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How to Groom Your German Shepherd

Sam Shephard is an experienced German Shepherd owner and has learned throughout the years how to optimize the breed's health and wellness.

Grooming your GSD is critical to its health.

Grooming your GSD is critical to its health.

Dog Grooming for German Shepherds

Anyone who has ever owned a dog knows that having a bath and sitting still long enough to be thoroughly brushed are not two of a dog’s favorite things to do. For a German Shepherd, however, both of those things are extremely necessary, whether he is a show dog, a working dog, or a family pet.

Here’s your complete guide to German Shepherd grooming. Take care of your dog and find a way to help him enjoy being brushed, cleaned, and bathed.

Brushing and Grooming Your Dog

The Undercoat

The first thing you need to know is that your German Shepherd actually has two coats. The first is an undercoat, which is thicker and which helps to insulate your dog against the cold of winter and waterproof him when swimming or in the rain. This undercoat can be very thick, very thin, very short, or very long, depending on what type of German Shepherd dog you choose.

The Overcoat

The second coat is an overcoat, which is usually shiny. This is the fur that you will most often see, though not the fur that he will usually shed. Anyone who owns a GSD will tell you that these dogs shed all the time—they do not just shed in the spring to get rid of their winter coat and then again in the fall as the thicker coat grows in, they shed every single day of the year.

This means that he will need to be brushed at least once a week, preferably three to four times a week. Brushing is great for his coat and for his skin since it gets rid of dead hair and skin cells and helps to distribute the oil that his skin produces throughout his coat.

There are a number of different brushes, some of which are designed specifically for German Shepherd dogs and their coats. Which you choose will really depend on you and your dog, since some combs might be too caustic for your GSD (German Shepherd Dog), while others might not remove the hair effectively.

Different Brush Types

Some owners will even use thickly bristled brushes made for humans, which can actually damage human hair but could be great for removing dead fur from your shepherd’s coat. Here are just some of the types of brushes you can choose from:

Pin Brushes

Pin brushes have a number of long, metal bristles that look like pinheads. These are great for GDS, whose fur can trap dead hair. The pins gently loosen and brush away trapped fur, pulling it to the surface. Owners should be careful when using this type of brush, like the pins, though rounded, can irritate sensitive skin.

Bristle Brushes

Bristle brushes are easier on the skin, but they are not as good as some other brushes, for removing dead hair from the undercoat, simply because the bristle pattern is often too dense to get into the German Shepherd’s dense fur. These brushes are usually recommended for puppies, who have sensitive skin and do not yet have their full undercoats and overcoats.


A comb can also be a great tool for removing dead fur from the coat of a dog—just make sure that the teeth are wide enough to actually be able to penetrate the deeper coat.

Additional Varieties

The best tool to use is a brush made specifically for removing fur that the dog has already shed. There are many different varieties of these brushes, which are usually made of metal, with several small, rake-like bristles, which skim dead hair out of the fur. Some might also have rubber nibs, which coax hair out, rather than ripping it up.

A clean, fluffy German Shepard is a happy German Shepard.

A clean, fluffy German Shepard is a happy German Shepard.

Getting Your Puppy Used to a Grooming Routine

If your GSD hasn’t been brushed in a while or the fur doesn’t come up with another brush (you can usually see whether or not his coat is mostly free of dead hair by pushing it against the grain), one of these brushes is your best bet.

Shepherd puppies are going to be understandably wiggly when you try to brush them. Many puppies will think that you are trying to play with them and will twist around to try and grab the brush, which may not look that dissimilar to one of their favorite chewy toys.

It’s important to be diligent with your GSD from early puppyhood to adulthood, gently correcting him if he is trying to get away or play with the brush, and rewarding him both with a treat and with verbal praise when he behaves during a brushing session.

In order to ensure that you have removed the maximum amount of fur from your dog, it is best to brush him once with the grain of his fur, and then gently against the grain to loosen any trapped hairs, and then once more with the grain.

Only go against the grain of his fur with a pin brush, bristle brush, or shedding rake. You may have to go over the same spots (his haunches and his neck) several times in order to get all of the fur out of the over and undercoats.

Having a puppy sit while you brush his neck, legs, and back, is a good way to stay in control of the dog, before standing him up to brush his haunches and back legs. If he seems particularly averse to brushing sessions, your technique may be too rough, or his skin may be sensitive to the brush you are using.

Keeping a trash bag or can nearby to regularly clean off the brush and deposit the fur into is a good way to get rid of the fur, which will otherwise just float around your yard or house.

Washing and Bathing Your German Shepherd

Washing a fully grown German Shepherd can be intimidating, especially if you already know he does not like to get wet. This is why starting as a puppy and making sure he enjoys the process is essential to making him easy to wash in the future.

Go for Natural Shampoo Products

In general, you do not want to use anything that contains unnecessary chemicals or drying agents, as shepherds tend to have dry skin, and shampoos that contain varieties of alcohol and sulfates can dry their skin out further.

  • Skin Sensitivity: If your dog has sensitive skin or problem skin, there are different “keywords” you should look for when buying shampoo. If he has dry, scaly skin, look for something that claims to be moisturizing. If his skin is oily and scaly, he needs something that will reduce the production of oil, while also moisturizing his skin. These are often called anti-seborrheic shampoos.
  • Itchy Skin: For itchy skin, find something that is formulated specifically for itchy skin, with oatmeal, chamomile, or other gentle, natural emollients. If he has an infection or a rash, a shampoo that has antimicrobial properties is always a great option. As a note, about flea shampoo: all shampoos will kill fleas—you do not need to buy special “medicated” shampoo to kill fleas, as these have no special properties and do not actually leave behind any medicine to kill future fleas.

How to Properly Bathe Your Dog

  1. Provide a Slip-Proof Mat: If you are going to wash him in the bathroom, make sure that you have some sort of slip-proof mat at the bottom of the tub. Dog’s feet do not have the same natural grip as ours do on smooth surfaces. Even just sliding around can be very frightening for a dog, especially if this is his first bath.
  2. Check Water Temperature: Next, put him in the tub. Turn on the water and before dousing him, make sure that it is neither too hot nor too cold. If it feels good on your skin, then it should be perfectly fine for your dog. The best way to get him wet is to use a large cup or small bucket, filled up at the tap, which you can then dump over him.
  3. Thoroughly Soak Your Dog: You want him to be thoroughly soaked before you apply any shampoo, but this process gives you a little more control when it comes to his eyes, ears, and nose.
  4. Lather the Shampoo: Once he is thoroughly wet, start applying shampoo. Again, what shampoo you use will depend heavily on your dog’s specific needs and on your preferences. There are plenty of great brands that make all-natural, safe, effective dog shampoo. There are also brands that make shampoo specifically for their fur and skin.
  5. Offer Praise: It can be difficult to get a dog to enjoy a bath, especially because you should only wash your shepherd once or twice a year. Otherwise, spot cleaning is the best way to keep him clean. Verbal praise, treats, and making the process as painless and stress-free as possible is the best way to ensure that he does not hate bath time.
  6. Drying: When his bath is over, use a large towel and dry him thoroughly, especially if it is cold outside. If you are experiencing freezing temperatures, make sure that your dog is completely dry before you let him go outside. If your dog will let you blow dry him, using a hairdryer, give him a quick once or twice over on the lowest warm setting.
Clipping a dog's nails helps them walk comfortably.

Clipping a dog's nails helps them walk comfortably.

How to Clip Your Dog's Nails Regularly

A dog’s nails will continue to grow on their own if they are not naturally worn down or clipped off. Even the best-behaved German Shepherd can throw a fit when it comes time to clip his nails. This is usually because they have experienced painful nail cuttings in the past, either because the right tools were not used, or the right method was not used.

In order to make sure that he cooperates with nail cutting sessions, make sure that you handle his paws regularly from the time he arrives in your home, and that you only clip the hollow of the nail. Cutting the quick is painful, just as it is when you clip your nails too short.

Most adults will need regular clippings with a heavy-duty dog nail clipper. We recommend the clippers that are more like scissors since these are easier to control. Dogs that live outside or are walked or run on concrete on a daily basis usually need fewer clippings than dogs that live inside on carpet, linoleum, or hardwood.

How to Clean Your German Shepherd's Ears

A shepherd's ears are two of his most sensitive features. These standing-up ears help to vent heat and are less likely to develop ear infections than ears that flop over. In order to keep his ears healthy, be very careful when washing your dog, not to pour too much water or shampoo into his ears. Make sure they are thoroughly rinsed after a bath to prevent irritation.

If you notice wax starting to build up in his ears (and that he seems to have difficulty hearing, even with those giant ears), you can use a dog ear-cleaning product to remove wax. Squeeze a little bit of this solution into the ear and use your hands to massage it into the ear. In between ten and twenty seconds, the product will start to itch your dog, so let him shake himself off and maybe give that ear a good scratch. Wax and dirt should come right out!

There you go, everything you need to know to keep your dog clean, happy, and healthy!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 Sam Shepards


Sam Shepards (author) from Europe on April 26, 2018:

The temptation is always to buy a pup from a great bloodline from a respected breeder. The idea of choice and being able to guide the dog in his development is very attractive and small puppies are cute.

But there are a lot of excellent dogs in rescues that deserve a home and will be excellent company in capable hands. Dogs up to 1.5 years old can still be trained and adapt easy to new homes. Older dogs and neglected or abused dogs can be a handful.

If you have small children or grandchildren you should be careful and really know your dog before you can trust them with children, especially rescue dogs if you don't know what they have been through. You should know if they have triggers or stress.

In general German Shepherds are reliable dogs in capable hand.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on April 26, 2018:

This was great stuff. I am now very interested in all things German Shepherd. My son and I would really like one. So research is key.

What is your opinion on the Rescue groups or do we really need to raise one from a pup?