You found it:
The first-time owner guide for German Shepherds.
By the end of the article you’ll know:
- Common problems with being a German Shepherd parent.
- How much it would cost you to have a German Shepherd (hint: it’s not cheap).
- 15 tips that help you to discover if a German Shepherd is the right dog for you (and your family).
- And more…
Are German Shepherds good first dogs?
A German Shepherd is a good first dog as long as their personality traits match your lifestyle. Commitment is a big factor, as well as providing them their needs. These include physical and mental exercises and training.
15 tips for first-time owners
#1: Know the personality trait of a German Shepherd
German Shepherds can be the best furry companion you ever have.
However, they don’t turn out that way overnight. It’s going to be a work in progress but the result can be rewarding.
How do you know if a German Shepherd is the right dog for you? Get to know their personality traits.
Expectations aside, German Shepherds are smart and highly trainable. They are capable of learning tricks quickly.
They are also obedient dogs, very loyal and courageous. They can turn into watchdogs or guard dogs if trained properly.
But they may become destructive if bored. Prevent that by giving your German Shepherd lots of energy-burning activities.
The duration of activity varies with age.
An adult needs at least 2 hours of activities to deplete their energy.
That’s aside from mental stimulation and play sessions. These exercises are necessary for a tired but calm dog.
On the other hand, there’s one thing that they hate. And that’s being or staying alone for a long period of time.
That’s because they are social animals. They love to be with their humans.
Although this breed is generally aloof, they are not usually aggressive. And sometimes they don’t make friends easily. But when they do, their loyalty is commendable.
You can expect German Shepherds to be goofballs in the family. But when threatened, they would come to your rescue without a second thought.
Reading tip: 17 Reasons Why German Shepherds Are Good Family Dogs
#2: Raising a German Shepherd is not cheap
Having a German Shepherd is truly rewarding. But it’s not a walk in the park.
For one, you will have to shell out money for their needs.
If you can’t afford a German Shepherd, please don’t get one. Poor dog if they end up in shelters just because their owner can’t afford their needs.
Because the truth is, buying and raising a German Shepherd is expensive.
From the time you consult a breeder, you are already spending. I suggest finding a reputable breeder that can give you what you want.
Also, make sure from the breeder that the parents of the puppy are healthy. It reduces the chances of the puppy inheriting health conditions.
Imagine how much you can save if your puppy is not sickly.
Caution: Avoid backyard breeders that sell cheap German Shepherd puppies. Chances are, you won’t get a healthy puppy from them.
For a first time owner, get a German Shepherd with a soft temperament and docile nature. They make great family dogs.
Now, on to your dog’s needs. There’s food and treats and toys. Then bedding, accessories, and crate. Not to mention vet visits, shots, and a host of other expenses.
Here’s a sample of the estimated cost of raising a German Shepherd:
|Collar and leash||$35|
|Food, supplement and treats||$35|
|Vet visits, exams and shots||$75-85|
|External parasite treatment, grooming||$15-35|
|Other illnesses and hospitalization||$400-1000+|
This is not everything yet. You pay the dog sitter or doggie daycare when you require their services. There may be pet fees as well if you live in an apartment. The total cost could be higher or lower, depending on your area.
ASPCA estimates the yearly cost of a medium dog like a German Shepherd to be $669. That boils down to $55.75 a month. But the lifetime cost can be $14,000 or more.
#3: Your lifestyle should match your dog’s personality traits
Aside from money, the following are important factors for decision-making:
Do you have a full-time office job? Raising a German Shepherd is also a full-time commitment.
You should consider hiring a pet sitter or finding a doggie daycare. They can facilitate physical exercises and mental stimulation for your dog.
What about when you get home? Having a German Shepherd may not allow you to lounge in front of the TV all the time.
German Shepherds are active and want something to do. Without the necessary physical and mental stimulation, they’ll find something destructive to do.
Health is also a very important factor.
Caution: Having a German Shepherd could worsen asthma and other respiratory problems.
This is because they are notorious shedders. They have pet dander that can trigger asthma attacks.
If it’s a child with asthma, check with their pediatrician. Asthma can be tolerable or severe. But your pediatrician should know if having a German Shepherd is okay.
Another thing to consider is the possibility of being exposed to zoonoses. Zoonoses refer to diseases that are transferred from animals to humans and vice versa.
#4: Your commitment is vital
Getting a German Shepherd, or any other dog for that matter is a big commitment.
This dog will depend on you to feed them, bath them, and train them. Basically everything in the next 10 to 12 years of their life.
Like having a child, how they turn out depends on you. If you are not serious about the whole thing, you may end up giving up your dog.
And that’s going to be a sad story.
These dogs have physical and mental needs so make sure to meet both.
They also need continuous training (more on this in #11) such as crate and leash training. You need to teach them basic commands. And you need to provide them plenty of mental stimulation.
No one’s going to do all of these but you.
In addition, having a German Shepherd means sacrifices. Some days you’ll take a rain check because your dog needs you more.
Can you see yourself at home playing with your dog instead of being at a party?
There will be changes in your social life as your dog becomes a part of your life. Are you okay with that in the long run?
#5: The first months are going to be tough
In the first 3 months of their life, your German Shepherd puppy is going to need you the most.
There will be lots of adjustments as you get to know this furball. And your dog is familiarizing themselves with the new environment.
This could be a stressful moment for your dog. Even for you.
It may even feel like having a baby. You will constantly supervise them, especially if they’re only starting their training. And you’ll keep cleaning after themselves.
You may even find yourself consoling a crying puppy in the middle of the night.
However, it’s important that you make the transition smooth from breeder to your home. You can achieve this by letting them explore their designated spot. Let them get used to this area before exploring other parts of the house.
#6: German Shepherds can get big and heavy
Some novice owners are surprised by the size of a German Shepherd adult.
That’s because this pooch is all cute as a puppy. And before you know it, they turn into these big dogs.
According to AKC, a male German Shepherd can weigh 65 – 90 pounds (29 – 41 kilograms). A female, on the other hand, can weigh 50 – 70 pounds (23 – 32 kilograms).
The downside here is when they are not trained properly. They could develop bad behaviors such as jumping on people.
Imagine a dog this heavy throwing their weight on your visitors. They could easily hurt family and people, especially children and the elderly.
Before it even gets this far, it’s important to train German Shepherd puppies. They are highly trainable, so they can learn not to jump around.
#7: They have high energy and so should you
If there’s one thing you can count on German Shepherds, they are energetic.
In fact, a walk around several blocks is just warm-up for an adult German Shepherd.
That said, know what your dog can expect from you. If you’re not much into working out, then owning a German Shepherd could be difficult.
But it could also be a challenge. You adapt to an active lifestyle to keep up with a German Shepherd.
So when you get home from work, you simply don’t chill in front of the TV. You grab the leash and get your German Shepherd out of that door. Time for a late afternoon walk.
And when weekends come, you take your German Shepherd hiking or free running. You do a lot of play sessions and training.
It’s easier when German Shepherds are young.
That’s because they only need a few minutes of exercise a day. For instance, a 3-month old puppy needs 15 minutes of exercise.
But as they grow, their exercise becomes longer.
Remember that these dogs have high energy levels. And you need to have the right exercise plan to tire them out.
All of these can be exhausting to a novice owner.
You don’t have to be a health buff. But it helps if you’re healthy. This way, you can keep up with the physical demands of raising a German Shepherd.
#8: Get the experience by fostering
If you want a taste of raising a German Shepherd, try fostering.
It will give you a better idea of whether a German Shepherd fits your lifestyle.
If you want to give this a try, call a rescue. Or find where you can foster a German Shepherd. Let them know you want to foster a dog before getting one.
Usually, they will ask a foster parent to choose a dog. Then they will check if the dog matches with your lifestyle.
If everything is okay, you can get the dog from the shelter. Dogs typically stay in a foster home for a few weeks or longer.
As a foster parent, you are responsible for providing certain things.
These include food, space, exercise, basic training, and, of course, love.
Once the shelter finds a forever home, the foster dog will be given to their new family. It can be saddening at times. Especially if you have grown to love the dog.
But as a foster parent, you have a very important role:
You are the bridge between foster dogs and their forever homes.
Thanks to you, the dog has gone through the basics of which the new owner can continue.
Many people actually come to love fostering dogs.
And maybe you will, too.
#9: Consider your future plans
A German Shepherd can reach beyond 10 years if taken care of properly. They become a part of your family as much as you are part of their pack.
This means taking your dog wherever life takes you.
If you’re moving to another place, make sure you can take your dog.
There are cases when owners leave German Shepherds in shelters. That’s because the dog is not welcome in the new place.
This is especially true in apartments. Landlords usually do not allow German Shepherds. For the simple reason that they are big dogs.
If you’re unsure about where you might end up in years, delay getting a German Shepherd.
#10: German Shepherds shed a lot
They are not called the German ‘Shedders’ for nothing.
German Shepherds are double-coated. They have a thick undercoat and a dense topcoat.
This means a lot of fur.
And they continuously shed all year round. But come spring and fall, they ‘blow’ coats like crazy.
You have to live with it when you have a German Shepherd.
To help with cleaning the fur, consider investing in a strong vacuum cleaner. You’ll end up vacuuming every now and then to keep your house clean.
Although you can’t do anything about it, you can help keep your dog’s coat healthy. Do so by brushing them at least twice a week.
Then use a big comb to rake their coats during the shedding season. This helps avoid matting and dead hair.
It also helps to keep their skin healthy, particularly since they’re prone to dry skin. This is due to bathing them too much or not enough. Dry skin develops, leading to them scratching.
Note: Pick a dog shampoo for sensitive skin. If unsure, consult your vet for the best choice of shampoo.
#11: They must not live outside
There’s no point in getting a German Shepherd and then keeping them outside.
If outside, they are exposed to sun, rain and snow. Being exposed to the sun could lead to overheating.
And without mental stimulation, it could lead to other behavior problems.
They might dig or destroy your plants. The yard would be a mess with a hyper dog that’s trying to release their pent-up energy.
If you live in an apartment, your dog could resort to excessive barking. And that’s going to annoy a lot of people.
You can prevent all of these if you allow them to be a part of the family. Expose them to your activities. This way, they become extremely bonded to their owners.
#12: They need continuous training
German Shepherds are truly amazing dogs. They are smart, obedient, and learn tricks in several repetitions.
As such, training them is very important. They can learn valuable commands and tricks that they can carry with them to adulthood.
Without proper training, your German Shepherd will end up learning bad behaviors. They could jump at or try to bite your visitors.
Or they could resort to excessive barking when they want something.
But all these can be prevented through training. According to AKC, continuous training will help your German Shepherd to become a well-mannered adult.
They can begin with obedience training, which includes the following:
- Crate training.
- Leash training.
- Basic commands.
All of these are doable by a novice owner like you. But if you need help, then enroll your dog in training classes.
Note: Seek help when you need it to avoid your dog from developing aggressive behavior.
#13: Give your German Shepherd a job
German Shepherds were originally bred as herding animals. They worked to herd sheep most of the day.
As a breed belonging in the working dog group, they are happy having a job. This desire to have a job is strong in German Shepherds. It is in their genes.
So it’s vital that they have things to do at home. They are actually quite useful around the house. You’ll be surprised by how many chores they can learn to do. They can:
- Help clean up toys.
- Load the dishwasher.
- Help wipe the windows.
- Switch lights on and off.
- Put the toilet seat down.
- Sweep the floor and mop.
- Tuck their human sibling to sleep.
- Unload and load the dryer and washer.
Here’s 2-year-old Baron doing all those things:
What makes German Shepherds capable of doing those chores is their being highly trainable. They are eager to please their owners and want to learn.
Your German Shepherd can also do those things and more. But it’s going to require your help in training them.
#14: They are prone to certain diseases
German Shepherds are prone to a lot of health problems.
That’s why I recommended going to a reputable breeder. They can help ensure that the puppy you get is not affected by these health conditions.
These conditions include:
- Eye diseases.
- Hip dysplasia.
- Elbow dysplasia.
- Pituitary dwarfism.
- Canine Degenerative Myelopathy (DM).
This is not a complete list. But this research noted that there were more than 50 diseases that could afflict German Shepherds.
#15: They need socialization
Like humans, dogs benefit a lot from socialization throughout their life.
Socialization is a vital part of a German Shepherd’s obedience training. It helps them eliminate bad behaviors such as jumping and barking.
This research agrees with the importance of socialization. The researchers believe that socialization from an early life helps puppies become well-adjusted adults.
In addition, German Shepherds display few bad behaviors. They are also able to create a lasting relationship with their owners.
Based on this research, socialization must begin as early as possible and continue into adulthood.
As a German Shepherd owner, you have a very important responsibility:
Expose your dog to people, animals, and experiences in a controlled and pleasant way.