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There are pros and cons to bringing a new dog into your family. These animals provide companionship, protection, and several other benefits, but in return, they depend on us for food, shelter, love, and much more. Before committing to dog ownership, you want to ensure that a particular breed is a good fit for your lifestyle. Today, we’re going to talk about the famous German Shepherd so you can make an informed decision about adopting them.
German Shepherd Dog Breed Introduction
German Shepherds, abbreviated as GSDs, are one of the most sought-after dog breeds in the world. They are amazingly versatile and considered dogkind’s finest all-purpose worker. They serve as a herding dog, guard dog, search and rescue dog, narcotics- or explosives-detecting dog, military dog, police dog, guide dog for the blind, show dog, and a household pet. But the defining reason that makes them top of canine royalty is their character. They are loyal, confident, courageous, loving, and willing to put their life on the line to defend their loved ones. Though they have some of the best traits of dogs, they are not for everyone. Their size, power, and energy may be too much for some people to handle. Keep reading to understand their needs and know whether or not they are the right dog for you.
German Shepherd Breed History
As the name suggests, the GSD originated in Germany. Its existence dates back to the 1800s, thanks to the efforts of a man called Captain Max von Stephanitz. At the time, there were so many fine herding dogs who were athletic, intelligent, or capable. But what was missing was a dog who embodied all these traits.
Von Stephanitz set out to create the finest herding dog, but as the country became more and more industrialized, he saw the need for such dogs fading. Determined for his breed to continue as a working dog, he switched from breeding herding dogs and instead focused on creating a breed for military and police forces. Many German Shepherds served in world wars as messengers, supply carriers, search and rescue dogs, and guard dogs.
This dog came to the US in the early 1900s, and its popularity boomed after World War 1 when returning soldiers were full of praise for the dog. It was recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1917 as the Shepherd Dog but later went back to its original name in 1931.
It wasn’t long before there was a division between American and German breeders. The Americans emphasized looks while Germans bred for working abilities while sticking to the breed’s traditional look. Regardless of the pedigree, the smart and hardworking German Shepherd loves having a task to complete, and its protective and gentle nature makes it one of the best household pets.
German Shepherd Dog Physical Characteristics
GSDs are among the most recognized dogs today. They are attractive, large, and muscular with a signature square muzzle, bushy and slightly curved tail, relatively large ears that stand erect, and (usually) black mask. Their poised, moderately pointy ears and piercing dark eyes radiate an aura of authority and nobility. And as a well-proportioned dog, their head is broad and tapers handsomely to a sharp muzzle. A well-bred German Shepherd will have a straight back and muscular frame that’s longer than they are tall. This dog is admired for its impressive balance of power and grace, but it’s not all business, as we’re going to see in his personality traits.
Size and weight of German Shepherd dog
This breed grows into a wonderful medium- to large-sized dog. An adult German Shepherd will typically weigh 75-90 pounds for males and 55-70 pounds for females. Their height at the shoulder is 24-26 inches for males and 22-24 inches for females. Female dogs are generally smaller and lighter than males. But various genetic and environmental factors, including how your dog is fed and exercised, will also play a huge part in their growth patterns.
This dog reaches their full height at 18 months but can take longer to reach its full weight. Some go until two years while others up to 3 years. If your dog continues to put on weight after 36 months, watch their diet, provide lots of exercises, and consult with your vet to ensure weight gain doesn’t lead to obesity.
It’s also important to know what the right size is at different ages, so you can determine whether or not your dog is growing at a healthy rate. For instance, they should weigh 53 pounds on average for males and around 46 pounds for females at six months.
That being said, dogs are different and your pup might be slightly above or below these estimates. But if there’s a significant difference, you may want to consult your vet on how to help your dog maintain a healthy weight and height.
German Shepherd Colors and Patterns
This dog breed comes in so many different colors and patterns encompassing dark and light hues. Black and tan is the standard color of this dog. That’s because many variations of GSDs present this appearance, particularly the working line. Black and red is another common color, prominent among show line GSDs and a symbol of aesthetic beauty. From these basic colors, black can be replaced by blue or gray, while tan or red can be replaced by white, silver, cream, and liver. These colors are usually distributed in a bicolor pattern, such as brindle, blanket-back, panda, saddle, and sable. While most of these dogs are multicolored, there’s also the solid German Shepherd type that’s either entirely white or black.
According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), this breed is recognized in 11 official colors. But in reality, these dogs come in many more colors. Keep in mind that dog shows tend to dismiss lighter colors as lacking color while favoring saturated colors. But color differences don’t determine the dog’s health or temperament; it will be up to you and how you take care of your dog, train, and socialize them. The right coat color will depend on your preference unless, of course, you want to enter your German Shepherd in dog shows.
Shedding Levels and Grooming Routine
German Shepherds have thick, double-layered coats that are ideally medium-length, although some are longhaired. The outer coat is dense with straight hair but can also be wavy and wiry, while the undercoat is soft. The presence of a double coat makes it a high-shedding breed. They shed throughout the year, but you’re going to notice more fur when they blow out their coat to prepare for seasonal changes. This usually happens in spring and fall and can last 2-4 weeks. While this is a high-shedding breed, you have to watch out for excessive shedding, which can be due to fleas, stress, poor diet, dry or irritated skin, or another underlying health issue.
You can’t stop your German Shepherd from shedding altogether, but you can reduce how much of it ends up in your home through proper grooming. Brushing multiple times a week or daily during seasonal shedding will help maintain your German Shepherd’s coat. A good quality de-shedding tool will be more effective during seasonal shedding as it can remove the loose undercoat hairs. German Shepherds tend to be fairly clean and odorless, so you won’t need to bathe them frequently; once every 2-3 months should be enough unless they get very dirty.
Still under-grooming, you need to trim their nails once a month, check their ears for dirt or infection, and brush their teeth a couple of times a week.
Energy Levels and Exercise Routine
Originally bred for herding, German Shepherds are built for action. They are a very active and athletic breed that needs lots of physical and mental exercise to be happy and healthy. You can start with long daily walks, but that alone won’t be enough. Your dog needs to run, jog, and play fetch or any other interesting game. Do you like to swim? Despite their lack of webbed feet, most of these dogs enjoy a dip in the pool, which can be an excellent way to exercise and play when it’s hot outside. Hiking will exercise your pup while giving them new scents to discover.
Don’t forget mental stimulation; it can be just as tiring as physical activities while keeping the mind sharp. This means providing lots of training and puzzle-solving games. Participating in canine activities such as herding, tracking, agility, and dock diving will provide needed physical and mental exercise.
Two hours or more of daily physical activity with plenty of variety should be enough for an adult German Shepherd. Of course, these exercise needs will vary depending on your dog’s age, general health, fitness level, and so on. Puppies don’t need strenuous or prolonged exercises, which could damage their developing joints. Your puppy should be able to get enough exercise from free play, or you can take them for short walks.
Living a lazy and sedentary lifestyle can lead to obesity or cause the dog to become bored and frustrated. They are likely to bark excessively, dig, attempt to run away, and develop other undesirable behaviors as a way to release pent-up energy.
Lifespan of A German Shepherd Dog
When adopting a new dog, one of your primary concerns will be how long it will live. After all, dogs become an integral part of our family, and losing them can be as heartbreaking as losing a human loved one. German Shepherds are generally healthy dogs with an average life expectancy between 10 and 13 years. While owners of small breeds might see their furry friends live up to 17-20 years, larger breeds put more strain on their bodies, hence a shorter lifespan.
German Shepherds are prone to certain diseases that could affect their lifespan like any other dog breed. This includes epilepsy, hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, degenerative myelopathy, Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI), and bloat. Not all German Shepherds get these diseases, but you should know them when considering adopting this breed. Be sure to ask for all available health history.
The good news is some German Shepherds have been known to live past their average lifespan. This is only possible with good care. So, ensure you provide a proper diet, keep them lean, ensure they get their annual check-ups, brush their teeth, and exercise them daily. Neutering and spaying at the appropriate age will also help prevent certain reproductive system cancers.
Are German Shepherd Hypoallergenic
Although some people’s allergies are triggered by the dog’s fur, the main culprit is a protein found in the pet’s saliva and urine. So, in actuality, no dog is truly hypoallergenic. That being said, some breeds are thought to be more allergy-friendly than others because they shed less, drool less, or produce less dander.
The German Shepherd is not hypoallergenic by any means. As mentioned earlier, they have a thick double coat that makes them heavy shedders. All that loose hair works as a transport for the allergy-triggering protein, KNF-1.
If your heart is set on having a German Shepherd, don’t worry. You can reduce the risk of allergic reactions by regularly grooming your dog. This will eliminate those loose hairs before they can spread all over the house, transporting things that cause allergies. Other solutions include:
- Having pet-free areas like your bedroom
- Investing in a HEPA filter to help capture air pollutants and allergens
- Regularly vacuuming and keeping your house clean
- Consider losing the carpet
- Use medicinal remedies
If you have severe allergies, the German Shepherd might not be the best breed for you. Luckily, there are a few hypoallergenic breeds that share the same great qualities as this dog. For instance, the Irish Water Spaniel and Giant Schnauzer are as large, courageous, protective, and fiercely loyal as the German Shepherd.
Knowing how to feed your dog properly is one of the first things you have to get right. Failure to do so can expose your dog to all kinds of health problems such as obesity, hair loss, infection, etc. German Shepherds have large appetites as a large breed with high energy levels. They will benefit from a highly nutritious diet with a good balance of proteins, carbohydrates, minerals, vitamins, and healthy fats. There are three important things to consider when feeding your German Shepherd: the amount of food, feeding frequency, and mealtime lengths.
The feeding amount mainly depends on age. Ideally, a healthy adult will need 2 cups of dry dog food split into two meals, while a puppy at 16 weeks and below will need ½ a cup. But you may need to adjust the portion depending on the dog’s weight, activity levels, and if they are pregnant. With mealtime lengths, you have to observe your dog keenly. These dogs usually take 10-15 minutes to finish eating, but only if you follow the proper feeding guides.
German Shepherds are prone to bloating and other stomach problems. So, offer smaller, frequent meals instead of one large meal to minimize this risk. You may also want to avoid table scraps or offer them sparingly since they can cause digestive upset.
Are German Shepherd Suitable for Apartments?
If you live in an apartment and are considering bringing a German Shepherd home, you cannot deny their huge size and dominance. As a highly active dog, you may be wondering if they can be happy and healthy in such a small space.
Most dogs that are considered suitable for apartment living are usually smaller breeds. But in actuality, it’s not so much the size that determines if a dog can thrive in an apartment. Instead, it’s how well you can manage their needs. Although German Shepherds thrive in spacious environments with lots of room to play, exercise and roam around, they can still live in an apartment. You’ll need to provide lots of daily physical and mental activity; otherwise, your dog may turn to destructive behaviors to release pent-up energy and prevent boredom. Training your German Shepherd is vital to keep them from barking excessively and unnecessarily. It’s also important that your dog is socialized, so they learn that other dogs and people are not threats.
Apartment living with German Shepherds is no easy task, but it’s possible if you are dedicated. You might face a huge problem finding an apartment that accepts a dog this large since most often have limits on size and weight. Many complexes also put this breed into the aggressive category, meaning they won’t allow them.
Can German Shepherds Live Outside, In Cold and Hot Weather?
The German Shepherd loves to play and engage in outdoor activities. You may also want to keep your dog outside for one reason or another, which begs the question, “Can they live outside in cold or hot weather?”
This breed has a thick, double coat that keeps them warm in the winter. But keep in mind that dogs acclimated to the cold weather can tolerate longer periods in cold temperatures than indoor dogs. Rain, wind, and other things that come with cold weather will quickly lower how much your dog can handle being outside. So, make sure there’s protection from these elements by creating a structure they can find relief, especially when you’re not home. Be sure to watch for signs that they are cold; otherwise, they may suffer life-threatening conditions such as frostbite and hypothermia.
These dogs can do well in hot weather thanks to their double coat, which acts as insulation. Similar to an insulated home, the double coat traps cool air and keeps it in, allowing your dog to feel cooler in hot weather. But it’s important to keep your dog from getting overheated. This means providing fresh, cold water, a shade, and frozen treats. You also want to exercise in the morning or participate in water-based activities like taking them for a swim.
German Shepherd Dog Personality Characteristics
When choosing the right dog for you, you have to make sure their personality matches your own. Loving, gentle, cuddly, confident, courageous, and smart are just a few of the personality traits of GSDs. They are easy-going and friendly with family but are aloof with strangers. This large dog is steadfastly loyal and very protective of its owners. Bred initially with a strong work ethic, this dog thrives on having a job to do. In fact, they can be trained to do virtually anything, from alerting you to danger to sniffing out illegal items. And when they are not put to work physically or mentally, they become bored, frustrated, and destructive.
Living with Children and Family Members
The GSD is a good family dog and a steadfast guardian. It forms strong bonds with its human family and can become overly protective of its owners. In fact, it will treat your child with as much love and care as it would its own puppies.
Kids and GSDs are made for each other. They are both energetic, and the dog’s ability and interest to learn new tricks can provide endless joy and entertainment for both parties. This dog’s calm, gentle, and patient nature can allow them to tolerate grabs, pokes, and occasional tail tugs from children. But like any other dog, they have a limit. It’s important to teach kids to be respectful and gentle in their interactions with the dog. Teasing, hitting, slapping, jumping on, or otherwise tormenting the dog can cause it to react aggressively by barking or biting. On the other hand, the German Shepherd needs proper socialization and training to know how to act around children.
While this breed is pretty gentle with kids and wants nothing more than to smell them, you may want to keep their size in mind. They can unintentionally hurt a small child during play. That is why we advise supervising all interactions between your dog and your child to ensure everyone’s safety.
Living with Cats and Other Dogs
If you have or want a multi-pet household, you want to know if your German Shepherd will get along with the other animals. As mentioned earlier, GSDs are social dogs who will appreciate the company of other dogs. Some can be bossy with other dogs, but this is unlikely to become a problem with proper care, early and proper socialization, and training.
The same cannot be said about the relationship between a German Shepherd and a cat. As a working breed, GSDs have a strong prey drive to chase after fluffy objects, especially if they make sudden moves. When a cat meets such a large breed, they are likely to run away. And that running encourages the dog’s instincts to chase.
This doesn’t mean you can’t keep both animals at home. Whether or not these two animals get along will depend on how socialized they both are. If they have been exposed to other animals in the past and have had more positive interactions, they are more likely to accommodate the other. Here are a few tips to help your German Shepherd and cat get along:
- Provide enough exercise to your dog, so they are tired and able to act calmly around the cat
- Don’t punish or yell at either animal when they act out. GSDs respond better to positive reinforcements
- Ensure each animal has their own space where it can eat, sleep, and play
- Proper socialization, training, and introduction are key to having a peaceful household
- Be patient and stay positive
- Most importantly, don’t force it
Barking Levels of a German Shepherd Dog
It’s worth asking if this breed barks a lot and whether it will be the right dog for your living situation and neighborhood. GSDs are said to be more vocal than many other dog breeds. And without training and proper socialization, they can bark a lot.
This behavior stems from their working background. They were bred for livestock herding and guarding, later as service and protection dogs. All of these jobs require vocalization. Even the loud, ferocious sounding bark that an adult GSD makes is deliberately bred into him from the start.
While it’s in their DNA to bark, several other reasons might cause your German Shepherd to bark more than usual. This includes when they are sick or hurt, lonely, bored, excited, anxious, afraid, or threatened. Barking is also a natural response when a dog is provoked. Luckily, there are ways you can prevent excessive barking. Start by exercising your dog, so they are too tired to engage in excessive barking. Training and proper socialization are vital to creating a well-mannered dog.
German Shepherds make a lot of different noises, and they all have different meanings. You can expect them to bark, growl, howl, whine, grunt, groan, etc. Remember, sometimes dogs bark excessively to seek attention. If you’re sure that’s the case, ignore them for as long as it takes them to be quiet and calm down.
Are German Shepherd Good Guard or Watchdogs?
German Shepherds have long been used as protectors, from guarding flock against predators to doing police and military work and even keeping a protected area against intruders. If you’re looking for a dog that will protect you and your family, this breed is your best bet. But how do GSDs excel in this role?
These are among the most affectionate, loyal, and devoted dogs out there. They will fiercely and faithfully stand as protectors to their owners and their family and belongings. They will defend you with their lives. Additionally, they have the physical strength to be good guard dogs. This means they are well capable of following through with any threat. Coupled with their resonating bark, stature, and wolf-like appearance, the mere presence of this dog can be a deterrent to intruders and attackers.
Unlike guard dogs, trained to attack when needed, watchdogs will bark out an alert if they see or hear any unusual activity. They don’t usually act, leaving it to the human to deal with the situation. GSDs are watchdogs through and through. They are watchful, courageous, vigilant, aloof of strangers, and are huge barkers.
You mustn’t own such a protective and strong dog who is untrained. With their aggressive tendencies and strong bite force, your German Shepherd should receive obedience training to ensure everyone’s safety.
German shepherds are frequently used for jobs that require them to be aggressive, such as being military dogs, police dogs, and guard dogs. This has made them gain a reputation as aggressive dogs. In fact, some countries and states in the US have banned or regulated ownership of breeds like the German Shepherd because of the attack statistics.
While they are very territorial and protective of their owners, these dogs are not inherently aggressive and can be trained to welcome people and other dogs. Lack of proper socialization can also cause your German Shepherd to exhibit aggressive tendencies.
That being said, even a well-behaved and socialized German Shepherd will act with aggression when provoked, or they feel cornered. He might growl, lift a lip, snarl, snap, or even bite when feeling territorial, out of fear, protect their belongings, show dominance, when they’re in pain, out of frustration, and so on.
Aggressive dogs are a potential threat and a safety hazard. The good news is you can fix aggressive behaviors in most German Shepherds. The first step is to offer enough exercise. This will help release excess energy and make the dog calm. You also want to establish your alpha role through obedience training. Last but not least, identify things that cause your dog to react in a hostile manner and avoid those triggers.
Can A German Shepherd Be Left Alone?
While you may wish to take your furry friend everywhere you go, the truth is it’s not always possible. You probably have school to attend, errands to run, work to go to, and other activities where your dog can’t accompany you.
These dogs can become very attached to their owners, but you can still leave them alone for some time. There’s no universal time frame for how long German Shepherds can be left alone. It all depends on their age, health, previous experience, socialization, background, and training. For an adult GSD that is well-trained, socialized, and in perfect health, they can be able to stay at home for up to 8 hours. This doesn’t mean you should make it a habit, though. Here are a few helpful tips for leaving your German Shepherd alone:
- Start slowly and build up
- Provide enough physical and mental exercise to release pent-up energy. A tired dog will most likely want to sleep all day.
- Allow them access to food and water
- Keep them busy and entertained with interactive or chew toys
- Be calm about leaving and coming back
- Don’t leave them longer than their bladder can handle
- Leave them in a safe location
- Consider hiring a dog walker or pet sitter if you have to be away for a longer time
That being said, if you’re away from home frequently and for extended periods, this might not be the breed for you. This very social breed is prone to separation anxiety when left for too long. And this can lead to destructive behaviors such as excessive barking, digging, trying to escape, chewing on everything, and so on.
German Shepherd Dog Training – Easy or Hard?
Training is the key to having a well-behaved dog and a happy home. Luckily, GSDs can be trained to do anything. The breed’s intelligence, confidence, desire to work, and eagerness to please should make training relatively easy. This is particularly true when you proceed with consistency and patience while offering plenty of positive reinforcement. But while they can learn quickly and retain lessons with ease, multiple factors can impact a dog’s trainability, including your technique and consistency, their age, previous experience, and how well socialized they are. Remember that GSDs can be assertive, stubborn, independent, and strong-willed. So, establish your alpha role, not by yelling or reacting harshly but rather by remaining confident, calm, and firm with commands.
German Shepherd Dog Potty Training
Effectively potty training your dog is vital to having a happy, clean, and comfortable life with them. But this form of training isn’t just about teaching your GSD where to go poop or fart; it’s also about clarifying that doing so in the house is inappropriate.
Potty training should begin as early as possible. And the key to successfully doing it is creating a schedule. Adults have control of their elimination habits and can hold for 3-4 hours. On the other hand, puppies will need to go several times a day. Take them out when they wake up in the morning, after a nap, after a meal, after a play session, before bedtime, and when their body language shows that they are searching for a potty area. Your puppy doesn’t have full bladder control until about 5-6 months, so continue your house-breaking efforts.
It’s essential to have a designated area outside where your dog can go potty. But you can also invest in dog pads for use at night or when the weather outside isn’t too favorable. Once they are out, use a cue word to encourage them to eliminate. Reward with a treat or praise when they do it correctly.
Even with a fully housebroken GSD, accidents are still possible. Don’t punish or yell at your dog; GSDs respond better to positive reinforcement.
German Shepherd Dog Obedience Training
Imagine what it would be like to get your dog to listen to you without hesitation? Obedience training doesn’t just make life easier for you but the dog as well. A dog who understands and responds to basic commands can easily be kept out of mischief safe from potential dangers.
Thanks to the GSD’s smartness and natural tendency towards obedience, this type of training is simple most of the time. These dogs can start picking up simple commands from as young as eight weeks with their sharp minds, although even an adult is still trainable. Start by teaching basic commands like sit, stay, stop, come, and down. Be sure to vary your commands during different learning sessions to avoid boredom and keep your dog interested.
While these dogs are smart, puppies are easily distracted, and the adults may not want to participate for longer. So, using quick sessions will show significant progress. You also want to practice in quiet places to get their attention and keep them focused but aim to train them in different areas to help them learn to cope with distractions.
Like other forms of training, consistency, patience, and positive reinforcement will be critical. Don’t expect perfection at first; as your GSD grows, he will learn more quickly.
German Shepherd Dog Behavioral Training
The German Shepherd is assertive, independent, dominant, protective, and confident. But the same great traits that make this one of the best working and pet dogs can also cause problems if they don’t receive the proper training and socialization. This is where behavioral training comes in. It teaches your dog how to respond in different situations without needing verbal commands or the owner to be present. Training your dog with positive reinforcement is the only way to make them learn good manners.
If you offer the right kind of behavioral training program, you’ll most likely never deal with any behavioral problem with your German Shepherd. Otherwise, expect them to have behavioral issues such as excessive barking, chewing, digging, separation anxiety, jumping, aggressiveness, nipping and biting, urine marking, etc. New owners make the mistake of thinking their dog will outgrow these tendencies. Unfortunately, things will only get worse.
Keep in mind that GSDs can also develop behavioral problems if their needs are not being met. So, before you offer training, are you providing enough food, water, exercise, love, affection, and attention?
German Shepherd Dog Protection Training
As a large dog with fast movements, large bared teeth, and a very commanding bark, the German Shepherd can naturally ward off threats. But while they are the perfect breed for personal protection, they have aggressive tendencies and sharp teeth with a high-psi bite force. This makes it important to have a well-rounded and trained dog. You want a German Shepherd who can assess threatening situations while also interacting with non-threatening people and animals on a day-to-day basis.
If you want a good protection dog, you must train your German Shepherd to have a strong response to obedience commands. This might come in handy when you want them to respond to a direction to cease an attack or if he has misread the situation. Your dog must also be well-socialized for them to be well-mannered, confident, manageable, well-adjusted, and happy. This means introducing them to lots of people, other dogs or pets, various scenarios, as well as smell, sights, sounds, and tactile stimuli. While you’re at it, you want to teach them appropriate behaviors for different real-life situations.
Daily physical and mental exercise will ensure your German Shepherd is adequately stimulated, thus preventing boredom and destructive behavior. Lastly, a German Shepherd requires an owner who is strong, assertive, and confident; otherwise, their protective instincts, stubbornness, and territorial nature can become unmanageable and problematic.