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Do German Shepherds Only Bond With One Person?

Kristin Hitchcock

By Kristin Hitchcock

man oudoors with his german shepherd pet

German Shepherds are notoriously called “one people dogs.” However, that isn’t necessarily true and is misleading.

Usually, German Shepherds are 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. That isn’t their personality.

Instead, they are usually only affectionate with those they have bonded closely. Typically, they bond with members of their family.

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 myth of the “one person” German Shepherd arises when only one person in the family takes care of the dog. If only one person is training and exercising the German Shepherd, the canine will likely only bond with that one person.

Unlike other dogs, they aren’t going to 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.

This theory states that dogs behave in a way that resembled our understanding of wolf packs at the time. There is a dominant wolf that all the other wolves follow. Based on this understanding, dogs need a “dominate 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 if there was only one person for them to follow.

However, this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. With only one person involved in their training and care, the dog is only going to bond with that one person.

If you involve multiple people in the care of the dog, 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 children 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 child in a family with a German Shepherd will often seek out the dog for play, increasing their bonding.

We recommend that you get the children involved in training as well. 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 children 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 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 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 German Shepherd 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 dog probably isn’t for you.

You can determine a dog’s favorite by whom they cuddle, though. Many German Shepherds would rather play, though, and may not cuddle much at all.

German Shepherds 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!

German Shepherds will develop gradual relationships, just like people. At what point can you say that your friend is “bonded” to you? Relationships aren’t so black-and-white.

However, 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 German Shepherds aren’t the most affectionate dogs, it can be hard to tell if they are particularly close to you or not. With affectionate dogs, though, it’s easy! 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 bond closely 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 alpha wolf theory, where males are more likely to be dominant and therefore be “submissive” to fewer people. However, this theory does not pertain to dogs (or wolves!).

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

Image Credit: Stone36, Shutterstock

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German Shepherds can bond with multiple people, as long as those people are caring for the dog.

German Shepherds aren’t free-flowing with their affection. They tend 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 one-person dogs.

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 anymore, 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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