Help us be responsible parents for a 1yo German Shepard.
January 3, 2008 2:54 PM   Subscribe

My girlfriend and I are (probably) soon to be the owners of a 1 year old German Shepard. We know (and love) the dog and the dog knows (and, we're sure) loves us. But we've never been responsible for anything more than a plant before and that plant died. What are some tips other German Shepard owners can impart, in terms of what we can expect and how best to take care of him?

First, for your edification, here's a picture of the dog, whose name is Wolf, both from 1 year ago when he was a puppy and (essentially) now, when he's gone and gotten a bit older.

Why We're Getting Him.

My parents, who are both getting on, bought him a year ago. He is a very energetic and playful dog. Whenever we see him on our visits to my parents house on Sunday's we'll play with him and he'll bound with near limitless energy for the whole time until we're exhausted. And we're in our mid-20s! So my parents simply aren't up to it anymore. They wanted to move him on to a strangers house, which I couldn't bear as both I and my girlfriend love Wolf very, very much. So we said we would take him on, my parents agreed, and within the next day or so we expect to go over and pick him up.

Why We're A Little Nervous.

First; we're renting. The landlord has said we can have Wolf, so there's no issues there. But Wolf, having as much energy as he does, tends to like to chew on things, and not just his toys. We plan to try and spend some of his energy on as many walks and trips to the dog park as we can fit into our schedules, but we worry that may not be enough.

Second; our schedules. I work pretty much 9 to 5, often 9 to 6 or 7. My girlfriend is currently between jobs, so she will be home with him a lot during the day for the moment, but since she is looking for a job, what happens when she is away for most of the day as well? How is he likely to cope?

Third; Spiders. There's a lot of them in our backyard. We've even found a few redbacks here and there. We plan to spend the next day or so killing as many of them as we can and taking measures to try and prevent their return, but we worry this may not be full proof. Any tips?

In Conclusion...

As I said earlier, we've never been responsible for anything more than a plant, and the plant died. We are well aware that a dog is going to be an enormous responsibility and it will take a lot of effort and work on our part. As part of that responsibility, we want to ask other German Shepard owners what we need to do that we may not yet have done or thought to do, what we can expect that we may not yet have expected and simply any other tips and tricks that we can use to make Wolf's new life with us here at home as pleasant and as happy as possible.

Thanks in advance!
posted by Effigy2000 to Pets & Animals (22 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Not to worry. We hadn't ever been successfully responsible for anything other than a night of heavy drinking when we finally decided to rescue our first dog. If you love the dog, you will do a great job taking care of it.

You may try crating him to make sure that he behaves while you are out. Some dogs like this, other dogs hate it. But since your girlfriend is not working at the moment, this will give him an opportunity to be led into the ordeal more gently. Just google tips for crate training a dog.
posted by greekphilosophy at 3:09 PM on January 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

i managed a boarding kennel for 3 years, we also offered obedience training classes. I saw many dogs come in with lots of energy which often led to misbehavior. However the owners who invested time in obedience training classes (and doing the 30 minutes of "play" practice each night) came out with some amazing results. We had many who had adopted adult dogs with no real behavior need for the classes but found that it really bonded the dog to their new family. I would encourage your girlfriend to take an active role in the classes because dogs tend to mind the louder deeper voiced man easier than for a female.

the chewing... crate training is a must for a dog who shouldnt be left unsupervised. dont be afraid to crate. its a good thing. we had one owner with a large dog who was getting progressively worse while they were at work. owner thought dog needed more space so she kept leaving more rooms open while she was gone. the dog just tore up more and got more anxious barking all day. we encouraged her to not give more space but to crate her dog while she was away. the first few days took some adjusting but the dogs behavior when she was home was much better. the dog was calmer and didn't tear anything else up. he even started hanging out in his house it became his safe place. my dogs do that all the time when i am home or my energetic nieces and nephews are visiting. their crate is their safe place.

posted by meeshell at 3:14 PM on January 3, 2008

Ditto on crate training. My now-fiance rescued a German Shepherd mix before we met, when the dog was about six months old. He was very, very strict with her, crate trained her, and his effort has paid off. She is very, very obedient and friendly. (We also have another dog, obtained at the same time and trained the same way, who is sneakier and less obedient.) It's my observation that the German Shepherd mix really craves discipline and approval. She wants to have something to DO, some task to perform, some purpose in her life. When we walk her, she carries a backpack. At home, when we want to keep her busy, we use a Kong filled with treats and/or peanut butter.
posted by desjardins at 3:19 PM on January 3, 2008

I expect that sometime later biscotti might appear and urge you to let this cup pass from you; GSDs are really not good dogs for inexperienced owners. If the dog is from a decent breeder, it should go back to the breeder. Your parents' contract would probably require this, and would not allow your parents to just farm the dog out to whoever they want to. Most dogs are not from decent breeders, though.

Assuming you're intent on keeping and raising this dog, some things you didn't mention:

*Health care. You should expect to drop $1500 on the dog sometime in the next four or five years. Dunno for what. Maybe he'll get into something he shouldn't. Maybe he'll have some hard to diagnose digestive problem. But odds are, there's going to something that causes you one or two trips to the emergency clinic or a string of nontrivial treatment/diagnostics, or both. And there is a very strong chance that a sheppie, especially a probably poorly-bred one, will end up dysplastic after a while and require either medical treatment or orthopedic surgery or both. This will be expensive, and probably heartbreaking.

*Dog food. A sheppie is a big dog that eats a lot, and this will cost you a nontrivial amount of money. You should only be feeding very high-quality dog foods; I have no idea what is available in Australia. Find where the crazy dog people get their food, and try those brands. If it is in your grocery store, it is almost certainly crap. There are some serious advantages to crazy-dog-person dog foods. Two hinge on the fact that the crazy-dog-person dog food is mostly food instead of mostly indigestible filler. One, it means that the prices aren't as crazy as you think -- and the prices will probably shock you -- since each cup of high-quality dog food has more actual food in it and you can feed less Two, less input means less output; fewer and smaller poops to clean up in your yard.

*Training. Training takes serious time. If you do it through classes, and you should so that other people can point out when you're fucking up, it will also cost some money. Expect to spend a bunch of nights when at least one of you would rather be home at some training center 30 minutes away. God bless biscotti for dealing with this stuff with our pups.

*Activities. Playing and trips to the dog park are fine, but there's no substitute for actually doing something with the dog -- agility, obedience, rally-obedience, SAR stuff, whatever. I would not do schutzhund.

*Impact on homeowners' insurance in the future. I have no idea how this works in Australia. In much of the US, having a GSD would give you higher homeowners' rates, and some companies might decline to cover you.

Anyway, if any of this gives you pause, really, let this cup pass.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:29 PM on January 3, 2008

(that's USD1500. Dunno what that is in AUD.)
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:31 PM on January 3, 2008

First; we're renting. The landlord has said we can have Wolf, so there's no issues there. But Wolf, having as much energy as he does, tends to like to chew on things, and not just his toys. We plan to try and spend some of his energy on as many walks and trips to the dog park as we can fit into our schedules, but we worry that may not be enough.

Kennel him indoors while you're gone. As long as you do crate training the proper way (It's never a negative place to go, he never gets sent there to be punished, it's a safe haven for him and it's his "Den"/"Cave" that he goes to to sleep at night), he can stay in the kennel and not make a mess in the house or chew on things while you're gone during the day. It's safer for you because you don't have to worry. It's safer for him because he won't chew on stuff and possibly choke.

As far as spiders go, I wouldn't be too worried. My dog *loves* hunting and killing spiders here in TX. I've seen her kill orb and wolf spiders with paws, claws, and teeth. I've never seen her suffer from a bite.

Take him to obedience class so that you learn how to 'structure' play, take him for LOTS of mile-plus walks, and feed him a good grade of food and you've got yourself a great pup.
posted by SpecialK at 3:33 PM on January 3, 2008

Oh, and after Obedience, you might look into Schutzhund just for entertainment's sake. It's the work a GSD was meant to do and it's fun play.
posted by SpecialK at 3:33 PM on January 3, 2008

Best answer: Puppies chew. I would advise that you spend some time "dog-proofing" your house - move items that are valuable or you have attachment to somewhere out of the dogs reach. Provide lots of safe alternatives - rawhide bones, Kongs, chew toys and divert the dog to them when you catch Wolf chewing something he isn't supposed to.

In terms of energy, exercise is good. Use a backpack on the dog to carry your water or books. You may wish to explore agility training or something similar to give the dog something to do and a place to focus energy and attention. I would also recommend just taking a training/obedience course with Wolf as well; as this your first dog, you will likely learn some good things.

When leaving the dog alone, crate training is an option. We've never used it; instead, we use baby gates to restrict the dogs to certain areas of the house. This prevents them from reaching areas we don't want them in and also allows us to make sure they stay on floors we don't mind a mess on (more of a problem with pups that aren't housebroken). We've found by the time a dog is 3 years old, we can leave them in the house unsupervised and with no restrictions with no issues. When we leave the dogs alone, we tend to provide treats (peanut butter filled Kong or something similar); I'm not sure if it helps or not, but it makes me feel better.

I live in completely the wrong climate to speak to your spider issue; I do see that redback bites are rarely fatal in humans, but I have no idea how that translates to a Shepard. I would suggest consulting with a vet on that matter.
posted by never used baby shoes at 3:39 PM on January 3, 2008

No, do not do schutzhund if you ever want to own a house. Having a dog that's had bite training does not play well with having homeowner's insurance, and it might cause your liability in the event of a bite to go from crushing to astronomical (in the US, anyhow).
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:40 PM on January 3, 2008

Dogs are easier to care for than plants.
posted by jeffamaphone at 4:04 PM on January 3, 2008

Response by poster: OP here. Thanks for the advice so far, everyone. Seems most here agree that crate training is the way to go. I've (obviously) never had any experience with this. So my question on crating is; would it be appropriate to put him in his crate for the whole day while my partner and I work? I assume the answer is no, but I'm just asking for clarification.
posted by Effigy2000 at 4:15 PM on January 3, 2008

My opinion:

1. Take a dog-training class ASAP.
2. Read a book on dog training and crating. "The Other End of the Leash" is excellent.
3. Often dogs chew because they aren't sufficiently stimulated. Make sure the dog gets adequate exercise -- probably 45 minutes to 1 hour a day is appropriate. If your dog chews, often it's because it's bored. If it's well-exercised, it's less likely to chew.
4. Consider hiring a dog walker when your partner goes back to work.
posted by stonefruit at 4:35 PM on January 3, 2008

As said, crating is a good idea. Some dogs even like it, but they can all get used to it. One of our dogs loved his crate, I think he thought of it as his den, and when we decided he didn't need it anymore and gave it to a friend, he was really sad until he took over the back hall as his own space and began sleeping there.

More to the point, you can definitely crate him during the day while you are at work. My sister does this with her dogs, and so do many other people. Just make sure he is out as soon as you get home and gets plenty of exercise. And if he is used to going out whenever he wants during the day, you may need a little time to slowly change his schedule. Personally, I think if you crate a dog during the day you shouldn't also have them locked in the crate all night, especially a very energetic dog. Talk to the vet about exactly how much time in the crate is acceptable, if you find you need to crate him at night as well. (My sister's dogs go in the crate when no one is home because they get destructive when they are alone, but are fine being loose at night, and can choose to sleep in the crate if they want, or stay out.)
posted by catatethebird at 4:35 PM on January 3, 2008

I suggest this book highly.
posted by sarahmelah at 4:37 PM on January 3, 2008

A few things... the biggest one is A TIRED DOG IS A GOOD DOG. Seriously. Find out what wears that dog out. For mine, it's running on the beach and occasional days at a doggy day care where they play her into the ground. So minimum once a week I let her get so much exercise that she can barely walk and stay awake. If I don't, I notice a difference in her behavior. Especially if she gets bored. Bored dogs will destroy stuff or do anything they can to get attention. Tired dogs are busy being happily curled up asleep at your feet.

Secondly, training is massively important, especially for a powerful dog like a German Shepherd. I enrolled my little dog in agility classes for a while but then I stopped them, and wow, do I notice a major difference. She loved agility and getting to do the exercises was a great reward for minding me, so now she's ignoring me more. Agility kind of drove the point home that she should do what I say and that I wasn't just ordering her around. So I highly recommend agility or some kind of reward-based training exercises to form a team with your dog. Besides, it's really fun. :)

Congrats, btw. What an adorable pup!
posted by miss lynnster at 5:07 PM on January 3, 2008

Cute dog!

Look up the number for your local SPCA - in the U.S., at least, they often seem to offer low-cost training classes for new (and experienced) dog owners, and the classes seem to benefit the owners at least as much as the dog. Here's a link to Queensland's RSPCA site, where they talk about dog training classes. apologies if this is really obvious and you already looked.
posted by rtha at 5:49 PM on January 3, 2008

Best answer: Five years ago we took custody of a 110-pound, overly rambunctious 2 year old Shepherd mix from my mother in law. He was a giant clownish goofball of a dog. Now we have a large, mellow, seven year old dude who just wants to hang out with us. Here is what we learned along the way:

- Training is a must. It simply is not optional. It was a bit excruciating because our dog is smart as a whip and learned every new command very quickly, got bored and wanted to run around and sniff the other dogs' butts. It got so when we made the fatal left turn that meant we were going to obedience class he would start to whine in the back of the car, because he hated the classes even more than we did. Nevertheless, it was and is an absolute necessity. GSDs need a job, and obedience classes give you the language to communicate your expectations to your dog. Without it, Wolf will find a job for himself, and it may not be one you want him to have.

- As the owner of a larger, stronger breed, you will learn that at the dog park, it's always your dog's fault, no matter who really started it. This is another reason for training- a dog that comes when called, heels, and leaves interesting smelly things on command is not only a joy in itself but gives you some moral high ground when your dog interacts with less well-trained dogs.

- You have to be clear in your head that you are in charge, and the dog is just a dog. We've returned from trips where we've had friends or family dog-sit, and clearly the dog had been in charge the whole time. Nothing bad has ever happened, but if you are new to dogs, a GSD is a lot to take on, and at a minimum requires clarity of thought and consistency in behavior on your part.

- Two daily walks, morning and evening, every single day. It meant getting out of bed half an hour earlier, and postponing dinner, but two walks were required just for basic maintenance on weekdays.

- On weekends, at least one really solid leg-stretcher of a hilly trail hike. We put a backpack on him, with all our drinking water in it. The backpack is at its heaviest when he has the most energy, and gradually lightens as he tires out, and by the end of the hike, it's empty. Putting a backpack on him for daily walks would help too. Young dogs have nearly limitless energy and astonishing recuperative powers, it takes a lot to tire them out on a regular basis.

- Quality dog food is worth every penny. If you have any doubts, check out the AskMe threads on stinky dog farts. Kongs are great, you can use them to give him part of his daily ration of kibble to keep him occupied.

- Patricia McConnell's books on dog training are great and I highly recommend them.
posted by ambrosia at 6:21 PM on January 3, 2008

For dog training theory, Don't Shoot the Dog is a great book, and the author's website is full of useful info (there are detailed instructions on crate training there.)

For pretty much all my life, my family has kept dogs outdoors, and only let them in for an hour or two in the evenings, when people are at home. You need to invest in a good kennel with an insulating door so they can stay warm in Winter, but they seem pretty happy about it. (My family is in Canberra, so Winters are pretty cold by Australian standards.) If you're worried about him destroying your landlord's house from the inside, that may be one way to mitigate the risk.
posted by Coventry at 6:40 PM on January 3, 2008

Mother Knows Best the Natural Way to Train Your Dog

nthing the crate training. I had a purebred German Shepard that I got when she was only six weeks old. I crate-trained her, and it really prevented a lot of problems from starting. Dogs take very naturally to crate training.

Shepards are incredibly intelligent. I taught my Annie to "speak" when I brought two fingers silently to my lips. It was a handy skill for her to have... if I was home alone and heard something that I didn't like, I could signal her to bark without announcing my presence. I also taught her to sit patiently before eating. She could only eat when I gave her the okay. With a big dog, that's another handy skill. I took her down to the Cherry Blossom Festival on The Mall in DC, with hundreds of people walking on a fairly narrow sidwalk. A baby in a stroller waved a cookie in Annie's face, practically shoving it in her mouth. Annie looked at me, but I shook my head 'no.' She didn't take the cookie. I avoided an ugly scene.

You are very lucky!
posted by Corky at 7:28 PM on January 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

You will love this dog more and more as the days go by. Over the last ten years I have had two of them. Smart is an understatement. They will watch your behavior and response accordingly. The one I have now learned how to roll down the power windows by watching my hand.

You should try some professional training. It will allow your dog to communicate with you. Wolf is also going to test you to see how far he can go. Make sure he always knows you are the top dog. They have a pack mentality and you always want to be the leader. You didn't mention if he was "fixed" or not. I had one that wasn't snipped and one that was. I haven't been able to tell a difference. Some of them, nuts intact, tend to want to run- YMMV.

The crate, well thats your choice. My dogs never needed one. Basically, if you spend enough time with the dog he is going to know what you want. Keep the dog social. Bring people over, allow him to interact- treat him like another family member. If he gets out of line be sure to bust his ass- if you let him get away with it once he will do it again. In fact, try to bring the dog every place you can. I actually take mine to work every day.

Never spent $1500 on either of them, other than food I guess we shelled out about $50 a year tops- and yes he got the left over table scraps. Basic care is usually all you will need... trip to the vet every once in awhile is all I ever encountered.

He will want a routine, make sure this is the routine you also want to have. The time he goes out and the time he gets to play should always be the same time every day. Once you keep to the schedule for about two weeks he will fall in line and he will also make sure that you follow it.

Give him a place in the house and teach him that he needs to go there when you tell him to. It took me about a day to get it down pat. I just say "place", he goes over there and lays down. Soon enough he will learn a lot of your words by watching your actions. He will teach you as much as you teach him. If you start to get some crazy behavior work with him over and over. He will eventually pick up on what you want him to do.

What ever you do don't get discourage- if you stay the boss and keep him on a schedule you and he will be each other's best friend.
posted by bkeene12 at 8:08 PM on January 3, 2008

No additional advice, just want to say that Wolf is gorgeous. He looks like a purebred German-lines long stock coat German Shepherd. In other words, he looks just like my German Shepherd who is amazing. You are going to love this dog and want another!
posted by WyoWhy at 12:23 PM on January 4, 2008

not a German owner, a Golden Retriever. FWIW, excellent experience with crate training when she was young - she slept in it, and spent the day when we were at work/school without any problems. later on, when she calmed down and we could leave her out, we'd come back to see that she would spend the day in the crate anyway - it was her safe haven for a long time.

again FWIW, she is 7 years old and (knock on wood) no problems with anything. Large breeds are often prone to problems, but its not a guarantee. From my research, a lot of exercise WILL decrease chances of most problems for large breeds (i.e. hip dysplasia).

Have fun! Dogs are awesome.
posted by olya at 5:33 PM on January 5, 2008

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