Grooming Your German Shepherd


Dog Grooming Made Simple

Setting up a regular dog grooming schedule for your German Shepherd is the best way to insure that things don’t get neglected. While brushing his coat will be at least a weekly occurrence, bathing can be done two to three times a year.

Brushing Your German Shepherd

The German Shepherd Dog has two coats: A thick wooly undercoat for insulation and waterproofing; and a shiny overcoat. Most GSDs have a medium length coat, although there are also those with long-coats. Since GSDs shed their coats continuously it’s desirable to brush them once or twice a week, to reduce the quantity of hair falling around the house. In addition this will enhance the health and beauty of the coat, since brushing removes dead hair and distributes the natural oils. Older loose hairs dull the appearance of a dog’s coat, so when they are removed the fresh luster of new growth restores the appearance.

Brushes and Combs   

  • Use a Pin Brush to brush the thick undercoat, getting all the way down to the skin. With care on your part, the rounded ends of this brush’s bristles should protect the skin from abrasion and irritation. Brushing backwards can be helpful in loosening dead hairs.
  • A Bristle Brush is easy on the skin – a good choice for puppy hair and for more extended brushing sessions on grown dogs. It is helpful in removing dead hair, in addition to distributing the natural oils.
  • Slicker Brushes have many fine bent wires and are used for removing shedding hair. Since they can cut the outer coat, go gently and move with the grain of the hair.
  • The wide-toothed comb is useful for removing loose hair left behind following a brushing.
  • An undercoat shedding rake is the best tool for shedding periods when large quantities of the undercoat typically come loose. The rubber nubs help it to easily pull out the dead hair.

Washing and Drying Your Dog

Put a non-slip rubber mat in the tub, and then use a hand-held hose attachment with warm water, testing with the back of your hand to insure the temperature is not too high. Wet your dog’s coat thoroughly, and then apply the shampoo, working from the back of the head and neck downwards. Shampoo and rinse by sections. Since you want to avoid water in the ears and nose, and shampoo in the eyes, the face can be washed with a damp cloth. You might find it helpful to improvise a step-up device to help your GSD to get in and out of the tub. Diluting the shampoo with water helps it go on evenly and extend further.

Since your German Shepherd has a thick coat, he needs to be dried thoroughly, especially before going out in cold weather. Start off with vigorous towel-drying, then use a hair dryer on a low-heat setting, holding it 10-12 inches from the coat. Without a hair dryer it can take a very long time for the coat to air dry, in particular if you are not in a dry climate.

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A shiny, healthy coat comes primarily from a good diet – it starts from the inside. As long as your German Shepherd is getting quality nutrition, your grooming work will produce good results.

Dogs and humans have different PH levels, so their shampoos differ accordingly to provide the appropriate PH balance. Dogs’ skin has a PH of 7.5, whereas humans have a PH of 5.5; their skin being more acidic. So avoid using a human shampoo on a dog since it is likely to cause scaling and irritation.

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Should your German Shepherd’s skin have a condition that calls for special attention, there may be a shampoo that can help. Here are some skin conditions, with shampoos formulated to help them:

  • Dry, scaly skin: Moisturizing shampoo
  • Oily, scaly skin: Anti-seborrheic shampoo
  • Itchy skin: Oatmeal-based anti-pruritic
  • Infected skin: Anti-microbials

Flea shampoos are also available, but are unlikely to give any benefit for the extra money. They do kill fleas, but so do regular shampoos. And since “flea shampoos” have no residual flea-killing properties, you don’t need to waste your money! Fleas have to be prevented or treated in other ways. See article: Healthcare for Your German Shepherd.

A Quick-Clean Tip: Keep a container of waterless foam shampoo or waterless powder shampoo handy. These products are useful for spot shampoos and quick cleanups, when you don’t have the time or the need to do a full washing. Another benefit of these waterless shampoos is that they don’t interfere with flea treatments.

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Trimming Nails

The Basics

Your German Shepherd’s nails need to be clipped regularly, including the dew claws – the ones that grow on the inside of the front legs, above the feet.

Since your German Shepherd is unlikely to relish this aspect of grooming, it is a good idea to get him used to the idea from a young age. A good break-in approach is to handle your pup’s paws often; and from here you transition into actually clipping – with treats on hand to reward good behavior.

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Get into a regular routine of nail clipping, To shorten nails, cut them every week; and to maintain them, trim every two weeks. Keep your dog’s nail-trimming sessions short – you might like to clip the front and rear nails in separate sessions. It’s better to clip small amounts off regularly than to clip larger portions less frequently. Only clip the hollow, end part of each claw, avoiding the area beyond that contains the red vein, or quick.

It is best to use a scissor-type of clipper, as opposed to the guillotine variety. Heavy duty clippers will be needed for adult German Shepherds.

Finer Points

Trimming nails, for the great majority of dogs, is not optional – the rare exceptions being those in rural areas that log enough foot-mileage to keep the nails worn down. Failing to maintain your dog’s nails can result in problems that range from mere discomfort to serious physical conditions. Overly long claws cause pain by pressing up into the foot or twisting to the side. Another negative result of excessively long nails in a dog may be less obvious but is just as real:

Feedback System
A dog’s nails are part of a feedback system whereby well-trimmed nails provide signals to the dog’s brain upon contact with the ground. You can visualize this process in the case of a dog approaching a steep hill: The rising terrain makes contact with the nails on the back feet, prompting the dog to adopt a forward-leaning hill-climbing posture. Long nails, on the other hand, in making continuous contact with the ground, provide a false reading, prompting an unneeded and in this case, detrimental, forward-leaning posture.

A Better Way to Trim
Rather than a single cross-cut to each claw, the following approach involves a couple more cuts, but produces better results. The trimmed nails will look tidier, and there will be less likelihood of accidentally cutting into the quick.

1. Use scissor-type clippers, and make sure they are sharp.
2. Begin with the first nail as illustrated above, 1st cut. The scissors will face the paw, angled with handle down, and cutting end up.
3. Next, clip either side of the same nail, angling the cuts as indicated. See 2nd illustration, cuts 2 and 3.
4. Trim away the fluffy remains on the front lower part of the nail (4th cut).
5. Use a rotary grinder (available from dog grooming suppliers) or a simple nail file, to smooth off the sharp areas where you clipped.
6. When finished, give praise and a treat to your dog to reward his/her cooperation.

Note: If you nip the quick of your dog’s nail, causing it to bleed, apply styptic powder to the claw, or if you don’t have that, use baking powder. Have the powder compacted in a small open container, into which you can gently press the dog’s claw, and then release.

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Cuts 2 and 3 above can be considered optional. If time doesn’t allow for you to do all four cuts, or your dog is extra squeamish, just do 1 and 4.

Having well-trimmed nails is an important part of maintaining the health and well-being of your German Shepherd. The above steps become an easy part of your routine, once formed into a habit.

In writing this post I drew on an article by Karen Gellman DVM PhD, published in the January/February 2015 issue of Dogs Naturally Magazine (click Dog’s Naturally ad on sidebar for more information).

Cleaning Ears

The tall upright ears of the grown GSD allow for plenty of natural ventilation, preventing the heat buildup and infection sometimes associated with dog breeds with closed earflaps. To maintain healthy ears in your German Shepherd, check periodically for dirt or wax buildup. If cleaning is needed, use a dog ear cleaning solution; alternatively you can make your own with one part rubbing alcohol to two parts white vinegar.

Take your dog outside and, holding him at the base of the ear, squeeze in some solution. Massage the liquid downward and squish it around. After about 15 seconds, by which time the itchiness will probably be driving your pooch nuts; stand clear and let him have a good shake. Hopefully you’ll succeed in getting out of range as the dissolved wax and dirt flies out!

Avoid using a powder-type ear cleaner since it can cake in the ear. Hydrogen peroxide should also be avoided because of the moisture residue it leaves in the ear.

When to See the Vet

If the ears look red and irritated, do not attempt to clean them yourself but seek veterinary help. The same applies if black residue persists in your dog’s ears after you’ve tried to clean them. Ear mites can also occur in a dog, and should be treated by a vet.

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