Frequently Asked Questions

Do German Shepherds make good family pets?

Yes! German Shepherds are naturally protective of their “pack”. Young children should never be left unattended with a puppy, however, if the children learn to respect the puppy as a living being, the puppy will be a wonderful companion for the children as they all grow up together. Your dog’s ranking in the “pack” should always be established as the bottom (Omega) member below humans.

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What traits are inherent in German Shepherds generally?

German Shepherds are natural herding dogs. Your German Shepherds will try to “herd” you and your family. Often they will “follow ahead”, walking in front of you and looking back to make sure you’re going where you should. Although the German Shepherd is not used as frequently for herding in present time, there are many breed lines still known for their herding. The breed is naturally loyal, intelligent and protective (which makes it good for police work). The German Shepherd has an excellent nose, making it good for tracking and search and rescue work. They are calm and have a steady temperament when well-bred which is why they have been used as “Seeing Eye” dogs. A German Shepherd thrives on regular exercise, mental stimulation and a well-balanced diet.

These traits make a German Shepherd an absolute pleasure to own when well-trained, but in the hands of a novice, unconcerned, uncommitted owner, their intelligence and drive can become difficult to manage.

Breeding plays an important role in the temperament of German Shepherds, so selecting a reputable breeder concerned with both physical health and the personality of their puppies is of utmost importance. Different bloodlines exhibit traits differently, so question breeders about the strong and weak traits of their bloodlines.

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What should I look for in a German Shepherd puppy?

Obviously, many factors affect the selection of the puppy, including the personality and lifestyle of the prospective owner. Avoid puppies that appear too shy or nervous. Puppies at an age where they can be sent home with their new owners should be inquisitive and curious. German Shepherd pups generally lengthen along the back and loin rather than get shorter. Look for balance in angulation, especially in the hind quarters as an imbalanced pup may never grow into the correct angulation. Meet both sire and dam if possible since character is very important. The puppies’ parents should be OFA certified (preferably “Good” or “Excellent”) (US dogs), OVC certified (Canadian dogs) or certified “a-normal” (German dogs). Make sure you see the parents’ certifications. Hip problems can be devastating. Elbow certifications as well as hip certifications are becoming more common. As with hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia can only be diagnosed by radiograph.

The OFA is the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals. When potential breeding stock reaches the age of 2, the breeder should have a set of x-rays taken and submit them to the OFA for certification. OFA will return a certification (Excellent, Good, or Fair) along with a certification number for the dog. (Dysplastic dogs will not be given a certification number.) (German certification is done over 1 year of age.) Watch as the puppies move about. If you are inexperienced with German Shepherds, do not pick the “bully” of the litter. Watch the puppies interact with each other in the litter as well as with you and your family members. Watch the puppies you are considering interact with you without the rest of the litter present. Look for a friendly puppy who is not afraid, but also allows you to handle it without a lot of struggle. Bloodlines will
make a difference in the working drive of the dog. German lines tend to be more dominant than American lines as discussed a few questions down.

Ask to look through the puppy’s pedigree. Look for obedience titles, conformation titles, hip certifications and make sure that common ancestors are at least 3 generations back. If you don’t understand something, ask the breeder! Most of all, select a puppy that feels comfortable with your family. Reputable breeders will also make suggestions to insure their puppies go to happy, well-chosen homes. You can also ask if the puppies have been temperament tested and look at the results.

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Should I get a male or female?

This is an age-old question and almost strictly a matter of preference. Some people will say that males are more “location” protective while females are more “pack” protective. Males are generally more territorial, so unless training steps are consistent, marking could be a problem. (Neutering may help alleviate this problem. Any dog not intended for a breeding program should be neutered or spayed. Besides eliminating the possibility of unwanted puppies and reducing some undesireable behaviors, it’s considerably healthier for your dog since it eliminates or severely reduces the chance of testicular or mammary cancers. Breeding should *never* be taken lightly.)

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How old should my puppy be before I take it home?

Puppies are weaned from their mothers by about 6 weeks of age, but the period following weaning is very important in terms of learning “pack” behavior. Although 8 weeks is old enough and a common age for leaving the litter, 10 weeks is probably optimum for a German Shepherd. However, better to take the puppy at 8 weeks if the rest of the litter have already gone to their homes. Puppies up to 12 weeks old should pose no additional concerns. After 12 weeks old, make sure the breeder has taken special care to socialize the puppy (puppies) with other dogs and people.

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How big will my German Shepherd be?

The full adult size of your German Shepherd will depend in large part on the genetic background of its parents. The AKC Standard states that adult males should range between 24-26″ at the shoulder blade, females from 22-24″. Males within the standard may weigh anywhere from 65-90 lbs, depending on their bloodlines. Females may weigh anywhere from 55-80 lbs. Again, much depends on the genetics and bloodlines. The above are only a rough idea. Although your pup will reach close to adult height by 10-18 months, s/he will continue to fill out until up to 3 years old.

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What is “socializing” and why is it so important?

Socializing refers to exposing your puppy to a variety of experiences, including meeting lots of people of various ages, races, sizes and both sexes as well as teaching them how to acceptably interact with other dogs. Puppy kindergarten classes provide an excellent opportunity for socialization in a controlled environment. Socializing is important because it helps strengthen your dog’s confidence and reduces the chance that your dog will become shy or fearful. Fearful dogs can become fear aggressive or fear biters.

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When will my German Shepherd puppy’s ears stand?

Although some puppies’ ears stand as early as 8-10 weeks, don’t be concerned if your pup’s ears don’t stand until 6-7 months (especially pups with large ears) after teething. Some pups ears never stand. This is known as a “soft ear”. Sometimes taping is successful. “Soft ears” are a genetic trait, and dogs with soft ears should not be bred even if taping is successful. It is a disqualification in showing. Some German Shepherds ears stand but wiggle at the tips when the dogs run. This is known as “friendly ears”. Friendly ears are not a disqualification but are not a desirable trait.

One method of “taping” ears is to take a pink foam roller and attach it with eyelash glue to the inside of the ear (the pinna). Do not block the ear canal. Taping may take up to 2 months. But again, be cautious about considering breeding a dog whose ears have had to be taped.

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What precautions should I take with my German Shepherd puppy?

Other than the normal precautions of immunizations, beware of a fast-growing puppy. There are studies that show a correlation between fast growth and hip dysplasia (if your pup is predisposed to HD). You may want to switch your puppy over to adult food if it seems to be growing very quickly. Don’t pet your puppy’s ears backwards before they stand. Although people often do this by nature, it can damage the cartilege in your pup’s ears which can affect the ear carriage.

When your puppy is about 6 months old, have preliminary x-rays done of your puppy’s hips. If your pup shows signs of dysplasia, there are treatment alternatives available to younger dogs that are not available if the dog is older and has arthritic changes. If detected early, there are things you can do for your dog to give it a happy, healthy life even with dysplasia. If your pup shows mild signs, consider having another set of x-rays taken after your dog turns 2. Orthopedic changes (both positive and negative) can take place up to this time.

Do take your puppy to puppy kindergarten and obedience training classes and do your homework for these classes. Behaviors that are cute in a 15 pound puppy can be dangerous in a 75 pound adult. Socialize your puppy with people (especially children) and other dogs frequently (after your puppy has completed its immunization series sometime after 16 weeks old).

Your puppy may go through a period known as “adolescent shyness” when it reaches 4-5 months of age. This period can last until the pup is 12-18 months old. Socializing your puppy from an early age will help minimize this shyness. Expose your puppy to a variety of experiences, but do so gently. You don’t want to traumatize your puppy.

Be careful of heavy physical exertion directly before and after eating, especially if your German Shepherd is a “gulper”. German Shepherds (and many other breeds) can suffer from bloat. If your dog’s abdomen becomes distended and rigid and it can not seem to belch or pass gas, gastric torsion may be the problem. (The stomach twists.) This is an immediate health concern and you should contact your vet or an emergency clinic.

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When should I switch my puppy to adult food?

Individual puppies and bloodlines will vary. You probably are best off discussing your puppy’s growth and needs with both your vet and your breeder. Many breeders and dog food manufacturers advise switching to a high quality adult food at four to six months of age. As long as you are feeding a high quality food, this has no ill effect on the puppy and is probably a good idea. Check out the content of the food closely. A puppy or dog with average activity should have about 26% protein and 15-18% fat. Look for some kind of meat to be the first ingredient, not a grain product. Don’t overlook feed stores as a good place to buy dog food. Often prices are less than at pet supply stores. (Please don’t patronize pet stores that sell puppies. Pet stores are in the business of making money, not breeding responsibly.)

Offhand, if your puppy is growing very quickly, you might want to ask your vet about switching to adult food even as early as 12 weeks. Studies have shown that puppies growing quickly may exacerbate a prediliction to hip dysplasia. Otherwise, you can consider switching any time after 10-18 months depending on the dog.

Dry food is fine. You don’t need to supplement with canned food. It’s expensive and doesn’t provide anything a good dry food doesn’t. If your puppy doesn’t want to eat the dry food, you can moisten it slightly with warm water. This may also reduce the risk of bloat.

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How often should I feed my puppy and how much?

Free-feeding versus scheduled feeding is another area in which people disagree violently. Some breeds don’t lend themselves well to free feeding. German Shepherds, depending on the individual dog, are often excellent at being free-fed without worry of over-eating or becoming fat. (But you do need to keep an eye on your puppy’s/dog’s weight. You should be able to feel the ribs under the skin fairly easily.)

However, during housebreaking, it’s usually a good idea to keep a modified free-feed for a puppy so you can anticipate when they will need to go out to potty. (Usually this is about 15-30 minutes after eating, but it can be an amazing 4 hours or more with some puppies.) Feed the puppy as much as it will eat before leaving the bowl 3 times a day up until the puppy is moderately well housebroken (4-5 months old). If you will be gone for long hours, you may want to consider only leaving a small amount in the bowl in the mornings after that time, but giving free access to food until about an hour before bedtime until the puppy is completely reliable. After that, the dog will have learned the family schedule better and adjust its eating schedule accordingly. (Be aware, however, that there will be times with every dog, no matter what kind of feeding schedule, where the dog will need to go out during the night to potty, or, if you’re a late sleeper/worker, at least by the time it’s light out.)

Should you choose to schedule feed (and there’s nothing wrong with this), it’s still better to feed at least a small amount of food before leaving for the day. Often a dog that’s hungry will vomit up yellow bile. A small meal in the morning should keep this from happening, but shouldn’t cause the dog undue distress from needing to relieve itself during the day. You can feed the dog its main portion of food in the evening when you’re home to walk it. For a German Shepherd with an average activity level, 1 cup of food in the morning followed by 3 cups in the evening should be about right, but keep an eye on your dog’s weight and adjust the food accordingly.

Approximately the same rules apply to water. It won’t do a puppy any harm to have its water source removed about an hour before bedtime and not have access to water until the morning. Fresh water should be available with every meal. Once the dog is housebroken, free access to water unless you will be gone for an extrodinarily long period of time should not be a problem.

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What is bloat (gastric torsion)?

Bloat (otherwise known as “gastric torsion”) can be a problem with any deep-chested breed like German Shepherds. The stomach twists so nothing can pass through the esophagus to the stomach or through the stomach to the intestions, causing gas to build up. This is an immediate health concern where the dog should be taken to the vet or emergency clinic. Signs of bloat include a distended rigid abdomen, indications of vomiting with no results and inability to belch or pass gas.

High activity directly before or after eating can exacerbate bloating. Keeping the dog quiet at least one hour before and after eating can help reduce the chances of bloat. Pre-moistening the dog’s food with water can also reduce the chances, however, without the teeth-cleaning help of crunching food, you will want to take especially good care of your dog’s teeth by weekly tooth-brushing and hard biscuits to help remove tartar. (Be sure to include any treats you give in the balance of food intake. Too many treats may cause your dog to gain weight, and treats only may not give the dog the nutrition it needs.) Smaller meals can also reduce the risk of bloat if you do not free-feed. (Free-fed dogs just need to have their activity level watched, but do not usually eat enough at any one sitting to cause problems. Bloat is more of a problem with a dog that “gulps” its food which a free-fed dog won’t usually do. Don’t leave pre-moistened food down for a free-fed dog too long as it can breed bacteria. Instead, leave them smaller portions, but refill more frequently.)

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What is the life expectancy of a German Shepherd?

Most lines of German Shepherds will live to between 10-13 years of age. 11-12 years is probably a very reasonable expectation. A German Shepherd becomes “middle-aged” between 5-7 years old, and is generally considered “geriatric” at about 10. Their food intake and exercise and nutrition needs may change over this period of time. They may begin to develop stiffness in their joints (much like people do as they get older). Healthy teeth are important as bacteria from decaying teeth can affect the health of the dog.

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Do German Shepherds shed a lot?

Yes. The German Shepherd is a “double-coated” dog with an undercoat and guard hairs. The guard hairs will be shed all year. The undercoat is “blown” twice a year.

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Are German Shepherds smart and easy to train?

Yes and no to both. Most German Shepherds are eager and willing to learn and enjoy training sessions (don’t overdo with a young pup – they just don’t have the attention span). If you start young and teach your puppy its order in your “pack”, problems with training will be minimized. However, German Shepherds tend to have more dominant personalities than some breeds and can be stubborn, so some care in training is recommended. Classes are extremely beneficial. A German Shepherd that thinks it’s the Alpha member of the pack can be a big handful.

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Why do German Shepherds have a reputation of being vicious?

In the 1950s, German Shepherds became the most popular dog in the AKC registry. As a result, many breedings were made without regard to pedigree history and inbreeding caused many personality problems. Reputable breeders will usually not allow inbreeding at least 3 generations back in the puppy’s pedigree.

Inbreeding and linebreeding can be beneficial in a breeding program if a breeder practices them carefully. Desireable traits can be strengthened, but undesireable traits and faults may be brought forth as well. If you notice inbreeding or linebreeding in the pedigree, question the breeder as to why and what the perceived advantages were. Breeders practicing these breedings should be able to give reasonably educated answers as to why.

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What is an average size litter?

An average size litter for a German Shepherd is seven to eight puppies.

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What is the difference between a German Shepherd and an Alsatian?

There is no difference. After each of the World Wars, anything German fell out of popular favor. To avoid the use of the word German, “Alsatian” (from the Alsace-Lorraine area) was used. In some countries, German Shepherds are still known as Alsations.

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Why is the word “dog” used in the breed name for German Shepherds and not for other breeds?

The name in Germany is Deustche Schaferhund which means “German Shepherd Dog”. The word “Dog” is actually part of the breed’s name unlike other breeds.

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What is Schutzhund?

Schutzhund is German for “protection dog”, but it also refers to a training discipline and dog sport involving 3 phases: obedience, tracking and protection.

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