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German Shepherds as Pets: The Ultimate Guide

When the German army officer Captain Max von Stephanitz selectively bred the German Shepherd to create a working dog, he had in mind a breed that would also be perfect for military and police tasks, rescue work, and guarding.

The outcome was a herding dog with outstanding traits like intelligence, loyalty, dedication, and tenacity. But how did the German Shepherd end up being the second most popular pet dog in American homes, and what are they really like as pets? 

Evidence shows that German Shepherds are fantastic pets. As family companions, pets are meant to be loving, loyal, smart, and even courageous when the need to protect their family arises. The German Shepherd possesses these and many other positive traits, giving them plenty of credit as a pet.

This article will give you a comprehensive account of the traits that make the German Shepherd Dog (GSD) a good pet. I’ll also help you gauge if you are a good fit for a German Shepherd pet to help you decide if this breed is right for you.

German Shepherds as Pets

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German Shepherd as Pets: Do They Make the Cut?

We often describe dogs as man’s best friend. But this friendship did not always exist. Our four-legged furry friends were once part of the feral wolves’ family until we decided to domesticate them and bring them into our homes. 

Recent studies suggest that dogs may have been domesticated as early as 35,000 years ago. Since then, they have lived with us as hounds, drovers, sled dogs, guards and watchdogs, and most especially close friends.

German Shepherds have become famous as good pets, even though some criticize this move. The critics will retain that the present-day German Shepherd has lost the glory of the original working dog as intended by von Stephanitz. For the same reason, they have become susceptible to specific health conditions such as hip and elbow dysplasia.

Despite the modern-day controversy, many characteristics make German Shepherds good pets.

Let’s now take a look at the most prominent pet qualities of a German Shepherd. But first, here is a brief overview of the breed:

German ShepherdBreed Characteristics
AKC GroupHerding
OriginGermany
TypeCompanion / Showing / Working
Breed SizeMedium-large
Height24-26 inches (Males)
22-24 inches (Females)
Weight66-88 pounds (Males)
49-71 pounds (Females)
TemperamentIntelligent, Independent, Faithful, High-energy, Courageous, Protective, Strong, Confident, Aloof, Devoted, Versatile, Territorial, Watchful, Curious
AppearanceAgile, Muscular, Large wedge-shaped head, Cuddly, Bushy Tail, Pointy Ears, Well-balanced, Long muzzle
Lifespan10-13 years
Health IssuesBloat (GDV), Hip Dysplasia, Degenerative Myelopathy, Osteoarthritis
Coat ColorsBlack & Tan, Black & Silver, Black & Red, Black, Bi-color, White (rare), Sable. Other rare colors are Blue, Liver, and Brindle.
Coat TypeDouble-coated, Short haired,
Medium (Plush) coat, or Long-haired
SheddingHeavy
GroomingModerate
Easy to TrainYes
Exercise NeedsMedium-high
HypoallergenicNo
Child FriendlyYes
Pet FriendlyYes
Good for new ownersYes
CostAverage of $2000 from Reputable Breeder

German Shepherds Are Good Family Dogs

What would a pet dog be if it did not have a knack for the family? It would probably display behavior that reflects its ancestral wolf nature. Not so the German Shepherd! This dog breed is known for its unwavering devotion to its family. Once they are part of the family through proper socialization and training, they become very affectionate and caring.  

Over the years dogs have developed specific skills allowing them to communicate with humans. Your German Shepherd will show affection by lying down with his muzzle on your feet, cuddling, hugging, licking your face, or looking straight into your eyes. 

This last quality has been used to compare dogs to humans. Just as humans, dogs gaze into their owner’s eyes to express an emotional bond. According to this study, the same love hormone, oxytocin, that is produced when humans express gaze-mediated emotions is produced in dogs when they show affection by gazing straight into their eyes. 

German Shepherds will also show affection to a member of their family through herding. While some may wonder why their GSD follows them everywhere or goes ahead of them and looks back every few minutes, this is often their way of protecting you. They will herd you and ensure you are back home safely.

To learn more on this topic, check out this article, Are German Shepherds Good Family Dogs?

Be careful though as to how much love and affection you give to your GSD as they can become overly clingy! Being highly social dogs, they don’t like to be left alone for long periods and are prone to separation anxiety. So, if you are out at work all day, you will need to enlist the help of friends, relatives, dog-sitters, dog-walkers, or take your pet to doggy daycare.

Learn All About German Shepherds in This Video…

All about the German Shepherd - History, care & training

German Shepherds Are Intelligent and, Hence, Easy to Train

To be part of a family, dogs need to learn certain behaviors as per the expectation of their new owner. For the owner, this means investing precious time to train their pet in these behaviors. If your dog is not smart, you will need more time to get him to learn simple commands and skills.

Instead, an intelligent dog will save you the trouble by picking up these skills and commands quickly.

German Shepherds are smart and fall into the category of intelligent dogs. In a book titled The Intelligence of Dogs written by Dr. Stanley Coren of the psychology department at the University of British Columbia, the German Shepherd is ranked 3rd among the brightest dogs. 

This means that your GSD will understand new commands with less than five repetitions and obey them without requiring you to repeat them 95% of the time. You would want a pet dog who saves your time by learning commands and skills fast, wouldn’t you?

German Shepherds Are Good Loyal Guard Pets

Guarding and loyalty are inseparable traits when it comes to dogs. A loyal dog will not just be a forever friend, but he also knows when to alert you about an intruder with a warning bark. These dogs also know when to go the extra mile and attack to protect you from a dangerous situation. 

German Shepherd Guard Dog

Because they have traits of unconditional loyalty, bravery, and alertness, German Shepherds are considered to be among the best guard dogs. Nonetheless, they can also overdo their family protection role by being aggressive towards strangers. This means that they need proper socialization training to refrain from attacking when there’s no need to.

There are many cases of German Shepherds who have shown undivided loyalty and put their lives on the line to protect their family members. One such case occurred in Washington in February of 2018 when a GSD known as Rex took three bullets to protect Javier, his 16-year-old family member. That is the ultimate sign of love and loyalty from your pet.

You can read loads more on German Shepherds as guard dogs in this article.

German Shepherds Are Good With Kids

If you had to choose between owning a German Shepherd and the safety of your kids, you would certainly choose your kids. However, it seems that you don’t need to make that choice because you can have both! 

German Shepherds have natural patience with children and can be particularly fond of them like most other breeds. They are excellent playmates and will put up with a child’s touch even in places where dogs don’t like to be petted, like the head, ears, and tail. It’s probably the gentle hand of children and their unthreatening small size.

A German Shepherd who’s good with children needs early socialization. A child, too, needs to be socialized to avoid annoying the dog! A study analyzing facial dog bites among children ranked German Shepherds fourth among the attacking breeds after mixed breed dogs, Labrador retrievers, and Rottweilers in that order.

But the study also reported that most attacks were provoked, confirming the need to socialize both dogs and kids.

If you want a German Shepherd as a good family pet with children, you might be better choosing a female rather than a male. Research in the UK revealed that male German Shepherds are more likely to show aggression than females.

However, deciding whether to choose a male or female German Shepherd depends on your experience, lifestyle, and purpose of the dog.

Do you want to know more about GSDs and kids? Check out this detailed post, 5 Reasons Why German Shepherds Are Good With Kids.

German Shepherds Have a Heart for Service

The kind nature of the German Shepherd combined with their physical strength explains why this breed is often engaged as a working dog, whether that be a guide, service, or therapy dog. GSDs have shown time and again that they are good reliable pets when it comes to supporting persons with visual impairment and other mental and physical challenges.

It’s no wonder a German Shepherd by the name Buddy was the first guide dog. He was trained as a guide for Morris Frank, the co-founder of The Seeing Eye, the first guide-dog school in the US. 

A German Shepherd Dog dubbed Atlas the Wonderdog is also the hero in the story of a US Marine veteran who had to deal with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after sustaining a brain injury while working in Iraq. Atlas was trained to detect emotional distress in his owner and redirect it to positive energy. His owner considers him his lifesaver and a positive presence for his children. 

Atlas is also the inspiration behind the Battle Buddy Foundation. This charity foundation trains dogs in mobility and psychiatric service of wounded veterans to reintegrate back into society.

German Shepherds Are Good With Other Pets

German Shepherds are generally good with other pets. There is, however, a condition to that. Introducing your GSD to other pets during puppyhood helps to build a better relationship among the pets.

German Shepherd, Rottweiler and Bernese Mountain Dog

Introducing them later can lead to fights and animal jealousy. Yes, animals mark their territory and have shown signs of overt aggressive behavior when other pets receive attention from their owners. 

If you are introducing a German Shepherd to another pet, such as a cat, you will do better to make them get along by ensuring that they are both in a neutral position; none of them claims the home as their territory. Having them join the family at the same time would be even better.

When introducing a GSD to another dog in the family, opposite sexes get along better. So, if your new German Shepherd is a male, he will get along better with a female. That does not mean that two same-sex German Shepherds cannot get along. In all cases, proper training makes all the difference.

German Shepherds Are Obedient and Love to Please

Due to their original breeding, German Shepherd Dogs love taking orders and obeying. So if you are lucky enough to have one as a pet in your home, you don’t have to worry about having to repeat orders. As long as they are properly trained and know the command, they will readily intervene or stop whatever activity you want them to cease doing. 

German Shepherds have their foot well ahead due to their high intelligence when it comes to obeying orders. Being ranked 3rd for intelligence means they can learn 250 words compared to 165 words for an average dog. That further implies that they can understand most of what you ask of them, and given that they love to please, they will promptly obey.

German Shepherds Are Highly Adaptable

If you love to travel or move house often, you sure want a dog that will easily adapt to change. The German Shepherd is versatile and amazingly good at adapting to different situations, whether it is about cold and hot climates, living in an apartment or a ranch house, or being part of a small or large family. 

The German Shepherd is good at adapting to climatic changes due to their natural shedding schedules. But in other behavioral aspects, their adaptability is linked to their intelligence. Dr. Stanley Coren proposes that dogs have three dimensions of intelligence: instinctive, adaptive, and working and obedience intelligence. 

Breeds that rank high in adaptive intelligence like the German Shepherd learn to do a lot for themselves. They benefit from interacting with a new environment and can solve problems in such an environment. This implies that your GSD will adapt quickly if you move to a new place or if the family structure changes, for example, the arrival of a new baby. 

Conclusively, if we were to evaluate the German Shepherd on these “good pet” qualities, we will certainly give them a mark that confirms they make the cut to being excellent pets.

However, owning a German Shepherd is not only about the pet, but it’s also about the owner, you!

How you relate and live with this breed can significantly determine if your dog is a good pet or not. So, are you a good fit for a German Shepherd pet? Find out in the next section…

Are You a Good Fit for a German Shepherd Pet? 7 Questions to Ask

When it comes to dog pets, we could easily apply the saying, “like the parent like the child,” or should we say, “like the owner like the pet.” Let’s anticipate what this section is about with an example that explains this saying. 

Imagine that you go out to a park and meet a highly obese German Shepherd. What is the first thought that comes to your mind? Is it that the dog does not take care of himself or that the owner does not take good care of the dog? No doubt, you’ll blame the owner. 

This suggests that your dog turns out to be the pet you allow him to be. So, to know if you are a good fit for a German Shepherd, here are seven questions to ask yourself.

1. Why Do You Want to Own a German Shepherd?

There are several reasons people own dogs. They include the following: 

  • Dogs offer pleasant companionship. 
  • Dogs attract attention in social contexts, which leads to socializing with other people. 
  • Dogs are attractive, lovely to own and walk around with.
  • Dogs give status (you are an animal ambassador or have a tough bodyguard).
  • Taking care of dogs is a hobby that some people enjoy.

Despite the single or multiple reasons for owning a dog, you must match the breed’s characteristics that you are contemplating. Suppose you want a companion for your daily morning and evening one-hour vigorous run, and you go for a Pomeranian. In that case, you’ll be disappointed if it finds amusement under some shrub while you expect it to run beside you! Go for the high-energy German Shepherd instead.

2. Do I Have the Time for Training and Daily Exercise?

As alluded to in the first question, German Shepherds are high-energy dogs that require at least two hours of exercise daily. If this is lacking, they may channel their energy elsewhere and engage in destructive behavior such as chewing, digging, barking, or howling.

Besides, the GSD is an intelligent breed, which means it needs to stay mentally stimulated with old and new training tricks and skills.

German Shepherd in the air catching a ball

Because of its active nature, the German Shepherd would be misplaced with an owner that loves the couch for the better part of the day. Moreover, the lack of exercise in any dog breed is unhealthy and is associated with obesity, among other health issues.

With this, it is suggested that obese dogs tend to be owned by obese owners. A study in Spain found that 78% of obese/overweight owners had obese/overweight dogs.

Interestingly, regular exercise with your German Shepherd can increase your happiness and tighten the bond between you and your dog. This study found that walking with your dog augments your sense of happiness, and more so if you perceive that the pet is also enjoying the walk.

So, if you love walking, you qualify as a good German Shepherd owner, and it will create mutual benefits for you both.

3. Do I Have the Right Personality and Disposition for a German Shepherd?

Dogs don’t just reflect the owner in their physical presence, as indicated by my earlier example of the obese German Shepherd in the park. Instead, they also mirror their owner in personality. A study done in 2019 showed that the personality of dogs reveals that of their owner.

The pet’s personality also changes over the years in a trend similar to the human’s character. 

If you are vocal, you may want to go for a vocal dog like the Siberian Husky. But if you are calm, you may prefer the calm and quiet Bulldog. Many tests can help you judge the best breed for you – though you may need to weigh up how reliable they are.

The American Kennel Club Dog Breed Selector may be your best bet. It is brief and covers different aspects that are important in choosing the dog breed for you.

The AKC and other national kennel clubs like the UK Kennel Club and the Australia Kennel Club also give comprehensive profiles of the breeds they have registered.

You can read about the breed standard, nutrition and exercise requirements, grooming, training, and health on such profiles. With that knowledge, you can make a more informed choice about the breed you are interested in.

4. How Much Am I Willing to Spend on My German Shepherd?

German Shepherds are neither cheap to buy nor to own. You can pay around $2000 for a healthy, well-bred puppy. Prices vary considerably depending on the breeder, location, litter size, and bloodlines. The best show line German Shepherds can sell for thousands more.

You’ll then need to budget for costs like food, training, health screening, vet bills, registration, initial equipment, and other utilities and emergencies. My German Shepherd costs around $1500 per year. However, I do feed her high-quality food as I believe this is so important for the health and longevity of your pet.

If you choose to, you might pay less to own a GSD by purchasing from a commercial breeder. But that might also mean more costs in other expenses such as vet bills if you end up with a poorly bred dog with underlying health issues.

Remember, these unscrupulous breeders care more about their profits than the health of their dogs. You are far better off going for registered breeders so you can be sure of the quality and sound health of your German Shepherd. 

Going by the above estimates, you are a good fit for the German Shepherd if you are willing to pay around $3500 for the initial purchase and set-up.

You can read about other options of buying and owning a German Shepherd in my articles:

5. Do I Mind Dog Fur on My Couch and Clothes?

If you are looking for a good companion pet, it is evident that your dog will live in your home and not in a kennel or doghouse outside. Now, that means having to put up with a good amount of fur around the house! This is because the German Shepherd is a heavy shedder. 

If you’ve set your heart on a German Shepherd, but you dislike the sight of fur on your couch, you can acquire an exclusive bed for your pet. You’ll also need to train your dog to stay away from your couch and stick to his bed!  

There are many dog beds you can buy. I prefer an orthopedic dog bed and have the Big Barker Orthopedic Bed. It’s clinically proven to reduce and prevent arthritis, hip dysplasia, or other mobility issues that large breeds are prone to developing. It also comes with a fantastic ten year-guarantee.

You can get the Big Barker from Amazon; however, you won’t qualify for the 10-year warranty. You can read more about my review of the Big Barker here.

Alternatively, you can control your German Shepherds shedding with daily grooming. Brushing your GSD’s hair daily in the heavy shedding seasons (fall and spring) and at least twice a week during the other months will keep the spread of fur in your home under control.

Read More: How To Reduce German Shepherd Shedding.

6. Am I Ready to Stick With My German Shepherd “For Better for Worse?”

Pet lovers know that acquiring a dog is a commitment to take care of their companion for life. People who abandon their pets for health or financial reasons submit them to extreme physical and emotional suffering.

Such animals have to rely on the mercy of dog shelters or individual well-wishers who can rescue them from the street. No dog lover wants to see this happen.

As indicated earlier, German Shepherds can be costly to own, and you also need to be aware of some breed-related illnesses. Even though German Shepherds are generally healthy dogs, these are some conditions that they tend to be susceptible to:

To determine if you should own a German Shepherd on this aspect, be willing to purchase your pet from a reliable breeder who screens his stock for these health conditions. Also, assess your willingness to invest in your dog’s regular vet visits.

It’s essential to submit your GSD to the health tests recommended by the German Shepherd Dog Club of America, such as hip and elbow evaluation and the temperament test.

7. Am I Aware That My German Shepherd Will Be Around for About a Decade?

Did you know that small dogs live longer than larger dogs? Scientists propose that this is so because larger breeds are more susceptible to age-related diseases. Some scientists have even suggested that every 4.4lb (2kg) of body mass reduces a dog’s lifespan by a month.

The German Shepherd is among larger breeds that can live for about a decade. Although the AKC indicates a life expectancy of 7-10 years for this breed, others will give it 13 years.

So if you want a pet that lives that long, then you are a good fit. But that will also imply taking good care of your pet in terms of exercise and diet and ensuring a healthy life, as earlier indicated.

As can be guessed from the foregoing, having a German Shepherd is about owning a fantastic pet for you and having a caring owner for the dog. It is a contract of mutual companionship where each gives and receives.

By the way, if you are thinking about buying a product or toy for your dog, check out my favorite gear below. Also, check out the 10-year warranty on the dog bed!

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Final Thoughts

German Shepherds are great pets endowed with qualities of unwavering love, loyalty, bravery, and intelligence, among others.

As pets, they have shown that they can be good family dogs, good with children and other pets, and will guard you with their lives. They make excellent service dogs, and they are highly adaptable and versatile. The German Shepherd is highly intelligent, hence easy to train. He will readily obey you as he loves to please you and thrives on having a job to do.

To get the most out of the impressive German Shepherd, you also have to be a great owner and be ready to invest a reasonable amount of time and money to care for your dog’s needs.

You will need to find time to socialize, train, and exercise your pet daily for him to have a pleasant personality. If you can do this, your German Shepherd will be worth all your effort and you won’t regret choosing this gorgeous breed.

If you are still undecided whether this breed is for you, you can also consider the miniature German Shepherd. Whatever you decide, good luck!

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