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Are German Shepherds Smart?

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Are German Shepherds Smart?

According to the American Kennel Club, German Shepherds, also known as Alsatians, are the second most popular breed of dog in the United States, for good reasons! 

They are known for many things, including their fierce loyalty, courage, and their high intelligence. In fact, they’re said to be the third smartest dog breed in the world. So how did they get to be so smart and what does that mean for owners?

Table of Contents

How smart are German Shepherds?

In 1994, Professor Stanley Coren published his well-known book The Intelligence of Dogs. In his book, he details the ranking of 138 AKC-recognized dog breeds by intelligence following three tests; instinctive intelligence, or a dog’s ability to do the job they were originally bred for, adaptive intelligence, or the ability to learn for themselves, and working/obedience intelligence, or the ability to learn from humans

It is still widely considered to be a true and accurate account of the most intelligent dog breeds, in which the German Shepherd came third, behind the Border Collie and the Poodle. Their high intelligence is just one of the reasons German Shepherds are so commonly used in police and military work, as well as competing in dog sports around the world. 

Why are German Shepherds so smart? 

In The Intelligence of Dogs, it was determined that 51% of a dog’s intelligence stems from their genes, and 49% from their environment. As their name would suggest, German Shepherds were originally bred to guard and herd livestock in Germany in the late 1800s. Shepherd breeds in general are famous for their high energy and high intelligence – and German Shepherds are no exception.

The bright and brainy nature of German Shepherds is all down to their working DNA. Herding livestock requires high levels of alertness, agility, instinct, and above all, obedience. 

Being able to watch and follow the shepherd’s commands is key – and so Shepherd dogs are usually able to learn and understand several different words, gestures, and interpret tones of voice and body language significantly better – and faster – than many other dogs.

How smart are German Shepherds compared to other breeds?

As mentioned above, according to Stanley Coren’s research, the German Shepherd is only outranked in intelligence by two other breeds; Poodles and Border Collies. That’s pretty good going! All of the breeds tested were put into six categories; brightest, excellent, above average, average, fair, and lowest intelligence. 

Border Collies, Poodles, and German Shepherds, along with Golden Retrievers, Dobermans, Shetland Sheepdogs, Labradors, Papillons, Rottweiler, and Australian Cattle Dogs were listed in as the “brightest dogs” category, meaning that they learned new commands in fewer than 5 repetitions. They also performed a known command on the first try over 95% of the time. 

So how does this compare with other dogs? The dogs in the average category were able to learn a new command within 25-40 repetitions and followed a known command on the first try at a 50% success rate. This means that German Shepherds are five times faster at learning new things than the ‘average’ dog, and at least twice as obedient. Not that there’s anything wrong with average! 

german shepherd front view

How smart are German Shepherds compared to humans?

Every dog is different, just like us, and there are several kinds of intelligence. So, it is hard to rank somebody’s intelligence as a whole, whether they’re human or otherwise, let alone compare with other species. 

That said, we know that humans and German Shepherds make great working companions in the most high-pressure situations – so we must be a pretty good match!

Why isn’t my German Shepherd smart?

Although German Shepherds are a naturally brainy breed, every dog has a different personality and not all Sheps will be geniuses. However, that doesn’t mean your dog isn’t smart or can’t learn. If you have adopted an adult rescue German Shepherd, they may also struggle with training if they did not receive any at a young age, but don’t despair! 

Any dog can learn at any age, you just have to put in some extra time and effort, be patient, follow good training practices and seek help from a professional if you’re struggling. 

Some owners believe that the color of the GSD or whether or not he has floppy ears will influence intelligence – but this is absolutely untrue. How good of a problem solver your dog is comes down to how well you train him – as well as genetic traits he inherited from his parents.

Are German Shepherds easy to train?

Although German Shepherds are super intelligent, it doesn’t mean that training is always easy. They are a highly trainable breed, but clever dogs are often independently minded and can become stubborn when they feel frustrated. So, it’s important to do it right!

To avoid stubborn behavior, focus on creating a bond with your German Shepherd first, and keep training sessions short, clear, and positive. Always reward your Shep for getting it right and remember, practice makes perfect. If you want to train your Shep well, you’ve got to be regular and consistent.

Remember to start with the basics, such as names, sit, and stay, before moving on to more complex commands, tricks, and fun stuff. With puppies, it’s a good idea to start training as early as possible, but the basics shouldn’t take more than a couple of months. Potty and leash training should also take a few months, and remember, it’s never too late! Dogs are capable of learning so many things, and with this brainy breed – nothing is impossible!

To teach your Shep physical actions, encourage the motions using your hands when you say the command. To speed up training, use a behavioral marker such as a clicker and use it at the exact moment your Shep does the desired behavior. To teach them words and names, make strong associations; for example, to teach your dog their name, say it whenever you interact, touch, or make eye contact. 

An important area of training for German Shepherds is socialization. Socialization is essential in stopping both overexcited and aggressive behaviors, and Sheps are more likely to adopt negative traits than others without it. 

You should begin socializing your Shep as early on in their lives as possible, starting at home so that they can learn the rules in a safe environment. You can do this by inviting close friends, family members, and their dogs over, and rewarding good interactions

Never punish your German Shepherd if they make mistakes, and familiarise them with commands that put an end to things such as “all done” by saying the command and ending activities. This will come in handy when you want to stop undesirable behaviors like excessive barking, digging, or just calm your dog down after a hyperactive play session. You can also use negative associations such as crossing your arms and ignoring your pup to show them that something is not good.

german shepherd with owner playing

How to keep a German Shepherd busy

The German Shepherd’s high intelligence makes them fairly high maintenance pets. By this, we mean that they need a lot of stimulation, and without it, they can become bored, lonely, and underworked very easily. 

Understimulation often results in anxiety and destructive behaviors. Anxious Sheps may bark and howl excessively, destroy their possessions, ruin household objects, and even harm themselves. To prevent – and cure – chronic boredom, owners must make sure they provide German Shepherds with enough exercise, challenging play, and interesting interactions. 

If your German Shepherd’s anxiety becomes severe, you can aid your lifestyle changes with some anti-anxiety products like herbal supplements and plug-in diffusers until their mood and behavior pick up. 

Walks 

The best way to exercise your German Shepherd is with long, fun walks. Exactly how much exercise your Shep needs will depend on their age and health. However, the average healthy adult German Shepherd needs at least two hours of exercise per day, preferably split into two or three walks. 

Developing pups should build up to this with 5 minutes of exercise per month of their age twice a day, and older Sheps should wind down as per their vet’s advice. 

German Shepherds love to go to different places and do different activities on their walks, too. So, try out some different parks, trails, woodlands, and beaches if you live on the coast and experiment with hiking, running, swimming, picnics, and, of course, a few games of fetch. 

Socializing

Not only is socializing super stimulating, but it also helps to prevent loneliness and boredom. Although German Shepherds have a tough-guy reputation, they still need just as much love and affection as any other dog. 

You should try to involve them in your family life as much as you can, interact with as many friendly dogs and people as possible when out on walks. Never leave a dog alone for more than four hours at a time, and look into pet sitters and doggy daycares if you are going to be away from home on a regular basis.

Games

Engaging the brain is the best way to prevent boredom in German Shepherds. Their minds need to be entertained and challenged every day, and playing games are a great way to do that. 

Dogs also love to play games that exercise their natural instincts. For German Shepherds, this means classic games like fetch and chase are always firm favorites, as well as games that test out their agility and intelligence.

Hide and seek, treasure hunt, and the cup game are some of the most popular choices. To play hide and seek, ask your Shep to sit and wait while you hide somewhere in the house. Then, call them to come and find you. This is both fun, challenging, and engages their inner sniffer dogs. To play treasure hunt, follow the rules of hide and seek but hide their favorite toy or some treats instead.

The cup game is a little more challenging but great for brainy breeds like the German Shepherd. To play, get two cups and place them face-down, side by side on the floor in front of your Shep. Then, make sure they’re watching, and put a treat underneath one of them. Finally, switch the cups around and ask them to find the treat. Once your Shep has mastered the game, you could switch the cups twice, add another treat into the mix, or even another cup.

german shepherd training

Toys

Puzzles, feeders, and treat-dispensers are the perfect toys for boredom-busting. We highly recommend pet brand Outward Hound for plush and treat-based puzzle toys and slow feeding bowls, whilst Kong is great for classic treat dispenser balls and toys, as well as hardy, stress-busting chew toys. Snuffle feeding mats are brilliant fun for bright minds and engaging those foraging instincts, too.

Toys that stimulate the senses are also great for dogs that need some extra stimulation, especially young pups who may be too young for puzzles and Sheps with disabilities. Popular choices for German Shepherds include spiky, squeaky, light-up Gnawsome balls and the famous “Wobble Wag” giggle ball. 

Work

German Shepherds are extremely hardworking dogs, so, to engage their minds even more, provide them with a job to do. We don’t necessarily mean sending them off to police dog school, but these dogs are happiest when they have a purpose. 

So, let your Shep accompany you to run errands, do household chores, and supervise any playing children in the household. They love to be in the center of it all! If you can train them to do so, you could even teach them to help you out around the house; bring you the mail, put their toys away, etc. 

Tricks

Finally, try teaching your German Shepherd some new things to exercise their minds. You can teach them the names of their toys by saying them continually during play, then hiding them and asking your dog to find them by name. Or, you could teach your Shep some cool tricks like rollover or handstand. For more info on different tricks and how to teach them to your dog, visit our online courses page.

The bottom line

German Shepherds are one of the smartest dog breeds on the planet. Whilst this makes for great fun and super rewarding training, it also takes a lot of effort to make sure that they don’t get bored. But, if you’re willing to take on the challenge, you’ll have the most loyal companion you could ask for!

Laura <br> <h6>Writer and Border Collie Mom​</h6>

Laura

Writer and Border Collie Mom​

Laura is a dog-lover with an animal-related degree and plenty of hands on experience. She is passionate about dog health & welfare and wants to arm owners with all of the essential info they need!

Check out our effective and affordable online dog training courses!