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Do German Shepherds Only Bond With One Person? Breed Facts & FAQ

Kristin Hitchcock

By Kristin Hitchcock

man oudoors with his german shepherd pet

German Shepherds are notoriously called “one-person dogs.” However, that isn’t necessarily true and is even misleading. Usually, This breed is a bit more reserved with their affection than other canines. They aren’t going to crawl into everyone’s lap and pester every visitor for pets, as that isn’t their personality. Instead, they are usually only affectionate with those whom they have bonded closely, which are typically members of their family.

Also, German Shepherds typically bond through exercise and training. They can be affectionate to an extent, but not to the degree that some other breeds are. They aren’t lapdogs, after all.

The idea of the “one person” German Shepherd seems to arise when only one person in the family takes care of them. If only that person is training and exercising the dog, the canine will likely only bond with them. Unlike some other dogs, they don’t throw their love at everyone. The people in the family have to put a bit of effort in.

Therefore, a German Shepherd can bond equally to multiple people, if multiple people are caring for them. They often bond closely with children, for example, because they engage in play together.

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But Can’t German Shepherds Only Have One Master?

There is another common myth that German Shepherds can only have one master. This myth likely comes from the dominance theory, which has been disproven.1 It stated that domestic dogs behaved in a way that resembled our understanding of wolf packs at the time, in which there was a dominant wolf that all the other wolves followed. Based on this understanding, dogs needed a “dominant wolf” to follow too.

Due to this improper understanding, many dog trainers once suggested that only one person should train their German Shepherd. It was theorized that they would be better behaved this way. However, this became a self-fulfilling prophecy. With only one person involved in their training and care, the dog only bonded with that person.

If you involve multiple people in their care, your German Shepherd will likely bond equally with everyone. To bond with a dog, you have to spend time with them. Usually, this one-on-one time occurs during training, play, and care.

We highly recommend that everyone in the household participates in the care of the German Shepherd. Everyone should know the dog’s commands and practice them. Caring for the dog should be a family activity, not the burden of one person.

Will a German Shepherd Bond With Children?

boy relaxing and walking with German Shepherd
Image Credit: Irina Gulyaeva, Shutterstock

Yes, German Shepherds seem particularly able to bond with children, likely because kids play with them more. Many adults won’t interact with the dog one-on-one unless they participate in a care activity, such as training. However, children are different, especially if they’re used to dogs. A kid in a family with a German Shepherd will often seek out the dog for play, increasing their bonding.

We recommend that you get the kids involved in training too, though. Even a very young child can practice commands that a dog already knows. Many will find this very fun! It’s a great way to increase their bond and ensure that your child can command the dog if necessary.

That said, German Shepherds aren’t as free-flowing with their trust as some other dog breeds. Therefore, they do tend to take longer to bond with children. With time and play, though, German Shepherds seem to bond more quickly with kids than adults.

Do German Shepherds Have Favorites?

Like all dogs, some German Shepherds may have a favorite person. Sometimes, a person and a German Shepherd just “click.” However, this shouldn’t affect their ability to build relationships with other members of the family. Just like people, every relationship with a German Shepherd is different. They will not treat everyone the same because everyone isn’t the same.

It isn’t odd for them to seek one person out for affection but then to seek out a different person when they want to play. German Shepherds are smart; they will detect differences in a person’s preferences. They aren’t going to ask a person to play if that person rarely plays with them. They’ll find someone else.

Therefore, German Shepherds will easily have favorites for certain things. If someone always takes them on walks, they’ll seek that person out for walks. But if you attempt to bond with your German Shepherd, they should have no problem bonding back.

Are German Shepherds Affectionate?

smiling woman hugging her german shepherd dog german shepherd next to human
Image Credit: Sam Wordley, Shutterstock

If you’ve never owned a working dog before, a German Shepherd’s aloofness may confuse you. Many people interpret their dog’s aloofness as a sign that they aren’t bonded. However, this isn’t necessarily true. German Shepherds simply aren’t as affectionate as some other dogs—at least, not in a way that many people interpret as affectionate.

Instead, they tend to show their affection in different ways. For instance, German Shepherds tend to like playing and exercising more than cuddling. Just because your dog doesn’t crawl up on the couch next to you doesn’t mean they aren’t bonded to you. Instead, it’s a sign that they don’t prefer cuddling! If you’re looking for an affectionate breed, this one probably isn’t for you.

You can likely determine the dog’s favorite by whom they cuddle, but many German Shepherds would rather play and may not cuddle much at all. These dogs show affection through playing and romping around. They’re ideal for active families but not so great for those who prefer to cuddle on the couch.

How Do I Know If My German Shepherd Is Bonded to Me?

There isn’t a good answer to this question. It often isn’t as simple as a dog being bonded or not. Some people seem to think that their German Shepherd will form an imprint-like relationship with one person. But that isn’t how they work—they aren’t birds!

This breed will develop gradual relationships, just like people. So, at what point can you say that your canine friend is “bonded” to you? Relationships aren’t so black-and-white, but German Shepherds may show that they care for someone in a multitude of ways. Sometimes, this is as simple as bringing a toy for you to play with or getting excited when you pick up the leash to walk them.

German Shepherds will exhibit simple body language when they are around those they trust. If your dog regularly naps in your presence, they don’t dislike you too much!

Since this breed isn’t the most affectionate, though, it can be hard to tell if they are particularly close to you or not. With affectionate dogs, it’s easy, as they want to cuddle with you all the time. German Shepherds are different. They often express themselves more through play than cuddling. For this reason, it can be difficult to interpret whether these dogs particularly like someone.

Joyful teens with lovely pet German Shepherd
Image Credit: Vagengeim, Shutterstock

The Effects of Sex on Temperament and Bonding

There are many misconceptions regarding the sex of a German Shepherd and their temperament. Some people adopt female German Shepherds specifically because they believe them to be less aggressive, for instance. However, there is no significant data that points to this being true. Neither sex is more likely to bond closely to one person and not to another. Males are often considered more “one-person” dogs than females, but there is no evidence that this is the case.

Much of this is likely due to a misinterpretation of the alpha wolf theory, where males are more likely to be dominant and therefore, “submissive” to fewer people. However, this does not pertain to dogs (or wolves!).

Furthermore, there is no evidence that females are more likely to be aggressive. In fact, across all dog breeds, males are more likely to bite someone in their lifetime than females. But we don’t have specific information on German Shepherds in this regard.

Image Credit: Stone36, Shutterstock

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Final Thoughts

German Shepherds can bond with multiple people, as long as those people are caring for the dog. It’s true that this breed isn’t free-flowing with their affection and tends to be quite aloof with people they don’t know. Therefore, they are not likely to bond with someone unless that person attempts to create a relationship. Otherwise, they’ll probably bond with whoever is training and taking care of them. If that is only one person, they are likely to become a one-person dog.

In families, everyone must be involved in the dog’s care. You don’t want the burden to fall on one person because the dog is less likely to bond with everyone in the family in this setup.

Much of the “one-person” dog myth comes from the mistaken idea of dominance in dogs, which has been debunked. Dogs don’t have significant dominant structures, not after thousands of years of living alongside people. Therefore, nothing is preventing your German Shepherd from bonding with multiple people.

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