1. A German Shepherd is not a golden retriever. Sometimes I feel like many people assume that a lab/golden retriever is just the default “dog personality” (e.g., gregarious, every person is their best friend). Obviously, this is not true for every GSD, but shepherds tend to do good with kids and are family dogs. A German Shepherd  doesn’t  think that every person he/she meets is their best friend, and that’s part of the heritage. Shepherds are a bit suspicious of strangers. Also be prepared for your shepherd to pick someone to be his/her person in your family. (In my family, Donnar, Urbi and Demi unequivocally picked me.  This can be saddening, but it’s also a trait of the breed.

    2. Beware or the biting and nipping! GSD puppies have earned the reputation to be very mouthy. This behavior  comes from  deep in their herding heritage.  For this reason, a GSD can be a trying breed with young children, who often become unwitting targets for playful biting. Never leave any dog alone with a child.  Start teaching your puppy right away that biting humans is inappropriate behavior and channel that mouthiness into heavy-duty chew toys and games that don’t involve tasty human hands.

    3. Be watchful for signs of shyness. Many GSDs, especially American-line dogs bred for show/companionship, tend toward shyness and anxiety. If not addressed, this shyness can transform into fear-based aggression and that behavior is dangerous. For this reason, socialize that puppy from the minute he/she comes home with you, and don’t stop throughout his/her lifetime.

    4. Expect a dog who wants to know your business all the time. If you don’t like having a dog follow you everywhere, even into the bathroom, perhaps reconsider getting a German shepherd. These dogs are busybodies, and they want to know where you are and what you are doing at ALL times — in the event that your actions could compromise the security of the house and the family. They’re just doing their jobs, you know. :-)

    5. Hope you love dog hair… everywhere. There’s a reason people call them “German shedders.” Enough said! GSDs have a double coat, which equals twice as much fur all of your floor, your sofa, your clothes, etc. You also can’t win with your wardrobe; fur is always on you. 

    6. GSDs like to play rough. Shepherds have a tendency to rough-house with both people and other dogs. They’re intense animals! They don’t have the “soft mouths” of retrievers or the delicate playfulness of smaller breeds.  In my experience, even in play, shepherds like to go for the throat and get into some heavy-duty wrestling. Supervise their interactions with other dogs, and help your shepherd take lots of breaks and time-outs so that the play doesn’t get too overwhelming.

    7. Get ready for negative public perceptions. Thanks to the media, history, popular culture, and surely many mishandled dogs, German shepherds don’t exactly have the best public image. If it hurts your feelings that some people are automatically scared of your dog, a GSD may not be right for you. If you have a GSD, let this motivate you to make your dog a great breed ambassador and help change negative stereotypes.

    8. Be prepared for a potentially vocal dog. GSDs also have a tendency to be vocal. We’ve had some dogs who were just whiners; they whine or bark for a variety of reasons (excitement, unbridled joy, stress, to get attention, to get food). German Shepherds bark especially at strangers walking past your property or at other dogs. Barking can be a very difficult behavior to curb, especially if it’s woven into a dog’s lineage, as it has been with shepherds for a while now. Be aware of this issue, and be prepared to start training your dog when and how to be quiet.

    9. Consider the large number of health issues. German shepherds are famous for their litany of health issues. On a range from more benign (allergies) to life-threatening (osteosarcoma, hemangioma), shepherds seem to have them all. The breed even has predispositions to diseases that seem to occur exclusively within the purebred line (e.g., degenerative myelopathy, which was once called “German Shepherd neuropathy.”) It’s heartbreaking, but it’s a reality if you want a shepherd. Find a good vet (preferably one with shepherd experience), and start taking measures to keep your shepherd trim and healthy.

    10. Start brainstorming now about how to keep your puppy’s brain engaged. Otherwise, you are going to have a little terror on your hands. German Shepherds are large, active, athletic, and highly intelligent dogs. What this means is that if they get bored, you are going to seriously regret bringing this fuzzy monster into your house. A smart dog with no job to do = a mischief-making tornado. Try obedience classes, agility, flyball, schutzhund, herding, nose work, etc. Shepherds can excel at many canine sports and activities!

    11. If you want a purebred puppy, do your research about the difference between working-line and show-line GSDs. You may be surprised to learn that there’s a large difference within the GSD breed between dogs who are bred to work and dogs who are bred to win show.