Are German Shepherds Smart?

Written by: BARK

February 21, 2023

Your beloved German shepherd is your very own good-boy genius.

A German shepherd dog is exceptionally obedient, highly instinctual, and learns tricks just as quickly as he sprints. Their intelligence is an inherited genetic trait passed down through generations. And according to a survey of dog trainers, German shepherds are the third smartest dog breed in the pack.1 

Although your German shepherd puppy genius was born with brains, you can certainly help increase your dog’s mental acuity—and maybe even jump-start their canine career. So let’s find out: are German shepherds smart?

How Smart is a German Shepherd Dog? 

German shepherds are believed to have the same intelligence as a 2.5-year-old human (and the same tendency to put everything in their mouths). That said, you’ll likely see German shepherds leading the pack in canine competitions. 

But where did this remarkable German shepherd intelligence come from? Well, like most traits, it’s all in the genes.

Why Are German Shepherds Smart? 

As the name might suggest, German shepherds were first bred in Germany. And their original function was, well, to herd sheep. 

Up until the late 1900s, there was a whole slew of different sheep-herding dogs across Germany. They varied from province to province. But in 1889, a man named Captain Max von Stephanitz decided that he was going to standardize the breed for the first time.2

Von Stephanitz was looking for a dog that was: 

  • Wolflike 
  • Powerful
  • Loyal
  • Confident
  • Full of endurance
  • Needed very little training and direction 

A dog at a show in western Germany caught his attention. He bought the dog and named it Horand von Grafrath. The majestically-named canine became the first registered German shepherd dog breed. 

Although von Stephanitz was looking out for many traits, the most important was dog intelligence. 

He was a big believer in brains over beauty. Dogs could only join his ranking of German shepherd breed elite if they could prove themselves to be exceptionally brilliant. If they looked like wolves or had gleaming coats, that was just an added bonus. 

Through the original breeder’s extreme focus on genius, the German shepherd breed’s exceptional smarts were born.

4 Ways German Shepherds Use Their Incredible Intelligence 

Now that you know where the brains come from, it’s time to learn what a German shepherd can do with all that mental power. Not only are the dogs adept at sniffing out where the treats are hiding (even after you move them,again), their mental acuity has helped them change history. 

#1 They Get It Right the First Time 

The dogs who get it,get it. German shepherds are so smart that they can learn a new command in less than five repetitions. They’re an intelligent dog breed, eager to please and love to show off what fantastic listeners they are. 

And when you give a German shepherd a command, at least 95% of the time, they will respond the very first time you say it.3 

#2 German Shepherds Make Great Soldiers 

German shepherds first came to the attention of Americans during World War I. The Germans had trained these sheepherding dogs to assist in battle. They could often be found out on the field performing essential functions like: 

  • Transporting bandages
  • Delivering messages 
  • Working as guard dogs 
  • Keeping company with soldiers who had been fatally wounded

American soldiers were impressed by how quickly these dogs learned commands and how obedient they proved themselves in the battlefield. Some soldiers fell so much in love that when they returned from war, they brought the dogs back home with them. Today, you can often find a German shepherd working as a guard dog, police dog, or even a service dog. 

#3 German Shepherds Are Actors 

If your German shepherd’s pleas for extra treats seem especially convincing, know that some of his brethren have been employed as professional actors. 

In the 1980s, a Dutch director by the name of Wim Schippers put on a play in Amsterdam called “Going to the Dogs.” Ahead of the show, Schippers enrolled six German shepherd dogs in drama classes. And on opening night, they performed a four-act play about “love, jealousy, curiosity,” according to newspaper reports at the time.4

Although the play was a flop, we’re sure it had absolutely nothing to do with the quality of the acting, which must have been ranked at least K-9/10. 

#4 Some German Shepherds Are Both

One German shepherd actor was so beloved, it’s said that he even won the first Academy Award for Best Actor. 

In the aftermath of World War I, an American soldier named Lee Duncan rescued a dog from the battlefields of Germany. That dog was called Rin Tin Tin. When Lee got back to America, he headed straight for Hollywood and taught Rin Tin Tin to act in silent films. 

Rin Tin Tin became a gigantic star for Warner Bros. In fact, the production company is said to have released a new Rin Tin Tin movie whenever they were in danger of financial trouble. 

Apparently, the first year of the Oscars (1929), the awards were based on sheer popularity. And Rin Tin Tin topped the charts. Rin Tin Tin is said to have won the Best Actor award, but it went to human actor Emil Jannings. (Simply because he was human!) 

“In terms of popularity, Rin Tin Tin didn’t have a peer. He was a huge star around the world and helped Warner Bros transition from its start as a small studio into a large one,” Rin Tin Tin’s biographer Susan Orlean told Deadline. “I can’t imagine that Emil Jannings was opening films, but Rin Tin Tin certainly did.”5

Rin Tin Tin starred in a grand total of 27 movies, some of which are available for streaming today. Some of his greatest hits included: 

  • “Where the North Begins”
  • “Jaws of Steel”
  • “Tracked by the Police” 
  • “A Race for Life” 

These were high-stakes adventures that showed just how smart and courageous a German shepherd could be. 

What Smart Jobs Can German Shepherds Do? 

Although they were originally bred to herd sheep, today, there is very little that a German shepherd can’t do. The German shepherd breed is, at its core, a working dog breed. Thanks to their unbeatable intelligence and the ever-famous German shepherd temperament, the dogs are employed in a variety of jobs, including as a/n: 

  • Seeing eye dog 
  • Police dog 
  • Service dog 
  • Sentinel
  • Guard dog
  • Search and rescue dog
  • Tracking dog
  • Therapy dog
  • Herding dog

If your dog is more comfortable galloping around the house than clocking in for work, you can still train her to perform a variety of jobs at home. Slipper-fetcher, food-sniffer, and loyal companion are great entry-level jobs for any German shepherd. 

What Games Do German Shepherds Like to Play?

Because of their enormous brains, German shepherds tend to prefer games that challenge them intellectually. This is a great benefit for a German shepherd owner. These games double as brain-building exercises for your pup. 

If you’re trying to challenge your German shepherd, there are several different games that you can play:

  • New commands – German shepherds are famous for their trainability. Although other dogs might not think that learning a new trick is a game, German shepherds will lap it up. There’s nothing they love more than learning. (Other than treats, of course.) 
  • Mentally-stimulating toys – Bring home toys that require a bit of problem-solving. Puzzle toys like hollow bones, pull-apart toys, or mazes will keep a German shepherd entertained for hours. The only caveat is that your pooch might solve the puzzle so quickly, that you’ll have to keep buying new ones. 
  • Brain teasers – You don’t need to buy fancy toys in order to give your dog a good brain teaser. If you have large cardboard boxes at home, you can set up a maze that your dog can navigate. You can also line up several boxes and hide a treat in one. It’s up to your dog to sniff out where all the yummy stuff is.
  • Doggy ball pit – Why should kids get all the fun? Set up a kiddy pool in your backyard and fill it with plastic or rubber balls. Within the pit, you can hide as many treats as you like. When your dog moves around the ballpit, the treats will slosh around. The challenge will be in finding all the treats as they move around the pit. 

How to Keep Your German Shepherd Sharp

Just like humans, dogs experience cognitive aging. But you can help keep your German shepherd sharp for years to come with a diet that promotes great neurological function. Look for dog food that contains: 

  • Protein – Look for a formula that includes high-quality proteins. Proteins are the building blocks of brain health and can help with neurotransmitters. 
  • Prebiotics – Dogs with balanced microbiomes show reduced stress, increased memory, and decreased aggression. 

If you’re shopping around for a balanced dog food, start your search with BARK. We created dog food with everything your genius German shepherd needs to live a brilliant and healthy life. 

Make the Smart Choice With BARK Post

German shepherds are certainly known for their brains—they’re an intelligent breed that can perform a variety of tasks, from learning commands to searching and rescuing on a K-9 unit. 

At BARK Post, we offer mentally stimulating toys and craft nutrient-rich food made for German shepherds to ensure your canny canine is getting everything they need—from their head to their paws. 

Get 25% off our Cock-a-Doodle-Chew with code 25FOOD and free shipping. You don’t have to be an Einstein (or even Rin Tin Tin) to know that it’s a great deal. 


  1. Petrix. Ranking of Dogs for Obedience/Working Intelligence by Breed.  
  2. German Shepherd Dog Club of America. The History of the German Shepherd Dog.  
  3. Pumpkin. 19 Amazing Facts About German Shepherds. 
  4. Toledo Blade. Show Went to the Dogs (Literally, One Might Say).,3698706&dq=schippers+going-to-the-dogs&hl=en 
  5. Deadline. Susan Orlean: Throw Rin Tin Tin A Bone & Give Back The Pooch’s Best Actor Oscar.   
  6. American Kennel Club. German Shepherd Dog. 
Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Written by: BARK

February 21, 2023


A themed collection of BARK-designed toys, treats, and chews.


A themed collection of BARK-designed toys, treats, and chews.