Thinking about adding a new furry friend to your household? Has the German Shepherd caught your eye?
German Shepherds are a wonderful breed for many people and families, but certain aspects of the breed might not make them the best fit for everyone.
When you are deciding on what type of breed would fit your lifestyle and needs best, you want to make sure and do your research so that you are prepared and understand the type of dog you are bringing into your home.
That’s an important part of pet ownership, and the more research a person does before getting a new dog, the less likely that dog will wind up in a shelter due to a mismatch with their new owner.
So what are the pros and cons of getting a German Shepherd as your next dog?
German Shepherds are intelligent, athletic, affectionate, and easily trainable. They make good family pets and excel in a variety of jobs from guard dogs to agility superstars. Their pros are plenty, but they also have some cons in that they are prone to health issues, anxiety, and their popularity has led to poor breeding practices.
In the article below we’ll discuss the pros and cons of the German Shepherd breed, though it’s important to remember that every dog is an individual and even a purebred German Shepherd may show some differences from what the breed standard is.
We’ll also discuss how you can begin your search for a German Shepherd and things to keep in mind when you are deciding where to get your German Shepherd.
What Are The Pros And Cons Of Owning A German Shepherd?
The German Shepherd is a well-rounded breed of dog and there is a reason for its popularity among dog lovers! The pros to this breed of dog are many, but there are a few “cons” to be aware of when considering if a German Shepherd is the right breed of dog for you.
German Shepherds have many great qualities, so let’s take a look at them!
Intelligence & Trainability
The biggest pro to the German Shepherd breed is their high intelligence level and their high trainability.
It’s no secret that the German Shepherd is one of the most intelligent and easily trainable dog breeds out there, and these smart cookies can shine in almost every environment and activity you put them in, from police work to the agility ring.
They are usually very easy to train and learn quickly, due to their love of learning and how much they love being with their owners.
The German Shepherd also has a reputation for being an extremely loyal breed of dog. There have been stories throughout the years describing the loyalty of the German Shepherd, from the German Shepherd who helped keep a child alive to the German Shepherd who died protecting his beloved owner.
These stories of the heroism of a German Shepherd are not few and far between, either. All over the world, the loyalty of the German Shepherd is renowned and celebrated by fans of the breed.
In addition to their loyalty, German Shepherds also tend to be a very affectionate breed of dog. They are quick to bond with their owner (though sometimes this bond maybe with only one person in the household!), and their willingness to please is evident in how they respond to their owner and act around their families.
While they can vary from dog to dog in how cuddly they are, there is a universal level of affection and ways of showing it. Almost all GSDs enjoy being around their owners and being directly involved in the goings on of a household.
German Shepherds also make excellent guard dogs, even if they never receive the proper training to do so.
As part of their often extreme loyalty to their owners, the breed has very high protective instincts which makes them a great choice for those who are looking for a dog to watch over their house and deter potential thieves and attackers.
The German Shepherd’s prominent bark and bite force only add to their value as a household protector.
Another big pro of the German Shepherd breed is their athleticism, high energy level, and good work ethic. These dogs love being active!
German Shepherds have excellent endurance and adaptability to weather conditions and terrain which makes them great for those athletic owners who don’t let rain or snow stop them, and who enjoy spending long hours out and about.
Part of their appeal as the breed of choice for those who enjoy physical activity is the German Shepherd’s ability to adapt to many types of environments, weather, terrain, and living conditions. German Shepherds do well in the rural countryside and in the heart of the city.
Provided their physical and mental needs are being met, they make great dogs for apartment or condo living. They also do well in a variety of weather and temperatures, from hotter parts of the world to some of the coldest and wettest locations.
Their intelligence, loyalty, and bravery also mean they are less likely to shy away from new experiences and encounters (though this can vary based on their individual history and socialization training).
The German Shepherd also has a well-earned reputation for being a great family dog.
Provided they are trained from a young age and socialized appropriately, German Shepherds do very well with children of all ages and sizes. They can thrive in busy family environments and their loyal and affectionate nature means they are often gentle and patient with children.
They also tend to have a higher level of tolerance than other breeds, and as long as the children have been taught how to interact with dogs in an appropriate and safe way, a German Shepherd is likely quite happy to indulge a child in their often unique play scenarios and environments.
And finally, we have the German Shepherd’s popularity as a pro to the breed.
While their popularity has its own set of pros and cons (which we discuss in part below), in general, the popularity of the German Shepherd makes them easy to locate if you are on the search for one.
It’s not hard to locate a purebred German Shepherd at local shelters, and there are hundreds of breed-specific rescues throughout the world.
In addition to rescues, there is a large network of reputable German Shepherd breeders who strive to highlight the best of the breed while reducing the number of genetic issues the breed currently faces.
No one is without flaws, so let’s see what it truly means to have a German Shepherd, pros aside!
Unfortunately, one of the biggest cons to the German Shepherd breed is a plethora of health-related issues.
Due to poor breeding over the years (which is also discussed further down in this list), the German Shepherd tends to be prone to genetic conditions such as hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, and degenerative myelopathy.
While there are many other potential health issues German Shepherds may face, these three health conditions are the most prominent and most common.
While each of these disorders (and many others) have testing available for dogs that someone is considering breeding, many unethical breeders choose not to conduct those genetic tests and thus the conditions are still widely seen in the breed as a whole.
German Shepherds are also prone to diet sensitivities, skin conditions, heart problems, and certain cancers.
While there are certainly other breeds of dogs that require much more grooming than the German Shepherd (such as the Siberian Husky or many of the Poodle crosses), the German Shepherd does still require a moderate amount of care when it comes to their coats.
Depending on the coat type of your German Shepherd, they may require weekly brushing to avoid matting and at least twice per year a German Shepherd will shed heavily (check out our article on how to deal with the shedding!) and require a more thorough brushing and de-shedding grooming routine.
However, they do not require shaving or any type of breed cuts (unlike the Poodle and other breeds who require more specific grooming to maintain their coat health).
German Shepherds are also relatively clean dogs in that they don’t smell unless they have gotten into something or have a medical condition, and most of them will tolerate or even enjoy a bath if trained properly using positive reinforcement techniques.
One of the not-so-nice reputations that the German Shepherd has gained is their propensity for separation anxiety.
This is largely due to their loyalty to their owners and their dislike of being left alone for long periods of time, and much of the time the anxious behaviors are not clinical separation anxiety that requires veterinary intervention but rather separation anxiety that can be dealt with under the guidance of a reputable trainer or behaviorist.
If a German Shepherd is not conditioned to being away from their owners and left alone for long periods of time, they may develop anxious and destructive behaviors including chewing, digging, scratching, and excessive vocalization such as howling and whining.
As we discussed above, the popularity of the German Shepherd makes them easy to find but this popularity has also resulted in poor breeding and many unethical breeders who choose to breed for profit rather than for the love of the breed.
There are many, many backyard breeders and puppy mills dedicated to the German Shepherd and it can be difficult to locate a well-bred dog from a reputable breeder.
The German Shepherd is also a popular choice for “puppy dealers” who look like they are reputable, caring organizations on the outside but who actually source their puppies and dogs from unethical breeders at a lower cost and then resell them to unsuspecting buyers at a higher markup.
This poor breeding has led to many of the genetic issues the breed faces, as well as a risk for increased aggression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders in the breed.
As with many breeds of dogs, the behavioral issues a German Shepherd displays are largely related to their genetics and how they were raised.
In line with the poor breeding practices of many German Shepherd breeders, certain behavioral issues can be present in the breed.
This can include an increased level of aggression and lower tolerance to external stimuli, obsessive-compulsive disorders such as circling and pacing or chewing of themselves or others, excessive licking, excessive fear responses, and other genetic issues as a result of poor breeding.
One of the pros of a German Shepherd is their athleticism and high energy levels, but this can also be considered a con for some, especially if you have two German Shepherds.
The German Shepherd does require a fairly active lifestyle and is not a good choice for those who work long hours or who have limited time and ability to ensure their dog’s needs are being met.
If a German Shepherd is not adequately exercised (both physically and mentally), they risk developing destructive habits and other behavioral issues that can be hard to fix.
For some the bark of the German Shepherd is plus, but for many others, their love of barking, whining, and expressing themselves vocally might be a bit too much. This is especially true if you live in an apartment or neighborhood setting.
While this vocalization can be reduced if the dogs are given plenty of exercise and mental stimulation, it can be a lengthy and sometimes frustrating experience trying to deter the barking.
There are no “quick fix” solutions to the barking, as bark collars and other bark deterrents often do not work or do not have a lasting effect, and many of them put your dog at risk for unwanted behavioral side effects.
This last con is not exclusive to German Shepherds, but the breed may be more prone to being an expensive dog to keep due to their larger size and potential for health-related issues.
As a larger breed of dog, German Shepherds require a larger amount of food which can add up over time. In addition, the breed does frequently experience dietary issues so special foods with limited ingredients or more unique protein sources might also increase their food bill.
Due to the risks of health issues such as dysplasias and other genetic conditions, German Shepherds also often require additional health screenings and veterinary care (especially in their senior years) to help manage these issues.
Outside of monetary investment, German Shepherds also require a hefty dose of energy investment from their owners. As a high-energy breed, they need frequent and vigorous physical exercise.
Their high intelligence also means they can get bored easily so they will need more mental stimulation as well. The German Shepherd is also very owner-oriented and so many require quite a bit of affection and attention from their owners which can sometimes be difficult for owners to deal with if they want some time alone.
Things To Look For When Choosing Your German Shepherd
If you’ve gone through the list above and have determined that a German Shepherd is the right breed for you, there are some additional things to keep in mind when you are figuring out where to get your German Shepherd, and some differences to think about if you are considering a German Shepherd puppy or an adult German Shepherd.
Puppies VS Adults
A German Shepherd puppy will require more time and energy than an adult German Shepherd. The benefits of getting a puppy include being able to really shape the puppy and ensure that you have a well socialized, happy, and healthy German Shepherd once they reach adulthood.
The downsides to getting a puppy include having to go through the potty training process, the teething phase, and the general work that comes with having a curious young pup!
The benefits of getting an adult German Shepherd include little to minimal work when it comes to potty training, less or no mouthiness, and many adult German Shepherds who have already received basic training.
The risks of getting an adult German Shepherd include training issues for dogs who received poor socialization as a puppy, bad habits that have been instilled in them by previous owners and which may require some work to change, and less time with your German Shepherd as they may already be well into their adult or even senior years.
There can also be differences in individual puppies and dogs, too, so it’s important to look at those individual aspects as well as the general behaviors an adult or puppy may display.
Getting A German Shepherd From A Shelter
With pet overpopulation at an all-time high, adopting a German Shepherd from a shelter or rescue group is a great option to help a dog who is at risk and to open up space in the shelter or rescue for another dog.
Due to their extreme popularity, you can frequently find purebred German Shepherds at many local shelters. Purebred puppies are also frequently available during the peak of puppy season.
There are also a variety of German Shepherd rescue groups throughout the country, and many of these groups can arrange for the transportation of your newly adopted dog through a network of volunteers. Contrary to popular belief, most shelter dogs are perfectly healthy dogs and are not “broken” or “used”.
Visiting with the German Shepherd you are interested in will allow you to see if there are any concerning behaviors, and oftentimes many shelters and rescue groups have a full history of the dog and insight into their behaviors and health.
While some rescue Shepherds may require a little bit of initial work, their intelligence, trainability, and need for affection usually mean they are quick to learn and adapt to their new home and lifestyle.
Getting A German Shepherd From A Breeder
If you opt to go the breeder route to get your German Shepherd, make sure you are very thorough in your research when choosing which breeder to get your pup from. As we discussed above, the popularity of the German Shepherd has led to a lot of poor breeding practices.
Backyard breeders and those who primarily post their puppies through social media and sales sites should be avoided. Similarly, any breeder who does not allow you to come and visit the parents of the puppies or who does not want you to see where the puppies are being raised is another red flag.
Responsible breeders will have contracts that go with their puppies, and they should also be providing you with the genetic test results that prove their dogs are healthy and free of any genetic defects like degenerative myelopathy.
Female German Shepherds should also get breaks in between litters and there should not be back-to-back breedings so she is allowed time to recover from each litter. Unethical breeders care little for the health of their German Shepherds and many will breed their dogs constantly resulting in strain on the mother and unhealthy puppies.
Good places to start your research for ethical and responsible German Shepherds include German Shepherd breed clubs, local dog clubs, the AKC website, and through word of mouth with other German Shepherd lovers.
Following the advice of what makes a good breeder is also wise when on your puppy search, and don’t be afraid to ask questions of the breeder!
German Shepherds are a wonderful breed of dog, but they might not be the dog for everyone. Carefully considering what a German Shepherd requires and how those needs fit into your own lifestyle is part of responsible pet ownership. If you like the look but not the breed, consider finding a dog that looks similar to a German Shepherd instead.
If you’ve gone through the list above and have decided that you need a German Shepherd in your life, congratulations!
Researching where and how you will get your new pup is the next step, whether you are opting to go through a responsible breeder or adopting from a shelter or rescue.
You’re on your way to adding a fabulous four-legged friend to your family!