Whether your dear pet is getting a human, or you are considering a fluffy companion for your child, the relationship between dogs and children is one that requires lots of thought and preparation!
Are German Shepherds Good With Kids? German Shepherds are a breed of dog that tend to be great family dogs and tend to be great with kids. However, it depends on the temperament of both the children and the dog.
In this article, we will be covering the factors that determine a peaceful household, by discussing the importance of respect for dogs as wild animals, socialization and training, and the manners of the child as well as how to foster a rewarding relationship.
Are German Shepherds Good With Kids?
The German Shepherd Safe Haven and American Kennel Club both agree that the breed traits of German Shepherds are highly compatible with family life. The American Kennel Club shows a list of the typical traits of German Shepherds, which is important to know to understand how they will fit into your family’s lifestyle. They have high needs when it comes to exercise, mental stimulation, and playfulness which can be perfectly paired with the active nature of children.
In a household with an active and engaged family, they can thrive and blend well with the family structure. The relationship between your dog and children can be beautiful and mutually beneficial, especially for older children who can run around and play stimulating games with their fluffy companion.
While there can be lots of bonding opportunities between children and German Shepherds in general, it is important to think about the individuals in question when deciding if they might be the right fit for each other.
German Shepherds Are Still Wild Animals
A common mistake that dog owners make is in humanizing dogs before they have the proper training. Dogs are still wild animals that have their own language, culture, and instincts. It is important to meet them where they are at and have respect for their boundaries and cues.
Dogs don’t understand what emotion they are feeling, and they don’t know what is appropriate. They respond to new situations using their instincts in any way that will help them to feel safe again.
Kim Hawkinson is the owner and trainer at On Point Dog Training located in Florida and provides virtual training and courses to dedicated dog owners across the globe. She shared: “Once a dog has an interaction with a person of that height, they could generalize that experience into how they feel about other children.”
The generalization the dog makes will inform how they interact with other children and could be formed in as quick as a single interaction. More confident dogs might not generalize until they have had multiple experiences. It is important for adults to advocate for the needs of the dog during interactions and remember that they don’t inherently know or understand human social expectations. They are operating from finding their own place in the pack.
Adults As Advocates For Both
During interactions between dogs and children, even after the first meeting, it is important to remain attentive and avoid leaving them alone together. Regardless of the amount of training for both the dog and child, accidents happen, and kids aren’t always the most aware of reading body language. If possible, have an adult for the child and one for the dog.
Pay attention to the dog’s body language and cues to deescalate the situation as early as possible. If the dog has their tail and ears down, is looking around the room, backing up, or walking away, they are not ready or interested in the child. Allow them to have their space and try again later.
If the child is uncomfortable with the way the dog is interacting, too many licks, jumping, barking, or other non-harmful behavior, remove the dog or child and validate their feelings. Do not minimize the child’s fear or discomfort or try to force them to push through the encounter.
Even if the child typically enjoys other dogs, remember that each dog is a new experience for them and to make it pleasant and safe for them as well. Each dog is different in their greeting, level of training, and noises. Talk your child through the interaction and explain the dog’s behavior and the meaning behind it.
The German Shepherd’s Socialization and Training
An important aspect of how a German Shepherd will react to children is based on their level of exposure, socialization, and training. Exposure to a variety of new things, people, and experiences helps them become more confident when facing new situations. As dogs have animal instincts, confidence and safety are key to their ability to adapt to new situations.
“In all those interactions, the dog is learning that they’re not going to die and that they are still safe, which builds their confidence level and makes them better able to handle new experiences.”
When introducing the German Shepherd to children, it is important that they have the space to leave the situation so they can get back into a calm state before returning. This provides them with the knowledge that they are safe and can interact again when they are calm. The adult gets to help the dog associate smaller humans with positive experiences.
How Can I Socialize and Train My German Shepherd?
Kim Hawkinson recommends introducing your dog to as many new experiences as possible to help them build their confidence. The goal is to take as many unknowns out of the new experience as possible for your dog. Some common socializing opportunities are the dog park, family and friends, walking the neighborhood, and pet stores.
You can practice socializing your German Shepherd with sounds, sights, and smells as well. Have child toys around the house, especially toys that move, light up, or make noise to get them used to the new sounds. Let them smell washed clothing with the detergent you plan on using for your child. You can even play videos of kids crying, laughing, screaming, and playing to introduce your dog to the sounds of children.
Avoid allowing behaviors that could frighten small children, including barking, jumping, excessive or unwanted licking. Even tiny dogs can be intimidating when jumping or putting their paws upon a child. Use positive reinforcement and treats to teach the dog when each behavior is acceptable for your family. For example, if you enjoy dog kisses, teach them to lick only when offered and on the hands.
Manners of the Child
Even the most confident and best-trained dog has its limits. In addition to training the dog, it is imperative that children are taught how to interact safely with the specific German Shepherd in question to have an amazing relationship.
Children should be taught to respect the dog’s personal space, give them gentle physical touch, and learn their warning cues and body language. Fostering a safe environment maintains a calm demeanor for the dog and the confidence to know that they can handle the new situation.
Kim Hawkinson shares that it is best to teach the child how the dog prefers to interact before they meet. This creates familiarity for the dog, so they are being treated as they have by others, and it lessens the anxiety of the new experience.
It also empowers the child as the dog responds positively to them and they feel able to communicate and have that relationship. The children get excited as well from seeing that the dog is interacting with them.
How can I prepare my child to interact with dogs?
Kids should greet animals by stopping to give them enough space to leave the situation should they get uncomfortable. They can then hold out a closed fist (to protect their fingers) and wait for the dog to come to them. Keeping still, let the dog sniff the child, and let your child know that sniffing is how dogs get to know people and say hello. You can also introduce the dog to an article of the child’s clothing before they meet as well.
The child should remain calm and avoid loud or sudden movements when interacting with the animal and no toys or food should be present during their interactions. This keeps the dog calm and avoids territory issues.
Prepare your kids before meeting by teaching them gentle touches, which is especially important for younger kids as they tend to explore by grabbing. Practice with stuffed animals by encouraging gentle strokes and handling of stuffed animals so they associate fluffy objects with gentle play.
So, Are German Shepherds Good with Kids?
Overall, yes! German Shepherds are a breed that tends to be family-oriented and a loving member of the pack. It will always depend on the individual personalities and manners of both the dog and children. With the proper exposure, respect, and interactions, children can have a rewarding relationship with the German Shepherd in their life. Just make sure to introduce them gradually through the steps we outlined in the article.