Loyal, fierce and proud, the German shepherd is not for the faint of heart. Early inbreeding in the breed’s lineage, and the dog’s need for constant exercise, means this breed can be prone to a number of health issues if not cared for properly.
If you’re thinking of getting a German shepherd, make sure you’re ready to give it the attention and stimulation it needs. And don’t forget to protect yourself and your pet with comprehensive pet insurance to save on vet bills down the road.
What do you want to learn about?
The German shepherd can trace its roots back to the late 1800s when Captain Max von Stephanitz decided Germany’s sheepdogs needed to be standardised into a distinct breed of working dog. When von Stephanitz found a specimen displaying all the traits he wanted in a breed, he embarked on a strict breeding program that resulted in the German shepherd as we know it today.
German shepherds consistently make the top-five list of most popular dogs in the world. The hype started when an American service member brought home a German shepherd pup he rescued during World War I. The pup went on to star in 27 Hollywood films as none other than Rin Tin Tin.
German shepherds are prized for their strength, intelligence and loyalty. As a result of these traits, the “working dog” status still suits the breed today in endeavours like police work and disability assistance.
But don’t confuse that with the American alsatian, a relatively new breed that combines genes from the German shepherd, Alaskan malamute, great Pyrenees, Anatolian shepherd and English mastiff.
German shepherds are not casual pets. They don’t like to be alone, and they need constant stimulation, both mentally and physically. They are bred to be loyal, confident and strong, and with the right upbringing they can epitomise these traits.
Therefore it is important to rear them correctly from the beginning. They need to be given a place to run freely every day. Their intellect requires stimulation in the form of obedience training and learning new skills and tricks. You need to socialise them early so they become confident around others rather than aggressive.
German shepherds take a lot of work to raise properly, so don’t choose one if you’re not willing to put in the hard yards. But rest assured that if you put in the work, you will be rewarded with a loyal, hard-working and intelligent companion.
The German shepherd is an unmistakable breed. They are medium- to large-sized dogs with muscular bodies that are longer than they are tall. They stand confident and proud with intelligent eyes and a long, fierce snout and large, erect ears.
Most German shepherds are tan with black markings that cover some or most of their coat and/or snout. They are heavy shedders, so be prepared to do a lot of brushing and vacuuming should you decide to take on a German shepherd as a pet.
German shepherds are agile dogs with a long, bounding strides, perfectly suited to their working-dog heritage.
Is a German shepherd a good family dog?
A German Shepherd can make a good family dog, but it will not necessarily suit all families. If you plan to welcome a German shepherd into your clan, you need to lay the proper groundwork in regard to your dog and your children.
You will need to socialise your German shepherd from a young age and ensure it gets all the exercise and mental stimulation it needs. Otherwise its unbounded energy could get misdirected and create strife for the whole family.
At the same time, you need to teach your children to respect the dog and not to torment it.
In the right family, a properly raised German shepherd will be extremely loyal and protective. But this takes a level of dedication not all families are equipped to provide.
German shepherd overview
|When does it reach full size?|
|When does it stop teething?|
|Tolerates being alone|
|Amount of shedding|
|Easy to train|
|Tendency to bark|
When Captain Max von Stephanitz set out to create the German shepherd, he resorted to inbreeding to ensure he could consistently replicate the traits he wanted in future offspring. This had the side effect of also breeding genetic abnormalities into the entire lineage.
Additionally, their exploding popularity has led to backyard breeders indiscriminately producing litters without thought to curtailing undesirable traits.
Finally, German shepherds used for show are bred to emphasise certain traits that are not necessarily good for their health.
Luckily, responsible breeders are working to breed these abnormalities out of their litters. You can minimise your risk of obtaining a susceptible pup by talking to the right breeders and by being patient.
That said, there are certain health problems you should be aware of:
- Hip/elbow dysplasia and other orthopedic diseases
- Chronic diarrhoea and other digestive problems
- Allergies, skin problems and autoimmune diseases
- Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD)
- Heart disease
How much does treatment cost?
Treating some of the health problems German shepherds are prone to can be an expensive exercise. The table below is a rough guide to the treatment costs you can expect for a range of common conditions:
|Health problem||Average total claim|
|Epilepsy and seizures||$1,079|
Source: The Hollard Insurance Company (2016/2017)
Pet insurance just makes sense
The cost to insure a German shepherd is quite reasonable: at around $15 per week for a comprehensive policy, it is below average compared to other dogs.
Given the German shepherd’s propensity to develop genetic health complications, we think this is a small price to pay for peace of mind and for the health of your pup.
Your German shepherd will become one of the most beloved members of your family, so you’ll want to make sure it avoids any unnecessary pain and discomfort.
Given the breed’s predisposition to developing serious complications, having insurance in place will ensure you are financially able to give your pup the high-quality treatment it deserves, thereby allowing it to live a long, healthy life.
You can even opt for a plan that will cover any unfortunate accidents, such as being hit by a car or bitten by a snake.
When you are comparing plans, be sure to check the product disclosure statement (PDS), or contact the insurer directly to understand exactly what conditions they do and don’t cover.