days. Owners must notify the proper authorities when a classified dog escapes the property.

Myths and Misconceptions About German Shepherd Aggression

Since German shepherds are naturally protective of their territory and family and have served as guard dogs or aided law enforcement, many believe they have among the strongest bite forces of all dogs.

However, this isn’t true. The Kangal breed has the strongest bite force of all canines, registered at 734 psi, which is more than three times that of German shepherds (238 psi). As another comparison, an average adult human has a bite force of 162 psi. It would be counterintuitive to have a police dog with such a powerful biting force, but their bite can cause severe injuries nonetheless.

German shepherds are often viewed as vicious or dangerous dogs as they were involved in various dog attacks. However, according to statistics, only 7.69% of these attacks resulted in severe injuries. But are German shepherds dangerous by design or environment? It turns out German shepherds’ aggressive tendencies are more linked to negligence on the part of their owners and abuse rather than breed.

People who do not follow strict breeding guidelines end up releasing poorly socialized and trained German shepherds, which can negatively affect their future behavior and interactions with other beings.

Another myth surrounding these dogs is that they do not require training since they are very smart. Although German shepherds are smart dogs, they do require training. Even though they serve as guard dogs, they don’t necessarily need a heavy or gentle hand in training. Each German shepherd is unique and requires different physical and mental stimulation. 

Recognizing Signs of Aggression in German Shepherds

A responsible German shepherd owner should recognize the signs of aggression in their pet and mitigate the circumstances before they escalate. Sometimes, this might mean restraining the dog and providing it with additional training. Regardless of why or how your German shepherd became aggressive, you should try to understand what provoked them. Here are some signs of aggressive German shepherds:

  • Growling or aggressive barking that is accustomed by a stiff body posture is a sign of aggression.
  • Snapping or biting without cause should be investigated by the dog owner and might require professional assistance.
  • If the dog maintains direct eye contact, then this might also be interpreted as a warning sign.
  • Raised hackles or ears are common in many dog breeds when they feel threatened or uncomfortable and can be an early sign of an attack.
  • If the dog avoids eye contact, it might also mean that it feels threatened and may attack in response. This can be accompanied by excessive yawning or lip licking.

Once dog owners understand their dog’s behavior and characteristics, they can contribute to dog bite prevention. Staying updated about the current laws and adhering to local ordinances and breed-specific legislations will also prove useful to most owners.

If you were the victim of a dog attack in the states mentioned earlier, do not hesitate to contact Agruss Law Firm, LLC. Our dedicated dog bite attorneys can offer you a free case evaluation and help you pursue a claim against a negligent dog owner so that you can seek fair compensation for your injuries and other damages.

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