Making Good Dog Food Choices

There’s a lot to know about dog food, and between this article and other related ones (Raw Food; Understanding Ingredient LabelsToxic Things to Keep From Your Dog) you’ll find plenty of useful material.    We’re going to look at the two most essential ingredients and we’ll review the different types of commercial dog food. You’ll also get to read about some alternative diets. Giving your dog the right food means he’ll be happier, look better, need fewer vet visits, and live longer! So feeding your German Shepherd well is a good investment – any way you look at it. We’ll start by reviewing the ingredients dogs need most.    

Essential Dog Food Ingredients

Protein is the first priority in dog food. The Association of American Feed Officials (AAFCO) recommends a minimum of 22% protein for growth and reproduction (puppies and pregnant or lactating females), and 18% for maintenance (adult). Protein should be in the form of quality meat or fish ingredients. Avoid products that list corn or corn meal as the first ingredient, since protein provided in this form is not easily digested. Such foods will usually be cheaper, but not a good investment in your dog’s health. As a rule, three or four of the first six ingredients should be animal-based protein. Fat makes food taste good, but is important for a number of other reasons. It is rich in calories, is an important source of energy and it aids in the transport and assimilation of vitamins. In addition a reasonable fat content helps promote a rich and healthy coat. The AAFCO standards for fat content are 8% and 5% respectively for growth/reproduction and maintenance.

Types of Commercial Dog Food

Dry, Wet or Semi-Moist

Dry dog food, or kibbles, is the most popular, cost-effective and healthy type of commercial food. Dry food has about a 10% moisture level, providing the most actual food for the money. It works well for all ages of dogs with the exception of senior dogs with teeth problems where the hardness of dry food can make for painful chewing. Dogs on a dry food regimen will drink more water. Some dogs find dry food uninteresting, in which case it can be served with some wet or semi-moist food added to make it tastier. Wet food comes in cans or foil pouches and usually contains 60 to 70% water, but it can be as high as 75%. Therefore the serving sizes must be larger in order to give your dog the nutrition he needs. This makes wet food a more expensive option. Feeding a large dog with wet food requires an especially large volume of food. Semi-Moist dog food contains high amounts of sugar which is detrimental both for a dog’s teeth and internal wellbeing. It is therefore not a good regular food choice, but alright in small quantities as an occasional treat. It can be pressed into little balls for convenient snacks.

Quick Facts on Dog Food Labeling

A good dog food will provide quality ingredients in appropriate balance. It will be free from harmful chemicals, hard-to-digest ingredients and those of low nutritional-value. The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) provides minimum nutrient standards for dog foods based on controlled food studies. If you look at the labels on dog food packages or cans, you should see a designation for adults (“maintenance”), or for puppies and pregnant/lactating females (“growth and reproduction”). The words “complete and balanced” indicate that the food meets the minimum requirements of the AAFCO. From this you will know that, according to their standards, the minimum acceptable quantities and proportions of proteins, fats, calcium and supplements are present. What you will not know is the quality and digestibility of the ingredients. Therefore, for further guidance we’ve provided an article on the subject: Dog Food: Understanding the Ingredient Label.

Alternative Diets for Dogs

Homecooked Meals

It’s fine to supplement your dog’s diet with some tidbits of human food. However, if you intend to cook all your dog’s food, you will need to make sure the appropriate nutrients are included, since your dog’s dietary needs are different from a human’s. You might find our article on Raw Food helpful in this respect.

Raw Diets

A raw diet, or ancestral diet as it is also called, is designed to approximate what your dog’s ancestors would have eaten in the wild. It consists mainly of raw meat (both muscle and organs) and bones, along with some fruit and vegetables. It has the advantage of being high in protein and fat, while lower in carbohydrates. Originally advocated in the 1990’s by the Australian veterinarian Ian Billinghurst, the raw diet has been controversial. Some claim great success with feeding their dogs a raw diet. Those opposed to it cite concern over the prospects of harmful bacteria. In addition they feel raw diets often lack the full range of nutritional elements. Interest in raw diets for dogs is on the increase, and various commercial products are available, many comprising frozen meats. If you are considering this for your dog, the key to success will be to do your own research and to gain the appropriate knowledge to do it right. For an in depth look at this interesting topic see our full article: Raw Food Diets for Dogs: Facts & Tips.

Meal Schedule

It is recommended that you have set mealtimes for your dog as opposed to free-feeding, where food is left out for the dog to eat at will. The latter can lead to overeating, contamination, fussy eating by the dog, and the possibility of other animals or young children getting into the food. Very young pups should eat on a regular schedule three to four times a day. After three to six months, a regimen of three meals a day is appropriate. Another benefit of scheduled mealtimes, is you’ll know right away if your dog is not well, if he lacks interest in a meal. Quantity: You can follow the recommendations on the food package, giving portions as indicated for the age and weight of your dog. But for young puppies under the age of three months, it is a good idea to let them eat as much as they want in 15 minutes, after which you remove the food bowl until the next mealtime.

Dog Food Taboos

We have prepared a separate article on the topic of toxic things to keep from your dog.The information in this piece should be considered an indispensable part of any dog owner’s toolbox.

Owner of a Young Pup?

We have been getting a number of questions from new puppy owners – things like, when should a pup first go on solid foods; how often should a pup be fed; and, when to transition to adult dog food? So we did a blog post all about feeding puppies. Click this link to see our blog post: Puppy Feeding Primer. 

If You Enjoyed this Article…

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If you have a moment, let us know what you liked about this article. Plus, share your suggestions – we would value your input. Post comments below, or write, 
Mark Mulock


24 Replies to “FOOD FOR YOUR GSD”

  1. hello, i have an 8 yr old purebred GSD, German showline. I’ve transitioned him to eat raw food over his whole life; still not quite there. I take about 3-4 tbsp wet grain free organic wet food and mix in 2 1/2 squirts of Iceland Pure sardine-anchovy oil each meal(he’s 93 lbs), add steamed organic broccolli, steamed 2 mins and finely chopped, then 2 scoops Arcana(orijen) kibble, 1-2 sardines packed in water, 3-4oz raw food from local butcher(organ meat, muscle, bones, raw organic fruits/vegs); sometimes I top with Primal or Stella and Chewy’s freeze dried raw food. he never liked raw poultry. this is where I’ve evolved to so far; he’s been very healthy after getting by the young dog’s stage of skin issues. I believe the fish oil, as an anti-inflammatory has prevented hip dysplasia. he loves to chase sticks and go on 2-3 mile trail hikes. my only problem with raw food is financial. not many people have time or inclination to do it themselves. our butcher does 5 lbs for $22. not bad, considering, all their meet is pasture raised or organic from local farms. we live in Berkeley, Ca.

    • Hi Elliot,

      I take off my hat to you for all your dedicated effort in providing a quality, balanced food regimen to your GSD. Also, how providential to have access to a butcher with the kind of quality meats you describe. Have you looked into Richard Pitcairn’s recommendations? I’ve talked about him on the website (also have a link to his new book under “Resources”). His cautious introduction over the years of a broader range of foods into the raw diet for dogs and cats have shown very positive results. He advocates adding plant and legume foods that are very high in protein, thereby reducing dependency on meats. The matter of cost that you mention is a good point; and by using less meat and more plant foods, more possibilities are presented, amongst them: Lower cost/lb plus the opportunity to focus on seasonal offerings for further savings. As with your healthy butcher, California is no doubt one of the best regions for the availability of quality, local grown produce.

      If you didn’t see the blog post on food ingredients based on Pitcairn’s approach, you might be interested in taking a look. Go to:

      The best,

      Mark Mulock

  2. when my GSD was 3 months old my cousin and people visited and she Annette, recommended and assured me how great the company was to deal with in case of any questions. I have been feeding him ORIJEN PUPPY UNTIL ONE YEAR , AND HAS BEEN EATING ADULT ORIJEN SINCE. I wonder if they get tired of the same thing but it is very condenced, takes much less to fill his daily needs and he”s just beutiful medium coat, shiny, full of energy, mildly tempered, always ready to ride, frisbee, favorite,. I wish I could calm him down a little bit when company arrives, which is rather seldom, but he”s just awesome. I have no complaints and highly recommend the dry food ORIJEN

    • As I stated above I have been very happy with dry ORIJEN dog food.However I am a meat cutter by trade so it would be very easy to put together a raw food diet. I have tried a few things in small quantities of course but he tends to throw up raw chicken breast or small portions of beef hearts and kidneys. I have met customers who swear by the raw diets and it is actually cheaper, especially for me. My question is how much, how often, and what specifically would be best to change a three year olds diet from a high quality dry food to a raw diet of beef organ and chicken meat? One 28 lb. bag of Orijen lasts me a good month, but,,$78.00 a bag, yeah, we eat good

      • Hi James,
        Forgive the delay in getting back to you. Yes, Orijen is a top-notch dog food which has high-quality proteins and well-balanced ingredients. It’s interesting your pup throws up even small amounts of raw food. Do you give him raw bones? My suggestion would be to do so regularly; they provide many benefits to a dog. An added one, in your situation, is that this could be a great way of familiarizing your pup with the flavors of raw food in a form that he will probably love. This could pave the way for you to try again to gradually transition into a raw diet.

        Please see our article on raw feeding, if you haven’t already: – I think you’ll find some useful info there, including more about bones (see the embedded video). The article also describes the break-in approach for transitioning to raw (I copied it for you below):

        Break-In Procedure
        If your dog has a sensitive stomach, or is more advanced in years, it is a good idea to transition into a raw diet over a period of one or two weeks. To do this, start by adding raw food to the established diet in a 30/60 ratio, progressively increasing the raw portion until it is 100% of the meal.

        Let us know how you do with this sir!

        Mark Mulock

  3. I know it is important because to feed the puppy a large breed puppy formula, but a brand I as considering has an all life stage only. What should I do?

    • Hi Bri: As long as you go for a high-protein, high-fat food your puppy will be fine. You can go to to look for a review of the particular food you are considering. They give a ranking to every food they write about.


  4. I have a 9 month old GSD rescue out of Turkey. I feed him a mix of Earth Born lamb large bag and small bag of origins red would like to try the fish. Also organ meat beef liver tongue chicken live. Hamburger Venison in winter. Cheap beef cuts. Chicken turkey medium rare. Mixed in. Is this ok. He seems to be tolerating it fine. I had changed him to Merick. and taste of the Wild the diaria for a week and vomited once. I want to give him salmon oil. I have 1000 mgs he is on an antibiotic for the stomach issue. Cefeloxin for 7 days. Will start probiotic.

    • Probably the most helpful response I can give you Ann is to refer you to our Raw Food article (just follow the menu in the Articles tab above). This article will help you with the proportions of meat and bone, in addition to basic info on supplements.

  5. There are plenty of people foods we’d love to share with our dogs.It’s not easy finding the best dog food for puppies or even grown dogs. … Sometimes I would simply say that some fatty acid supplements “might help”.A nutritious, balanced diet is essential to keeping your dog healthy.

    • Hi Sajin,
      I don’t recommend specific brands here. Read all our food articles here to get a good understanding of the kinds of foods to feed your GSD. Then, you can go to to get reviews on hundreds of current foods, to see which ones rank high in nutritional value and quality!

  6. Hi,

    I have an 18 month old GSD who doesnt particularily like the size of the kibble bits in her dry food. As long as the ingerdients are the same is it ok to feed her the same amount of small breed food? I.e 400grams daily? She is currently feeding on james wellbeloved and loves the brand just not the kibble size.


    • Hi Donna,
      Although the small and large breed versions of a food may have the same ingredients, the difference lies in the ratios of the foods. Small breeds have a very high metabolic rate and therefore require around 40 calories/pound of food. Large breeds only require about 22 calories/pound. In addition large breeds are more prone to orthopedic developmental diseases, including hip dysplasia. To address this, large dog food has slightly less phosphorus and calcium, with a carefully adjusted ratio between the two. It gets rather technical – interestingly, with a true raw food diet, nature provides the checks and balances. Anyway, I’d stick with the large breed food.

      As a remedy, at least while you try to get your pup used to the larger kibble, you might try giving the kibbles a very short spin in pulse mode in a food grinder or processor.

    • Two or three times a day is the appropriate frequency. Some dogs are fine with twice a day, but others seem to burn off energy faster and flourish on three meals. Always adjust total daily intake to provide the appropriate maintenance diet, while keeping your dog lean and fit. Viewed from above you want to see a waistline on your dog.

  7. I want to weigh in on raw feeding. I have a 5.5 year old GSD male who suffered from allergies and constantly chewed his paws. He shed, had a fairly unpleasant odor and was antsy. Since I have had him on a strictly raw meaty bones diet consisting of various muscle meats, organs, bones, raw eggs, full cream plain yoghurt and sour milk on occasions, his allergies have cleared, he is happy, well balanced emotionally and an absolute joy. I do supplement with omega 3 daily and he also gets probiotics and digestive enzymes. He receives absolutely no grains or commercial biscuits or treats. His treats are home dried liver. He occasionally gets some lightly steamed and puréed vegetables which he enjoys and once a week, he has either tinned salmon, tuna or sardines. I wish I had known about feeding a species appropriate diet so my three previous GSD females could have benefitted.

    • Great to hear from you again Des. Thanks for sharing your positive experience with feeding your GSD on an all-raw diet. There’s nothing like getting a first hand report on the benefits of raw, and it’s quite clear your guy is thriving on the regimen! Also, hats off to you for your commitment, because there is time and effort required in preparing raw food.

      P.S. Des, if you see this response, please contact me at, and give me an email address I can get back to you. There’s something I’d like to discuss, based on your previous comment. I unsuccessfully tried to email you at your sending address.

    • Hi Faith, The brand doesn’t matter as long as the ingredients are good quality. If you haven’t read it already, please consult the article on food labels: Choose a good quality food with the right ingredients, and you’ll have no problem nutrition-wise. However, that won’t guarantee your pup liking the food. Sometimes it may take a little experimentation to find the food that a dog likes.
      Mark M

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