Buying or Adopting a German Shepherd
By Michele Welton. Copyright © 2000-2018
Is a DOG really the right pet for you?
I've been helping people choose and find dogs for over 35 years now, and I have to say that for many people, dogs are not ideal pets.
Should you get a purebred, crossbred, or mixed breed dog?
Don't set your sights on any purebred dog until you read these three eye-opening articles:
Is a German Shepherd the right breed for you?
Are YOU right for a German Shepherd?
Can you provide what this breed needs?
- Someone home most of the day
- Fenced yard (not an electronic/underground fence)
- Restricted exercise when young – until maturity (at least 18 months old), exercise restricted to multiple short (20 minute) walks, fetch games, and playing with other dogs – no forced running (beside a jogger or bicyclist), no long-distance treks, minimal jumping
- Ample exercise after maturity – enough ongoing exercise that your German Shepherd stays slim and is tired enough to sleep contentedly and not get into mischief
- "Mental exercise" – interesting activities that keep the mind stimulated, such as a challenging dog sport (agility, rally obedience, musical freestyle, tracking, flyball, herding, schutzhund); challenging dog toys; a homemade obstacle course; tricks and games such as Musical Toys and Hide 'n Seek; instructions in my training book, Teach Your Dog 100 English Words
- Brushing (longhaired coat) – moderate
- Trimming (longhaired coat) – every few months
- An indoor lifestyle, except for exercise and bathroom breaks
- A meat-heavy diet, either homemade or commercial – meat is expensive, so people with less money should opt for a small dog
- An owner with enough money to treat the health problems German Shepherds are prone to (pet health insurance can really help here!)
- An owner who is okay with constant heavy shedding
- Commitment to provide thorough socialization – introducing your German Shepherd to lots of people and other animals, diligently correcting any signs of misbehavior or aggression
- Commitment to establish the right Leader-Follower relationship with your German Shepherd, teaching him to listen to you and do what you say
Should you get a male or female German Shepherd?
Male Dogs vs. Female Dogs
Male German Shepherds are usually 24-26 inches at the shoulder, and 80-120 pounds. Female German Shepherds are usually 22-24 inches and 65-90 pounds. Some German Shepherds are considerably larger than that, but shouldn't be. This breed is not supposed to be giant-sized, and larger dogs have a shorter lifespan. [read more]
Should you get a young puppy, an older puppy, or an adult dog?
Puppies vs. Adult Dogs
What age should your new German Shepherd be?
Where can you buy or adopt a German Shepherd?
German Shepherds are extremely common in the United States. Out of 189 breeds in the American Kennel Club, where 1 is most popular and 189 is least popular, German Shepherds rank 2nd. The breed is everywhere.
Adopting From Dog Rescue Organizations
German Shepherds are frequently available from Dog Rescue groups. German Shepherds may be turned over to Rescue because they shed too much, or because they need more exercise, companionship, and training than the owner expected. There may be aggression or shyness issues. You would need to provide these dogs with the exercise, training, and socialization that they are lacking.
Other German Shepherds are given up simply because of changed family circumstances, and these dogs may have no behavior problems at all.
Adopting From Public Animal Shelters and Humane Societies
German Shepherds (and Shepherd crosses and mixes) are often found here, although German Shepherd Rescue groups do try to move their breed out of shelters and into their rescue network.
Buying From a Dog Breeder
There are many different "lines" of German Shepherds, each bred for a different purpose.
You can buy from a show breeder, who breeds German Shepherds to match a detailed standard of appearance for the dog show ring. German Shepherds from show lines are usually milder-mannered and less "intense" than German Shepherds from working lines and don't need as much physical exercise or mental activities to feel satisfied.
And yet.... I have worked with MANY German Shepherds from show lines who were hyperactive, nervous, and downright dumb. This happens when breeders focus on appearance much more than temperament and trainability.
In addition, those of us who loved the strong and noble look of German Shepherds from years ago are saddened at what has been done to the appearance of modern show dogs. If you visit the show ring of a German Shepherd specialty show, you'll see tall narrow bodies, long narrow heads, and worst of all, such excessive curvature in the rear legs that the dog's back slopes downward from shoulders from tail. These are misshapen caricatures of what a German Shepherd used to look like. It's very sad.
A very different kind of breeder is a performance breeder, who emphasizes an energetic temperament and strong "prey (chasing) drives" for participating in protection dog sports (such as schutzhund). These dogs look much more like true German Shepherds, but their temperament can be far too intense for most households. If you prefer the look of their dogs, but you're not planning to compete in these challenging dog sports, you would need to search carefully to find a more laid-back individual.
Some breeders are a combination of show/performance, though the "performance" part isn't for protection dog sports, but for other sports like dog agility and advanced obedience.
Then there are breeders who emphasize the "old style" of German Shepherd – the rugged, noble-looking dog of my youth. These breeders might also focus on stable temperament and trainability for dog agility and advanced obedience.
Or you can buy a German Shepherd from people who "just breed pets" or "just had one litter." But should you? Be sure to read the article to learn more about these people.
Here's one difference between a responsible breeder and an irresponsible breeder – BOTH PARENTS of a German Shepherd puppy should have:
- a certificate from the Orthopedic Foundation of America (OFA) or PennHip certifying the dog to have normal hips
- a certificate from the Orthopedic Foundation of America (OFA) certifying the dog to have normal elbows
- a certificate from the Orthopedic Foundation of America (OFA) or a report from a veterinary cardiologist – dated within the past year – certifying that the dog has had an Advanced Cardiac Exam and has a normal heart
Also, at least ONE PARENT of a German Shepherd puppy should have:
- a DNA test proving they are Normal/Clear of a severe neurological disease called degenerative myelopathy.
If a seller can't show you those certificates, the puppies are higher risk for health problems. You might choose to accept that risk. But then you need to be willing (and able) to pay a couple thousand bucks for future surgeries and lifelong meds if your German Shepherd ends up crippled, paralyzed, or stricken with heart disease.
Pet Shop Puppies: Buying a Puppy From a Pet Store
German Shepherds are frequently found in pet shops. I have plenty to say about buying a puppy from a pet shop!
How To Choose a Good German Shepherd Puppy
How to test the temperament and personality of German Shepherd puppies and pick the best puppy in a litter.
AKC Registered Puppies: Are AKC Papers Important?
Should you consider buying only AKC registered German Shepherd puppies? Do AKC papers and pedigrees really matter?
To help you train and care for your dog
To learn more about training your dog to be calm and well-behaved, my dog training book is Teach Your Dog 100 English Words. It's a unique Vocabulary and Respect Training Program that will teach your dog to listen to you and do whatever you ask.
My dog buying guide, Dog Quest: Find The Dog Of Your Dreams, will teach you everything you need to know about finding a good-tempered, healthy dog.
My dog health care book, 11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy, shows you how to help your dog live a longer life while avoiding health problems and unnecessary veterinary expenses.