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Are German Shepherds Good First Dogs? Here’s What To Know

Last Updated: December 30, 2023

German Shepherds hold a special place in my heart. As a first-time dog owner, you might be drawn to these noble creatures, yet hesitant. The question looms: are German Shepherds too challenging for a novice?

German Shepherds are good dogs for first-time owners as they are easy to train, intelligent, loyal, and protective. However, they need a lot of exercise, shed a lot, and don’t like to be left alone for long periods, so ensure this breed fits your lifestyle.

In this blog, we’ll delve into the heart of this query: Are German Shepherds good first dogs and an ideal choice for those embarking on their journey into dog ownership for the first time?

But wait!

If you’re a frequent visitor to my blog, you’re likely familiar with Willow, my beloved German Shepherd, and my very first foray into dog ownership.

Our journey together has been nothing short of wonderful, though not without its fair share of learning curves!

Through this blog, I aim to share the valuable lessons gleaned from my experiences, offering insights and guidance to help you sidestep some of the missteps I encountered.

Let’s begin!

German Shepherd looking down at a river.
My first dog – Willow.

What Makes a Good First Dog?

Any dog can be your first dog. There is no such thing as a bad dog, as it usually comes down to poor training and socialization by the owner right from puppyhood.

Some breeds are easier for first-time dog owners, while others require a little more time and patience while training.

It really does all depend on you and whether the breed is suited to your lifestyle.

For example, suppose you are inactive and live in an apartment. In that case, a toy dog such as a chihuahua will be more suitable than if you were looking for a loyal and protective dog that requires a lot of exercise, such as the German Shepherd!

You must be able to provide your dog with all his exercise needs, play, and care, as this will prevent any future behavior problems, such as destructive chewing.

So, what makes a good first dog, anyway? Well, the best breeds for good first dogs are those considered easy to train, highly intelligent, get along well with other dogs and people, are loyal and protective, and have good general health.

Puppy German Shepherd

Easy to Train

You shouldn’t expect your new puppy to come fully trained (and house-trained), but you want a dog that’s pretty easy to train once you bring him home.

All dogs require considerable time and effort to train, but some breeds are more willing to learn new things than others.

The German Shepherd is considered highly intelligent and easy to train. You only need to look at the history of the GSD, which was intentionally bred for herding sheep and other livestock.

This was a skill that required not only intelligence but concentration, stamina, and decision-making.

You can train the German Shepherd breed to perform almost any task. Due to their high trainability, obedience, and strength, they are used as police, military, search and rescue, and service dogs.

Learn More About The German Shepherd In This Video…

Excellent with People and Other Dogs

You’ll spend the most time with your dog, but you also want to ensure he’s well-behaved around other people and dogs.

Early socialization is, therefore, essential. A dog that’s protective of you is great, but a dog that’s friendly and welcoming in the right situation is even better!

German Shepherds are friendly towards strangers as long as they sense your approval first.

My GSD is extremely protective; however, she is well trained, and once she knows I’m okay with the stranger visiting the house, she completely relaxes and will show affection to the newcomer.

German Shepherds are also good with kids – but as long as they have been properly socialized. They are particularly good with children they have grown up with due to their loyal and protective nature.

If you have a baby or are planning a family, read my article on the compatibility of German Shepherds and babies here.

Minimal Health Issues

The last thing you want to worry about as a first-time dog owner is constant visits to the vet and spending a ton of money on treatments and medication, especially if you don’t have a good pet insurance policy, which I would always recommend.

All breeds have some health issues, but you might want to lean toward a breed with overall good general health, at least until they age.

The German Shepherd is generally a fit and healthy breed, although they occasionally suffer from a sensitive stomach. You shouldn’t worry, though, as most of these stomach issues, such as mild sickness and diarrhea, can be harmless.

Due to poor breeding practices, German Shepherds are also prone to specific genetic health problems, such as hip dysplasia.

Therefore, choosing a reputable breeder is essential, as well as avoiding commercial dog breeding facilities such as puppy farms.

If you do decide on a German Shepherd for your first dog, check out our complete buyer’s guide on how to buy a GSD, as this has a ton of information to help you on your way.

A GSD chilling in a yard.
My German Shepherd Willow

Are German Shepherds Good For First-Time Owners?

Now that you know what you should be looking for in the ideal good first dog, we’re going to spend some time going over the major characteristics and traits of the average German Shepherd.

These are all important things to consider when deciding if this breed will be a good first dog for you.

Keep in mind that not all of these characteristics will be considered positive.

However, they will definitely allow you to understand what you should expect when you buy or adopt a German Shepherd and determine whether or not you think you can handle a German Shepherd for your first dog.

Okay, so let’s get right into the things to know…

1. They require a ton of grooming

You’ll have to at least do a quick brushing daily when you own a German Shepherd. In addition to shedding year-round, they “blow their coat” in the fall and spring.

That means you’ll have a whole lot of grooming to do when your dog’s undercoat begins to shed for around two weeks. Don’t worry, though, as you can find some top tips on reducing German Shepherd shedding to help you with this.

A GSD being de-shedded with a grooming tool.
Willow is being de-shedded.

2. They’re extremely loyal and protective

German Shepherds have a great personality, especially regarding their loyalty and protective nature.

Once you build that initial loving relationship with your new German Shepherd, you can be sure he’ll always have your back and protect you from an intruder or an approaching stranger.

Therefore, it is no surprise that German Shepherds are good family dogs.

If you are wondering why the German Shepherd is so loyal and protective, you only need to remember that he was originally bred for herding sheep and livestock.

It’s in his genes to serve and obey, hence another reason why he is used as a police dog.

3. They could be aggressive toward other dogs

There’s no doubt that German Shepherds are loyal, but sometimes they may become too aggressive towards other dogs.

If not trained and socialized properly, there’s always a possibility that your German Shepherd will become aggressive toward other people or dogs when he’s fearful or anxious.

Training and socializing your German Shepherd puppy is an effective way to make him calm.

It’s also important not to separate him from his mother or littermates too early. Puppies should not be removed from their mother until they are at least eight weeks old as they learn so much during this time, particularly when not to annoy their mother too much!

The puppies are still learning their bite inhibition, and if this isn’t mastered, it’s one reason they may continue to bite as they haven’t learned acceptable social behavior.

To learn more about how to discipline a German Shepherd for biting, check out this helpful post.

Once you have brought your puppy home, as soon as you can start taking him out, it’s crucial to continue his socialization around other dogs and people.

German Shepherd guarding her yard

4. They’re great watchdogs

This goes back to the idea of the German Shepherd being loyal to his own and attempting to protect his new family. German Shepherds are known for their strong guarding instincts.

Once he understands what’s considered his property and is trained to alert his family of possible dangerous situations, he can become a great watchdog.

This does require a lot of training that you might not be up for as a first-time dog owner, so make sure you have enough time to devote to your dog.

German Shepherds make good guard dogs and are often used in the security industry and for personal family protection. They are always naturally alert, are extremely brave, and have a strong defense instinct.

5. They can live up to 13 years

When it comes to your first dog, you want one that’ll live a long and happy life without major health issues.

As long as you properly exercise and feed your German Shepherd, you’re looking at an average lifespan of anywhere between 9 and 13 years!

But never underestimate the importance of nutrition, as high-quality food is essential for your dog’s overall health and longevity.

6. They can be pretty easy to train

Training a dog is never easy, but it does help when you own a dog that’s considered highly intelligent, like the German Shepherd! 

As long as you’re willing to remain consistent with your training and reinforce good behavior, training your German Shepherd won’t be too difficult.

A German Shepherd with her balls.
Training is easy…when there are balls!

7. They’re more prone to hip dysplasia

All breeds come with their health issues. The German Shepherd happens to be prone to hip dysplasia.

This is a painful hereditary condition of the hip due to the ball and socket joint being too loose or not developing correctly. It can lead to permanent osteoarthritis.

Certain types of exercise, too much or even too little exercise, improper nutrition, and obesity can aggravate this genetic condition, so it’s important to properly care for your German Shepherd.

You can reduce the risk in the first instance by finding a responsible breeder and choosing a puppy whose parents have been screened for hip dysplasia and, therefore, have healthy hips.

There are various schemes to assess hip traits. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) health testing can help breeders determine the condition of their dog’s hips.

A similar scheme operating in the UK is the British Veterinary Association hip dysplasia scheme.

When choosing my breeder, one of the first things I checked was the hip scores of the parents and that they were both UK Kennel Club registered.

Below are photos of my German Shepherd’s parents with their Kennel Club names. I took these photos during my first meeting with the breeder. My dog’s Kennel Club registered name is “Vonziu’s Willow.”

Vonziu's Baron Vom Bostinov
“Vonziu’s Willow’s” Father (Sire)
“Vonziu’s Baron Vom Bostinov.”
Vonziu's Money Grabbers
“Vonziu’s Willow’s” Mother (Dam)
“Vonziu’s Money Grabbers.”

Some treatment options can reduce the symptoms in less severe cases of hip dysplasia. These include joint supplements, such as glucosamine and anti-inflammatory medications.

As always, make sure to check with your vet first before giving your GSD any supplements.

It’s also important to ensure your German Shepherd has a good bed or crate pad to sleep on.

They need an orthopedic bed specifically suited for large breeds that provide extra support for their joints. This is especially important from puppyhood as your dog may not develop arthritis or joint issues until he is much older.

You can check out my German Shepherd bed recommendations here.

8. They’re a little needy

You desperately want to spend time with your dog right now, but the German Shepherd tends to take it to the extreme, and they can become quite clingy, even following you to the bathroom!

When they feel as if they’re not getting enough attention from their family members, they tend to do whatever it takes to get that attention from you, as found in a recent study.

During this study, researchers believe German Shepherds are one of the breeds that have become needier due to breeders attempting to make the dogs more affectionate as pets.

The thing is, owners are often also to blame for this clingy behavior, especially if they are constantly petting, cuddling, and praising their German Shepherd!

Another thing to consider is that German Shepherds don’t like to spend long periods alone and may suffer from separation anxiety if left for too long.

My German Shepherd is never left alone for longer than 4 hours, and she is always exercised before I leave the house.

9. They need a lot of daily exercise

German Shepherds are the perfect fit for anyone with an active lifestyle who wants to take their dog with them on their adventures.

Adult German Shepherds require a ton of exercise, a minimum of two hours per day, to eliminate their pent-up energy and prevent behavioral problems.

This exercise should include walking but also running off-lead in a safe area. They also need playtime for mental stimulation and ongoing training.

Remember, puppies must gently build up to this amount of exercise to prevent harm to their fast-growing joints and bones.

As a general rule, aim to exercise your puppy for five minutes per month of age, twice a day. (e.g., for a three-month-old puppy, he will need 15 minutes twice daily).


Are German Shepherds Suited For Apartments?

German Shepherds aren’t ideal for apartments due to space constraints and their sizes. GSDs require ample space to walk around, and they’re quite big compared to other breeds. Due to their loud barking noises, there’s a potential for neighbors to raise objections in apartments.

Instead, you can consider crossbreeds such as mini German Shepherds or smaller German Shepherd mixes.

Are German Shepherds Okay With Kids?

German Shepherds are good with kids over time. However, as a first-time owner, you should train your dog and assess its temperament. This breed is perfect for experienced owners and adults compared to kids.

Training a GSD takes time but is great to help the breed mingle with kids faster and understand the family over time.

Final Thoughts

While German Shepherds are wonderful dogs with many admirable traits, they may not be the ideal choice for every first-time dog owner.

They demand significant daily exercise, require consistent training and socialization to prevent behavioral issues, and need regular grooming.

Before deciding on a German Shepherd, ensure their needs align with your lifestyle so your new furry friend becomes a perfect addition to your home.

Sharon Waddington
Sharon Waddington is the founder of World of Dogz. With over 30 years of experience working with dogs, this former Police Officer has seen it all. But it’s her trusty German Shepherd, Willow, who steals the show as the inspiration behind this website. As Sharon’s constant companion Willow has played a pivotal role in shaping her passion for dogs. Recently, Sharon has become deeply passionate about the plight of rescue dogs and is an active advocate for dog rescue, striving to make a difference in the lives of dogs in need.

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