A few things to think about before owning one.

(DISCLAIMER! I am not in any way an expert on this subject. The views stated here are based entirely on my personal observations, experiences, and opinions. GSD's are as individual as people. Not everything applies to all of them. The following thoughts are generally, but not always, applicable to GSD's as a whole.)

Everybody loves a puppy. They are so cute and cuddly. They will, however, sooner or later grow into adults. Herein lies the rub. Suddenly your cuddly 10 pound puppy has turned into an 80 pound behemoth. Having committed such a heinous act, they are banished to the back yard to live out their days in abandonment. That, or they get dumped on the local countryside or at the pound. Know this in advance: they WILL grow up and they do require a good deal of time and effort on your part. If you can't or won't make this commitment, STAY FAR AWAY FROM GSD's!!!! This will save you ( and more especially the dog! ) from untold grief.

I have an unending love for German Shepherds. However, they are not for everyone. They are a very unique breed unto their own and have special and specific needs. Like all canines they are pack animals. And, as with all packs, there has to be a leader. Since we are dealing with 70-100 pounds of muscle and teeth I would suggest that the leader be you and not the dog! GSD's are among the most intelligent of the breeds and can be rather trying at times. Even if you have established that you are the boss, they have a rather annoying habit of testing you on occasion. I don't mean to imply that they are untrustworthy. Very much the opposite. They use their intelligence to drive you nuts. For all of their good points they are conniving as hell! You have to remain firm and consistant at all times.

First and foremost, they need exercise. They were bred as working animals. To steal someone else's example, "The 'herd' in shepherd means just that. They worked and watched the herd." They are intelligent and VERY energetic. All of this energy needs to be properly channeled in a constructive manner. If left to their own devices they will create their own entertainment. Said entertainment is seldom to the liking of human beings.

So, you're still reading. You must at least be thinking about it. First of all to whom, exactly, is the dog to belong? (Actually, in the case of GSD's it is more a matter of who will belong to the dog.) Shepherds tend to be a 'one person' animal. This is not to say that they are not good family dogs. They are excellent companions and protectors and will extend this to everyone in the family. However, only one person will be 'numero uno'. This person will also have primary responsibility for training and teaching 'Cuddles' proper manners. One thing that has always intrigued me about animals is their tendency to cross sex. Dogs will take to women and bitches will take to men. No one has ever been able to explain this phenomenon to me. However, take my word for it, this tendency does exist. It is even more prevalent in cats. I'm on my third GSD and all three were/are a bitch. Regardless of the thoughts of some individuals, the fact that your dog has gonads says nothing about what you have. If you want to be 'macho' go to the local tavern and arm wrestle. Don't put it off on your pet! Besides, anyone that fails to have their dog neutered (outside of breeders, of course) should be hanged by THEIR gonads! Therefore, consider your choice of sex very carefully.

While you are at the vet's office by all means have them microchip the mutt!! It will cost about $40 and another $15 to register it. The registration is a one-time fee good for the life of the animal. If (s)he gets lost and picked up by animal control you will get your dog back. They will run a wand over the shoulders and read the number. A quick call to the '800' number will result in your name and phone number. You will then be contacted by animal control. Don't depend on a collar tag!!!!! They can and do get lost. The microchip is quite permanent.

"Being as this is a puppy, and can destroy your whole house, you got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky?"

Puppies can be a real, and I mean TOTAL, pain-in-the-butt! Granted, they are cute and loveable. But, this only lasts for a few short months. You would be amazed at what can be broken, destroyed, and chewed beyond recognition in so short a time. Before opting for a puppy I suggest that you give serious thought to the situation. The following is a short dissertation on just a few of the delights involved in raising a puppy.

All puppies chew. This is a normal occurrence. Just like human babies they go through a teething period. This includes the loss of baby teeth to be replaced by adult teeth. (This applies to all breeds, by the way.) There is nothing quite like having one of your favorite slippers turned into a soggy wad. Once you finally find it, that is. They tend to like to play 'hide and seek' with anything left available to them. A good supply of rawhide 'chewey toys' scattered about the house will usually keep your shoes safe. Nixie (our present GSD) is 18 months old and still likes to hide our shoes and socks! She doesn't damage them but they can be difficult to locate sometimes. A bag of rubber squeaker toys took care of the situation. That is, with the exception of socks. She will still drag them around if they are left available to her.

And, of course, there is the housebreaking of your furry little friend. They will leave 'presents' in all sorts of places. They are most often found as you are stumbling around bare-footed (remember the slippers you used to have?) first thing in the morning. Bear in mind that puppy poop isn't the same as dog poop. It tends to be rather loose and messy. What a wonderful way to start the day! And, there is no way around this. To some extent this can be contained through the use of a crate (a.k.a. cage). However, you can't leave them in there permanently. Being confined on a long-term basis tends to make them rather neurotic. Not exactly what one strives for in a large dog. Neither rubbing their noses in it nor the use of corporal punishment will accomplish it. The only way is patience and frequent trips outside. Sooner or later, they will get the idea. All too often it is later rather than sooner. Gretchen (the first and ONLY puppy I ever plan to raise!) was rather easy to train. However, I have heard some real horror stories in this regard.

The most common (and, in my opinion, the most ridiculous) argument for getting a puppy is "because of the children". Why do I consider this ridiculous? Because in six months the dog will be fully grown, or close to it. They will grow a bit (perhaps) and fill out in the second six months. Your child will grow slightly and gain a few pounds. The 'puppy' will grow four to five times in height and several times in weight. Remember my previous admonishment? Puppies do, indeed, grow up to be dogs. This growth will occur at a vastly quicker rate than the child will grow. Plus, dogs are just like people: every one has a different personality. And, some of them don't like kids. Just because they are raised with children does not mean that they will like them! Then what do you do? Get rid of the dog, of course! Why take the chance? Instead of putting up with all of problems of raising a puppy only to dump it, why not get a young adult? This will save you and the dog a lot of trouble and heartbreak. With an adult you will know what you are getting. Plus, if it doesn't work out the various rescue organizations require that you return the animal. Normally, they are fostered long enough to get a pretty good idea of their personalities. There are rescue organizations for virtually every pet known to man and a few you probably wouldn't think of as well. Just something to think about.

Another comment often heard: "I want a puppy instead of an adult dog so that it will bond to me." What a load of crap! It would be funny if it weren't so patently wrong. Take mine, for example. She was lost/dumped in the middle of nowhere, taken to a foster home (thankfully), dragged 70 miles to our home, and two days later went to the vet for surgery. Talk about being strung out. It took her a few weeks to recover from surgery and get settled in to her new surroundings. She has now come to the realization that she has a permanent and loving home. The only way she could 'bond' any closer would be for her to sit on top of my head! I now have a permanent 70 pound shadow. The only 'problem' is she tends to get under foot now and then. Personally I don't consider this to be a problem at all. I rather like things the way they are. You take a dog that has known hunger and neglect, show it some love and affection, and I guarantee it will stick to you like glue!

Bear in mind that these are my opinions. My opinion and a buck will get you a cup of coffee. However, there are many (TOO MANY!) young adults available. Before making up your mind, check with your local pound or rescue organization. You will be amazed at what is available.

The wonderful world of training

Training is an absolute necessity. Again, there are no shortcuts. It takes time and patience. There are two ways to accomplish this. First, you can take them somewhere and pay someone else to do it. While this certainly works, I prefer the second method. That is, I train them myself. There are some advantages to training the dog yourself. First, you will save a bunch of money. Professional training isn't cheap. You and your dog will come to know each other on an intimate basis. Plus, if approached with the proper attitude, it will be fun for both of you.

CAUTION! Editorial follows: An untrained dog can be a tremendous nuisance. One the size and strength of a German Shepherd can be devastating. Even the best dogs can start out with bad habits. It is just a matter of showing them the proper way to act. I saw an advertisement the other day. Someone was trying to get rid of a GSD that was seven or eight years old. The reason? It was jumping on the grandchildren. Instead of spending a little time training the animal the owner decides to dump it. Here we have another candidate for the "Gonad Stretch Award". I would bet on the following scenario. The dog was kept permanently in the back yard. The only human contact was when someone remembers (maybe) to feed him. The grandkids get shoved into the back yard with the dog. The poor dog finally has contact with human beings and gets a little too enthusiastic in his joy. Scratch one dog all because the owner is too ignorant (or lazy!) to train it.

Why in name of all that is Holy and profane do people feel that they have to own a dog only to ignore it? Mine stays in the house, spends her free time lying on my chair (or on my lap!), and annoying the cats. At night she sleeps on our bed. It tends to get a bit crowded even with a king-size bed. But, there is no doubt in her mind that she has a loving home for the rest of her life. She is taken on walks, played with, trained, and doted on constantly. Why do people acquire a dog only to lock it away in the back yard? I truly wish that someone could explain this to me. Sorry folks, I tend to get carried away on certain subjects. Thus endith the editorial.

If you have no experience along these lines get some help. For the sake of the dog I implore you! Training is a very easy thing to accomplish. However, the use of incorrect methods will ruin an otherwise good animal. There are training facilities that train you to train the dog. This is my personal favorite and the way I started out. Some of your large pet stores will help in this regard. Plus, there are various learn-at-home video tapes and books. Basically, it comes down to patience. Don't expect to tell a dog something only once. It takes time and repetition. The whole idea is to get the dog to want to do it. When a proper and loving technique is employed they will do it to please you. If you try to coerce them they will resist with everything they have. You cannot force things.

If you REALLY want to destroy a dog, try beating it into submission! I have seen few things sadder than a dog with a broken spirit. Head down, tail tucked under, and slinking along. I have some very specific ideas of what to do to people that mistreat animals! However, decorum prohibits my expounding upon them here. NEVER, EVER punish a dog while training. All that should ever be used is a firm 'No!' or a yank on the chain. And, the yank on the chain is only to get the dogs attention. If it takes a hundred times to get it right then that is what it takes. Always remember the three primary rules of dog training: patience, patience, and more patience. One thing that I have always been proud of about my dogs. When obeying a command they are bright-eyed with their ears up and tails out. Dogs truly enjoy pleasing a good and loving master!

Some trainers like to use treats as rewards and some don't. Personally I don't but this is really a matter of preference. I've found that praise and hugs do the job quite well. Plus, they are not disappointed when they don't receive a treat later on. However, either method works quite well.

Basic Equipment Needed for Training

It doesn't take much equipment to train a dog. A chain collar, a short lead for walking, a medium lead (usually six feet long), and a long lead. The medium lead is used for commands such as sit, stay, down, and heal. The long lead is used for commands with you at a distance. (Dogs can act differently when you are a few feet away.) They are especially useful for the 'come' command. You can reel them in like a fish! They are available in lengths up to 50 feet. A standard lead and a length of rope will work just as well. The lead is just more comfortable for the trainer. The chain is very important. Make sure that it is heavy enough to restrain the weight of the dog. Too heavy is better than too light. It should be of sufficient length only to comfortably pass over the dogs ears when they are laid back. Too much slack is a distinct hindrance. The side of the chain that attaches to the lead should go on the outside of the neck. This allows for a smooth straight pull when corrections are given.

It Starts!

Number one on the list is leash breaking. There is nothing that annoys me more than to see a dog take the human for a walk. It is supposed to be the other way around! Plus, since everything else involves the use of a lead, it is imperative that Phydeaux not fight you during this time. Place the chain on the dog and attach the six-foot lead. While walking, the dog's head should be directly beside your leg. This will allow the dog to see any change in direction and follow without you pulling on the lead. They will naturally want to walk ahead of you so they can look around. When the dog gets ahead of you simply apply a good yank on the lead as a reminder. At first Phydeaux will want to take off on his own. Dig your heels in and give a substantial yank on the lead. Return the dog to the proper position and continue. Don't worry about hurting the dog with the chain. Remember that the neck of a dog is virtually all muscle. As soon as the chain starts to tighten the dog will tighten his neck muscles. At that point you couldn't drive a nail into his neck with a sledgehammer! Short of hanging him from a tree you won't harm him. Some are more stubborn than others. With some a gentle yank is all that is needed. Some you will practically have to flip over!

Once you have them walking beside you the worst is over. At that point all you have to do is 'remind' him occasionally not to wander ahead. Another thing is to insure that he keeps his head up. They will want to sniff the ground around them. However, they aren't paying attention to you at this time. An upward yank of the lead will teach them not to look down or sniff around. Now you are ready to take Phydeaux out into the world and show him off!

I would go with the 'sit' command first. Walk along with the dog at heel (see above) and stop. By this time Phydeaux should do the same. Give the command 'sit!' Using the side of your foot press on the back of his hind legs. He will have no other choice as gravity will take over and his butt will drop to the ground. DO NOT PUSH ON THE RUMP!!! Large dogs in general and GSD's in particular are subject to 'hip displacia'. Because of their weight and the speed at which they grow their hips tend to be 'displaced'. Basically their weight comes up faster than the strength of their bones, according to my vet. Plus, some GSD's have a congenital predisposition for this malady. Anyway, don't push on their rumps!

Sit, stay, come, and heel are basically repetition. Come and heel are two different commands. Come means just exactly what it says. Heel requires a specific movement on the part of the dog. At the heel command the dog should walk behind the handler and sit beside him/her actually touching the leg of the handler.

The most difficult will be the 'down' command. This is the most subservient of all. Most dogs will resist mightily. LOTS of time, patience, and repetition on this one. To force the dog into the down position, slip the lead under your foot and pull him to the ground. Pull as in 'easy'. Use a gentle, downward force to work him into position. Don't yank! Do not kneel, squat, or sit. In the eyes of the dog this takes you down to their level and drastically degrades your authority over him. Remain standing at all times.

Keep in mind that this constitutes work for the dog. Do not over do it! 15 to 30 minutes at a time is plenty. Just keep an eye on the dog. It will become obvious when he is getting tired of it. Trying to push him beyond his limit of endurance is NOT the way to do it. It will only result in frustration for both of you and is completely counterproductive. You can do it several times a day as long as you give him plenty of time for R&R between sessions.

Hand Signals

Want to see people really go nuts? Teach your dog hand signals! Most people are totally astounded by this. Truth be known, it is nothing more than a glorified parlor trick! Any dog that obeys verbal commands will obey hand signals. Simply give the hand signal and the verbal command together. In no time at all Phydeaux will associate either one with the correct response. Plus, it can actually be useful at times. And it is always fun to see the responses from bystanders!


"My Shepherd is biting!" Maybe, maybe not. One objectionable trait of some GSD's is mouthing. It comes from their herding heritage. Since they lack hands to control the herd they use their mouths. They will grip and guide the animals where they want them. It is not a vicious act. However, it is not something that you want to ignore either. They can get carried away and inflict some pain. Let it be known that this will not be tolerated at the outset. Keep a close watch and put a stop to it immediately any time that it is observed.

A note on training collars...

Fair warning folks. At the mere mention of a training collar some people start loading their shotguns. If they are misused I feel the same way. If properly used it can be a very useful tool. Like most things in this world it depends upon the person using it. If you don't know what you are doing, STAY AWAY FROM THEM!!!!!!!!

A training collar is a remote control device that shocks the dog. If used properly they are quite harmless. The first thing I did with mine was to place it against my arm and hit the button. It produced a slight sting along the lines of a light pinch. It is not intended to cause pain or to punish. The idea is to break the dogs attention away from what it is doing. It is no worse than a yank on a choke chain IF THEY ARE PROPERLY SET UP!!! Has anyone noticed the number of times that I have used the word 'properly'?

There are two main problems with the use of these devices. First, too many people think that if a little is good then a lot is better. WRONG!! Use only the level of power it takes to get the dogs attention. Too much will hurt the animal and destroy the usefulness of the collar. Second, you cannot use it to train a dog. They have to be trained first. The collar is only to be used as a slight negative reinforcement for commands already learned. Again, it is only intended to break their concentration. Think of it as a silent, remote controlled 'NO!' Considering the cost, most people won't use them anyway. A good one will run $300 or more.

So why, exactly, did I buy one? Gretchen was a good pooch. She learned quickly and responded well to her training. That is, with one minor exception. Any time she was released from her lead she would take off like a Gazelle! No amount of work would stop her from this particular endeavor. I finally broke down and bought one. Two applications of this little electronic marvel and all was right with the world. However, please note that I spent many, many hours training her first! Plus, it was used to break her of barking non-stop. Any dog will bark now and then. This is quite normal and acceptable. Gretchen would bark non-stop every minute she was outside. I first tried a bark collar. Same basic principle but it was triggered by the sound of the dogs bark. The dog will sometimes yelp when the collar triggers. To prevent continually shocking the dog the collar had a safety device. It would trigger once and then lock out until it sensed no sound for three seconds. Then, it would reset. Gretchen figured out that she could bark once to trigger it. As long as she kept barking it would never reset! Who ever coined the phrase 'dumb animal' must have been a total idiot! Anyway, the remote collar put a stop to the problem.

"I can't teach that @#$% dumb dog anything!"

Whenever I hear that I just shake my head and laugh. The only thing that is 'dumb' here is the owner! Well, I suppose that ignorant would be a better description. I'll grant you that there are some animals that aren't the sharpest knife in the drawer. Dogs are just like people in this regard. They will span the entire spectrum of intelligence. However, the more intelligent they are the more stubborn they tend to be. Do not confuse stubborn with stupid. I have never personally seen a dumb GSD. Again, some are sharper than others are but all have been quite intelligent.

The easiest dog to train is one of average intelligence. The smarter they are the harder they are to train. I clearly remember my first encounter with Taffy (my first GSD). I gave her the command to sit and popped her rear legs with my foot. She gave me a rather sour 'go to hell' look. The next time I commanded her to sit she looked me straight in the eye and turned her butt 180 degrees from me. The training in the weeks that followed was an on-going battle of wits. I was beginning to wonder which of us would be the winner! Thanks to an outstanding trainer and my innate stubborn streak Taffy turned out to be a fantastic companion.

Grooming a German Shepherd

Grooming needs will vary with the individual dog. GSD's have long, short, traditional, and plush coats. Long hairs will need more attention to keep the fur from matting and to reduce shedding. The plush coat is shorter but thick and fine. It doesn't mat but man do they shed! Gretchen had a plush coat. I could curry her for an hour and have enough hair to stuff a good-sized pillow. Two days later she would be dropping fuzz balls all over the house. Nixie has a short, traditional coat. The traditional coat is a rather coarse fur. With Nixie I can rub, pet, pat, and scrunch for an hour with hardly a loose hair. She can spend the night on our bed and you won't even know that she was there. (Hmmmmm... Sounds like my wife.....)

Brushing on a regular basis is imperative. I would suggest doing it on a daily basis if possible. If done daily it will only take a few minutes. Not only will the dog look better but also it will vastly improve his level of comfort. Dead imbedded hair is nothing more than a layer of insulation. Would you like to walk around wearing thermal underwear all of the time? Neither does your dog! Not to mention having to vacuum it off of the floors and furniture. There are various instruments of torture available for this operation. A pin brush works well but a shedding blade is much better. It is a flat loop of spring steel with notched edges. The most amazing one that I have found is a circular, metal curry comb for horses. I have never found anything that strips dead hair like this tool does. It is positively amazing. The first time that I used in on Nixie I ended up with a plastic garbage bag (the 32-gallon size) approximately 1/3 full! I'm not exaggerating in the slightest. She hardly shed a hair in the week that followed. Plus, the one I got is reversible. One side is coarse and the other fine. The fine side is perfect for the cats. You can get one at any farm supply store for about five bucks. You simply cannot find a better investment if you have animals. Follow up with a slicker brush (a brush made of very fine, soft steel tines) and the coat will look like a million bucks.

Do not use such a device on their stomachs. Any such device, regardless of its construction, will catch on their nipples. Not only is this extremely painful but can result in infection as well. Use only a fine, soft-bristled brush on the underside. It will take longer and, perhaps, be less effective. But, it is far safer and more comfortable for the dog.

Some have clear nails and some have black nails. I personally dislike black nails because they are harder to trim. There is nothing I hate worse than nicking the cuticle. It is bound to be quite painful and it will bleed like there is no tomorrow. In addition, there is the very real possibility of infection. If you do happen to nick the cuticle keep a VERY close eye on it. Any sign of infection warrants an immediate trip to the vet. With clear nails you can easily see the outline of the cuticle making them an easy and painless job. If you are trimming black nails be careful and only trim a small amount. No more than 1/8". After a while you can trim them again if needed. The ends will then dry out and the cuticle will recede allowing you to trim them closer. It takes time and patience. This is especially true if they have been neglected and allowed to grow out excessively.

As with most dogs they will get to be rather malodorous at times. Regular bathing is a necessity. Depending upon the dog, bathing it can be a regular Italian comic opera! Gretchen was the worst. She wouldn't overtly fight you. She would just keep backing up trying to get away. I had to take a piece of rope and cross-tie her between two immovable objects. Taffy didn't mind having it done. I don't really plan to find out with Nixie. Due to my lower back problems I plan to take her to a local grooming parlor. She will return bathed, dried, flea dipped, and with her nails trimmed. For 25 bucks it isn't worth the hassle. Considering her short traditional coat she shouldn't require it all that often.

Life with a Properly Cared for German Shepherd

German Shepherds are fantastic animals. Companion, pet, and protector all rolled into one gorgeous package. They will always stand by you. They will romp, play, and remain your best friend for life. If the need arises they will give their lives to protect you and your family. All they need is love, a little training, and a place among the family. What you will receive far outweighs anything that you have to invest. Plus you will have one of the most majestic and beautiful animals God ever put on four legs.

Fred Schroeder
Click here to get my e-mail address.
Denison, TX

© Fred Schroeder, 2003-2006