How to Care for German Shepherds in Heat: The Ultimate Guide


gsd looking up

Whether you plan to breed your German Shepherds or just want to keep them safe during their heat cycles, it’s imperative to know what’s happening and why.

Once you understand what it means for a GSD to be in heat, you can take measures to keep your dog safe, comfortable, and appropriately cared for during this important and sometimes stressful time.

Below, we’ll cover everything you need to know about German Shepherds in heat, so let’s get started.

What Does It Mean When a German Shepherd Is in Heat?

All canine females go through the heat cycle once they reach a certain age. That age is based largely on their breed and size, but there is always some wiggle room here.

Generally speaking, a female dog can enter estrus—the heat cycle—around six months of age to nine months, though some wait until a year or longer to begin.

The only exception to heat is any female that’s been spayed. Since her reproductive organs have been removed, she no longer goes through the cycle.

German Shepherds are large dogs. This means they are more likely to wait a bit longer to have their first heat. Some wait up to two years. Even so, you should be watching your GSD closely for signs of estrus as early as four months of age.

If you’re new to canine reproduction, all of what you just read might seem like a foreign language. What does all of this actually mean? Here’s a primer on canine estrus cycles.

What Is a Heat Cycle in German Shepherds?

When a female dog reaches sexual maturity, she will begin what is called the heat cycle. The medical term is estrus, though some people call it being in season or sometimes doggie periods.

Even with all these different names, it’s all talking about the same thing. The dog’s body is releasing more of the hormone estrogen, then levels quickly drop, signaling the ovaries to release eggs.

When a dog is in heat, she will be receptive to breeding, usually resulting in a litter of puppies. When a female GSD is in heat, she will give some fairly obvious signs. Or at least they’re obvious if you know what to look for.

Signs of Heat in German Shepherds

More frequent urination often signals the start of the heat cycle in GSDs. There are many physiological changes taking place inside her, so her systems may seem out of whack.

But frequent urination is also Mother Nature’s way of ensuring your female dog’s scent is spread around, announcing her receptiveness to breeding.

A blood-tinged discharge may be present during estrus, and it happens to be the sign that most people notice first. Many dogs clean themselves very well during this time so there is nothing to worry about, but not all are able to keep up with this.

It’s best to provide protective garments to keep this discharge off your furniture.

A swollen vulva is a frequent occurrence during heat. Your dog may spend more time licking herself and cleaning this area. It’s best not to disturb her – she won’t hurt herself, and the swelling is not from irritation.

Nervousness or distraction are two behavioral signs of heat in German Shepherds. This is due to the surge in hormones. She may be confused about what’s happening during her first heat cycle, which can increase nervousness. However, not all dogs go through this phase. Many simply take it in stride.

Flagging is the act of flipping her tail to one side and presenting her vulva to male dogs in the vicinity. While generally harmless, some dogs even flag their owners. It may become a bit annoying if your dog is particularly insistent about it, but try not to punish her for this behavior. She honestly can’t help herself.

How Often Will My German Shepherd Go Into Heat?

Calendar

It’s impossible to know for sure, but there are some averages here at least. Most dogs will go into heat approximately once every six months. With all things in nature, however, there is a wide variation that is perfectly normal, too.

Many larger breeds, such as Great Danes, will have delayed starts and longer periods between each heat cycle. Since German Shepherds are large dogs, you may only see one heat cycle a year. In fact, you may only see one every eighteen months or so.

But don’t get your calendar out yet. Mother Nature isn’t done messing with you yet!

It Takes Practice

Even though Mother Nature did a pretty good job creating the systems that keep our dogs running, there will always be room for errors and hiccups.

Sometimes, it can take a year or more for your dog to get into a relatively predictable cycle. Notice we said “relatively predictable”; more on that in a moment.

Some dogs take up to two years after the start of their first heat cycle to find their unique pattern. Pregnancy can disrupt this cycle, too, so don’t set your watch by it. Usually, by age four or five your dog’s body will have adjusted to the hormone fluctuations.

At this point, it’s okay to try to predict when each cycle will be and then plan accordingly. Just don’t write it in stone.

Older and Wiser

You may have just gotten used to her heat cycle by four, five, or six years of age, then suddenly things go haywire again. Perhaps she had one cycle this year when she usually has two, or maybe it lasted a shorter time than normal.

Relax. There’s likely nothing wrong with your dog; this is just nature’s way of ensuring strong, healthy puppies. As with other mammals, the fertile period for dogs starts to decrease as she ages.

The older a dog is, the less fertile she will become. This is because a German Shepherd is born with all the eggs (or at least the follicles) she will ever have, a bit like humans.

There are differences, of course—such as canine eggs being far more immature than human eggs upon release—but the basic mechanics are the same. Those eggs will slowly lose their effectiveness and die off, even though their method of ovulation is slightly different than ours.

Basically, without boring you with super technical science jargon, the older a dog is, the fewer viable eggs she will have, and the fewer hormones she’ll produce. It also means she’ll have longer pauses between heat cycles.

How Long Do Heat Cycles Last for German Shepherds?

You may have noticed a trend in this article so far—heat cycles can vary widely, and size plays a pretty big role. That’s true for how long each heat cycle lasts, too.

Some dogs, often the very tiny breeds, may be in heat for only a few days. Others can be in heat for weeks on end. Shorter heat cycles of less than a week are pretty rare though. The average heat cycle for a German Shepherd is about three weeks.

As your dog ages, her cycles may shorten or lengthen. If you’re concerned, ask your vet. They may decide to check her hormone levels and do a physical to be sure nothing scary is happening. Most likely, however, it’s just normal aging stuff.

Do Male German Shepherds Go Into Heat?

It is a common misconception that male dogs also go into heat. While it’s simply untrue, it does make a bit of sense why someone might think they do. Here’s why.

Because male German Shepherds are sexually active year-round (after reaching sexual maturity, of course), they are highly attuned to any in-season females in the vicinity.

When they sense a female in heat, they will begin to act strangely, becoming aggravated, agitated, and may even develop aggression. They’re trying to get to the female to fulfill their natural-born duty—to impregnate the female.

That’s Not Heat!

To the untrained eye—or a misinformed owner—this seems an awful lot like a heat cycle in a male dog. It’s not though. This behavior is simply your male dog’s way of responding to a female in heat.

Since he can’t get to her, he may become frustrated and start to develop a behavioral issue or two. Removing him from the source of his frustration (the smell of the female in heat) will quickly return him to his normal behaviors.

Since he can return to normal so quickly, it’s clear that this is not a heat cycle—which comes from within the body. It’s a response to an outside stimulus—smelling a female in heat.

Thanks, Science! Another Myth Thwarted!

How to Care for a German Shepherd in Heat

Now that you know what a heat cycle is (and isn’t), it’s time to learn how to care for your German Shepherd during her heat cycle.

Before we get started, please stick around until the end of the article. We’ll also cover what to do for your male German Shepherd if he’s sensing a female in heat. Your sweet little boy needs some help, too!

First and foremost, there isn’t a lot of intervention needed when a healthy German Shepherd goes into heat. Not for her body at least. Her body knows what it’s doing. Even if it’s just starting out and making a few newbie mistakes, it’ll get the hang of things without your help.

What you can do, however, is be an emotional support human for your dog. It’s the least we can do, right?

Be Loving

Even though this is a totally natural thing for dogs, it might be frightening to a young German Shepherd who has never been in heat before. It can also be upsetting and stressful to an older dog who has had a traumatic first or second heat cycle, too.

Now is your chance to remind your dog how much you love her.

Speak softly if she seems agitated. Be gentle and kind. Don’t yell at her for her strange behaviors or punish her for doing what nature intended. If she makes a mess, don’t scold her—just clean it up and move on. She needs to know that there is nothing wrong with her, and she’ll know this by how you treat her.

Protect Your Furniture and Floor

With the squishy, loving part out of the way, we should look at practicality. Heat cycles can be messy. Between the excessive urination, the bloody discharge, and the antsy chewing, your house could end up a huge mess.

If you prepare now, however, you can avoid all of that, reducing your stress and your dog’s.

Get some “period panties” for your GSD in heat. These are basically dog diapers. They are designed to catch the discharge and may even save your rug from a urination accident.

Dog diapers come in a variety of sizes, styles, and prices. There are disposables available, but if you care about the environment, look into washable fabric diapers or period garments.

A word of warning: Do not use dog diapers as a birth control method. They do not stop hormone-driven dogs from mating.

Provide a Special Room

If doggie diapers aren’t your idea of fun, your house can still stay relatively clean. This involves keeping your in-heat GSD in a room with a tile or linoleum floor.

She’ll leave a bit of a mess that you’ll want to clean frequently, but at least you won’t have to change diapers for three weeks.

Keep in mind that estrus discharge can smell quite strongly. If you have a sensitive nose, must leave your dog alone for eight or more hours, or get queasy at the sight of blood, you won’t want to skip the diapers.

Trust us on this one. Most dogs will clean up after themselves, but only their own bodies. They’ll leave the floor, bedding, toys, and furniture to you.

A Crate is a Cave

If you crate trained your dog when she was a puppy, her crate might be a good option. If you need a break from diaper duty (and don’t mind doing some laundry), your GSD in heat can stay in her crate for a little while.

Just don’t leave her in there too long or all by herself. You don’t want her to think she’s being punished.

Be sure to wash her bedding thoroughly after each visit to the crate. If you thought estrus blood on your tile smelled bad, just wait until you get a whiff of it after three days on her dog bed. Yikes!

Isolate the Lady

It may seem cruel to keep your GSD in heat indoors and isolated from other dogs, but it’s not. She will not be thinking or acting like herself for much of the cycle, so it’s best to keep her isolated indoors and away from other intact dogs.

Intact females can be a bit aggressive toward one another. This is especially true of those in heat. Even worse is letting an in-heat female into a room with an intact male if you’re not planning on breeding. It doesn’t take long for two dogs to get it on.

Do not bring her to the dog park or leave her unattended in your yard. You’d be shocked to see how far a male dog would go to get to a female in heat.

Do keep her away from other dogs, but don’t isolate her from her human or other animal companions. She’s going to need lots of love, remember.

The Leash is the Way

gsd on leash

Even in your own yard, keep your German Shepherd on a leash when she is in heat. Obviously, we don’t mean when you’re in the house. If you must take her outside for any reason, even in your fenced yard, put the leash on. Why?

As mentioned earlier, every male dog in the neighborhood (and even from outside the neighborhood) will be chewing through your fence, digging under it, or hopping over it to get to your GSD.

Without the leash, you’d be hard-pressed to stop the two from getting together and making a bunch of unexpected puppies.

Keep Her Busy

You won’t be able to distract a dog in heat for long, but you may be able to provide some temporary relief. Offer a new toy every few days to help distract her from nature’s call.

You might try to play a new game or even just repeat an old favorite. Spend extra time with her and you will both benefit from the attention.

See the Vet

It’s true that having a dog in heat is not unnatural, it doesn’t mean it isn’t scary. This is especially true for new dog owners or those who have never experienced a heat cycle before with a previous pet.

It’s never a bad idea to bring your dog to the vet when you have questions or concerns.

While there, your veterinarian will examine your dog. Chances are good that everything will be perfectly fine. But this visit isn’t all about her. It’s about you, too.

This is the perfect time to ask all your questions and to get some support. You should walk away feeling much more capable of handling the next few weeks.

What About Male German Shepherds During Heat?

As promised, we’ll talk a little about caring for a male German Shepherd during another dog’s heat cycle. You now know that male dogs do not go into heat.

Yet, they sure do start acting weird when someone else’s female dog goes into heat. How can you help your male dog survive a heat cycle? It’s surprisingly easy.

If your male German Shepherd is still intact, he’s going to smell a female in heat from quite far away. However, it’s not that he’s smelling her over that long distance.

More likely, he’s tracked her from farther away. Her smell may have clung to her owner out for a walk alone, for example.

Regardless, if there is a female in heat somewhere within walking distance, your male dog is going to know it… and so will you.

Distance

Keep your male German Shepherd indoors if you know there is a dog in heat nearby. It may not seem fair, but either is creating a bunch of unexpected puppies.

If your male dog is showing signs of sniffing out a female in heat, keep him locked up inside, on a leash when outside, and under your careful supervision at all times.

Male dogs can become incredibly aggressive when a female is in heat. It doesn’t matter how well trained he is; he’s listening to his instincts now. Don’t treat him like a criminal, but do keep him under lock and key for a while.

Hide the Smell

If you’re lucky, you may be able to hide the smell of the dog in heat from your male GSD. Some people have luck with menthol products dabbed on windowsills or door frames.

Other people have tried strong-smelling, natural products such as mint or sour apple. We’ve used Cliganic USDA Organic Peppermint Essential Oil in a diffuser with some level of success.

Every dog is different, so try a few things to try to hide that smell.

That said, never use harsh chemicals and never put the products on your dog’s nose or anywhere on his body. The goal is to make the house heat-proof, not your dog.

Important note: Before you use any essential oils around your dog, make sure that you are prepared to do it in a safe manner. We have an excellent post linked for you below that will take all of the guesswork out of it and make sure that your dog stays safe.

Is Aromatherapy Bad for Dogs? How to Safely Use It

Leave

It may not be feasible for all situations, but if you can manage it, leave the area with your dog. By taking him away from the smell of the female in heat, you’ll be relieving him of the stress involved. Think of it as a vacation with your good boy.

Distraction

You may not always know where the female in heat is located, nor can you get away. In these cases, you still need to keep your male dog locked up. But try to keep him occupied with fun distractions.

Games, toys, treats, and lots of time with you should help some.

Crate Time

If you’ve tried to keep him locked in the house and tempted him with tons of toys to no avail, it might be time for the crate. Don’t use it as punishment; just use the crate as a safe, secure, and comfortable place for your dog to wait out the heat cycle.

A really functional crate that we’ve used more than a few times is the MidWest Homes for Pets iCrate. It’s really the only crate that you’ll ever need, as it has heavy duty slide bolts and comes with a divider to accommodate your German Shepherd at every size as she grows.

Doggy Daycare and Boarding

If all else fails, you can enroll your male dog in a doggy daycare or boarding session. Most daycares and boarders do not allow females in heat, so your dog will be safe and happy playing with other dogs while the air clears around your home.

Medication

While we don’t generally turn to medical intervention for things like dealing with estrus, it may be necessary in some cases. There are some male dogs that become completely loony when they sense a female in heat. Sometimes, there is no other option but asking your vet for help.

Some vets may have suggestions before trying medications for calming your dog, too. They may have suggestions for herbal tinctures or sprays to use around the house, wipes to use on your dog’s fur, or something brand-new and space age. It never hurts to ask.

And at the very least, they can prescribe a medication to help keep your buddy calm and serene until the storm of estrus passes.

How Is That Fair?

It may seem unfair that you’d have to do so much (and incur so many expenses) to keep your male dog in line while someone else’s female dog is in heat, but that’s life.

Likely, the female’s owner is just as vexed as you, though you may not be thinking about that right now. Listen, it’s best to tuck that indignity aside. This isn’t about fairness to you or your right to live however you like, as much as you may hate to read that. Let’s be real though.

When you own a German Shepherd, their needs should always come before your own.

In this case, your male GSD is suffering, frustrated, and may even become aggressive if you choose to do nothing. You could end up with unwanted puppies at your door in a few months, a big vet bill for a c-section, or even worse, a hospital bill when your dog bites someone in his frenzy to get to the female in heat.

The bottom line is that your pride and entitlement mean squat when it comes to keeping your male German Shepherd safe, happy, and healthy.

The dog in heat may not be yours, but the male going nuts because he can’t get to her is yours. Give him the love and care he needs.

Final Thoughts

When a female German Shepherd goes into heat, it can be a time of stress, mess, and frustration for everyone. But it doesn’t have to be all negative.

If you prepare yourself and your household right now, you can handle the weeks ahead without a hitch. Be vigilant, be kind, be aware of your dog’s needs.

And if you have a male dog who senses a female in heat, you can make it through this, too. It takes a little know-how, ingenuity, and willingness on your part.

Male or female, your GSD will make it through this heat cycle—and any in the future—happy and healthy because of the steps you took today to prepare.

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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