German Shepherd Breed Information
|Average height||58-63 cm|
|Average lifespan||Over 10 years|
|Minimum exercise (per day)||2 hours|
|Minimum cost (per month)||£105|
German Shepherds were originally bred for herding and are now often used as working dogs for the police and armed forces. They are very loyal, intelligent and love to be kept active, so can be easy to train.
They suit very active households as they need a lot of exercise every day. They are great dogs for owners with a lot of experience and time as, like most dogs, they can get bored easily. Unfortunately, German Shepherds do have a range of health issues due to the way they have been bred, which can end up being costly to owners and cause serious problems for the dog.
Common health problems in German Shepherds
German Shepherds are great dogs for the right owners, but they are at risk of certain conditions and illnesses common with the breed. Making sure the parents of your puppy have had the relevant health screening can reduce the chances of your puppy being affected by some of these upsetting conditions.
German Shepherds are in a group of breeds classed as ‘Category Three’ by The Kennel Club, which is the highest category of the health concerns due to their conformation. This means that these types of dog have been bred over many years to look a certain way, but that these changes to the way they look have started to cause them health problems. For German Shepherds, this is mostly due to the shape of their back legs and hips.
Some of the conditions German Shepherds may develop include:
- Hip dysplasia – where hip joint that doesn’t fit together perfectly, which will eventually lead to arthritis. Before breeding, dogs should be screened by x-rays through the BVA/Kennel Club Hip Dysplasia Scheme.
- Elbow dysplasia – a condition where a dog’s elbow socket doesn’t form properly, leading to pain and problems. There is a screening test for this.
- Canine Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) – also known as Chronic Degenerative Radiculomyopathy (CDRM) causes weakness to back legs leading to paralysis. There is a screening test.
- Anal furunculosis – a painful disease that causes ulceration around a dog’s bottom.
- Inherited eye diseases – including cataracts and multifocal retinal dysplasia. There are screening testing for these.
- Epilepsy – a brain disorder causing seizures.
- Pituitary dwarfism – a hormone deficiency which causes severe growth problems and reduces lifespan.
- Haemophilia A and B – bleeding disorders that stop blood from clotting and cause wounds to bleed more than they should. Screening tests are available.
This list is not exhaustive, and there are many other conditions that German Shepherds have been shown to be prone to.
Caring for your German Shepherd
German Shepherds are fantastic dogs and it’s easy to see why they are such a popular breed. However their size and strength means they aren’t suited to all families and need a lot of space to burn off their energy. You’ll need to make sure you have a lot of time to spend with these dogs and you are committed to providing for their exercise needs every day.
German Shepherds and barking
As with any dog, German Shepherds are likely to bark. Their main purpose was for herding and guarding so they can be quite vocal when people walk past or enter or exit the house, but how much noise they make will vary from dog to dog. If you’re having problems with excessive noise or barking, we recommend seeking the advice of an accredited behaviourist.
Training and socialisation
Regardless of the age of your German Shepherd when you adopt it, you need to have clear boundaries to help keep them safe and happy. As with all training – consistency is key! Everyone in the family needs to follow the same rules.
German Shepherds are very loyal to their owners and can be protective of their family. They can have a strong guarding instinct, so careful training and socialisation will be needed to prevent any guarding or aggressive behaviours.
As with any dog, your German Shepherd will need to be well socialised with people, other animals and different objects and environments from a young age. Try to keep the time your German Shepherd is alone to an absolute minimum as they thrive on company and will worry about you if you leave them too long. You should never leave any dog alone for longer than four hours.
Be prepared – German Shepherds are very active dogs! They need plenty of exercise to keep them happy and occupied. This will also stop them from barking out of boredom or having a nibble on the furniture. Lack of exercise and stimulation can cause behavioural problems in any breed, but German Shepherds have a reputation for being especially highly strung so they need extra attention to make sure they’re kept active.
Your German Shepherd will need a minimum of two hours of exercise every day. This should include walks and off-lead exercise in a safe area, with extra playtime and training on top to give them a good variety. You can find out how much exercise your dog needs, or even find exercises you can do together online. Our vets recommend spreading exercise across the day rather than trying to do two hours all in one go.
German Shepherds are a great breed if you enjoy long walks and spending loads of time exploring outside. If there are times when you are unable to give them the exercise they need, then arranging for a relative, friend or dog-walker to come and help would be essential.
Be prepared for a lot of shedding because German Shepherds have such thick coats! If you don’t like dog hair around the house or are allergic to dogs then they might not be the breed for you.
Ideally, you should give your German Shepherd a brush or comb down a few times a week to keep their coat looking healthy, prevent matting and reduce the build-up of dead hair (especially if they have a longer coat).
You won’t need to bathe your German Shepherd too often though unless advised by your vet, as their skin can be sensitive to this. You may want to take them to a professional for bath time because of their size.
German Shepherds and children
Adult German Shepherds can range from being calm and patient to bouncy and boisterous, depending on their personality, training and socialisation. Some can make great family pets in homes with children of all ages, but dogs should always be supervised around young children.
Make sure you can recognise the signs of unhappiness or anxiety in your dog to help avoid any conflicts. German Shepherds can be nervous of strangers so make sure they’re never left unsupervised. Be careful if you are introducing a German Shepherd to younger children or adults unfamiliar with the breed as they often don’t know their own strength.
German Shepherds and other pets
To help them be calm and patient, it's best to socialise your German Shepherd with other dogs and pets from a young age. Some can be a bit bossy with other dogs as they get older but with proper care, training and socialisation this is unlikely to become a problem. If you’re having issues with your German Shepherd around other pets, the best thing to do is get advice from a trainer or behaviourist.
German Shepherds are usually fine with other family pets they have grown up with. If they haven’t grown up with a cat or other smaller pets, though, they may have the urge to chase them so any introductions later in life should be done very carefully.
Your vet will be able to tell you how much your dog should be eating. You should feed them a good quality, commercially available, complete dog food. We usually recommend splitting their daily allowance into two meals. If you give your dog the occasional treat or use treats for training, remember to take this into account and reduce their daily allowance. Treats shouldn’t make up more than 10% of their daily calorie intake as this can unbalance their diet.
You should try to feed your dog at the same time every day to get them into a routine. Remember to leave at a gap after eating and before exercising.
The cost of owning a German Shepherd
Having a German Shepherd will cost you a minimum of £105 per month after purchase and set-up costs and over £17,000 across their lifetime.
Costs you’ll need to think about include:
Adopting an adult dog from a rescue centre may be a more cost-effective option, with the added advantage of giving a home to a pet without one – check if the rehoming centre you’re looking at asks for a donation for rehoming.
If instead you’re buying a German Shepherd puppy from a breeder, you’ll need to factor in this cost. Beware unusually cheap puppies as they could come from a puppy farm. If you’d like to buy a pedigree puppy, we recommend looking for a Kennel Club Assured breeder. These breeders must do extra health tests and meet high standards.
Set up costs
- Puppy vaccines – if you rescue a dog, reputable centres will often vaccinate them for you. Remember that ongoing booster vaccinations will be needed to continue their immunity.
- Neutering – you should usually arrange for your dog to be neutered at around six months old, though your vet will be able to advise you exactly when is best. Check prices at your local practice as these will depend on your vet and where you live. Some rescue centres will neuter any dogs they rehome, saving you this cost.
- Equipment – including a collar and tags, lead, harness, dog beds, dog bowls, pet-safe toothpaste and toothbrushes, grooming brushes and toys. Keep in mind that all these will need to be replaced with wear or damage or if your dog outgrows or damages them!
- Preventive healthcare – budget for routine vet visits to help stop your dog getting ill and catch any problems early. They need annual check-ups, vaccinations and regular flea and worming treatments. Check if your vet offers a health care plan as this can help spread the cost throughout the year.
- Vet bills* or pet insurance – if you don’t have pet insurance and your dog needs veterinary treatment for an injury or illness, costs can rapidly mount up. Check what’s covered and what isn’t when comparing policies.
- Accessories – including lots of poo bags, replacing worn toys and grooming accessories, buying doggy toothpaste and any other extras they might need.
- Training – basic training is very important and dogs can benefit from formal classes. Some dogs may have, or develop, behavioural problems which might need professional management.
- Boarding – you may also need to budget for boarding or dog sitting costs if you are planning to go away from home on holiday.
- Dog walkers/day-care – you might consider a professional dog walker to keep your dog happy and healthy if you’re unable to get out with your dog enough yourself, or to look after them during the day if you need to be out for more than four hours.
* It’s always better to plan ahead and budget or get pet insurance in case your pet gets injured or unwell. If you are having difficulty with veterinary costs, you can check if you are eligible for treatment at PDSA here.
If you’re considering pet insurance, our PDSA Pet Insurance could be a great option for you and it’s quick and easy to get a quote online.
- The first guide dogs for visually impaired people were German Shepherds.
- They are one of the most intelligent breeds in the world, which is why they’re so easy to train in the right hands.
- They were originally bred to be herding dogs, an instinct which still remains strong in the breed. They need lots of exercise and plenty to do to stop getting bored.
- They’re often used as service dogs in the army and police force because they’re so clever and loyal.
Getting a German Shepherd
Do plenty of research before you get a German Shepherd. Make sure you have enough space and time to give them the exercise and attention they need to stay happy and healthy. In the right hands, German Shepherds are very easy to train, but make sure you’re absolutely ready before taking one on.
There are plenty of rescue centres across the country where you may find a German Shepherd. Breed-specific rescues that specialise in German Shepherds are also out there. You’ll need to ask any rescue centre about the dog’s history to make sure they will be comfortable in your home. Good rescue centres should let you know of any health and behaviour problems.
If you buy from a breeder, make sure your puppy will be well socialised and have all necessary screening tests, health checks and vaccinations. It’s really important that German Shepherd puppies from a breeder get the right early socialisation so always ask the breeder about how they go about this. We recommend looking for a Kennel Club Assured breeder as they meet higher standards. We’ve put together some advice to help you find a good breeder.