May 04

German Shepherds – The Noble Shepherd

German Shepherds

German Shepherds

The breed is only just over 100 years ago, the deliberate product of a breeding program began by ‘The Father of the German Shepherd’, Rittmeister Max von Stephanitz. First gaining fame as working dogs in the German Army during WWI, the breed became truly famous with the introduction of Rin Tin Tin in the movies of the 1930s.

That fame was well earned as these stalwart dogs became police dogs, guide dogs and movie stars who demonstrated their intelligence and loyalty. German Shepherds are among the most highly respected breeds. The reasons are not far to seek. German Shepherds, or GSDs (translated from the German, Deutscher Schäferhund) are highly intelligent, extremely loyal and protective, and very beautiful.

A brilliant blend of gentility and assertiveness, these natives of Alsace are medium-sized (75-90lbs/34-41kg). The male is about 24-26 inches (61-66cm) at the withers (the top of the shoulder bones), the female slightly smaller. With a dual-tone coat – most commonly black and tan – and deep brown eyes, with perky ears and square heads, they look great in motion or at a stay.

There are several sub-breeds, even while still being considered purebreds. Pure white German Shepherds are in heavy demand, the result of both their native beauty and their even dispositions. There is also a long-haired variety that looks like the name. The color is still very German Shepherd-like, but the hair around the face and chest are much longer than the standard, slick look of the regular type.

Today, GSD’s are regulars at international dog shows, often winning top prizes easily after years of training, of course. Their lean, angular bodies and eagerness to perform complements well their innate beauty and good manners. For reasons best known to experts, the white and long-haired are considered ‘faults’ and both are often disallowed at shows. There’s no accounting for taste.

German Shepherds are justly famous for their ability to act as guard and rescue dogs and will bond with owner or trainer within a few months. They are strong enough to perform considerable work, but not overly aggressive by nature. Like most dogs, they have extraordinary scent detection abilities and so are widely used by police.

They enjoy training and are a delight to interact with. Yet, unlike other breeds such as Dalmatians or Retrievers, they don’t require constant activity in order to be calm and happy. They can be equally happy just watching from the sidelines. They can be content to walk calmly along a border on patrol or just lie on a porch and await the next game.

They’re good with children and don’t typically threaten the neighbors unless they’ve been trained to react when someone comes onto the property. They may growl or bark, however, since anyone not of ‘their pack’ is naturally suspect.

While very robust in general, German Shepherds do have health conditions which they are somewhat more prone to than other breeds. Bloat (GDV, Gastric Dilatation Volvulus) is possible and occurs when the stomach dilates as a result of an excess of fluid, and sometimes twists. Otitis Externa is an inflammation of the ear canal that frequently affects dogs with long ears, such as those of the German Shepherd.

But apart from diseases, GSDs are relatively easy to care for. Coat, nail and other aspects require only a small effort to keep them healthy and looking good.

German Shepherds have a double-layered coat comprised of a short, thick, wiry overcoat and a soft, dense undercoat. The fur sheds somewhat in Spring but requires only modest care. Bathing the water-resistant coat is needed only occasionally, while regular brushing is enough to keep the skin and hair healthy.

As with any dog, it’s important to search carefully for an individual that has a good genetic background. With the popularity of this breed, among the 10 highest in the USA, poor breeding programs have sometimes produced problematic dogs. Seek out a reputable breeder, insist on good documentation relating to Hip Dysplasia and other problems and you can generally rest easy.

May 04

German Shepherds – The Working Dog

German Shepherd Working DogGerman Shepherds were bred over 100 years ago specifically to work at herding sheep. They’ve been earning their keep ever since. Shepherds have served as guide dogs, bomb or drug sniffing dogs and more. They’re the very image of a police dog. They’ve proven themselves in these roles and many more.

Training begins early in life. Barely weaned, German Shepherd puppies begin simple ‘sit, stay, heel’ exercises, much as any other breed. But they quickly graduate to much more complex duties. Obstacle course work, location and sniffing exercises and much more are not far behind.

To train a guide dog for the blind, for example, takes years of effort on the part of the dog and the trainer. An hour or more per day, often as much as four, will be required to mold their natural instincts to the desired purpose.

German Shepherds are strong, intelligent, agile and adaptable. But it takes specific exercises, learned over many months, to open a door, fetch a tray without spilling and perform other tasks. Those who assist people in wheelchairs have to act as the arms and legs of those who can’t use their own. For a dog, even one as intelligent and hard-working as a German Shepherd, that takes lots of practice.

Guide dogs for the blind need to halt at street corners, then go at the proper time, without fear or distraction. In busy cities there are plenty of things to go wrong. Yet, how often do you hear of a guide dog leading their companion astray? That skill was acquired over months of training, work that is always ongoing.

Even guard dogs have much more difficult tasks than simply standing in front of a gate. They have to differentiate friend from foe. After all, people on the inside have to leave and authorized visitors have to be allowed to enter. A guard dog that attacked anyone who entered, no matter the circumstances, would be worse than useless. They’d be a legal liability.

German Shepherds, like many breeds, have excellent scenting abilities. But that raw potential has to be honed over years. The ability to smell gas leaks, drugs, bomb components and many other tasks are outside the normal experience of most dogs. Detecting alone isn’t enough. The dog has to react properly when the material is found.

Search and Rescue dogs may have the most difficult jobs of all. They have to have the intelligence to detect danger. They need the endurance to work under harsh conditions of extreme heat and cold, in low oxygen. They have to be in top shape to climb rock covered hills and up snow layered mountains.

Then they may not only locate, but actually move victims with broken legs or who are unconscious. It’s difficult enough for a strong human to undertake such demanding work. But for a German Shepherd to do so requires dedication, training and peak intelligence. Yet, they perform their jobs superlatively.

German Shepherds love to work. When trained well by someone who loves what they do, the results deserve high admiration. It’s earned.

May 04

German Shepherd Socialization

German Shepherds

German Shepherds

Socialization involves getting your dog familiar and comfortable with other dogs, pets and people in their environment. As natural pack animals it’s often easy to do, and sometimes even harder to keep them from interacting at inappropriate times.

Most dogs benefit from socialization. The people around them do too. But German Shepherds and a few other breeds are special cases. They’re often asked to perform special roles, such as police or guard dog, guide dog and other jobs. That means that socialization, while still useful, needs to be carried out much more carefully.

Dogs that aren’t exposed to others early in life in non-threatening circumstances, even German Shepherds, can become fearful and/or aggressive. They may be comfortable with their owners and immediate family or friends. But they can react with mistrust, and hence become violent, when strangers approach. That’s not a healthy situation, even for guard dogs.

Even when the German Shepherd is just a family pet, it needs to be socialized correctly. Strangers will come to the house who have legitimate business. Having to lock up the dog every time one does is a burden.

German Shepherds need to be able to differentiate friend from foe. A dog that leapt at an authorized visitor would be worse than useless. They’d be a legal liability. Socialization, in that case, gets mixed with training to allow a stranger to approach given the right signal. A poorly trained dog can fail in that task and be a danger to others where they shouldn’t be.

On the other hand, those dogs that do have special roles shouldn’t be encouraged to be friendly with everyone automatically. German Shepherds are particularly well suited for those jobs precisely because of their tendency to be wary, to make distinctions between known friend and stranger.

Guard dogs are a clear instance where such an attitude is essential. But there are many other jobs where it’s necessary, as well. A guide for the blind wouldn’t be performing properly if it greeted others while leading. Incorrect socialization would lead, in this case, to a dog that was too easily distracted. That would put its owner in jeopardy, or at least make the dog ineffective for its role.

All socialization, as with any other form of training or learning, should begin early in life. Provide the dog with clear, consistent signals to follow. Develop a hand sign and a vocal command that allows them to follow your cue about who is a friend and who needs to be watched.

Look for signs that your German Shepherd is becoming too aggressive, or acting in a threatening way in the wrong circumstances. A badly trained Shepherd doesn’t just become a risk to others, but also can become a little paranoid. That makes for an unhappy dog. And, hence, an unhappy owner.

May 04

German Shepherd Behavior – The Dual Personality

forest walkAs with any breed, individual behavior will vary. But, also as with any breed, there are common characteristics that are typically shared by all members. Among German Shepherds those behaviors revolve around their ‘instinctive’ patterns, patterns that reveal a dual personality.

Bred at the end of the 19th century to serve, as the name suggests, to herd sheep, these animals are superb at patrolling, corralling and watch dog-type activities in general. From that background derives many of their prototypical behaviors.

Within a few months after entering a family, German Shepherd puppies will show a marked tendency to interact easily with them while being suspect of strangers. Kept in check, that’s not a problem. GSDs don’t readily attack. Just a mild growl or the occasional bark serves to show where their loyalties lie. But neither are they passive or fearful, common causes of suspicion of strangers in other breeds.

As a result of their high intelligence, German Shepherds can be molded to do far more than what their breeding provokes automatically. That behavior comes out most clearly when they’re being actively worked. Whether as bomb sniffers or rescue dogs, they display a high degree of physical activity when needed but will wait quietly for hours if need be. That’s another sign of the breed’s fascinating dual aspect.

That’s a marked difference between this and other breeds. Labrador Retrievers, for example, at least until very late in life, have a hard time staying put for very long. They long to be active. Collies, on the other hand, can be mellow from a relatively young age with little or no training, even though they too are very loyal and protective.

One example of how the German Shepherd displays this dual-personality is easily seen in guide dogs for the blind. When out in the street they’re alert, agile and ready to halt or go as need be. But once they lead their companion into a store, they alter the pace dramatically and gently curve around obstacles or just sit peacefully at attention until it’s time to go.

Much of that behavior is the result of months or years of good training, of course. But training is ineffective without something on which to build. German Shepherds have the body-type, the temperament and the willingness to undertake that kind of work. Many other breeds, even though the right size, do not.

German Shepherds are sometimes mistakenly seen as aggressive dogs. But that assertiveness isn’t the sort that will be displayed by, say, a Rhodesian Ridgeback. They’re protective and may snarl or bark loudly when necessary. But that’s a trained response to a perceived threat. It’s not fear, which is the source of much aggression in others. It’s not a natural desire to harm, as is the case with many dogs.

Though sometimes a little clumsy as teenagers, German Shepherds quickly mature into stable, steadfast companions. They can keep up with you on a run or sit by the poolside enjoying the day. That’s the dual-personality of the breed.

May 04

German Shepherd Food

German Shepherds – Feeding Options For Your Shepherd

dinner timeGerman Shepherds, like all dogs, are primarily carnivores. Their digestive systems are relatively straight and some parts are shorter than even other large breeds. That makes digesting vegetable or plant matter more difficult. As a result, the German Shepherd’s diet should be chiefly meat-based.

That doesn’t mean German Shepherds have to be fed nothing but raw, or even cooked meat, though many advocate just that. But if you examine the ingredients list on most dry, commercial dog foods you’ll see that meat or meat byproducts comprise the major elements. The percentage of ingredients follows the order in which they’re listed, even though they sometimes don’t give the numbers themselves.

It’s better to pay a little more and feed a higher quality dog food. That’s better for your dog and better for you. High quality dog food has no cheap fillers, which can cause digestive upset. Even when they don’t produce stomach problems, they often produce more stool, making clean up for you more trouble.

Nutro Natural, Eagle Pack, Prairie by Nature’s Variety and other commercial dog foods provide a balance of quality ingredients. Most adult German Shepherds will consume about 30-40 lbs per month of dry food. At a current cost of about $30-$35 that’s a very modest expense for providing a main ingredient to good health.

Some owners may find their dog needs a little extra help. That can result from a tendency to Hip Dysplasia, skin problems or other reasons. A number of supplements are safe and easy to add to their diet. Some common commercial supplement mixtures contain one or more of the following:

Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C)
Omega 3 fatty acids
Cod liver oil

Vitamin C is an antioxidant and helps connective tissue and muscles. MSM/Glucosamine is beneficial for joints. Fatty acids are a boon to the immune system and cod liver oil is good for the coat. Kelp contains iodine, an aid to proper thyroid functioning. Garlic contains bioflavinoids that are good for the heart.

For those who prefer an all meat diet made from fresh ingredients, the following recipe is a good one:

Get 10 lbs of regular hamburger meat. Dogs need fat so it shouldn’t be too lean. Mix it together with a box of Total cereal if your dog is not sensitive to wheat and a box of oatmeal flakes. Add in 10 eggs and a jar of wheat germ, softened with 1 1/4 cup of canola oil and 1 1/4 cup molasses. For extra firmness, you can add in 10 small packages of unflavored gelatin.

Mix the ingredients together and roll into meatballs about an inch or two in diameter. Freeze anything you don’t use within a day or two.

German Shepherd Dogs can digest this raw meat and grain combination very well, but you may have some concerns about possible organisms. Freezing will usually take care of that, but for an extra level of security, the meat can be cooked until medium well done. Then cool and feed. Add supplements as needed.

May 04

Exercise and Training Tips For Your German Shepherd

German shepherd dog running on beachThe German Shepherd breed was developed over 100 years ago, as the name suggests, for herding sheep. That activity is less common in the world today, but the basic skills are still much in demand.

GSDs, as they’re sometimes known, will patrol a border for hours, keeping strangers at bay and protecting those within. Seeing some dogs roam back and forth along a fence would suggest a mental problem, or at least a high level of frustration. But German Shepherds enjoy routine, never tire of doing their jobs and thrive when they have a role that keeps them active.

Their training should work with that nature, not against it. While German Shepherds can be content to sit and stay for long periods, a certain amount of activity keeps them mentally and physically healthy.

Start young.

At around three months, a German Shepherd is ready to begin more than just ‘sit, stay, heel’ though those should be part of the routine. Start slowly, keeping in mind that their bones are still developing. Still, early obstacle course training can begin at that time. Learning to navigate through barriers, and finding a desired object at the end, isn’t just for police dogs. It can keep even a household companion alert and satisfied.

Take care not to stress their hindquarters and joints excessively, however. The dog should be chosen from a line that lacks Hip or Elbow Dysplasia, but the condition is possible even when undetected in ancestors. Look for any sign of weakness in running and jumping, which will sometimes manifest itself as early as six months of age.

As your German Shepherd matures, they can take on more strenuous tasks. At 6-8 months, they are not far from entering their ‘early teen years’. Their minds and bodies have developed to the point that more complex routines and active tasks are possible.

A mile-long gentle run, a short hike up hills, or a 10 minute game of Frisbee are good exercise for your dog by this time. At the same time, you can begin to train their minds for taking on more complicated jobs. Even non-working dogs do well when their minds are stimulated. Training them to fetch a newspaper, locate and return a favorite toy or open a door can start now.

By the time your German Shepherd reaches 18 months to 2 years of age, they are mature enough to take on any training regimen. The actual training will take weeks or months depending on the ultimate goal and continues for years. But they can do just about anything you ask by now. Many drug sniffing dogs, guard dogs, guide for the blind dogs and others with regular jobs are at work by this age.

Work with your German Shepherd every day, for at least an hour if you can. They learn quickly, but even the best of breeds needs regular reinforcement, especially at the younger age periods.

May 04

German Shepherd Ear Inflammations and How To Treat Them

German shepherd dogGerman Shepherds by and large are very healthy, no more prone to illness than any other breed and healthier than many. But there are certain conditions that tend to occur among some breeds more often than others. Ear inflammations are a case in point.

As a long-eared breed a condition called Otitis Externa, an inflammation of the outer ear canal, occurs in about 20% of individuals from time to time. There are a dozen different possible causes.

Some German Shepherds are sensitive to wheat or corn in their diet, which is a common ingredient in many commercial dog foods. The resulting sensitivity can prompt an allergic reaction that manifests itself, in one way, as Otitis Externa.

But even simple ‘mechanical’ things can encourage ear inflammations. Water retained from a bath is one possibility. Even though Shepherds will shake their head vigorously, some water can stay inside the canal. Occasional treatment with a half and half mixture of 5% vinegar and water can help prevent that.

Hair trapped in the canal, from shedding or scratching, can create blockage and provide a medium for bacterial growth. Wax can do the same. In either case, keeping the ear canal free of material will help encourage good air flow which assists in keeping ears dry and germ free.

Those germs can take a number of forms. Ear infections are caused variously by fungus, bacteria or parasites. The parasites themselves don’t usually do the major damage, but they carry bacteria and viruses that are injected when they feed. Ear mites are responsible for about 10% of cases.

In rare cases, the cause can be the result of an autoimmune system disorder. With poor breeding programs, that rely too much on too-closely related individuals, the odds of that go up substantially. Endocrine (hormone) imbalances can occur, allergies are more likely.

Sometimes the cause is a simple case of overactive sebaceous glands. The exudate (the material released) clogs pores and that can lead to an inflammation.

Apart from the simple care routines described above, only a vet can determine if more serious treatments are needed. Cytology (sample cell examination under a microscope) can identify bacteria, yeast, parasites and other causes too small to see with the naked eye.

Many dogs will use their claws and paws to scratch an itch. They’ll scrape their heads across the carpet or grass. Eliminating all of that behavior is virtually impossible. But when it becomes regular, you should examine the ears for possible problems. Depending on what they have trapped in their nails or are picking up from the ground, they may well be causing the very problem they’re trying to treat themselves. Soil often contains harmful bacteria.

Keeping up with regular cleaning with vinegar or Nolva Cleanse solution will eliminate most problems before they occur. Trimming hair at the base of the ear is a good preventative, provided you don’t cut too close to the skin and cause ingrown hairs. When that’s not enough, seek out your local vet.

May 04

Caring For Your German Shepherd’s Nails

German Shepherd Puppy

German Shepherd Puppy

Depending on where your German Shepherd walks the most, nail care may be needed often or only very rarely. Long walks on city sidewalks can slowly wear down a dog’s nails to an acceptable level. But if you live in the country, or the dog spends almost all its time in the house or the back yard, you may need to trim his nails about once a month.

As with any dog, it’s important to use the proper tools and technique. Dogs have a small blood vessel called a quick that runs from the foot out to about midway into the nail. If you nick that quick while cutting the nail it hurts the dog and produces blood. Keeping the nail trimmed, while avoiding injury requires some care and practice. Start conservatively.

There are three different types of tool to use and personal preference varies.

Guillotine cutters slice the nail like a guillotine, but from the opposite direction. They clamp it on the top and slice it from the bottom. It’s possible to reverse the direction, just one of the problems with using this type of tool. They also tend to put more pressure on the nail, potentially squeezing the quick uncomfortably. Scissor-style cutters, if properly sharp, can do a great job of slicing cleanly and quickly with just a little practice.

An alternative to cutters is some type of grinding method. A nail file is an option, but a slow one. Dremel tools, which operate like a small wood grinding drill, have to be used with great care, however. They have a round end on an attachment and a drill that can grind the nail down to the desired length.

But at high speed they can become too hot too quick. Test one by grinding something nail-like, then touching the end after it’s stopped spinning. If it’s too hot to hold, it’s too hot to apply to your dog’s nail.

Get your German Shepherd on the floor on its back. If the dog is over six months old and you’ve developed a good bond, fussing is usually minimal. It’s important they stay calm and don’t jerk a foot at the wrong moment.

One way to judge where the dog’s quick begins is to make it more visible. Washing the nail makes the pinkish vessel stand out more against the dark nail. Never get closer than about an 1/8th of an inch. Even if you don’t clip the quick, pressure from walking can cause pain if the nail is cut too close.

Clip or grind each nail in turn, taking special care with any dew claw nail, if your dog still has them. To keep any hair out of the way (the dog’s, not yours), you can take a baby sock and poke a hole for the nail, then slide it over the foot. That will push the hair back away from the nail. With most German Shepherds, though, it won’t be necessary.

Proceed carefully and give your dog a reward afterward.

May 04

Caring For Your German Shepherd’s Coat

German Shepherds

German Shepherds

German Shepherds require only modest grooming effort. They have a double layered coat, with the outer layer composed of medium-length, coarse hair and an undercoat that is soft and dense. The outer section provides protection against bushes and ground while the inner layer keeps the dog warm and protected from sunlight.

Proper care for a German Shepherd’s coat starts before you ever take out a brush – with a good diet. Feeding your dog high quality food that’s appropriate to its nature as a carnivore is key. High protein, high fat kibble or well-prepared chicken, lamb or beef are great for this. If you choose to make your own dog food, though, take some care to get the right balance of needed components.

Dogs have relatively straight stomachs, unlike humans. That means they don’t have the means to so easily digest vegetable matter, which take a long time to break down. Wheat, corn and other plant material should make up a very small portion of the total.

Once you have a good diet in place, grooming practices take the forefront.

Brushing that double-layer coat twice a week is needed in order to keep skin oils well distributed and undo tangles in hair near the skin. It helps remove dead hair and skin cells and keeps the skin well aerated. A standard metal rake-style brush or slicker is a good tool, provided it’s properly used. But supplement that with other types of brush, as well. Take care not to scrape the skin and create a lesion.

Brushing should be done against the direction of the hair to get up any matted areas, followed by brushing in the direction of growth. Using a variety of brushes will help cover all the bases.

Bathing intervals vary considerably depending on where you live and the dog’s typical routine. If you live in very dusty conditions, such as a ranch or farm, once a month or more may be required for optimal health. Even living in some cities can mean there’s enough grime in the air to warrant a regular bath. In a typical suburban neighborhood every two or three months may be enough.

One way to judge is simply by feel. If you pat the dog and a dust cloud flies off, it’s time to put Rex into the tub. If the coat feels very greasy that’s a signal that they need a bath. Naturally, since dogs love to roll in foul smelling things, any time there are feces, mud or other things built up on the coat it’s time for a wash off.

Proper shampoo selection is important. German Shepherds, like many other breeds, can be sensitive to wheat or exhibit other evidence of an allergic reaction. A good oatmeal shampoo can provide soothing relief. But those do build up material on the hair quicker, so bathing will need to be more frequent. A good aloe shampoo can also help with this problem.

With regular care your German Shepherd’s coat can be kept healthy and beautiful. That will benefit your dog and please you.

May 02

German Shepherd Skin Problems and How To Treat Them

German Shepherds

German Shepherds

German Shepherds can suffer from any number of common skin problems, often lumped under the title ‘Pyoderma’, which is technically a skin infection. Those infections are usually the result of a bacteria (often some kind of staphylococcus).

The infection can be limited primarily to the outer skin layer, or may penetrate deeper into the subcutaneous levels. In extreme cases, the infection actually occurs under the skin and spreads upward. The result is usually some kind of lesion resulting in a hot spot.

Hot spots are a common and easily recognizable problem that are associated with Pyoderma. They appear as red, moist and often itchy spots where hair has been lost or scraped away.

The severity of a hot spot can vary depending as much on location as any other cause. Treatment with Neomycin or other common antibiotics is relatively simple and the sore can heal within a few days if left undisturbed. But the challenge is to keep the dog from continuing to irritate the wound by scratching, rolling or other mechanical scraping.

If it occurs on a foot or leg, a simple gauze wrap, held in place by vet wrap is usually effective. ‘Vet wrap’ is a 3M product, a type of breathable, elastic bandage that comes in various thicknesses. It’s not adhesive but does stick to itself partially. Securing the gauze/vet wrap by white medical tape is quick, easy and sure.

For hot spots in other areas, such as the neck or back, it may be helpful to find a big t-shirt to pull over the dog. Sometimes, it’s necessary to bind socks onto the dog’s feet with velcro straps. In extreme cases, a plastic cone collar (or other style) is needed to prevent scratching the affected area.

Skin problems can occur for reasons other than bacterial infection. Often they’re the result of diet. Many German Shepherds are sensitive to wheat in their food, a main ingredient of many commercial dog foods.

Dogs are carnivores by nature. Their stomachs are relatively straight, making it more difficult for them to digest vegetable matter. It takes longer for that material to break down, which is why humans and other omnivores have evolved very long, convoluted digestive tracts. Their ancestors might ingest some plant matter while feeding on the stomach of prey, but the amount was already partially pre-digested and/or a small portion of the total.

Sensitivity to wheat, corn and other plants can manifest itself as itchy skin. The dog scratches the itch and, voila, a hot spot. Treatment is the same as above, with one additional step needed: changing the diet.

Even though the initial problem isn’t bacterial, once the wound is created, antibiotics are needed to prevent infection. Keeping it gauze/vet wrap wrapped is important for healing. But at the same time, the dog’s diet should be changed. Consider an all meat diet, or at least change dog food brands. Not all use the same proportion of ingredients.

Treating skin problems is easier if you don’t let the problem, literally, fester. Quick treatment keeps the problem small and more easily cured.