Courageous, loyal and highly trainable, the German shepherd dog (GSD) tops the list as the “world’s leading police, guard and military dog,” according to the American Kennel Club. The first recognized German shepherds appeared in Germany in the late 1800s, the result of intentional crossbreeding between farming and herding dogs. Agile and muscular, the German shepherd is built for speed and endurance. Care for this active and alert breed requires early socialization, obedience training and attention to common German shepherd health issues.
Socialization, Training and Exercise
Introduce your German shepherd puppy to people of all ages, sizes and ethnic backgrounds from a very young age, recommends Liz Palika, author of “The Howell Book of Dogs." This reduces the risk that the dog will identify any one type of person as a threat later on. The German shepherd dog quickly bonds with his owner, but without exposure to other people and animals, he can develop shyness, fearfulness and antisocial behavior around strangers.
Enroll the young German shepherd in puppy kindergarten or beginning obedience training before 6 months of age and continue with advanced obedience or specialized training as the dog matures, author Palika suggests. This breed is exceptionally good at retaining specialized lessons and can learn to sniff out contraband or follow the scent of a lost person as easily as it can learn to fetch a ball or catch a Frisbee.
Find a spot where your GSD can run freely. Originally bred for the daunting task of herding livestock, your German shepherd needs plenty of vigorous activity to keep his muscles strong and to channel his high-energy stores. A daily walk is not enough exercise for a young adult German shepherd, making this breed unsuitable for city dwellers who don’t have access to a dog park or a large yard where the dog can run. Local kennel clubs often offer agility dog training that benefits high-energy dogs like the German shepherd.
Feeding and Health Care
Avoid feeding commercial dog foods that include grains, advises the online Official German Shepherd Dog Resource Guide. The German shepherd’s diet should closely mimic the diet he would naturally eat in the wild. An adult GSD can consume as much as 100 lbs. of commercial dog food per month. Dog food labels list ingredients by weight, so the more the food contains of a specific ingredient, the earlier that ingredient will appear in the list.
Feed puppies three to four times per day, but reduce feeding times to one or two per day for adult dogs. Take up the food bowl after the dog finishes eating. Regular visits to the veterinarian and weight checks during the puppy’s first year of life help determine if the GSD is growing at a healthy rate.
Avoid purchasing German shepherds from puppy mills and from breeders who can’t provide health records for the dog’s parents, include records of joint testing. The German shepherd is prone to developing bone and joint conditions, cancer and pancreas problems. The types of cancer that affect this breed typically target the bones, the lymphatic system, the skin or the capillaries. The GSD is also predisposed to heart disease, and disorders of the pancreas, diabetes, joint disorders, including dysplasia, and vision problems.
Brush the dog at least twice weekly throughout the year because the German shepherd sheds lightly all year long. Twice a year, however, during the spring and fall, the GSD sheds his entire coat. During these shedding seasons, the dog requires brushing once or twice a day to avoid matting. At this time, the GSD can shed large clumps of undercoat, says author Palika.
Bathe the German shepherd at the completion of each shedding season and throughout the year as necessary to keep his coat clean, but avoid bathing more than twice per month if possible. Too frequent bathing can leave the dog’s skin dry and lead to itching and dandruff. Use only a shampoo made specifically for dogs.
Clean the dog’s ears twice a week. The GSD’s ears, which stand upright, collect dust, dirt and airborne pollens, which can lead to irritation and ear infections. A gentle, but thorough wiping of the inner ear flap and visible ear canal with a soft damp cloth is necessary. Pre-moistened ear cleaning wipes are available from pet stores.
German shepherds are trained as guard dogs and police attack dogs because they are wary by nature and possess the ability to be aggressive. All German shepherds should be taught from an early age to control aggression and should not be allowed to nip or snap.
German shepherds that cannot control aggressive tendencies do not make good pets, especially in homes with young children.
Incorporate play into learning. Regularly teaching your GSD new tricks and commands will keep him happy and mentally alert.
- AKC: Meet the Breeds: German Shepherd Dog
- The Howell Book of Dogs; Liz Palika
- The Official German Shepherd Resource Guide: General Overview of Dietary Needs – German Shepherds
- The Official German Shepherd Resource Guide: Tips and Suggestions on Feeding your Dog | The German Shepherd
- The Official German Shepherd Resource Guide: German Shepherd Health Problems, Issues, Facts, Diseases, Conditions, Cancer, Heart Disease, Dysplasia and Others
- german shepherd puppy image by Jeff from Fotolia.com