German Shepherds are the Second Most Popular Dog in America. Why do you Rarely See Them in Public?

©Scott Sheaffer, CDBC, CPDT-KA, USA Dog Behavior, LLC

The AKC (American Kennel Club) lists the 10 breeds shown below as America’s current most popular dog breeds.

Do you notice something interesting about this list? 

When was the last time you saw a German Shepherd walking on a leash down your street or, for that matter, when was the last time you saw one at all? If you’re like most people, your answer is rarely - maybe never. 

Isn’t something askew here? German Shepherds are the second most popular dog breed in America, yet we seldom see them. Where are they?

There are a number of reasons for this in my opinion:

● The biggest reason has to do with puppy mills. This breed has been popular for a long time. Puppy mills are infamous for churning out popular dog breeds in mass quantities (think livestock). They only care about what dogs look like, not how their breeding is affecting temperament. As a result, many (in my opinion, the vast majority) of today’s German Shepherds are genetically predisposed to behavioral issues. Genetic behavior issues are resistant to treatment. This breed is especially overrepresented in dog and human reactivity (i.e., aggression, fear).

● Who doesn’t love the look and grace of these dogs? Unfortunately, many new owners forget that this is a very athletic and intelligent breed. When not adequately stimulated, both physically and mentally, all kinds of behavior issues can surface. We all love the looks and performance of a shiny new Ferrari; however, the maintenance required to keep these cars looking and running well can be quite high. Without the proper maintenance, a Ferrari will rust away - just like a German Shepherd.

● Because so many German Shepherds have behavior issues, people keep them cloistered in their homes, on chains and behind fences. This is why we don’t see them out in public.

What are you to do if you love this breed (like I do) and want to get one or if you already have one and he or she has behavior issues?

Before you get one, please carefully consider your work and family situation. As mentioned above, German Shepherds need to be physically and mentally challenged - daily. Be honest with yourself about how much time you and your family can spend with the dog.

If you want a puppy, be careful. Very careful. I’m of the opinion that it is very difficult to find a properly bred German Shepherd anywhere in America and possibly anywhere in the world. 

You can consider getting this breed from a rescue organization. Rescue organizations can usually give you some insight into a particular dog’s behavior issues and background. They can sometimes provide you information and help in managing these issues too. Many of these dogs are behavioral “special needs” dogs. My current German Shepherd, Clipper, is one of those dogs and he is well worth the effort.

Before getting a German Shepherd, please realistically consider your home environment and be exceptionally careful if you opt to get a puppy.

If you have any breed of dog with serious behavioral issues, always seek the help of a dog behavior consultant or veterinary behaviorist.