German shepherds dogs are one of the most popular breeds in the world and for a lot of good reasons. They are smart, gorgeous, fluffy, funny, playful, and loyal – what’s not to love?
Well, even this awesome dog breed is not perfect.
So, what are the main things to know before getting a German Shepherd puppy?
What are the key characteristics that make German Shepherds special?
The American Kennel Club (AKC) describes German Shepherds dogs (or GSD for short) as “Confident, Courageous, and Smart.” And that’s all true!
However, there are lots of other things as well. For example:
- As one of the most popular dog breeds of the last one hundred years, German Shepherds have been professionally bred to the point of developing some noteworthy health risks.
- All people are attracted to “smart dogs” but many forget that a smart dog is also an “easily bored” dog.
- Loyalty is another positive trait of German Shepherds but it can be a dangerous trait if the dog isn’t trained well.
- German Shepherds are a big dog breed and size matters a lot with dogs. Big dogs need lots of space to live in and even more space to run and play.
As you can see, even “pros” have their “cons” and choosing a dog is much more complicated than just saying “I like that one!”
At the end of the day, getting a dog is a ~10-year-long commitment and that’s the sort of decision that should be taken with a bit of forethought.
The 15 things we’ve mentioned below are not necessarily negatives – many of them are positives of the breed as well. However, they are also quite subjective so you should be aware of them before getting a GSD puppy.
So, before buying or adopting a German Shepherd, go over the quick list below and make sure the breed is right for you. Getting a dog that doesn’t fit your home and lifestyle is a huge mistake for both the dog owner and the dog itself.
1. German Shepherds are very playful and energetic – they require a lot of time and attention
German Shepherds may be popular pets today but they are first and foremost a working dog breed.
What does this mean?
It’s in their name – shepherds. Like other shepherds, retriever, or hound breeds, German Shepherds were bred and used for a specific job. In this case, to run along with a flock of sheep, herd them, and protect them.
This is a physically demanding job and that’s why German Shepherds have bodies built for running and jumping.
So, even if you won’t use your GSD to flock sheep, you should still be prepared to give them enough time and attention.
German Shepherds need to exert all the energy they have in their powerful bodies!
2. This breed requires a relatively spacious home and a big yard to run and play in
The German Shepherd’s energetic nature and large size also mean that not every home is suitable for this breed.
For one, you’d need a lot of open spaces both indoors and outdoors where the dog can run, jump, and play. Even if you have enough time for long walks in the park, your German Shepherd would still want to have a yard to play with.
Additionally, even when they don’t play, German Shepherds still require a home that’s not too cluttered and is easy to move through. They may not be the biggest dog breed but they are still pretty large:
|Male GSD||Female GSD|
|Height||24 to 26 inches or 61 to 66 cm||22 to 24 inches or 56 to 61 cm|
|Weight||65 to 90 pounds or 30 to 41 kg||50 to 70 pounds or 23 to 32 kg|
As you can see, we’re talking about quite sizable piles of muscles running through your home! Make sure there’s enough room for them!
3. Purebred German Shepherds from breeders can be costly
German Shepherd puppies are adorably pretty but they can cost a pretty penny when bought from a quality breeder.
That’s because most breeders would spend around $7,500 for a whole litter of GSD puppies on average. As a result of that, the price of a single puppy for the wanna-be-GSD-owner can range between $500 and $5,000.
Finding the right breeder is vital, of course, as “bad” dog breeders wouldn’t have taken good care of the puppies, won’t give you a health certificate, and so on.
So, how can you find a good local GSD breeder?
With lots of time and effort. There are plenty of marketplaces for good GSD breeders at adequate prices (closer to $500 – $2,000 than $2,000 – $5,000) but you’d still need to do thorough research.
4. Non-purebred dogs from shelters can reduce investments but might have more physical problems
Finding a GSD puppy from an affordable breeder or even a dog from a shelter or a rescue can help reduce the investment. However, it can also lead to some problems:
- Genetic health problems. Non-purebred dogs of all breeds often have genetic health issues because unhealthy dogs aren’t prevented from breeding.
- Other non-genetic physical problems such as skin issues, fleas, heartworms and intestinal worms, kennel cough, and others. You’ll need to make sure that the dog is as healthy as possible.
- Bad training and upbringing. The first several months of a puppy’s life are as important as the first several years of a person’s life. If the breeder, shelter or rescue haven’t taken good care of the puppy it may not grow into a good and mentally healthy dog.
All this isn’t to say that you shouldn’t adopt a GSD puppy from a shelter or a rescue – you absolutely should if you can and want to! But you must do some thorough research beforehand.
5. Even purebred German Shepherd dogs are not as healthy as other breeds and require extra care
The AKC describes German Shepherds as “healthy dogs” and that’s true to an extent – GSD are not the most sickly dog breed out there but they’re not as healthy as some other dog breeds either.
The veterinary charity PDSA lists some of the most common health issues even properly-bred GSD dogs can experience:
- Canine hip dysplasia
- Canine elbow dysplasia
- Degenerative myelopathy
- Cleft Palate
- Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency
- Perianal fistulas
- Thyroid disease
When we say “common” that doesn’t mean that these issues happen very often of course – just more often than the average for other dog breeds. So, while this is not a reason not to get a GSD, it is a reason to look for adequate breeders, to ask for health certificates, to take good care of your dog, and to go to routine vet check-ups.
6. German Shepherds can also be costly to take care of not just to purchase
The regular vet visits, the high need for exercise, and the extra-space requirements all make the GSD a relatively expensive dog to take care of in terms of money as well.
Add all the other expenses that come with a dog of that large size such as food, toys, and pet insurance, and you can easily reach $1,000 to $2,000 per year.
7. German Shepherds are very smart but that also makes them easily bored – they require lots of mental stimulation
As with all smart dog breeds such as retrievers and other shepherds, the high intelligence of the GSD can be a curse as much as a blessing.
Yes, it’s fun to play with a smart dog and train it but if you don’t give your German shepherd enough mental stimulation the dog can get bored very easily.
What’s the big deal if your dog gets a little bored?
Well, outside of the risk of anxiety and depression, there’s also the much milder but also more common problem of your dog starting to act out.
You’ve heard all the stories of a dog destroying the couch, bed, or the entire kitchen while the owners are at work?
That’s what happens when a smart dog hasn’t received enough playtime before being left alone for 8-12 hours.
So, what can be done to avoid boredom?
Toys and time. Make sure your GSD has enough toys that stimulate the canine’s brain but also play with the dog several times a day, every day.
8. This dog breed can be trained to do a lot of things but is also not very easy to train by rookie dog owners
If you ask different people if it’s easy to train a German Shepherd, you’ll get different answers. That’s because of how easy the training depends on the owner.
Yes, experienced dog owners can train a GSD to do pretty much anything – that’s why they are so often trained as police dogs, military dogs, border patrol dogs, etc.
However, an inexperienced dog owner can find a GSD to be more than a handful.
Why is that?
Simple – because they are so smart! Yes, their intelligence means that you can train them a lot but it also means they can be temperamental, manipulative, and stubborn! So, if this is going to be your first dog, either go for another breed or make sure you’re ready to put in the extra effort!
9. This breed is cute and cuddly at home but socially awkward in public
German shepherds are incredibly cute, social, and loving animals. They are loyal to their family and would do anything for those close to them.
As for everyone else – their instincts don’t necessarily make them “social” animals when it comes to strangers or other animals.
At the end of the day, the GSD is a shepherd and a guard dog, not a “people’s dog” like most retriever breeds.
What does this mean for you?
It means that if you don’t socialize your German Shepherd puppy well while it’s young, it may be awkward in public when it gets older. German Shepherds that aren’t socialized properly can grow into shy, fearful, and even aggressive adult canines.
So, again – make sure you know what you’re doing before getting a German Shepherd puppy.
10. German Shepherds need to be trained to behave around kids, cats, or other dog breeds
Now, we’re not saying that German Shepherds can’t live well with kids or cats – they certainly can! Even if you just get a random GSD and not give it any special training or socialization, the dog may still get along just fine with a cat or a newborn baby.
However, in general, the social awkwardness and guard-dog nature of GSDs means that they often need to be socialized well if you want to make other additions to the households down the line.
- Make sure your growing German Shepherd dog meets other people’s babies and kids to get comfortable with them.
- Make sure that you teach your growing GSD to get along with other dog breeds in the dog park or at home. You can even arrange dog playdates with other people’s dogs to achieve that!
- If you have a cat or are thinking of getting a cat, make sure your German Shepherd is accustomed to interacting with cats without any aggression.
So, once again – while planning a baby or having a cat aren’t reasons not to get a GSD, they do mean that you should socialize and train your German Shepherd properly.
11. If you get one GSD you’d do well to get another!
One of the best and easiest ways to avoid most of the problems above is to just get a second German Shepherd!
Yes, we did just say that this breed can be a handful. However, a second dog usually brings much more benefits than negatives:
- The second dog will join the first in the playtime, meaning that both will exercise with each other very often and minimize the need for your involvement.
- Having a second GSD also means more mental stimulation for both dogs – again, less work for you and more fun for them.
- Having your GSD grow up with another canine pal also means that they’ll both socialize much better. You’d still want them to interact with guests and strangers, but your work in that regard will be much easier.
12. As natural guard dogs, German Shepherds may need to be trained not to bark
Unfortunately, GSDs are especially bad for apartment owners not just because they are big but also because they tend to bark at strangers.
They are guard dogs after all.
This can be avoided, of course, there are ways to train any dog not to bark at strangers or at outside noises. However, this means that you’ll need to put in the work in that bit of training too.
13. Your landlord and neighbors may not be happy with you getting a German Shepherd
As much as GSD owners love their dogs, their neighbors and landlords aren’t usually as thrilled. There are several reasons for this:
- The frequent barking we mentioned above. Yes, you can train that behavior away but your landlord may still forbid you from getting a GSD.
- The fact that GSDs are often used by the military and the police has made the breed appear “scary” in the eyes of many people.
- If you have downstairs neighbors they likely won’t enjoy the noise of a 90-pound dog jumping on the floor all day long. Getting a carpet or another type of floor insulation will help here. Giving your dog enough playtime outside will also alleviate this problem. But you may still get in trouble with your neighbors.
- They are just a large breed and many people, including parents of small children, are afraid of large dogs.
14. German Shepherd dogs shed a lot
If you’ve done a bit of research about German Shepherds you may have heard that they are hypoallergenic or that they don’t shed a lot.
That’s a myth!
Not only are GSDs not hypoallergenic, but they also tend to shed a lot! This breed sheds year-round and “blows” its undercoat twice a year, resulting in dog hair flying and sticking all-around your home.
That is unless you’ve taken the necessary precautions:
- Regular (at least bi-weekly) brushing
- Seasonal grooming
- Raking of the undercoat before shedding season
Even if you take good care of your GSD’s coat, however, you can still expect lots of dog hair flying around. So, it’s also smart to make sure that you clean your home and furniture regularly too!
15. As a large dog breed, German Shepherds usually live up to 10 years
Dogs are amazing companions to have in your life but, unfortunately, they don’t live as long as us.
Most long-time dog owners know the pain of losing a dog – it’s a horrible experience that no one should have to go through but that we all endure eventually if we’ve had a dog.
And that’s especially unfortunate for owners of German Shepherds as this breed lives on average 7 to 10 years.
Yes, there are recorded cases of GSDs living beyond 15 years and up to even 18 or 20 years, but that’s very rare. There are two main reasons for this:
- The aforementioned health concerns that some German Shepherds have and that get more and more likely as the dog gets older.
- The simple fact that the GSD is a large dog breed and larger breeds just have a shorter lifespan than smaller ones.
Still, if you’ve got a healthy puppy, if you take good care of it, and if you have a bit of luck, it will likely grow beyond 10 years and maybe even reach 15 – that’s not too shabby!
Who are German Shepherds “right” for?
As you can see, there are lots of factors to consider before getting a GSD. So, while there isn’t just one type of person that the GSD is “right” for, there is lots to think about before getting a German Shepherd.
In general, the right GSD owner can be characterized as such:
- Has a larger-than-average home, a yard, and a nearby dog park.
- Has enough time to spend with a German Shepherd.
- Knows how to train and socialize a GSD properly.
- Doesn’t have nearby neighbors and a landlord or has a good relationship with them.
- Has the financial means to support a German Shepherd.
- Wants a dog that will be by his/her side as much as possible – German shepherds are loyal to the point of being clingy!
- Wants a second dog to play with the first one.
How to prepare for getting a German Shepherd?
If you are a rookie dog owner but you’re adamant about getting a GSD, you’ll need to do some homework first.
Just like soon-to-be-parents before their first baby, there are lots of books and research to comb through if you want to give your future German Shepherd the care, upbringing, socialization, and care it needs.
We’re not saying all that to scare you but just to prepare you.
Animal shelters and rescues are full to the brim with animals who were thrown out of their homes because their owners suddenly realized they’re not ready for the responsibility.
- Make sure your home is ready for a large dog to soon start springing through it.
- Make sure you have the time and daily schedule to play with a GSD.
- Make sure you’re ready for the financial responsibility as well.
Once you’re ready and you find the right German Shepherd puppy for you, however, you’ll be in for a decade of love, laughter, playtime, cuddles, and fun.