Do German Shepherds Get Along With Other Dogs?

Whether German Shepherds get along with other dogs is something prospective owners may be wondering about. Whether you’re planning on getting a puppy or have one already, it’s important to be aware of their level of sociability.

Do German Shepherds Get Along With Other Dogs?

Whether German Shepherds get along with other dogs is something prospective owners may be wondering about. Whether you’re planning on getting a puppy or have one already, it’s important to be aware of their level of sociability.

Whether German Shepherds get along with other dogs varies based on several factors.

H. Armstrong via Getty Images

The Importance of Learning About a German Shepherd's Sociability

Whether German Shepherds get along with other dogs is something you may have been wondering about.

Perhaps your dream is to own a German Shepherd puppy, or you are considering adopting an adult one. Regardless, knowing the sociability of the German Shepherd breed is important so that you can be prepared.

A good place to start is by learning more about the German Shepherd's breed standard. A breed standard is a written description providing details about the ideal characteristics of a specific dog breed.

These are generally created by national organizations devoted to a particular breed and serve as a blueprint for breeders, fanciers, judges and enthusiasts so as to understand the unique physical characteristics, temperament, and other traits that distinguish one breed from another.

In the United States, the American Kennel Club (AKC) is one of the main organizations responsible for providing breed standards.

What Does the German Shepherd Breed Standard Say?

The AKC’s standard for the German Shepherd breed defines this breed as having a direct and fearless, but not hostile expression, self-confidence and a “certain aloofness that does not lend itself to immediate and indiscriminate friendships.”

While the standard doesn’t directly discuss how this breed fares with other dogs, it emphasizes German Shepherds being confident dogs.

Any signs of shyness, such as hiding behind the handler, looking around with an anxious expression or showing nervous reactions such as tucking the tail in reaction to unusual sights or sounds, are penalized and considered potentially serious faults.

The United Kennel Club, which is the second-largest purebred registry in the United States, also states that a lack of confidence is considered a serious defect in this breed.

Many German Shepherds get along well with several selected doggy friends.

Do German Shepherds Get Along With Other Dogs?

While the breed standard doesn’t discuss directly how this breed does with other dogs, it puts a high emphasis on German Shepherds being courageous, confident dogs with some level of aloofness that causes them not to form immediate and indiscriminate friendships.

From this, we can deduce that mature German Shepherds aren’t your typical social butterfly dog who is eager to enthusiastically meet and greet and greet every dog.

Rather, we expect them to be more discerning about what people or dogs will become part of their social circle.

Of course, this doesn’t apply to all German Shepherds. Just like snowflakes, no two dogs are created alike. Even among puppies of the same breed sharing a litter, you’ll find wide differences between one dog’s temperament and another.

While the standard mentions a certain level of aloofness, as puppies and young dogs, many German Shepherds are eager to meet and greet people and dogs.

Some German shepherds maintain this sociable trait into adulthood, but generally speaking, the tendency to grow more aloof is there, especially as German Shepherds reach social maturity.

As your German Shepherd matures, he may become less tolerant of certain play styles

Changes at Social Maturity

Social maturity in dogs generally takes place between the ages of 18 to 24 months, although in some dogs, it can start as early as ten to 12 months and can last up until 24 to 36 months.

This is a time of changes during which the brain undergoes significant remodeling of neurons and extensive pruning of them, explains board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Karen Overall.

During this process, some connections between neurons are strengthened and maintained, while others are weakened and discarded.

This pruning process is important, considering that neurons compete for limited resources such as space and nutrients. Therefore, by pruning, it’s possible to make room for only the most efficient connections.

During this delicate time, behavior changes take place, and it is possible for behavior problems to emerge, including the onset of fears and increased reactivity.

It’s not unusual for German Shepherds to undergo changes in their sociability as they reach social maturity.

What Changes Are Seen When German Shepherds Mature?

While changes in sociability can happen in dogs of many breeds as they reach social maturity, it may be more pronounced in a dog breed like the German Shepherd.

What changes should you expect? The changes may take place gradually in the ways German Shepherds interact with other dogs. Following are some examples:

Lower Tolerance Levels

As German Shepherds mature, you may notice how they may no longer tolerate certain behaviors from other dogs.

If a puppy or young dog happens to jump up to his face or places a paw on his shoulder, he may be “shooed away” with a low warning growl.

These behaviors can be perceived as violations that warrant a swift correction by your four-legged officer, points out Kim Brophy in the book: “Meet Your Dog: The Game-Changing Guide to Understanding Your Dog's Behavior.”

I often recommend this book to my clients who are on the fence about whether a particular breed of dog is suitable for their household because it provides the most accurate picture of how dogs of specific breeds behave.

Becoming More Selective

While your German Shepherd played with most dogs at the dog park, during the onset of adolescence through social maturity, he may start getting more selective.

He may prefer to play with a few good doggy pals he has known for some time and that are part of his circle of friends.

Don’t expect your German Shepherd to like all dogs. Just like you may not like every person you meet, your German Shepherd may feel the same way with other dogs, points out Liz Palika in her book “Your German Shepherd Puppy Month to Month.”

On a side note, I must say that this book is a must-have for anybody who wants to successfully raise a German Shepherd puppy giving him the best head start. It has clear instructions for every week of puppy life, starting from eight weeks and going into adulthood.

Decreased Sociability

You may notice changes in your dog’s overall sociability, with your dog becoming more serious and slightly less interested in play.

He may still play with other dogs occasionally, but his play sessions may become shorter as he moves on to something else, like sniffing around or exploring his surroundings.

Assuming the Fun Police Role

German shepherds, along with several other predisposed breeds, may tend to assume the fun police role. Intrigued? Discover more about this: The Fun Police Role.

These dogs attempt to establish law and order by managing the other dogs at the dog park as soon as they notice a dog playing too rough or at the beginning of a potential fight.

You may notice this tendency once your German Shepherd matures. While he may have ignored a squabble or another dog growling before, now he’s willing to answer a challenge.

The problem is that not all dogs are OK with a controlling dog who keeps following around and trying to regulate play or who responds to a challenge rather than backing out.

As an adult, your German Shepherd is not going to like every dog she meets, just as you don’t like every person you meet. Some dogs will be annoying to her, or threatening, and some may just be too pushy. Don’t expect her to like all other dogs.

— Liz Palika, Your German Shepherd Month to Month

Many German Shepherds successfully share the household with other dogs.

What Causes Some German Shepherds to Attack Other Dogs?

While it is rather normal for German Shepherds to become more aloof and less interested in dogs as they mature, there are certain cases where German Shepherds become reactive towards dogs and even attack them.

This can happen as a result of inadequate socialization, lack of training, negative experiences and genetics. Let’s take a closer look at these factors.

Inadequate Socialization

When puppies are young, it’s important to expose them to a variety of social situations, along with teaching them how to behave appropriately when around other dogs.

Ongoing socialization opportunities can help puppies maintain positive associations with other dogs while polishing their socialization skills.

Lack of adequate socialization, especially during the critical window of socialization between three and 12 weeks of age, may impact how puppies perceive the world around them.

An improperly socialized dog may fail to learn appropriate behaviors when interacting with others. This can cause miscommunication and misinterpretations, which can lead to conflicts.

Undersocialized dogs may also come to feel anxious when around other dogs and may use aggressive displays as a way to maintain a space bubble from other dogs.

Negative Experiences

Negative experiences when around other dogs may lead to dogs who adopt the strategy of “offense is the best defense.”

In other words, because these dogs feel threatened by other dogs due to some past negative experiences, they will use aggressive behaviors such as barking, growling, lunging and snapping as a strategy to protect themselves.

Lack of Training

While training can't fix a predisposition for not getting along with other dogs, it can at least provide some level of control.

A fluent response to a recall or a steadfast response to a request to lie down can make the difference between a dog who stays out of trouble or a dog who gets into a fight.

Rushed Introductions

If you are adding a new dog to your household, it's crucial that you do so very gradually. Make sure to introduce on neutral grounds. Keep toys and other resources away to prevent fights. Allow time to get the dogs acquainted with each other.

Adding a new dog and giving him all the attention can cause fights over you. Remember that your German Shepherd was there first, and you want him to form positive associations with your new dog. Here are a few general guides: how to introduce a new dog to your current dog and how to introduce a new puppy to an older dog.

Resource Guarding

Many fights among dogs happen in the presence of resources that dogs perceive as valuable. Popular resources that trigger fights in dogs are toys, bones and food.

Dogs may also fight over other resources such as sleeping spots, feeding areas and access to a favorite person.

Medical Issues

If a German Shepherd has been sociable for a good part of his life, and now he's suddenly attacking any dog who is approaching, suspect a potential medical issue.

There are several medical causes for aggression in dogs. See your veterinarian for an evaluation.

Genetics

A dog’s genetic makeup doesn’t necessarily translate into a tendency for aggression as several other factors are at play, such as socialization, training and experiences as discussed above.

While genetics alone do not determine a dog’s behavior, some German Shepherds may have been bred from lines that are more prone to being skittish.

This fearful predisposition may increase the chances of developing aggressive behaviors towards other dogs.

Are German Shepherds Same-Sex Aggressive?

Some dog breeds may have a particular dislike of other dogs of the same sex.

When it comes to German Shepherds, it is possible that having two female dogs or two male dogs of similar ages share a household may lead to some challenges.

Of course, there are no rules set in stone. Countless owners of German shepherds have successfully raised two males or two females without any particular difficulties.

However, this is something to be aware of, especially when considering having two female dogs close in age. This is the most likely combination for them to engage in fights, especially once they hit social maturity.

The fights may range from just ritualistic displays to bloody fights with serious injuries requiring stitches.

Statistically, it appears that two female dogs are the riskiest combination, followed by two males, with male and female combs working out the best. That said, fights between male and female dogs aren't unheard of.

Intact males tend to be quicker to rumble, especially with other intact males. Intact females will fuss with other females, intact or not. And males rarely start a fight with a female and often won’t respond if challenged by a female.

— Liz Palika et al. Your German Shepherd Puppy Month by Month, 2nd Edition

In general, male and female combinations work best

A Few Phenomena to Be Aware Of

These phenomena are not breed-specific but are worth mentioning considering the impact they may have on other dogs or potential misinterpretations.

The Phenomenon of Predatory Drift

Something to be aware of is the phenomenon of predatory drift.

This phenomenon doesn’t affect only German Shepherd dogs but any large dogs when they are in the presence of small dogs who stimulate their predatory drive as they romp around or yelp.

It goes without saying that this is potentially dangerous for small dogs and is the main reason why dog parks and daycares now have designated areas for small dogs.

Barrier Frustration

Barrier frustration is a phenomenon that is often seen in dogs who are rather friendly with other dogs when off leash but who bark, growl and lunge when they are on a leash or behind some sort of barrier.

These dogs are usually young dogs with a history of getting along with other dogs but simply get very amped up and frustrated when a barrier prevents them from going to greet and meet with other dogs.

Without the barrier, these dogs will mingle and play happily with the other dogs. More about this is discussed here: barrier frustration in dogs.

Trigger Stacking

When dogs are highly stressed, they may react in uncharacteristic ways. While your German Shepherd doesn't have to balance his checkbook every month or meet deadlines, his life may still be prone to stress as a result of being exposed to startling noises, seeing triggers walking by the fence or when going to the vet.

When predisposed dogs are subjected to the negative effects of cumulative stress, they may become vulnerable to the effects of trigger stacking.

Territoriality

As German Shepherds mature, they may start becoming more and more territorial. This may lead them to dislike any dogs approaching their properties.

Care needs to be taken to prevent any fights with other dogs who are nearby your German Shepherd's perceived property (which may extend much farther than the actual fence line).

As German shepherds mature, they may no longer like other dogs approaching his perceived territory

The Bottom Line

As seen, German shepherds can get along well with other dogs, but they may become discriminative and more aloof as they hit social maturity.

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, with several German Shepherds remaining social and happy with being around other dogs into adulthood.

If your German Shepherd doesn’t get along with other dogs, it’s important that you consistently show him that you are on the ball and will handle things so that he doesn’t take the matter into his own hands.

Is a boisterous puppy approaching him? It’s your job to step in and prevent him from reaching your dog.

Is a large dog passing on the opposite side of the road? Ask your German Shepherd to sit and praise and reward him for just looking at him walking by without reacting. Teach him the basics of the "look at that dog game."

Is a dog starting to play too rough with him? Call your dog and give them a break.

Is your German Shepherd reactive on walks? Use these tips for walking reactive dogs.

If your German Shepherd shows clear signs of not liking to interact with other dogs as closely as he used to, stop taking him to the dog park where mingles occurs. This is setting him up for failure and potentially putting him in the position of getting into a fight.

However, don't stop him from socializing either. You can still maintain his social skills but in a more controlled way, such as taking him to group dog training classes or taking him on hikes where other behaved dogs are on leashes.

You can also take him to the dog park, but limit to walking him by the perimeter of the park at a distance where he's under the threshold. Take advantage of the park by teaching him to remain calm and respond to your obedience cues while in the presence of other dogs.

If your German Shepherd's dislike of dogs runs deep and you are afraid of him potentially hurting other dogs, play it safe and consult with a credentialed professional such as a certified applied animal behaviorist or a board-certified veterinary behaviorist.

Always be your German Shepherd's ambassador. Let him trust you and teach him to follow your directions.

References:

  • American Kennel Club: German Shepherd Breed Standard
  • United Kennel Club: German Shepherd Breed
  • Feltes, E., Stull, J. Herron, M. and Haug, L. Characteristics of intrahousehold interdog aggression and dog pair factors associated with poor outcome. American Veterinary Medical Association
  • Casey RA, Loftus B, Bolster C, Richards GJ, Blackwell EJ. Inter-dog aggression in a UK owner survey: prevalence, co-occurrence in different contexts and risk factors. Vet Rec. 2013;172(5):127
  • Sherman CK, Reisner IR, Taliaferro LA, Houpt KA. Characteristics, treatment, and outcome of 99 cases of aggression between dogs. Appl Anim Behav Sci. 1996;47(1-2):91-108
  • Your German Shepherd Puppy Month by Month, 2nd Edition: Everything You Need to Know at Each State to Ensure Your Cute and Playful Puppy, by Palika, Liz, Albert, T. DVM, D.E. Olivier, J. 2016

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2023 Adrienne Farricelli


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