Intelligent and highly trainable, the German Shepherd makes a devoted, affectionate and loyal addition to the family. This brief guide gives basic advice to help you and your new dog live a happy life together.
German Shepherds were bred in Germany in the 19th century as herding dogs. Since then they have become popular across the globe for their versatility and adaptability. Today they fulfil many roles in society, used by the police and army as guard and sniffer dogs, by blind people as guide dogs, by farmers as sheep dogs, and of course as a companion animal.
A one man dog
The German Shepherd’s most outstanding characteristic is its loyalty. This, combined with its responsiveness to command and natural suspicion of strangers, makes it a superb protector and guard dog. Its natural inclinations can be a problem, however, if allowed to get out of hand.
It’s essential a pet German Shepherd is not allowed to become too dependent on one member of the family. To prevent this all family members should be involved in training, care and feeding.
When introducing your dog to friends and family remember that, unlike some other breeds, he will not accept strangers immediately and may not tolerate being petted by new people until he has learnt to trust them. Advise visitors to the home and strangers in the street to show him the respect he deserves and allow him to build the friendship in his own time.
Mixing with other dogs
It’s vital your dog mixes with other dogs from a young age if he’s to develop good social skills. And continued relaxed socialising remains important once he’s reached maturity. If your dog is kept away from other dogs or pulled away from them on a lead he will get frustrated and problem behaviours may develop.
Build good recall skills so you’re sure he returns on command, then you can let him off the lead to mix with other dogs. Practice recall in the garden and on a long lead in open spaces, rewarding him with treats and attention when he comes back to you. During this period it’s important to allow your dog to socialise on the lead with other dogs in a relaxed way. If you yank him back every time you see another dog he will start to associate that unpleasant experience with other dogs and bark at them to keep them away.
Training classes provide a controlled environment where your dog can socialise with other dogs, learn to behave well, and respond to you in their presence.
Chasing dogs and other animals
Chase aggression is a common problem with this breed. As with Border Collies and other herders, the chase drive in the German Shepherd is a natural instinct.
Try to transfer this behaviour onto suitable objects by encouraging your dog to chase toys. Maintaining good basic control, including good recall, and keeping the dog’s focus on you is essential to prevent chase aggression.
Young German Shepherds are easily stimulated and like to explore everything. This can lead to ‘mouthing’; gently but continuously grabbing hold of you with their mouth. This problem is most commonly encountered by new owners when they are trying to groom their dog or during excited bouts of play. It is important your dog learns to be groomed without ’mouthing’. This can be achieved by grooming at times when your dog is relaxed, perhaps after exercise.
If your dog displays ‘mouthing’ during play, try to encourage him to focus his attention onto toys. As soon as your dog’s teeth come into contact with your skin, give a loud “Ahh” and leave the room for five minutes. This should soon stop the unwanted behaviour.
As with other working breeds, mental stimulation is as important as physical exercise for German Shepherds. They are highly intelligent and without adequate stimulation get bored and may become vocal and destructive. In order to lead a happy life together it’s important you keep him well stimulated and physically exercised.
There are many things you can do to keep your dog mentally stimulated. Training is a constructive and fun way to get him to use his brain. If you are unsure about training methods it’s a good idea to attend a training class. German Shepherds are also well suited to advanced activities such as agility, tracking and obedience work. There is information on finding a recommended training class at the end of this guide.
Toys and games also keep your dog stimulated. Encourage him to play with toys during play sessions and when he is left alone. Stuffing toys with food makes them more interesting.
In the wild dogs spend a lot of time and mental energy tracking and hunting food, so by feeding them we are depriving them of a natural activity. You can, however, encourage your dog to spend time working for his food by hiding it around the garden or stuffing it into toys such as Kongs and activity balls.
As with all large breeds, it is important to keep a German Shepherd’s weight down and provide plenty of sensible exercise. Swimming is an excellent option and doesn’t put too much strain on its joints.
Grooming is important for both long and short-coated German Shepherds. The breed has a thick coat and grooming stimulates the skin’s natural oils and removes dead hair.
Relax your dog before you begin by using soothing techniques. Find out what actions relax him and where he likes to be stroked. Make grooming sessions a pleasant experience by rewarding him afterwards with treats or attention. Grooming is not only important for your dog’s health but also a great way to strengthen the bond between you.
Try not to bath your dog more than is necessary as it can wash the natural oils out of his coat. If your dog has covered himself in something particularly smelly use a mild shampoo or special dog shampoo and rinse it out thoroughly.
Keep an eye on the length of your dog’s nails. Regular exercise on hard surfaces should keep them short, but they may need clipping if he is only exercised on grass. Only your vet should do this.
Remember to take your dog to the vet for regular check-ups and keep his vaccinations up to date.
Your German Shepherd should be fed two small meals per day and don’t forget to allow at least an hour to pass before exercising him.
Obesity in dogs is an increasing problem in the UK and it is essential that every dog, regardless of breed has a diet suited to its size and the amount of exercise it takes. If you have any concerns about your dog’s weight please discuss these with your vet.
Don’t forget that when feeding a dog either canned or dry foods ample water must be available at all times.
All German Shepherds need to chew. In youngsters this helps jaw development and healthy tooth growth, in adults it keeps teeth clean and serves as an outlet for stress. To avoid expensive damage to your belongings provide your dog with appropriate objects to chew. There is a huge variety available in pet shops. Avoid natural bones that can shatter into small sharp pieces – nylon bones are probably best.
Regular cleaning with a toothbrush and dog toothpaste is a good idea if you can get him used to the experience at a young age.