What to do when your German Shepherd blows his coat

German Shepherds have two coats: a longer, firm outer coat with coarse hairs that usually shed out as single hairs and a softer, fluffier undercoat that sheds in big clumps. The German Shepherd loses or “blows” his ample undercoat twice a year (more often for pregnant/nursing females or bitches coming out of season).

GSDs need regular grooming year-round, but the grooming that takes place during the time a German Shepherd blows his coat (usually in the late summer or early fall) needs to be more intensive than usual.

You’ll notice your German Shepherd is blowing his coat when you start to see clumps of light-colored undercoat coming out when you brush him or her.

This is a good time to give your dog a once-over with the brush and run a warm bath. Warm water, as well as the skin massage that comes with a bath, helps to loosen the dead hair so it will fall out more easily. Use a large rubber grooming brush in a circular motion to both shampoo and rinse during the bath (this Grooma Original General Purpose Comb works well).

After the bath, towel your GSD thoroughly to remove excess water from her coat. If your pup will tolerate blow-drying, use a high-powered dryer or a hair dryer on the “cool” setting along with a pin brush or comb to blow out the loose hair as your dog dries. An easy way to clean up after the brushing process is to groom your dog while he’s standing on an old bedsheet — when you’re finished, simply pick up the sheet and dump the hair in the trash. Shake the sheet outside and it is ready to put in the washing machine.

Just when you thought you were finished, the real fun is about to begin. An undercoat grooming rake will be the key to getting the rest of the undercoat that’s falling out. Use this tool lightly over your dog’s shoulders, flanks and tail, and not at all on the face, legs or ears.

You’ll want to brush until you’re tired for this first brushing (shouldn’t take long as there will be so much coat to pull); then wait a couple of days and brush another 5-10 minutes. You might do one to two more brushings about a week later with the grooming rake, then use it as a maintenance tool about once per month the rest of the year. If overused, the rake can remove too much undercoat, which is your German Shepherd’s protection against the elements. Use a regular pin brush for your dog’s weekly grooming sessions.

Photo Credit: spencerdax via Compfight cc

Tools to help you walk your German Shepherd in style

“Dog Training – Jan 2009” by airwaves1 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Do you want to walk your German Shepherd in style? Here are five different tools you can use when walking your dog, and the advantages and disadvantages of each.

  1. Regular choke collar. The main disadvantage to a choke or chain collar is that these give the dog walker very little control over their pets. German Shepherds typically are able to pull right through these collars. In addition, the slip action of the collar can actually damage your dog’s trachea.
  2. Martingale or greyhound-style collar. These limited-slip collars function just like a plain buckle collar, except that when your German Shepherd pulls, the collar tightens enough that it can’t slip over the dog’s head. Many people find these collars useful for walking a well-trained but large dog, such as a German Shepherd, or a dog who can easily slip a regular collar.
  3. Prong collar. (Pictured above) Prong collars work with the same limited-slip action as a martingale collar, but with metal prongs on the inside that close in a pinching action on the dog’s neck when tightened. Often used for strong pullers, prong collars are meant to be “self-correcting”: that is, the handler should never pull or yank on the leash. Before using a prong collar, consult with a trainer to be sure it is correctly fitted. And never put your hand or fingers inside the collar while it is on the dog! A disadvantage of prong collars is that dogs can become reactive to (bark and lunging at) other dogs, because they associate the pinch of the collar with seeing another dog; or dogs who are already reactive can progress to aggressive behavior. Use with caution.
  4. Head halter. The Gentle Leader and Halti are two examples of head halters. Two advantages of the head halter are that they give the walker control over the dog’s muzzle, and creates power steering. A disadvantage of the head halter is that German Shepherds usually dislike wearing them, at least at first, so the owner needs to train the dog to wear the halter using positive reinforcement. Another disadvantage of the head halter is that if a dog likes to pull, it can rub the dog’s face. The third disadvantage is that unless the dog walker is willing to use the halter to teach the dog not to pull, the dog can still learn to pull right through the halter.
  5. Anti-pull harness. An anti-pull harness is not the same as a regular body harness. A regular body harness fits around the dog’s chest, straps under its stomach and clips in the back. These harnesses are very similar to the style used by sled dogs — and guess what those are designed to do? Such harnesses encourage a dog to pull. An anti-pull harness typically clips in the front and physically prevents the dog from pulling, because the dog’s front legs become crossed if it tries. These work for all but the most dedicated pullers and are usually well accepted by German Shepherds.

How to make sure your German Shepherd is friends with your friends

German Shepherds aren’t known for their outgoing, I-love-everybody nature. In fact, the breed standard obliges them to have “a distinct personality marked by direct and fearless, but not hostile, expression, self-confidence and a certain aloofness that does not lend itself to immediate and indiscriminate friendships.”

But this doesn’t mean your dog has to bark like a maniac at everyone who comes through the door, or worse, bite or threaten to bite.

The secret to success

The secret to having a German Shepherd who is safe around non-threatening strangers is teach him or her what friendly people look like. The message should be, “Everyone is friendly.” That way, if your German Shepherd meets someone who isn’t, he or she will pick up on the person’s intentions right away.

Temperament Time-Out

Some dogs, no matter how well socialized, are innately shy or innately suspicious. If your dog has a history of growling, snapping or lunging at strangers, do not attempt behavior modification without the opinion and/or supervision of an animal behavior professional.

Start young

Socialization to strangers should begin in puppyhood. Every person your puppy meets should be as kind and as rewarding as possible. This is not a breed that socializes itself. Early puppyhood, from 3 to 12 weeks, is a vital time in a pup’s brain development. While the breeder should have taken care to socialize your puppy until 7 or 8 weeks of age, your job isn’t through. Your puppy needs to meet at least five new friendly people per day, and take at least one trip away from home every day, as well.

If there is a subset of people your puppy seems uncomfortable with (such as young children), expose your puppy to them in a gentle, lighthearted manner. Do not allow others to pick up your puppy by the scruff of its neck, for instance, or flip it onto its back without warning. Have all strangers, children especially, feed your puppy tasty treats (even better if done in exchange for sitting politely)!

The never-ending process

Socialization for German Shepherds doesn’t stop once the puppy is 6 or 7 months. In fact, German Shepherds need regular, diligent exposure to nice and neutral strange people, places and objects until they are close to two years old! This will be a mostly painless process if you are dedicated to teaching your German Shepherd obedience and good manners — he or she can go with you everywhere!

Turning point

Most German Shepherds (and other herding and guarding breeds) begin to differentiate between “strangers” and “their pack” around 7 to 8 months. This is a vital time to remind your dog that no one they meet in the course of everyday life is dangerous.

Oftentimes, a young dog will start barking at strangers or other dogs, raise its hackles, or moves away when strangers approach, seemingly overnight. If your German Shepherd has only recently started to display such behavior, and is less than a year old, chances are he or she is going through a phase in the maturation process.

Be proactive, not reactive

Even if such behavior is a phase of doggie development, it is still unacceptable to the public at large. Start listening to your young German Shepherd about what he or she is or isn’t comfortable with — and act accordingly.

If your dog seems to dislike bearded men, for instance, do not force him or her to interact with bearded men. Instead, keep your distance in a relaxed manner, and if your dog observes the man without barking or growing, praise and feed a treat. If your dog does bark or growl, you must move farther away until your dog is able to focus on you and be calm. Feed and praise the dog for looking at you, making your distance to the undesirable person closer ONLY AS THE DOG FEELS COMFORTABLE. Any signs of discomfort from the dog should be interpreted as though you are moving too fast.

Typically, a soothing laugh from you and a cookie or two given BEFORE the dog begins to react are enough to calm most young dogs’ nerves. But always, always, listen to your dog’s body language before allowing a stranger to pet the dog.

Dogs who move away from a stranger’s touch are stating in no unclear terms that they do not want to be petted. Forcing the issue could lead to a bite!

Management is key

Teach your dog a solid “go to your crate” command, using clicker training. This simple command is a wonderful way to control your dog’s access to strangers while you are at home. Teaching a down-stay can be equally effective.

Remember, not everybody loves dogs, and for those afraid of them, the sight of a grown German Shepherd can be enough to start some folks’ fear signals flowing. Teach your dog to be respectful and polite with everyone, but be prepared to remove him or her from the scene if necessary. Your friends will thank you for it!

Too late?

What can you do if your five-year-old German Shepherd has been hurling himself at the door, teeth bared, every time company arrives — for years? Contact an animal behavior consultant qualified in dealing with aggression issues.

3 ways to keep your German Shepherd from jumping up

Teaching your German Shepherd not to jump up on you or your guests may seem like an impossible task, especially if you have a dog who loves people (and people who love dogs)! How many times have your guests been greeted at the door by your overenthusiastic German Shepherd’s nose and front feet, while you helplessly shout “No! Down! Stop it!” in the background? Or you meet a friend while walking your GSD, your dog jumps up, and your friend praises and pets the dog, and says, “Oh, it’s OK, I love dogs!”?

Let’s work on changing that scene with three simple strategies for training your dog not to jump on people. You’ll have the most success with your dog if you use these approaches in conjunction with one another.

Idea #1: Ignore the jumping. Unless your dog weighs more than 60 lbs. or is using his mouth when he jumps, ignoring jumping up is the fastest way to permanently make it go away. Dogs jump up to get your attention — so stop giving it to them! Pushing your dog down, yelling “No!”, kneeing him in the chest, stepping on his back toes, bopping him on the head or any other interaction you can think of are a “score” in the needy dog’s book, and make him even more likely to jump next time. (After all, if a dog wants something, what’s the first thing he has to get? Your attention.) To instruct others on how to completely ignore your jumping dog, ask them to turn their backs, cross their arms and look up at the ceiling until all four of your dog’s feet are on the floor.

Idea #2: Manage the behavior (of both people AND dogs). The doorbell rings — where is your dog? Rushing, barking, to the door, waiting to pounce the minute it’s opened? Before you answer the door, grab a leash and put it on your dog. Then use the leash to keep the dog out of jumping up range, even tethering your dog in a secure location if necessary. This strategy is a must for adult German Shepherds, or if your guests don’t like dogs, or your German Shepherd mouths and bites when he or she jumps. On the street, keep enough distance between your dog and anyone unlikely to follow your rules so the jumping isn’t reinforced (and follow Idea #3).

Idea #3: Teach your German Shepherd an incompatible behavior. A sitting dog isn’t jumping up — simple as that. Work on improving your dog’s sit or down at the door while no guests are there, and on walks while no one’s around. Then you can ask for and reward a sit or down during progressively more difficult trials: You ring the doorbell, you pretend to greet a guest, enlist a friend or family member to play the guest’s part, etc. When the time comes, have really great treats handy and either you or your guest can ask your dog to sit or down BEFORE the dog jumps. Ask people not to pet your dog unless he is sitting or lying down.

Like everything else in dog training, consistency is key. Teach everyone in your family these strategies, and soon your German Shepherd will have one more feather in his good manners cap.

Walking your German Shepherd around strange dogs

“Black German Shepherd” by Charles Willgren is licensed under CC BY 2.0

What’s the best approach if you see a strange dog coming your way while you and your German Shepherd are on a walk?

First, make sure your GSD is on a leash. Whether the other dog is on leash or off, you can’t avoid an encounter with the other dog if you can’t control your dog, so call your GSD to you and snap a leash on.

Once the leash is on your dog, move out of range of the other dog if at all possible. If not possible, talk in a happy voice to your dog, laughing, singing if need be, and encourage them to keep walking with you. As much as possible, ignore the other dog. Feed your dog treats, offer him or her a favorite toy or stick, or break into a light jog.

If the other dog approaches and insists on greeting, keep your German Shepherd moving. Do not allow the greeting to turn into a spat. When possible, call out to the owner of an unleashed dog and ask them to leash their dog at least while you pass. This is polite etiquette, whether on trails, the street, or just out in the field.

Teach your German Shepherd ‘Wipe Your Paws’

“Muddy paw print” by Becky is licensed under CC BY 2.0

With cooler weather comes rain, sleet, snow and ice. Wiping your German Shepherd’s paws after every walk is not only good for your carpets and flooring, but helps ensure your dog’s feet aren’t harboring burrs or don’t get burned by road salt.

If your German Shepherd is one of those who always kicks up the grass and dirt behind him after he does his business, the bulk of the groundwork is already laid out for you. What you need to do is use the positive reinforcement technique while speaking the phrase you want him to associate with this behavior. Tell him “Good ‘wipe your feet’, Rex! Good ‘wipe your feet’!” repeatedly when you catch him in the act, while scratching his favorite spot and treating him to a cookie. This will encourage him to try with all of his might to replicate the action.

The next step to take is getting him to repeat it in the appropriate place. Once he has caught on to the command of wiping his feet, bring him to the area you want him to begin performing this trick. For example, walk him to your welcome mat or a rug inside your front door. When he is standing on the rug or mat, use the phrase he is accustomed to. Make sure you have a treat, and that he knows it.

If your German Shepherd never kicks up the ground, getting him to perform the act is the first step. What you can do instead is train him to wait on a mat or rug so that you can wipe his feet off for him. Use the basic “Stay” or “Wait” cue every time he comes in the door. Wipe his paws, telling him “Wipe your feet” or even just “Foot!” Give him a special treat after each foot. Pretty soon he’ll be holding up each foot for you to wipe.

Your friends and neighbors will want to know how you manage to keep your floors so clean!

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