Some choose dog breeds based on looks and how cute they are, but the truth is – you need to know what you are getting yourself into, and what you can do to give your big puppy the healthy and long life he or she deserves. German Shepherds are no exception, and just like with most things, knowledge is power, and it is in everyone’s best interest to learn what you can do to keep your German Shepherd on top of his (or her) game for many years to come! Step one is knowing the breed and how to properly care for it, so let’s dive into the pool of GSD knowledge, and have a look at a few facts that can help you on your way to becoming the ideal German Shepherd dog owner.
Buy from a Responsible Breeder
One of the keystones in keeping a German Shepherd healthy starts already before your pup is born, and it is something even the best dog food for German Shepherds can’t fix. It is a breed with many known heredity diseases, illnesses, and physical conditions; making it important to buy your puppy from a professional GSD breeder, where only healthy dogs are being used as parent animals.
This may seem irrelevant when you see that adorable German Shepherd puppy advertised on Craigslist, because hey – it’s so much cheaper than a puppy from an established breeder, and it looks the same! It may look the same as a GSD with a pedigree if you are lucky, but what you see isn’t always what you get. So-called ‘backyard breeders’ is a big problem in the United States and abroad; where the main motivation is a monetary gain rather than love for the breed, which results in weak animals prone to illness and disease.
Backyard breeders simply do not have the knowledge and experience professional breeders have, something that means your “cheap” puppy might become a very frequent visitor at the veterinary hospital – making your bargain deal quite expensive in the end. While buying a German Shepherd puppy from a licensed breeder is no guarantee – it gives you much higher odds of being able to raise a happy and healthy dog.
Nutrition & Healthy Food
The importance of a healthy diet is not specific to the German Shepherd, but due to its size and intelligence – the downsides of feeding low-quality food might be more evident than in some other dog breeds. They need a precise balance of protein, carbs, fiber and more; something you won’t find in most grocery store dog food brands, which are usually packed with fillers and artificial ingredients. Such a diet will leave your dog at risk for infections, allergies, poor coat quality, and even early death, as they simply do not provide your pup with enough nutrients.
Do proper research before deciding on a food brand; read the ingredient’s list, look for online dog food reviews, ask for recommendations at your local pet store (but be aware that not all pet store employees are trained in dog nutrition) and do a google search for accredited dog food comparison websites, to find the best product for your GSD.
Most of the protein content should come from meat, so always check that real meat and/or meat meal (chicken meal, turkey meal, lamb meal etc. etc.) is listed among the first ingredients in the list of contents. This cannot be stretched enough, as you will quickly notice that low-quality brands list mostly grains and other fillers, such as corn, rather than any real source of nutrients.
Feeding the Right Amount
An overweight dog is not a happy nor a healthy dog, and while the downsides might not be noticed right away – time is usually there to tell the tale. Excess weight puts stress on bones and joints; increasing the risk of painful diseases such as arthritis, especially in large dogs that are already heavy to begin with. By keeping your German Shepherd thin (note that thin does not equal skinny) and fit, you help him/her live a pain-free life, and you can achieve this by feeding the correct amount at each meal time.
When deciding how much to feed your dog, you need to take the dog’s age, weight and energy level into consideration, and compare this to the feeding instructions on the back of the bag or can. Never go over or under the suggested quantities unless instructed by a veterinarian, or if you notice that your dog seems to gain- or lose weight, as these are indicators of the feeding amount needing an adjustment.
Socialization needs to be seen to when the German Shepherd is young, as this helps prevent behavioral problems like dog- and people aggression. A well-adjusted dog is easier to take along for outings and to make part of your everyday routine, which in turn leads to both a healthier and happier dog. Poorly socialized dogs are more likely to feel stress and anxiety, which are both factors known to reduce both life quality and life length.
To socialize a dog, the best thing to do is to bring it out to see the world when it is a puppy. Start as soon as your pup has all his shots (your veterinarian can help you with this), by letting your dog meet and play with other dogs – preferably of different sizes and breeds – under owner supervision. Let them explore and learn how to play properly, and only interfere if you perceive they might be in danger.
Another great way to socialize a dog is to take it with you to a busy street downtown, and just sit on a bench and watch the world go by. It teaches your pup to be patient and to stay calm even when there are things going on, which is important for the big and strong German Shepherd. You also want to make sure that you expose your dog to different people so that they learn to trust humans and interact with them in an appropriate way. They may be easy to handle when they are small, but an adult GSD needs to be socialized, or the two of you will have trouble further down the line.
Mental & Physical Exercise
Taking your German Shepherd out for walks and exercise is something you cannot avoid, or you will end up with a large dog looking for alternative ways to entertain himself – possibly by digging up your yard, barking, chewing on your new shoes and knocking things over just for fun. The German Shepherd is a high-energy dog, something that means they need more than just a daily walk around the block. Go out for long walks together, try hiking or why not teach your pup to run next to your bike for more intense workouts?
Good exercise helps your dog keep a healthy weight, but it also stimulates their brains to make them more content, calm and relaxed when home. Imagine being locked inside a house 24/7 – does it sound like fun? Your GSD doesn’t think so either, so get out and move around, and use it as an excuse for fresh air and exercise for yourself too.
Mental exercise is also something you can provide your German Shepherd with to help them function stay mentally healthy, as it aids in tiring them out more than only a walk can. Give your big dog a bone to chew on, an activity toy (we recommend a filled KONG), let him/her try a dog food puzzle toy or teach your dog to play hide-and-seek!
Regular Vet Check-Ups
The sooner you catch an illness or a physical condition – the more likely it is that it will be treatable, so make it a habit to bring your German Shepherd to the vet at least once a year for a check-up, to make sure everything is in order. You should also make sure that your dog is up to date on his shots, and possibly consider putting your four-legged friend on monthly heartworm prevention if your geographical area requires it. The best way to learn how to prevent health issues is by keeping an open communication with your veterinarian.
Bone & Joint Protection
Many dog owners associate bone and joint disease with senior dogs, but the truth is that it is often genetic, and symptoms can start presenting themselves both in young and older dogs. German Shepherds are prone to joint problems, so prevention is crucial when wanting to care properly for your pup.
Since the GSD is a large breed dog, they mature more slowly than other smaller breeds, which includes the bones and joints. A young German Shepherd should be kept from jumping up and down on tall surfaces, to avoid causing irreparable damage as their bones are still soft, and once they grow older it is a good idea to start them on a supplement with glucosamine and chondroitin to improve and maintain bone- and joint health.
Lots of Love
While you can give your dog the best food, socialize him to work well with other dogs and humans, keep him groomed and clean, take him for vet check-ups and engage in daily exercise routines – you also need to provide man’s best friend with the love and support they deserve. A German Shepherd is an extremely loyal dog breed, and they are known to stick with their humans in thick and thin. Make sure you return the favor by loving and caring for them in the most appropriate manner.