The Pros and Cons of Owning a German Shepherd


GSD looking straight

German Shepherd ownership is something that many of us think about, that is if we do not already own one. In this article, we will take a look just why so many of us choose to make a GSD part of our family, as well as some reasons why a GSD may not be the right fit for you.

It is very important to understand if a German Shepherd is the right breed of dog for you. Owning will will most certainly be life altering. Whether this change is for the better or the worse is entirely dependent on your understanding of your own limitations as well as what a GSD needs in terms of love, care, and maintenance.

Lets begin by introducing some basic bullet points of understanding about German Shepherds.

Pros

  • They have a familiar and striking appearance.
  • They are highly trainable.
  • They are exemplary at guarding and protecting.
  • They are excellent with children.
  • They are a very affectionate breed.
  • They are highly adaptable to all types of weather.
  • They are bred to work, thus making them excellent working dogs.
  • They are universally considered as one of the most intelligent breeds.
  • They are excellent swimmers.
  • They are excellent retrievers.
  • They are highly affectionate.

Cons

  • They are predisposed to some significant health issues.
  • They are notorious shedders.
  • They can be overprotective.
  • They need above average amounts of exercise.
  • They require a significant time commitment.
  • They are relatively expensive dogs to own/maintain.
  • They are considered a “dangerous breed” in some jurisdictions.
  • They require a lot of space.
  • They do not like to be left alone.
  • They require diligent socialization or may become aggressive.
  • They can become destructive if not given adequate attention.

Alright, now that you have a general overview of the pros and the cons, we will from here on take a closer look at some of the more significant aspects of German Shepherds that will help you to determine whether or not a GSD is the right fit for you and your family.

Life Expectancy

Saying goodbye to our dogs is not something that we like to think about, but this is a significant factor that you absolutely should take into consideration when deciding to welcome any dog into your life. It is important to think about the effect that it will have on this lives of you and your family – especially if you have children.

GSD in grass

Speaking from personal experience, I still vividly remember the passing of my first GSD, and that took place well over 20 years ago. It is something that will stay with you, and as unpleasant as it may be to consider, I urge you to come to terms with just how long you can plan on your new best friend being a part of your life.

The generally accepted rule is that, the bigger the dog, the shorter its lifespan. This is, for the most part, true. Though outside of having life cut short by a health condition, GSDs typically live a an average of 9-13 years. This is actually considered on the middle to higher end of years for any breed, but this is provided that you do your part in maintaining the physical and emotional well-being of your GSD.

Take a look at this post here for some very detailed information about German Shepherd life expectancy.

Shedding

Simply put – German Shepherds shed, a lot! If you choose to bring a GSD into your life, you must be aware of how much hair they shed. The hair, just as much as your dog, will be a part of your life.

Expect everything that you own to be covered in your dog’s hair. This means bedding, clothing, furniture, your car, and probably some other places that you would never expect! Please do not take this caution lightly, as it really can present some significant issues if you do not take the proper steps to address it.

This means that cleaning up your GSD’s hair will now be part of your daily routine. You will be buying hair removing rollers in bulk, and for good reason. You will be vacuuming daily, and you will be washing your clothes more frequently. So be prepared in general for your house cleaning routine to double. And if you have children, be sure that they will be up to the task as well.

For your convenience, listed below are two different brands of hair rollers that we have tried many times over and find to be cost efficient and very effective.

The ChomChom dog hair roller is one that we have used for quite some time. What we most like about it is that it is reusable, and this is important when dealing with copious amounts of GSD shedding.

In addition to a reusable hair roller, keeping a conventional sticky roller in your car can be useful. With a reusable roller, you need to clean it often and it’s best to do so over a garbage can. Keeping a sticky roller such as the PetLovers extra sticky lint roller is great for quickly cleaning yourself off before you go out in public or show up at a friend’s home.

Trust us – you may not notice how much dog hair is sticking to your clothing, but others will. If you don’t remove the hair yourself, you may find friends and even strangers at times lending a helping hand!

Space and Exercise

German Shepherds are bred to work. As such, they are high energy dogs, and they require far more exercise than most other breeds.

Ideally, you should have a yard that is big enough for your GSD to really stretch his legs and run at a full clip. If you do not have a large enough space for this available to you in the form of a yard, then it is essential that you be prepared not only to take your GSD on very long walks, but you should have access to an open space, such as a dog park, where your GSD will be able to run freely.

Generally speaking, your GSD will need at least 45 minutes of walking each and every day. This is a minimum. Ideally, a few walks and some free running, like a game of fetch, is best for a German Shepherd.

GSD running

In the best of scenarios to meet your GSD’s exercise needs, you should also have access to a sandy beach. GSDs love to swim, and because they are prone to hip problems, running on sand and swimming are some of the most beneficial and low-impact exercises for a GSD.

The importance of your ability to provide your GSD with enough exercise should not be underestimated, as an under-exercised German Shepherd will most likely become some combination of depressed and destructive – if not both.

Aggression and Training

There is good reason why GSDs are used in military and police applications. This is because they are strong, highly trainable, and excessively intelligent. Along with these qualities, GSDs also have the potential to seriously injure someone or worse.

While these are desirable characteristics to have in a dog, especially one being used for protection, they must be carefully nurtured to ensure that your GSD does not point his aggression in a manner that may be harmful to you, your family, or the general public. Making sure that you have the time available to properly train your GSD is essential.

If you do not have the time, then a professional dog trainer may be in order. However, it is important to note that just because a dog is professionally trained, you must still devote large amounts of time to reinforcing the training. A dog trainer is a useful aid, but should by no means be used as a replacement for your own involvement in your dog’s obedience.

Loyalty

Loyalty is perhaps the most important characteristic to look for in a dog breed. A loyal canine companion will literally never leave your side, and will be there for you during good, bad, and even potentially dangerous times.

German Shepherds can accurately be referred to as the poster dogs for loyalty. It is in their nature to serve their owners, and part of what a GSD considers “service” is to make sure that his owner is always watched over and kept safe.

After all, GSDS, as herding dogs, have historically been charged with keeping entire herds and flocks of animals out of harm’s way. your GSD will view you and your family as no different than the herd he is in charge of protecting, and will literally place his life between you and anything that he may perceive as a threat.

A word of caution here, this protective nature must be properly fostered and nurtured. A GSD that is not properly socialized will perceive many otherwise completely harmless people and animals as threats, and will thus act aggressively towards them. It is vital to properly socialize any potentially aggressive dog – especially a German Shepherd.

Heartiness and Adaptability

No question, German Shepherds are hearty dogs that have the ability to adapt to just about any circumstance or climate. This is part of the reason why they are so widely used in applications ranging from herding to military use.

What this means for the GSD owner is that they will not have to worry too much about if their dog is going to get too cold during winter or too hot during the summer as is the case with many other breeds. It is, however, extremely important to remember that this is not an excuse to just leave your dog be without any safeguards in place when introducing him to new environments.

GSD in snow

If it is abnormally cold outside, you must make sure that your GSD has available shelter. If it is very hot, then it is imperative that your GSD has access to as much fresh and clean water as he desires. New interactive situations, whether with people or with other animals, should always be met with a cautionary and gradual introduction.

In other words, your German Shepherd has the ability to adapt, but it is your responsibility to give your dog the tools he needs for success in these situations.

Compatibility With Children

German Shepherds are great with children. They love looking after and protecting them, and children love the endless entertainment that GSDs provide. It is not lost on a GSD that children are small and vulnerable, and a GSD will make it his job to make sure that small children that are part of his family are well looked after.

This does not mean that a GSD is a replacement for a babysitter by any means, but the right dog will allow parents with some much needed “me” time – so while not a replacement for a babysitter, they do come in at a close second place!

It is important here to remember that you should never leave a GSD alone with a child until you are completely familiar with your dog’s tendencies and confident in their ability to be gentle with your child.

A well-socialized GSD will never intentionally harm your child, but because they are much larger than a small child, it is possible that something like an innocent tail wag may inadvertently cause harm. Thus it is extremely important for you to do your part here to ensure that your child remains out of harm’s way until you are completely familiar with your GSD’s behaviors and tendencies.

Expense

money

German Shepherds are by no means inexpensive dogs to own. In fact, they are one of the most expensive breeds in terms of overall ownership costs. The cost of owning a GSD includes things such as:

  • spaying/neutering
  • vaccinations
  • worming
  • heart worm tests
  • food
  • cage(s)
  • toys
  • leashes and collars
  • beds
  • treats
  • boarding

Individually these costs are not overwhelming, but relatively speaking they can really add up. On average, the cost of German Shepherd ownership is roughly $1,200 to $1,500 per year.

This is a very important consideration when looking at the pros and cons of owning a GSD, because if you are unable to financially provide your dog with the things that he needs, you may be compromising his health, well-being, and consequently even his lifespan.

Health Issues

German Shepherds are, unfortunately, prone to many health issues that can have a significant impact on them, and can even play a role in shortening their lifespan. Some of the more prevalent health issues that may occur with a GSD are:

  • Hip dysplasia
  • Arthritis
  • Degenerative myelopathy
  • Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency

While these health issues may be considered a con to German Shepherd ownership, the likelihood of them occurring to your GSD can be minimized by proper research and finding a good and reputable breeder.

Take a look at this article here for some valuable information on the benefits of using a reputable breeder when purchasing a German Shepherd.

Final Thoughts

If you have decided that a German Shepherd is the dog that you want in your life, it is very important to make sure that your decision is an informed one. Far too often, people love the idea of owning a GSD, but when it comes down to it, they sadly find themselves unprepared for the different commitments that come along with GSD ownership.

We are advocates of German Shepherd ownership – but we advocate for responsible ownership. If you have carefully weighed the pros and cons and find that you are a suitable owner, then by all means, say hello to your new best friend!

However, if you are questioning your financial ability or time available to properly care for a GSD, then it is beneficial to yourself and your next dog to perhaps wait until your circumstances are better suited to GSD ownership, or to choose another breed that better suits your lifestyle and financial circumstances.

Hunter Reed

I've owned and trained German Shepherds for over 18 years now. I'm originally from Indiana, though I've lived in many different states 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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