Sam Shephard is an experienced German Shepherd owner and has learned throughout the years how to optimize the breed's health and wellness.
Maybe you already have a German Shepherd, and you’re looking for some reading to reaffirm why it is that you chose this fantastic dog breed to be your companion. Maybe you’re considering buying one and you’re wondering what it is that makes them such a popular choice. Or you may be wondering what the negative consequences of owning such an energetic dog could be.
Whatever the reasons are, there’s no shortage of information available about the shepherd breed. We’ve taken the liberty to compile as much of the most relevant information as we could, and we’ve outlined it all here for you. Enjoy reading on, and hopefully, we’ve helped you make a good decision about any future changes to your dog ownership.
The shepherd is one of the most popular dog breeds in America and obviously abroad—given the dog’s namesake. Shepherds are known for being highly intelligent for dogs, as well as having unmatched levels of energy that can be both a blessing and a curse for owners of the breed.
German Shepherds are capable working dogs, which is why you see them so often on police forces as well as being the most popular dogs for use on film sets in Hollywood. However, this doesn’t discredit them from being fantastic pets. Even if you’re not using them as work-at-home dogs, such as giving them a position as a guard dog, they make fantastic, intelligent companions for all members of the family.
This means that shepherds are among the most versatile types of dogs you could ever hope to own. They don’t have a specific role—they’re capable of pretty much anything that you throw at them, given the proper training and preparation. At least, the ideal German Shepherd would be.
Unfortunately, it’s not so easy to determine what a shepherd will be like these days without actually getting to know it. While the breed used to be absolutely guaranteed, by strict breeding protocols, to adhere to the breed’s standard—as quoted from the AKC standard:
“The German Shepherd has a distinct personality marked by direct and fearless, but not hostile, expression, self-confidence, and a certain aloofness that does not lend itself to immediate and indiscriminate friendships. The dog must be approachable, quietly standing its ground and showing confidence and willingness to meet overtures without itself making them."
That doesn’t mean that everyone will be able to live up to that ideal description. Since they aren’t all bred to adhere to a strict protocol, German Shepherds are all over the map in terms of their temperament these days. However, shepherds are still generally able to follow a few basic traits:
Obviously, the main attractive features of the breed are the good things—the reasons that you would want the dog; the positive features that encourage building a good relationship with the dog that suits you and your current lifestyle.
One of the most prominent features of the breed is their strength and their athletic capability. This is what makes them such fantastic working dogs. Shepherds were initially bred to be strong, capable dogs and they’re able to work long hours in even the most adverse conditions.
Any organization that employees shepherds will attest to the fact that they’re among the liveliest and most active, energetic dogs that you can find.
This is what makes German Shepherds great for people who love living active lives or who revel in training a dog to unprecedented levels. They will eagerly join you on all sorts of activities that they’ve never tried before just because it allows them to broaden the depth of their experiences. Shepherds don’t really care what they’re doing as long as they’re able to do something, and if they do, they’ll dedicate their full attention and energy to it.
This means that you’ll never get bored with your dog, either. Walks simply won’t be enough to make use of all the intense energy that the dogs have, so you’ll have to be creative and think of new ways to entertain them. You can take them on hikes, go swimming, put them in your kayak with you—the list goes on. Anything that you enjoy, chances are, your Shepherd will enjoy doing it with you.
This is ideal for people who are looking for a dog that can help keep them safe. German Shepherds are notorious for looking strong and imposing—whether this is because their makeup makes them look strong and tough, or if people just consider them strong and tough because of the way they’ve been portrayed in the media is up for debate.
Regardless, if you’re looking for a dog to keep you and your family safe, or just to look after your property while you’re away, a shepherd will be able to handle this task with ease. Their imposing appearance, however, intimidating it may be, doesn’t take away from their loving and compassionate personalities.
German Shepherds are among the most intelligent dog breeds on the planet. They’re capable of undertaking intense training regimens and going far and beyond the basic dog education of learning commands like, 'come', and 'stay'. They’re able to understand and learn complicated procedures, which makes them ideal for use in Hollywood as well as for undertaking tasks that are more complicated than the average dog breed could be capable of.
This means that you’ll always need to be on your game to keep up with your shepherd. They will learn things really quickly and you’ll have to keep providing them with new things to learn, otherwise, they’ll get bored. Boredom is usually the real reason behind dogs tearing up houses, not disobedience or being a ‘bad dog.’ Keep your dog occupied and they’ll have great behavior!
They are also known for being among the most loyal dogs on the planet. This is great, especially for people who will be taking their dogs out on social excursions fairly frequently. Loyalty is important for people who want to train their dogs to be obedient (which is, really, most dog owners, isn’t it?)
Having a dog that’s well-trained socially as well as intellectually makes them ideal companions because you can bring them around with you. They’ll be able to interact with other dogs and people at their best level, but you’ll never have to worry about them acting out or behaving badly because their loyalty makes them happy to listen to you when you call them back or tell them to stop.
Sure, everyone flocks to shepherds because of the positive traits that are commonly associated with the breed. This is fine and is the basic procedure when considering just about anything, but it’s equally as important to consider things that aren’t so ideal when you’re thinking about making a change as big as getting a Shepherd would be.
If you go into any situation and only consider the positives while refusing or neglecting to look at the negatives, you set yourself up for a potentially unpleasant situation. For example, if you get a German Shepherd because you want a dog that’s loyal and intelligent, but you don’t pay attention to the fact that they’re very high-energy dogs that need to be taken out for physical exercise several times a day, you’re setting yourself up to develop an unhappy relationship with an unhappy dog.
For that reason, we’ve included this list of things that aren’t necessarily bad, but could be a factor in deciding whether or not a shepherd is really suitable for you and your lifestyle.
German Shepherds are widely renowned for their good temperaments. These good temperaments are specific of purebreds. These are not easy to find, and chances are that if you’re buying or getting a shepherd somewhere locally, that it’s not purebred unless otherwise specified.
This means that the dog will probably have a temperament that’s developed and influenced by breeders, owners, and dogs that aren’t necessarily in alignment with the German Shepherd that’s traditionally revered. This also means that you’re going to have to search far and wide if you want to find a shepherd that matches up to the temperament that you’re expecting it to have.
Like, a lot of exercise. If you’ve ever seen or heard of a Shepherd destroying things around the house, you might have thought that the story was dealing with a bad dog. This may sometimes be true, but far more likely is the fact that the owner hasn’t been getting their dog a lot of exercise.
These dogs are among the most energetic breeds in the world, and walking them around the block once or twice a day isn’t going to be nearly enough to cover all of their energetic needs. You’re going to need to be prepared to take them out for fairly rigorous exercise, if not daily, at least every couple days.
It’s not always practical for people who have steady, scheduled jobs to own this breed unless they have family members who are able to take them out or can afford a dog sitter. Otherwise, their shepherd will be left alone all day and will have to find its own ways to unleash its energy—usually upon the household.
Indeed, you’re going to have to prepare yourself for a lot of shedding if you get a German Shepherd. We’re talking like 365 days a year of heavy shedding. This can be reduced by regular grooming and general coat care.
This is going to require that you get some additional tools to make sure that you can manage the upkeep on all this dog hair that will be floating around and settling on your furniture. Consider making serious investments in pet hair rollers and attachments for your vacuum cleaner, because you’re going to need them.
Regardless of what dog owners may know about shepherds being lovely, well-tempered, and obedient dogs, the public does not always know this. The public perception of German Shepherds is often very different than the perception that people who own them have, and it might affect your quality of life if people are worried about you owning this dog.
Some suggestions indicate that someone is more likely to face lawsuits regarding their dogs if they have aggressive-looking dogs, like pit bulls or German Shepherds, than they would if they had other dogs. This is something to consider when buying. They are known for being rather aloof and suspicious of people that they don’t know, and strangers are likewise suspicious of dogs that are suspicious of them.
Do you plan to have interactions with the public? Do you live in a rural or urban area? These things could impact the future that you have with your dog. If you don’t live anywhere that people are frequently going to interact with your dog, then you don’t have anything to worry about. However, if you live in an urban area and you’re going to have to frequently take your dog around other people, it’s important that you learn how to train your dog to be properly socialized with humans and other canines.
German Shepherds are also known for having a lot of health complications that can arise later in life. It’s possible to find purebred German Shepherds which are a lot less likely to have these problems, but this is just as difficult as finding a Shepherd with a perfect temperament (though luckily, you’ll most likely find one with the other).
It’s important to take care of the health of any dog that you own, but Shepherds require an extra deal of precaution in regards to their health.
German Shepherds are great dogs, no question, but it’s important that you know about the pros and cons of the breed before you make a decision to get one. They aren’t suitable for people living all walks of life.
If you've decided to adopt a German Shepherd puppy then take a look at our guide on raising puppies.
Hopefully, we’ve provided you with enough information to make a good decision about your future dog-buying endeavors!
© 2019 Sam Shepards
Lourdesb61 on September 03, 2020:
We had a GSD for over 14 years. Sasha was an amazingly loyal, trusted member of our family. She was a 5 year cancer survivor, so when it was time for us to let her go, it was devastating. She had a great life and was just a few months short of 15. I rescued a small dog after that. He was with us 12 years. Hw has been gone over a year now and I'm looking for a GSD to rescue. I could go to a breeder, but there are so many dogs in need, i want to do what i think could be a good thing. NC seems in short supply, but I will find one. The article was very informative. Thank you
Sam Shepards (author) from Europe on September 15, 2019:
@ Thank you Pam, I hope people can make very informed decision when buying or rescuing a German Shepherd. The breed does have temperament , related costs and more. A good German Shepherd owner should keep all this in mind and see if he/she can provide this over an extended time, mostly around 12 years. It also makes things like travel a little more difficult etc. It's like have a young child at home in some sense.
Pam from Minnesota on July 17, 2019:
Thanks for this very informative thread.
Sam Shepards (author) from Europe on May 15, 2019:
Thank you for the nice comment. Enjoy the time with your dog, although not a German Shepherd still a lot of information applies for other breeds like labradors.
Liz Westwood from UK on May 15, 2019:
This is a very detailed and well-balanced article.
The German Shepherd is a moderately active dog and is described as self-assured. The breed is willing to learn with an eagerness to have a purpose.
They have a strong commitment to their owners. They feel the need to please their owner, making them trainable and versatile dogs.
German Shepherd temperament is protective. However, with proper training and patience, they make great workers.
A common trait of the German Shepherd temperament is their high energy level. For your German Shepherd to be happy, they will need daily mental and physical activities.
The German Shepherd is an active breed who is now known for more than their working dog characteristics.
Defined as being protective, loyal, loving and affectionate, there is more than meets the eye to this classic dog breed.
German Shepherds make fantastic family pets, especially for active families with older children.
Due to their high exercise demands, they require a more experienced owner with plenty of time to provide them with both mental and physical stimulation.
Strong, impressive but warm at heart, the German Shepherd is treasured by dog lovers, military and police personnel all over the world.
Get our best dog content delivered in your inbox, including:
The Mop dog, otherwise known as a Komondor, was bred to watch over and protect flocks of sheep. They are extremely brave, defending their flock from wolves, bears and other wild animals. As flock guardians, they were outside no matter what the weather, so they Continue Reading →
What happens when you mix the world’s smallest dog with a large and confident breed? You get a Pitbull Chihuahua Mix known as the Chipit. This rare breed is intelligent, confident, courageous and loving. They make the perfect choice for families who want both a Continue Reading →
Golden Retrievers and Labradors are both extremely loving dogs who share many similarities. Both are great with children, have a sweet nature and are extremely loyal family pets. It is no wonder why many people have a difficult time choosing between the breeds. Generally when Continue Reading →
I have a one year old, how many meals should I feed each day? thanks
Hi Saadon, at one year of age, you can transition to feeding two meals each day (morning and evening).
Hi, I have a German Shepherd Husky mix. She looks more like a German Shepherd but has a husky tail. Do you think she is 50/50 mix or more % of one breed? She also has shorter hair but a little bit long!
Some time ago, I was planning on getting a shepherd, it did not happen. I am now planning for that shepherd at the age of 65. Is this a good dog for me at my age? I have always owned Chow’s so am familiar with large strong dogs. I feel with the right help and accessories I can deal with a shepherd of any size. This is planned for spring so between now and then I would like to purchase your WadeCollar and whatever else I may need for the dog to be trained.
Age is less a factor than is energy level, life style, and handling ability. When you’re thinking of those factors you have to think in terms of the next 12ish years the approximate life span of a German Shepherd (unless you’re thinking of getting a German Shepherd that’s older in age.)
Another factor is that the bloodlines of German Shepherds have shifted a bit over the last decade or so, as the working lines that police have been importing for several years have seeped into the companion dog market and those dogs need to work, work, work. They’re my favorite kind of German Shepherd but they make for poor companion dogs for most people. You’ll want more of the watered-down version I should think.
I can’t say that a dog’s physical and mental needs or its genetics vs a person are not a factor, however, let’s face it, once a dog hits 10 weeks of age most are going to be faster and more agile than a human being of any age. Good training is a mind “game as opposed to a “might is right” game or who has the best treats game.
By the time they’ve hit young adulthood, earlier in some breeds, some dogs are going to be physically stronger. This shouldn’t matter if you are following good training principles. It’s not how fast, strong, agile you are vs the dog, it’s how strong, fast, and agile the dog you’re training ‘thinks’ you are. I don’t want you to get the idea that you’re using these psychological advantages in an overt way. It’s applied subtly. Causes no fear in the dog. You just ease them into it, a little here and a little there. Good training is never entirely dependent on heavy-handed physicality and shouldn’t require the “yank and crank” you see in some training schools. It is however at least for the first bit of training a good idea to give the dog the impression of “Has she been working out?” In other words, you want to influence perception even if the reality is different. (This is one of the motivations behind why puppies get so mouthy and pushy with each other (and their owners). They want to see how their “playmate” reacts and that gives them a sense as to who should be listening to who.)
I have a rhyme I teach clients. “If a dog can’t be caught, the dog can’t be taught.”, and “Give a dog a chance to think it’s stronger and it probably won’t listen to you much longer”. For the most part, good training is a head game and if you stay away from might is right trainers and no behavior can’t be solved when you’re all positive all the time trainers you’ll have a much better chance of convincing your pup that you are the teacher and they are the student.
If you’re going to be looking for a puppy be very careful as to where you decide to buy. You want an exceptional breeder. (1 in a 100) Someone that can show you examples of what your dog is going to be like in a few years because they can introduce you to people similar to you with siblings or half-siblings from earlier litters. You want a breeder that has the pup well on the way to being entirely house and crate trained before you pick the dog up at 7 1/2 weeks of age.
You’ll need to set aside a fair amount of time between 7 1/2 and 12 weeks to continue with imprinting to take full advantage of the dog’s critical socialization period. If you have found a good breeder (1 in a 100) they will have already started this. I can send you a great socialization cheat sheet I put together for clients so you can learn about what I’m talking about regarding the socialization period. Most breeders and dog trainers are true amateurs and think that socializing a puppy means going to puppy socialization classes which are a horrible idea. Critical socialization is what you’ll find in my Socialize Your Puppy for Everything e-book and socialization cheat sheet.
To get a good dog you’ll have to start looking now. Here are the tasks I would recommend.