Is a German Shepherd right for my family? - German Shepherd Dog Forums
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post #1 of 37 (permalink) Old 02-12-2010, 01:44 PM Thread Starter
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Is a German Shepherd right for my family?

I am inquiring as a potential family for a German Shepherd dog. I have been doing a lot of research on dogs and breeds to determine the best fit for my family. I want to discuss a few things with German Shepherd owners and see what they think.
I am seriously interested in the German Shepherd because in objective evaluations of breed types, it meets many of our criteria but I didn't start my search with a German Shepherd in mind. I never really imagined myself as a German Shepherd owner before.
When I was a single person, I rather fancied myself as more the sporting dog type. I thought it would be cool to live in a mountain cabin with a gentleman's gun dog like the German Shorthaired Pointer. It seems foolish now but who can say they've never been swayed by the images of Grey's Sporting Journal? The reality is when I did hunt birds I never used a dog but if I had I would have hated how far those pointers work from their handler. A brittany or one of the spaniels would be far more satisfying to me but their image is more of a much less rugged gentleman. Nevermind though because I don't hunt anymore.
The reality is I have a typical suburban lifestyle. I have a wife and two children (2 and 3) and I go to work 8 hours a day. Fortunately I live in a rural area and I commute a mile down a country road so I can come home for lunch every day. Despite all that I've still got a four bedroom house on 0.2 acres. I live in a tract house with masonite siding and all my neighbors houses are jammed up together like barracks. Nevertheless, we've got plenty of parks and open space just down the road.
Before I got in this situation, I've had some experience with dogs in the past. I grew up with a dalmatian and a border collie. Yeah I know they're said to be two of the worst dogs for kids but I didn't know better and it was in the 70's long before 101 Dalmatians and Babe. I've also lived with two great pyrenes, and I've cared for a rottweiler, an OES, and a few mutts. Besides that I've had lifelong experience with just about every animal on old macdonald's farm. The rest of my family has never had a dog before.
We've determined that we know we don't want a lap dog or a toy dog. My wife wonders what a dog is good for if he can't protect you -- she wants a protection dog, but I haven't limited our search on that criteria alone. She also wants minimal shedding. So do I but we would be willing to accept some shedding as long as we didn't have to change our entire wardrobe into nylon suits only.
I seriously considered some low-shedding shaggy dogs like the Bouvier, the Giant Schnauzer and the Black Russian Terrier or even the Briard. The Bouvier's indoor activity level and excercise requirements matched us best but we decided that the long shaggy fur of any of these dogs wouldn't work for us. If the dog ever got outside the house, he'd probably be permanantly banned by my wife from ever coming in again. Frankly, the Doberman was the stand out in this respect.
Excercising the dog with a jog or a bike ride to the park and a runaround the park everyday is not a problem for us, but if the dog absolutely needed 2 hours or more a day of excercise away from the house, we probably couldn't offer that. We can do a lot more on weekends but the reality during the week is I go to work, and my wife and kids have a lot of other things to do -- mostly at home. Our backyard is based on a 0.2 acre lot so the dog can play but not really excercise out there.
I know some dogs are the other half of their owner's life but we can't offer that. The dog has to fit into the whole family and while he'll probably never be left at home alone, he won't be the center of attention. He will be in the house with us though.
We're not just looking for a companion or family dog. We want a working dog and we have a job for him to do. His job is to protect the family and our property, and to help us raise our boys (2 and 3 years old now) by demanding strong leadership, command and control from all his human masters. Personally, I'm not the defensive type or seeking a defensive weapon but I can appreciate a dog that has the desire and capability to protect. For me, I see the greatest value in a dog that demands authority and responds to it magnificently.
Everyone in my family is very gentle and we would not naturally be assertive or dominate -- we would have trouble with a willful dog if we did not conscientously rise to meet the need. This is something I want. I want a dog that will challenge us if we fail to maintain command, control and leadership. I do not want a dog that will just acquiesce in submissiveness. To me, it is a postive quality when the dog works to ensure there is a strong leader in the family even if it means he makes some trouble for the weak-willed. I appreciate what I understand about the German Shepherd's sensitivity and responsiveness because even though I'm looking for a dog that needs consistent leadership, there is nothing we would enjoy about a continual on-going power struggle. Provided we demonstrate leadership, we need the dog to submit and obey.
We want to train the dog to an advanced level of obedience so we want a dog that is intelligent enough that training can be an ongoing thing that continually makes progress because we are able to advance further and further without coming to the dog's limits. We would enjoy a dog capable of advanced obedience, commands in multiple languages, reading hand and body signals, and performing well off-leash. Training for these purposes would be one of the ongoing activities we do with our dog whom we expect to need mental stimulus.
I actually thought the Doberman matched many of the things we are looking for best but I have a serious concern about how he might connect with my 2 year old son. Both my boys are very gentle, peaceful and sensitive. A lot of breed profiles rank compatibility with children based on boisterous, rowdy and abusive kids but mine are far from that. I am more concerned about how well a Doberman or any dog would really connect with my gentlest and affectionate son. My 2 year old will especially enjoy a dog. I am sure that he would ultimately prefer to have a great friend and not just a servant or even an opponent in a competition of wills. I would give up a lot of what we hope for from a dog to make sure my little boy gets a friend.
I've heard some people describe the Doberman as a "one man dog." I can definitely see the Doberman considering himself to be "my dog." No one else in my family has more confidence to deal with the dog with total authority -- they have no experience. While I would like the dog to challenge my sons to do just that, the fact is the Doberman would definitely recognize that I am the one in charge. I would be doing almost everything to care for the dog and to train him and in his mind he would be my dog and whenever I left the house he would probably consider himself to be on assignment from me to guard the house and family until I return. Since I come home for lunch, I'm never gone more than a few hours. While I am gone I am sure he would be friendly and affectionate toward my wife and sons but he wouldn't feel satisfied and fulfilled until I came home. I get the sense that the Doberman would bond tightly to me and while he wouldn't mistreat my family I doubt such a tight bond would be formed with them. I can see how it would be counterintuitive for the Doberman to form a strong bond with anyone besides the one it has learned to trust for the things it depends on. Because of this, I've started to think I need to try to understand how a herding dog like the German Shepherd might relate to my family differently and whether that wouldn't work better for us or not. I realize the German Shepherd is going to shed a lot more and he may be less extremely attached to me but I am considering whether or not he won't make a better friend for my son. As an experienced German Shepherd owner, what do you think?
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post #2 of 37 (permalink) Old 02-12-2010, 02:12 PM
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Thank you for your post and the time you are taking to research the breed. The biggest concern I had, and it kind overshawdowed the rest was the issue of shedding. German Shepherd Dogs SHED and they shed A LOT. Honestly, if you've never had one you will likely be shocked by the sheer amount of hair comming off the dog everday. If thats going to be a problem right off the bat than I would consider another breed.

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post #3 of 37 (permalink) Old 02-12-2010, 02:14 PM
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post #4 of 37 (permalink) Old 02-12-2010, 02:19 PM
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Wow! You have really thought this out, maybe even over-thought it, but I can totally relate to that LOL. First of all, let your wife know that any dog will be protective of its family if need be. Of course a large dog is going to be more of a deterrent than a small one, though.

Secondly, German shepherds shed A LOT. Some individual dogs shed more than others and you can keep it reasonable by brushing at least a couple times a week, but we refer to them as German shedders and there is a reason for that.

Lastly, the leadership issue...in my opinion, you and your wife need to be ready to provide leadership beforehand. Your children will eventually learn it by watching you and you will teach them to be leaders to the dog. The dog will not teach the children (or if it does, you will have big problems). This goes for any breed, but maybe more especially for the German shepherd.

German shepherds can be a wonderful, loyal friend and vital part of the family. Good luck on your decision.
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post #5 of 37 (permalink) Old 02-12-2010, 02:19 PM
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First, welcome to the board. I think it is very nice that you are looking into this breed instead of jumping into it. Those of us that learned about the breed before we got one have been very happy and those that did not - well, IF they still have their dogs, they most likely are not happy.

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Originally Posted by nevada View Post
all my neighbors houses are jammed up together like barracks. Nevertheless, we've got plenty of parks and open space just down the road.
Understand that these dogs NEED excercise. YOU will need the dog to have excercise. Without a chance to get out and run and play and learn and run some more and play again and then learn all over, they are hyper, unhappy and can be destructive. They are working dogs. They need a job. Any silly job will do; the dog can carry things for you, can learn to herd your children into a tiny group (though your children may not like this), etc. But they need training and a job. My dog's job is to watch over my children, which she does relentlessly, and she carris things on our walks. Not a big job, I could do either of those things myself, but I think she likes to feel like she is contributing.


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Originally Posted by nevada View Post
We've determined that we know we don't want a lap dog or a toy dog.
While definitely not toys, they can be lap dogs. Some do not like to cuddle. Mine never did until recently. I sleep with what feels like a 50lb dog head on my hip every night. Sometimes she turns and I get jabbed in the ribs with her paws and my DH gets weighted down with the upper half of her body.


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She also wants minimal shedding. So do I but we would be willing to accept some shedding as long as we didn't have to change our entire wardrobe into nylon suits only.
This comment has me worried. I knew GSDs were shedders before I got one. But I had NO idea!! Seriously. I have no clue how my dog has ANY fur left on her with all the shedding she does. We vacuum multiple times a day and if I need to go somewhere that I do not want to have dog hair on me, I get dressed in the garage. I really do. Not that it matters as my van is covered with dog hair. We find hair everywhere. In our food, our drinks, in the babies diaper. I have no idea how hair gets into some of the places it gets, but they ARE shedders.


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Excercising the dog with a jog or a bike ride to the park and a runaround the park everyday is not a problem for us, but if the dog absolutely needed 2 hours or more a day of excercise away from the house, we probably couldn't offer that.
My dog no longer gets 2 hours EVERY day, but she gets close to that MOST days. Luckily we have a dog next door and behind us that are more than willing to help me out. About an hour of her daily excercise is her running back and forth romping with them, NON-STOP. The other hour is her and I walking, the dog park, a local park where we can play fetch, etc. Sometimes she wants more and I toss pieces of her food down the hall while she chases them one at a time.


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Originally Posted by nevada View Post
while he'll probably never be left at home alone, he won't be the center of attention. He will be in the house with us though.
These dogs WANT to be the center of attention. They want to be a member of the family. The great thing about is, they don't just expect that they'll get it, they also want to EARN it. They find a way to make you WANT to give them attention.


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Originally Posted by nevada View Post
I can appreciate a dog that has the desire and capability to protect. For me, I see the greatest value in a dog that demands authority and responds to it magnificently.
Everyone in my family is very gentle and we would not naturally be assertive or dominate -- we would have trouble with a willful dog if we did not conscientously rise to meet the need. This is something I want. I want a dog that will challenge us if we fail to maintain command, control and leadership.
Most of these dogs will take over if you are not in control all on your own. They are not going to ask that you be the master if they can be the master themself. You would HAVE to be a leader and the boss, while not being cruel or unjust. If not, these dogs will walk all over you.


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Originally Posted by nevada View Post
We want to train the dog to an advanced level of obedience so we want a dog that is intelligent enough that training can be an ongoing thing that continually makes progress because we are able to advance further and further without coming to the dog's limits. We would enjoy a dog capable of advanced obedience, commands in multiple languages, reading hand and body signals, and performing well off-leash. Training for these purposes would be one of the ongoing activities we do with our dog whom we expect to need mental stimulus.
You did mention how you do not have 2 hours a day to spend working the dog. You are going to need at least that to spend working and training if you truly want to go to advanced OB.


Quote:
Originally Posted by nevada View Post
I actually thought the Doberman matched many of the things we are looking for best but I have a serious concern about how he might connect with my 2 year old son.
Not that I am recommending one, but when my older DD was born, I had a 2 yo Dobe...They were inseparable.


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Originally Posted by nevada View Post
As an experienced German Shepherd owner, what do you think?
I am FAR FAR FAR from what I consider an "experienced" GSD owner. I am on my first. She just turned 2 a couple weeks ago and I have had her just under 2 years. However, from what you've said, I would not recommend one for you. I think that they require more time than you have. I am not faulting you for this...I go without sleep and miss out on family things to spend time training and being with my dog. But this was a choice I made knowingly going into it.

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post #6 of 37 (permalink) Old 02-12-2010, 02:23 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nevada View Post
She also wants minimal shedding. So do I but we would be willing to accept some shedding as long as we didn't have to change our entire wardrobe into nylon suits only.

Excercising the dog with a jog or a bike ride to the park and a runaround the park everyday is not a problem for us, but if the dog absolutely needed 2 hours or more a day of excercise away from the house, we probably couldn't offer that. We can do a lot more on weekends but the reality during the week is I go to work, and my wife and kids have a lot of other things to do -- mostly at home. Our backyard is based on a 0.2 acre lot so the dog can play but not really excercise out there.
These are the two problems I see with your post. It's really hard to overstate how much German Shepherds shed. A common word you'll see around here is "fur bunnies" or "fur puppies," the affectionate terms for the fur tumbleweeds that blow around the house. And yes, I do keep a lint roller in my car and lint roll my outfit before I walk into work every day.

As far as exercise goes, they do need a lot of exercise for the first 3 or 4 years, especially the ones from working lines. My 3yr old working line dog gets a long walk and 3 hard games of fetch every day.

Think long and hard about these two things before you decide to get a Shepherd.


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post #7 of 37 (permalink) Old 02-12-2010, 02:27 PM
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Yes shedding is never ending and lots of it..They are also known as velcro dogs which means they will probably bond to one person more than another and they will constantly want to be with that person.There are 4 humans in our house and mine, well, is mine...She follows me to the bathroom,bedroom, whines when I am out of her sight but with in reach.She is constantly on guard with me,she can be sound asleep snoring and I get up and she wakes right up and follows.She loves my kids but she knows where I am at all times.
They are super dogs but the shedding might not be your thing.Rotties are also excellent for all your looking for too.I had considered one but the drooling got me.From what I have seen they are very gentle but when the time comes they step up for there owners.Dobies I have no interest in so no advice there.
If you do go with a Shepherd,you won't want to let them get a step ahead of you.You will need to be in control from day one.I think that applies to most dogs though,especially big breeds.
Good luck on your decision and search.

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post #8 of 37 (permalink) Old 02-12-2010, 02:34 PM
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Something I wanted to add:
I volunteer with a German Shepherd rescue. We get A LOT of young (9months to 2 years) Shepherds that come through the rescue. The two reasons we hear over and over again for people giving up their GSDs are "He sheds too much," and "He knocked over/trampled/played too rough with my small children." Even with exercise and training their bodies mature a lot faster than their brains and they do tend to play rough. Not to say they can't do well with kids-- they absolutely can-- but keep in mind from the beginning that if you get a pup you'll go through the fuzzy alligator stage and then the "80lb dog with the mind of a puppy" stage.


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post #9 of 37 (permalink) Old 02-12-2010, 02:34 PM
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One thing you should know, or consider. Even though my dogs have protective instinct, I would not want, nor rely on, the dog actually harming another person. Just the presence of my dogs is a deterent to the bad guys. But when it comes down to a fight, a dog is not bulletproof (knifeproof). Don't get a dog because you want it to eat the bad guys. As for deterents, a home alarm system will do the same job.
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post #10 of 37 (permalink) Old 02-12-2010, 02:47 PM
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One thing you should know, or consider. Even though my dogs have protective instinct, I would not want, nor rely on, the dog actually harming another person. Just the presence of my dogs is a deterent to the bad guys. But when it comes down to a fight, a dog is not bulletproof (knifeproof). Don't get a dog because you want it to eat the bad guys. As for deterents, a home alarm system will do the same job.
I second this.We got ours for this reason and unless in the next year she changes A LOT it isn't working out that way.Mine will be 2 in May and she doesn't have an ounce of protection in her,just her bark.We call her Scoobby because we picture her hiding behind us if anyone were to try to hurt us..
We still love her and wouldn't trade her for anything.I got a gun and permit instead, to be able to protect her..

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