German Shepherd – Facts, Training, Feeding, Grooming, & Health

How to train, feed, groom, and health of a German Shepherd Dog - Featured Image

German Shepherds are fiercely loyal and obedient and can be trained to protect people and properties. Their ancestors were actually sheepherders and they’re pretty good at herding children too.

Basically, German Shepherds are the ultimate family pet! They’re protective, gentle and extremely energetic dogs.

Although a backyard is the best living condition for a German Shepherd, they can adjust to an apartment lifestyle as well.

Now, hold your horses!

I know you want to go get a German Shepherd right away. But before bringing one home, you should know how to care for it.

So, keep reading to find out whether you can take responsibility for a German Shepherd and keep up with all its needs. 

German Shepherd Food & Nutrition

German Shepherd dog feeding guide

A German Shepherd requires a diet that is high in protein and healthy fats. In fact, it needs around 22% protein and 5 – 8% fat in its daily meals.

Generally, you should be feeding your German Shepherd two small meals a day.

Some human foods can be extremely toxic for your dog and should be avoided at all costs. Some of these common toxic foods include:

  • Coffee
  • Chocolate
  • Avocados
  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Grapes
  • Raisins

You can feed your German Shepherd both commercial and natural meals. But you’ve got to be very careful about the nutritional content.

Commercial Food 

When buying commercial food, look at the ingredients. High-quality foods will always have animal meat listed as the first three ingredients. Also look out for useless fillers such as grains and flours as they lead to obesity.

Commercial food may be of two types – dry kibble or wet canned food. While both have their advantages and disadvantages, it’s best to give your German Shepherd a mixed diet of both.

  • Dry Kibble

Dry kibble is more convenient for us humans and gives your dog better oral hygiene and chewing practice.

But since it is high in carbohydrate content and low on water, dry kibble alone is not the ideal diet for your German Shepherd.

  • Wet canned food

Wet canned food has 80% water content which ensures that your German Shepherd will stay hydrated. It is also easier to digest and has more protein and fats than carbohydrates.

However, it’s not the most convenient and leads to plaque build up on your dog’s teeth. Also, canned food can’t be left out in the open for more than two hours.

Home Food

In this type of diet, there’s no processed food. It consists of proteins, vitamins, fats, and carbohydrates, sourced from the ingredients in your fridge.

50 – 70% of this diet should be low-fat meat that is either cooked or raw. It would be the best for your dog if the meat is baked or boiled. You could also serve up cooked fish like salmon and sardines.  

German Shepherds also need a small amount of liver in their diet as well.

Steamed leafy vegetables are a favorite dish for this breed but you shouldn’t feed this in large amounts. It’s better to keep them as treats.

Staying Hydrated

Bigger dogs have more difficulty staying cool which is why you’ll see them panting a lot.

It is extremely important for your German Shepherd to have easy access to water so it can cool itself down and stay hydrated.

In fact, an 80 pound German Shepherd will need around 40 to 80 ounces of water every day.

Use a specific bowl for water and fill it up, leaving it out for your dog to drink. Make sure the bowl isn’t too big though, and fill it up as soon as it gets empty.

It’s best for your dog to drink water in small amounts throughout the day. On the days your dog eats dry kibble or does a lot of exercises, or if it is exceptionally hot, you should ensure that it drinks more water. 

German Shepherd Grooming

How to groom a German Shepherd dog

German Shepherds are in no way high maintenance dogs. However, they still need a bit of grooming from time to time.

1. Bath Time 

German Shepherds have coats that release natural oils which keeps their skin naturally healthy. Bathing every day would strip their skin of these essential oils which is why they don’t really need frequent baths.

Washing your German Shepherd once or twice a year and no more than once every four or five months is the general rule.

During these baths, you should never use human products. Always stick to special dog shampoo and conditioner.

Also, make sure the water is warm so that your German Shepherd can be comfortable. Create a calming environment and give it toys to play with during the bath.

If you’re scared of your German Shepherd bolting out the door, you can always use a leash to hold on to.

2. Hair Care

German Shepherds shed their undercoats in spring and fall, over a one to two week period.

You’ll know if this ‘blowing coat’ period has started when you see clumps of hair falling out.

This is also the time you have to do the most brushing to remove any loose hair. Daily brushing with a pin or slicker brush is recommended during these messy times.

For the rest of the year, you should be brushing your German Shepherd several times a week using a rake.

3. Dental Care

German Shepherds need dental care just like us humans. You should be brushing his teeth several times a week with a toothpaste and toothbrush designed for canines.

In fact, if possible, daily brushing is even better.

Introduce your dog to brushing gradually, first getting it used to the taste of the toothpaste. In the first few days you’ll need to use your fingers, and later on, move to a brush.

There are also things like dental chewables available on the market to make maintaining your dog’s oral hygiene easier.

4. Nail Clipping

German Shepherds usually have short nails, so they don’t need to be trimmed as often as other dogs.

However, their nails are black so when the trimming needs to be done, it is a little difficult to identify the ‘quick’ where all the veins are.

To avoid nipping veins, cut your German Shepherd’s nails in small pieces every day, and take your time.

5. Ear Cleaning

German Shepherds have deep ears that can accumulate dirt so you have to clean them regularly.

Never use Q-tips or alcohol for cleaning their ears. Use cotton balls and dip them in baby oil to gently clean out the dirt. 

German Shepherd Exercise Needs 

Why do you need to bring your German Shepherd to Exercise

German Shepherds are a very physically active dog breed. These large dogs are always bubbling with energy and need at least one or two hours of daily exercise.

Along with physical exercise, they also need to be mentally stimulated.

What kind of Activities?

The best form of physical exercise for your German Shepherd is daily walking, running, hiking and even swimming and cycling.

Games like tracking, which involves laying out a scent your dog needs to follow, or hide and seek, are good examples of mentally stimulating activities.

Playing fetch with your dog using frisbees and balls or simply letting them run around in an open backyard will also keep them entertained and healthy.

What to Look Out For

You’ve got to be very observant of your dog during these exercises.

If your German Shepherd is lagging behind or lies down suddenly, you’re probably over-exercising.

But if your dog is getting a little on the obese side or displaying hyperactive and naughty behavior like barking, digging and climbing fences, it’s definitely time to up the exercise routine.

Remember, a physically and mentally active dog is always going to be well behaved and healthy. 

German Shepherd Training

How to train a German Shepherd dog

German Shepherds are quite an easy breed to train. They’re actually used in the police force and as guard dogs because of their excellent discipline and obedience.

However, to get your German Shepherd to listen, you’ve got to establish that you are the leader.

1. Teaching the Basics

You’ve got to start training your dog with simple commands like ‘sit’, ‘stay’ and ‘heel’. Only after mastering these should you move on to more complex tricks and commands

This will take time but with patience, your German Shepherd will be the most obedient dog you can imagine.

Always encourage your dog with healthy treats, toys, and praises. Positive reinforcement should be an immediate response. If you do it later, your dog won’t really understand why you are happy with it.

Each training session should be about 20 minutes long and if you train for longer, you should be giving your German Shepherd plenty of breaks.

Clicker training is also an option to explore. Clicker training involves associating a ‘click’ noise with a high-end treat, which your dog will recognize as an encouragement, every time it follows your commands.

2. Dealing with Food Aggression 

German Shepherds can be quite protective of their food. You might hear a lot of growling and barking if your dog sees people when it is eating.

You need to reassure your dog that you aren’t a threat. The best way to do this is by adding food to his bowl while he is eating.

Start off by pouring a small amount and praising your dog if it eats from the bowl. Gradually add more and soon your dog will realize that you can be trusted.

Also, try to turn these feeding sessions into training sessions as well. When your dog comes to you for food, don’t pour it into a bowl.

Take a dish of kibble in your hands and give your dog individual pieces after it obeys a command. For example, ask your dog to ‘sit’ and if it does so, give it a piece of food.

3. Crate Training

First of all, you’ll need a crate that is just the right size. Getting a bigger crate may be tempting, but this will encourage your dog to do its bathroom activities in there as well.

The crate will be your dog’s den, so it has to be comfortable with soft bedding. Keeping treats and toys inside the crate will also attract your dog and encourage it to explore inside.

The Process

When your dog first enters the crate, don’t close the door. Keep it open so that he has the option to get out if he wants to.

Once your dog is used to the crate, start shutting the door, but for no longer than 10 minutes at a time.

Don’t open the door even if your German Shepherd barks. Try speaking to him in soft tones and distract him with toys. When you do let your dog out after the recommended time, give him a treat.

After a few days of this, increase crate time to 20 minutes and walk out of the room. Keep repeating this process and increase crate time gradually.

Soon you’ll be able to keep your German Shepherd in its crate when you’re out without any hassle.

4. Potty Training

Potty training should be done at the same time as crate training. First of all, assign a specific area for your dog’s bathroom business.

Keep taking your dog to the potty area at scheduled times, based on when he needs to go to the bathroom. This is most likely after meals, playtime, long periods of crate time and before sleeping.

Needless to say, puppies need more bathroom visits than older dogs. In fact, you should be taking puppies out for hourly bathroom visits.

German Shepherds have very predictable digestive tracts, so maintaining a potty schedule won’t be that difficult.

They are also very intelligent dogs and will get the hang of the schedule soon enough.

So, after two weeks of taking your dog out yourself, let your German Shepherd handle its own potty schedule. Treat them when doing it right.

5. Training to Guard

German Shepherds can be trained to protect your property from unwanted intruders.

Arrange for some people unknown to your dog to act as if they are trying to break into your house.

As soon as your German Shepherd barks, the person should look at your dog and run away. While this is happening, give your dog a treat.

Make sure your dog doesn’t chase the running intruder.

Also, establish the boundaries of your house by walking your German Shepherd around your property.

Whenever your dog barks at people outside this boundary, make him stop. You can do this by saying ‘stop’ in a firm voice.

It is very important to teach your German Shepherd to stop barking, or it will bark continuously at everybody it encounters.

You can do this by asking your dog to bark and quiet down alternatively, giving it treats when it follows your command.

6. Leash Training

First of all, you’ll need to get a leash of an appropriate size that is neither too tight nor too loose. You should always opt for ones that are shorter and allow you to navigate your dog.

Always walk your dog by your side. You can train your dog to do this by holding up treats in your hand to the side of your body.

When your dog follows your instructions and walks properly for a while, make sure to praise him.

If your German Shepherd starts pulling, stop moving or change directions, while saying ‘no’ firmly. This will give him the idea that you are in control.

7. Teaching Social Skills

German Shepherds can be quite protective over the people they love. This is why it is extremely important to socialize them from an early age, even if they are meant to be guard dogs.

Regularly touch your dog’s face, paws, and coat. This makes it used to the human touch.

Also, take your German Shepherd out for regular walks and visits to the park. This will expose it to different people, dogs, sounds and objects. This way your dog won’t be startled by new things. 

German Shepherd Health Issues

Health issues of a German Shepherd Dog

German Shepherds have an average lifespan of nine to thirteen years. Although they are a healthy breed, they are prone to a number of health conditions. Some of them include:

1. Hip and Elbow Dysplasia 

Dysplasia is a condition where your dog’s hip and elbow joints don’t develop properly. It is very common in large breed dogs like German Shepherds.

A dog with Hip Dysplasia will have a distinct ‘bunny hop’ movement when running, while a dog with Elbow Dysplasia won’t be able to flex its elbow joints when walking.

A common sign of Dysplasia is a reduction in your dog’s normal activity. He will no longer be interested in walks, exercise or climbing stairs, as it will be too painful.

In such cases, pain medication will make your German Shepherd’s life a lot easier. However, this is not a long-term solution as it has side effects.

The best thing you can do is watch your German Shepherd’s weight and give it a balanced diet with nutritional supplements.

Depending on the severity of the Dysplasia, your vet might also recommend surgery.

2. Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency

Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI) is a disorder where your dog’s body does not produce the necessary digestive enzymes and so your dog does not get enough nutrients.

So even if your dog is eating normally, it can become severely malnutritioned. This can be life-threatening, but also manageable with treatment.

German Shepherds are more prone to EPI than other dog breeds. Treatment for this disease is lifelong and involves adding extracts of dried cow pancreas to his diet. Supplements of vitamin E and B12 will also be necessary.

With proper treatment and care, your German Shepherd will still have a long and healthy life.

3. Panosteitis 

This condition, also known as ‘wandering lameness’ or ‘Pano’ is a sudden but short-term lameness that attacks dogs aged between five and  14 months. This is frequently seen in German Shepherds, but they almost always grow out of it.

However, this disease can be extremely painful and limit movement. Treatment involves pain medication and anti-inflammatory drugs.

Exercise should be limited at these times and a proper balanced diet should be maintained. 

Bottom Line 

Now that you’ve come to the end of the article, we hope that you have learned all about handling a German Shepherd.

These dogs are excellent pets for any family as they are intelligent, friendly and loyal. They’re also easy to train and require very little grooming.

German Shepherds are also adaptable to any climate and lifestyle. However, you’ll need to give it the proper amount of time, care and love to bloom into its true personality.

So here’s hoping you can open up your heart and home to this active and fun-loving dog breed known as the German Shepherd!

German Shepherd Mix Breeds:

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