The Rest of the Family
If you are single and live independently of anyone else, then it is solely up to you to decide whether the German shepherd is the right dog for your situation. However, if you live with roommates, a parent, grandparent, spouse, significant other, or children, the choice of whether you purchase a German shepherd is significantly more complex.
Older Adults and Small Children
If you are providing care for a frail or unsteady parent or grandparent in your home, consider what 65 pounds of unbridled energy might mean to this person. A dog of this size and strength becomes an automatic liability in your home unless you can provide constant supervision and work toward teaching the dog to be respectful and careful around the unsteady person (skills the German shepherd is capable of learning). You will also need to involve this person in the dog's training so that he or she can control the shepherd when necessary.
With small children, it is similarly critical that you are able to supervise your children and the dog at all times. Puppies have sharp teeth and don't have much control over their movements when they're young. An unintentional swing of a tail can easily knock over a small child.
Conversely, young children are inquisitive and can accidentally injure a puppy or provoke an adult dog. Dropping puppies, pulling tails and whiskers, poking eyes, pinching, and twisting paws or legs are all actions that are very typical of toddlers and young children. Just as a shepherd must learn how to behave in the human world, children need to be taught to be respectful and gentle with dogs.
Though German shepherds can be particularly child-friendly, it is not unreasonable for any dog to respond to pain by barking, growling, or biting. It is also unfair to put a puppy or an adult dog in a position of having to tolerate any form of abuse. If you can't constantly supervise the dog and children, they need to be separated until the circumstances become safer.
Make sure you can handle this breed before you buy.
If you have teenage children, it is very likely that the entrance to your home is like a revolving door, with friends constantly dropping by to visit. This situation can cause several circumstances that the German shepherd owner will need to address. First, the shepherd is an excellent guard dog. This means that friends and visitors will not be able to walk in and out of your home unless you are able to communicate to the shepherd that it's okay. This will require you to be present to supervise the dog during a visitor's entrance into the house, and you will need to control barking and jumping as well.
Nervous, timid, or fearful people should avoid owning a German shepherd. The shepherd is so in tune with his owner that he will misinterpret his owner's generalized fear and start looking for the specific things that might be causing it. This can result in a highly protective dog that could potentially be dangerous to others.
Another thing to remember about German shepherds with regard to children and teens is that these dogs are incredibly loyal. If your child gets into a fight with his friend, the shepherd is virtually guaranteed to try to stop the altercation. And, of course, the shepherd will take your child's side. You would hope that the shepherd would simply bark at the kids to stop the fighting or, at most, tug on the children's clothing to separate them. In fact, many family dogs will do this. However, a potentially equal number of shepherds may decide that the child is in significant danger and take serious action. This is just another example of why a shepherd must be heavily supervised when with children.
Babysitters and Domestic Help
Do you hire babysitters for your children? Do you employ a nanny? Perhaps you have a cleaning service for your home? If any of these professionals will be spending time in your home when you are not present, you must make sure that your dog is comfortable with these people entering and working in your home. If your German shepherd is taught from the start that these people are to be treated as family, generally your puppy or adult dog will have no trouble bonding with them — or at least recognizing that these people are allowed free access to the home.
Sometimes, however, a dog will not accept a person. Perhaps your shepherd was fine with your regular sitter, nanny, or housekeeper for years, but the dog does not accept the new replacement. You can't put this person in danger, but are you prepared to kennel your dog on the days that you have help in your home? Alternately, can you afford to board your dog when you travel because your shepherd doesn't trust the new nanny? These are issues you must be prepared to handle if you own a German shepherd.
If you have a serious girlfriend/boyfriend, fiancee, spouse, or partner, you must also consider this person's opinion about the dog. Everyone loves puppies, but will this person respond differently to an adult German shepherd? If so, be warned: German shepherds have been known to single out people they think they can torment. This does not necessarily mean violence, but if the dog senses fear in an individual, he might try to corner the person in a room, or otherwise control the person's movement around the house. Even if your significant other simply hates having to pull dog hairs off his slacks, the dog could present a problem in your relationship.
If your spouse is afraid of your shepherd, you might come home from work to find your dog lying at the bottom of the steps, staring intently at your spouse who has been trapped upstairs all day. Everyone in the home — regardless of age or relationship — must be comfortable with the dog.
Another important question to ask is this: Are your family members or significant other going to help you with the dog chores? If a spouse or significant other is not interested in sharing the duties of raising and caring for the dog, you can come to resent this person. This family situation can become particularly ugly if the primary owner is away from the home during the day, leaving the reluctant partner at home with the dog for the majority of the day. Not only will this cause problems in the relationship, but it will also mean less than acceptable treatment for the dog. Be sure everyone agrees on the addition of a pet before you bring the shepherd home.