German Shepherds make great service dogs
Behavior German Shepherd Purebred

Are German Shepherds Good Family Dogs?

Last Updated

German Shepherds are well respected as a versatile working breed. They have long been used as herding dogs as well as police and military dogs. They are highly intelligent and trainable. But are they good dogs to have if you have a family?

Yes, German Shepherds make great family dogs, as long as they are socialized properly from when they are young, they are trained well to obey commands and they are exercised daily, both mentally and physically. 

According to the AKC breed standard of the German Shepherd, the breed has a “certain aloofness that does not lend itself to immediate and indiscriminate friendships.” Basically, The German Shepherd is not the type of dog to be friends with everyone. However, German Shepherds can be gentle pets for a family and loyal guardians. 

things to consider before getting a german shepherd

The German Shepherd is strong and agile. They are loyal, diligent and very intelligent. They are high-energy and thrive when they have a job to do. They were originally bred to be herding dogs. However, they are very versatile and are used the world over as military and police dogs. 

Before you commit to adding a German Shepherd to your family, it's a good idea to do a  lifestyle assessment. Do you have the time, energy, funds, love, to dedicate to a dog? German Shepherds are intelligent, social creatures that will want to spend all of their time with you. They are 100% dependent on you, much like a child. So you need to seriously think about your current and future commitments.

german sheperd agility

Do you have kids? Will, they be involved in school activities, sports, band, things you can’t take your German Shepherd too? Realistically how much time will that leave you with your dog? Even if you just think about working 8 hours a day, with a 1-hour commute that only leaves around 7 waking hours to be with your dog. Add in grocery shopping, errands, driving the kids’ places and how much time do you really have?

If you can take your German Shepherd with you most of the time that would be great! These are social dogs and thrive on being with their people. Many will suffer from separation anxiety if they are left alone too long.

Male or Female german Shepherd, which is better?

When it comes to being a family pet, is there a difference between male and female German Shepherd?

The answer to this can depend on how you want your German Shepherd to fit into the family dynamic, and if you want a guard dog or a family pet. Male German Shepherd will typically attach more strongly to the person he spends the most time with. He may decide to “protect” this person from other members of the household if he is not properly trained. 

On the flip side, female German Shepherd tend to love everyone in the household more equally. Females are usually a little less wary of strangers and anyone that you might invite over. A female German Shepherd is likely to be the best option if you have children or a large family.

is it better to get a puppy or an older german shepherd?

When getting a German Shepherd, especially if you have, or intend to have children, I recommend getting a puppy. This gives you the opportunity to train the pup from day one and socialize him well.

It's also important to choose a good breeder, if you are going to buy a German Shepherd puppy. You want to be sure to get a breeder who breeds for temperament, health, and for the betterment of the breed. The breeder should also do some socialization with the puppies before you take the puppy home, as this will give you a good headstart. 

The breeder should be able to provide you with information about the parent’s health, which will more than likely impact the puppy’s health as it grows older. You should especially ask about any hip and elbow dysplasia, degenerative myopathy, and history of digestive issues in the parents.

Some breeders will try to breed pups that are more likely to succeed at certain jobs such as guarding, drug enforcement dogs or assistance dogs. If the breeder normally breeds German Shepherd that are excellent police dogs, it might not be the right puppy for you and your family. This pup might be more protective than a puppy who comes from a breeder that is breeding dogs for agility shows. 

German Shepherd Training and Socialization

Socialization is very important for all dogs, no matter the breed. They need to be regularly introduced to as many new positive experiences as possible, from a very young age right through to adulthood. 

German Sheperd Training

It's especially important for German Shepherd to be socialized well if they are to become a member of your family. If not, they can grow into unruly, fearful adult dogs that can react negitively to new situations, environments or other dogs.

You do not want your German Shepherd to protect you from something that they have never seen before. Imagine a German Shepherd who was never socialized around children and then meets one when he is 4 years old. 

Socialization starts with the breeder and should continue for the life of the dog. The dog should have positive experiences with people of all heights, colors, fashions, weights, hair types and styles.

In addition, they need to be socialized with all kinds of dogs and other animals if possible. It's also important for your German Shepherd to have positive experiences with different environments both indoors and outdoors.

Training is another very important job when it comes to integrating your German Shepherd into your family.

Enrolling your puppy in a training class as soon as possible is a wonderful idea. This provides mental and physical exercise, socialization, and it opens the lines of communication between you and your puppy so that a strong bond can be formed.

It's important that the training techniques used are positive. This will build trust, respect, and a close bond. Never attended a class or follow the advice of anyone who says you need to use harsh words, punishment, prong collars, choke chains, or any other negative training style. 

Exercise is important for a family friendly German Shepherd

To be on his best behavior, you will have to provide your German Shepherd with plenty of exercise, both mental and physical. German Shepherds were originally bred to be herding dogs. This means that they were bred to be out in a field all-day herding and protecting animals. That means they have lots of energy.

The more exercise you can give your German Shepherd the better. Long walks or runs are good, but they may not be enough mental exercise. Training your German Shepherd to do something like agility, obedience, tracking, or urban herding could be a great idea to burn mental and physical energy. Plus, if you have kids they can help with the training! 

What's it like Living With A German Shepherd?

German Shepherds make great family dogs. They are loyal, playful, easy to train and make great guard dogs. However, German Shepherds are not for everyone. Here are a few things you should be aware of before bringing home a German Shepherd puppy or rescue.

1. Not All German Shepherd are good with Children

German Shepherd are high energy and can be great playmates for children. Of course, this depends on the type of play your child likes to engage in. If your child prefers video games, don’t get them a German Shepherd in hopes that it will make the child want to play outside. But If your child already likes to do activities and be active outside or inside, a German Shepherd will make a tireless playmate.

german sheperd good with children

Ideally, if you want a German Shepherd  and you have children, then getting a puppy is the best option. Unfortunately, adopting an adult German Shepherd with unknown background can sometimes turn out to be dangerous, especially if you have children. An adopted German Shepherd may have had bad experiences with children in the past or have never been socialized properly with them. Remember just because a dog can tolerate children, this does not mean that he likes or loves being around them.

If you are getting a puppy, however, that gives you the opportunity to socialize your pup around children. You can train the puppy to behave correctly around children, so that everyone stays safe. German Shepherds are large dogs when fully grown and, unless trained, may not realize their own strength.

You also need to train your child how they should respectfully treat a dog. It can be very helpful to teach the child to recognize calming signals, so that they know when to give the dog some space.

Some German Shepherds, even puppies may think that they need to protect the kids form you if you need to discipline your children. Also, a German Shepherd may try to protect the children in his home from children outside the home, especially if poorly socialized. Just because your dog is good with your children this does not mean that he will be good with your children’s friends. 

2. German Shepherds have very strong Protecting Instincts

Protection from a loving German Shepherd can be a great thing. I mean who is going to break into your home or try to assault you on a walk if you have a German Shepherd. Not many people would be willing to risk that. However, sometimes the protective instincts of a German Shepherd can be misplaced.

As mentioned above German Shepherds have a tendency to protect those that they love. Sometimes they will protect you even if you do not need it. Like protecting your child when you need to discipline them. Or protecting you from receiving a hug from your spouse. 

Their protective instincts can result in resource guarding as well. This is why training is so important for the breed. Training your dog to be okay with you taking a bone, toy, or other valuable from them is very important. 

3. German Shepherds like to Herd

Your German Shepherd may try to herd you and your family. That was the original purpose of the breed and they are still good at herding. 

It is important to teach children what to do it the dog nips at them in an attempt to herd them. Some trainers advise that children should be taught to yelp! This will indicate to the dog that he has “hurt” the child. Yelping is what his littermates would do if he were to bite them too hard. Also, trying to play hide-n-seek is rubbish if you have a herding breed around, they always point out where people are hiding!

4. German Shepherds shed a lot

German Shepherds shed all year round. So if you, or someone in your family, have a dog allergy you might want to consider a different breed. If you are afraid that your child may develop a dog allergy it might be best to seek a different breed as well.

5. German Shepherds Are Sometimes Not Great with house Guests

This breed is not overly enthusiastic when meeting new people. This means that you may have to take the time to train your German Shepherd to behave well around relatives and friends when they come to visit. 

The best way to do this is to provide your dog with positive social interactions with as many people as possible while it is a puppy, and as it grows up.

So, Can a German Shepherd make a good family dog? 

Yes. If the dog is bred well, socialized well, trained well, not left alone too much, and well-exercised they can make a great addition to the family. They can be hard work, so you need to be sure that you can invest enough time in training and socialization before you bring one home.

Here's a cool video that explains some more important things you should know before you get a German Shepherd:

About the author

Emer Thomas

Emer Thomas

Emer has been around dogs all of her life. At a young age, she learned all about caring for dogs from her father, a top Irish breeder. She is now a dog breeder, former champion show dog handler and cup secretary of the Cairn Terrier Association of Ireland. She currently has two dogs, Lady Millie the Border Collie and Alfie the Springer Spaniel. Her interests include dog social training, dog nutrition, and dog metacognitive studies.