Is a German Shepherd Dog for you?

So, you think you might want a GSD (German Shepherd Dog). Perhaps you watched Rin Tin Tin, either the original movies or the 2007 release, and were impressed. Or maybe the GSD caught your eye in the Will Smith flick I Am Legend, or in one of the many films like Chips the War Dog that illustrate the incredible intelligence and compatibility with man that this breed has.


German Shepherds are, indeed, incredibly intelligent. I’m pretty sure most of them are smarter than I am. Really. Ever think about what that level of intelligence means? It means that the average Shepherd, while you are figuring out how to get him to do something that you want him to do, is working just as hard either at a) figuring out how to get around doing it or b) deciding how to get whatever it is that HE wants just then.


Are you interested in a dog that is smarter than you sometimes? How about one that thinks it’s his god-given right to sleep on the couch? Can you enjoy a dog that loves to dig – in the garden, the lawn, the flowerbed, anywhere? Are you willing to be a breed ambassador and learn how to disarm people that are afraid of your dog because he is big, dark, and looks scary? Will you commit to daily exercise, rain or shine? Do you own an industrial strength vacuum, and are you willing to use it often? (German Shepherd owners ALWAYS get the extended warrantee on vacuums.) Do you have a sense of humor, and don’t mind a dog that is capable of laughing both at you and with you?


Are you still reading? If so, a German Shepherd might just be the perfect dog for you. Because a GSD is also endlessly inventive in playing games and would rather play with you than do anything else except eat. Your GSD would rather die than see you come to harm. A German Shepherd is a loyal companion who thrives on being part of a loving household and is happy to take part in almost any activity you might engage in. Most German Shepherd owners claim that their dog both understands them and communicates with them as well or better than human beings


My husband started on Shepherds many years ago with our first GSD rescue, Heide. Like many of her breed, if left to her own devices she’d get bored, crabby, and destructive. Glenn noticed that she had a great nose, was always scenting things to get information more than any other dog we’d had, so he began learning about tracking, hoping to teach her that. Somehow, after a lot of learning and training together, they ended up as a Search and Rescue team. What began as a game of “find Mom” in the park ended up being a serious and valuable contribution to our community. And Heide, with all the stimulation and training, turned into a very good girl at home.


All German Shepherds need a job, although it can be as simple as going with you to get the mail or guarding the yard while you garden. And if you don’t provide them with one, they will happily write their own job description. “Master Trash Spreader” or “Couch Eater Extraordinaire” or “Postal Worker Intimidator” are good examples. Some kind of training is the best thing you can do with and for your GSD. Working with your dog to get consistent behavior is incredibly rewarding, whether you are doing obedience training, teaching him funny tricks, or headed to the competitive agility arena. No matter what your end aim is, the work will improve your relationship with your dog and keep him from getting bored and therefore into trouble.


This breed needs regular exercise and mental stimulation. A huge house and yard are not required, plenty of Shepherds live happily in apartments – but you must be prepared to walk or exercise your dog every day. Some do best with long walks, others are content with 15 minutes of playing fetch in the yard, but some type of consistent exercise is necessary.


It’s ok if this isn’t the dog for you. GSD’s really aren’t for everyone. They need a lot of time, exercise, and training, and not everyone enjoys that, or has a lifestyle that allows it. There are a lot of different breeds out there that need help, as well as mixed breeds, and it’s important to choose one that will suit you and fit in with your life. These dogs, all of them, are not just looking to be rescued – they are looking for their forever home. If you aren’t sure you can commit to a dog for its lifetime, this may not be the right moment for you to get a dog.


German Shepherd Resource and Rescue Center is ready to help you decide whether it’s the right time in your life to get a dog, whether this breed is for you, and to provide you with contact information for other rescues if a German Shepherd is not the right match for you. Please contact us.

Carol Visser NCMG, CPDT

Additional Resources


AKC® Meet the Breeds and the German Shepherd Dog Breed Standard


“The German Shepherd Dog in Word and Picture” by Max von Stephanitz