Do German Shepherds Get Depressed?


German Shepherds are highly emotionally sensitive dogs, and they are able to easily perceive if we are sad, happy, or even just feeling tired. During times when we are feeling depressed or worn out, we often seek comfort from our furry companions, and they are always there to provide us with plenty of it.

But what about our dogs, can they feel the same way – do German Shepherds get depressed?

It is not uncommon for dogs to feel depressed for short periods of time, especially after experiencing a significant change to their life or environment. However, it is rare for a dog to suffer from long-term depression.

Unfortunately, sometimes we are not so good at reciprocating the love and affection that our dogs so willingly and selflessly give to us during our times of need.

In this article, we will cover the signs of depression in German Shepherds, why they may get depressed, and the measures that you can take to help your dog to once again be in high spirits.

Signs of Depression in Your German Shepherd

Unlike a human friend or family member, a German Shepherd will not be able to verbally communicate its feelings to you. It is up to you to be mindful of how your dog is feeling.

A depressed German Shepherd will most often exhibit one or a combination of the following behaviors:

  • visible sadness
  • reluctance to show affection
  • excessive sleeping
  • loss of appetite
  • loss of interest in going on walks
  • loss of interest in playing with toys
  • being reclusive or hiding
  • aggression

If you do notice that your German Shepherd is exhibiting these behaviors, before you just assume that she is doing so due to depression, it’s very important that you take your dog to be checked out by your veterinarian.

The reason for this is because the symptoms of depression in your GSD are also very similar to the symptoms of a number of health problems.

Your veterinarian will likely want to perform some blood tests and may even want to take some x-rays of your dog to make sure that there is not a different underlying health-related issue behind these behaviors.

If after your veterinarian performs the requisite tests they find that there are no other health issues present in your dog, then the reason for your dog’s behavior is most likely depression.

Change in Lifestyle Leading to Depression

Sometimes your German Shepherd may be experiencing a dramatic change to her lifestyle, and you may not even be aware of it.

As humans, we are used to change, and we take the appropriate steps, planning-wise and emotionally, to make sure that we are well prepared for the coming changes.

This is a bit different when it comes to your dog. While German Shepherds are able to adapt extremely well to change, sudden and unexpected changes can take an emotional toll on them.

If your GSD is exhibiting any of the symptoms listed above, ask yourself if any of the following conditions apply to your dog’s schedule or living arrangements:

1. Changes to Your Schedule – When You Leave and When You Arrive

GSDs crave consistency. This keeps them sharp and functioning at their best.

If you have recently acquired new employment or if there is something else in your life that has required your schedule to significantly change, this can have an effect on your GSDs expectations about when you are able to be present for her.

Your dog will need a bit of time to adjust, and it is not uncommon for a GSD to be in a depressed state for a short period of time following a significant change to your comings and goings.

2. Changes in Your GSD’s Walking Schedule

If your schedule has changed and it is affecting when you are able to walk your dog – your GSD will notice. Again this has to do with a change in what your dog relied on to be a constant, and this can negatively affect her mood.

3. Changes in Your GSD’s Feeding Schedule

Feeding your GSD at the same time every day is very important to her mental state. Think of it in the same way as if someone were to abruptly switch up your lunch hour without notice.

You would eventually adjust, but you wouldn’t be very happy in the meantime. This is the same for your GSD, and she may show her discontent with a notable downward shift in her mood.

4. Someone New Moving into Your Home

GSDs grow very attached to their homes. They are protective of their property and their herd. A GSD’s herd is her family, and if someone comes into your GSDs home and remains there, this can confuse her.

A new person in your home may cause jealousy or general sadness in your dog, as she may now feel that she is not receiving the attention that she was once so used to.

5. Someone Moving out of Your Home

Just like you, your GSD is very fond of each member of her family, or herd. For various reasons – divorce, college, etc., a person who is a member of your GSD’s herd may need to move out.

Just like you, your GSD will notice that person’s absence. This can cause a GSD to grieve, and you may notice her exhibiting a depressed mood.

6. Death of a Loved One

If a loved one passes away, your German Shepherd will not just think that the person has moved out of the home. Because GSDs are so intuitively keen at sensing the energy of others, they are able to tell if a loved one has passed on simply by being in tune with everyone else in mourning.

A German Shepherd will go through a grieving process much the same as humans, albeit a shorter one.

During these times, it is common for a German Shepherd to show visible and behavioral signs of depression, simply because they are, and they have good reason to be.

7. The Arrival of a New Baby

This may produce similar effects as a new person moving into your home, except that the emotional impact on your GSD will likely be much more dramatic.

When you have a baby, by necessity you will not have as much time and attention to devote to your GSD as she was once used to.

The addition of new baby in a household is one of the most common reasons for GSD depression.

8. A New Animal Brought into Your Home

Be mindful of introducing any new pet into your home, especially if it is another dog.

Even though your GSD may grow to love your new pet, she will most likely not be very pleased at first. Anything that diverts your attention away from your GSD will be perceived as a negative to your dog.

The most common reactions in such a case are either aggression towards the new animal, or withdrawal and a depressed mood.

9. Regular Arguments Within Your Home

German Shepherds are highly sensitive when it comes to picking up on other people’s energies. If there are regular arguments occurring within a home, this can have a dramatically negative effect on your GSD’s mood.

Your dog will not only feel stressed out when arguments are occurring, but she will pick up on your mood before and after, leaving her in a constant state of depression.

This is because she can sense as an argument is starting and the resulting depressed or angry state that the participants exhibit afterward.

10. Addition of a Pet Sitter or Being Taken to a Doggy Daycare

If you have recently started to enlist the help of a pet sitter or have started to take your GSD to a doggy daycare, this can lead to your GSD showing signs of depression.

Your GSD will have to learn to trust new people and possibly dealing with a change in her environment at the same time.

This disrupts the consistency that your GSD is used to, and her displeasure with the new arrangements may present as depression.

11. Boredom

Boredom is common in German Shepherds. All too often people get a German Shepherd without having a clear understanding of the mental engagement necessary for their dog’s well-being.

GSDs are extremely intelligent dogs, and because of this, they have to have consistent mental stimulation present in their lives.

If a GSD is left to their own devices by an owner who is not aware of this and actively promoting mental stimulation for their dog, the GSD will take matters into its own paws.

They may either act out destructively or will go the other direction and fall into a state of depression.

What Can You Do to Help Your German Shepherd out of Depression?

We, of course, never wish it upon our German Shepherds to be depressed. Many of us know how that feels, and we understand the significant negative impact that depression can have on our lives.

Fortunately, if your dog is depressed, you are not without solutions to help your GSD to climb out of this state.

There are a number of things that you are able to do that will likely have your beloved pet feeling upbeat and full of life once again in a short time.

If your German Shepherd is depressed, try taking action in any of the following ways:

1. Begin your day with a long walk with your dog early in the morning

Dogs are very similar to humans in this regard. A morning mixture of fresh air combined with sunshine will help to elevate your German Shepherd’s mood.

By starting the day off with a positive experience such as this, it will help your dog to maintain a more consistent an upbeat mood throughout the day.

Use morning walks as a starting point. Ideally, you want to take your GSD for at least two quality walks every day.

Also, remember to give your dog some indoor physical exercise and play before going out. This will put your dog to be in a more calm state while on the walk and allow her to focus on interacting with the environment instead of just burning off pent up energy.

2. Spend More Quality Time with Your German Shepherd

Your GSD more than just loves you. To her, you are even her responsibility in some ways. As a part of her herd, she views you as someone that she must watch over and protect.

German Shepherds love to work and protect, and if you are absent it prevents her from performing what she views as one of her fundamental duties in life.

So even if this means taking a few extra minutes here and there, these can add up and over time will make a big difference to the well-being of your GSD.

When you are spending time with your dog, make sure that it is quality time. This means not just being present, but instead being actively involved with petting her, talking with her, and just being generally very affectionate overall.

And don’t hesitate to be overly affectionate, just like your dog is with you!

3. Socialize Your German Shepherd

In this instance, “socialization” means to just take your dog out to experience some social interaction with other people and animals.

There are a number of ways to do this. You could take your GSD to a dog park or even take her to a socialization class – these can be found in most cities by just conducting a Google search.

German Shepherds are pack animals, so same species socialization is very important for them.

Socialization helps them to feel connected much in the same way that humans feel connected with others by attending various social functions. A dog park or socialization class is essentially a social function for your dog.

4. Work on Your Own Happiness

Do not underestimate the importance of this. As mentioned previously, dogs are extremely aware of peoples’ energies, and they will emulate the energy being emitted by their owners.

Think about it, have you ever met an extremely happy person with an extremely unhappy dog? It’s very unlikely that you have.

So if you are having difficulty maintaining your own happiness and well-being, your German Shepherd will pick up on this. It may very well feel the same internal negativity that you may not even know that you are putting out.

5. Reinforce Your GSD’s Good Moods

If you are taking active measures to bring your German Shepherd out of depression, make sure that you are rewarding your dog as she begins to feel better.

This is similar to obedience training, but instead of rewarding your dog for performing an action that you have taught her, you are rewarding her for any signs of improvement from her depressed state.

These rewards can take many forms. Any time you see a sign of improvement, such as a return to eating normally, showing eagerness to go out and play, or just wanting to interact more in general – make sure to reward your German Shepherd with a treat.

It’s smart to keep treats on you at all times so that you are always ready to give your dog one as a reward and to encourage her to continue on with her recovery.

She won’t really notice what’s going on, she will just be associating the treats with good behavior – but the improvements in her mood will most certainly be noticed by you.

6. Buy Some New Toys for Your Dog

If your German Shepherd is depressed, it’s very important that you try and revitalize her interest in as many things as possible.

The introduction of a new toy can work wonders. This can be as simple as a ball (as long as you are willing to take the time and play fetch), or it’s also a great idea for you to bring home an interactive puzzle toy for your dog.

Puzzle toys can work wonders, as they require a dog to work by using their mind – which GSDs thrive on. Your dog’s intelligent work is then rewarded by a treat or food contained within the toy.

If you don’t want to spend too much money for an elaborate puzzle toy, a simple Kong toy will do the trick just as well.

Take a look at this really informative video on how to best use the simple Kong toy to keep your GSD mentally stimulated.

7. Engage in Basic Obedience Training

Even though your dog may be well trained, it is still important to go through the motions of basic obedience training from time to time – especially if your German Shepherd is depressed.

Simply taking a few minutes here and there to have your dog sit, stay, shake, and perform whatever other tricks that you may have taught her will work to keep her mind engaged – which is an absolute necessity for a GSD.

8. Play Relaxing Music for Your Dog (Auditory Enrichment)

The effects of playing music to relax and promote happiness with dogs have undergone a fair amount of study in recent years. It has been shown that dogs do in fact react to music much in the way that humans do.

Psychologist Deborah Wells at Queens University in Belfast conducted just such a study, and her findings included that:

It is important, however, the genre of music that you play for your dog, as playing the wrong genre may actually exacerbate depression and an overall negative mood in your dog.

“It is well established that music can influence our moods. Classical music, for example, can help to reduce levels of stress, whilst grunge music can promote hostility, sadness, tension and fatigue. It is now believed that dogs may be as discerning as humans when it comes to musical preference.”

Deborah Wells, Psychologist, Queens University Belfast

In a study conducted by the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), researchers exposed shelter dogs to six-hour long playlists consisting of five different genres of music.

They played Soft Rock, Classical, Motown, Pop, and Reggae music for the dogs.

As the dogs were listening to the music, the researchers took measurements of the dogs’ heart rates, cortisol levels, and other stress-related behaviors like barking and lying down.

This is what they found:

  • Regardless of genre, the dogs spent significantly more time lying down and significantly less time standing when music was played, indicating a more relaxed state.
  • While the music was playing, there was no observable effect on barking, but the dogs did display a tendency to bark after the music stopped playing, indicating that the music was holding their attention.
  • HRV, or Heart Rate Variability, was significantly higher – which indicates decreased stress.

    When the dogs were played Reggae and Soft Rock. Motown, Pop, and Classical genres had the same effect but to a lesser degree.
  • Cortisol, a stress regulating hormone, decreased both before and after Soft Rock was played, indicating that the genre is effective at reducing stress.
  • Over time the dogs’ physiological and behavioral changes suggested that the dogs were becoming habituated to each different genre, which indicated that dogs can benefit even more from hearing a variety of different genres.

So take note, so to speak, and if your German Shepherd is displaying signs and symptoms of depression, try playing some Reggae or Classical music for your dog.

And remember to alternate between the genres to prevent your dog from becoming habituated to one particular style of music.

What to Do If Your German Shepherd Is Still Depressed?

Now that you have an understanding of why your German Shepherd may be depressed and what you can do about it if this is the case with your dog, let’s talk about what to do if none of the above solutions do not seem to have a positive effect on your dog’s mental state.

If symptoms of depression continue for more than a week, despite your best efforts, it’s very important that you contact a veterinarian who specialized in ethology.

Ethology is the study of animal behavior, and a competent ethologist will be able to clinically diagnose your dog and may actually prescribe medication to ease your dog out of depression. This is not a very common practice, and should only be resorted to in cases where nothing else seems to work.

Final Thoughts

German Shepherds are mentally one of the strongest breed of dogs – if not the strongest. But there are times that, just like humans, they are not feeling at their emotional best.

If your GSD is feeling down, it’s very likely that your dog’s depression can be linked to a definite cause. With the proper love and care from you, it will be only a temporary condition, and your beloved pup will be back to her old self in no time!

Hunter Reed

I've owned and trained German Shepherds for over 20 years now. While I've lived in many different places and traveled extensively - the places change, my dogs don't. German Shepherds have been my constant companions. I love every aspect of training them and simply just having them around. I also enjoy sharing my knowledge about German Shepherds with the world, and I encourage all future dog owners to consider one as a companion as well. Read my story here.

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