If you are thinking about getting a German Shepherd as a first-time dog owner, you’ll need to know whether they are good first dogs. Ideally, you want a dog that’s easy to train, easy to care for, and is sociable. So, are German Shepherds good first dogs?
German Shepherds are good first dogs as they are easy to train, obedient, intelligent, friendly, affectionate, loyal, and good with kids. They make an excellent dog for first-time owners, whether families or single owners. However, they need a lot of exercise, shed a lot, and don’t like to be left alone.
To understand whether a German Shepherd would be a good first dog for you and fit around your lifestyle, we’ll look at the ideal qualities of a good first dog as this can help you determine what you’re looking for.
It is crucial that the German Shepherd’s characteristics and traits match your lifestyle as no one wants to see a dog returned.
You may wonder if you should avoid the German Shepherd breed if you are a novice owner. However, my German Shepherd is my first dog, and we have gotten along just great. There were some challenges along the way, but I’ll help you not make some of my mistakes. After all, that is the purpose of this website.
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So, let’s now dive right in to find out if the German Shepherd is a good first dog for YOU and how you can avoid some of the early challenges that I experienced.
- What Makes a Good First Dog?
- Things to Think About
- 1. They require a ton of grooming
- 2. They’re extremely loyal and protective
- 3. They could be aggressive toward other dogs
- 4. They’re great watchdogs
- 5. They can live up to 13 years
- 6. They can be pretty easy to train
- 7. They’re more prone to hip dysplasia
- 8. They’re a little needy
- 9. They need a lot of daily exercise
- Final Thoughts
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 whilst training.
It really does all depend on you and whether the breed is suited to your lifestyle. For example, if you are inactive and live in an apartment, then 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!
So, what makes a good first dog, anyway? Well, the best breeds for good first dogs are those that are considered easy to train, highly intelligent, get along well with other dogs and people, are loyal and protective, and have good general health.
Easy to Train
You shouldn’t expect your brand 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 a considerable amount of time and effort to train, but some breeds are much 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, who was intentionally bred for herding sheep and other livestock. This was a skill that required not only intelligence but concentration, stamina, and decision-making.
The German Shepherd breed can be trained to perform almost any task. Due to their high trainability, obedience, and strength, they are used in the police, military, search and rescue dogs, and service dogs.
Good with People and Dogs
You’ll be the one spending the most amount of time with your dog, but you also want to make sure that he’s well-behaved around other people and dogs.
Early socialization is therefore extremely important. 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 – again, 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.
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Minimal Health Issues
The last thing you want to worry about as a first-time dog owner is constant visits to the vets 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 that has overall good general health, at least until they get older.
The German Shepherd is generally a fit and healthy breed, although they are known to occasionally suffer from a sensitive stomach. You shouldn’t worry, though, as most of these stomach issues can be harmless such as mild sickness and diarrhea.
Due to poor breeding practices, German Shepherds are also prone to certain genetic health problems, such as hip dysplasia. It’s therefore important to choose a reputable breeder and avoid 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.
Things to Think About
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 you’re 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.
Learn All About The GSD In This Video…
Okay, so let’s get right into the 9 things to know…
1. They require a ton of grooming
You’ll have to at least do a quick brushing on a daily basis when you own a German Shepherd. In addition to shedding year-round, they also “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 how to reduce German Shepherd shedding to help you with this.
You will need to get a good grooming tool. I use the FURminator undercoat de-shedding tool from Amazon. This is particularly suited to German Shepherds as it easily gets through the topcoat and safely removes the loose undercoat hair.
Don’t waste money on cheaper brushes, as this tool does the job. I take my GSD on the field when I “FURminate” her, and anyone passing would think I’d been shearing a sheep!
2. They’re extremely loyal and protective
German Shepherds have a great personality, especially when it comes to their loyalty and protective nature. Once you build that initial loving relationship with your new German Shepherd, you can be sure that he’ll always have your back and protect you in the case of an intruder or an approaching stranger.
Therefore, it comes as 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 8-weeks old as they learn so much during this time, in particular 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 why they may continue to bite as they haven’t learned acceptable social behavior. To find out tons 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 your pup out, it’s crucial to continue his socialization around other dogs and people.
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 and are extremely brave, having a strong defense instinct.
5. They can live up to 13 years
When it comes to your first dog, you want a dog that’ll live a long and happy life without any 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!
Never underestimate the importance of nutrition, as high-quality food is essential for your dog’s overall health and longevity. Here’s my giant guide where you can learn loads more on the best diet for German Shepherds, including nutrition, types of food, and what they can and can’t eat.
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 is!
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 of a task.
If you want to learn about the right way to train your German Shepherd, I highly recommend Zak George’s Dog Training YouTube channel. Zak’s methodology and ethical manner of teaching are so helpful that he’s become somewhat of a “celebrity trainer.” And while popularity is not always an indicator of quality, it certainly is in this instance.
7. They’re more prone to hip dysplasia
All breeds come with their own health issues. The German Shepherd just 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.
The risk can be reduced 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.”
There are some treatment options to 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 well exercised before I leave the house. If your dog is prone to separation anxiety, don’t worry as I have a great article; German Shepherd Separation Anxiety: Training, Help & Treatment.
9. They need a lot of daily exercise
German Shepherds are the perfect fit for anyone with an active lifestyle that 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 get rid of their pent-up energy and prevent behavioral problems.
This exercise should not only include walks but also running off-lead in a safe area. They also need playtime for mental stimulation and ongoing training.
Remember, puppies will need to gently build up to this amount of exercise to prevent harm to their fast-growing joints and bones. As a general rule, aim for exercising 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 per day).
So, you’ve decided on getting a dog and are considering whether German Shepherds are a good first dog. German Shepherds are obviously great dogs with a multitude of positive qualities and characteristics, but they aren’t always the best fit for any first-time dog owner. Here’s a recap of why!
- They require a lot of daily physical activity, around 2 hours a day (this can be a huge time commitment).
- Oftentimes, your German Shepherd will own you (not the other way around)!
- Failure to socialize or train them properly and consistently might lead to inappropriate or even aggressive behaviors.
- You need lots of time to brush and groom them regularly.
Most people have the best intentions when they bring a new puppy into their home. Make sure if you choose a German Shepherd, he will be the perfect fit for your lifestyle.
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