The German Shepherd Dog (GSD), affectionately known as a German shepherd makes a great pet even though it is commonly associated with the military or police. It was originally trained as a herding dog, hence the name shepherd that excelled in guarding the herd and farm. They are the second most popular dog in the U.S. just behind the Labrador and the third most intelligent. In the 1920s, formal training started in Switzerland for seeing-eye dogs. All the dogs that were trained were GSD.
German shepherds make good family dogs especially for people who can take them outdoors every day and let them run. You need to clearly understand the 10 things you should know before owning a German shepherd because they need a firm hand, guidance and lots of attention. They can wag your house to destruction and chew your furniture to pieces all in the name of joy for living with you.
The GSD has been a recognized breed for a relatively short time. In the late 19th century, local farmers and breeders in Germany started to produce puppies with the required characteristics for herding and guarding. Today, the breed is distinguished for courage, loyalty, and its ability to train for several types of work including drug and explosive sniffing, rescue dogs, guide dogs for the vision impaired and heroic workers for the Red Cross and as companions for soldiers at the front lines. Most GSD’s in the United States are purchased to be good family dogs and protectors. Here are the top 10 things you should know before owning a German shepherd.
10Often Called Land Sharks, GSDs Have a High Mouthiness Rating
Mouthiness sounds like a made-up word, but in the dog world, it is very real. Mouthiness describes a dog’s tendency to chew, nip and play-bite a bite that doesn’t actually hurt or puncture the skin. Almost all puppies have a high mouthiness rating, but the GSD keeps this high rating into adulthood. This is one reason German shepherds enjoy a game of fetch and loves chew toys. They may chew up your shoes, children’s toys that are left around, throw rugs and just about anything they can get.
When mouthiness lasts into adulthood, the dog can unintentionally cause injury because adult dogs have strong jaws and sharp teeth. It is not easy to stop a grown dog from biting and chewing habits, so it needs to be stopped when the dog is still a puppy.
It may seem endearing when your seven-week-old German shepherd puppy nuzzles your hand and tries to bite your fingers. You don’t give it much thought. However, it is a symptom of mouthiness that will not go unless you take action. It won’t seem so cute when your three-year-old GSD wants to bite your fingers.
The first step is to teach your dog to be gentle. This includes bite inhibition. Dogs learn bite inhibition from other dogs when they play together. If one dog bites too hard, the other will yelp and stop playing. If they can learn from each other, they can learn from you. Interestingly, even though their mouthiness rating is high, GSDs have a low drooling rating.
9A Good Family Pet
German shepherds can adapt to living indoors if they get enough regular exercise outdoors. They are considered good family pets because they were bred to care for and protect the herd and their human family is their herd. They have a high rating for being affectionate with family.
Their intelligence makes them easy to train, which includes how to behave in a family setting. They are good guard dogs, loyal and will protect their family from intruders. They have been trained as police dogs for decades. Since they have a very energy level, they don’t tire easily when playing with children. They are adaptable and will adjust to your family routine.
GSDs have a sweet and friendly disposition towards the people they know. They may not be so friendly towards strangers, but this is one of the things that make them so good at protecting their family. If they receive the proper food and grooming, they will stay healthy. If they are trained with children when they are puppies, they will learn how to behave with them. As the adult, you should also tell your children when it is better not to try to play. If the dog is eating or remaining alone, it may be better not to bother her.
8GSDs Want to Know What You Are Doing at all Times
Another endearing albeit possibly irritating quality in GSDs is the desire to follow you everywhere. Yes, we mean everywhere, it’s not an exaggeration. The reason your German shepherd is so interested in your every move is that he has been bred to be super loyal. German shepherds are very intelligent and understand what commitment is. They complete tasks and look for the next one. They do not like to be idle.
Your dog’s instinct tells him to herd and you are his livestock. When you move around the house he needs to keep up and make sure you stay rounded-up. In addition, you are the boss, or the alpha dog of his pack, your family, so he will naturally follow the boss.
There are also emotional reasons your dog is stuck like glue to your every breath. He doesn’t want to be alone. This is especially true if you adopt an adult dog. He may have experienced separation anxiety in the past and doesn’t want to go through that again. The way to make sure he is never alone is to keep you in sight. If this is the reason, it may gradually reduce as your new pet gets used to living in a secure environment.
You can end the constant attention once you find the reason. Is it because of anxiety or the feeling of responsibility for the herd? If it is because of anxiety, more exercise with a companion may help. If it is because of his herding instinct, you can give him tasks like picking up toys and putting them in a basket or fetching a newspaper or slippers.
7German Shepherds Shed a lot all Year Around
You better know right from the start that German shepherds shed a lot. They have two layers of coat, a soft underlayer, and a harsh, dense outer layer, and the top layer sheds all year around. If your heart is set on owning a German shepherd, you may need to relax your cleaning standards a bit or constantly vacuum up dog hair. If this seems like too much to bear, you may think about a breed of dog that doesn’t shed or sheds very little.
The good news is, GSDs are easy to groom. You can give them a quick brush every few days and limit the amount of shedding you have to clean up. While the shed all year, there are two times a year they shed more. This is when the soft undercoat is shed. It can be controlled with brushing more often.
Try to keep your puppy calm, maybe with treats, when you groom him. Never get angry if he becomes restless, just calm him down again. It is better to do it in a quiet place where there are no other people to cause a distraction. If you start this when he is young, you won’t have any problem when he is an adult.
If you brush regularly, you may only need to bathe your GSD once every four to six weeks. The nails need to be regularly trimmed or ground down once a month. This may happen naturally during exercise, but if it doesn’t you need to do it because long nails can damage furniture and hurt people.
6Rough Play Is the Norm for GSD
German shepherds are natural-born playmates and just about always up for a game of fetch or a long run, but they are big dogs that were bred to keep the herd in line, so their play sometimes gets rough. It doesn’t mean you have a particularly aggressive dog, it’s just how they are. Your pet may play too roughly with other pets such as smaller dogs and cats or with your small children. This needs to be controlled and taking your dog to a training class is your best option. The foundations of obedience are necessary to help control the dog’s rough play. This includes sit, come, stay, calm walking when on a leash and other directions.
Something you can do at home:
- Make sure she gets enough strenuous exercise. This means at least one hour and preferably longer.
- When you play games with your dog, stop the game before she becomes too excited.
- If you are not up to rigorous play every day, find someone who would like to earn a little extra money.
- A doggie day-care may be able to help.
When you GSD is getting enough of the right kind of exercise, you will notice a change in his behavior. He will be calmer and listen to your commands better.
5As with All Breeds, GSD Have Health Issues
Most German shepherds are strong and have good health, but it is important to know the breeder to make sure screening was done to the parents and puppies for certain conditions. Some of the issues GSD could have are:
- Degenerative Myelopathy
- Hip and elbow hip dysplasia
- Sudden bloat
Bloat can be life-threatening because it happens quickly. Owners should be aware of the symptoms and learn what do to if it occurs. Called gastric dilation-volvulus (GDV), it can cause death in a few hours. The stomach becomes twisted and rotates and there is no home remedy. It is only dangerous when the buildup of air in the stomach puts pressure on the diaphragm so the dog can’t breathe. The air in the stomach may also compress veins blocking the blood from reaching the heart.
It usually strikes in the prime of life and can attack a strong, healthy dog. It may develop if the dog drinks a large amount of water after eating or eaten an especially large meal. It can occur if the dog exercised vigorously after eating. If you see the symptoms, you should get your dog to a vet asap.
The symptoms to look for are:
- Bloating or enlargement of the abdomen
- A painful reaction if you touch the belly
- Excessive salivation
Large dogs that have deep chests including German shepherds are physically at greater risk of bloat than smaller breeds. Even if you get emergency treatment quickly, the mortality rate is 50 percent.
4German Shepherds Get Bored Quickly
As you know by now, German shepherds are smart and protective. They train quickly and naturally feel they should look after their family. These traits are great, but they also mean the GSD needs a lot of stimulation or it could become bored, which is not a good thing in this big active dog.
It may be easy to see that your GSD is bored, but in case you missed it, here are some signs:
- She may start exhibiting destructive behavior such as chewing on shoes and other things that do not chew toys.
- Constant barking is her way of telling you she wants something to do. You shouldn’t give in during the barking because that will reinforce it, but the minute she stops, give her something to do.
- Since your dog has been bred to herd, he might start herding your children, cats, other dogs or you. If he follows you around and tries to interact, he’s bored and needs a job.
- Tail chasing is obsessive behavior that may a symptom of medical issues, but it is also a symptom of boredom. It means he has too much energy with no outlet. He may need to see the vet or he may just need to run.
- Pacing back and forth around your house or running full speed across the living room over and over again are obvious signs your dog is bored and needs exercise.
Exercise along with games of fetch, puzzle toys and training exercises are ways to wear out your dog and keep him physically and mentally healthy.
3Puppies Need Obedience and Socializing Training
Socializing your GSD puppy is the process that trains her to react well to her environment when she is an adult. The best time to socialize your pup is when she is between seven weeks to four months old. German shepherds are natural herders, which mean they like to control their surroundings. This needs to be channeled so they learn how to react to strange people and other animals as well as their own human family. They become acclimated to a variety of sights, sounds and smells and react in a positive manner.
The dog breeder can also play a role in how the puppy behaves as an adult. By three weeks the puppy will be looking to its handlers and copying their behavior. A responsible breeder will understand the puppy needs a calm, example and a positive experience with humans.
The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior warns that behavioral issues are the top reasons for the death of dogs under three years old. If your dog gets lost, he has a better chance of survival if he can accept new people and places because there is a better chance he will be cared for until you find him. In addition, if there is any reason that you cannot keep your dog, he will be able to adjust with a new owner better if he has had socialized training as a pup.
When you get your puppy home you can start to expose it to many different situations. Here are some tips for socializing at home:
- Let him walk on grass, carpet, hardwood, tile and linoleum surfaces
- Take him to places there are different people, noises, smells and textures
- Let him meet different people such as a person wearing sunglasses, carrying parcels or holding an umbrella
- Keep the new experiences positive so the pup enjoys it
2GSD Have a High Guard Dog Rating
German shepherds have been trained for decades to be K-9 police dogs. They understand how to protect their family or pack including the animals they had to herd a century ago. German shepherds are intelligent and courageous and the breed of choice for guard dogs.
The main reason GSDs are so good as guard dogs is because guarding and protecting what they love in their DNA. They also listen, learn and obey and have a menacing appearance that alone could ward off evil-doers. Their size and strength would be a huge asset if they need to attack an intruder. Sometimes their loud bark is enough to deter intruders. The ability to obey is another important characteristic of a good guard dog. Your dog is suitable to be trained as a guard dog if she has already been socialized and is basically clear-headed, stable and friendly. An aggressive dog may not obey and the training could backfire resulting in the dog biting an innocent person, for which you will be liable.
The first step is to enroll your puppy in obedience training. Your dog needs to learn to stop barking on command but barking when strangers approach the house should be encouraged with treats followed by the command to stop barking. You can walk your dog around the perimeter of your property and not allow him to bark at people who are outside the boundary. There are several more things your dog can learn to become an effective guard dog.
1Famous GSD Movie Stars Made the Breed Popular in the US
Yooo Rinty! Some Boomers may remember those words on their small black and white TV with a thrill. Those were the words that sent Rin Tin Tin, the famous German shepherd to save the day. Rin Tin Tin was saved by an American soldier from a WWI war zone and brought to America. He was trained by his human companion Lee Duncan and went on to star in 27 movies and along with another GSD TV personality, Strongheart even has his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Buddy was the first seeing-eye dog. She was trained by Dorothy Harrison Eustis in Switzerland who was training GSD to be police dogs. An American veteran named Frank learned about her work and asked his father to get him one of those dogs that could help the soldiers blinded by mustard gas during the war. Frank nicknamed his dog Buddy and said the dog gave him the gift of freedom.
Bullet was another TV star seen on the Roy Rogers Show in the 1950s. He was actually the pet of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, but he performed perfectly in the action Western program. He regularly saved the heroes from the bad guys. These real heroes and TV heroes went a long way to convincing the American people that German shepherds were worthy companions and good to have around the house for protection.
GSD stands for German Shepherd Dog. It is the only breed that has the word dog in its name. Developed as a working dog in Germany, it is highly intelligent and able to perform many complicated and important tasks for humans. As seen during two world wars, it is fearless and has won many Medals of Honor for valor in the face of danger. The GSD has performed excellently as seeing-eye dogs, K-9 police dogs, sniffer dogs for rescue purposes and drug smuggling. It is still the number one dog for military service the world over. Even with this impressive pedigree (no pun intended) the German shepherd is a great companion dog and family pet.
The GSD is very adaptable and can live happily indoors as long as it gets the required amount of vigorous exercise. It learns quickly who is its family and will defend and protect them with all its might. This makes it a great choice for a family dog.
It is a big dog with big appetites for food, fun and exercise. Its grooming needs are few but should be regular or you will have an inordinate amount of dog hair around your house. If you are up to the challenge of fulfilling these needs, you won’t find a better family companion.