I agree, 25-26% protein is as high as you want to go for growing large-breed puppies. I use Diamond Naturals for puppies and just give the adult chicken and rice. That company has had recalls too, but it works for me.
I think, sometimes dogs have trouble with the highly concentrated foods -- high end dog foods -- 478 kcal/cup and up. You have to feed more when you are feeding 368 kcal/cup, yes, but I think it is easier on some of their systems for some reason.
Dog foods have ingredients that bind poop, like beet pulp. What in the world does a dog need beet pulp for? But I guess the fiber helps to keep them regular and bind the poop. Other ingredients do this as well. However, it is possible that whatever you are feeding has a binder that does not work well for your puppy. If you have a loose stool -- nutrients are probably being passed out of the body rather than being utelized, so check your ingredients, to find out what ought to help bind, and when you choose a different food, make sure the binding ingredient is different.
Dog food is a racket. There are a lot of buzz-words -- grain free -- yeah potatoes and peas are really not that much better than rice, all life stages -- whatever. German Shepherd 24 -- really, GSDs do not need their own catered food to the breed because GSDs are actually very different in energy requirements, size, tolerances, etc. GSDs vary as a breed almost as much as dogs vary as a species. The idea that one food can capture the needs of all GSDs under 24 months is ludicrous.
Even ingredient lists can be manipulated to make the product sound a lot better than it is: Chicken, chicken meal, brown rice, white rice, rice flour, rice gluten, chicken fat -- could be more chicken than rice, could be more rice than chicken. Hard to say. And using several ingredients, like brown rice, oatmeal, pea flour, ground pearled barley -- same deal, a lot more filler than meat.
But not all of us can do a great job of creating our own diet for our dogs, so we are, to a point, at the mercy of dog food companies. Educate yourself as much as possible, by reading through dogfood analysis sites, and then by asking GSD owners what foods they feed their puppies, might as at training classes, if you have someone there that you respect. Pick a few products that make sense, and try them. You can make a great choice that your puppy flat out doesn't like. It can look awesome on paper and not work at all.
Here are a few things to avoid:
Any food that has Molasses in it -- his is a corn-based sweetener, usually in foods that have to pass a feeding test. It is sweet, so it covers the flavor of rancid fat and the lack of meat.
Generic meat/fat sources -- meat and bone meal, animal fat, poultry fat. It should be Chicken/chicken fat, or Lamb, Beef, etc. GSDs have notorious allergy and sensitivities, knowing what kind of meats and fats you are putting into your dog, helps you to eliminate what your dog cannot tolerate.
A meat in the first ingredient is good, only if it is immediately followed by a meat-meal, like lamb meal or chicken meal, not meat and bone meal, or chicken by-product meal. Meat is about 75% water. So chicken in the first ingredient will be much farther down the list after the extrusion process sucks all the liquid out. If it is not followed by chicken meal or lamb meal, then your dog is getting a lot more filler than meat.
I avoid corn, wheat, soy, and various proteins and glutens -- pea protein, rice gluten, corn gluten meal. These are fillers, and might do some binding, but the glutens and proteins can boost your protein values artificially -- boosting protein values with vegetable protein rather than animal protein. I don't like doing that for dogs. It is hard to get a lot of protein out of vegetables anyway, so it is kind of unnatural like Margerine as opposed to butter which is natural. You will never see as much vegatable oil from eating the vegetables in a stick of margarine naturally, like you will in a stick of butter. And dogs are less likely to tolerate vegetable protein or fat/oil than we are.
At some point, you will have to give a little. You have to compare products and price and find the best middle ground. You might have to go with a product whose meat/meal sources are followed by a few grain sources, or fragments of grain sources, within reason. The first five ingredients are what you need to look at. I look at what is there between the first and the fat source. I give less attention to what is between the fat source and salt. Beyond salt? Yeah, I don't worry about it.
I don't feed food with glaucosomine, chondrioton in it. If my dogs need help for their joint, I would rather supplement separately. Nothing wrong with a natural source of chondroiton in the food, but I prefer to know how much of a supplement I am giving for anything like that.
Good luck. I know there is a lot of info to ingest. I hope you find a good (appropriate) food for your pup.
Jenna, RN CGC & Babs, CD RA CGC HIC
Heidi, RA CGC
SG3 Odessa, SchH1, Kkl1, AD
Ninja, RN CGC & Milla, RN CGC
Joy, Star Puppy, RN CGC
Dolly CGC & Bear CGC