With its alert, upright ears, and distinct coloring, a German Shepherd is instantly recognizable. One of the most popular breeds in the world, German Shepherds are used as police dogs and service animals, as well as family companions.
They have a reputation as being intelligent and loyal, making outstanding watchdogs and supremely protective family pets. But with these characteristics comes a fierce streak which makes the German Shepherd deadly in the face of a threat. Victims of a German Shepherd attack are likely to be left with serious and even life-altering bite wounds and injuries.
Read on to find out everything you need to know about the German Shepherd, from the breed’s origins to its temperament and characteristics. You can also learn about the more violent tendencies of the breed, examine German Shepherd bite incidents, and discover how you can deal with the aftermath of a dog attack – including taking legal action.
Reputation of the German Shepherd
German Shepherds have a reputation as being loyal, protective, and extremely intelligent. However, they are also feared by many people. This is perhaps not too surprising, because German Shepherds are large and powerful dogs. As a result, aggressive German Shepherds have the capacity to inflict serious damage when they want to.
For many people who fear German Shepherds, the stigma comes as much from the dog’s appearance as its actions. This breed can be imposing due to its size and natural look, while many people also link the breed to police and attack dogs. German Shepherds are usually affectionate around trusted family members, but do not trust strangers and are quick to react to potential threats. The fear factor surrounding the breed is deserved – German Shepherd attacks have resulted in a large number of serious injuries and even fatalities.
History of the German Shepherd
The German Shepherd dog breed was born from efforts to create the perfect working dog.
In the 1850s, dogs of all different types were being bred in Germany to herd sheep and protect flocks from predatory animals. Breeders across the country were trying to promote the best shepherding traits in these dogs and succeeded in creating new breeds of effective working dogs. Eventually, efforts were launched to control the breeding process.
This is when former cavalry captain and veterinary student Max von Stephanitz set out to develop the perfect herding dog breed. At an 1899 dog show, Von Stephanitz came across a dog that had the traits that he was looking for and bought it.
Von Stephanitz called his new dog Horand von Grafrath. He declared Horand the first of a new breed named the German Shepherd Dog (sometimes abbreviated to GSD) and founded a group called the Society for the German Shepherd Dog.
Horand was then used in a comprehensive breeding program aimed at refining the German Shepherd. He was bred with desirable dogs owned by fellow members of the Society for the German Shepherd Dog to forge a breed that matched Max von Stephanitz’s vision.
Von Stephanitz and the society continued with their breeding mission for 35 years, through several generations of puppies. All German Shepherds today share a genetic link with the fourth generation of German Shepherds – Horand’s great-grandchildren – and Max von Stephanitz is credited as the creator of the breed.
German Shepherd Characteristics
- Height: Males – 24-26ins / Female – 22-24ins
- Weight: Males – 65-90 lbs / Females – 50-75 lbs
- Color: Usually tan and black
- Coat: Double coat
- Ears: Pointy and alert
- Life expectancy: 10 years (+/- 3 years)
The German Shepherd has a very distinctive look. They typically have a tan color, with black areas on their backs and around their faces. Some German Shepherds are completely light or dark in color. The German Shepherd’s face and ears are also instantly recognizable. They have pointy ears which stand straight up and a long, square muzzle. These dogs range from medium to large in size, weighing up to 90lbs, and have long, muscular bodies. German Shepherds also have a double coat (with a soft undercoat and a tougher top layer of fur).
German Shepherds can make excellent pets because they are loyal and naturally protective of their families. However, these same traits can lead to the dogs becoming aggressive. German Shepherds have an alpha mentality and will try to be dominant – especially with an inexperienced owner. Its protective instinct could also lead to a German Shepherd attacking or biting an innocent stranger if they are perceived as a threat in some way.
Popularity of German Shepherds
German Shepherd Dogs are the second most popular dog in the United States. The American Kennel Club produces a breed popularity list every year using dog registration figures. The most up-to-date figures at the time of writing have German Shepherds at number two as the second most owned dog in the U.S., behind only Labradors. German Shepherds have held down a place in the top spots for many years.
German Shepherds in Popular Culture
While the breed may have started out in Germany, it has taken over as one of the most popular in the United States, thanks in part to the appearance of German Shepherds in movies and TV shows.
German Shepherds are sometimes used as acting dogs, due to their intelligence and ability to be trained to follow commands. There have been several well-trained German Shepherds which have thrived on camera. Here are some of the best German Shepherd movies which feature the dog in a prominent role:
Top-5 German Shepherds in Movies
This action/comedy stars James Belushi as a loner cop who is assigned a new partner – a smart and mischievous drug-sniffing German Shepherd named Jerry Lee. The dog stole the show and the movie made $78.2 million at the box office.
Will Smith starred in this post-apocalyptic sci-fi drama, which made nearly $600 million and was the seventh-highest-grossing movie of 2007. Smith is seemingly the sole survivor of a devastating viral outbreak. His only companion in a deserted New York is his canine friend Sam – played by two different German Shepherds.
Assorted Rin Tin Tin movies (1922-1931)
Rin Tin Tin is probably the most famous acting dog ever and starred in many movies. He was found as a newborn puppy in war-torn France during WWI by an American soldier. The soldier, Lee Duncan, brought the pup back to the U.S. and managed to get him into the movie business. RTT appeared in a staggering 29 movies between 1922 and 1931 and even has a star on the Hollywood walk of fame. He also received the most votes for the Best Actor category in the first-ever Academy Awards, but the academy removed him from the ballot in a bid to boost the credibility of the fledgling honors. RTT’s descendants were also used in movies and TV shows bearing the Rin Tin Tin name through the 1950s.
This drama follows U.S. Marine and K9 handler Megan Leavey (played by Kate Mara) and her military dog Rex, as they served two tours of Iraq together. Leavey and Rex were both injured in an I.E.D. explosion and Leavey was later able to adopt the dog.
War Dog: A Soldier’s Best Friend (2017)
This HBO documentary shows the training and deployment of German Shepherds as military dogs. It focuses on the bond formed between dogs and their handlers, as well as the significant impact the dogs can make in hostile territory. The documentary was produced by Channing Tatum and follows real soldiers and their canine companions.
The many appearances of German Shepherds on the big and small screens certainly feed into the breed’s popularity. But it is important to remember that the dogs shown on-screen are highly trained with expert handlers. The dangerous German Shepherds that you come across in everyday life will not have that same level of training or obedience, making a bite attack far more likely.
German Shepherds: Working Dogs
German Shepherds were originally bred as working dogs, and are still used for a range of different functions today, beyond being simple pets.
Why Do They Use German Shepherds as Police Dogs?
German Shepherds have a range of natural abilities, enhanced through training, which makes them a natural fit in the role of a police dog. They are intelligent, brave, and confident, and can be trained to sniff for items such as drugs, bombs, and evidence. In the role of a police dog, a German Shepherd’s aggression is also valued. They are trained to subdue suspects and attack perpetrators on command.
German Shepherds as Service Dogs
German Shepherds are used in a wide range of roles, including seeing-eye dogs for the blind, and therapy dogs used in locations such as hospitals and nursing homes.
Are German Shepherds the Best Military Dogs?
German Shepherds are used as the standard breed for the military. They are preferred for many of the same reasons that make them effective police dogs – bravery, obedience, and aggression. The breed was first used in the German army in WWI. There are now more than 600 dog teams in the U.S. Army, the vast majority of which are German Shepherds.
How are German Shepherds Trained to Attack?
Most dog bite incidents and attacks are a result of inexperienced owners losing control of their dogs. However, German Shepherds can also be trained to attack on command. This practice is mainly used for dogs in police or military use.
This is done by an owner or handler forming a bond with the dog, teaching it basic commands, and then moving on to instructed attacks in controlled environments, using a trainer wearing a protective sleeve or suit. Positive reinforcement is also used.
Are German Shepherds Naturally Aggressive?
Many German Shepherds do display a naturally high level of aggression. They can absolutely make loyal and loving pets. However, problems can arise with German Shepherd attacks and biting incidents when the dog is not trained properly.
It should tell you everything you need to know about the aggressive instincts of a German Shepherd that this breed is preferred for police and military use. In these roles, controlled aggression is encouraged. Many male police dogs are not neutered so that their natural aggression may be maintained and harnessed.
German Shepherd violence can come from two sources. Natural aggression, which arises due to a lack of proper training, and aggression on command, where owners train the dog to attack when ordered.
German Shepherd Attacks
Due to the aggressive instincts of this dog breed, German Shepherd attacks are unfortunately not uncommon. Investigations have been carried out into the dog bite incidents by breed, including one by researcher Merritt Clifton.
The study chronicled media coverage of dog attacks in the U.S. and Canada between 1982 and 2014. In that span, German Shepherds were third in the number of violent incidents caused, behind only Pit Bulls (in first) and Rottweilers.
Over the study period, German Shepherds and GSD mixes were responsible for 179 attacks that caused bodily harm. That number includes 25 deaths.
Dog Bite Statistics in the U.S (Infographic). Download or share our dangerous breeds dog bite info-graphic to educate others on the dangers of approaching a dangerous dog.
High-Profile German Shepherd Attacks
Dog shot after attacking police officer – Oakland, United States – February 2018
Two German Shepherds escaped from an Oakland backyard and attacked a neighbor who was leaving her nearby home. The victim managed to escape the vicious dogs and get back inside her home to call the police. When a police officer arrived, one of the dogs attacked him too. The officer was forced to run from the dog, before shooting it dead as it continued to attack.
Teenager needed 50 stitches after GSD bite – Birmingham, United Kingdom – 2011
A 13-year-old girl suffered horrific bite wounds to the face from her own German Shepherd puppy. The teen had looked after the 13-month-old puppy since it was just a few days old. But the large pup suddenly flipped and savaged its owner, tearing a chunk from her nose. The girl needed 50 stitches to her face, and the dog was put down.
Sleeping baby mauled by dog – Georgia, United States – 2018
A five-month-old baby was killed as she slept next to her babysitter’s German Shepherd. The dog mauled the child with no provocation. The devastated family confirmed that the babysitter was a family friend, and the dog had always been friendly around the baby and other members of the family.
Owning a German Shepherd
Is a German Shepherd a Good First Dog?
In a word – no. German Shepherds are alpha dogs like the Siberian Husky and look to establish dominance. A German Shepherd can become violent if it does not respect its owner as the leader and feels its dominance is being challenged.
An experienced owner can establish authority as a good leader and train an obedient German Shepherd. If this breed is not trained properly, it can be extremely dangerous.
It is better to pick a different breed for your first owning experience.
Training a German Shepherd – top 10 quick tips
- Begin training and socializing your puppy early – at around eight weeks old.
- Teach your puppy basic commands. Use positive reinforcement and treats as needed, and make sure you have your puppy’s full attention as they learn.
- Take your German Shepherd puppy to obedience classes from a young age.
- Get your puppy used to you touching its ears, paws, and tail. This will make vet visits easier as it gets older.
- If it is a family pet, you should make sure your puppy recognizes other humans as authority figures – not just one person.
- Do not shout at or mistreat the dog – this can lead to the dog biting or behaving aggressively.
- Interact with the pup while it eats and add food to its bowl. Teach it that people are not a threat to its food supply and address any food aggression.
- Keep your puppy active with plenty of exercise and training.
- Be calm, confident, and consistent in your commands and behavior.
- Be patient. Even an intelligent breed like the German Shepherd will not learn everything immediately.
Will German Shepherds Attack Their Owners?
Usually, German Shepherds are extremely loyal and will be friendly around their owners, sometimes even being overprotective. A German Shepherd’s aggression will normally be aimed at strangers. However, there are also examples of German Shepherds attacking their owners. This risk can be minimized through proper training and bonding.
What to Do If You Are Attacked by a German Shepherd
Being the victim of a German Shepherd bite or attack can be scary and traumatic. But how should you react? Our guidance is broken down into two categories to establish how to survive a German Shepherd bite and what to do after an attack.
Surviving a German Shepherd Attack
- Avoid an aggressive-looking German Shepherd. Stay away if possible! However, if an aggressive dog does approach you, DO NOT: make any sudden movements, run away, turn your back, or make eye contact. If the dog loses interest, back away slowly.
- If the dog attacks, use something as a shield. Use anything you can as a buffer between yourself and the dog’s teeth, from a backpack to a purse. Wrap your arm in clothing and hold that out in front of you if you have nothing else. Let the dog latch onto something other than your flesh.
- Call for help. Try not to put anyone else in danger, but you might well need help to escape a sustained German Shepherd attack.
- Stay on your feet and fight back if needed. Fighting back should be a last resort because it can make a dog attack more ferocious. If you are left with no other options, hit or kick at sensitive areas, and use anything you can as a weapon. Dogs are most dangerous when their victims are on the ground. If you are knocked off your feet, protect your neck and extremities.
- Get to safety. Climb to an out-of-reach high point if you can, such as the top of a wall or a car. Even better, put a solid door or wall between yourself and the dog.
After a German Shepherd Attack
- First aid or medical treatment. If you have been bitten by a dog, you will need medical help. Assess the severity of your wound and decide whether hospital treatment is needed.
- Call the police. File a detailed report of the incident with officers. Be honest and detailed – do not downplay the severity of the attack to protect the dog or owners.
- Document everything. Take pictures and videos from the scene. Take pictures of your injuries. Also, make sure to speak to any witnesses to secure statements and contact details.
- Contact a dog bite lawyer. Sustaining a bite from a German Shepherd can leave you with serious injuries, ranging from puncture wounds and torn flesh to scarring, infections, muscle damage, and emotional trauma. An experienced dog bite lawyer at Bisnar Chase will be able to provide expert guidance in seeking compensation and damages for your pain and suffering.
What do you Need to Take Legal Action in a Dog Attack Case?
You can make the legal process as smooth and easy as possible by assembling comprehensive evidence and documentation relating to your dog attack incident.
Make sure it is clear, concise, and well organized, to maximize your chance of lawsuit success.
You should have:
- A personal account of the attack
- A copy of the police report
- Copies of your medical reports
- The evidence you collected – photographs, video, witness statements
- Anything else which relates to the case
Who is Liable for a Dog Bite Injury in California?
When a German Shepherd turns aggressive and bites someone, the severity of the incident might dictate that the dog is put down. However, it is the dog’s owner who is liable for its behavior, according to California dog bite laws.
Some states have a ‘one bite rule’ which protects owners if they had no reason to suspect that their dog would turn violent. However, California is a strict liability state. This means that the dog owner is liable for an attack, as long as the victim was not trespassing and did not provoke the dog.
Trust Bisnar Chase to Win Your Dog Bite Case
There are more than 4.5 million dog bite attacks in the United States every year. If you or a loved one falls victim to a German Shepherd bite, you may be entitled to compensation.
The experienced dog bite lawyers at Bisnar Chase can help. Our attorneys have been winning dog bite lawsuit cases for more than 40 years. We have won more than $700 million for our clients and are proud of our outstanding 99% success rate.
Bisnar Chase offers a ‘No Win, No Fee’ service – if we do not win, you do not pay. Trust our specialists with your case by calling (800) 561-4887 now.