Exactly How Much Space Do German Shepherds Need?


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German Shepherds are one of the most loved dog breeds in the world. However, potential German Shepherd owners often wonder if they have enough space for this energetic dog. So, exactly how much space is needed for a German Shepherd?

German Shepherds need at least 4000 square feet of yard space, which allows them enough room to run and catch a ball. Although they are large-sized high-energy dogs, with lots of planning and hard work, they can still live in smaller homes or apartments as long as their daily needs are met.

If you are contemplating owning a German Shepherd and you live in a small space such as an apartment, this article will explore the daily needs of a German Shepherd in terms of their physical and mental exercise requirements.

We will also look at how to keep your German Shepherd stimulated if you live in a small space, advice on creating a routine, and crate training tips.

How Much Space is Needed for a German Shepherd?

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To learn exactly how much space German Shepherds need, read on!

Are German Shepherds Good in Small Houses?

If you do live in a small house or apartment it’s important to know that you could get a German Shepherd, however, this comes with a caveat!

German Shepherds can live in small houses or apartments. However, it will require a ton of hard work and dedication. If your dog is not exercised enough throughout the day, he will display behavior problems such as destructive chewing, excessive barking, or aggression.

Many new dog owners do not realize the amount of work, socialization, care, and training that a German Shepherd needs which sadly ends up with the dog having to be re-homed, and I for one, do not wish to see this happen.

In the United States, the smallest sized yard size is just over 4000 square feet, which is in the state of Nevada. Average yard sizes vary greatly state by state but even this smallest size yard is easily enough space for a German Shepherd, especially if you raise him to live outside.

By taking the average smallest size yard is a great way of concluding exactly how much space a German Shepherd needs. For example, 4000 square feet is an area sized 50ft x 80ft which is plenty of space for your dog to run and play.

But what if your German Shepherd is an inside dog? Most German Shepherds live inside homes as they are a very affectionate breed and like to be with their family. So, how much space do inside dogs really need?

To answer this question we need to look at how much exercise and care German Shepherds need. You will be able to see exactly what will be required and if this fits around your lifestyle before making your decision on this wonderful breed.

How Much Physical Exercise Do German Shepherds Need?

The noble German Shepherd was bred as a herding dog and typically assisted with watching sheep and other livestock. German Shepherds, therefore, need a lot of physical activity.

Without meeting their need for physical and mental stimulation, they grow bored, display destructive behavior such as chewing or digging and act out through barking or whining.

It is generally accepted that German Shepherds need at least two hours of physical activity every day, and that doesn’t mean just leash walking! 

Check out this 2-minute video on how to keep a dog happy and healthy in an apartment or smaller space. Number one on the list is to make sure your dog gets lots of exercise:

How to Keep a Dog Happy & Healthy in an Apartment or Small Space

Physical Activity Recommendations

  • Jogging and walking. The first and most well-known exercise for dogs are daily walks and jogs. German Shepherds are intelligent, strong, and athletic. Just going places together is a great way to bond with your dog.
  • Hiking. More strenuous than walking and with newer scents that aren’t on their daily route, hiking will offer plenty of physical activity for your German Shepherd. Hikes typically take more planning and are not always suitable for a quick afternoon or daily jaunt. 
  • Dog park. Consider taking your German Shepherd to a dog park! Some parks may require a muzzle or harness for larger breeds, but depending on your dog’s training and socialization, it may be worth considering wearing one anyway.
  • Classic fetch. Playing fetch in your yard or at the park will stimulate your dog’s mind and work his muscles. It’s always fun to play fetch will an intelligent and agile German Shepherd.
  • Dogstacle’ course. If you have even a small yard, you could consider setting up an obstacle course for your German Shepherd out of boxes, boards, and household items. Walk your dog through on a leash and turn it into a training tool. Here are some ideas on how to make a DIY dog obstacle course. 
  • Dog-friendly events. Hit your community news or forums for dog-friendly events to take your German Shepherd to meet other dogs, which is great for socialization. Outdoor games, 5k runs, and even lake events often are organized for dogs and owners.
  • Barn hunt. Barn hunts are organized specialty activities where your German Shepherd can run through activities in a barn. They are typically searching for something, like pet rats protected in tubes, and it’s a great sport for working their mind and body. (More on barn hunts later in the article)!
German Shepherd jumping a fence. How Much Exercise Do German Shepherds Need?

Other Physical Considerations

Since some German Shepherds are prone to having hip and joint issues, such as hip dysplasia, it’s important to consider their health before setting up a physical activity plan. Although not all German Shepherds have bad hips, there may be adjustments needed for your dog’s age and skeletal condition. 

Puppies should not be strenuously exercised, even though they are full of energy! They should also avoid stairs until they are at least 3 months old and you should help your German Shepherd puppy get in and out of vehicles.

Their skeletal system is still developing, and as they are prone to hip and joint issues, you want to protect them while they grow to avoid long, painful conditions in the future. Puppies need short bursts of exercise rather than long, hard play. 

Another consideration is that if you are feeding your puppy a diet of dry kibble, it’s important to choose a brand suitable for large breed dogs. This ensures that the food contains balanced nutrition specifically designed for large breeds, such as more protein and less calcium and phosphorous.

This controls their growth rate ensuring they don’t grow too quickly. You can find out loads more about this in my article, Do German Shepherds Need Large Breed Food?

Older German Shepherds, too, may have already developed hip dysplasia or other conditions that can limit their physical activity levels. Gentle walks with your senior German Shepherd should suffice but follow their cues if they show signs of pain or weakness. 

How Much Mental Stimulation Does a German Shepherd Need? 

German Shepherds need daily mental stimulation. They are very bright and inquisitive and proper mental stimulation is as important to their overall well-being as physical exercise. If this is lacking boredom sets in and your GSD will resort to poor behavior such as barking, whining, digging, biting, or chewing.

Luckily for dog owners, there are endless possibilities to keep them entertained. Starting when they are young, you should take your German Shepherd to a training school. This also helps with socialization and boredom. GSDs will excel in all of the types of classes available, from agility to obedience. 

Toys will be your next benefit, and there are specialty toys for larger dogs that you can buy. Some ideas are puzzle toys, interactive toys, or treat-dispensing toys.

There are even automatic ball launchers which are great if your dog loves to play fetch, and these also keep him guessing when you will launch the ball. I like the iFetch Interactive Ball Launcher from Amazon, and this model is great for large breeds. You can also use it indoors and limit the launch to just 10 feet. It’s also rechargeable.

Additionally, healthy long-lasting dog chews are a good choice. Make sure they are made for large breeds, as you don’t want your German Shepherd to damage their throat or even worse, choke. If you like to give your dog a bone make sure you check out my article, Can German Shepherds Eat Bones? Here’s What People Get Wrong!

Consistent and thoughtful mental activities for your German Shepherd will keep them happy and fulfilled in any sized home, from a yard-less apartment to a large farm. Apartment life requires other considerations, however, that we’ll get into later in the article.

How Do You Mentally Stimulate a German Shepherd?

There are many ways to mentally stimulate a German Shepherd from obedience classes, learning new tricks, agility, obstacle courses, fetch, tug-of-war, hide ‘n’ seek, dog sports, puzzle or interactive toys, automatic ball launchers, chew toys, long-lasting healthy chew treats, and bones.

Below are some examples of these:

  • Learn a new trick. German Shepherds love to learn, so why not put that knowledge to use? These dogs are very capable of learning all the tricks. 
  • Learn the names of their toys. This is a fun activity that German Shepherds can master. Name each toy, and slowly teach them each name, one at a time. You can hide a toy once you’ve said it several times and then ask them to find it. Make sure to reward them when they bring it back.
  • Work for meals. There are plenty of ways to add training and fun to the small moments every day, such as mealtimes or providing treats. There are fillable wobble balls that need to be rolled around to dispense food, such as the KONG Wobbler, or you could get your German Shepherd to go through his tricks before putting out their dinner.  
  • Puzzle toys. Puzzle toys allow your dog to use and develop problem-solving skills. There are frozen, flat, round, treat dispensing, and snuffling toys. Not all dogs will love all of the toys, so you may have a trial and error phase before finding the perfect one for your German Shepherd. 
  • School. School is good for humans, and it is also good for your German Shepherd! Types of classes include puppy and adult obedience, agility, good canine citizen, and protection training. Protection training will require a German Shepherd owner to have dedication and consistency and is a serious commitment. 
  • Service training. German Shepherds naturally want to be a part of your everyday life and live by your side. A good way to do that is to have them service trained, such as a guide or a hearing dog. This is obviously very specialized training, and there are some private trainers or agencies that offer this.
  • Therapy training. If you are dedicated to your German Shepherd training, consider getting them therapy certified. Again, this is quite specialized, but it offers many perks, as far as taking your dog places, as it opens up schools and hospitals to their list of accepted locations to visit. 
  • Chew Toys. Dogs love to chew toys such as the large variety offered by KONG from Amazon. These range from the Classic KONG toy to tires, bone-shaped toys, sticks, and balls, to name but a few. Some toys are designed to stuff with tasty treats or even peanut butter, which will keep them busy for even longer. My German Shepherd loves this tough range, and they keep her entertained for hours.
German Shepherd with KONG Chew Toys. How Much Mental Stimulation Does a German Shepherd Need?
My German Shepherd Willow with some of her KONG chew toys

How to Keep German Shepherds Stimulated That Live in Small Spaces

The biggest problem for keeping a German Shepherd in a small home or apartment is stimulation, whether physical or mental. There is no doubt, you will have to do extra work to make it work. Luckily, I have some new ideas for you to try…

To keep German Shepherds stimulated that live in small spaces or apartments, there are other useful events such as barn hunts and Schutzhund that are gaining in popularity. These allow your dog to explore more of the outdoors after being indoors for a while and are great for both mental and physical stimulation.

Barn hunts are an organized sport that utilizes a dog’s natural abilities and turns them into a fun game. First, a maze and obstacle course is built out of hay bales. Aerated tubes are hidden through the maze, and pet rats are placed in the tubes. By all accounts, the rats are safe from the dogs, and the aim is for the dogs to find the rats.

There are timed events with different divisions, and even special needs dogs can often find an event to compete in. This is a wonderful activity that will stimulate your German Shepherd, no matter how little space he lives in. The Barn Hunt Association has details of upcoming events and states the following:

“Barn Hunt provides their first true opportunity for responsible breeders to test proper working traits in their dogs. Barn Hunt is also open to any dog of any breed or mix who wishes to play the game and can fit through an 18″ wide by bale-height tall tunnel.” 

The Barn Hunt Association

Schutzhund was developed specifically for German Shepherds in the early 1900s as a breed suitability test. It was a set of difficult and demanding tests and trials to see if the dog could show the necessary traits of a working German Shepherd.

Nowadays it is a sport and its aim is to ensure the breed retains the genetic traits for tracking, obedience, and protection. If you’re looking for a fun way to use up your German Shepherd’s natural energy, consider looking into Schutzhund.

A good place to start is The United Schutzhund Clubs of America who are an organization dedicated to the GSD by hosting shows, Schutzhund trials, and breed surveys. You can search for clubs and trainers in your area.

Do German Shepherds Need A Lot of Space?

German Shepherds need a lot of space due to their large size and high exercise needs. As an example, an ideal yard size would be 50ft x 80ft which gives them enough space to comfortably run around. However, as long as you work hard and are prepared to care for a GSD, they can be just as happy in a small space.

Having said that, apartments offer unique challenges in addition to the extra work required by you. Here are some other factors to think about:

  • Some apartments do not allow large dog breeds. Buying or adopting a large dog like a German Shepherd may end in heartbreak for you both if you haven’t checked your apartment complex rules first. 
  • Additionally, since German Shepherds are so large, they will no doubt, make thumping noises on the floor when they play, jump, or run. Unless you are on the ground floor, your downstairs neighbor may not take kindly to living below a German Shepherd! It would be considerate to talk with your neighbors beforehand.
  • Ideally, the apartment should be next to a park or other green space where you can take your dog to relieve himself regularly throughout the day and before he settles for the night.
  • Boredom and barking are the other big factors. If you don’t have several hours a day to dedicate to your German Shepherd’s physical and mental needs, there is an easy solution – do not bring one to an apartment! Bored German Shepherds will bark, howl, and display poor behavior such as chewing your wooden furniture for a start.
  • If you need to leave your German Shepherd for more than a few hours every day, you must arrange to have a friend, relative or experienced dog walker/trainer stop by. Require that the visitor understands and complies with the training you’ve started to maintain consistency. Here’s my guilt-free guide on how long German Shepherds can be left alone where you can find loads more helpful ideas.
  • Keeping interesting toys and a routine will help your German Shepherd thrive even in an apartment, although it’s not an easy responsibility to have as many new dog owners have underestimated the amount of work required.

Create a Routine to Work in Any Sized Space

Because German Shepherds are so intelligent, full of energy, and strongly desire to please, keeping them to a schedule will help to keep them content.

A happy German Shepherd can be well behaved, calm, yet naturally inquisitive. A routine will, therefore, allow them to know what to expect, and when, meaning they are more likely to patiently look forward to the next activity. This will be the same no matter the size of the space your German Shepherd has.

If you work away from home, you must start the day with a brisk walk or jog for at least 45 minutes for adult dogs, less for a puppy, depending on their age.

Incorporate training into breakfast, either with a dispenser or puzzle toy or by having them practice their tricks before food. Keep interesting toys and bones available at all times. 

Consider crate training, but never leave your German Shepherd in a crate for more than 3-4 hours per day, depending on his age. Arrange an experienced sitter, dog walker, or trainer to visit once or twice throughout your workday to entertain and exercise your dog. Alternatively, consider doggy daycare.

In the evening, incorporate more advanced exercise and training for your German Shepherd. Go to a class, obedience or agility, once a week or more. Add other special events to your roster every fortnight or month. Hit up a dog-friendly community event, or go hiking, swimming, or to some other special place.

Keeping your German Shepherd to a daily routine will require extra work, and there may be some level of experimentation involved to get a well-functioning system in place. Still, the benefits will far outweigh any negatives. A routine will help your German Shepherd thrive in any sized living space.

Crate Train Your German Shepherd

Crate training can work wonders, but you mustn’t leave your German Shepherd in a crate for more than 4 hours a day and even less for puppies. Ensure you thoroughly research types of crates, size, training methods, and recommended best practices before using one. 

German Shepherd Puppy in his Crate

Related: Best Dog Crate for German Shepherds: My Pick!

German Shepherds long to be with their owners and often feel sad, scared, depressed, and bored when left alone. A crate can help manage these emotions and keep your dog from turning to destructive or unsafe behaviors, especially in homes that don’t have a lot of space or a yard.

Here are some tips when considering crate training:

  • It is best to begin crate training young, as soon as the German Shepherd enters your home. 
  • Begin with a large enough and comfortable crate, to ensure your German Shepherd associates the crate with a positive experience. 
  • Keep interesting toys in the crate to keep him entertained. 
  • Keep the crate in one place, to help your German Shepherd feel like it is “their space.” 
  • Keep it comfortable and clean. 
  • Let your puppy out of the crate for good behavior and use treats while training. You want to build positive associations. 
  • The point of a crate is to keep your German Shepherd feeling safe while left alone and to minimize destructive behaviors so they can thrive in any sized living space.
  • Never use the crate as a punishment tool.

Other Considerations if You Live in a Small Home

There are some other considerations for you to contemplate if you live in a smaller home or apartment. Let’s take a look at these…

German Shepherds are double-coated and are known as heavy shedders as they molt all year-round. Twice a year, they will also “blow” their coat in preparation for the season ahead.

Daily grooming and vacuuming will be necessary to control the loose hairs. This is in addition to all the work required in keeping your GSD happy and healthy. It’s impossible to stop the shedding, however, there are significant ways to reduce it. Here are my 7 top tips on how to reduce shedding in German Shepherds that you will find helpful.

We have already mentioned that German Shepherds are prone to hip dysplasia. Because of this, when they are puppies, you will need to avoid stairs for the first few months.

If you live in an apartment complex be prepared to carry your puppy up and down the flights of stairs. I suppose this isn’t too bad though as it allows you to give your pup more cuddles! However, aging German Shepherds sometimes require a brace or surgery due to hip dysplasia, which is something to think about.

Final Thoughts

There are many opinions as to how much space is needed for a German Shepherd but the main point of this article is to help potential owners who live in small spaces be aware that they will need to put in a lot of extra work to keep their German Shepherd healthy and happy. 

Here are some key takeaways from the article:

  • German Shepherds need at least 4000 square feet of yard space, especially if they live outside.
  • They are large breed dogs that require lots of exercise.
  • Mental stimulation is just as important as physical exercise.
  • You need to ensure you can devote enough time and energy to cater for your German Shepherd’s needs.
  • There are numerous ways to keep German Shepherds stimulated that live in small spaces such as an apartment.
  • Having a daily routine will make things easier.
  • Crate training your German Shepherd is recommended.
  • Some apartments are designed specifically for pets in mind and will have handy dog parks or runs.

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Sharon Waddington

I am the owner of World of Dogz. I have a female German Shepherd named Willow, and I've worked with dogs for almost 30 years. I love spending time with her, and I enjoy sharing my knowledge and expertise of all things dogs on this site!

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