German Shepherds are one of the most popular breeds in the world, and for good reason. While many may think of the German Shepherd as being a mighty military dog or steadfast police dog, their roots actually lay in a more familial environment.
These hardworking protectors have a lengthy history of working with and around children, and there are many news stories regarding their heroism when it comes to children.
But are German Shepherds actually a good choice for homes with kids?
A well-socialized, well-bred, and well-trained German Shepherd is likely to get along with kids of all ages. Their larger size and higher energy levels are both a pro and a con depending on the child’s age. It’s important to remember that every dog is an individual and shouldn’t be guaranteed to get along with kids.
In the article below, we’ll go over the reasons why a German Shepherd may or may not be a good choice to add to a household with children present. We’ll discuss how to set up your German Shepherd and kids for success when introducing them, and the specific things to consider when looking for the perfect German Shepherd for your family.
Are German Shepherds Good With Children?
German Shepherds are a breed known to be more family friendly, and are a great choice for not only first time dog owners but first time parents, too. But it is important to remember that whether a dog (any dog) gets along with children relates more to how that dog was raised.
If a German Shepherd was not well socialized with kids during their critical socialization period as puppy, then they are less likely to get along well with kids as an adult dog.
I’ll discuss socialization and how it impacts individual dogs later in this article, but for now I’ll focus on the German Shepherd breed as a whole and why this breed may and may not be a good choice for a home with children.
5 Reasons Why German Shepherds May Be Good With Kids
German Shepherds may be a good choice for a family with kids due to the following reasons…
The German Shepherd was developed in 1889 by Captain Max von Stephanitz who was looking for a dog that was intelligent, steadfast, and could be used for a variety of tasks. While originally utilized as sheepherders, the German Shepherd quickly developed a reputation for being a multipurpose dog and was frequently used as a guardian and household protector.
German Shepherds were prized for their intelligence and common sense, which aided them in their understanding of what and who to look out for. As the breed grew in popularity, so, too, did its use in a variety of jobs.
From military work to seeing eye dogs, the German Shepherd has worn many different hats. No matter their job, intelligence, endurance, and trainability always remained a key component of the breed.
This history of hard work and focused breeding for a utilitarian dog has helped the German Shepherd maintain their role as a reliable family guardian, and there are many stories of German Shepherds coming to the aid of children (sometimes even those they do not know).
Even the reputation of the German Shepherd as a guard dog alone is often enough to deter intruders away from your home and kids.
In line with their breed history, the German Shepherd tends to have excellent natural protective instincts. While this can vary depending on the individual dog (not all German Shepherds will naturally want to protect their owners, and it should never be expected), many German Shepherds have been bred specifically for protection and guard dog work.
The breed is also a popular choice for use as a personal protection dog and many breeding programs exist for this exact purpose. While some parents may not focus as much on the protective side of a breed, many others may look at the German Shepherd’s history as a guard dog as an added bonus when researching what type of dog they’d like to get for their family.
It is important to note that German Shepherds (and dogs in general) may not always instinctively protect a child, but there is a higher chance for the German Shepherd to protect someone compared to a dog like the Pug, which was not bred for use as a guard dog.
Size is another important factor when considering what breed of dog to get for your family. In fact, many breeders and shelters will not allow a home with children younger than 12 to adopt dogs that are 15 pounds or smaller (this excludes medium and large breed puppies, which grow very quickly) due to the risks of dropping or stepping on such a small animal.
As the German Shepherd tends to be more than 50 pounds, this makes them an excellent choice for families who have younger kids or ones who tend to play a little more rambunctiously.
While it’s still important to teach your kids how to safely and politely play with your pup (which I’ll discuss more later in the article), the larger size of the German Shepherd makes it less likely that your child will accidentally hurt them, and any injury is likely to be minor in comparison to the same injury happening to a small breed of dog.
One of the greatest highlights of the German Shepherd breed is their intelligence and trainability. Not only does this make them a great choice for first time dog owners, but it also adds to their value as a family dog.
If you’ve already got a German Shepherd and add a child to the household, it will likely be very easy for your pup to get into the new routine (with proper socialization, of course) and learn what they can and cannot do with the child.
When adding a German Shepherd to your established family, it’s generally very easy to train them and because they tend to be pretty forgiving, they also make a great choice for kids who want to get involved in the training, too.
It is important to note that while German Shepherds are easily trainable, if they are poorly bred or poorly socialized or if they have any other behavioral issues, that they will still likely have issues with kids even with extensive amounts of training.
In those cases, a professional trainer, behavior consultant, or behaviorist should be contacted to discuss possible solutions.
Kids tend to have quite a bit of energy, so having a dog that can keep up with them might be a good idea! German Shepherds are quite energetic (especially as adolescents and even into their senior years) and enjoy playtime and physical activities like hiking and running.
For parents whose kids tend to be on the more rambunctious side, a German Shepherd might be a good choice. Active kids who enjoy outdoor activities may also benefit from having a German Shepherd that can accompany them without the child (or parent) worrying about the dog’s physical abilities, and with the added peace of mind that the child is accompanied by a dog whose looks alone deter those who may wish the child harm.
While it’s definitely not a good idea to rely on a dog as a babysitter, the German Shepherd’s higher energy might allow for extended playtime with the kids, which can help their parents get a breather from all the activity and just enjoy watching everyone play rather than directly trying to keep up with the kids at all times.
5 Reasons Why German Shepherds May NOT Be Good With Kids
There are also a few reasons why getting a German Shepherd may NOT be a good idea if you have kids…
While their larger size can be a pro in many cases, it may also be a con for the German Shepherd. This is especially true for younger kids or children with special needs. While a senior German Shepherd may not be a problem, a German Shepherd puppy, adolescent, or high energy adult might be too much for some kids to handle.
German Shepherds aren’t always aware of their size, and in their enthusiasm, they may accidentally knock over or hurt a child. As many toddlers are already wobbly on their feet, the addition of a large German Shepherd into the mix might be too much for them to handle.
Similarly, if you live in a smaller space such as an apartment, such a large dog might take up a little too much room, especially with children present. A larger dog also requires more food and larger supplies such as bedding, all of which can add up quickly compared to a smaller dog.
Like their size, the higher energy levels of a German Shepherd can be both a pro and a con. While having a high energy dog might help keep the kids occupied, it might also add a lot of additional stress onto the parents.
Having younger kids that need a lot of attention and interaction is already a significant energy investment for most parents, and adding on a high energy dog that must also have outlets for their energy can sometimes be a little too much.
If the German Shepherd’s physical and mental needs aren’t met on a daily basis, then the risk of the dog developing unwanted behavioral issues (some severe and potentially dangerous) goes up.
If you’ve got younger kids (pre-teen and younger), live in a smaller space, and/or just don’t have a lot of spare time and energy to devote to a young, active dog, then a German Shepherd might not be the best choice for your household.
German Shepherds also tend to be quite the barkers and criers. While their barking might be useful to deter intruders and alert you to potential dangers, German Shepherds also like to bark at everything and nothing.
They are one of the more vocal breeds, and for parents and kids the excessive noise might be too much. This is especially true if you’ve got a younger child who struggles to sleep, or if you’ve got some rather noisy kids and just don’t want to add the barking and crying of a dog on top of that.
While some barking can be reduced through positive reinforcement training, it is a natural behavior and most German Shepherds will engage in it no matter what (including at inappropriate times).
One of the biggest cons of owning a German Shepherd is their propensity for developing separation anxiety. In some cases, this separation anxiety can be very mild and easily fixed if caught early enough, but in other cases, owners may not recognize the initial signs and the separation anxiety can quickly spiral out of control.
Having to deal with separation anxiety and the often lengthy fix that comes with it can be too much for a lot of parents to handle, especially if they’ve got younger kids or inflexible schedules.
Separation anxiety can also cause a lot of frustration for older kids who may not understand why their German Shepherd is acting the way that they are, or they may accidentally contribute to the destructive behavior.
The German Shepherd is one of the most popular breeds of dog in the world today. Unfortunately, that popularity comes with a downside. Unscrupulous breeders have taken advantage of the popularity of the German Shepherd to sell poorly bred puppies to unsuspecting buyers.
These poor breeding practices have resulted in unhealthy German Shepherds that are prone to various diseases such as hip and elbow dysplasia. These diseases not only require a significant financial investment to manage and treat, but they can also be emotionally devastating to children who love their dog and might not understand what the disease is.
Poor breeding has also resulted in German Shepherds with unstable temperaments that result in an increased risk of general anxiety, fear, or even aggression and unpredictability.
If you opt to get a German Shepherd from a breeder, it is vitally important that you heavily research the breeder before purchase. Many shelters and rescue groups also have purebred German Shepherds of all ages up for adoption, and a lot of them even have a full history of the dog and what their temperament is.
Regardless of where you get your German Shepherd, you should always meet your pup beforehand, and it’s also usually a good idea to bring your kids along so you can see how they interact with each other.
How Do I Introduce My German Shepherd To My Kids?
Introducing your German Shepherd to your kids can vary depending on the age of the kids, the age of the dog, and how much socialization the dog has had. For younger kids (generally pre-teen and younger), they should NEVER be left alone with your German Shepherd (or any other dog for that matter).
Dogs communicate their needs and discomfort differently than a human would, and a younger child may not recognize or understand if their German Shepherd is giving them signals that indicate they are stressed or uncomfortable with something in the environment.
It’s also incredibly important that parents teach their kids how to properly and safely interact with dogs. This should be done from as young as possible, though younger kids may not yet understand certain aspects of safe interactions and thus require a closer eye during their interactions.
There are several courses you and your kids can take that relate to dog safety and dog bite prevention. Encouraging your kids to participate in training sessions and teaching consent for petting and cuddling is also important in helping facilitate a safe relationship between your kids and your German Shepherd.
Things To Keep In Mind
If you’ve made the choice to add a German Shepherd to your family, there are a few important things to consider when “shopping around” for the perfect German Shepherd for your family:
If you have kids within the household (including older teenagers), the most important thing to keep in mind is how well socialized the German Shepherd you are considering is. If you are getting a puppy that is between 8 to 12 weeks, it’s important for you to begin socializing your German Shepherd puppy to children immediately.
The critical socialization period for dogs is much shorter than many people realize, and if the puppy is not socialized with children (or anything else) during this time, the risk of aggressive or fearful behavior towards children increases. I highly encourage families to reach out to a reputable local dog trainer who specializes in reward-based training to help them develop a good socialization plan for their new German Shepherd puppy.
Punishment-based training or balanced training should never be used with German Shepherd puppies, especially if the puppies are already showing signs of fear, aggression, or over-stimulation.
If you are adopting an older German Shepherd or a puppy who is already out of the critical socialization period, it’s very important that you seek out a dog who appears confident, happy, playful, and interested in being around your kids.
While younger adolescent German Shepherds may be a little more exuberant, there should still be no signs of aggression towards the kids and no shying away.
German Shepherds displaying fearful, anxious, or stressed body language may still be good family dogs once out of a shelter environment, but they will likely require an extensive amount of time and training to help them overcome their issues and are thus not suggested for homes with young kids or homes in which a lot of high energy activity frequently occurs.
German Shepherds who display any type of behavioral issue prior to being purchased or adopted should generally be avoided by families with young children.
While minor behavioral issues (such as jumping up, counter surfing, barking, etc.) might not be a huge red flag for the dog, any kind of behavioral issue in which aggression is a concern.
This includes resource guarding, reactivity towards other dogs, people (including the parents), objects, or dogs who become overstimulated and react by biting.
Similarly, German Shepherds who already have a known history of separation anxiety should generally be avoided by families with younger kids due to the heavy investment of time and energy that is needed to work on the issue, unless the family is able and willing to accommodate the dog’s needs in addition to their kid’s needs.
It’s incredibly important to remember that even good dogs bite! Most well-socialized German Shepherds will provide ample warning if they are starting to feel uncomfortable or threatened with an interaction, but if those signals are not respected, they will absolutely resort to biting (or threatening to bite) the person making them uncomfortable.
We do not expect people to put up with a child hitting, grabbing, or pushing them, and we should not expect our dogs to do the same. While a well-socialized German Shepherd may have less of a risk of seriously harming a child, if the child has had no guidance on how to safely and politely interact with the dog the risk will rise.
It is up to the parents to help teach their child how to safely interact with dogs.
Accidental bites can still occur, too, and dogs will bite to correct poor behavior in puppies. While this type of biting is not generally harmful to the puppy and is a good learning experience, to a human child it can break skin and cause a more serious injury.
German Shepherds who have bitten before are also more likely to bite, and those that have not been taught good bite inhibition as puppies will also likely bite harder (even if the bite is accidental).
Based on their breed history alone, German Shepherds do generally tend to be good with kids provided they are well-socialized from a young age. No dog is guaranteed to be good with kids, but poorly socialized and/or poorly bred German Shepherds have a greater risk of NOT being good with kids.
It’s also important to remember that whether a German Shepherd gets along with kids or not goes both ways, and that kids (of all ages) need to be taught how to safely and appropriately interact with dogs or else even the most mild-mannered German Shepherd may become irritated.
If you’ve got kids and are considering adding a dog to your family, though, the German Shepherd might be a good choice.
While it’s possible for German Shepherds to get along with kids of any age with appropriate socialization and training, due to their larger size and higher energy levels older kids might have an easier time with them.