The German Shepherd Dog (GSD) is an all-around canine superstar, excelling in multiple roles ranging from police dog to family companion. It’s no wonder this is the second-most popular breed in America. But do you know how to keep your GSD well-groomed and looking their best? Read on for some step-by-step tips and pearls of wisdom from AKC Breeders of Merit.
German Shepherd Coat and Skin Care
GSDs do shed, so one of the first things nearly every breeder will tell you is to invest in a good vacuum cleaner! But there are several ways to cut down on the shedding. AKC Breeder of Merit Wendy Wilson of St. Ledgers Shepherds recommends brushing every other day, and says that by doing so, “you won’t have balls of fur lying around your house.”
Wilson advises using a Furminator (or similar de-shedding tool) for this brushing routine, which she likes using for the GSD’s double coat because it can reach the undercoat and remove loose hair easily and safely. She finds that a de-shedding brush alone is enough for routine brushing and de-shedding when used correctly. If used incorrectly, the tool can damage your dog’s coat.
AKC Breeder of Merit and professional dog trainer Lisa Walsh of Loyalville German Shepherds also recommends the Furminator, which she uses weekly most of the time, increasing in frequency to daily during heavy shedding periods. Like Wilson, she finds the de-shedding tool is enough for routine brushing, although, when she is showing a dog, she will use a slicker brush just before going into the ring. (She cautions that those showing their dogs will not want to use a Furminator too soon before a show, as its purpose is to loosen and pull out stray hairs, and some of those extra hairs may turn up when you least expect them during a show.)
Wilson advises GSD owners to “do the de-shedding outside,” due to the amount of fur that will be released from your GSD’s coat during a good brushing with this tool. Walsh echoes this sentiment, saying, “It’s amazing what you can get out in five to ten minutes with a de-shedding tool.”
Neither breeder bathes her dogs unless going to a conformation show or when really needed, “such as when a puppy rolls in the mud or otherwise gets really dirty,” as Walsh puts it. While Walsh will bathe her puppies for socialization purposes, to get them used to the experience of having a bath, she states that otherwise, “once or twice a year is sufficient.” She also notes that bathing GSDs too often strips their coat and skin of natural oils, and finds that “the more people bathe them, the more skin issues their dogs have.”
Both breeders note that the quality of your GSD’s diet will play a role in how much they shed. “If the dog is shedding constantly,” Wilson says, “you may need to change his dog food.” Both Wilson and Walsh advise looking for foods with high-quality protein.
And finally, you should not shave or cut your GSD’s coat hair. As Wilson says, “The GSD’s double coat acts as an insulator, keeping them cool in the summer and warm in the winter. So I wouldn’t shave them. And also, if you do shave, it’s hard to get the coat to grow back properly.”
German Shepherd Nail Care
The frequency of nail trimming for your GSD will depend greatly on the kinds of surfaces on which your dog runs or walks. For those dogs who routinely walk on pavement, their nails will often wear down to a normal length naturally. Walsh finds that she never has to trim the nails of her dogs who walk on pavement, but those on other surfaces need a trimming “at least monthly.”
Wilson recommends trimming nails whenever needed, and agrees that it will depend on environment. She has observed, for instance, that her dogs who spend time on carpet and grass need a nail trimming every two to three weeks.
Walsh says the conformation of GSDs’ feet is wide-ranging, with some dogs having very thick, wide nails that are more difficult to cut and others having thinner, claw-like nails that are much easier to clip. For some dogs—particularly those with thick nails—she has to use a Dremel tool for nail grinding in addition to clippers.
Regardless of conformation or growth rate of your dog’s nails, it is important to expose them to nail clippers and the process of nail trimming early in puppyhood. Walsh begins handling her puppies’ feet as early as three days of age. Both breeders say that nail trimming, like coat care, can be done at home, and Walsh advises not to overdo it with the clippers: “If you never cut their nails too short, they won’t get funny about their nails.”
German Shepherd Ear Care and Dental Care
GSDs have tall, alert ears that stand up by the time they reach about four months of age. These ears are a signature feature of the breed and can be prone to infections if you don’t keep a watchful eye on their care. Walsh uses hypoallergenic baby wipes to clean her dogs’ ears, noting that the wipes are easy and gentle to use.
Wilson also recommends cleaning your dog’s ears and checking regularly for ear infections. “Go to the vet if you notice one,” she says, as such infections can be serious and require the care of a veterinary professional.
For dental care, a wide variety of oral care products are available now for dogs. Dental care you can do at home includes the use of disposable dental wipes or dog-friendly flavored toothpaste (never use human toothpaste on your dog). The best course of action, though, is to consult with your veterinarian about which dental hygiene routine will be best for your dog.
Yasmine S. Ali, MD, is a cardiologist and writer based in Tennessee, where she lives with three Canine Good Citizens, including an AKC-registered German Shepherd Dog.