How to Choose the Right German Shepherd for Yourself

After you decide that a German shepherd is the right dog for you, you need to find just the right individual. Research carefully, as you can expect to have this canine companion for many years.

Buying From Breeders

A responsible breeder is your best option for a puppy and sometimes for an adult. A breeder will interrogate you to find out if you would provide a suitable home for one of her pups. References will be required, and the breeder may call your landlord if you rent, to be sure a dog is allowed. You will be shown health clearances for hips and elbows along with a temperament test evaluation of the dog’s parents.

A good breeder will be fussy, because by purchasing a puppy from her you become a part of her extended “dog family.” By the same token, you need to feel comfortable with the breeder and how the pups have been raised. You should be able to meet the mother. The father may live far away, as many breedings are done with shipped semen.

Responsible German shepherd breeders know their dogs inside and out. They can tell you which pup would be the best fit for your family. They might even tell you that a German shepherd is not the breed for you. A heavy workload or schedule full of commitments and a lack of time or space to exercise an energetic dog may mean a German shepherd is not a good match.

Breeders also place adult German shepherds. Perhaps the dog did not work out as a show dog or fit into the breeding program. These dogs are well socialized, well trained and enjoy becoming the light of someone’s life. An adult dog that is used to being confined part of the day and being left alone at times might be the perfect choice for a person who works.

Rescue Dogs

Rescue groups are another excellent option. Expect to find slightly older pups and adults available from these groups. A good rescue group will evaluate you as thoroughly as a breeder. After all, the German shepherds in their care have already passed through one family, and they want the next home for their charges to be the forever home.

Many dogs are given to rescue groups when they hit adolescence. Often these young dogs simply need more exercise and a better leader. Rescue groups have experienced people who evaluate the dogs and can guide you to the dog that will best fit your family. With both a rescue group and a breeder, be prepared to wait for your canine companion. Neither may have the perfect match for you on hand.

A good local shelter will provide much of the same support as a good breeder or rescue group. It will evaluate you thoroughly and will have a screening process in place for the dogs. It is unlikely you will find a young German shepherd puppy at a shelter, but teenage shepherds (from 8 to 18 months) and adults are common.

Evaluating Temperament

A breeder will know the personality of her litter’s parents and often will have firsthand knowledge of many relatives. She can give you a rough idea of what your German shepherd will be like when it grows up. Rescue groups and shelters rely on experienced staff and volunteers to determine the temperament and personality of the German shepherds that pass through their facilities.

It can be difficult to get an accurate evaluation of a German shepherd at a kennel-type facility that shelters may have. Some German shepherds will cower, as they are in shock at losing their family and home. Others will act aggressively — charging the front of the kennel and barking. That is generally a fearful reaction, as they are unsure of what is going on.

Most rescue groups and many shelters will arrange foster families for dogs that show these behaviors. Placed with an experienced family, the German shepherd can be more accurately evaluated. A dog that cowered at the noisy shelter may blossom in a family atmosphere. Arranging to foster a dog before adoption can be a way for you to decide if that particular German shepherd is the right match for you as well. This gives both you and the dog more time than a couple of quick visits to decide whether you belong together.

Puppy vs. Adult

When you start looking at listings of German shepherds, you need to decide how you feel about a puppy versus an adult dog. A puppy fills your heart with the instinctive love that baby animals inspire. You can mold your puppy to your habits and your schedule. A puppy is fun, funny and a huge amount of work!

Most people look at housebreaking as the primary drawback to getting a puppy. Housebreaking does take quite a bit of time and careful scheduling to work through. It is only a minor part of the time involved in raising a puppy, however. Your pup will need exercise and socialization (which is particularly important for herding breeds such as German shepherds). Expect to put in a full year of “overtime” to make your pup into the dog you want.

Puppy is more expensive

Added expenses come along with a puppy as well. You will need multiple collars as your pup outgrows the original one. There will be more veterinary visits to get your puppy well vaccinated and started on a preventive health care program.

Puppy foods tend to be more expensive than adult foods. You will need a crate or two, plus be prepared to cover some damage to personal items. (Hope it’s not the couch or a chewed door frame!) The cost of chew toys and other items to help with training and playing with your German shepherd puppy will add up.

An adult German shepherd from a rescue can slip easily into your life or provide the same complications as a puppy. An adult given to a rescue due to an owner death will generally be housebroken and trained — at least to the previous owner’s specifications. A stray picked up along the highway may require the same work and time input as a pup. Fortunately, training tends to move along quickly with an adult dog. Adult dogs, even seniors, can learn new tricks.

The adult dog may come with habits that you aren’t comfortable with. The dog may be used to sleeping on the bed — and an adult German shepherd can take up most of a bed! You may not want your dog on furniture or putting its paws up on countertops, as was done in a previous home. Undoing established habits will require time and patience.

The Spay or Neuter Question

As soon as your German shepherd is heading home with you, you must decide whether to spay or neuter. Most grown dogs from rescue groups, shelters and breeders will be spayed or neutered before they leave with you. In those cases, the decision has been made and is out of your hands. However, if you have purchased a German shepherd pup, you need to start planning now for surgery or puberty.

It is currently recommended that most dogs wait until they have achieved their full growth before spaying or neutering. This allows for bones to grow and close naturally and gives your German shepherd time for full physical development. Small dogs tend to have their first heat at a younger age than big dogs, but they also mature faster physically so full growth occurs sooner.

In the average German shepherd, full growth would be complete by about 18 to 20 months. By then, a female pup may have already had one heat — or even two. Some males will be lifting their legs and may have started some obnoxious intact male behaviors such as urine marking. Unless your dog displays major behavior problems, it is acceptable to wait to alter until this time.

Health Benefits

Spaying and neutering have some health benefits and some drawbacks. Spaying before the first heat basically removes the risk of breast cancer, along with any chance of uterine infections or cancers. There is a slightly increased risk of urinary leakage with age.

Neutering removes the chance of testicular cancer, which is quite high if one testicle is retained inside the abdomen. It also lowers the chances of developing prostate hyperplasia. The risk of prostate cancer may be increased in neutered males, however. Some orthopedic injuries such as torn cruciate ligaments and some other cancers, including bone cancer, may be influenced by early spay or neuter.

Behavior

Behavior issues can influence your decision about whether to spay or neuter and when. A male that is starting to wander off, searching for females in heat, or marking with urine or trying to “hump” people, may find an early neuter in his future. Some females in heat are virtually no trouble. Others leave blood around the house, try to escape to find just the right guy and attract suitors from miles around.

An intact German shepherd is a big responsibility:

  • Are you prepared to raise and place a litter if your bitch accidentally slips out of the house?
  • Do you want to deal with curtailed walks and activities during heats – which might be as frequent as every six months? With a male, you may have more macho posturing and behaviors to handle.
  • Can you look a 90-pound male German shepherd in the eye and stop him when he wants to go breed with the neighbor’s toy poodle?
  • Are you prepared to be totally vigilant so there is no urine marking around the house?

Traveling, visiting friends and taking part in activities are all easier with a spayed or neutered dog. Consider your lifestyle when you decide if you can live with an intact German shepherd.

The Right Match

The bottom line again comes down to: Is a German shepherd the dog for you? Are you the right person for a German shepherd?

This is a breed that needs a leader, a person with the ability to draw clear lines of acceptable behavior and follow up on them. German shepherds thrive with an owner who has a firm but fair and consistent way of training. These dogs need daily exercise and training throughout their lifetime. You won’t need to continue classes all the time if you don’t want to, but your German shepherd should practice some obedience commands every day. In fact, obedience should become part of daily life.

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