Expert: Raising a German Shepherd – Advice from 12 Top Breeders

In creating the book The Complete Guide to German Shepherds” (written by David Daigneault and available on Amazon) we interviewed 12 of the top German Shepherd breeders in the country.  We used their advice and expertise to help make the book the best possible guide book for a new German Shepherd owner.

But… there was so much good advice in those interviews that we couldn’t fit it all into the book.  So we decided we’d compile the best answers to each question and present them here.  If you are thinking of getting a German Shepherd, or are a current owner, the advice that follows will be invaluable to you as you proceed on your ownership journey.  Enjoy:

 

Question #1:  What are your top tips for choosing the right German Shepherd from either a breeder or rescue?

The consensus among breeders:

German Shepherds can be variable in temperament. Choosing the right dog for your household may take some resolve. While some experts singled out dogs bred along German lines as superior and others preferred those from working lines, almost all agreed that the best predictor of the pup’s temperament was the temperament of the parents. Choosing a rescue dog can be more daunting; some experts recommended against it at all for inexperienced owners. Those who do rescue a German Shepherd should visit the dog several times before making a choice as it may take this breed a while to open up.

Best quotes from their answers:

“I personally feel that both reputable breeders and reputable rescues offer dogs to meet everyone’s needs.  As a reputable breeder of the German Shepherd, I would recommend people consider temperament, energy levels, and drive that best suits their needs over color and bloodlines.” Erika Martin- Century Farms

Character, socialization, health testing, genetics of the parents, as well as character. I personally don’t recommend a rescue to new owners of the breed as they typically don’t have the knowledge needed in order to correct any behavior problems with the dogs.” Sharon- Pretorian Kennel

If choosing a puppy from a breeder I recommend meeting the parents of the puppies and getting a good idea of their temperament or trainability.  When getting a German Shepherd from a rescue, if the dog is over 6 months of age, spend some time with the dog to get an idea of its temperament.  It is often good to visit more than once as German Shepherds can take a while to accept strangers and don’t bond with new people quickly.” Katie Halfen- Casamoko Shepherds

Question #2:  What are some of the most unique characteristics of the breed?

Consensus:

While German Shepherd breed dogs do differ in many ways, there are still many characteristics and traits that these individuals of this breed share. Experts consistently refer to this breed’s characteristic intelligence as well as their strong work-ethic when describing German Shepherds. They tend to be highly trainable canines who are often prized as working dogs in many different fields, from herding sheep and cows to military work,  due to an outstanding ability to apply their training to adjust to any situation.

Best Quotes:

Their intelligence and willingness to work on their own with only minor help from their owner. German Shepherds are smarter than their owners.” Joyce Colburn- breeder from Hawaii

“Their willingness to serve combined with their ability to cope with stress.” Michele Scarberry- von Lindesfarne

Definitely herding instincts and tremendous loyalty to their human pack. They are also one of the most forgiving breeds I have seen when it comes to mistakes in training or handling.” November Holley- Harrison K9

“I really love this breed’s ability to discern and make decisions appropriate to the situation. It really gives them a lot of versatility when coupled with their biddability, drive, and work ethic.” Celeste Schmidt- Dakonic German Shepherds

Question #3:  What do most people not know about German Shepherds that would surprise them?

Consensus:

German Shepherds are a well-known breed, but not always a well-understood breed. Most people see these dogs in working situations when they are aloof and serious. These dogs seem ready for any sort of work, and with their high intelligence and incredible jaw pressure, they can manage pretty much anything they put their minds to. Many people fail to realize, however, that these serious protectors also have a seriously silly side as well, and they derive equal enjoyment from either solving puzzles or from rowdy playtime in the yard or at the dog park.

Best Quotes:

Quote#1: How loyal and eager to please they are. Most people would also be surprised by the capabilities of a well-trained dog. Sharon- Pretorian Kennel

Quote#2: They can be goofy dogs and very playful. They like to whip around toys and chase their balls and run around with great abandon. They aren’t as serious all the time as a lot of people think they are. They have a fun and free-spirited side to them. Katie Halfen- Casamoko Shepherds

Quote#3: The jaw pressure of a German Shepherd Dog is greater than most working breeds and their ability to learn is equal to that of a four-year-old-child. November Holley- Harrison K-9

Question #4:  How would you recommend people prepare their homes for the arrival of their new puppy?

Consensus:

Crates and crate training are excellent ways to provide your pup with a sense of both boundaries and security when they are growing. Crates should never be used in a punitive manner, and guests should never be allowed to intrude on your dog when they are in their crate.  German Shepherds have a much stronger bite force than most domestic dog breeds and like other shepherding breeds, they tend to be rather mouthy. You will want to be sure to have plenty of chew toys on hand to keep them occupied.

Best Quotes:

Quote#1:  Pick up anything you don’t want the pup to get. Make sure there are no exposed wires the pup could get a hold of. Gate off areas you don’t want the pup in. Doreen Metcalf- Timber Ridge Farm

Quote#2: Obtain a crate to provide safety and control, especially through the chewing stage. Also, tons of various things to chew on. Tracy Berg- vom Haus Berg German Shepherd

Quote#3: Pick up anything that can be chewed or ingested and get ready to be “trading” treats for objects because German Shepherd puppies love to put everything in their mouths and they can be quite destructive. Celeste Schmidt- Dakonic German Shepherds

 

Question #6:  What are some unexpected things a new German Shepherd owner might encounter in the first few weeks?

Consensus:

German Shepherd dogs tend to bond strongly with their family pack, including their brothers and sisters. When you first bring home your puppy you may see some temporary signs of anxiety and distress after they are removed from their parents and siblings including behaviors such as crying, backing away, and mouthing. On the positive side, these intelligent and eager pups often respond to upbeat and consistent training from the first day that you bring them home, and housebreaking can sometimes be mastered within the first 24 hours.

Best Quotes:

Quote#1: A lot of whining and a tendency to back away from new and intimidating situations until the pup gets comfortable. The more they see within the first fourteen weeks, the better dog they become. November Holley- Harrison K-9

Quote#2: Something that most people don’t seem to realize is that you can start training from day one. They are smart and they will surprise you with how much they can learn right out of the gate. This is a crucial time to start laying the foundations for behaviors you want to see in them as adults. Celeste Schmidt- Dakonic German Shepherds

Quote#3: Puppies look for things to get into and must be supervised. Sharon- Pretorian Kennel

Question #7:  What house-training advice do you have for a new owner?

Consensus:

House-training a new puppy is best accomplished by using consistent training and German Shepherd dogs are particularly responsive to this type of training. Utilizing the crate when you can’t keep your eyes on the pup will help to prevent unwanted messes, and a regular feeding schedule will help you to determine when you should take your pup outside. Hanging bells on your doorknob can also be helpful as it can provide your new pooch with a simple way to let you know they need to go out.

Best Quotes:

Quote#1:  Consistency. Same door, same times, before and after naps, before and after meals, after a big drink of water. Don’t expect an eight-week-old puppy to hold it through the night. Rebecca T Dickson- GretchAnya German Shepherds

Quote#2: Crate! If you cannot see the dog nor have time to watch the puppy then put them in the crate. They will sneak off and potty if not watched closely in the first few weeks. November Holley- Harrison K-9

Quote#3: Crate Training is the fastest way to housebreak. Sleighbells on the door also help; pups learn quickly to hit the bells to go outside. Doreen Metcalf- Timber Ridge Farm

Question #8:  What tips do you have for socializing your GSD with other pets?

Consensus:

With their incredible bite pressure and natural protectiveness, it is particularly important to ensure that your German Shepherd dog is properly socialized, preferably when it is still a young pup. Most experts do not recommend socializing your dog in the unrestricted chaos of a dog park and instead suggest making puppy playdates with friends and family, attending group puppy classes, and contacting the breeder to see if they know of any reputable social events.

Best Quotes:

Quote#1:  Get them out and around people and dogs as soon as your vet says it’s safe. Tracy Berg- Von Haus Berg German Shepherds

Quote#2: If you are calm about it, the puppy will be too. If the pup startles and you baby them, they are going to think startling is a good thing because it gives him attention. Don’t coddle. There’s nothing worse than a sharp or shy adult Shepherd, and it’s totally preventable. Rebecca T Dickson- GretchAnya German Shepherds

Quote#3: Socialize your German Shepherd with friend’s and family’s dogs, ones that you know. Monitor how your dog is interacting. If they are scared or nervous, give them more space and take it slow. If they are excited and having fun, then let them play and interact. Katie Halfen- Casamoko Shepherds

Question #9:  How much exercise does a German Shepherd need? What are some good exercise habits to develop?

Consensus:

All dogs need exercise and the German Shepherd breed is no exception. These dogs were developed to work herds throughout the day so they thrive on daily activity and can become quite troublesome if not given enough to do. German Shepherds do have a tendency to develop joint problems in later years; ensuring that your puppy or adolescent dog does not overstress their joints during exercise can help mitigate these problems before they start. Experts were quick to note that this breed needs as much mental exercise as they do physical.

Best Quotes:

Quote#1:  It depends on the dog.  Some GSD’s prefer to be couch potatoes but others will bounce off walls if not entertained for several hours each day. Walking, throwing a Kong ball, or agility training are all exercises GSD’s enjoy. November Holley- Harrison K-9

Quote#2: Daily exercise with lots of mental stimulation. Michele Scarberry- von Lindesfarne

Quote#3: When exercising your puppy, do not push it. Their joints are growing so taking your four-month-old puppy on a jog or a bike ride is not a wise idea. However, mental exercise is fantastic for them! Take them to new areas to work on focus and obedience, this type of work can tire them out more than physical exercise. Celeste Schmidt- Dakonic German Shepherds

Question #10:  How easy or hard are they to train?  What advice do you have for a new owner?

Consensus:

The intelligence of the German Shepherd breed makes it quite easy for them to pick up new commands and to properly execute them. They are typically very willing to please, but they also like to solve puzzles, including the puzzle of how to avoid doing what they are told without directly disobeying the rules. Due to these traits, consistency and boundaries are essential when training this breed. German Shepherds without clear boundaries are both intelligent and persistent enough to find a way to get around the rules.

Best Quotes:

Quote#1:  German Shepherds are both easy and hard to train. They are smart and learn quickly, but they will also find the loopholes in your training and exploit them. Consistency is extremely important. You need to be as black and white as possible and set firm boundaries. No means no, not “sometimes”. Celeste Schmidt- Dakonic German Shepherds

Quote#2: German Shepherds are very easy to train and willing to learn. Using positive reinforcement is the best way to accomplish this. Also, find a good local dog club in your area to train with. Sharon- Pretorian Kennel

Quote#3: They love to be trained. They need training or their life will get boring and they will begin to chew on furniture. Klaus Langenbach- Vom Gelsterholz Kennel

Question #11:  What are some unwanted behaviors that a German Shepherd might display, and what advice do you have for dealing with them?

Consensus:

When properly trained, the German Shepherd is an excellent addition to any household willing to give it enough attention. Unfortunately, when not properly trained or when traumatized, these dogs may begin to exhibit more destructive and distressing behaviors. A bored or restless German Shepherd may resort to attention-seeking behaviors such as excessive barking and jumping up. These dogs are naturally protective and territorial, and if abused, neglected, or otherwise traumatized they may show more aggressive tendencies.

Best Quotes:

Quote#1:  Boredom can lead to excessive barking, chasing, and aggressive behavior. They must be mentally challenged. Erika Martin- Century Farms

Quote#2: Boredom can produce several different issues. They must be mentally exercised as well as physically exercised or you will see a plethora of bad behaviors. Tracy Berg- vom Haus Berg German Shepherds

Quote#3: Young dogs like to jump up. Using a small squirt bottle of water with a tablespoon of white vinegar usually helps with this. They also like to take hold of hands. This is not aggressive, it is how puppies play in their pack. If this behavior is not wanted, say “ouch” in a shrill voice, as if it hurts. They will typically release immediately, then distract them with a toy they are allowed to chew on. Sharon- Pretorian Kennel

Quote#4: Aggression with people or with other dogs. Get help from a trainer or a veterinarian as soon as the issues start rather than waiting until the problem gets worse. Katie Halfen- Casamoko Shepherds

Question #12:  Do German Shepherds make good travel companions? Why or why not?

Consensus:

This breed of dog is particularly loyal and prefer to spend as much time as possible with their pack members, especially the human pack members. Fortunately, German Shepherds generally enjoy experiencing new things, making them very pleasant travel companions in most situations.  Not only are they convivial company for their owner, but their naturally protective behavior can also provide an extra measure of security and safety.

Best Quotes:

Quote#1:  Absolutely. They are very pack-oriented and need to be with their people. Erika Martin- Century Farms

Quote#2: They like to travel and cannot wait to get into the car. Travel is exciting for a German Shepherd dog. Klaus Langenbach- Vom Gelsterholz Kennel

Quote#3: Yes, very much. They are both a companion and safety. Teri Townsenx- Birken Walk Kennel

Question #13:  Do they have any specific dietary needs or differences from other breeds?

Consensus:

Experts vary a great deal on their recommendations for feeding German Shepherd dogs, with some stating that they should be fed a high protein or a raw-only diet, and others firmly recommending against it. This breed is known to occasionally have a sensitive stomach and allergy issues can crop up, so choosing a specific diet and sticking to it may be the best option. Genetics often play a large part in this breed’s digestive health, and choosing a puppy from a reputable breeder may help to mitigate many of the problems.

Best Quotes:

Quote#1:  They can have a sensitive stomach and needs a high protein diet that is low in fat. Erika Martin- Century Farms

Quote#2: I am a raw feeder and all my GSDs do great on this diet. Keeping them at a healthy weight is very important. I see far too many overweight dogs. Doreen Metcalf- Timber Ridge Farm

Quote#3: Most German Shepherds do great on a balanced, commercially-available dog food. Some of these dogs may have food allergies or special dietary requirements, but choosing a well-bred dog should prevent most of these issues. Katie Halfen- Casamoko Shepherds

Quote#4: I use one brand of dog food best suited for my dogs. I don’t recommend changing dog foods around as sometimes German Shepherds have sensitive stomachs. I do not recommend feeding raw and I do not free-feed. A working dog should wait one hour after working before being fed, and two hours after feeding before working again. I also don’t recommend feeding high protein. Sharon- Pretorian Kennel

Question #14:  What grooming tips do you have?

Consensus:

The most commonly seen coat for a German Shepherd is a medium-long coat with a thick, wooly undercoat. While at first glance this coat looks fairly simple to maintain, the thick undercoat makes frequent brushing a requirement. A good quality rake and a slicker brush are musts to keep your GSD looking and feeling their best. It is also important for your dog’s health to attend to other grooming needs, such as keeping your dog’s teeth clean and their nails clipped.

Best Quotes:

Quote#1:  I like to use a simple grooming rake and a slicker brush. This combo works great, the rake takes out the dead undercoat and the slicker helps finish it off. A high-powered dog blow dryer is fantastic for getting out the loose coat. Just get ready, it will go flying! Celeste Schmidt- Daktonic German Shepherds

Quote#2: An undercoat rake is great when it’s time to shed. It’s very important to keep their nails short. Doreen Metcalf- Timber Ridge Farm

Quote#3: Brushing their coat is a bonding tool that feels good to the dog and helps them learn to stand still. Tracy Berg- vom Haus Berg German Shepherds

Question #15:  What kind of shedding should an owner expect? Any advice?

Consensus:

Although most German Shepherd coats are not particularly long or curly, the undercoat is dense and wooly. Not only do dogs of this breed shed fairly heavily on a daily basis, but they also tend to shed even more excessively at certain times of the year. Both male and female German Shepherds have a heavy shedding period around the change of the seasons, and unspayed females are likely to have an additional heavy shed before their heat cycles.

Best Quotes:

Quote#1:  They shed a lot when the seasons change. As soon as shedding starts, comb through their coat about twice a week and it will pull out the dead hair. That way you don’t have to deal with it for a month. Females also shed about thirty days before coming into heat. Joyce Colburn- Breeder from Hawaii

Quote#2: They shed 24/7, 365 days a year. If you don’t want to brush your dog regularly, don’t get a German Shepherd. Rebecca T Dickson- GretchAnya German Shepherds

Quote#3: The German Shedder! They shed a lot if not groomed. A deep bath with a conditioner will help to remove the undercoat and stop most of the shedding. November Holley- Harrison K-9

Question #16:  Can you speak to some of the genetic health concerns associated with German Shepherds?

Consensus:

There are a number of genetic health concerns that can be associated with the German Shepherd breed. The most commonly seen issues include degenerative myelopathy, a chronic issue that affects the health of the spinal cord, and joint problems, such as hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia. Thyroid disease, bloat, and torsion are also problems that are seen more commonly in this breed than other breeds, although not as frequently as the spinal and joint issues. Proper genetic testing before breeding is the most likely way to avoid these problems from cropping up.

Best Quotes:

Quote#1:  The main health concerns that breeders should be testing for are Hip Dysplasia, Elbow Dysplasia, and Degenerative Myelopathy. All of these are simple tests that should be done through reputable organizations. If a breeder tells you that their dogs’ hips or elbows are good “because my vet said so”, that is a huge red flag! The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA), PennHIP, and Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde (SV) are the most common organizations that rate for hip or elbow dysplasia, although there are a few others. Avoid any breeder who does not test for these diseases through reputable organizations. Celeste Schmidt- Dakonic German Shepherds

Quote#2: There are lots of genetic issues in the breed so judicious health screening is important before the dogs are bred. Many of the genetic issues are incredibly expensive to manage or treat and some are even life-threatening. Finding health-tested parents should be of the utmost importance when looking for a breeder or purchasing a puppy. Katie Halfen- Casamoko Shepherds

Quote#3: Hips are the prevalent issue. Do not breed without testing the parents’ hips first. Tracy Berg- vom Haus Berg German Shepherds