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The Challenges of a GSD by Laurie Ellis

Introduction to the German Shepherd Dog (GSD) – The Challenges of a GSD by Laurie Ellis

Owning and developing a relationship with a GSD is very rewarding, and the treasures of memories you will have will last your lifetime. My last blog talked about many of the positive, joyful traits people associate with GSDs.  It is those joyful traits that attract many people to this breed and then they go out and acquire one. Once they get their GSD home, however, they start seeing the challenges and, if they are ill prepared to deal with those challenges, many people give up on their GSD and either rehome or place their dog in a shelter. This blog will talk about some of the challenges owners encounter so you have a better idea what to expect from this breed.

Even though GSDs are proud dogs, they are also emotional dogs. They are like sponges with their environment, taking in all they sense as well as how you are reacting.  If there is too much stress and their owner is not balancing that stress with a peaceful and calm demeanor, a GSD can become shy and anxious. Being aware of how your dog is reacting to you and his environment will help you attain the balance that both you and your dog needs. Your GSD needs you to be the pack leader, which will alleviate his stress. If you are not leading, your dog will sense that and try to be the pack leader himself, which he is not equipped to do. That just leads your dog to becoming more stressed. In a future blog I will talk about pack leadership and how you can be that for your dog.

A GSD has the depth of devotion, loyalty and companionship that will fill your cup to overflowing. However, this breed is NOT one that is a social butterfly in various social settings. They are more of an aloof breed. A GSD was bred to herd and protect sheep. That is instinctive to who they are. In today’s society, a GSD translates his herding and protective instincts for sheep to his family. When someone comes to your house, do not think your GSD is going to greet your friend with happy tail wags and doggie licks. A GSD looks at that person ringing your doorbell as an intruder. Ergo, a GSD will bark an alarm, run to the door and continue barking. You will have to work with your GSD to learn commands from you that tell him there is no threat and he can welcome the person entering your home. 

People love the intelligence of a GSD and how easily they learn. That quality is pretty awesome and showing our friends all the tricks our dogs know makes for a fun visit. A GSD learns fast because his brain is constantly in the alert mode and, as a result, this breed requires mental stimulation. When they herd sheep, GSDs receive stimulation as a result of the job they have to perform. In the home, however, we have to provide them stimulation. There are many dog toys on the market specifically designed for breeds like GSDs, so be prepared to purchase some. A few I enjoy are flirt pole, puzzle, and tug type toys. These toys stimulate a GSDs natural ability to chase, solve problems, and pull. Enrolling your GSD in some type of dog obedience or sport activity class is especially helpful and I highly recommend.  These will help you as well as your GSD. Learning how to be the leader, play and have fun with your GSD only adds more depth to that already wonderful relationship you have with your dog.

A GSD is an excitable, active dog. By nature they are not couch potatoes who just enjoy lounging around. This is another quality of the GSD that was instinctively bred into them for herding sheep. A GSD patrolled his flock and walked or ran around the field, keeping the sheep together or chasing away critters. Owning a GSD means regular exercise. There is an old saying, “a tired GSD is a good GSD”. If a GSD has pent up energy, they will use that energy to get into mischief, which is one of the reasons we see so many GSDs in shelters. People were ill prepared to exercise their dog and did not understand their dogs’ need for mental stimulation. As a result the pent up energy became destructive in the home. Exercising your GSD does not mean hours and hours of your time. Spending 20-30 minutes a day in your backyard throwing the ball, playing flirt pole, or some other activity will help your GSD. A daily walk is very beneficial as it is good exercise and also contributes to building that special bond between you and your dog. Each GSD is different in their energy level. As you learn your dog, you will learn how much daily exercise time he will need.

I hope this and my previous blog have helped you see both sides of the GSD. In my next blog I will talk about a term that is misunderstood by many and that is “prey drive”. Until then…

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