12 Reasons German Shepherds Are the Best Guard Dogs

Written by Katie Downey
Published: September 19, 2023
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German Shepherds have been regarded as some of the best all-around dogs for centuries. Not only are they smart, and beautiful, and make great companions, but they are also amazingly protective of the people they love. The large dogs have been showing the world what the best guard dog looks like for as long as anyone can remember. From guardians of children to protectors of livestock to highly trained First Responders, German shepherds have remained a top breed for protection and companionship for decades. What is it that makes the German shepherds the best guard dogs? First, let’s take a moment to go over what we know about this amazing breed so far.

The Majestic German Shepherd

Black German Shepherd 2

German shepherds have excellent sight, hearing, and powerful noses.


Appearance: Medium to large wolf-like dogs with triangular-shaped large ears and long muzzles. Their fur has a thick, soft, down-like undercoat with long coarse guard hairs over the top. They are often black and tan colored with dark muzzles and black saddles. Though some German shepherds can be white, black, and other variations of the colors. They stand higher in the front than they do in the rear. It appears much like a downhill slant.

Size: Males stand 24 – 26 inches at the shoulder, 36 – 42 inches long, and weigh 65 – 90 pounds on average. Females stand 22 – 24 inches at the shoulder, 36 – 42 inches long, and weigh 50 – 70 pounds on average.

Diet: The shepherds need a high-protein diet that’s also low in fat. Animal muscle meat is very good for dogs, as are fruits, veggies, and lots of healthy human-quality meats. A protein content of 25% should be the goal when finding dog food. Stay away from synthetic ingredients and fillers, and opt for high-quality dog kibble and canned food. It is best to feed a German shepherd smaller meals twice a day. They are very sensitive to chocolate, grapes, and raisins.

Energy Level: These dogs have medium to high energy levels and must be properly exercised. If they do not receive adequate exercise and simulation, they will likely become destructive out of boredom.

Temperament: These are very loyal, protective dogs that enjoy sticking close to their humans. The shepherds come packed with courage and obedience. They are also rather silly and seem to enjoy providing plenty of entertainment and laughter for their families. These dogs can also be destructive to their home if their energy levels are not met with stimulation like training, play, or a job. They might like to lounge around with their humans, but these are dogs genetically programmed to be some of the best working dogs. They are not happy if they do not have a job or are unable to prove themselves to their owners in a meaningful and hardworking way.

Health Concerns: Shepherds can have issues with degenerative myelopathy and elbow and hip dysplasia, especially later in life. Check with the breeder regarding screening for these issues. These canines can also experience the sudden onset of bloat, which can be life-threatening. It may be best to wait until your dog is fully mature before spaying or neutering to allow the joints to finish developing. The hip and hock joints can give them a great deal of trouble.

Lifespan: They live 8-13 years on average, though it is entirely dependent on the dog receiving the correct care and humane treatment.

German Shepherd History

German Shepherd laying in grass with tongue out

The German Shepherd was first used for herding sheep.


In 1889 Captain Max von Stephanitz began it all. After attending a dog show in Karlsruhe in western Germany, he became especially impressed by a yellow and grey dog. The dog was medium-sized and had a primal, almost wolf-like appearance. Since the dog was a working dog keeping sheep safe, he was interested in the dog’s ability to learn commands with little training. The dog’s name was Hektor Linksrhein, which upon purchase, then became Horand von Grafrath. This dog would go on to become the first registered German shepherd.

Later, Stephanitz became the first president of Verein für Deutsche Sch·ferhunde (Association for German Shepherd Dogs) and went on to form the breed’s standard, which every registered German shepherd has followed since. Stephanitz’s motto for the breed of dogs was ” Utility and Strength.” He found the dogs useless without intelligence, temperament, and structural integrity, which would make the dog a good servant to man. Stephanitz selected to massively inbreed Horand and his brother with their sisters. This is likely what caused the genetic issues like hip dysplasia that we still see in the current day.

In 1907, the first German shepherd appeared in a dog show in the US. By 1913, the first German shepherd had won a championship title. The same year, the German Shepherd Dog Club of America was formed. In 1917, the dogs entered into World War I. Their names changed in the Americas to simply “shepherd dog” since everything German became taboo. From that point, the German shepherds gained a reputation as being fierce and loyal war dogs that the German army was using.

Then came Rin-Tin-Tin, which made the breed extremely popular. Later, the breed became the first seeing eye dogs for the blind through Seeing Eye in Morristown, NJ.

What Makes German Shepherds Great Guard Dogs?

mother and daughter at a picnic with a German shepherd dog

German shepherds are fantastic family dogs.


German shepherds have a bad reputation as vicious dogs. Some apartment complexes refuse applications if the potential tenant has one of them. They get a bad rap for causing destruction. Under the correct guidelines and circumstances, they make the best dogs that anyone could ever have. With the proper training, they also make the best guard dogs. They are funny, sweet, loyal, obedient, and of course, protective of their humans. If a German shepherd is adopted as a puppy for a child and they grow up together, the child could not ask for a better best friend or guardian. Let’s look at a few reasons German shepherds make great guard dogs.

1. Appearance

Aggressive German Shepherd displaying its teeth

©iStock.com/Milan Krasula

The appearance of a German shepherd is enough to make most people not cross the street until the dog passes. To a potential burglar or mugger, a German shepherd is exactly what will deter them from choosing your home or you. Dogs have a keen sense that tells them when something doesn’t seem right, or a person’s vibe just doesn’t mesh well with their own. Having one of these magnificent dogs will scare away would-be assailants.

2. Bark

Barking german shepherd

The bark of a German shepherd is quite scary, and that’s without even seeing the dog behind the bark!

©bbstudio_aad/iStock via Getty Images

A bark from a German shepherd at a person doing something they shouldn’t be doing is enough to make even the most daring a little nervous. Their bark is reminiscent of any police k-9 unit and means business. Any burglar willing to break into a house that contains that bark would have to be hard-pressed for cash or in need of a quick learning lesson as to why people keep ferocious dogs at home while they’re out.

3. Loyalty

Tactical Dog Harness

German shepherds are one of the loyalist breeds of dogs.

©Luxury Fred Sherman/Shutterstock.com

These dogs are some of the most loyal companions anyone could ever dream of. It doesn’t matter if you and the dog work together, are deployed together, or share a home; when they know who their companion and leader is, they will always remain loyal to you. They make such great pets because of this.

This is another reason they are fantastic as guard dogs, seeing-eye dogs, and best friends. They want to do their best and just need you for reassurance and guidance, just as any friend would.

4. Obedience

Trained dog doing defence and biting work with dog handler

German shepherds are working dogs, and when given a job, they like to do it well.

©Zbynek Pospisil/iStock via Getty Images

The German shepherd is overflowing with motivation and is a trainable companion. With a little training and guidance, they can understand what it is that you expect of them and will do their best to remain obedient. Do not expect instant obedience with an untrained dog or puppy. With a little help making good choices, they will learn to look for your signal when necessary.

They are not a breed that requires very much training. If anything, the shepherd requires more guidance than anything. They are super smart and also highly reactive, which can create a difficult-to-control dog with an even more difficult temperament. The best time to train a shepherd is when they are a puppy. An older rescue dog will need a professional trainer who specializes in adults. Just like with humans, it’s easy to learn when you are a child, though it is still possible as an adult; just a bit tougher.

5. Intelligence

German shepherd isolated image

German shepherds are one of the smartest breeds of dogs around.


German shepherds rank third out of 138 breeds of dogs when it comes to intelligence. Not only are they super smart, but their problem-solving abilities are excellent. They have the mental capabilities of a two-and-a-half-year-old child.

The dogs can apply their intelligence to several areas and love learning new things. Without being able to effectively exercise their brains as well as their bodies, German shepherds can become unfocused and begin to think about creatively decorating your house while they feel bored. One reason why the German shepherd is so smart is due to their larger prefrontal cortexes, which is the part of the brain where complex problem-solving happens.

Many toys offer challenges and require quick problem-solving. Check out dog puzzles, food puzzles, kong balls for cheese of peanut butter, and other fun ways to help your dog’s mind get a little exercise in. The smarter the animal, the quicker and easier it can become bored. The same goes for humans. Since German shepherds are geniuses in the dog world, you do not want to see their physical strength help with their creativity, or you could be looking at a hole through your drywall or see that your dog has removed your carpet!

6. Watchfulness

Portrait of a German shepherd in a park. Purebred dog.

One of the best reasons to choose a German shepherd as a guard dog is their watchfulness when people come near their property.

©Cloud Bursted/Shutterstock.com

Have you ever watched how a German shepherd’s eyes follow strangers? They are incredibly watchful dogs who don’t miss a beat. They will watch the next-door neighbor go to work every day and the neighbor who runs every day. If you have someone new over, they will be wary and may continue to stare at the newcomer, even after you’ve introduced them to your dog. Think of a teacher or the police; whenever something seems a bit suspicious or leaves them feeling a bit uneasy, they will watch the deliverers of such feelings. Better safe than sorry, and your German shepherd isn’t going to let that suspicious guest out of their sight.

7. Vigilance

Top section of a man swinging a stick at a dog. The instructor trains dogs for patrol service. Sheepdog holds in his mouth to bite the sleeve. Blurred motion. Selective focus.

German shepherds are extremely vigilant and honorable dogs, possibly even the most vigilant of all the breeds.

©Mikhail Dmitriev/iStock via Getty Images

Vigilance in a trained German shepherd is an important protection factor. Having a dog who rushes to check everything out all the time is not good and can cause the dog to be overly excited and prone to mistakes they cannot control. Remaining watchful, poised, and ready are all excellent qualities in a guard dog. However, being hyperreactive can lead your dog to become aggressive, which is not good. The guard dog must remain in control of itself so that when you call it or give it a command like “sit” or “heal,” the dog obeys and calms down. A hyperactive dog may become so lost in the moment that it will not hear you or see you at all. An aggressive dog is a dangerous one, and that is also very bad and hard to correct once it happens.

Imagine if your German shepherd attacked a delivery driver because they became so overly excited and hyper-focused on the person. Your dog would not hear you screaming commands or even trying to pull them off the person. Instead, they could inflict serious injury and might even turn and hurt you without even understanding what was happening. Instinct is what drives most animals. If we choose to work with an animal, we must also be willing to work correctly with the instincts that drive them.

8. Courage

Animals Used In War

Though it is hard to see past an animal being used to do a human’s bidding, German shepherds, with their herding instincts and honorable traits, actually love helping humans go after bad guys.

©iStock.com/Puttachat Kumkrong

The German shepherd is frequently a top choice when it comes to military and first responder dogs. One of the biggest reasons is because of their courage. They are not afraid to run into the line of fire to save people, protect their humans, or go after a criminal. They have a lot going for them when it comes to their extreme level of integrity. Many people could benefit from having such a rocksteady and courageous friend by their side.

9. Protective Instincts

Sheep grazing in a beautiful landscape in the British countryside near the outskirts of Manchester.

Genetically, German shepherds are automatically protective of the lives they share their time with.


Deep within the German shepherd lies the instinctual need to protect and herd. Their bloodline originated with a sheep-herding dog, after all. They cannot help but protect, herd, and serve. They want to keep their humans safe and also want to please them by following orders. If the dog plays in the backyard with two children, that dog will probably take a bullet for them. They will be extensively protective, in that helicopter parent kind of way!

If the dog lives on an alpaca farm with a few barn cats, chances are when the coyotes come calling that the dog will protect not only the alpacas but also the cat. They will always protect what is yours and what is theirs, generally without any additional training. They are amazing in that way.

10. Strength

German shepherd jumping in leaves

The German shepherd isn’t just physically strong; they are also mentally strong.


Even though they have an average bite force of 238 PSI, these dogs are focused and determined when they lock onto a target. They are strong enough to break bones and cause criminals to think twice before crossing them. These beautiful dogs are also muscular and determined. They were some of the first seeing eye dogs because they are smart, and capable of making complex decisions and fixing issues for their human caretakers, especially if those humans depend on the dog for their wellbeing.

11. Eager to Please

Beautiful portrait of smiling woman hugging her dog german shepherd together in front of fireplace at cozy home in winter day in happiness Friendship Love Companionship and benefits of pets animals.

German shepherds look for approval from their humans and may experience anxiety when it is not given.

©SB Arts Media/Shutterstock.com

Most dogs are inspired by positive and negative feedback from their owners, though few are as devastated by negative feedback as the shepherds are. Should the dog become bored and make the mistake of chewing up your shoes, or if the dog misses a command and makes the wrong choice, you will see how humiliated they become. On the other hand, when they receive positive feedback, it seems like it’s the best day they’ve ever had.

12. Love

how much does a dog cost

One thing that dogs are great at is unconditional love.


German shepherds, like most dogs, have an unlimited amount of unconditional love within themselves, just waiting to open up. When they choose someone as their human, they will give you their entire heart. You will be able to bring them the greatest happiness and also the greatest sadness. They never live long enough, so be sure to spend as much time and love with your dog as possible. You are their entire world, even if they aren’t yours.


Cute German Shepherd in a blanket on bed. Lovely dog in home. Slow living

Be easy with your dog because they deserve to have the best life they can.

©Korneeva Kristina/Shutterstock.com

Q: Why does the military choose German shepherds?

A: Overall, German shepherds have the best of all the characteristics a person looks for in a protective dog. They have fantastic noses, high intelligence, strength, and integrity, and are very loyal.

Q: Will a German shepherd protect its owner without training?

A: Yes, but it could be dangerous or backfire and happen to the wrong person. It is important to have a professionally trained protection dog. If your dog attacks an innocent person and doesn’t understand they should let go, it could be fatal. Even if the person is doing something wrong, you want to be able to call your dog off. If your dog isn’t trained, there’s a chance that if you intervene between your dog and another person or even another dog, your dog can accidentally bite you and not even know it.

Q: Can a German shepherd be an outside-only dog?

A: Definitely not. No dog should be forced to live outside 24/7, and dogs like German shepherds will forever remember how you’ve treated them. German shepherds require trust, companionship, play, and lots of brushing. If you want a dog that can live outside, please do not get one at all. All pets require care, and enrichment is a big part of the equation. No one likes to get locked in a cage and ignored all the time.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Tap10/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

Katie Downey is a writer for A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on wildlife, arachnids and insects. Katie has been writing and researching animals for more than a decade. Katie worked in animal rescue and rehabilitation with handicapped cats and farm animals for many years. As a resident of North Carolina, Katie enjoys exploring nature with her son, educating others on the positive role that insects and spiders play in the ecosystem and raising jumping spiders.

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