Is a German Shepherd right for me?

Today, I received an email from a young man.  He was just told by his vet that his beloved black lab of 12 years has cancer and has about one month to live.  Through his grief, he knows that he’ll want another dog companion, so hence his email asking about German Shepherd Dogs and if they are a good dog to have.   I’m sending this letter out to the universe because he typed the wrong email address in the contact form of the website and when I replied to his email it bounced back.  I hope he tries to make contact again. In the meantime, here’s what I wrote…

Hi Jacob,
My condolences for your beautiful black lab.  One of the toughest things we have to do is let a friend go when it is time.  You will know.

I’m not really sure what to tell you about GSDs that you can’t find on line –  here  and here

So I will  tell you a little of what I personally know.  I’ve owned, trained and fostered GSDs over the past 20 years.  My experience is that they are very intelligent, loyal, bonded – meaning he or she will stick to their primary person like glue.  They are too smart for their own good and must have a job or they will find their own thing to do – which is not a good thing.   

The best home for a GSD  is a family committed to that dog.  You must plan to spend a lot of time with your GSD.  They do not do well left alone for long periods of time which most people with jobs have to do.   Separation Anxiety is probably the leading cause of German Shepherds finding themselves in rescue.

Teiko with his frisbee being honked at by mad geese.

Teiko, the male I have now is going on 9 years old and is probably the best dog I’ll ever have.  I try to walk him at least an hour a day. run him along my bicycle once in a while, throw the frisbee until I can’t take anymore, take him to as many public places as I can, include him on all family vacations (which is usually up north in the U.P.), try to be home by 5:30 every night to spend time with him and make sure he has very high quality (read: $$) food to ensure gastrointestinal health which plagues many GSDs.  In return, he gives more unconditional love than I ever knew possible.  He also physically plasters himself to my side  and would stay there indefinitely, if I let him.    So even at 9, we still do basic training every day – downstays, retrieves, hide/seek, sits and even puzzles – to keep him engaged and centered.  This keeps the boy happy and I hope alive for several more years.

Teiko figuring out a puzzle.

Because of their intelligence, they need to be active both physically and mentally and need a human companion who can provide this.  The best training tip I ever got is “A tired GSD is a good GSD”.   Some of the best organized sports  you can do with a GSD are agility, rally, tracking and schutzhund.  The dogs love the mental and physical training and the bonding that occurs is wonderful.  There are many clubs in the area that focus on these sports and training for GSDs – Check out the German Shepherd Dog Club of Wisconsin for ideas. –

GSDs aren’t for everyone.  They take a lot of work – and did I mention the shedding – it’s constant with twice annual “blow” seasons to really get hair in every corner of your house.

Waiting to play some more fetch.

So if this doesn’t scare you, you might be a good GSD prospect.  I encourage you to seek out a few GSD clubs in the area you live.  Talk with GSD owners.  They are really great people – intelligent, opinionated and strong-willed – just like their dogs. The Wisconsin German Shepherd Dog Club has regular events that the public is invited to.  Also there are trials, breed surveys and confirmation shows all over the country with the Midwest regional one being held in Spring Green, Wisconsin this year.  I belonged to Haupstadt – the schutzhund training club that is hosting this event –

Okay, enough info – Now I’m off to spend a Sunday morning with my dog.  I wish you luck!

UPDATE:  I’m no longer with this GSD rescue group.

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