The German Shepherd

Characteristics and Breed Specific Advice to Happy Living. 

By: Dak Roberts with best friend Grimm.

Shepherd Pet Parent on The Treatment Team.

German Shepherds are by far my favorite breed, being rivaled by only the Pitt Bull(I can’t get enough of those huge smiles). They also remain one of the US’s most popular breeds and for many good reasons. Their devotion goes unmatched. Their dedication to their family, their job, or even the task at hand is never questioned, their versatility on what classifies their job is truly impressive. Traditionally, Shepherds have been the “go-to“ breed for herding(from which they get their name), police/military service, search and rescue, drug detection, they excel at competitive obedience, and in the last few decades, we have seen them more and more as faithful family companions.

Contrary to popular belief, these dogs do not usually display aggression without reason. That’s not to say it can’t happen or that it won’t, it’s just to say that usually there is some sort of triggered fear response or situation in which they feel requires some sort of reaction proportionate to the emotion felt by a situation. At first, these dogs may seem aloof, or not interested in affection, other dogs, or may avoid interaction altogether. They do not make friends immediately however, once you have put in the work, they are extremely loyal and trusting with their family. Shepherds tend to be more suspicious of other dogs and strangers, which is why it is important to provide proper introductions meaning, well lit, not at the front door with the excitement already elevated by the doorbell, and make sure your shepherd has your attention. Remember you are their trusted advisor and they look to you for initial situational judgment, provide rewards and praise for desired behavior, this will help reinforce that while they may feel the urge to protect, the situation does not always call for it and we can teach them that friends are to be trusted. Early socialization is so important for this breed and because they look to you for support and confidence until they find their own, you may notice as pups they will want to hide behind you or avoid the situation to be with the one they trust. As puppies, you will have to push them a bit out of their comfort zone while offering support from a distance. Praise is a powerful tool that covers a huge range, as simple as “Good Boy!” from across the yard will put them into a state of blissful pride. That being said, these dogs are extremely sensitive and can understand tone better than most of my friends or co-workers can so be mindful of this when you are delivering vocal praise, as to not send a confusing message. Socialization means way more than just introducing them to other dogs. We want to think of it as introducing them to the WORLD. Introduction to other dogs is an important one but, what about family friends coming over for a visit, cats and other animals, a bicycle passing by, elderly with a cane, yard tools, children (kids should be a large focal point when thinking of the socialization of a family dog)? The point is, that while we obviously can’t plan for everything, we can do our absolute best for our pets, who will always do their absolute best for us. Introduce them to as much as you can, build their confidence in strange situations, and always reward them for the display of the desired behavior. This breed thrives on training, they love to please their loved ones more than anything, we just have to show them what pleases us. Because of their desire to please, this breed’s trainability is above par.  Playing with their paws, ears, and mouths, etc… early on will help them with vet visits down the road, and even prep them for nail trims, ear cleanings, etc…

Shepherds tend to have an extremely high prey drive, and usually will be more motivated with a ball or another toy before food. Because of this high drive, it is important to have some sort of outlet; fetch, frisbee, Grimm even enjoys a game of “hide and seek”. Something that stimulates both their body and mind will lead to a healthy happy dog and family. A dog that is not properly stimulated can act out in a destructive manner. On the other hand, I have seen this breed time and time again exercise to the point of injury or excessive exhaustion. Avoid playtime on asphalt or other rough surfaces as this could lead to injured/raw paw pads. The shepherd is also prone to certain genetic health issues such as Hip Dysplasia, so while it’s important for them to get exercise, it is equally important not to overdo it especially as your pet ages. It is very important to make sure they get their yearly physicals, early detection of joint issues can be the key to proper treatment and prevention. Additionally, because they are genetically predisposed to this, closely monitoring their diet is extremely important. Extra weight on your pup puts extra weight on their joints. Generally speaking, Shepherds do not have a huge potential for weight gain as they are less interested in scarfing every last bite of food than other breeds are. For instance, Grimm if left with an open bag of dog food, will not touch it until I serve it to him however, Sadie, my retriever mix, would do her best to finish the bag just so she could lick the crumbs at the bottom. Still, every dog is different and diet, exercise, and stimulation play a major part in your pet’s health. The shepherd also has been known to show G.I. and allergy issues that can present symptoms with their skin. This is not to say it will happen with every shepherd but, can generally be controlled by diet and/or allergy treatment.

It should be noted…you may also hear them called “German Shedders”…. This is a humorous but appropriate nickname. They have what some would call a “Seasonal Coat” when the days get shorter and colder, they shed their summer coat and grow their winter coat, the opposite happens as the days get longer and warmer. All this to say, while there are times of the year that they shed more, it feels like they are always shedding. They do not require special grooming or cuts or anything of that nature but brushing them a few times a week will help the accumulation of fur clumps around the house. This can also be a consideration for some people as they decide what dog fits best for their family.

In conclusion, and in my personal experience and opinion, The German Shepherd can be an excellent family pet. I have seen them in every aspect; gentle and loving with children, careful with the elderly, protective of their house and family, on the end of a bite sleeve, search and rescue/drug detection, and enjoying playmates of both the two and four-legged variety. That being said, this breed requires extreme commitment from the start. They look to you to show them the way, this means early socialization/conditioning as well as providing proper outlets for their drive and energy. Shepherds are best suited for a house with a yard (as opposed to apartment life). The German Shepherd is eager to please, easy to train and the most loyal companion you will ever have. Just remember, with this breed(and most others) the outcome of their actions, reactions, and manners fall to the responsibility of us, the pet parents. It is our responsibility to commit to providing socialization, training, and proper outlets from the start.