The German Shepherd is one of the most popular dog breeds in the world. They are intelligent, loyal and hardworking companions. This comprehensive guide provides everything you need to know about German Shepherd care, training, and health.
An Overview of German Shepherds
German Shepherds originated as herding dogs in Germany in the late 1800s. Their intelligence, trainability and protective nature made them ideal for police and military work. Today, they are popular family pets, show dogs, service dogs and competitors in dog sports.
Some key facts about the German Shepherd breed:
- Origins: Germany in the late 1800s. Developed by Captain Max von Stephanitz
- Size: Medium to large. Males 24-26 inches, 60-90 lbs. Females 22-24 inches, 50-70 lbs.
- Coat: Double coat. Outer coat is dense and straight. Undercoat is soft. Comes in black & tan, sable, all black, black & cream, black & silver and liver colors.
- Temperament: Intelligent, loyal, energetic. Excellent watchdogs. Reserved with strangers but affectionate with family.
- Life expectancy: 9-13 years
- AKC grouping: Herding Group
The German Shepherd is an active working breed that thrives when given a job to do. They excel at canine sports like agility, obedience, tracking and herding. With proper socialization and training, they make wonderful family companions.
Choosing a German Shepherd Puppy or Rescue
If you’ve decided a German Shepherd is right for you, the next step is finding a puppy or adult dog. Here are some tips:
Purchasing from a Reputable Breeder
We recommend purchasing a purebred German Shepherd from a responsible breeder. Things to look for:
- AKC registration papers certifying pedigree
- Health checks on parent dogs (hips, elbows, eyes)
- Only breeds occasionally, not at every heat cycle
- Allows you to visit facility and meet parent dogs
- Socializes and handles puppies frequently
Reputable breeders screen buyers to ensure the puppy is going to a good home. Expect to pay $1,500-$2,500 for a German Shepherd puppy.
Adopting from a Rescue/Shelter
There are many German Shepherds in need of adoption. Benefits include:
- Saving a homeless dog
- Lower costs ($50-$400 adoption fee)
- Adult temperament and energy level is known
Be sure to ask about medical history, behavior and previous training. Work with a rescue that properly vets adopters.
Things to Avoid
Watch out for:
- Pet stores or online sellers offering fast transactions
- Breeders who don’t health test or interact with puppies
- Extremely low prices or “rare” colors like white German Shepherds
- Aggressive or fearful puppy temperaments
Take your time researching options to find a happy, healthy German Shepherd!
Preparing Your Home for a German Shepherd
Before bringing home your German Shepherd, some preparation will help the transition go smoothly:
Puppy-Proof: German Shepherds are large, energetic puppies who will get into things. Remove breakables and hazardous items from reach. Secure trash cans. Block access behind appliances and under furniture.
Containment: Limit access to parts of the home until housebroken and trained. Use baby gates and crates. Make sure your yard is fenced securely.
Dog Supplies: Have food, bowls, collar, leash, brush, beds, toys, enzyme cleaner for accidents, registration tags and microchip. Stock up on poop bags for walks.
Dogproofing: Put away tempting items like shoes, remote controls, and houseplants. Cover furniture, mattresses and carpeting until potty training and chewing stages pass.
Comfort: Provide comfortable sleeping areas in living areas your dog will frequent. Introduce crates and beds so they become safe havens.
Schedule: Adjust your schedule to accommodate feeding, playtime, training, exercise and potty breaks. Dogs left alone 8+ hours daily may get bored or anxious. Consider a dog walker.
With some preparation, you can puppy-proof your home for your new German Shepherd!
Training a German Shepherd
German Shepherds are highly intelligent, active dogs that need ongoing training and mental stimulation. Here are some training tips:
Start Early: Begin socialization and basic obedience right away, as early as 8 weeks old. Attend puppy kindergarten classes.
Use Positive Reinforcement: Reward good behaviors with praise and treats to encourage repetition. Avoid punishment or harsh corrections.
Focus on Bonding: Spend time playing, cuddling and caring for your German Shepherd to build a strong relationship and trust. This motivates them to obey.
Train Daily: Short, consistent daily sessions are more effective than longer, irregular ones. Aim for 10-15 minutes of training every day.
Be Consistent: Make sure all family members use the same commands and techniques. Confusing signals will undermine training.
Practice Obedience: Master basic cues like sit, stay, down, come, heel and leave it. A well-trained GSD follows commands immediately.
Socialize Extensively: Introduce your German Shepherd to a wide variety of people, places, animals and experiences to prevent reactivity or aggression issues.
Invest time and patience into training your German Shepherd beginning in puppyhood and they will become a loyal, well-mannered companion. Consider advanced training for sporting, service work and protection roles this breed excels in.
Exercise Requirements for German Shepherds
German Shepherds have high exercise needs. Without sufficient activity, they may develop anxiety or destructive behaviors.
Daily Exercise: 30-60 minutes per day minimum. High energy level as a puppy slowly decreases into adulthood.
Walks: Brisk walks are excellent exercise. Aim for 2-3 walks daily 20-30 minutes each. Use loose leash walking training.
Playtime: Interactive play like fetching balls or frisbees is great for physical and mental exercise. Have 2-3 play sessions daily.
Yard Time: Safely enclosed yards provide room to run and play. Watch for escape attempts or digging. Do not leave outside unsupervised.
Hiking/Jogging: German Shepherds enjoy jogging, hiking, backpacking and swimming. Wait until growth plates close at 18-24 months old before vigorous exercise.
Dog Sports: Agility, flyball and other dog sports provide fun, structured exercise. Herding trials allow the breed to demonstrate natural instincts.
Working Roles: Service, therapy, search and rescue dogs get vigorous daily exercise. Schutzhund/IPO develops protection abilities through training.
Mental stimulation through training, socializing and enrichment toys also helps tire out your active German Shepherd. Puppies and seniors need reduced exercise. Adjust intensity and duration to your dog’s health and fitness level.
Feeding Your German Shepherd
German Shepherds need a nutritionally balanced diet to fuel their active lifestyle and keep them healthy.
High Quality Kibble: Pick an age-appropriate formula from reputable brands meeting WSAVA guidelines. Avoid grain-free diets which can cause heart disease.
Portion Control: Follow label feeding guidelines. Overfeeding leads to obesity. Adjust portions for activity level, age and health conditions.
Scheduled Meals: Feed adult dogs twice daily, puppies 3-4 times daily. Pick up uneaten food between meals.
Supplements: Talk to your vet before supplementing food. Large breed puppies benefit from glucosamine for joint health and probiotics for digestion.
Treats: Use small treats for training rewards. Avoid table scraps. Limit treats to <10% of daily calories.
Clean Water: Provide constant access to fresh, clean water. Change water frequently and wash bowls.
Diet Changes: Transition food slowly over 5-7 days. Sudden changes can upset digestion. Consult your vet about dietary needs for medical conditions.
Feed a quality commercial diet tailored to your German Shepherd’s life stage and activity level. Work with your vet if you have any questions about nutrition.
Grooming Requirements for German Shepherds
While grooming needs are moderate, German Shepherds do shed and require weekly brushing and bathing. Here are some tips:
- Brushing: Use a slicker brush 1-2 times per week to remove dead hair and distribute skin oils. More frequent in shedding season.
- Bathing: Bathe every 3-4 weeks or when dirty using a dog shampoo. Blow dry on a low heat setting.
- Nails: Trim nails as needed, usually every 2-3 weeks. Avoid overcutting into quick. Use styptic powder if they bleed.
- Ears: Check and clean ears weekly. Use a vet-approved cleanser and cotton ball to gently wipe out debris.
- Teeth: Brush teeth using a pet toothpaste 2-3 times per week. Schedule annual dental cleanings.
- Skin: Check for any redness, irritation, odor or inflammation, especially in skin folds. Contact vet for skin issues.
- Supplements: Give fish oil, vitamin E or fatty acid supplements to help improve coat shine.
- Deshedding: Use an undercoat rake in shedding season. Try frequent bathing and brushing too.
Regular grooming keeps your German Shepherd’s coat clean, nails trim and skin healthy. Enlist a professional groomer for help staying on top of shedding.
Health Issues Common in German Shepherds
German Shepherds are generally healthy but prone to several genetic conditions. Discuss screening with your breeder.
Hip/Elbow Dysplasia: Malformation of these joints. Causes arthritis and lameness. X-ray screen breeding dogs. Keep puppy lean and limit exercise until growth plates close.
Bloat: Life threatening stomach twisting. Use slow feed bowl. Don’t exercise before or after eating. Recognize signs of bloat and get emergency vet care immediately.
Degenerative Myelopathy: Nerve disease leading to hind limb paralysis. A DNA test identifies carriers to avoid breeding two together.
Allergies: Environmental or food allergies cause itchy skin and ears. Treat with medications, food trials and immunotherapy.
Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency: Inability to produce digestive enzymes. Causes weight loss and diarrhea. Supplement enzymes.
Hemangiosarcoma: Aggressive cancer of blood vessels. Spleen is common site. Diagnose and remove tumors early.
Discuss specific health screening recommendations with your breeder. Provide excellent preventive and routine vet care. Purchase pet insurance to offset costs of medical issues. With proper care, your German Shepherd can live a relatively healthy 10-12 years.
Finding a Veterinarian for Your German Shepherd
Choosing the right vet is key to your German Shepherd’s long-term health. Here’s how to find a good one:
- Get recommendations from breeders, rescues, other dog owners
- Look for an AAHA accredited veterinary hospital
- Find one experienced with large breeds like German Shepherds
- Make sure they have emergency/urgent care services
- Ask about pricing, payment plans, insurance accepted
- Tour the facility to check cleanliness, friendliness, boarding
- Evaluate vet’s communication style at first appointment
Schedule a meet and greet to see if vet’s philosophy matches your care preferences. Establish a relationship while your German Shepherd is young and healthy. Bring records to aid in continuity of care if you move or need specialist referrals. Partner with your vet for a lifetime of quality care.
Ensuring German Shepherd Safety
German Shepherds are large, protective dogs that require extra safety precautions:
- Proper fencing and containment systems so they cannot escape yards
- Strong leashes, harnesses and secure collars for control on walks
- Close supervision around children and monitoring for warning signs like growling
- Socialization and training not to be aggressive to strangers, children or other dogs
- Prevent access to poisonous foods and substances
- identification tags and microchips in case they become lost
- Locks on gates and doors to avoid accidental escapes
- Transport in crates or secured in a back seat/cargo area
- Careful monitoring around pools, balconies and other fall risks
Take precautions and never let your guard down. German Shepherds are strong, driven dogs and it’s an owner’s responsibility to prevent accidents. Better safe than sorry.
German Shepherd Lifespan and Senior Care
German Shepherds live approximately 9-13 years. Here are some tips for caring for your aging dog:
Watch for Changes: Increased sleeping, less activity, weight changes, sensory decline. More vet exams.
Adjust Exercise: Shorter, slower walks and play. Avoid jumping or high-impact activities.
Maintain Lean Body Weight: Lighten up diet if less active. Avoid obesity.
Joint Supplements: Chondroitin, glucosamine, turmeric to ease arthritic pain. Prescription NSAIDs as needed.
Grooming Help: Assistance bathing or brushing if mobility declines. Keep nails trimmed.
Ramps/Stairs: Install ramps, runners and light switches to help navigation.
Medication Reminders: Set up pill dispensers and reminders if cognition declines.
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Enrichment: Provide mentally stimulating toys and activities to keep aging brains sharp.
Quality of Life: Discuss euthanasia decisions with your vet when your dog’s quality of life declines. Say goodbye before uncontrolled suffering starts.
While large breeds like German Shepherds have shorter lifespans, excellent care from puppyhood through the senior years allows your dog to live their twilight years comfortably. Cherish every moment with your loyal companion.
Is a German Shepherd Right for Me?
Before getting a German Shepherd, carefully consider:
Activity Level: Can you provide 60+ minutes of rigorous exercise daily plus mental stimulation? Or pay for doggy daycare a few days a week? Inactive GSDs get bored and destructive.
Training Commitment: Are you ready to invest significant time into socialization, obedience classes and training? GSDs need structure and leadership.
Grooming Needs: Do you have time for weekly brushing and bathing? Can you keep up with heavy seasonal shedding? Hire a professional groomer?
Supervision: Will the GSD be alone for 8+ hours daily? Who will care for them when you travel? Timid GSDs need stability.
Expenses: Can you afford high quality food, vet care, insurance, supplies and professional services? They often exceed $1000/year.
If you can meet a German Shepherd’s needs for exercise, training, companionship, supervision and healthcare, they make wonderful pets! Their loyalty and versatility is unparalleled. Still unsure? Consider fostering or volunteering at a rescue to get experience first.
Frequently Asked Questions About German Shepherds
Are German Shepherds good family dogs?
Yes, with proper training and socialization, German Shepherds make excellent family companions. They form close bonds and are protective of children. Supervise interactions, especially with very young kids. Teach kids how to properly interact with dogs.
Do German Shepherds shed a lot?
Yes, German Shepherds have a double coat they blow out seasonally. Expect heavy shedding in the spring and fall. Daily brushing when shedding can help. Some owners add omega fatty acid supplements or give more frequent baths. Be prepared for dog hair!
How long do German Shepherds live?
The average lifespan is 9-13 years. Provide excellent care with high quality food, regular vet visits, proper exercise and a safe home environment to achieve a long, healthy life. Large breed dogs tend to have shorter lifespans than small dogs.
Are German Shepherds easy to train?
Yes, German Shepherds are highly intelligent, obedient and eager to work. They learn quickly with positive reinforcement training. Establish yourself as a firm, fair leader. Their high energy level makes them excel at canine sports too.
Do German Shepherds bark a lot?
German Shepherds may frequently bark to alert you of perceived threats or strangers. Ensuring they get adequate exercise, training, and socialization can minimize nuisance barking. Never encourage barking at triggers like passing people or animals. Redirect to quieter tasks like playing with a toy.
How much space do German Shepherds need?
German Shepherds are large, energetic dogs that need room to move! They should have a securely fenced yard to run and play safely. Regular walks are also essential. Inside, provide dog beds in rooms the family frequents. Apartment living is possible with excellent outdoor exercise but a house with yard is ideal.
The intelligent, versatile German Shepherd is a rewarding breed for an active owner able to provide structure, training and vigorous daily exercise. With their trademark loyalty and protective instincts, you’ll have an exceptional companion by your side through life’s adventures. Take time to find a reputable breeder or rescue that screens for health and temperament. Provide consistent training, activity, socialization, quality veterinary care and lots of love! Your German Shepherd will mature into a well-rounded, faithful family member who brings joy for years to come.