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Getting a German Shepherd: 7 Things to Know Before Buying

Last Updated: February 6, 2024

Has your child worn you out by demanding a German Shepherd over and over? Or is a German Shepherd going to be your first dog? Whether you’re single, a couple, or a parent, you should learn what to know before getting a German Shepherd.

In this article, we will go over everything to help you decide if you should get a German Shepherd, including what it means:

  • A German Shepherd is one of the smartest dogs. 
  • GSDs can be excellent guard dogs.
  • A German Shepherd is loyal to the whole family.
  • GSDs are easy to train and are quick learners.
  • They come in many different colors and coat patterns.
  • German Shepherds are big, energetic, and need lots of exercise.
  • They require a healthy diet consisting of protein, fats, and carbs.
A German Shepherd playing with its ball. Getting a German Shepherd.
My GSD Willow says, “Come and play ball!”

What to Know Before Getting a German Shepherd

So, you’re wondering if getting a German Shepherd is worth it. I don’t mean financially, but should you get a German Shepherd based on their temperament and characteristics? Let’s look at what you should know.

Before getting a German Shepherd, you should know about the dog’s intelligence, trainability, size, and diet requirements. You should also find out precisely how much exercise and grooming they need. Above all, you must know how the dog will behave with your friends and family.

Now let’s explore what each means for you as a potential owner. Let’s get started!

1. German Shepherds are Intelligent

According to canine psychologist Stanley Coren, German Shepherds are considered the third smartest dog breed in his book The Intelligence of Dogs.

They have the incredible ability to process cause and effect. Humans use cause and effect to communicate appropriate behavior to dogs. The canine breeds that pick up on the action and reward sequence quicker can be trained better in a shorter period. 

GSDs are used in police and military programs, private guard positions, assistance, search and rescue, and movie star roles because their intelligence and versatility allow them to be used for such a wide range of duties. This brings up the question of the extent of their comprehension.

German Shepherds are smart. They can understand tone, word differences, and even the mood of their owners. They are also intuitive about how they should respond to improve your state. The more number-crunching types rarely discuss the emotional intelligence dimension, but the consensus remains that a dog is as smart as a 2-year-old human

“My anecdotal experience dictates that a German Shepherd is far more emotionally mature than a toddler.”

World of Dogz

But emotional intelligence is hard to quantify. If you’re interested in assessing the individual intelligence of your dog, you can try the tests I have described in my article on how smart German Shepherds are. Having a smart dog sounds nice, but it is far from an obligate positive. 

Sometimes it can be frustrating to have an intelligent dog, especially if he gets good at hiding things or dodging medicine and stuff he does not like. But for the most part, a German Shepherd’s intelligence is a plus.

Key takeaways:

  • A German Shepherd can understand words, tone, and emotional state. 
  • You can train your German Shepherd to entertain a wide range of commands.
  • German Shepherds understand cause and effect better than most other canine breeds.

Learn More About The German Shepherd In This Video…

2. German Shepherds are Good Guard Dogs

German Shepherds’ intelligence, alongside their protective instincts, makes them reliable at guarding livestock and any private or business property. They are also used to guard prisons and in military settings.

Guarding comes naturally to them due to their original purpose of herding and protecting sheep. These dogs are harder to trick, especially when equipped with the right experiential training. 

The fierce bond that a German Shepherd will form with their owner or handler means they will gladly lay down their life for you. As a former police officer, I’ve seen countless times how they are the first to act when a criminal becomes aggressive.

Check out this recent case of a police dog hero who took a bullet to protect his handler and, thankfully, survived. You will find countless similar true stories online.

To make sure your German Shepherd knows how to play the perfect guard in the case of breaking and entering, you’ll need to pre-familiarize him with the scenario. My article on GSDs as guard dogs covers how you can train a family German Shepherd to be an excellent guard.

While GSDs aren’t ideal hunting dogs, they can assist you in occasional game hunting because their sense of smell and ability to lock in can make it easy for them to pick up on a scent and follow the trail. 

However, you must give the dog time to learn trail-chasing without getting distracted. German Shepherds usually don’t get sidetracked as easily as other breeds, reinforcing that they are the perfect domestic guard dogs.

Key takeaways:

  • German Shepherds have been used as guards in many professional settings. 
  • They become guard dogs for the family quite naturally.
  • If you are looking for a guarding breed, the GSD will lay down their life for you.
A Black German Shepherd Guarding. Getting a German Shepherd.

3. German Shepherds Are Loyal to the Whole Family

The easiest place to have a German Shepherd as a guard is at home, as they are naturally protective of their habitat. But even beyond guarding, when you start appreciating your dog for his fondness for your family members, he will pick up on his affection being the cause of your approval. 

A German Shepherd will spend every day doubling down on his fondness and friendship with other members of your family, not motivated by treats but motivated by your subtle cues of approval like your smile.

Therefore, they become loyal to the entire family unit. You can read more about German Shepherd loyalty here.

The more they are appreciated for their secondary loyalty by their primary caretaker, the deeper their more intense their loyalty grows. A German Shepherd becomes so loyal to the family unit that the primary and secondary loyalties are merely semantic markers.

The dog seems equally loyal to multiple household members to an outside observer.

Key takeaways:

  • German Shepherds are loyal first to their primary caretaker than to whoever the caretaker seems to care about. 
  • The primary caregiver must visibly appreciate the dog for showing affection to the rest of the family. This makes the dog more loyal to everyone.
  • German Shepherds can have multiple masters, so having more than one person give commands is a great idea to reinforce the status hierarchy in the household.

4. GSDs are Easy to Train and Learn Quickly

Loyalty and family appreciation aren’t the only things German Shepherds learn quickly. They are intelligent enough to tell words apart. They can even learn to react differently to the same word uttered in a different tone. Their easy trainability makes them ideal working dogs and companions.

Needless to say, it makes your life easier if you take a step-by-step approach and train your German Shepherd to sit, fetch, lie down, or bark. However, ease should never be a motivating factor in your dog purchase because raising them is anything but easy. You have to put in the time.

Training should start early, as soon as you get your pup, usually around the 8-week mark. This is when they are more receptive to learning; however, you can still train older dogs due to their intelligence. Here’s how to train an 8-week-old German Shepherd.

You also have to take time out for daily walks and other types of exercise, brush his coat regularly, and make sure he gets enough social exposure to be friendly with humans and other pets.

Key takeaways:

  • German Shepherds learn quickly compared to other dog breeds but still require socialization. 
  • You need to spend at least one hour training your puppy every day.
  • They aren’t easy to raise but are easy to love.
Puppy German Shepherd sitting, 9 weeks old. Getting a German Shepherd.

5. German Shepherds Have Many Different Colors and Coat Patterns

Your idea of German Shepherds might be informed by what you have seen in movies or in your neighborhood. Given that most GSDs are black, tan, and/or red, your visual perception of the dog might feature a combination of those colors. 

In reality, they can have a wide range of colors and patterns, from sable and white to the rare liver, blue, or brindle. I documented 21 German Shepherd colors and patterns, with pictures, in this post.

Knowing what kind of dog you want can determine your long-term contentment with your decision to get this breed. Here are my recommendations.

Get an Open Coat German Shepherd for Less Brushing 

The open coat variety is simply a German Shepherd with not much undercoat and will fall in the long-haired German Shepherd type. Such a dog has the same temperament, activity, and diet demands as standard varieties, but you don’t need to brush him as often. You can read more on the difference between long-haired and short-haired GSDs here.

Get a Show Line German Shepherd for a Well Balanced Temperament 

Show line German Shepherds are among the most expensive GSDs to get. These dogs feature richer colors, have lower activity requirements, and have a more well-balanced and calmer temperament. Their greatest perk is that they can enter dog shows and contests hosted by the show circuit.

Many owners will choose a show line as a pet but have no intention of entering conformation events. My German Shepherd is a show line; however, I chose her solely for her temperament and looks. Here’s where you can find all the differences between working lines and show lines.

Opt for a Working Line GSD for Budget and Improved Health 

Let’s be honest; private citizens rarely need work from a dog these days unless they want a professional guard or protection dog. Still, getting a working-line GSD puppy helps if you want a more athletic dog that doesn’t cost as much. Remember, working line dogs have a higher exercise demand, though. 

Working lines are also less prone to hip dysplasia and arthritis as breeders have bred out most of these diseases from the working bloodlines. Of course, they can still occur, but they are far less frequent.

Get a Silver German Shepherd to Stand Out 

A silver German Shepherd with a reverse mask pattern looks like a wolf, which is pretty cool. Nonetheless, silver isn’t the only rare color you can opt for. The post mentioned earlier covers different coat colors you can get if you want a dog that stands out.

6. German Shepherds are Big, Energetic, and Need Lots of Exercise

No matter the type of German Shepherd you choose, he will be quite energetic and decent-sized. All varieties require a lot of exercise and can keep you company on your walks, hikes, and jogging sessions. 

Your dog will require 1-2 hours of activity a day, with a variation of intensity. You won’t get away with just leash walking, as GSDs need mental stimulation too. They, therefore, need plenty of off-leash running, games of fetch, Frisbee, and agility.

As a puppy, you’ll need to tailor exercise to age and gradually scale up to protect growing joints. Here’s how to exercise a German Shepherd puppy, keeping it fun at the same time.

I also recommend interactive games such as the Outward Hound Dog Brick Treat Puzzle Toy from Amazon. I love this toy as it keeps your dog entertained and determined to find the treats. It is approved by many dog owners and has over 60,000 positive reviews.

German Shepherds’ big size makes them good dogs for personal protection, but their big hearts make them ideal for companionship.

Having an energetic dog can keep you youthful and fit, and German Shepherds definitely keep their owners healthy. That said, bringing home a puppy and then shying away from your dog walking responsibilities can lead to a disappointed and aggressive adult German Shepherd.

Key takeaways:

  • German Shepherd size should be considered in the context of your living space. They can live in an apartment as long as you tend to their needs which requires a lot more work. 
  • German Shepherds have infectious energy and can motivate you to exercise and walk regularly. 
  • If you do not walk your energetic dog frequently, he will develop behavior problems, such as destructive chewing.
German Shepherd. Getting a German Shepherd.

7. German Shepherds Need a Healthy Diet

This isn’t a logical extension of German Shepherds exercising a lot. Nor is this a prescription regarding how you must feed your pup. Although if you want to know more, I have the perfect guide on the best diet for German Shepherds, which includes all their nutritional requirements, and what they can and can’t eat.  

So, what’s the deal?

Some German Shepherds love to eat, whereas others are fussy eaters. This means you have the burden of making sure your dog doesn’t become too skinny, get fat, or bloat, which is a life-threatening condition.

Usually, opting for smaller multiple meals spaced throughout the day can help. It also helps to get the right type of dog food for your best friend so he doesn’t overconsume or starve on the number of calories he needs.

According to the National Academies’ science-based guide on a dog’s nutritional needs, an active adult German Shepherd requires between 1,750 and 2,100 calories every day, depending on its weight. Each meal should have enough calories to cover its respective portion of the total intake.

You cannot decrease calories below this, citing less exercise. But you can raise the calories if your doggo engages in more activity. 

Key takeaways:

  • Some German Shepherds love to eat, whereas others are prone to a sensitive stomach and are fussier. 
  • You can prevent canine obesity by carefully measuring calories through the serving size listed on the dog food package. 
  • German Shepherds require at least two meals a day. Breaking up meals can prevent bloating. 
  • Show lines require less food and exercise compared to working lines, and males require more food and activity than females.

Should You Get a German Shepherd? (Your Responsibilities)

While knowing all about German Shepherds before getting one is an appropriate point of research, you also need to know more about what your role will be like as a doggy parent.

You should only get a German Shepherd if you are an active person, have lots of time to train and socialize a young puppy, and can dedicate time for regular brushing and de-shedding. Ongoing training is also a must, and you should be a calm yet confident person and be firm yet fair.

Here is what you’ll commit to doing when you get a German Shepherd.

You Need to Take Them on Daily Walks

Basic German Shepherd care involves lots of exercise. They require a minimum of one to two hours of walking and other varied exercise every single day. This means you or a family member has to accept this responsibility. If you do not fulfill this, your puppy will have pent-up energy that can lead to destructive behavior.

You Need to Help Them Socialize

German Shepherds need early socialization not because it is a breed requirement but because we need powerful dogs to like humans. A major part of the domestication of dogs from wolves was through incentivizing social behavior and discouraging asocial behavior.

When we stray from this principle, we turn perfectly domesticated dogs into potential threats as they don’t know how to behave around people or other animals or when experiencing a new environment.

If you fail to socialize him and do not arrange playdates with other doggos or invite people over, your GSD will become a partially functional canine and show fear aggression.  

He will treat guests and intruders the same and will start overriding your commands out of fear and insecurity. My article on socializing a German Shepherd covers the steps to properly orient your pooch in our social norms.

You Will Need to Brush Your German Shepherd

German Shepherds are not hypoallergenic. In fact, they are notorious shedders. They shed sporadically so that you cannot truly prevent the resultant mess. Nothing will stop a German Shepherd’s hair fall because the fur is supposed to be constantly renewed.

However, there are some steps you can take to reduce German Shepherd shedding that you can learn from in this article.

This includes brushing your doggo a couple of times per week and more during the heavy shedding seasons of fall and spring when they shed their undercoat. It’s wise to invest in a de-shedding brush such as the FURminator undercoat de-shedding tool from Amazon.

This is the grooming tool that I use, as it does a great job of removing all the loose undercoat without damaging the dog’s guard coat hairs. I’ve tried many other brushes over the years but haven’t experienced any as good as the FURminator.

You Will Have to Show Dominance

Not everyone likes to play alpha, but between your dog and you, you have to be the one who claims the dominant position. Even if it feels uncomfortable and you want a more egalitarian dynamic, you have to be the boss. 

People who have a hard time saying “no” struggle with this, while those too eager to dominate end up being too aggressive and breaking their dog’s trust. A German Shepherd shouldn’t give in to your dominance because he is afraid you will hurt him. He should submit to you naturally because of his loyalty and intense bond.

My post on how to show dominance over a German Shepherd will be helpful in this regard.

Final Thoughts

German Shepherds are among the most popular dog breeds in America and worldwide, and the most common mode of having a dog is as a family pet. The synthesis of these two facts is that German Shepherds are great family dogs.

But before you get any breed, you have to know how trainable the dog is, what kind of exercise and grooming he needs, and how well he gets along with other dogs and people.

This post helps you find answers to these questions. If you’d like to dig even deeper before deciding whether getting a German Shepherd is worth it, check out this article, Are German Shepherds Bad? This delves into all the disadvantages of the breed.

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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