The German shepherd is the 8th most popular dog breed in the UK overall, and the second most popular large breed after the Labrador retriever. Every year, thousands of people choose a German shepherd as their dog of choice, and there are a lot of good points about the breed that provides it with the type of versatility required to make it a good pick for a wide range of different homes and owners.
However, the German shepherd is a large dog breed with a somewhat complex personality, which means that they’re not a good fit for everyone, and plenty of research into the breed is required before going ahead with making a purchase.
If you are considering buying a German shepherd and are still trying to determine if this is the right choice, or if you want to ensure that you start off on the right foot and can find out the basics of the areas you will need to learn more about before you make a decision, this article will help.
Read on to find out ten things you need to know about the German shepherd – before you buy one.
First up, the German shepherd is both a large dog breed and a very high energy one, and they need a significant amount of exercise every day in order to thrive and keep fit.
At least two active, lively and interesting hour-long walks are required each day to keep a German shepherd happy, and ideally, they will also have plenty of additional opportunities to play and run around with other dogs or people for company as well as their regular walks.
The German shepherd breed has been used in a huge and diverse range of working roles over the course of their history, and one of their earliest working roles was as a livestock guarding and herding dog, which not everyone knows. They can also make for great police and military dogs too, among other things.
One of the key reasons for why the German shepherd performs so well in a range of working roles is their incredibly high intelligence – and the German shepherd is actually the third most intelligent dog breed in the world, based on Stanley Coren’s ranking of dog breeds by working intelligence.
This means that German shepherds can be trained to retain a wide range of different commands, and they might be a good pick for canine sports too.
You might fairly assume that a very intelligent dog will also be very easy to train, but things aren’t always that simple! A dog that is really smart is apt to get bored easily, may learn faster than you expect them to and then be confused why you keep repeating the same command over and over, or may learn habits – both good and bad – simply through observation.
Training a German shepherd requires an experienced and adaptable handler that knows how to harness the breed’s core traits and direct them in a useful fashion.
German shepherds come in two coat variants, one of which is very long but the other of which is quite thick and prolific too. This means that dogs of the breed need a lot of brushing and grooming to keep their coat and skin in good condition, and this is also a very heavy shedding dog breed as well.
German shepherds tend to shed a lot all year round, but in spring and autumn they blow their entire coats and shed particularly heavily for a couple of weeks, during which time you will probably be able to pluck out large handfuls of loose fur with your fingers.
Today’s German shepherds tend to have a much more acutely sloping angle to their backs than dogs of the breed used to, and if you compare images of German shepherds from as recently as 50 or so years ago to an average example of the breed today, you will notice that their top line and shape is quite different.
Trends and preferences for the desired look within any given dog breed can change over time, and this is a good example of this – but it is not always good for the dogs themselves.
An acutely sloped angle to the back and hindquarters results in the position of the dog’s hip joints and hind legs changing too, and dogs with a particularly acute angle to the slope of their backs have a higher chance of suffering from spinal problems as a result of this.
Additionally, hip dysplasia is a conformation defect that can be found within populations of many dog breeds, a lot of which are large breeds like the German shepherd.
German shepherds have higher than usual risk factors for hip dysplasia, partially due to the trend for a more sloping back angle, and good breeders will have their parent stock tested for their hip health score before using them in breeding programmes.
Elbow dysplasia is a similar issue that can affect the breed, and once more, elbow scoring can be performed on parent stock prior to breeding from them.
German shepherds are confident, intelligent dogs that display natural watchdog and guarding tendencies, and they tend to be very protective over their homes and owners. This trait can be a very positive one when it is intended and properly managed by the dog’s owner, but all German shepherds need to be trained to display appropriate behaviour and not to be overly territorial when it comes to strangers and visitors.
German shepherds have strong personalities and can be quite independent, but they thrive under an owner that provides clear boundaries and rules, and that offers appropriate direction and guidance for the dog.
This requires confidence and experience, which usually comes over time when managing a large, confident dog breed.
There is a great deal to recommend the German shepherd as a good fit for many types of homes and owners, but if you’re not hugely familiar with the breed and particularly if you have never owned a dog of any type before, the German shepherd can be challenging.
Their high energy levels, high intelligence, tendency to shed and confident personalities all add up to make them complex dogs that need an understanding and adaptive owner. A first-time dog owner should not necessarily rule out buying a German shepherd, but you do need to do a significant amount of research and spend time with as many dogs and owners of the breed as possible before you will be ready to raise a German shepherd puppy of your own.