Are German Shepherds Good First Dogs? Prepare Yourself!


german shepherd puppy

Unlike smaller breeds, GSDs can be high-maintenance for inexperienced first-timers, and if not trained properly, they will become bored and aggressive easily.

German Shepherds can be wonderful and rewarding first dogs, but only if you have the time and a lifestyle compatible to the breed. They can be one of the most loyal and intelligent dogs you’ll ever have, but these big dogs also require lots of training, socialization, and daily exercise.

If you still wondering if a German Shepherd is right for you, you have come to the right place! Here we will discuss the factors you will want to consider before getting a GSD as your dog.

Factors to Consider When Getting a German Shepherd

German Shepherds are very large dogs, and their big size also means bigger responsibilities for the owner.

If you’re looking to this breed as your first dog, there are factors that you should think about before finally committing to this breed.

Trainability, attitude with other kids and pets, viability for living in your space, grooming requirements, cost, and health issues are some of the things you should consider.

Many German Shepherds are handed over to sheltersOpens in a new tab. because pet owners realize they cannot handle them anymore. Some of the reasons the dogs are given up for adoption could have easily been avoided if the owners had put forth the time and energy to train them properly.

Therefore, it is very important that you take your time in deciding this, and whether you can deal with the responsibilities that owning a German Shepherd entails.

Otherwise, you may end up getting stressed about a dog that you cannot handle. In turn, the dog will grow up with poor manners, bored, and aggressive.

Are German Shepherds Easy to Train?

German Shepherds are very easy to train, thanks to their natural intelligence and willingness to please their owners. This is why they not only excel at being pets, but also make the best service dogs, therapy dogs, and emotional support animals.

A well-trained GSD is very fun and rewarding to be around! You will have a life companion who is well-behaved, calm, and confident enough to interact with other people and animals.

You should take advantage of the GSD’s inherent traits to train her to the best of her ability, or else, all that intelligence will be put to waste!

Of course, all dogs need training at an early age, but for German Shepherds, it is crucial that you train them early and frequently.

Unlike smaller dogs, big dogs like the GSD can get very destructive when they are bored. On a positive note, you can spot these bad habits easily and correct them early.

Therefore, it is essential that you have the time and energy to train your GSD properly. If you think you cannot commit to this responsibility, a GSD is definitely not the right breed for you.

The truth is that it is rather simple to train a GSD, but you need to be consistent about it. If you are inconsistent with your frequency and your commands, your dog may get bored or even forget the tricks she has already learned.

Ideally, training your GSD should start from puppyhood while the dog is primed for learning new tricks and behavior.

This doesn’t mean, however, that it will be impossible to train an older GSD (in case you plan to adopt an adult one). It will only take more time and work.

Aspects of training that you should focus on are socialization (the most important), crate training, housetraining, basic obedience, and advanced obedience.

If you want to go the extra mile, you may also sign up your dog for agility competitions, or therapy work in hospitals and nursing homes.

For more information on training a German Shepherd, you will want to check out our complete training guide.

Do German Shepherds Need Socialization?

Socialization is perhaps the most important skill that your German Shepherd must learn from an early age.

Exposure to different sights, smells, sounds, people, and animals will make your dog confident about her surroundings. As she learns from your cues, she will be able to discern which people or animals are dangerous and which ones are safe to interact with.

On the other hand, an unsocialized dog will become shy, fearful, and aggressive, which can easily turn into a dangerous situation. The last thing you want to happen is a huge angry dog biting another animal or worse, people.

For a more comprehensive look at this topic, here is an in-depth guide on how to properly socialize your GSD.

Do German Shepherds Require Lots of Exercise?

The short answer is yes! German Shepherds require plenty of exercise, and by that we mean not just short trips outside for potty.

Exercise for German Shepherds means long walks for 30 minutes to an hour, and a variety of activities to provide new sources of stimulation.

Because German Shepherds are big dogs, it is only crucial to exercise them daily to prevent them from becoming overweight and developing hip and joint issues.

Exercise also helps to prevent boredom as it stimulates their brains and gives them something do. German Shepherds were bred as herding dogs, which is why they like to be on their feet most of the time.

That being said, you should be prepared to be active with your dog.

If you have an active lifestyle to begin with, this shouldn’t be a problem. Your GSD will be your perfect exercise companion.

On the other hand, if you have a sedentary lifestyle, this responsibility can overwhelm you.

On another note, you can take advantage of this opportunity to start becoming more active yourself. However, if you have an illness that will limit you from being physically active, you may benefit from getting a breed that doesn’t need exercise much.

As a rule of thumb, GSD puppies require less exercise than adults. Ideally, your puppy should get at least two sessions of exercise each day, with each session lasting for 5 minutes per month of age. For example, your 3-month old puppy should get two 15-minute sessions each day.

Be careful not to stress your puppy too much, as their bones are still developing. Avoid very long walks and highly strenuous activities such as weight-pulling. Wait until they turn 1 to 2 years of age before introducing them to heavier exercises.

For adult German Shepherds, the American Kennel Club recommends at least two hours daily.

This may sound like a lot, but many vets recommend giving them at least one hour of exercise. At the very least, your GSD should have at least 30 minutes of exercise each day.

There’s a chance your GSD might get bored with repeated activity, which is why it helps to introduce other types of exerciseOpens in a new tab..

Introducing new tricks, playing fetch in the yard, hiking, and swimming are some alternatives you can try.

You can also try taking your dog to different parks or other places for exercise.

But always be sure to leash your dog at first, especially if you’re playing in a crowded area, as even the most well-behaved dog can be distracted anytime.

Exercising Your GSD During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Due to the imposed lockdown and the threat to public health of COVID-19, exercising your dog outside can be more challenging.

And remember that German Shepherds CAN get coronavirus!

This shouldn’t stop you, however, from giving your dog the exercise she needs. Waiting out until the pandemic is over before returning to your regular exercise routine can be bad for your GSD’s health.

The safest way to keep the physical activity going is to do it inside your own yard.

Ideally, your front- or backyard should be big enough and fenced. Here you can carry out some simple exercises such as playing fetch and learning some new tricks.

Alternatively, if you would still like to go out for a walk, especially if you don’t have a yard, choose the best time when there are few to no people outside, typically during early morning.

Make sure to observe proper precautions such as wearing a face mask, avoiding touching your face, and washing your hands!

Lastly, if you have a car, you have the option to drive your dog to a secluded area where you and your GSD can safely play, hike, or swim.

Whatever you do, always exercise safety precautions first! Remember that the coronavirus is a real threat and should be taken seriously.

Are German Shepherds Good for Apartments?

german shepherd lying on tile floor

If you are living in an apartment or planning to transfer to one and thinking of getting a German Shepherd as your first dog, you should think twice whether a GSD is a good idea for apartment living.

Technically, a German Shepherd can adapt well to apartment-living, but it is not as simple as it may seem. There are important considerations to take before making this decision, as this is not easy work.

Space and Location

Most apartments don’t have the backyards like houses do, so your German Shepherd won’t have lots of space to run around. This lack of space should be compensated with accessibility to nearby parks where you can take your dog for a walk.

Your apartment should not only have access to these play spaces, but you should also take into consideration the travel time. Think about whether your work schedule gives enough time to commute to acceptable exercise spots.

Keep in mind that your dog not only needs to get outside to exercise, but she needs room to breathe inside, too. If your apartment is too small, chances are it will not be as comfortable for your dog as living in a spacious house.

Breed Restrictions

Another very important consideration you shouldn’t overlook if you’re planning to get a German Shepherd for your apartment is whether the apartment imposes breed restriction laws.

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, breed-specific legislationOpens in a new tab. (BSL) is “the blanket term for laws that either regulate or ban certain dog breeds in an effort to decrease dog attacks on humans and other animals.”

Not all states in the US enforce BSL in housing, although there are more than 700 cities that still enact this lawOpens in a new tab..

While breed restrictions can be unfair for owners of otherwise well-mannered dogs, you cannot force landowners to make an exception for your dog especially if you’re dealing with a corporation.

If the owner is an individual, you can convince them that your dog is or will be trained to become well-behaved.

Of course, their response will be entirely subjective. And it align with your expectations, the only thing you can do is respect their decision and choose another dog that is not on the listOpens in a new tab..

Neighbors

Even if the apartment owner allows you to keep a German Shepherd, this doesn’t mean that everything will go smoothly.

Complaining neighbors can be a pain in the neck, too, and I attest to this from personal experience. They may complain about the noise that your dog makes (an adult German Shepherd makes lots of noise!) or even fabricate stories out of fear.

This fear is only a reflex response because many people are still unfamiliar with large breeds, and they don’t know how to react when they see one.

To avoid these inconveniences, check if your apartment has good soundproofing. If not, there are many things you can at least try to minimize dog noiseOpens in a new tab. in your apartment.

If you can exercise your dog daily, there are no breed restrictions, and you have trained her to behave well, there’s no reason you can’t keep your GSD in your apartment. 

If you need more information on this topic, you will definitely want to check this article to help you further with your decision.

Can German Shepherds Be Left Alone at Home?

If you live alone and work the normal 8-hour shift, it’s inevitable that your German Shepherd will be left alone at home.

As a rule of thumb, adult GSDs can be left alone for a maximum of four hoursOpens in a new tab.. Any longer than that and they may start to become bored, chewing off on your furniture, and whining.

Puppies, depending on their age, can only be left alone for a maximum of three hours. Any longer and they will pee everywhere as they still have little control over their bladders.

GSDs also become very attached to their owners, so they are prone to experiencing separation anxiety and distress if you leave them for prolonged hours.

As you can see in the video below, after her owners leave, a German Shepherd doesn’t do much but roam around and wait for her humans to come back.

If the situation cannot be avoided because of your work schedule, you can adopt ways to minimize distress in your dog while keeping her cared for.

  • Expend your dog’s energy before you leave the house so that she’s inclined to sleep all day.
  • Make sure to leave her with enough water and food.
  • Using a crate is also beneficial, because there’s always the chance that your dog may wreak havoc no matter how well-trained she is.
  • Leave her with toys or turn the TV on to keep her entertained.

Of course, you can always hire a dog-sitter or ask someone (a friend or a willing neighbor) to watch over your dog while you are away.

You may also consider working from home if circumstances permit.

Are German Shepherds Good with Kids?

If you’re hesitating to get a German Shepherd for your family for fear that the dog may not get along well with your kid, worry not!

A German Shepherd can be a terrific canine companion for your kids.

However, while their loyalty is unmatched, making them good protectors, you must understand that this high drive to protect, under the wrong circumstances, can become dangerous, too.

A dog’s breed can determine its potential temperament, but it is also highly dependent on how it’s raised by the owner.

Since German Shepherds are inherently protective, they can easily get aggressive with kids if they have not been trained and socialized properly.

A successful and rewarding relationship between your kid and your GSD is possible if you keep the following points in check:

  • Socialize your GSD with your kid and other kids as soon as you get the dog home. This is the most important part. The earlier you do it, the better. Socialization teaches the dog positive interactions with others.
  • Be consistent. Physical activity lasting for 30 minutes to 1 hour daily can be an easy and fun way for your child to engage with your dog.
  • This is not a one-way street. It’s very important that you also teach your kid how to properly pet and interact with your German Shepherd. Rough handling and play can hurt your dog and may cause her to bite out of instinct.
  • As you train your dog with new tricks, let your child be part of the training, too. Training not only boosts the confidence of your dog, but your kid’s participation also earns your dog’s respect and obedience.
  • Whatever you do, never leave your kid with the dog unattended. Always supervise their interactions, as even the most well-behaved German Shepherd can get irritated by a child who goes overboard.

A German Shepherd can be your child’s best friend, but it all boils down to training, socialization, and teaching your child how to respect your dog.

For a complete guide on German Shepherds and kids, make sure to read this great article which covers this topic in-depth.

Can a German Shepherd Get Along with My Cat?

german shepherd puppy licking a cat's face

If you have an cat and you’re planning to get a GSD as your first canine addition to the family, you’ll need to consider whether the two will get along well.

Teaching your new puppy to get along with your cat might be a bit trickier than introducing her to your kids. Most German Shepherds will get along nicely with cats, although many are still fearful and aggressive towards these furry felines.

The key here is, again, socialization.

As we often reiterate in this blog, socialization is the most important part of training that you shouldn’t overlook if you want your GSD to behave well with other creatures – humans and animals alike.

With cats, it’s important that you do not force them to interact as soon as you get your puppy home.

Take it slow, making sure that your puppy is leashed so that you can at least control the situation. And never leave the two alone unsupervised if you want to avoid scratches on your puppy’s face!

Introduce your GSD to other cats as well. The more frequently she is exposed she is to other animals, the more she will realize that they are not enemies.

Unfortunately, even if you’ve trained and socialized your dog well, there’s always the chance that she and your cat will never get along.

These two animals have very different personalities that may not mesh well together. In that case, you may want to employ the help of a veterinarian or an animal trainer for expert guidance specific to your dog and cat.

Feeding a German Shepherd

An adult male German Shepherd can weigh between 66 to 88 pounds, while a female can weigh between 49 to 71 pounds. That is one heavy dog, and this big size means big food portions!

German Shepherds are highly active dogs, so their diet should address a higher caloric need. As a potential owner of a GSD, you need to make sure that the nutritional requirements of your energetic dog will be met.

Nutritional Needs

You will want to feed your GSD high-quality food that is high in protein to keep her muscles lean. 

This protein must come from real animal sources such as chicken, beef, or lamb, and ideally should be listed as the first ingredient.

Stay away from cheap kibble that can be bought from supermarkets, as these are filled with unwanted fillers and unhealthy sources of protein.

Be warned that too much protein is also bad as it can cause stomach problems on your German Shepherd.

Choose kibble that is specifically targeted for large breeds. This avoids quick growth spurts that can cause joint problems, and instead contributes to slow but steady growth.

For puppies, the Royal Canin German Shepherd Puppy Breed Specific Dry Dog FoodOpens in a new tab. is a great start, as it promotes your puppy’s bone and joint health as she grows.

For adult dogs, many GSD owners swear by Eukanuba Breed Specific German Shepherd Dry Dog FoodOpens in a new tab. for its high-protein, grain-free properties.

A more affordable, popular, and vet-recommended option is Purina ONE SmartBlend Natural Adult Dry Dog FoodOpens in a new tab. that is formulated more specifically to support a strong immune system.

Cost

Because you’ll likely be spending money on high-quality food for a dog that grows big and fast, anticipate that your dog food bag will run out quickly. You need to be financially prepared to maintain this diet.

A three-month old puppy that consumes three cups of kibble per day can easily finish a 30-pound bag of puppy food in six weeks!

On the other hand, an adult German Shepherd weighing 70 lbs that eats four cups a day will consume the same amount of food in a little over a month.

These are only estimates, and specific feeding guidelines will depend on your dog’s weight, health, and activity.

To learn more about your German Shepherds food requirements, we have the best article on the internet on this topic below. The information that it contains is literally all you need to know about feeding your GSD:

German Shepherd Feeding Guide: All You Need to Know

Of course, it’s your personal choice if you would like to choose generic dog food for economical purposes, but remember that low-quality food may contribute to health problems in your dog.

These problems may not surface for years, and will end up costing more in terms of both money and well-being to your dog, so we urge you to take food choice for your GSD very seriously.

Do German Shepherds Require Lots of Grooming?

Grooming your GSD not only helps her to look her best, but also keeps her health in check. It also serves as a perfect opportunity to bond with your dog.

If you’re getting a GSD as your first dog, you need to understand that they require a lot of grooming.

This doesn’t mean frequent visits to a professional groomer, as that would be expensive (although it’s your personal choice, of course).

A good and consistent daily routine at home is all you need, so you must allot some of your daily time for this task.

German Shepherds need frequent grooming because of their thick double coats, consisting of the top coat (the “wiry” ones) and the undercoat (the softer, lighter-colored fur).

They shed twice a year, once in the fall and once in the spring. Whenever this happens, prepare to see lots of fur all around your house!

Because of this massive shedding, daily brushing for your German Shepherd is actually much more important than bathing.

As a rule of thumb, your GSD may only need to be bathed once every 2-3 months, unless of course she gets really dirty during playtime.

Their coats contain natural oils that will be stripped if you bathe them too often, causing their skin to become irritated and dry.

Brushing, on the other hand, must be done about 4-7 times a week. This keeps the shedding to a minimum and promotes a healthy and shiny coat.

Use a good de-shedding tool or grooming rake to remove loose undercoat and tangles. A popular choice among owners of double-coated dogs is the FURminator Undercoat Deshedding ToolOpens in a new tab..

There are also a lot of cheaper options out there that are just as effective in doing the job, such as this dual-head grooming toolOpens in a new tab. or this PawsPamper Undercoat RakeOpens in a new tab..

Some pet owners also like to use a slicker brush such as this oneOpens in a new tab. as they find it to be more comfortable for their pets.

Of course, grooming doesn’t end with just brushing your dog’s fur. A well-rounded grooming routine also involves brushing their teeth, cleaning their ears, and trimming the nails.

To learn more about this topic, be sure to check out this in-depth guide to grooming a German Shepherd.

Health Issues and Lifespan of German Shepherds

Because German Shepherds are prone to health problems, you need to prepare yourself mentally, emotionally, and financially with the thought of your German Shepherd getting sick in her later years.

Possible causes of these health problems are their large size, body shape, genetic characteristics, and careless breeding practices.

Some of the health problems commonly seen in GSDs are the following:

GSDs also have a relatively shorter lifespan than smaller-to-medium-sized breeds, likely due to the presence of these health conditions.

According to the American Kennel ClubOpens in a new tab., their average life expectancy is around 7 to 10 years, although many GSDs will live longer than that.

While there is still debate around the idea that purebred dogs have more health problems than mixed breeds, vets unfortunately observe this to be trueOpens in a new tab..

Inbreeding and the lack of diversity in the gene poolOpens in a new tab. increases the chances of the same genetic diseases to appear in purebreds.

Of course, you can minimize the chances of these diseases from appearing early and ensure that your GSD will live a full, healthy life by adopting the following measures:

  1. Exercise your dog daily and keep her at a healthy weight.
  2. Feed her high-quality food.
  3. Keep her vaccines updated.
  4. Visit your vet regularly.
  5. Choose a puppy from a responsible breeder.

With these points in mind, your GSD companion will stay by your side for a long time.

For a detailed look at German Shepherd lifespan, it’s worth reading this great article that we have for you below:

How Long Do German Shepherds Live? A Detailed Guide

How Much Does a German Shepherd Puppy Cost?

german shepherd puppy with floppy ears

So you have done your research and finally decided that your first dog will be a German Shepherd.

Now you will need to consider the cost of buying and taking care of a big dog and make sure you are financially equipped for it.

On average, adopting a GSD from a shelter will cost you around $150-$500, while purchasing a new puppy from a reputable breeder will cost you between $800-$2500.

In your puppy’s first year, you will incur expenses on high-quality food, vaccinations, veterinary care, supplements, training materials, crates, toys, and preventative medications.

These expenses will cost you around $2000 to $7000 a year (see a sample breakdown here).

Of course, this is only an estimate and your actual expenses will depend on your lifestyle and preferences.

You don’t have to spend on luxurious items for your GSD. The important thing to remember is, if you want to keep your dog well-maintained and healthy, you will have to shell out some money. It’s just part of responsible pet ownership.

For a complete breakdown of the costs associated with buying a German Shepherd puppy, be sure to read the comprehensive post below:

How Much Does a German Shepherd Puppy Cost?

Pros and Cons of Owning a German Shepherd

Owning a loving and protective German Shepherd can bring with it many benefits such as the following:

  • They have a beautiful and striking appearance.
  • They are loving and loyal dogs that will make amazing life companions.
  • They are highly protective and reliable guard dogs that will provide your home a sense of security.
  • They are very intelligent and trainable, and if these traits are utilized, they become rewarding pets to be with.
  • They are active dogs that can help you maintain an active lifestyle or provide you an opportunity to adopt one.
  • German Shepherds are generally healthy, active dogs that adapt well to different situations.
  • They are excellent working dogs, so they thrive on working for you!
  • If trained and socialized properly, German Shepherds make great companions for your kids.

On the flipside, owning a GSD can also present some disadvantages such as the following:

  • If untrained and unsocialized, German Shepherds can become destructive, fearful, and aggressive towards other people and animals.
  • German Shepherds require consistent training and exercise to prevent boredom and destructive behavior. This responsibility can become too much for an owner who doesn’t have the time and energy to do it.
  • German Shepherds can be quite attached to their humans, making them prone to separation anxiety if left alone for many hours.
  • German Shepherds shed a lot and require consistent grooming.
  • German Shepherds are prone to many health issues and a shorter life expectancy that are inherent to the breed.
  • Keeping a German Shepherd healthy and well-maintained can be relatively expensive.

Final Thoughts

Owning a German Shepherd requires a great deal of responsibility. It’s not enough that you think a dog is cute and that the only thing you need to do is feed her.

German Shepherds need training and socialization from an early age so that they may learn good manners and live harmoniously with other people and pets. Otherwise, they will develop bad habits that will be hard to correct later.

Responsible ownership of a GSD also involves feeding her well, exercise, consistent grooming, and regular visits to the veterinarian.

Most importantly, your time, energy, and dedication are essential in setting up your GSD for success.

If these conditions are met, then you can rest assured that a GSD will prove to be a terrific first dog for you. She will be a loyal, affectionate, and protective guard dog that is a joy to be with.

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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