They were once one of the most elegant, majestic dog breeds in the world. Among the most versatile dog breeds, they were as able to serve as military dogs, police dogs and Seeing Eye dogs, as they were to simply be loving, cuddly family pets. As beautiful as they were intelligent, German Shepherds were justifiably among the most popular breeds in the United States.
To be sure, occasional examples of what German Shepherds once were are still among us, coming from exceptionally ethical breeders that breed as much for temperament as they do optimal health and lack of congenital disease. More commonly, however, what I typically encounter in practice are very fearful, skittish, unhealthy German Shepherds, riddled with genetic disease and prone to bite. More than half of the German Shepherd dogs that come in my exam room have to be muzzled because of fear aggression. Even with the German Shepherds whose fear does not lead them to bite, the office visit is often unpleasant and difficult for the dog owner, veterinarian, and veterinary staff alike; challenged to give a comprehensive physical examination, with the dog in utter terror from simple nail trims or ear cleanings. From a health perspective, German Shepherds are commonly afflicted with severe skin allergies, inflammatory bowel disease, hip dysplasia (inherited deformity of the hip joints), congenital heart disease, degenerative myelopathy (a degenerative spinal cord disorder that leads to paralysis and eventually death), and are prone to cancer.
Like many other breeds that become popular, German Shepherds became the victim of irresponsible, unethical breeding, born of greed, ignorance, and combinations of both. In-breeding was and remains rampant, leading to inherited recessive genetic disease and neurotic temperament, unhealthy or ill-tempered dogs not removed from the gene pool. Puppy mills are the guiltiest party with regard to these issues, but backyard breeders and ill-informed people looking to make a quick buck by breeding their dogs are just as guilty of ruining what was once a near perfect breed of dog.
For those of you who are German Shepherd dog breed enthusiasts, please do not take offense to this post. The reason I took the time to write this blog post was to create awareness of the plight of this once great dog breed, not to denounce or offend those who love the breed. My late Uncle Eddie absolutely loved German Shepherds, and because of him, I grew up around them. In Uncle Eddie’s dogs, I saw truly great German Shepherd dogs, examples of which I only occasionally see today; a sad circumstance for those who love the breed and have had the good fortune to see them at their best.
If you want a German Shepherd and are in the market for one, if you do not take precautions, it is more likely than not, that you will end up with a dog that is nothing like the dog you expect, while shelling out thousands of dollars in veterinary care due to numerous health issues. To protect yourself as a consumer and to be an advocate for bettering the German Shepherd dog breed, you can begin by taking the following precautions:
1.) Absolutely do not purchase a puppy from a pet store.
2.) If you find a breeder, demand that the breeder present OFA health certification of the hips, eyes, and heart for both parents.
3.) Demand a state health certificate of sale signed by a licensed veterinarian prior to purchase.
4.) Meet the both parents of a prospective litter to assess their overall physical appearance and temperament. Avoid purchasing litters of skittish, fearful, or aggressive dogs.
5.) Do not purchase from a litter of puppies that were conceived before either parents were at least 2 years of age. Many congenital diseases do not manifest until as late as 2 years of age; thus in breeding them prior to this age, breeders unknowingly pass on genetic disease to offspring by breeding before 2 years of age.
Dr. Roger Welton is the President of Maybeck Animal Hospital in West Melbourne, FL, Chief Editor of the Veterinary Advice and Information Website, Web-DVM, and founder/CEO of Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care.
Dr. Welton, I so want to thank you for your post on German Shepherds. My wife and I have been dealing with raising Zues for over seven years now. (I have often been told that I spell his name wrong but am just a quick to tell people that his name is spelled correctly and that he is not a mythical god but instead, a very loved member of our family). Zues is a full blooded German Shepherd that we purchased from a couple who, unbeknownst to us, were running a “puppy mill”. These people were uninformed, greedy breeders who see nothing but dollar signs with little or no regard to the blight that they are leaving in the wake of their inbreeding practices. In doing so, they are allowing unwanted genetics to proliferate and leaving large groups of the once proud and mighty German Shepherds to grow in such great numbers that it is all but impossible to find a puppy that will grow through the years without at least some form of unwanted genetic causation that will lead to years of extremely uncomfortable situations for the dog and thus, for dog owners and true dog lovers as well as they watch a literal member of their family in pain. And Zues is just that to my wife and I. We have always had a dog throughout our 33 years of marriage with him being our third. My wife had always wanted a full blood Shepherd so I decided to buy her one for her birthday seven years ago. At that time, we had no clue what we were in store for. By the time he was two years old, he was exhibiting signs of allergies and by the time he was three, he was allergic to just about everything in our Alaska home environment. When he was approaching his fourth birthday, a cyst of some type developed on his tail that our local veterinarian attributed to an allergic reaction of some type. The cyst was removed that left a small stitched wound that we kept clean and bandaged. But it never did heal correctly, eventually leading to the necessity to remove the bottom 2″ to 3″ of his tail. That surgery did not work well either, leading to some nerve damage to Zues’ tail. He also started vomiting his food and was diagnosed with megaesophagus, which, for the education of all of us non-veterinary literate people, is the inability of food to immediately make it to his stomach when it is swallowed but instead remaining in his esophagus unless his head is kept in an upright manner for a period of time after it is swallowed. The past five years dealing with all that is going on with Zues has been very difficult not only for him but for my wife and I as well. All told, we have spent in excess of $40,000 on his care which included surgery, special non-allergenic food and constant visits to the vet hospital. Sometimes patients are worn thin by again, all three of us. His tail has to be bandaged 24 hours a day except for when we take it off to clean and treat the area. Then there are times when he sneaks out of our sight for 10 minutes to take it off himself. When he does that, he literally swallows the bandage whole, chews and bites on the raw part of his tail and then pukes the bandage back up a day or two later. As I said, this particular ailment has been going on for over three years and our local veterinary hospital has all but given up with ideas on how to treat him. Some people have asked “with all of that money and all of the stress he is causing, why don’t you just have Zues put down”? When my wife and I hear these type of comments, it brings tears to our eyes. The reason we don’t have him “put down”? Because Zues is still very much a part of our family (along with our cat, Isiss). To us, that question would be akin to asking a family with an ill child to do the same. He still goes out and happily plays catch, chases Isiss as the two play together, still has that German Shepherd brain intact (anyone with a German Shepherd knows how very keen their senses are) and still has that sparkle in his eyes. HE STILL ENJOYS LIFE. If that means that my wife and I, as those who promised to take care of him when he joined our family, have to endure inconveniences and forgo vacations in exchange for keeping a member of our family with us, then we will do so for the remainder of Zues’ natural life. Many people may not understand that and that’s fine, we’re not asking them to. We simply ask that they do not judge us for that decision. And those that are true family and true friends don’t. So to those who are out there breeding dogs without giving a thought or a single bit of knowledge as to what you are actually doing, ie. inbreeding and breeding dogs that have known health issues, please stop and think of all of the other “Zueses” out there that you have put into the middle of loving families. If you actually care for these animals that you continue to populate the earth with, stop the inbreeding and stop breeding dogs with known health problems. Refusing to do so leaves so much hurt and suffering in your wake.
Wow, what a truly moving and thoughtful post. Thank you for sharing…your sentiments and love or your dog literally gave me chills. Your statement, “he is not a mythical god but instead, a very loved member of our family,” says it all. As much suffering you have endured in witnessing you beloved family member go through so much, Zues was indeed blessed to have been chosen by a couple that are so dedicating to lovingly see him through all of his needs. Again, thank you for sharing your story, as the more awareness we create, the faster we can return the German Shepherd breed to the magnificent, sturdy dogs they once were.
Mr.Poppert, I am currently in the market for a German Shepard Dog and although I have done lots of research and study to avoid this same situation, I can’t help but ask that you might disclose the names or kennel name of “puppy Mill” breeders, not to necessarily ‘expose’ them (altho that seems an appropriate punishment) but so that anyone who reads this site does not make the same mistake!
I raised, bred and trained GSD’s for almost 30 years. I brought mine from England who were hesitant to sell to an Anerican because we were considered to be mercenary with no thought for improving breed. I bred the best, my GSD were never ill and in 28 yrs I only had to go to vet maybe 5 times. I had many litters 258 puppies who were as healthy as their parents. I concur, breeder in big business do not have the love of the breed as I did. My daughter bought from one of those and although her GSD is magnificent is plagued with so many medical problems is shocking. Deal with smaller breeders who actually care about improving the breed not out for the money. I did my best, and improved the breed, now it’s time for others to pick the slack and find out about breeders and the parents if dog u r thing ing of purchasing. And be responsible buyers. No puppies born before parents are two years of age are acceptable.
i thought i saw everything and something new always comes up.
its heart breaking
the gsd as all the breeds brought to America go down hill because its all about money andhas little to do with the dog or the correct breeding program.
My beautiful german shepherd, Daisy, is really an impressive at-home athlete. She pulls our kids on their skates and skateboards. She plays fetch with the frisby for hours at a time. She runs faster than every dog at the dog-park. Extraordinary dog.
However, she’s 7 years old right now and over the last year or so she has been inactive and she was sometimes even limping. There was three days where she really wasn’t moving around the house, let alone going outside to play. It was killing us to see it. So I took her to the vet, they said it was probably Degenerative Osteoarthritis.
We were pretty devastated. How could we not be? Daisy is our dog and has been our only dog for 7 years. We got her as a puppy.
The vet gave us medications, but they didn’t work. Me and my wife have a propensity toward the homeopathic remedies, so I researched online and found PetBounce. It wasn’t expensive at all, especially with how pricey the alternatives were, so I tried it out. I’ll just say, I didn’t write this much for no reason. It worked so well that it brought tears to our eyes. It has been so wonderful to see Daisy back on her paws and kicking butt again.
If this is your dog or your dog has similar problems, I would highly recommend it.
Here’s the link, http://www.lnk123.com/SHHQg.
How do I find a German Shepherd that is like what they used to be? Where could I go to find a good healthy dog that is not full of health problems?
Dr. B and Tennessee sells show line shepherds. The dog I bought from him is very dog aggressive costing me thousands of dollars in vet bills. Many allergy problems.Bad breeder
Dr. B.in Tennessee breeds West Show line German shepherds. He was a breeder in Ohio and moved to Tennessee. The dog He sold me. As many health problems . Allergies and is very very dog aggressive. It’s funny how these breeders personalities change. When they find out there’s a problem with a dog that they sold you. Don’t believe all the hype that is shown on his website. Dog college the family pictures the wonderful looking dogs it all goes away when you have a problem
Excellent post – thank you.
I am soon going to be looking for another shepherd.
A Canadian breeder in Manitoba, Canada sells numerous shepherds into the USA. Have you heard anything about Canisphere Kennels, (www.canisphere.com)
I would not have a way to hear anything back about dogs sold into the US & am wondering if people have been buying healthy or unhealthy dogs from Canisphere.
Possibly you may have heard something.
Thanks & have a great day!
Hi there. I always wanted a GSD and am dismayed to discover over the past few years that they no longer even look right. Show lines all have sloping hindquarters and strange hind legs. This post doesn’t mention this particular problem, but these legs are surely associated with hip and knee problems? I read somewhere that working line shepherds have better conformation, but then require a lot more effort due to their “work ethic”. Any comments on the impact of that weird slopy breed standard?
We were lucky enough to find an excellent breeder that has also become a dear friend. although our two gsd’s are only 15 and 14 months respectively, I am confident in her breeding and don’t expect any major health problems. All her breeders are ofa certified and she is very selective about temperament. We checked her out with her vet and currently use him ourselves. Many of her puppies go for police work, search and rescue, and as service dogs. I had agsd as a child and these dogs are every bit as I remember and expected. If anyone is interested in a truly reputable breeder, check out Rain’s Legacy German Shepherd Dogs. You won’t be disappointed.
That is great to hear. Please tell her to spread her education and ethics as far and wide as possible. Thanks for sharing!
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