Sam Shephard is an experienced German Shepherd owner and has learned throughout the years how to optimize the breed's health and wellness.
What is considered a ‘short-haired German Shepherd’ (also Alsatian or abbreviated GSD), and what is the real difference between this type of coat and a regular coat? Believe it or not, this is just another term for a standard German Shepherd, and probably what most people think of when they imagine what this dog breed looks like.
Here's what we're going to cover in this article.
- What Causes Short Coats?
- Very Short-Haired German Shepherd
- Plush-Coat German Shepherd
- Blowing the Coat
- Dogs Without an Undercoat
German Shepherd Coat Care- Brushing German Shepherd Coat
- Dog Rake (Undercoat Rake)
- Don’t Cut or Shave Your Pet's Coat
- Summer Cool
- How Often Should I Bathe my Dog?
- The Importance of Diet
- Grooming Tips
What Causes Short Coats?
The ‘short coat’, or what most German Shepherd owners consider normal, trait is dominant, the ‘long coated’ trait being caused by a recessive gene. The AKC breed standard calls it a medium-length coat.
- Undercoat: Coat closest to skin, usually dense and made of short hairs.
- Topcoat: Also known as ‘guard hairs’, longer hairs that help keep dirt, insects and moisture away from skin.
Very Short-Haired German Shepherd (With Undercoat)
These short-haired German Shepherds have two noticeably short layers of fur. It can feel almost ‘bristly’ when touched, while offering a sleek, smooth appearance. ‘Very short’ may be an exaggeration, though the coat is shorter than the plush or long-haired variant.
Plush-Coat German Shepherd (With Undercoat)
‘Plush’ is the second type of short-haired German Shepherd coat we’ll cover. This type is popular among breeders seeking show dogs and considered stereotypical for a German Shepherd breed. In other words, it’s what most people think of when they imagine the breed.
These dogs have both a top coat and an undercoat (double coated). The topcoat is ‘rough to the touch, while the undercoat might seem like more of a ‘Wooley type of sweater’.
Blowing the Coat
What does it mean when groomers say this dog is about to blow his or her coat? Is this a bad thing, or should you worry?
Remember, a dog must shed some of that old coat in order to make room for new growth. Though German Shepherd dogs will shed all year round, they will ‘blow their coats twice annually, along with temperature changes normally during the spring and fall. Your dog needs to be able to adapt to upcoming weather differences.
The undercoat will seem to come out in large clumps of fur, which is why regular brushing is so important! It can take ten days or more for them to blow their coats. The ‘dog rake’ tool listed below can be very handy here.
Dogs Without an Undercoat
Some domestic German Shepherds lack an undercoat! These dogs won’t shed at the same volume others will, and coat care is normally simpler. Long-haired German Shepherds generally don’t have an undercoat.
Technically, these aren’t actually considered ‘proper’ German Shepherd Dogs by the American Kennel Association, or rather thought of as ’flawed’. While they aren’t allowed to compete in any recognized dog shows and it may seem like a harsh term, these still fall under the breed.
“The ideal dog has a double coat of medium length.”
— American Kennel Club
German Shepherd Coat Care
Despite seeming to have a shorter coat than some other double-coated breeds, like a Malamute or Chow Chow, for example, your pet will shed a lot. He will shed continuously, rather than simply during the fall or spring. He will ‘blow’ (shed undercoat heavily) his undercoat twice a year, usually during the spring and fall.
Brushing a Coat
Regular brushing won’t just help keep your German Shepherds coat clean and shiny, it will help you keep up with all of that shedding! That topcoat won’t shed like the undercoat does, sometimes causing loose fur to become trapped underneath. This can create both knots and mats that are difficult to brush out. Try to brush that German Shepherd coat at least every other day, but preferably once a day.
- Brushing helps redistribute oils from glands throughout the coat while promoting skin health.
Dog Rake (Undercoat Rake)
Though it might sound like a terrible torture device, a ‘dog rake’ brush is an extremely useful tool designed to successfully remove all loose fur, any debris, and prevent tangles. This is probably going to be the most useful tool in your grooming arsenal! Matting, or loose fur becoming trapped under the topcoat, is a big issue for short-haired German Shepherds, and a ‘dog fur rake’ will ensure this doesn’t happen.
Don’t Cut or Shave Your German Shepherd Dogs' Coat
First, try and imagine how these two coats work together. A softer, fluffy undercoat rests just beneath a long, firm outer coat consisting of coarse guard hairs. The undercoat grows much more quickly than the overcoat and tends to shed in clumps. The guard hairs will also be shed all year round, but not at the same volume.
If you shave or cut those coats, you run the risk of permanently damaging their independent growth. Because they grow at different rates, they would need to be cut independently at different times to preserve the coat's integrity, which is an all but impossible task. Though your German Shepherd’s coat might never grow properly again, he still faces a greater risk.
Why in the world would we wear a heavy coat during the summer? To a human, this wouldn’t make any sense at all! We would overheat. Sadly, countless dog owners assume this rationale applies to their dogs, thinking they would be much more comfortable in the summer heat if their double coats were shaved.
A double-coated breed, in this case, a German Shepherd, evolved a coat that would both keep him warm during the Winter but also trap cool air during the Summer. That second layer of fur will also offer protection from the Sun’s rays and help guard against insect bites. Shaving a coat removes these protections and can increase the chances he’ll overheat.
- Most dogs perspire via panting while doing very little sweating, unlike humans. Some hairless breeds sweat throughout their bodies.
How Often Should I Bathe My Pet?
German Shepherds only need occasional baths, assuming they’re brushed regularly while being fed a nutritious diet. Some experts recommend no more than twice a year, and yet others recommend bathing once every 6-10 weeks which is way too often in my opinion. Twice a year should be enough or when really needed. Frequent bathing removes important oils from the skin and coat.
Bathing too often can lead to skin drying, irritation, and even hair loss! Unless your dog has a habit of playing in the mud, it’s best to keep bathing to a minimum. Not bathing enough (3 to 6 months plus) has been said to potentially lead to excess oil buildup, but it all depends we go swimming a couple of times a year and we flush out the irritating salty water at home.
- Bathing frequency can depend on factors like outdoor playtime, length of coat, time of the year, etc.
- Ears should be checked weekly.
- It’s easiest to trim the nails a little bit at a time, frequently.
The Importance of Diet
When it comes to German Shepherd coat care, diet and nutrition are extremely important. Make sure you’re feeding your pet a high-quality, nutritious, Animal-based diet. Avoid anything that includes more plant-based products, such as corn, wheat, or grains, than animal meat. The correct type of protein for carbohydrates is integral for a fit and healthy dog, mostly low carb and high protein.
On the flip side, it’s important to offer a wide mixture of macro (proteins, carbs, fats) and micro (vitamins, minerals) nutrients. Try to avoid some ‘grain-free diets, as these have been linked to cardiomyopathy due to nutrient deficiency, there are gluten-free and allergic foods that do have all the necessary ingredients, but be vigilant, talk to a vet and look at how your dog responds to food. Organ meats are highly nutritious, and most would agree (for the raw food enthusiast) cooking any meat is important. Look for the nutrients listed below:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin C
Ensure your German Shepherd is treated regularly with anti-parasitic (flea/tick preventative), as well as yearly (heart)worm medication or more regularly (bi-monthly) when there has been an infestation, consult your vet when necessary.
Dog Grooming Tips
- Don’t allow your pet to play with any grooming tools, especially sharp or breakable tools! Sharp bristles can perforate the intestines, or anywhere else along the digestive tract. This can also become problematic later on when he just wants to play with the tools.
- Begin grooming with a ‘slick brush’ dogs that haven’t been groomed recently, allowing any excess fur to be easily removed first.
- Use a separate brushing tool, ideally an ‘undercoat rake’, to get at any loose hairs within the undercoat. Regular, preferably daily, brushing will prevent any knots from forming and make your job easier!
- A ‘wire-pin brush’ is your brush of choice when removing any dirt or dead hair from the topcoat.
- A wide-toothed comb is best for removing tangles and mats, while serious mats could need to be cut out. Remember, ideally you don’t want to cut your German Shepherds' fir.
- Whitwam L., The German Shepherd Handbook: The Essential Guide For New and Prospective German Shepherd Owners 4th edition, 2020, 234p.
- Janssens GPJ, Verlinden A., Food allergy in dogs and cats: a review, Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 2006;46(3):259-73.
- Yasmine Ali, M.D. How to Groom a German Shepherd Dog, American Kennel Club, Dec 21, 2020.
- Carver A.E., Coat color genetics of the German shepherd dog, Journal of Heredity, July 1984, p 247–252.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2021 Sam Shepards
Sam Shepards (author) from Europe on September 02, 2021:
Thank you, nice to hear you enjoyed the article, and good luck with your German Shepherd adoption.
Pamela Dapples from Arizona now on August 29, 2021:
I really enjoyed this article especially since I'm considering adopting a German Shepherd one day in the near future. Great information. And I love the photos.