Adding a German Shepherd dog to your household is a life-changing endeavor. This is not a decision to be taken lightly, because life will forever be different with a German Shepherd puppy running around, requiring puppy proofing of the home, restriction and boundaries for the first year or more, active training and involvement from the whole family, socialization outings throughout the first year, and more. All this hard work and effort are rewarding, however, when this rambunctious German Shepherd puppy grows up into a well-mannered, well-socialized adult, and you suddenly realize that you cannot remember what life was like without your German Shepherd Dog.
Just how will your life change when you add a German Shepherd your household? We have compiled a list of some of the top changes you will see.
1. There will be hair everywhere year round, but especially during the spring and fall sheds.
You will find German Shepherd undercoat on your carpets, baseboards, furniture, clothes, in the car, even in food. You will find German Shepherd hair in places your dog does not even spend time!
While shedding can vary depending on the plushness of the dog’s coat and the quality of the diet, the German Shepherd Dog will still shed and blow its coat twice a year (even when given coat supplements like fish oil or coconut oil). You will want to invest in a good vacuum designed for animal hair, and you will find yourself using it nearly every day during shedding seasons.
If you or someone in your household wants to solve the ‘hair in the house’ problem by relegating the dog to the backyard, then do not get a German Shepherd Dog. The ‘backyard lifestyle’ is not a good match for this breed! This breed was bred for close human interaction, and isolating them in the back yard is not only unfair to the dog, but will result in a host of behavioral problems.
2. Crates, Kong toys, baby gates become standard additions to your home while you raise your puppy.
Left to his own devices, the German Shepherd can be “the maddest rascal, the wildest ruffian”. Prematurely giving him too much freedom and free rein of the home will result in destruction. He thinks it is great fun to disembowel throw pillows, rip towels and sheets to shreds, and steal all the left shoes from your closet. For the first year minimum of your dog’s life, restriction and proper training will be essential (see our blogs on What Every Dog Must Learn for more info). What you invest now will pay off later when your enthusiastic adolescent transforms (under your guiding hand) to a well-adjusted, respectful, trustworthy adult who integrates seamlessly into your household routines. Even if you are adopting an older dog, a period of restriction and regulation in the household will be necessary to ensure that the proper behaviors and house rules/boundaries are learned and enforced.
Do not get a German Shepherd Dog if you are unwilling or unable to put in the time and effort to properly raise and train him.
3. You will make lots of new friends as you socialize your puppy.
Everyone loves puppies! When you take your German Shepherd out into public places (which you will, as you socialize him with the world outside of his home), you will find that nearly everyone wants to see or pet the puppy. This does make socialization easy in that regard, but you must also ensure that your puppy is safe and not overwhelmed, alarmed, or stressed. For example, do not let groups of children rush up and crowd around your puppy, or try to pick him up. Encourage them to approach calmly, and give them treats to feed your puppy (pick treats that are of a good size, so the puppy can grab them without taking off fingers!). Do not let strangers bring their pack of strange dogs up to meet your puppy, as this is also very intimidating and overwhelming for a puppy. Your goal is to provide your puppy with a variety of safe, confidence-building experiences, not overwhelm him with too many people or give him a bad experience with strange dogs.
Expect to meet new people whenever you take dog out into public, even when he is an adult. The best things you can do to prepare for this are to 1) ensure that your dog is from a reputable breeder who selects for, proves, and produces good temperament, and 2) take this raw material (the puppy) and ensure that he becomes a well-socialized and well-behaved adult through proper socialization and training. Even if you want your dog to be a protection dog, socialization is necessary. See our blog on What Makes a Good Protection Dog for more information.
Do not get a German Shepherd Dog if you are unwilling or unable to find a good breeder, and are not committed to socializing your puppy appropriately.
4. You will find yourself answering many questions from random strangers about your dog, especially if he is a sable, black, bi-color, or long-coat.
Is he purebred? Does he have bad hips? Is he a police dog? Is he part-wolf? Are you going to breed him? How much did you pay for him? Where did you get her? Are you SURE that’s a purebred German Shepherd?
Many people only know of black-and-tan German Shepherd Dogs, and do not realize that the breed has more than just this one color. Many also do not know that there is such a thing as a long-coated GSD. Additionally, some German Shepherds may also have small amounts of white on the chest; it is considered a small fault, but it can happen. All of these variations cause many people to insist that the dog must be mixed with something else, even if the dog really is a purebred German Shepherd Dog. Some people even go far enough to accuse your breeder of lying to you or ‘pulling a fast one’ because “your dog can’t be purebred”. If you bought your puppy from a reputable, responsible breeder, then you can trust that this did not happen (and you will have the authentic paperwork to prove it).
5. You will find yourself listening to—and discarding—lots of well-intentioned but ridiculously wrong advice and “facts” about GSDs.
Many people consider themselves “experts” on German Shepherd Dogs (most are not), and when they see you have a puppy, they cannot help but offer bits of “advice” or “facts” that they “know” about the breed. Here are a few common examples:
- “Your dog can’t be purebred; he must have some wolf in him.” (often said about sable-colored GSDs)
- “Your dog can’t be a purebred German Shepherd; he’s too small! Mine’s 120 pounds.”
- “All German Shepherds have bad hips, don’t you know that?”
- “Watch out! This dog will turn on you and your family when he gets older.”
- “You have to bite his ear and then hold him down on his back to show him that you’re the dominant one.”
- “You had better neuter him as soon as you can; it will make him a happier, healthier dog.” (There is a large amount of information to the contrary. For more information on the negative effects of neutering/spaying too early, see: Early Spay/Neuter Considerations for the Canine Athlete and Long Term Effects of Spaying and Neutering and a Discussion of the UC Davis Neutering Study)
Always consider the source when people are giving you advice. Most of the advice you receive will be bad advice from people who have limited experience with any sort of working dog. Self-appointed dog experts, the average “pet dog trainers”, and people who make it their business to tell you how to raise your dog (even when they have no business doing so) will provide most of these ‘tips’ and pieces of ‘advice’. If you want or need training advice, find the people who really know what they are talking about, such as the responsible breeder of your dog, or people actively involved in working dog sport like Schutzhund/IPO who have been successful in training their dog and attaining titles, or trainers who work regularly with working dogs and have experience with the breed.
If you are unwilling or unable to seek out help from knowledgeable people and good working dog trainers when you need it, then do not get a German Shepherd Dog.
6. You will develop lightning fast reflexes.
Your puppy is faster than you, processes stimuli more quickly, and reacts faster to it than you can. Additionally, German Shepherds can expertly read your body language and clearly see your intended plan before you are even fully thinking of it. You will find yourself having to play a lot of ‘catch up’ if you can’t stay one step ahead of your intelligent, active dog. Thought the puppy couldn’t reach that antique doll on the bookshelf? Think again, and by that point you will be chasing your puppy down to try and pry the doll from his mouth. Thought that the puppy couldn’t get into any mischief if you just left him alone loose for a minute while you used the restroom? Think again, and by that point your puppy will have accomplished some deed of mischief in your short absence. This is why crates and baby gates will be a semi-permanent part of your home decor for the next year or so (see #2)!
7. You will be looking for a new hobby, because your dog needs a job.
The German Shepherd Dog is happiest when he has something to do; conversely, he can become incredibly destructive and develop behavioral problems when he does not have something that challenges him mentally and physically. A bored GSD becomes a badly-behaved GSD (or one that may develop obsessive behaviors).
Pursuing a new dog-related hobby is a great way to deepen your relationship, put some extra training on your dog, and explore something new. There is also an intrinsically-satisfying element to seeing your dog perform something it was bred to do. German Shepherds excel in a variety of activities, so you can select one that sounds interesting to you, and that you think your dog will do well in. These activities include IPO or Schutzhund, herding, obedience, agility, rally obedience, tracking, Noseworks, and more. The options are nearly endless, and range from sports requiring a huge amount of commitment (IPO/Schutzhund, for example) to activities with a little more flexibility (Noseworks, for example, or your everyday activities like hiking). Active training with your dog throughout his life can also help keep your dog mentally engaged and intellectually fulfilled. Training becomes a form of “play”, and a way to build your relationship with your dog. Don’t be afraid to teach your older dog some new tricks!
If you are not committed to keeping your dog well-exercised both mentally and physically, then do not get a German Shepherd Dog.
8. You will find yourself being “walked all over”, disrespected, and even directly challenged by your growing GSD if you do not set and enforce clear rules and boundaries.
GSDs abhor a leadership vacuum, and will step into that role every time. This breed can be strong, confident, and assertive, and they require a good leader. We have written blogs about leadership in the past, and they are worth the read: What Leadership is Not, and Taking Charge.
Remember that your puppy arrives home ready and eager to learn, and ready to figure out his place in your home. Training begins as soon as you get your dog. From the beginning you will be teaching your puppy many things: potty-training, crate-training, basic manners (sitting for his food or treats, waiting to be let out of the crate or let outside, coming when called, walking on a leash, etc.), chew-toy training, bite inhibition and tug training (teaching your puppy to bite his toys and play tug with you, instead of biting your hands). Through this process you are also building your relationship and cultivating your dog’s respect for you.
Do not get a German Shepherd Dog if you are unable or unwilling to be the calm, fair, confident leader this breed needs.
9. You will have a new, nosy partner trying to “help” you complete your tasks or chores, or even trying to do them for you!
German Shepherds are naturally curious. They want to do activities with you and do things for you, and will try to lend a helping paw wherever they can. If you are digging out in the garden, your dog will be right there investigating your holes to make sure you dug them correctly. They may even try to show you how to dig a better hole, and may try to help you with planting things in them (usually by uprooting the plants and carrying them to a different location). They will try to help you wash the car or water the flowers, help you use the restroom or get dressed in the morning, help you do laundry or vacuum or sweep the floors. He may even try to help your mechanic while he is working on your car!
10. You will acquire proficiency in a new language as you learn the many subtle and not-to-subtle sounds of “GSD Symphonic Language”.
This includes barks, whines, growls, yodels, and sounds you did not even know dogs could make. The German Shepherd is not a quiet breed, and often expresses their enthusiasm vocally. They are naturally watchful, and will alert to any changes in their environment or to approaching strangers. They also like to play loudly with each other and with their toys.
Do not get a German Shepherd Dog if you do not want a dog that barks, or are unable or unwilling to teach the dog when it is appropriate to bark, and when not bark.
11. You will find your life incredibly enriched by the deep relationship you share with this loyal, courageous, confident working companion.
It is difficult to describe the relationship with our German Shepherd Dogs. If the relationship is built properly from the start, your GSD will be the most steady, loyal companion you have ever had. They will take you to places you never would have visited, will introduce you to people you would have never met and called friends, and will bring experiences and opportunities into your life that would have never been possible without them. They teach us how to be better communicators, better handlers, and better people. Suddenly, you can never imagine life without having one of these wonderful dogs around.
If you are still convinced that the GSD is the right breed for you, then you won’t want to miss our next blog. We will be discussing how to critically analyze breeder websites and find that good, responsible breeder among the many bad breeders out there.