The decision to adopt any dog must be considered seriously, especially if you are thinking about a large breed dog such as the German Shepherd. As the third most popular dog breed in the United States for the last 10 years according to the American Kennel Club, the German Shepherd dog attracts attention with its good looks, intelligence, and strong personality. However, this classic and lovable dog breed is not an easy or low maintenance pet. Many pros and cons come with owning German Shepherd dogs.
For happy owners of these powerful dogs, the cons become just part of an interesting routine, but for other potential pet owners the challenges of a large breed can be prohibitive. As a German Shepherd dog owner for the last six years, I can credibly share my experience with this remarkable breed.
Pro: As a large breed dog, a German Shepherd presents a robust animal full of energy that allows its owner to make a bold statement with his or her pet and enjoy companionship with a dog that adds security to the home.
Con: This breed can easily prove to be too much dog for some people. They are strong, and often strong-willed, and any owner of a large breed bears the responsibility of controlling his or her dog. When visitors to your home are barked at incessantly by a Yorkshire Terrier, they would be annoyed, but visitors receiving an unrestrained barking session from a German Shepherd will suddenly feel like they are in the midst of a civil rights protest. Along with controlling the barking, you need to teach your dog not to jump on people. Getting hit in the chest by a 70 to 90 pound animal with big claws is painful.
Pro: A German Shepherd is an intelligent even mischievous animal that will respond well to training and be fun to play with. You will enjoy the interaction with your dog during formal training and be proud of the learning progress that your pet displays. German Shepherds require mental and physical stimulation, which makes them an excellent choice for a person or a family that wants to integrate a pet into an active and fun lifestyle. A German Shepherd is an excellent motivator for keeping you active and healthy yourself.
Con: A German Shepherd should not be left alone for long periods of time (more than a few hours). This applies to any dog, but as an original working breed, the German Shepherd dog is geared toward high levels of activity herding animals, aiding in search and rescue, and as law enforcement dogs. You must commit to exercising and stimulating your dog every day. In a German Shepherd reference by D. Caroline Coile, Ph.D., the author reported that this breed was bred to move for hours across large territories. Daily walks and play sessions along with several hours of attention are essential. It is of paramount importance that you commit to training your dog during adolescence and maintain an exercise routine throughout its life. If this is too much for you or your family, then do not adopt this breed.
Pro: As a German Shepherd owner you will receive countless compliments about your pet's beauty during its lifetime. They are gorgeous animals, and you will be proud of your dog, especially if you train him or her properly. You will admire and love your pet for its many capabilities and charms.
Con: German Shepherds will be naughty, particularly during the first two years. My dog ate my birthday cake when she was two years old. Overall, be prepared to have things you love destroyed by chewing, digging, and rough play. Flower beds in a German Shepherd's mind look like a soft cool moist play station. Packages delivered to the front porch become chewy cardboard balls. All manner of possessions such as clothing, remote controls, books, walls, doors, and garden tools will be crunched between powerful jaws.
Pro: Being a very smart breed, the German Shepherd can be steered away from inappropriate behavior. Have lots of toys and chews available at all times. When your dog chews on the wrong things, give him or her a chew or toy and positively reinforce chewing on the correct objects. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, these strong-willed dogs will never entirely give up digging. Their taste in landscaping will not win you any home and garden awards. I've had to content myself with a dog trained not to dig up the vegetable garden.
Con: German Shepherds in general are susceptible to genetic conditions that can be troublesome or even debilitating. Hip dysplasia, panosteitis, and degenerative myelopathy commonly develop in this breed, and you will need to learn about care and possible prevention. This breed can also suffer from various allergies. My dog has food and environmental allergies that took me months to sort of before she got relief. Good breeding can limit the frequency of these conditions but there are no guarantees.
Thinking through how you will respond to the challenges of dog ownership before you adopt will significantly help you enjoy your pet. Dogs, especially German Shepherds, need your attention, formal training, and consistent exercise. Ignoring these needs will lead to a negative experience and an unhappy dog that might end up at the shelter. The joys and challenges of owning a German Shepherd overlap with the needs of most large breeds, but it is essential to recognize that a German Shepherd is not a mellow breed. It is an active dog that will always be looking for fun. Depending on your situation and lifestyle, these traits could be ideal or burdensome.