When my husband approached me about wanting to get a German Shepard puppy, my answer was a resounding “absolutely not!” Now don’t get me wrong here, I’m a HUGE dog lover. I even worked at the SPCA of Wake County for two years both as a caretaker/trainer and an adoption counselor for crying out loud. Dogs have always been a huge part of my life but I also had my hands full with a toddler, our precious cocker spaniel had passed a year prior and we were forced to re-home our other cocker spaniel due to aggression issues towards our daughter. And you can stop before you begin the angry comments as to why we shouldn’t have re-homed our dog. We worked with a licensed dog behaviorist, put him through training and tried everything else under the sun to fix the issues, but when a dog bites my child in the face unprovoked, he’s lucky we were nice enough to re-home him (by the way, this dog is now living it up with a retiree who spends every waking minute with this dog, so stop feeling sorry for him).
The way I saw it, I needed an untrained, high-energy, biting and destructive puppy in my home like I needed a hole in my head. And us moms all know how it’s going to go when it comes to the purchasing of supplies, trips to the vet, the walking, the feeding…all the things that are usually left to us as an afterthought in a basic needs of this dog that would inevitably be my responsibility. But then, there we were driving towards the coast to check out a breeder where I had 2 hours to ask myself “How did we get here?”. My husband was a mastermind, that’s how. He knew if he could just get me and my daughter to the puppies he would win. And he was right.
So here it is; the good, the bad, and the oh so surprisings things I learned when we got a German Shepard:
1) These dogs grow at lightning speed.
I am aware that large breeds grow fast but I had no idea that the cute 12 pound ball of fluff would turn into a behemoth in 4 short months. These dogs grow so fast that they actually have growing pains. He limped on one leg for 2 months and then it switched to a back leg. Our breeder warned us of growing pains and one expensive trip to the vet later verified the breeder was right and it was just his bones and joints growing as such a fast rate. He was the same size as Ava in a matter of weeks and the pictures below are only 4 months apart. He is now full-grown at about 95 lbs.
2) Sweet Baby Jesus, So. Much. Hair.
I knew there was going to be shedding but I now must sweep and vacuum at least twice a week as a bare minimum to manage the fur-tumbleweeds flowing freely on my kitchen floor like they own the place. I’m convinced my furminator brush has de-shedded enough hair to make a whole new dog. I have aptly named this new dog Claritin. I foolishly tried to bathe him in our bathtub once . Ivan now goes to the groomers who brush him 3, yes I said 3 times, throughout the washing process. And yes, I will pay someone to save me yet another drain de-clogging experience. Shoves credit card in groomer’s face while demanding they take my money.
3) You will never pee alone again. Stop laughing, I’m serious.
I too laughed at the people who posted about this on Facebook before I actually got a German Shepard. But now I know that it’s totally true. This was not a comical skit, it was a warning from those on the other side of Shepard ownership. These dogs want to be with you ALL THE TIME. I can’t leave the room without my shadow. Lord forbid I actually have to use the restroom because if that door is not shut and locked, I will find myself forced to attend some sort of family meeting in a tiny room with a Shepard simultaneously stepping on my feet while trying to lick my face and a 4 year old shooting rapid fire questions to which I have no answers. He is usually always by my side but if I happen to pass by him in the house, he will lift up his nose and I touch it out of habit, everytime. Ivan is now my touchstone
4) The breeder can make all the difference.
My husband was smart to do his homework when it came to choosing a breeder. We had a friend who had purchased a dog from this breeder who gave a glowing review and we were able to have our daughter meet their dog before we made any decisions. We made sure this was a reputable breeder that was doing it for the love of the breed and not for a paycheck. We made sure to visit the kennels before we signed anything. This breeder had been in the business for over 20 years and trained German shepherds for a living. Her dogs were so well behaved and Ivan’s dad (which we got to meet) was the sweetest dog and was the breeder’s personal favorite for his intelligence and even temperament. He did great with my daughter and even with the other puppies. We took Ava with us (she was 2 years old) when we went to pick our puppy out once they were weaned and we closely watched how each puppy interacted with her. Ivan was the only one in the litter who wasn’t barking, biting or wandering off. He patiently followed Ava around and then plopped down with her when she sat down. He was very well mannered and not too assertive with the other puppies. This breed is expensive; usually somewhere in the ballpark of $700-$3,000 or more per dog, but to be honest you get what you pay for. We have had numerous friends purchase German Shepherd puppies since we have gotten Ivan and they tell horror stories of dogs with aggression, dominance issues, or total destruction of property. I know, I know, I can hear you now “You worked for a shelter, why didn’t you adopt?!?” We wanted a puppy that could grow with our daughter and well-situated dogs of this breed are very hard to come by in shelter or rescue situations. Love it or hate it, we went this route to ensure a positive outcome with our family. A crazy toy poodle is cute and quirky, a crazy German Shepherd is dangerous.
5) They Are Crazy Smart.
These dogs are used for police, guide dogs, protection and many other work fields for a reason. Ivan is the smartest damn dog I have ever met; sometimes to his own detriment. He learned to open our latching metal gate, first by simply lifting the handle. So we, the dumb humans we are, put chairs in front of the gate and patted ourselves on the back for being so clever. That worked great until he figured out he could get under the chairs, pull the gate back with his front teeth and then let it go to pop open the latch. He also knows exactly how to open our storm door when inside the house if he hits the corner with his nose just the right spot. He has learned to open our trash can to help himself to an after-dinner snack which forced us to get a top locking trash can. He has tried but still can figure that one out yet. Ha! We finally got him, just try and grow some thumbs silly dog! He was potty trained in 2 weeks and knows the difference in approaching a young child or elderly person versus an adult who is excited to see him. He knows his commands with speech as well as with hand signals. This is a security measure should he not be able to hear me in a busy area. He comes when called even when off leash and he wants to greet another person or dog walking by. He is truly a joy to train because you can tell he wants to work and makes it easy with being so food driven. He’s honestly the smartest dog I have ever worked with.
6) Their loyalty to family is unmatched.
A German Shepard’s hallmark is loyalty to their owners. In the first year, we thought we got the loveable one who would meet a burglar at the door and help them to the safe. I was proven wrong while walking him one late night and we heard some foxes in a wooded area behind our home. I have never heard a growl like that from a dog and I have no doubt he would have protected me. He absolutely loves people and other dogs but if someone approaches us on a walk he gets very close to me and waits for my reaction to the person before he greets them. He also has a stare that would melt most grown men and make them think twice about approaching me on a jog. He almost ate my husband one night when he was checking a tire on our car. I went to let Ivan outside and all he saw was a man wearing black crouching behind our car. He instantly lunged in attack mode and I was able to catch him before he went through the storm door at the perceived intruder, aka my husband. I had to tell Ryan to get up and show Ivan who he was and Ivan instantly relaxed and started wagging his tail once he realized it was his daddy and not a bad guy. I’m pretty sure Ryan had to change his shorts after that one though. I have seen this dog also get in between my daughter and a woman whom we didn’t know who was getting a little too close to her in a store. He gently pushed Ava up against the wall while intently watching the woman who very smartly got the signal and backed off. He even gives a single warning bark when people unexpectedly knock on our door, letting us know he’s aware but courteous at the same time. He even checks on me at least once a night while I’m sleeping to ensure I’m still alive. All I feel is a wet nose breathing on me quietly in the middle of the night and a few seconds later he walks off to go back to bed in his crate. Ivan is my favorite.
Ivan is not perfect. He is expensive to feed, eats Ava’s toys (it’s a graveyard of amputee Barbie’s in her toy box), sloshes water all over my floor when getting a drink and has already caused one vacuum to die on me. But Ivan has chosen me as his person out of all the people in my home and I snicker a little when he curls up with me instead of my husband when Ryan was the one who fought so hard to get him. Owning a German Shepherd can be difficult, but he’s worth it. He’s more than a pet, he’s family. The biggest lesson I have learned over the past two years is that Ivan is the dog I never knew I needed.