Monday, September 28, 2009


Several months ago, a breeder friend of mine said that not all dogs will bite and that you can’t teach them to do so. Hmmmm, I found that statement interesting. Then last week, she made the same statement to me again. She works with a trainer who not only trains the American bred dog, but many German dogs as well. So once again when my curiosity gets challenged, I knew I needed to do some research about this subject.

Owning German Shepherds, we all assume that we have some of the best protection dogs on the earth. How many times have we said that “I just know that Rocky would protect me with his life?” But would he? Just because he’s a German Shepherd and he growls and shows his teeth doesn’t mean he will bite someone. Most dogs will avoid confrontation and go the other way.

Temperament and prey drive have a lot to do with the dogs ability to protect its master. So all of this got me to thinking of my own dogs and some of the dogs that I’ve owned in the past. Most of my show dogs would not have attacked anyone because they were well socialized from an early age and assumed that most people were friendly and not to be avoided. However, I did own a “Hammer” daughter that I KNEW would protect me. She came to my defense a couple of times and was very protected towards me. She wasn’t a noisy dog or made a lot of commotion. She just quietly watched. I had a professional trainer who wanted to buy one of her sons. He asked to see the mother and he came at her with a cape that he wrapped around himself and started towards her waving it and coming at me. She hit the end of that lead and was ready to “rock and roll” with this guy! When he was finished with the threatening behavior, he walked over to us in a calm, non-excitable way and petted her on the head and told me, “Now that’s a great mind.”

So just what type of dog is the type that bites, and is it true that not all dogs can be trained to bite? According to my research, based on the dog’s temperament, there are four types of prey drive. They are: prey drive, defensive drive, fight drive and avoidance. Because some dogs have not inherited the necessary drive, he can not be used for protection work. I found this information interesting. It says that we must understand that prey drive is inherited and has nothing to do with the breed of dog or his training. In other words, just because a dog is a German Shepherd, does not mean he will bite.

Prey drive: The prey drive can be seen in a young puppy as early as 6 weeks of age. What is prey drive? It is the desire to run and chase something that is moving and to grab it and shake it once he gets it. This is the same thing when a dog gets older and he chases a ball or a Frisbee or plays tug of war. The prey drive is a comfortable drive for the dog to be in. He doesn’t feel threatened. The dog is not nervous or stressed. Usually his tail is wagging and he’s happy.

Defensive drive: When one is considering a dog for police work, protection work or Schutzhund work, the dog must have a strong defensive drive. What does the defensive drive mean? This is the drive for the dog to protect itself against a potential threat. This is when the dog feels stressed when he feels that he will be attacked. This too (according to my research) is an inherited factor in the dog’s willingness to protect itself. This too is not something that can be trained into the dog, no matter how much you try. This is not the type of dog that would ever be considered for protection or police work. You can’t make the lab or golden retriever be a biting, protection dog. It’s not in their genes to be so. Although they may bark, they will avoid the confrontation and go the other way. Interestingly enough, even if a dog has inherited the defensive gene, the defensive drive does not appear until puberty. This means that he may be a year old before his defensive drive is developed but not fully until he reaches mentally maturity which can take up to three years of age. When the dog is in defensive drive, his body language is much different than it was in prey drive. His tail is no longer wagging happily, but is lower. His growl and bark is now deeper.

Fight drive: This is the drive of the dog as the interaction of prey and defense where he carries the forwardness of prey with the intensity of defense. This is the type of dog who carries himself with a great deal of self confidence in all environments and circumstances. This is the dog that does not look or act nervous or insecure. Again, according to my research, good genetics and proper training is the only way to bring out the fight drive in the dog. Dogs with good prey drive and a dominate temperament usually develop the best fight drive.

Avoidance: When a situation gets too intense for the dog, he will avoid it and retreat. This is called avoidance. Now some dogs may hesitate in a certain situation. This is fine. He’s checking out the thing that is causing him stress, but is not running away from it. The dog who is an avoidance state of mind, tugs his tail, ears are held back, hair may rise up on its back and he turns and runs. Some dogs may act a little confused, but they’re not afraid. They are not tucking their tails and running.

There are several different personalities that a dog can have: aggressive – extremely dominate and can be provoked into biting. Many of these types of dogs resist human leadership. They need constant training. Confident – he is dominate and self assured and can be provoked to bite. This type of dog fits in best where he respects the owner and he too needs consistent training. Outgoing – he is friendly and sociable and usually adapts to different environments. These dogs make good family pets, and not necessarily good watch dogs. Adaptable – these dogs normally have a more submissive behavior and looks for his owner to be the leader. He’s normally a gentle and loving companion as a pet animal. Insecure – this dog is extremely insecure, shy, submissive and lacking in self confidence. He requires constant companionship and reassurance from his owners. This is not a dog that will protect you, rather a dog who is looking to be protected. Independent – this is a dog that doesn’t really need anyone except to cater to his need for food, water and shelter. He doesn’t bond with anyone and is not an affectionate dog. He has a low need for human companionship.

Some dogs may be biters without any training and without being provoked. The aggressive dog is the dog that will bite anyone. However, this is the type of dog that makes lawyers wealthy and its owners poor. This is the type of dog that can get his owners into serious trouble through lawsuits. This is not a dog with a healthy mind. Then the fear biter is the dog who is going to get you before you get him. This is the dog you don’t want to corner, because he will bite out of fear that you will hurt him. Neither one of these dogs are protecting their owner. One does it because genetically he’s inferior to the healthy calm steady nerves of the genetically sound animal. The other is a genetic mess and a time bomb waiting to explode.

Will all dogs bite? Not according to my research and not according to my friend who spiked my interest in this subject to begin with. So from what I’ve learned not all German Shepherds will protect you. Not all German Shepherds can be trained to bite. Those who can be trained are genetically bred to do so. They are the dogs who have very sound minds with steady, calm nerves. Some dogs just make good pets and family dogs. Some dogs that are born aggressive or fearful really aren’t good for anyone. You don’t need to train these dogs to bite. It’s already in their genetic code. These are not the types of dogs anyone can trust. A good protection dog is one the owner can trust and one that he’s not fearful of himself. Therefore, excellent genetics and excellent training go hand in hand in raising a dog that has a healthy, sound mind and is worthy of being called a German Shepherd.

So if someone broke into your home, would your dog attack the intruder? Would he continue to attack the intruder if the “bad guy” raised his hand to hit him with something and was yelling at him in a loud threatening voice? Would your dog continue to attack or would he back away once he was threatened?

My rating: importance of genetics: (4), importance of training: (4), importance of socialization; (4), importance of a dog that will protect you: (4)


  1. good post, good research, thanks for the read. i have always had that question with my wide variety of dog breeds over the years and have only been 100% confident in one, and its purely because of his breed. i always wanted to believe my other dogs (labs, danes etc) would protect me but if it ever came down to it i'm not so sure they ever would but w/ my fila i have zero doubt. again thanks for the read!

  2. I'm glad you enjoyed my article Kelly. Very interesting about you saying of all the dogs that you ever owned, there was only one who you felt 100% sure that he would protect you!