German Shepherds are easily recognizable with their majestic demeanors, sloped body profiles, and graceful gaits. They don’t just look good, though – they are also known for their stellar character traits, including courage, loyalty, and trainability.
However, as all German Shepherd owners know, these regal dogs shed…a lot. Like, a lot, a lot.
Fortunately, we’ve put together this guide to help you manage your German Shepherd’s shedding in order to keep your dog healthy and comfortable, plus maintain your sanity – no one wants to vacuum three times a day!
So, how can you stop your German Shepherd from shedding so much?
Well, German Shepherds are going to shed moderately year-round and heavily twice a year, no matter what. However, you can manage the shedding with regular brushing, a healthy diet, proper hydration, and occasional baths. Reducing stress for your German Shepherd can help minimize shedding, as well as having your dog spayed or neutered.
We’ll cover how to implement all of these shedding management techniques in just a bit, but let’s first look at the specifics of German Shepherd’s coats and why they shed so much to begin with.
What Is A German Shepherd’s Coat Like?
German Shepherds have thick, luxurious, double-layer coats. The fur you see at first glance is the coarse outer coat, which is often the signature black and tan colors.
However, the AKC outlines that German Shepherds can also be white, black, gray, blue, liver, sable, or a variety of bi-color options. These colored outer guard hairs protect your dog from cuts, sunburn, and so on.
Less obvious is their fluffy white inner coat, which is only visible when you part your German Shepherd’s fur with your hands or a brush. This coat serves as an insulator, growing in thick in the winter to keep your German Shepherd warm and then being replaced by a thinner coat in the summer to provide a natural cooling mechanism.
Historically this was critical since German Shepherds were outside much of the time herding livestock.
Their outer coat is medium to long, and can either be straight or a bit wavy. Most German Shepherds have medium length coats, but there’s actually a recessive gene that can cause longer, fluffier hair. In some cases (but not all), long-haired German Shepherds have only a single layer coat.
Although the AKC accepts the long-haired variation, it’s considered a defect – but shh, don’t tell your extra-floofy German Shepherds that. He’s perfect just the way he is!
When Do German Shepherds Shed?
German Shepherds shed their outer coat all year long and they blow their coat, or quickly and dramatically shed their inner coat, twice a year. This furry event generally occurs in the fall and spring, as your German Shepherd sheds their heavy winter inner coat to replace it with a lighter summer inner coat, and vice versa.
Hair vs. Fur
There is some debate about the difference between hair and fur as it pertains to dogs. Some differentiate that dogs with double coats like German Shepherds have fur, while dogs with single layer coats like Pitbulls and Poodles have hair.
However, as mammalogist Nancy Simmons points out, hair and fur are actually the same thing and the words can essentially be used interchangeably. Typically, the word ‘hair’ is used to describe human locks while ‘fur’ applies to animals, but at the end of the day, it’s all the same substance: keratin.
Some also maintain that when hairs stop growing at a certain length, say a German Shepherd’s outer coat which stops growing at a few inches long, then it’s fur. When the strands continue growing without an apparent maximum length, then it would be called hair.
However, I think we can easily debunk this one. Yes, the hair on your head can grow seemingly indefinitely – we’ve all seen those people with 8-foot-long hair. But, your eyebrows (hopefully) stop at about half an inch long, and you probably wouldn’t call them fur! And in fact, most hairs actually do have a genetically predetermined maximum length, even if it’s exceptionally long.
Additionally, there is a widespread misconception that dogs with “hair rather than fur” are hypoallergenic. In actuality, there are no completely hypoallergenic breeds – there are just certain breeds who shed much less than others, which means less dander flying around and less sneezing for those with allergies.
That being said, German Shepherds are certainly not members of this category. Whether you want to call it hair or fur, it’s going to be all over the place.
If just the thought of dog hair makes you sneeze, consider one of those minimally shedding breeds – the American Hairless Terrier, as you might guess, has essentially no hair at all!
How Shedding Works
Hair growth for dogs is cyclical in nature, with four main phases:
- Anagen Phase – This is when the hairs are actively growing, approaching their predetermined maximum length.
- Catagen Phase – During this phase, growth slows and eventually stops as maximum length is reached. This is a transitional phase between the Anagen and Telogen phases.
- Telogen Phase – This is a resting phase that occurs between the completion of growth and when the hair begins to shed.
- Exogen Phase – This is the dreaded shedding phase where the fully grown hairs fall out.
These phases occur in different lengths for different breeds. For example, Poodles’ hair can grow quite long because their Anagen phase can last for several years. German Shepherds, however, have a shorter Anagen phase and longer Telogen phase, resulting in shorter hair and more frequent shedding.
Naturally, the amount of fur your dog has will impact how much will be shed in terms of actual volume.
For instance, a Pug is relatively small and has a short, single-layer coat, and let’s say she sheds the same percentage of her individual hairs as her German Shepherd brother does in a day. The pile of Pug hairs is obviously going to be much smaller than the German Shepherd’s pile since the German Shepherd has a double coat, longer hair, and is physically much larger and therefore has more total hairs.
How Bad Do German Shepherds Shed?
The AKC somewhat optimistically rates German Shedders–I mean Shepherds–as 4 out of 5 on the shedding scale. However, this may be a fair assessment when you remember that the fur-storm that is coat blowing only happens twice a year, and the rest of the year is less severe.
But, for a visual aid, check out the pile of fur this guy has brushed off his German Shepherd after just a few minutes:
So, you can imagine what it would be like to have this level of shedding going on for 2 weeks at a time.
Why Do German Shepherds Shed So Much?
As we’ve covered, German Shepherds have double-layer coats, with the outer layer shedding moderately throughout the year, and the inner coat shedding entirely twice a year.
However, there are a few other reasons that your German Shepherd might be shedding. If you notice a significant change in shedding levels that isn’t due to a seasonal coat blow, consider the following potential causes:
Hormonal changes such as pregnancy or spay/neuter surgery can cause short-term fur loss. Additionally, doggie puberty includes puppies losing their soft baby fur and growing in their thicker, coarser adult coat, so you may notice extra shedding as your German Shepherd makes this transition at around six months of age. Finally, female German Shepherds who are in heat will shed more than normal.
Just like humans, German Shepherds (and dogs in general) can start to lose their hair from being too stressed out. German Shepherds can become stressed or anxious from boredom, changes to their routine, moving houses, separation from their humans, or a new addition to your household.
Potentially stressful new additions could include a new baby, adding another dog to the household, or, if you really want to invite chaos, the addition of a cat.
Just kidding, cats and German Shepherds can certainly get along fine with a proper introduction and training, but be aware of stressors like this and how they may impact your German Shepherd and his lustrous fur.
Nutrition and Hydration
Poor nutrition and/or inadequate hydration can also cause shedding and leave your dog’s coat dull and dry. Your vet can recommend the best food for your German Shepherd and any necessary supplements to ensure a healthy coat. If you have recently changed your dog’s food and are now noticing hair loss, your pup may be allergic to the new food.
Underlying Health Conditions or Skin Irritants
There are also a whole host of health conditions, pests, and irritants that can cause abnormal shedding. These might include external factors like allergies, mites, fleas, lice, ticks, sunburn, or other topical irritants.
Internal conditions that may cause hair loss include kidney disease, liver conditions, side effects from medication, immune conditions, hypothyroidism, adrenal issues, and follicular dysplasia. Bacterial and fungal skin infections can cause localized hair loss, especially if the infection is itchy and your dog relentlessly scratches the area.
German Shepherds generally have pretty sensitive skin, and it can get irritated from being bathed too frequently or with harsh soaps, which strip the natural oils. This makes their skin dry out, which can cause extra shedding.
How Much Shedding is Too Much?
If you notice your German Shepherd shedding more than normal outside of their seasonal coat blows and you can’t identify the cause from the above list, it’s always a good idea to get a professional opinion from your vet about whether your dog is shedding too much.
If you notice any bald patches, excessive scratching, visibly inflamed skin, or dry/brittle fur, it’s definitely time for a vet visit.
You are your dog’s best advocate, so it’s up to you to keep an eye on shedding levels and take action if you suspect a problem. However, as we’ve said time and again, German Shepherds shed prolifically, so don’t be alarmed when you can pull out gobs of fur with your hands during shedding season.
How To Control Your German Shepherd’s Shedding
Alright, at this point you’re probably thinking to yourself, “Yes, lots of hair, I get it. But what can I do about it?!” I hear you. Let’s dive into some shedding management techniques:
1. Brush Your German Shepherd Regularly
To keep a handle on normal shedding, brush your German Shepherd at least twice a week throughout the year. During shedding season, you may need to brush him daily or even twice a day until the entire inner coat has been removed.
Obviously, brushing your German Sheperd outside is preferable, since the loose hair won’t immediately form tumbleweeds (tumblefurs?) in your home. If you don’t have a suitable outdoor space that’s easily accessible or the weather prevents outdoor brushing, confine your brushing sessions to the garage or a small, easily cleanable room like a bathroom.
Always brush your dog’s fur in the direction that it grows and be gentle so you don’t pull any hairs that aren’t ready to shed. Since you’ll be spending a lot of time brushing your German Shepherd, it’ll be easier for you both if he enjoys it and doesn’t come to expect pain when he sees the brush.
You can also motivate good behavior by providing high-value treats during brushing time, or by offering a tantalizing distraction like a treat puzzle.
To remove a blown coat, you’ll want to use a high-quality undercoat rake like the FURminator which you can see on Amazon.
For everyday brushing, consider a rubber curry brush that will gently remove dead hairs. I’m a big fan of this rubber curry brush from Safari which you can check out on Amazon by clicking here.
2. Bathe Your German Shepherd (Sparingly)
Since German Shepherds have such a dense coat, they actually don’t need to be bathed very frequently – every six to ten weeks is plenty unless they get exceptionally dirty.
Even though most German Shepherds enjoy a splash in the water, As we mentioned, bathing your German Shepherd too often can be counterproductive since it dries out their skin and can actually cause more shedding.
However, strategic bathing can be super helpful for quickly removing the bulk of your dog’s undercoat. Just be sure to use mild shampoos that won’t irritate their skin. You can also opt to use a deshedding shampoo to help lubricate the hairs, which makes it easier to remove the undercoat. One of the best options is this shampoo from FURminator who are the same folks that make the awesome brush I recommended above. Brush your German Shepherd with your undercoat rake while he’s still damp.
It’s easiest to perform this whole bathing/brushing operation outside, unless you want to spend an hour cleaning wet wads of fur out of your bathtub or shower after the fact.
You can take the spa day one step further with a professional blow-out after bathtime using a high-velocity and dog-friendly drier like this one on Amazon. This will not only cut down the drying time, but it will also help remove the undercoat quickly.
However, keep in mind that blow-drying your shedding German Shepherd will get hair absolutely everywhere, so it may be worth paying a professional to handle this entire bathing, brushing, and blow-drying task. Or, again, set aside some time for cleanup.
3. Provide a Healthy Diet for Your German Shepherd
A proper diet is key for a lustrous, healthy coat. Omega fatty acids play a big role in coat health and provide a whole host of other benefits. Most of the time, your German Shepherd will get plenty of Omega fatty acids through his normal food, but in some cases it may be necessary to give him a little boost with a supplement like fish oil that’s specifically formulated for dogs.
If you do want to boost your German Shepherd’s fatty acid intact, I recommend the fish oil supplements from Nordic Naturals which you can see on Amazon by clicking here.
4. Make Sure Your German Shepherd is Hydrated
Dehydration is one of the sneakiest but most common causes of excessive hair loss, since most people don’t pay super close attention to how much water their dog drinks and therefore can’t identify it as the culprit.
According to PetMD, your German Shepherd should drink about one ounce of water per pound of body weight, per day. So, if your German Shepherd weighs 70 pounds, he should be drinking 70 ounces or 8.75 cups of water per day.
If that sounds like a lot, consider that an adult human is supposed to drink 11.5 to 15.5 cups of water per day. Let this be a reminder to us all, human and canine alike, to hydrate all day every day!
Anyways, if you provide 10 fresh cups of water each morning (to account for spillage and evaporation) and most of it is gone by the next day, your German Shepherd is probably well-hydrated.
5. Spay or Neuter Your German Shepherd
Both female and male German Shepherds will shed less after their spay or neuter surgery. The surgery helps eliminate some of the hormonal fluctuations that can contribute to intense shedding.
Obviously, this isn’t a feasible option if you plan to breed your dog, but if not and especially if your female German Shepherds shed excessively after going into heat, it can help significantly.
6. Minimize Anxiety and Stress
Unfortunately, German Shepherds, like many other very affectionate and loyal breeds, are prone to separation anxiety which can impact the health of their coats. The ASPCA provides some excellent advice on how to deal with separation anxiety and help your German Shepherd remain calm even when you have to leave him home alone.
As we outlined above, other stressors for your German Shepherd can include routine changes, moving house, adding a new family member (whether human or animal), and so forth. While these changes are largely unavoidable, there are many ways to help your dog cope and thereby keep his mental health and his coat shipshape.
7. Create a Dedicated Fur Space
Obviously, it’s not fair to scold your dog for shedding all over your house when it’s something he can’t control – and it’s something you signed up for when you brought home a German Shepherd.
So, to reduce potential frustration for both of you, dedicate one area of your home where your dog can shed without reprimand, that’s away from the main area of the house that you want to keep as fur-free as possible.
This can be as simple as a dog bed and a cozy blanket that’s tucked away somewhere unobtrusive. That way you won’t be walking through the area too frequently and can avoid stirring up a fur tornado with every pass.
8. Invest in Lint Rollers and a Good Vacuum
Since shedding can never be completely avoided, it’s best to just embrace it and invest in some tools to make the inevitable cleanup easier, like some lint rollers and a quality vacuum that has a furniture attachment.
You may also want to consider furniture covers that can be shaken out outside and then washed easily if vacuuming isn’t your thing or if your German Shepherd loses his mind over the vacuum – they are pretty menacing!
9. Try Out a German Shepherd Shedding Suit
Finally, if your German Shepherd can handle the potential embarrassment of wearing what amounts to long underwear, consider an adorable canine Onesie like this one on Amazon (it’s worth looking at for a laugh at least).
They come in a variety of sizes and snazzy colors, so there’s a onesie for every dog. Just…try not to laugh too hard when you put this thing on or your German Shepherd’s pride will be forever injured.
Jokes aside, the onesies are a good way to contain shedding for a short period of time, such as riding in the car or if someone with a pet allergy is visiting. The tight fit can also help alleviate anxiety, so it’s a double-whammy of benefits.
Still, it’s important to remember that the dog onesie should only be a temporary solution to short-term problems. The use of a onesie over a long period of time may be harmful as it could restrict healthy airflow to the skin and fur.
Do Not Shave or Clip Your German Shepherd
By now, you may be wondering if it wouldn’t just be easier to shave your German Shepherd to avoid the whole shedding business altogether.
The answer is no – a German Shepherd should never be shaved or clipped unless it’s medically necessary.
Beyond making them look a tad ridiculous, shaving a German Shepherd can actually cause a laundry list of serious problems.
Because German Shepherds have a double coat, their coat will take a very long time to grow back, and the outer coat may grow back shorter and in a different color. The inner coat may actually grow back thicker, compounding your shedding woes in the long run.
Shaving or clipping a German Shepherd takes away their natural climate control system, leaving them more vulnerable to extreme heat or cold. That’s right, shaving a German Shepherd will not help keep him cool in the summer – it’ll actually do the opposite.
Finally, it leaves their sensitive skin exposed for mosquitoes and other pests to feast on, and they can sustain cuts, scrapes, and sunburns more easily without their protective double layer of fur.
Long story short – just say no to shaving! Your German Shepherd, that is…
Owning a German Shepherd can be a highly rewarding experience since they are such loyal, intelligent dogs. But, it requires a commitment to regular brushing and coat maintenance, and a willingness to deal with some serious shedding.
However, with the tips outlined here, you can keep the fur storm under control!