Welcome to Southwest Florida German Shepherd Rescue Inc., Anonymous Sunday, May 26 2024 @ 11:50 am UTC


  • Friday, January 15 2016 @ 04:57 pm UTC
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By Erik Hoffer

When I got my first German Shepherd Dog (GSD) I did not have a clue what to expect. I was unfamiliar with the breed and knew little about training them.

About 27 years ago I had a job which caused my wife some concern. It involved a dangerous industry and a considerable amount of travel. She was nervous living out in the country where, as she may have said, “no one can hear you scream”. Her fear was that being so isolated and left alone frequently she had no viable defense or deterrent to anyone wishing to do her harm. We had a Golden Retriever at the time who, like my Golden now, can serve call ahead criminals with whatever they may want in my home. Brandon, was neither a deterrent nor defender but a lover and cuddlier. I miss him terribly even 9 years after his death.

I had just returned from a trip, and my wife was going to pick me up at Newark Airport. I got into the truck at the curb only to be met with Cujo aka Hanna in the back seat. Hannah was a junk yard dog turned over to the Newark Shelter with a few broken ribs and an attitude. I really didn’t know what to expect, but after a few barks I firmly told her to get in the back seat and be quiet. She (FORTUNATELY) respected my command and listened to me from that day forward.

Hannah would not let anyone except me get within 10 feet of Diane and was a nightmare to have around with other people. We trained her, loved her and she loved us, but after 3 years of her being so aggressive, we decided she was going to be re-homed. She was my first re-homing. That broke my heart but when your cleaning lady would not come to your home even though she was locked up in a crate in a separate room, nor would your friends or family ever visit because of their fear of Hannah, we made the decision that we had to regain our lives back. We rehomed Hannah to my friend Rudy, a local court officer who fell in love with her and she with him and she lived for next 8 years in his home, happy as a clam, content and yet isolated.

We learned a considerable amount about this breed from that experience and I want to share some of that knowledge here.

Getting a GSD is not an everyday event. People who know dogs realize that having a GSD is a life time commitment. Having an untrained GSD is like having a loaded gun that has no safety, no rhyme or reason when it goes off and can pose a real danger to friends, family and anyone who comes in contact with the dog. As I have always stated a GSD with the proper temperament, training and supervision is the best dog any family can hope to have. At SW Florida GSD Rescue we make sure that we vet animals coming in for temperament, we require training from the new owners and we help where we can to transition the dog into your family.

There are a few rules that I was reminded of by Karen Wagner, a great breeder and professional GSD Judge. She said when you get a GSD expect to have him or her in your family for the next 10-15 years. If you can’t commit to that, don’t get one. If you cannot give the dog the training he needs, the understanding he requires during training and the proper food, mental stimulation and medical attention he requires, don’t get one.

Remember you can place your trust in a GSD pretty much regardless of temperament. Even a pussy cat GSD will defend you, protect you and love you regardless of what a jerk you can be. Their love and devotion to their owners is unequivocal and unwavering. You have also to be understanding to him, train him positively and not with negativity. Punishment is not the way to your dog’s heart.

Communicate with your dog daily. He may not understand your words but he knows the tone of your voice, the soothing feel of your touch and the euphoric experience in looking in your eyes. Remember that he is smart and will never forget the good or the bad. You can ruin him even as a puppy if you are harsh, mean or uncaring. You can have the best experience of your life with a pet GSD if you treat him well and teach him in the way he needs to learn. GSD’s are all different in that they have their own distinct personality. Knowing your dog and understanding his positive and negative traits will help focus you on the proper way to work with him.

GSD’s need a job. They need exercise, they need an alpha influence and they need to be individuals. Having a routine with your dog for walking, playing, interactions with other people and dogs and a solid home life makes for a well balanced and happy pet. GSD’s are not good couch potatoes nor are they willing to ne non-participants in your family life. Remember to include them whenever and wherever possible because they are indeed family members.

When your GSD needs correction, which they will forever, remember that corrections can be either effective when done immediately after the ‘wrongful’ act or ineffective when done at a time after the fact when the dog has no clue why you are punishing him or yelling at him. Corrections need to be timed so that there is a mutual understanding between you and your pet so that he knows when he did well and also is acutely aware when he screws up. He doesn’t speak your language but knows by the tone of your voice, you expressions, your posture etc that you are mad, so don’t loose it too much because he will know he is being corrected whether it is at a level 5 or a level 10. Corrections can be administered at what I can randomly call a 1 to 10 scale. In instances where a correction is done on the fly, for instance when teaching him to heal, can be administered at a 1. That can be use of the word heal and a slight tug on the leash to be effective. Going ballistic and yelling at him would be inappropriate and totally unnecessary at that point. If he went after someone or another dog, for whatever reason, a 10 correction such as his name and then a firm NO makes sense. Think of that as your son going to touch a hot stove vs him dripping his ice cream on the floor. You would use two type of corrections in these cases and so it is with your GSD. Choose the correction type and level by the deed and circumstances and try to act quickly and demonstratively to get the most out of the correction.

Remember you and your pet are getting older. He is getting older faster than you are. If you pet is in shape and you know his physical conditioning then by all means exercise him as much as he can tolerate. He will tell you when he has had enough but you also have to monitor him so as to be sure he is not overheating or is in any physical discomfort. Be smart in play during the summer as GSD’s are large animals and can overheat easily. If that happens STOP play and put them in a pool or hose them off quickly to get their body temperature back to normal. If you can sense you dog is in distress stop the activity. He will not stop because he wants to play and please you, but it has to be you who decides what to do, not him. Remember no play before or after meals as your dog can easily bloat. Bloat is a life or death situation where the dogs stomach flips and you have a max of 1-2 hours to get him on the operating table to save him. More than 4 hours will lead to a 75% mortality rate or at minimum a loss of some vital organs, where 6 hours is certain death. You can read more about bloat on the web, but the signs are foaming at the mouth, obvious distress, lying on their side, distended stomach, hard stomach and disorientation.

German Shepherds are one of the best pets a family can ever have. Their loyalty is unwavering and their desire to please never ending. They have a life span of about 14-16 years if they are well cared for and in good shape. They require quality grain free foods, calcium, glucosamine and chondroitin, plenty of clean water and exercise. They are not disposable nor expendable. Re-homing can happen but neither you or the dog should ever consider that alternative unless circumstances are so acute as to necessitate the relinquishing of your pet.

One last thought on breeders vs rescue. Many breeders are professionals while at least 755 are assholes. Many back hard breeders breed without regard to any criteria and the result is a poorly bred dog whose temperament, health, hips and structure etc., are always in question. If you can’t meet he sire and dam and they are not happy friendly pets, don’t adopt. All that you are doing is helping these morons create more poor quality pets. They do immeasurable harm to the breed. A dog coming from this type of breeder can of course be just fine but it has the same propensity of being your worst nightmare due to temperament or health. If the breeder can’t show you the puppies were raised inside and handled daily, run the other way. Many of these backyard breeders are in it for the quick buck and you will regret the purchase for the next 12-15 years. Trust me on this as I have 27 years of experience in this area. Choose a reputable breeder or a rescue and you can’t go wrong. I say rescue as well because by the tie I get them their personality and temperament are established and we can determine what they will be like as adults far more effectively then if they are 8 week old puppies, who all are precious and beautiful. Think with your head and not your heart in deciding to support a back yard breeder.

I hope some of these random thoughts and advice helps in better understanding your German Shepherd and can provide guidance you and your family in selecting this breed as a new family member.