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As one of the most popular dog breeds in the world, the German Shepherd has a reputation for being intelligent, loyal, and easily trainable. They also have a reputation for being protective, and their use as police dogs, military K9, and guard dogs may cause some owners to wonder if they are safe around animals smaller than them.
Cats are another popular pet in many households, and more and more people have a multi-species household that includes both dogs and cats. For cat owners or German Shepherd owners who are considering adding the other species to their household, there is quite a bit of research they are likely doing before making the jump. So do German Shepherds get along with cats?
German Shepherds do generally get along well with cats provided they are well socialized and have a good foundation in impulse control training. German Shepherds are intelligent and easily trainable, but those with a higher prey drive or energy level should be closely monitored when around a cat.
In the article below, we’ll take a look at a few reasons why the German Shepherd is a good choice for cat-loving households, and a few reasons to keep in mind that may be potential concerns.
We’ll talk about what to look for when introducing your German Shepherd to your cat, and the differences between predatory behaviors and play behaviors when your pup is interacting with your cat. Finally, we’ll discuss how German Shepherd puppies do with cats and what you can do to make sure their interactions with the cats go well.
3 Reasons Why German Shepherds Are Good With Cats
It’s important to keep in mind that every dog (and cat for that matter) are individuals, and when determining if your German Shepherd will get along with your cat you should always pay attention to your specific dog and their behaviors. But there are a few common reasons why it’s likely that your Shepherd will get along with a cat:
#1: Easily Trainable
One of the German Shepherd’s most renowned qualities is how easy they are to train. This breed is highly receptive to their owners, and this includes any training associated with leaving the household cat alone.
Even German Shepherds with a higher prey drive can respond to consistent training provided they are well socialized and no history of aggression. German Shepherds can be taught to just ignore and leave any cats alone completely, or they can be taught to interact with any cats in a gentler manner.
German Shepherds are sensitive dogs, so it’s best to use positive reinforcement training when teaching them about cats. Punishment-based methods can have unintended consequences, one of which is the German Shepherd becoming even more aggressive towards the cat.
Teaching “Leave It” to your German Shepherd will also help them get a better understanding on what’s OK and not OK to do with the cat.
#2: Highly Intelligent
German Shepherds are also well known for their high intelligence. They are quick to adapt to new things and have an easier time understanding how to interact with things in the environment than some other breeds do.
When socializing a German Shepherd to a cat, the process is likely to go much more quickly as the German Shepherd will probably understand the cat’s role in the family environment much quicker than some other breeds of dog.
Just check out this German Shepherd bringing toys to his new kitten friend!
Even German Shepherds who have a higher drive can learn to leave the cat alone, and they are generally more responsive to cues from their owners on when they need to give up the chase.
While it’s best (and safest) to not let a cat and a German Shepherd “work out their differences”, a German Shepherd who receives a painful swat from a cat may show extra caution the next time they encounter the cat.
This response can vary based on the German Shepherd’s socialization skills and prey drive, though, so never assume your German Shepherd will respond kindly to a cat’s swat.
While German Shepherds are incredibly intelligent, they still require guidance from us on what is and is not appropriate behavior around a cat (or any other animal).
#3: Family Friendly Breed
Some dog breeds just don’t really do well in a family environment, but the German Shepherd is not one of those!
While they can be a little particular and tend to bond more strongly with one person in the household over others, they usually thrive in family environments and get along well with anyone and anything in the household if properly socialized and trained.
With guidance from their owners, German Shepherds will usually learn who is a part of their household and who is not. They tend to accept the family cat as one of their own, even if they react to strange cats out in the yard.
This also potentially makes them a good choice as farm dogs, as they can be taught to leave any barn cats alone as well.
3 Reasons Why German Shepherds Might NOT Be Good With Cats
Again, make sure you are looking at your individual German Shepherd before you determine if they might be good or not with cats! That said, the breed as a whole does have some genetic traits that could cause potential issues with our feline friends:
#1: High Prey Drive
As a herding breed, German Shepherds do have a high prey drive. While their prey drive can be managed through socialization, training, and proper outlets for their mental and physical energy, there may still be instances where they engage in a chase with a cat.
The sudden movement of a cat running or jumping will often trigger an instinctual urge to chase, even with proper training in place. While some other breeds may indulge in their natural predatory instincts, the intelligence and trainability of the German Shepherd breed means there is usually a decreased risk to the cat throughout the course of the chase.
Of course, it’s important to keep in mind that a lot of this has a lot to do with the German Shepherd’s socialization skills. If a dog has poor socialization skills in general or has been encouraged to engage in their predatory instincts in any way (such as hunting squirrels or mice), then there is a higher risk to the cat.
Certain working lines of German Shepherds or dogs who have been used for herding may also have a higher prey drive than other German Shepherds who were bred strictly as pets or show dogs.
#2: High Energy
While German Shepherds do have an “off switch” when it comes to their energy levels, they are generally considered a high-energy breed which can affect how they interact with their feline companions. This is especially true of puppies, adolescents, and those Shepherds that come from working line genetics.
Their energetic antics may be too much for most cats. This can lead to stress, irritation, and potentially an injury for the cat who is at the receiving end of this energy. Even if the pup didn’t mean any harm, their enthusiasm and playful energy may have unintended consequences.
Some German Shepherds might just be too exhausting for certain cats! If you are looking to add a cat to your household and you have a higher energy Shepherd, seek out an active, confident cat who is likely to be able to keep up with your pup’s energy a little more.
#3: Resource Guarders
While any dog has the potential to resource guard something (or someone) they covet, German Shepherds do seem to be a little more prone to being overly protective of their owners, especially the owner that they may have bonded with the most.
They can become jealous of other animals (or even people!) in the household who attempt to interact with their special person. As many cats like to be in close proximity to their owners, this has the potential to create an issue with a Shepherd who has owner guarding issues.
Even if the dog is normally OK with the cat in all other instances, they may react aggressively if the cat tries to interact with their owner. Training can help with this, and any signs of resource guarding (of anything, not just the owner) should be nipped in the bud immediately to prevent them from getting worse.
Reaching out to a local trainer can help you address your German Shepherd’s guarding issues and help you keep the peace between your dog and cat.
How To Help Your German Shepherd And Cat Get Along
If your German Shepherd is still a puppy, it’s a good idea to make sure you socialize them with cats.
Ensuring that every experience they have with a cat is a positive one will help them see the presence of a cat as a good thing rather than a threatening thing (that can result in obsession and hyper-fixation on the cat), and it also allows you to step in and redirect any chasing behaviors while your puppy is young.
Adolescent German Shepherds may engage in chasing behaviors more frequently than a puppy or senior dog, so it’s important to monitor any interactions they may have with the family cat and redirect any unwanted attention toward the cat immediately. Even adult German Shepherds can be taught boundaries with cats.
Making sure your cat has plenty of safe spaces around the house is also important, and until you are certain that both animals will get along peacefully (or at the very least just leave each other alone), then do not leave them alone together.
If you notice any kind of predatory behaviors that are more than just playful chase games, or any aggression towards the cat such as grabbing and shaking, then it’s best to reach out to a reputable trainer to help you address these issues.
In many instances, if your German Shepherd ever indulges in their predatory instincts and they are past the puppy stage, then it’s likely you will need to keep them separate from your cat at all times as they cannot be trusted if the cat makes any sudden movements that will trigger your dog’s predatory response.
Predatory Behaviors VS Normal Play Behaviors
Dogs are predators, and your German Shepherd is no different. Cats are predators too, but they are much smaller than a German Shepherd and at risk for greater injury if your pup gets a hold of them.
Predatory instincts such as chasing behaviors are natural for all dogs, and while some dogs may always have a higher prey drive than others, it is possible to help redirect certain behaviors by providing more appropriate outlets for that energy.
German Shepherds require a lot of enrichment and activity, both mentally and physically. By ensuring that their general needs are met they are usually less likely to engage in a chase game and if they do it is usually fairly brief.
Monitoring for signs of grabbing, shaking, pinning, and your dog’s bite inhibition is important when first introducing your German Shepherd to your cat. German Shepherds who have been punished physically or through the use of shock collars are also more likely to interact aggressively with a cat, thus the use of positive reinforcement training is suggested.
As a playful breed of dog, German Shepherds may play with cats who are receptive to it, and provided the dogs are self-handicapping and not restricting the cat in any way then this type of interaction can be left alone. However, if your cat tends to use their claws it’s best to keep a close eye on playtime as your pup could wind up with an accidental injury.
Dogs and cats should never just be left to “duke it out” so that the dog will learn not to mess with the cat. This often results in injury or even death to the dog or cat and does not generally teach the dog anything.
Are German Shepherd Puppies Good With Cats?
German Shepherd puppies are generally good with cats, and this is the perfect age to begin socialization and impulse control training. As puppies are often still developing good bite inhibition and learning proper play behaviors, any interactions between a German Shepherd puppy and a cat should be closely monitored so that no accidents occur.
If you have a fearful or aggressive cat, it’s also wise to limit any access your puppy has to them as they could scare the puppy and potentially create a puppy who is reactive towards cats in the future.
Along those same lines, if you have a rambunctious puppy and an older or more frail cat, you should also carefully monitor any access the puppy has to the cat.
The German Shepherd Dog is a good choice for cat-loving households who are considering adding a dog to their home. For those that already have a German Shepherd and are interested in adding a cat, the chance of a peaceful relationship is quite high between the two provided your pup is well socialized and has good impulse control training.
German Shepherds who have stronger predatory instincts or who show aggressive tendencies towards cats or other small animals should never be left alone around the family cat. Otherwise, most German Shepherds will get along nicely with a feline friend!