A Crash Course in Parenting a New German Shepherd Puppy

The following is an excerpt from "The Complete Guide to German Shepherds" by David Daigneault. For more information visit the books Amazon Page.

Author Credit: David Daigneault

The day we went to pick up our GSP, Cody, I had a lump in my throat all day. We had done our preparations throughout the house and I had read multiple books on puppy rearing but emotions were running high. So, I would suggest that will probably be the case with you too. Especially if children are involved. The one thing not to lose sight of is the plan you’ve made and talked about with all family members. In the excitement of your new GSP, everyone might be inclined to just wing it for the first few days. You need to be prepared to improvise a little bit when establishing life patterns and how your new puppy is going to fit into things, but if you forget everything else in those first few days remember this. You are beginning to establish life-long patterns for your puppy. Make sure you get off on the right foot.

Before you leave the breeder’s make sure you have several things in hand and several pieces of information in your head.

  • The breeder should supply paperwork related to your puppy. This should include registration showing who the dam (mother) and sire (father) are. Also, your puppy may have been given an “official” name for registration purposes. You are not under any obligation to use that name for your dog in his real life. The breeder may also include your puppy’s pedigree which shows his family tree.
  • The breeder should also provide paperwork showing what shots the little guy has had and what deworming has been done. If there isn’t a paper trail, make sure you get that information from the breeder and write it down yourself. You’ll need that information when you go to the veterinarian for the first visit.
  • Just a reminder, you should have had discussions with the breeder about any genetic diseases that have been associated with German Shepherds. At the very least you should understand from the breeder that your puppy’s parents are clear of Dysplasia and DM (Degenerative Myelopathy). If there is paperwork confirming that, make sure you have a copy.
  • Your breeder should supply a sample of the food your GSP has been eating so that there is no abrupt dietary change when you get her home. You can consult with your vet for the appropriate food choice later on.
  • Another thing that will be comforting for your puppy is a small toy that has the scent of his mother and littermates on it. Also, a towel or small blanket with the smell of his mother is a good thing to have with you, not just for the ride home but for the first few weeks or longer. I still have the orange plush bone toy that Cody brought home with him that first day. He’s five now and he still drags it out once in a while and sniffs it. Memories of home, I guess.

Homeward Bound

German Shepherd homebound
Photo Courtesy – Nanc Schutte

Time to hit the road. Make sure your puppy has had a chance to empty her tanks before getting in the car. Let her walk around a bit and do her business as much as possible. If you have a long ride ahead of you, there should be more stops along the way. Here’s a crucial piece of information to remember. Until puppies have had their final vaccinations, they are susceptible to a variety of diseases. More about this later, but when you stop with your puppy on the way home, do it in less frequented areas and certainly where it is unlikely that other dogs will have relieved themselves. Hopefully you have family members with you so that one of them can hold the puppy on her lap for the ride home. You want to make the car ride as trauma free for your GSP as possible. Remember, there will be lots of car rides in the future and you want “going for a ride” to be fun, not punishment.

The First Night

Wow, you’re home. There wasn’t too much crying and whining on the way, was there? Now it’s the first day of the rest of your lives. For your German Shepherd puppy, it’s a whole new beginning, and she doesn’t recognize any of her surroundings. Imagine, one minute you’re with the pack and mom. The next minute you’re with a bunch of strange humans. Pretty abrupt, don’t you think? So, you need to cut your German Shepherd puppy a little slack here. And pack your patience. You’ll need to have an abundance of that.

You know you have Puppy’s Room set up but you probably need to do some initial socialization upon arrival. Especially if children are involved, they’ll want to have some hands-on time. Just don’t let anyone get too excited and above all don’t get the puppy too revved up. Have a leash handy just in case you need to calm Tiger down a little bit. She is almost certainly to be chewy and nippy so keep some of her toys handy. When she starts to nip, distract her and divert her attention to a toy. Remembering to distract and divert is a lifelong approach that can be a lifesaver. I still have all my fingers and can attest to that.

Everyone sitting on the floor and letting little Heidi walk around with everyone touching her and talking to her is probably a good idea. It’s a bonding moment. Not just for your GSD but it’s the beginning of an emotional attachment for all family members. Believe it or not, even when your dog is grown up you will still look at her every once in a while and see the little puppy that she was. This is the beginning of loving your dog. No one has to teach that, you just have to let everyone do it. In their own way.

Bed Time

Puppies have many natural instincts. One of them is to howl and whine for attention. So, when it comes to bedtime that first night and for many nights after that, expect a routine ruckus. If you reflect back to the previous chapter, you’ll remember that I suggested placing a small crate in your bedroom or close to the bedroom. Some dog owners that I’ve talked with say they put the crate near the bed and any time puppy was whining they would put their hand down near the dog so their smell would be strong and the puppy would know she wasn’t alone. These first few days it’s important to show your GSP that you are watching out for her and that you care. That will help with the gradual bonding process and ultimately create a healthy, happy dog.

Pet Supplies

It’s not necessary to go out and buy everything you think your dog might ever need in his lifetime right off the bat. But it is important to have some essentials on hand when you bring your puppy home that are going to make life a little simpler. Make sure to have a supply of the food that the breeder was giving to your puppy. That will give you time, perhaps in consultation with your vet, to decide which diet is best for your dog. You need to read about the pros and cons of various diets and make some decisions.

Food and water bowls should be heavy enough that your puppy won’t be able to flip them right away. That stage will come in time and you’ll need to prepare for it, but sturdy, substantial bowls that will suffer hours of abuse will become part of the scenery. I don’t feed Cody outside very often but I do have various bowls around the property for water so he can have a drink break depending on where we are. You may decide to have a set of outside bowls for your puppy if you spend a lot of time in the back yard, for instance.

We’ve talked about crates, but you may also want to purchase a child gate or two which will give you the ability to restrict your German Shepherd puppy to certain rooms. The one I use is metal with bars, a walk-through gate, and can be expanded to fit any door frame. It also has a locking latch on it that doesn’t allow canine noses to flip it open.

Photo Courtesy – Patti Baxter-JasperYour GSP will need several collars. I keep a quick-drying one on hand that Cody wears when he goes to the beach. We also have sturdier ones that can be used with a leash. That’s not to mention the various festive ones you might acquire along with those that have your favorite sports team logos on them. You’ll soon find out that there are endless ways to spend money on your dog if you haven’t already. The collars should have buckles so they can be resized as your puppy grows and also have metal rings to attach dog license tags, vaccination tags, and an identification tag. The ID tag should have your puppy’s name, your name, and your phone number on it. You’ll want to make sure the collars have snug fits but with a little give in them so that if, sorry not if, but when your GSP gets hung up on a bush or branch that it pulls off with a little effort.

Several leashes should also be in your inventory. There are many reasons not to purchase extendable or retractable leashes and certainly not for a large breed like a German Shepherd, so I’ll be upfront about that. Don’t waste your money on them. You should buy leather or nylon leashes in four- or six-foot lengths. No chain leashes. Too hard on the hands and perhaps dangerous for your dog.

And toys, lots of toys that will be chewed until they can’t take it any more. We have a toy infirmary at our house where toys go to be rehabilitated if possible. Many unfortunately can’t be saved so the toy budget is always in a state of flux and always running in the red. Toys that hide treats are also a great way for your dog to pass the time. My dog, Cody, has what we call his peanut butter bone. It’s a rubber toy bone with holes in both ends where dabs of peanut butter can be placed so you can listen to a dog licking and smacking for twenty minutes or so.

Then there are grooming supplies. If you haven’t seen the German Shedder jokes about how much GSDs shed you soon will. Brushes with strong bristles are required for your dog’s double coat. If you learn to clip your dog’s nails, you’ll save yourself a lot of cash so best to acquire a simple pair of scissor-type clippers. A few other items on your to-buy list:

  • Lots of plastic poop bags
  • Poop-scooper
  • Cleaning supplies (make sure whatever you use is puppy safe)

Vet Visits

You need to form a relationship with a reliable veterinarian very early on. Your breeder may even have stipulated that the puppy needs to see a vet shortly after arriving in your home. That actually protects the breeder and you. If the puppy is unhealthy you’ll find out right away. Then you and your breeder can decide a course of action. Responsible breeders will take unhealthy pups back and refund your money, or work with you to achieve satisfaction. The longer the puppy is with you the more emotional attachment there is. No matter what, an early vet visit should definitely be in the cards.

German Shepherd
Photo Courtesy – Morgan Hill

There are various ways to decide which vet is best for you. Proximity is certainly a consideration, but word of mouth reputation is probably one of the best ways of helping you decide. Once you have a name or two that you are considering, pay a visit and ask some questions. While you’re there check out how clean the premises seem to be. I always pay attention to staff attitude. If they make you feel welcome and genuinely seem to care, then that goes a long way. Take the time to chat with a client or two about their experiences and how long they’ve been coming to the location. Busy clinics can be a sign of customer satisfaction so don’t be put off by client volume. The hours of operation are a major consideration and if they offer emergency services that’s a large bonus. There will be at least one or two “emergency” visits in your pet’s career so if you know the people and can get there in a hurry everyone is going to feel better about that.

Hands On

The first veterinarian visit will be a learning experience for everyone involved. Your puppy gets a first taste of the outside world and quite possibly other dogs (and cats) in the vet’s office. You will get to see how you need to deal with your German Shepherd puppy in terms of aggressiveness or timidity. Some puppies just barrel out into the world and accept whatever comes their way. Other, less extroverted dogs may have to be coaxed into things.

One of the tips I learned early on was not to encourage fear or worry, especially as puppies mature. If a puppy is concerned about something and exhibiting how worried she is, it’s not a good idea to pet the dog and try to reassure it. If you do that, inadvertently you are sending signals to your dog that it is OK to be worried and even to react badly. Once again, the best thing to do is to “distract and divert.” That could be with a favorite toy or a treat. Just as with a young child, if you occupy the puppy’s mind with another experience, they forget to be worried.

This initial visit is like many first things in your German Shepherd puppy’s early life. If the experience is fun and there is little to no pain involved, your puppy will not have any bad associations with the vet visit. I have seen adult dogs being dragged or carried, kicking and screaming, into the vet office. You don’t want to be one of those owners trying to coax an eighty-five-pound GSD through the office door. It’s really hard on you and your dog so do everything you can to steer the process in the right direction from the beginning. You’ll save a lifetime of worry and fear for both you and, more importantly, your German Shepherd.

The Nitty Gritty

Another tip to remember. Your GSP is too young to have full immunity in order to resist many of the diseases that are lurking out there. Most vet offices do a pretty good job of making sure the floor area is clean but as they say, “poop happens.” Accidents will have occurred so make sure you carry your pup into the office and keep her in your lap until you’re in the examination room. Better safe than sorry.

German Shepherd
Photo Courtesy -William Chilton

The vet will go through a routine checklist with your puppy. He is looking to establish the general health of your dog and also to see if there are any outward signs of congenital defects. Your vet is your partner in the care of your dog, so I always try to remember that they are a friend and are just trying to help. Here is what will happen during that first examination.

  • Your GSP’s eyes and ears will be inspected.
  • Teeth, tongue, gums, and throat will get some scrutiny. Pinkness should be the order of the day. Black spots may be present which are nothing to worry about.
  • Your vet will get a stethoscope out and listen to your puppy’s heart and also check on her lungs to make sure the breathing is effortless and lungs are clear.
  • Your puppy will be weighed on this and every subsequent visit. A dog’s weight is a very good indicator of health. Too heavy or too thin and a different diet could be recommended.
  • The vet will do a lot of touching and feeling around, especially in your puppy’s abdominal area. He is looking for any signs of sensitivity which could indicate a problem. Toes, toenails, paws, and anal area will be checked out.
  • Your puppy will be scrutinized as she walks around to make sure the gait is normal with no signs of limping or soreness.
  • During the examination ask all the questions you can think of. Remember, you have an expert at your disposal so take advantage of the time. Make sure you provide the vet with any paperwork or information regarding your German Shepherd puppy that the breeder may have given you.
  • Depending on the age of the pup, vaccinations may be required. These don’t really hurt your dog but you may want to provide a treat or a toy to be chewed on when the needle is being wielded.

After the examination is over make sure you are scheduled for the additional shots that your puppy requires. There are a series of recommended vaccines as well as optional or “non-core” shots. One optional one to consider if you might be boarding your dog at any point is the Bordetella, or “kennel cough” vaccine. Many kennels have this as a requirement before accepting your dog.

Training the Tyke

Training with your GSD isn’t an option. It’s a necessity. Dogs don’t suddenly become socially well-mannered and obedient overnight and through osmosis. You have to spend time with them, either one-on-one or in group classes. Both are beneficial. If you are lucky enough to have a number of organizations offering group instruction, one of the things to take into account would be to inquire if they offer classes specifically for large breeds. That way you might avoid the uncomfortable group class situation that I described in Chapter Three.

Puppy Class

German Shepherd in snow
Photo Courtesy – Patti Baxter-Jasper

Your puppy’s first exposure to his peers should probably be through a puppy class. This group togetherness is as much about socialization as it is training but it is definitely worthwhile. Most dog people will agree that the first four months of your German Shepherd puppy’s life is the time when they are most impressionable. So, it’s the ideal time to begin his education. Puppy classes can deal with everything from some of the issues you’re working on at home like potty training and crate-training tips to familiarizing Fritz with people in uniform. Your GSP will also just be spending time around other puppies, which is invaluable. It’s a good experience for you as well. You get to talk with other owners and share stories and tips. Maybe you also get to laugh a little bit too. Dog socializing and training sometimes seems to be overwhelmingly serious. Learn to lighten up a little bit and you will feel refreshed and recharged, ready to tackle the next lesson.

  • Medical tip: During this time in your puppy’s life, while he is being vaccinated and acquiring his full immunity, it’s important to limit his exposure to places and other animals that might pass something along to him. Make sure that the organization offering the puppy classes you attend requires all the dogs to be participating in a vaccination program. The class organizers should have a strict hygiene protocol that requires thorough cleaning of areas in group class use. For those first few months of your puppy’s life the benefits of socialization outweigh the minimal risks of infection in the big wide world.

Breaking the Bank?

Hopefully the first-year expenses associated with your new best friend won’t break the bank, but you do need to cobble together some sort of general budget. Remember you can spend as much as you want to, but there is a minimum amount that is going to be essential. The ASPCA estimates that a large breed puppy’s first year will set you back on average more than eighteen hundred dollars, which doesn’t include the initial purchase cost. Let’s break down some of those costs.

Initial Purchase Cost of Puppy

If you are buying a purebred GSP in the United States the amount you pay will vary. Also, what you intend to do with your puppy will impact the price. If you’re looking for a high-drive dog that should excel in obedience and protection, you could part with five thousand dollars or more. Looking for a family dog and personal companion? That price tag would likely start at a more moderate thousand dollars and go up from there.

Vet/Medical Costs

The American Pet Products Association estimates that pet owners in the U.S. spent more than sixteen billion dollars on vet care in 2017. That sounds like a stunning amount and it is, but remember the sophistication of technology and medicines in the pet world has kept pace with its human counterpart. Here are a few examples of what individual costs might look like.

  • The basic charge for a vet visit starts at about fifty dollars. If you add vaccinations that can add twenty dollars per shot.
  • Spay/neuter costs of two hundred dollars or more are not uncommon.
  • Larger dogs like German Shepherds will cost more to treat because more medication is needed, for example.
  • An emergency vet visit charge can average more than a hundred dollars. That doesn’t include things like bloodwork and X-rays. Add several hundred dollars for those procedures. If your dog needs emergency surgery, that can run in the thousands of dollars.

I think you get the picture and it does make pet insurance look very attractive.

Pet Insurance

The premiums on pet insurance will vary depending on the age of your dog at enrollment, your deductible, and the medical services covered by the type of insurance you purchase. The range you are looking at would generally be monthly premiums ranging from twenty-five to seventy dollars.

Food and Treats

All the costs I’m detailing will vary, and so it is with food and treats. If your dog is basically a dry kibble eater (I personally don’t know too many of those) your food budget will be pretty basic. If you start throwing in some canned, wet food the costs start to creep up. If you feed your dog a raw diet, that can be very expensive unless you process most of the meat yourself. Let’s average out your food bill starting at about seventy dollars a month.

Crates & Basics

Expect to spend one hundred dollars or more on an extra-large crate. Good-quality collars will be twenty dollars. You might as well buy sturdy leashes to begin with because you will have an eighty-pound dog on the other end eventually, so set aside thirty dollars per leash in your budget. The walk-through pet gate that I use is about forty dollars.


You have total discretion here. Cody has always enjoyed chewing and tearing up sticks or branches and here in the country those are free. But he also has a lot of squeaker toys and balls. Each of those can cost eight dollars so they add up in a hurry. I also found with a younger dog I bought more toys. Now with a “mature” GSD I buy fewer, but better-quality toys. If they survive the first couple of days, I know they’ll be around for a while.


Group classes will be the most affordable but will still cost in the one-hundred-fifty-dollar range for a six-week session. If you continue into specialized training, expect to spend three thousand dollars for a personal protection course as an example.


You can do much of the grooming yourself. If you keep it up on a daily and weekly basis then visits to a groomer need not take place. Remember, GSDs don’t need frequent baths unless they get absolutely filthy or encounter a skunk. The nails you can clip at home. My dog, Cody, gets brushed out every night so never gets into a tangled mess which his plush coat would tend to do. If you do go to a groomer, you could pay as much as ninety dollars a session if you go infrequently. Don’t forget to brush your dog’s teeth. They love peanut-butter-flavored toothpaste.

Daycare/Dog Walking

Doggy daycare can cost about forty dollars a day. For dog walking you’re probably looking at about twenty dollars per trot.

We’ve arrived at the stage where your dog will begin to grow like a weed physically. A mental maturation process is taking place as well. As a responsible owner you need to stay on top of your evolving German Shepherd in order to make sure she becomes the sociable, responsible, obedient dog she needs to be. Now is when you need to invest time early on in dealing with many of the annoying habits like chewing and digging that can get out of hand if you don’t curb them now.

I remember that my German Shepherd, Cody, as a puppy had an annoying habit of picking up stones and chewing on them. I had to make a point of watching him and every time he picked a rock up, I would take it away from him and tell him no. I had dreams about Cody chewing rocks. If I was out for a walk with my wife and the dog, I would always be saying to her, “Did he just pick up a stone?” If my puppy could be persistent in chewing on rocks, I could be just as persistent in taking them away from him. Yes, the behavior can last for months but you can win in the end. Let’s look at some of those things you’ll need to deal with early on so you don’t have a canine juvenile delinquent later on in life.

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