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Some breeds of dogs tend to be known as stubborn and difficult, like the Bulldog or many toy breeds. Other breeds aren’t known for their stubbornness but may prove more difficult to train.
As one of the most popular breeds of dog, the German Shepherd is known for being trainable and intelligent. However, some owners will likely encounter a period in which their German Shepherd does not “live up” to the breed standard.
But does this mean the breed as a whole is actually difficult? Are German Shepherds considered stubborn dogs?
German Shepherds aren’t usually stubborn dogs. Their loyal and loving attitude means they’re often quick to pick up new things. While it can vary based on the individual dog, certain German Shepherds may show stubborn streaks during adolescence, if they become too bored, or if they have a negative association with something in their environment.
In the article below, we’ll look at the history of the German Shepherd and why they are not really considered a difficult dog breed to work with. We’ll discuss certain situations and life experiences in which a stubborn streak may pop up, as well as discuss some possible solutions for how to deal with those stubborn periods when they occur.
Why Is My German Shepherd Stubborn?
Stubbornness in dogs, as they know it, is a bit different than our definition of stubbornness. While dogs may not want to do something just because they don’t feel like it, they also don’t understand the human concepts of “spite”, “guilt”, or “playing dumb”.
To a dog, the “stubborn” attitude is just them not understanding what is being asked of them, a miscommunication on the owner’s part, or because the dog is unhappy with what they are being “paid” in order to do something. When it comes to German Shepherds, they are usually far from being considered stubborn dogs.
In fact, they tend to be one of the most eager-to-please dog breeds and are very resilient to training mistakes and misunderstandings (provided the mistake doesn’t cause pain or fear). They tend to want to please their owners, and usually do their best to try and achieve their goals.
Due to their history as working dogs, the German Shepherd is well known as being an easy to train dog that is quick to learn. They are athletic and capable of learning and performing a wide variety of tasks (which is one of the primary reasons they are used as police dogs). Like many other working dogs (such as the Great Pyrenees), the German Shepherd tends to put their job first and foremost,
While this intelligence and trainability make them a great choice for first time dog owners, there are a few situations in which you might see a more stubborn German Shepherd. Certain individual German Shepherds may have a more hardheaded personality at various points of their lives, or if they have experienced the following:
Reason 1: Adolescent Stage
As with most dogs, German Shepherds who are within the adolescent stage of their lives (which generally occurs between 8 to 12 months of age) tend to be a little more difficult to work with sometimes. Just like a human teenager!
During this period of their lives, German Shepherds tend to become more curious about the world around them and they start to test boundaries. They may even seem like they are a totally different dog!
While this make look like stubbornness to their owners, it is a normal part of dog growth and the learning process so it’s important to be patient throughout this process. Many adolescent dogs will not participate in the activities they previously enjoyed, or they may show an indifferent attitude towards their owner, both of which can appear as a stubborn streak.
Similarly, German Shepherds who are still young puppies may also appear stubborn but during puppyhood a dog’s attention span and ability to process and understand information is limited. As they age and exit the adolescent stage, there is usually a reduction in this behavior and they become a little easier to work with…depending on the individual dog, of course!
While German Shepherd puppies may still pick up on things quicker than some other puppies, you should still cut them some slack while they are learning something new!
Reason 2: Boredom
German Shepherds are highly intelligent, and if they do not receive enough mental or physical stimulation, they can become bored and frustrated.
This pent-up energy can express itself as stubbornness in training, and can show up as the dog ignoring cues, redirecting their energy and focus (zoomies, grabbing at the leash, etc.), or appearing overly excited and reactive towards their environment.
Some owners may view this as the dog being stubborn, but in reality, it’s just a dog who doesn’t have their needs met. For especially high energy German Shepherds, exercising them before a training session can help cut down on that “stubborn” attitude.
Reason 3: Negative Associations
While they are usually easy to train, German Shepherds are also known for being sensitive dogs and they don’t usually do well with rough treatment or force.
While working dogs may be more tolerant of this type of training method, most German Shepherds do much better when the training is done at their pace and focuses on allowing the dog to work out the problem rather than using pain and punishment to force them to do something. Rewards definitely help!
For German Shepherds who have had a negative experience with training, their owners, something in the environment, or even just the world in general, their stubbornness might be due to their wariness and remembrance of whatever caused the negative association in the first place.
For example, if a German Shepherd was learning a recall and did not respond right away and their owner chased them down and yelled and smacked them for not coming when called, then the next time the owner asks them to come when called the German Shepherd might refuse to do so out of fear.
This will look like the dog is being hardheaded, but why would he want to go to someone who previously beat him when he responded the first time (albeit a little slowly)? German Shepherds are extremely intelligent, and those that have experienced negative or painful things may think twice about responding to an owner.
Reason 4: Poor Training Foundation
While easy to train, German Shepherds still require a good training foundation just as any other breed does.
Adult German Shepherds who did not receive any training as puppies or young adolescents, they may seem more resistant and stubborn with the training process once an owner finally attempts to train them in a more formal fashion.
Just as we humans must learn how to navigate our own schooling and education, so must dogs learn how training works and what is expected of them in the training process.
For German Shepherds who have a poor training foundation, the stubbornness may be difficult to work with in the beginning but once they understand what is required of them the process usually speeds up quite a bit.
Miscommunication from the owner can also cause a German Shepherd to appear stubborn, and they may just stare at you and wait to see if you clear it up or not. They may also attempt other behaviors that they already know to see if that’s what you are asking for. Addressing the miscommunication will usually help clear up the seemingly stubborn response.
Reason 5: Medical Issue
Rarely, an underlying medical issue may be the cause of your German Shepherd’s stubborn attitude.
Deafness (either partial or full) can cause a change in reaction from your dog. If your German Shepherd has any hearing issues, they may respond more slowly (or not at all) to your cues, and they may also perform a different behavior.
While dogs primarily rely on visual cues, if you trained your pup using mostly verbal cues, then impaired hearing can still have a noticeable effect on their responsiveness. This is especially true if your pup used to be very responsive but then they started to ignore cues or took longer to respond to you.
In that same vein, dogs who are losing their vision may also differ in their responsiveness to cues. While this can vary based on the level of vision loss and how quickly the dog is able to become accustomed to the loss of vision, there might still be some delays that appear as stubbornness but are really due to the dog not seeing the cue.
If any medical issue is suspected as the cause for your German Shepherd’s stubborn streak, it’s best to make an appointment with your vet to have them checked out.
How Can I Stop My German Shepherd From Being Stubborn?
This depends on the underlying reason why our German Shepherd is displaying a stubborn streak.
If they are a young dog, then it may just be part of their normal growth cycle. Shortening training sessions and being more patient with the process will help encourage learning but avoid overwhelming your pup and potentially causing them to shut down and refuse to work with you.
For German Shepherds who are bored, ensuring that their needs are met on a daily basis will help tremendously and keep them from “acting up” during training sessions. Playtime or physical exercise such as a good run before a training session can also help reduce their energy levels (just make sure you aren’t exercising them to the point of exhaustion).
Additionally, employing the help of a reputable local dog trainer can help set you up for success and make sure that there is no misunderstanding between you and your pup. Providing high-value rewards and switching things up will also help with a hardheaded German Shepherd who has become bored with the training process.
When it comes to negative experiences and associations, it’s best to speak with a local trainer on how to address those issues. Positive reinforcement and reward-based training are generally best and will help your stubborn German Shepherd change their negative association into a positive one.
If your German Shepherd has a medical issue that is contributing to their stubbornness, speak with your vet and research how to live with and train deaf or blind dogs. Many support groups exist to help with these conditions, and once the adjustments are made your German Shepherd will likely show off their enthusiasm for training once again.
In most cases, the German Shepherd is not considered a stubborn breed of dog and they are often one of the easiest breeds to train and work with (which makes them a great choice for first time dog owners). However, certain instances can lead to stubborn streaks.
Oftentimes these issues can be a natural part of the aging process, whereas in other instances the issue may need more attention from an owner, a reputable dog trainer, or the dog’s veterinarian.
In any case, if you have a German Shepherd who tends to be stubborn, once you’ve determined the root cause of the hardheadedness and addressed any issues related to it, then it’s likely you and your pup will be on good “talking terms” once again!