German Shepherds are not high-maintenance dogs, but they definitely benefit from regular care and grooming. While their double coats don’t need clipping or trimming, they can develop mats and skin problems if you don’t brush them regularly to remove dead hair and debris.
Always make grooming a pleasant experience for your dog by giving plenty of petting and praise. Dogs who look forward to grooming are much easier to manage than those who hate or fear it. The best time to start grooming your pet is when they are puppies. You can also teach older dogs to enjoy grooming time, but it may take a bit of patience on your part if they are resistant.
German Shepherds don’t need frequent baths, as they are naturally clean and odor-free. A bath once every three months should be plenty, since washing dogs too frequently strips the natural oils from their coats, often causing skin problems. Make sure you choose a dog shampoo, since many human shampoos can irritate a dog's skin; lastly, avoid getting shampoo in your pet's eyes.
It can be hard to build up a good lather on a German shepherd’s coat, so be prepared to use plenty of shampoo to get enough suds. A hand-held sprayer is helpful when it’s time to rinse; be especially careful to rinse all the soap from under the dog’s legs, around the neck and around the tail, because these areas can be particularly hard to rinse well. Run your hand through the dog’s coat to ensure you haven’t left any soap residue; soap on the skin will cause dogs to scratch and chew the area.
Because the German Shepherd dog has a double coat, the best tool for general brush-outs is the rake, which looks like its name and actually is more of a comb than a brush. This tool has long teeth set perpendicularly to a sturdy handle, and you pull the rake through the coat to loosen and remove dead hair.
To be effective, the teeth of the rake must reach all the way down to the dog’s skin. The best way to accomplish this is to work the coat in small sections, making sure you’ve combed completely through the hair in each section before moving on. A pin brush or a slicker brush is helpful for removing the loose guard hairs that constantly are shed from German Shepherd coats, and many times even a quick surface brushing will bring away a handful of loose hair.
People sometimes make the mistake of thinking that German Shepherds won’t shed much because they don’t have long, flowing coats. In fact, their top coats shed stiff, wiry guard hairs almost constantly, and the entire undercoat comes loose about twice a year. Brush dogs thoroughly several times a week to minimize the amount hair your German Shepherd leaves in your home and on you. When your dog is shedding their undercoat, daily brushing is essential to make sure your German Shepherd doesn’t end up with mats or tangles of hair that can lead to skin problems such as hot spots and rashes.
Teeth and Nails
Part of grooming your German Shepherd involves proper care of their teeth and nails. If you are not an expert in clipping nails, it may be best to have a groomer do it or show you how. A dog's nails contain a quick that easy to sever by accident, causing pain and bleeding for your pet. Brush the teeth of your German Shepherd with a pet toothbrush and a small amount of pet toothpaste on it. Brush the teeth as you would your own.
For a dog who is not accustomed to having their feet and teeth handled, you may need to start gradually. Gently touch and handle your pet's feet and mouth until your German Shepherd becomes comfortable with this. Then begin to clip your dog's nails and brush their teeth.
References & Resources
Total German Shepherd: Grooming The GSD - "The German Shedder"
ASPCA: Grooming FAQ
More on Grooming
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