The German Shepherd is one of the most popular dog breeds in the US, and it’s no surprise. He’s handsome, smart, and muscular with a heroic reputation. No wonder he’s been the top choice for police, security, and the military for decades.
His size, smarts, and protective nature makes him ideal for scaring off intruders. Yet this canine’s loyalty and sensitivity make him a much-loved companion as well. Most would agree he’s a perfect pet, but he’s also quite a handful. Are you up to the challenge?

The Magnificent German Shepherd: About the Breed

The German Shepherd is a relatively new breed, dating back to 1899. Shepherds are working dogs. Bred for herding sheep, their size and musculature set them apart for a different destiny. They’re also quick learners, ranking near Border Collies and Poodles for intelligence.
One of the hallmarks of the GSD is his eagerness to have a purpose. Whether he’s sniffing out disaster victims as part of a search and rescue team, or guarding you on your morning jog. Shepherds respond well to consistent training but can be strong-willed.
Anyone who wants to adopt a German Shepherd as a pet should prepare to devote plenty of time to training. These dogs need mental stimulation and are happiest when they have a job to do. But without strong leadership, he will take it upon himself (or herself) to lead.
historic german shepherd breed, Shilo Shep

Historic German Shepherd Dog, Public Domain, Roland von Starkenburg, Wikimedia Commons

Other German Shepherd Breeds and GSD (German Shepherd Dog) Mixes

There are a number of related breeds that are similar in appearance and temperament. These include: The Belgian Shepherd, the dutch shepherd, and the Bohemian Shepherd. And there are also the King and Shiloh Shepherd. These large German Shepherd breeds have Alaskan Malamute and Great Pyrenees roots.

German Shepherd mixes are popular among pet owners. These dogs often end up with positive traits of both breeds while avoiding some of the negatives. For example, crossing hounds with German Shepherds creates laid back but trainable pups. Meanwhile, Husky mixes (sometimes called “Gerberian Shepskys”) combine brains with sociability. And German Shepherd-Lab mixes often result in a gentler, goofier personality. Mixing with other breeds also lessens the risk of ailments that plague purebreds. Especially problems of the legs and hips.


Image: CC by 2.0, by Maja Dumat, via Flickr

The German Shepherd as a Family Pet

With proper training and socialization, German Shepherds make excellent family dogs. They are sensitive, patient, loyal, and bond strongly with their families. Yet their owners should take caution. Because of these dogs’ size and energy level, they may scare or injure small children by accident. Also, early socialization and training are vital. This way, your dog will learn not to play as roughly with a human child as it might with another German Shepherd.
And, as with any dog, they should never have the chance to exert dominance over human family members. Many German Shepherds also have a high prey drive. This is why some rescues won’t adopt their dogs out to households with cats or small pets.

German Shepherds in Shelters

German Shepherds are among the top ten breeds whose owners surrender them to shelters and rescues.

This is due to a combination of factors. First, their size. German Shepherd puppies are adorable, but they grow fast. And some people don’t realize how big they get. Or how ill-suited such a large, energetic dog will be to small living quarters.
Another reason is aggression. Though they’re not, by nature, aggressive dogs, they can act out. This especially plays out when they’re abused, neglected, or not taught how to behave well. German Shepherds are sensitive souls and want to please you. But, as with any dog, if abused or neglected, they can become aggressive or destructive. And that is most undesirable in such a large, powerful animal.
In short, there’s one main reason why these beautiful dogs wind up in shelters. It all comes down to owners who don’t take the time to understand the breed or adequately work with their dog. If you take a Shepherd into your home, it’s important to take the time to work with them, train them and bond with them. In this way, you will bring out the best in your dog, and your dog will give you its best in return.

German Shepherd Rescue Organizations

German Shepherd rescue groups often serve as an excellent resource. For starters, they’ll tell you about the breed and how to be an effective German Shepherd owner. For example, The Westside German Shepherd Rescue of Los Angeles offers training classes. They also set up monthly group hikes, where people can get to know the rescue’s dogs one-on-one. German Shepherd rescues also often work with trainers who can tell you if they’d be a good fit for your family. Many areas have German Shepherd rescue organizations. Volunteering with one in your area is a great way to both help GSDs, and learn whether this breed is right for you.

How to Be a Successful German Shepherd Owner

So you’ve made the decision: the German Shepherd is the dog for you. Now, how can you become worthy of the honor?

  • Learn about the breed. Visit a German Shepherd rescue, talk to GSD owners, research, and read. Try to spend some time around German Shepherds, perhaps by volunteering for a German Shepherd rescue, in order to get a feel for the breed. Visit the dog park and talk to any Shepherd owners that you meet there.
  • Train your German Shepherd. German Shepherds need strong leadership, mental stimulation, and a sense of purpose. Training provides all of these things. In addition to basic obedience training, Shepherds also enjoy — and excel at — agility, Schutzhund, nosework, and other competitive training programs. You can read specific German Shepherd training tips at, German Shepherd Corner, and Dog Training Excellence. You can watch a video of a German Shepherd agility competitor here.
  • Exercise your Shepherd. The GSD is an athletic dog and needs regular exercise. GSDs that don’t get enough exercise are more likely to suffer from hip and elbow dysplasia later in life — not to mention obesity. Hiking, for example, provides both vigorous exercise and the mental stimulation of new and interesting smells. Exercise time can also be a bonding activity between your family and your Shepherd.
  • Keep your Shepherd Cool. German Shepherds are sensitive to heat. If you live in an area where temperatures rise above 80 degrees, make sure your GSD has plenty of shade, cool tiles to lie on, and fresh water at all times.
  • Give your Shepherd Space. The GSD is a large, active dog that needs room to move around. If you don’t have a yard, make sure your GSD gets a good, long walk or trip to the dog park every day. If your living space is small, you might consider a smaller dog.
  • Love your Shepherd! Let them know that they’re an important part of your pack (even though you’re the alpha). German Shepherds are sensitive creatures with big hearts. They will return your love tenfold.

The German Shepherd is a wonderful dog with a well-deserved following around the world. Is it the right dog for you? Only you can make that decision. But if you take the time and make the effort to do it right, it can be the best decision of your life.

Featured image: CC by 2.0, by The National Guard, via Flikr


Pin It on Pinterest

Share This