By Melanie Benware
Dog Trainer, Holiday Barn Pet Resorts
There are countless blogs and articles about raising a German Shepherd, living with one or training one. I am hoping that if you are reading this you have done your research and know that German Shepherds are smart, active, protective and require a lot of time, training and exercise. As a trainer that has shared her home with German Shepherds, I thought I would share a little about my feelings on them. Yes, Shepherds require structure, time, energy and training but they are worth everything you put into them. They are not without fault, however. Over breeding has resulted in a rise in health and temperament issues. Many German Shepherds (GSD) have weak hind ends, with bad hips and joints. Some can be over protective and require a strong owner with time and commitment to their intensity.
Do your Research!
Do your research when looking for a breeder! I prefer a breeder that does not breed the female until she is at least 2 years of age or older and the male 3 years or older. By waiting, the shepherds are fully grown and their temperaments have fully developed. This can allow the breeder to breed for health AND temperament. Hip and elbow testing is a must! It is also nice to see that the breeder is active with their dogs. Are they just for breeding or are they fit and active? I steer most pet owners away from breeders that do protection work with their dogs. The average pet owner cannot handle the temperament, training and intensity of a working GSD.
Adopting a German Shepherd is a great idea. Virginia German Shepherd Rescue is always looking for loving homes for abandoned or surrendered GSDs, many of them in the Richmond area! The great thing about VGSR is that these dogs have been living in a foster home and their fosters will be able to give you a background about their likes and dislikes as well as what needs they have.
Not for Couch Potatoes!
Whether you buy from a breeder or adopt from a rescue, know that by having a GSD in your life, you will need to be on the ball… all the time! Most Shepherds are ready for action so they need a family with an active lifestyle. If you are going to be out and about with your GSD it is important that you socialize them properly and know your dog’s limits! Not all dogs are going to be dog friendly or kid friendly, and that is okay. It does not mean you cannot take them places but it does mean you have to be willing to protect your dog, even from himself. This means not allowing other dogs to come up and “say, hi” if you have a non-dog savvy dog, or avoiding areas that you know will be loaded with kids if your dog is not fond of children.
My young shepherd
As I write this I have a 2 year old German Shepherd lying at my feet. This is the tough year of life for the GSD. He is coming into his own, discovering his protective side and figuring out if he can push me around or not. He is also trying to figure out where he falls in line with the rest of my pack. He has been at the bottom of the pack from the day we adopted him but now that he is getting older he is trying to work his way a little higher. This is when I kick training in to high gear! We are going on extra walks, practicing our “climb” (some trainers call it “place”) and going back to basics with his commands and house manners. I am also adding in new rules to his favorite game, fetch. He is having to hold a down or a sit while I throw the ball and wait to be released. I am also having him do sits and downs after “giving” the ball up and I will do some heeling or downs from a distance, randomly throughout our game. All of these things allow me to work his brain and his body while at the same time guiding him through this teenage phase of life.
German Shepherds are not for everyone and truth be told, I never thought I would share a home with one. But, now that I have, I can’t imagine not having one around.