As the name suggests, German Shepherds were originally bred in Germany as sheep herding dogs.
These impressive looking dogs are best known in New Zealand as serving alongside our police. In fact, all patrol dogs are German Shepherds. Their love of tracking a scent means they are mainly used to track and search for people however many of them are also trained for narcotic detection work and are deployed alongside the Armed Offenders Squad.
This may leave you wondering: do they make good family pets? Absolutely. While these clever canines are often working dogs they also make loving family companions when matched with families that understand their needs.
German Shepherds are known for their intelligence, highly obedient and have a reputation for quickly learning new skills. This makes them easy to train. They are also very protective of their family.
The powerful German Shepherd Dog breed (GSD) is canine royalty; they’re large, athletic and speedy, covering a large amount of ground with a minimum of effort. An adult German Shepherd can reach 41 kgs and stand more than 61cm tall. Similar to other larger-sized dog breeds, the German Shepherd life span averages about seven to 10 years.
German Shepherds are instantly recognisable; they are noble-looking dogs with pointy ears, long bushy tails, long, pointed muzzles and almond-shaped eyes, typically dark brown in colour. German Shepherds are longer than they are tall, and their bodies are powerful and muscular.
An interesting fact about those pointed ears...it’s common for GSD parents to enquire as to when German Shepherds’ ears stand up. As puppies, these canines have floppy ears but they start to stand up, occasionally at first, when they finish teething (usually between 16 and 20 weeks).
GSDs sport a double coat of medium-length, with shorter fur on their heads and paws, and longer, thicker hair on their necks and hind legs. That coat comes in all sorts of colours, from jet black to white. In between are the bi-coloured dogs, of which the most common are the black and tans. They also feature black and silver and black and cream coats.
Because this watchful, self-assured breed is nearly unmatched in intelligence, German Shepherds excel in high-pressure jobs that require next-level problem solving, like search and rescue or police work. These extremely confident dogs are also keen observers and thinkers who have an uncanny ability to make decisions and problem-solve on the fly. They’re lauded for their courage, which is another trait that makes them a versatile working companion. Though German Shepherds might seem aloof around strangers, they bond easily with their families and are incredibly loving companions.
A hallmark of the German Shepherd temperament is great loyalty to their people. For that reason, they’re a fantastic match for families who have the time to devote to training and exercising them. Known to be protective of their family and territory, thorough socialisation at a young age is important to prevent reactivity to people and other dogs. Though the breed is recognised for that intelligence and stoic German Shepherd temperament, they’re also sweet, fun-loving companions who can be silly and playful as well. So, are German Shepherds good family dogs? Yes! These pups are wonderful family dogs when matched with a household that understands their needs.
While these dogs are known to be relatively healthy, there are a few health problems specific to the breed which pet parents should be aware of. Recognising German Shepherd health issues early on means owners can seek treatment sooner. When choosing your German Shepherd breeder, be sure to ask about any known genetic health problems in their breeding dogs.
Hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia are diseases that lead to irregular growth and development of the hip and elbow, which can predispose the joint to early onset arthritis. Joint dysplasia can be inherited from the dog’s parents and made worse with improper nutrition and exercise.
Bloat is an emergency, life-threatening condition that affects deep-chested dogs like German Shepherds. This condition causes the stomach to twist and lose blood supply, which can lead to death if not surgically treated immediately. Bloat can be prevented surgically and by feeding multiple, smaller meals.
Degenerative myelopathy is a progressive, incurable disease in which the nerves of the spinal cord cease functioning, leading to loss of mobility and feeling, first in the back legs, and then in the front legs.
Megaesophagus is a debilitating genetic condition that affects the esophagus, the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach. Affected dogs regurgitate food after eating, and puppies with megaesophagus usually are the runt of the litter or exhibit a failure to thrive.
The symptoms of perianal fistula include draining wounds on the skin surrounding the anus, straining to defecate, excessive licking at the affected area, diarrhoea or bloody stool. The disease has been compared to Crohn’s disease in humans. Treatment is available, and may include therapeutic foods. Talk to your vet about suitable Royal Canin Vet Diets for your dog.
German Shepherds are very smart and easily trainable large breed dogs. Here are the basics on how to take care of your German Shepherd Dog.
Be forewarned: German Shepherd shedding is moderate—but also continuous. They also shed heavily twice a year. To reduce shedding, brush your German Shepherd several times a week, and daily during the heavy shedding times, specifically the spring and fall. Using a deshedding product like FURminator deShedding tool can help reduce your German Shepherd’s shedding. Bathing, unless your dog is heavily soiled, is not recommended more than once a month, with some kennel clubs recommending once every 4-5 months. Shaving a German Shepherd is not recommended.
Nutrition plays an important role in your German Shepherd’s health. Studies show that large breed dogs live longer and experience less disease than overweight or obese dogs. Ask your veterinarian what your German Shepherd’s weight should be, and look out for signs that your German Shepherd may be overweight.
As for the best dog food for German Shepherds, look to large breed dog food that is uniquely formulated to support the bone and joint needs of big dogs. German Shepherd adult dogs benefit most from eating a complete and balanced large-breed dog food, like Royal Canin Maxi Adult or you can feed a German Shepherd breed specific food such as Royal Canin German Shepherd dry dog food.
It is crucial to not overfeed German Shepherd puppies because it can predispose them to health problems. Roly-poly puppies aren’t healthy—they are overweight. You can avoid many future problems by feeding German Shepherd puppies appropriate amounts of large-breed puppy food, like Royal Canin Maxi puppy food or breed specific food such as Royal Canin German Shepherd dry puppy food. Use the feeding chart on the bag as a guide, or ask the PetDirect Customer Care Team how much to feed your particular puppy.
The smart and active German Shepherd Dog breed requires a lot of daily exercise, both physical and mental. Plan to spend at least 45 minutes of every day with your adult German Shepherd vigorously walking or running, playing games and/or training. Invest in a good quality harness and lead such as these from the EzyDog range. If your German Shepherd enjoys water, teach them to swim (they are not natural-born swimmers) for a fantastic low-impact exercise.
Exercises such as agility, herding or flyball provide both physical and mental exercise for this intelligent and agile dog. Then you can supplement with interactive dog toys such as the KONG lock-it, learning tricks and playing games like hide-and-seek.
German Shepherd puppies require less-strenuous exercise than adults in order to grow properly, so talk with your veterinarian for exercise recommendations for your pup.
These dogs are enthusiastic students, but to make the most of their innate skills it’s best to begin German Shepherd training during puppyhood. Like all dogs, German Shepherds should be trained using gentle, dog-friendly, positive-reinforcement training. German Shepherds are eager learners that pick up new skills quickly, which allows handlers to speed through the German Shepherd training process. Have some healthy treats on hand as a special reward.
Thanks to their breeding, German Shepherds are creative thinkers and they require consistent and ongoing education to keep them constructively engaged. Left to their own devices, German Shepherds can use their great intelligence for less-than-desirable purposes, like destructive behaviours.
The mental exertion that occurs during training helps, as well as training games that utilise their natural abilities. Channeling their energy into tracking games that resemble search-and-rescue efforts or scenting games like “find it” can make the average family German Shepherd feel like they’re on the job. You can also try an interactive game such as the Outward Hound Hide n Slide.
German Shepherds are willing to serve their pet parents, so if you decide to get one, put yours to work! They don’t have to be a search-and-rescue dog, but training your pup so they can master the agility course or “listen” as kids read to them in the library will challenge their mind and their body, and keep them happy, healthy and active.