If you're a first-time GSD puppy owner, or you've raised a puppy before, but it's been a while…
This blog post will help you collect all the essential German Shepherd gear you'll need – whether your new dog is a puppy, adult, or senior.
There are a few essentials you'll need to create the best setup for your new dog.
And there are also a few gear items that are not essential but worth considering – if not now, then definitely later on.
Essential German Shepherd Gear
The gear detailed in this section will not only help you create a warm and comforting environment for your new puppy or dog.
But these items will also assist you in starting on the right foot with grooming and maximizing training.
Food Choices for German Shepherds
There are many things to consider when choosing which food to feed our dogs.
And as a canine nutrition consultant and professional dog trainer, I see the link between behavior and nutrition every day.
I could write volumes when it comes to food choices. But the three primary considerations are balance, quality, and price.
In a nutshell, my advice is always the same when it comes to choosing food for dogs – feed the best quality, age-appropriate, balanced food you can afford.
That said, here are a few feeding options to think about when selecting a food.
A Raw Diet
I have been feeding my dogs a raw diet for going on nine years. And so, I'm a little biased towards providing this type of nutrient-rich diet.
If you're bringing an adult or senior rescue GSD into your home, I encourage you to look into this feeding style. This blog post will give you a birds-eye view of raw feeding and potential suppliers of formulated raw meals.
However, if you invite a puppy into your home, I don't recommend a raw diet unless a nutrition professional specializing in puppy diets formulates it.
Please fight the urge to believe the nonsense that ratio diets and Prey Model diets are sufficient for growing puppies – they are not.
I made a similar mistake before I got educated on feeding for nutrients. Thankfully my dogs are not paying the price now that they are older.
But sadly, other dogs have not been as lucky and will suffer from life-long issues.
A Grain-Free Diet
I'll start this section off by pointing out that when fads, trends, or significant shifts develop in the world of human nutrition, it often spills over into the world of canine nutrition.
Enter the grain-free diet…
I am also acutely aware of the potential link between grain-free diets and Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy. I say potential link because a concrete link still has not been found.
And some three-letter-organizations have retracted statements on whether there is a link or not. Saying only that;
DCM is a multifactorial issue with potential variables including, but not limited to, breed, age, weight, gastrointestinal disease, atopy, infection and more.
All that said, I like to feed a variety. And experts such as Linda P. Case, in her Science Dog courses, also promote the idea of providing various food brands in rotation.
If you're interested in adding variety to your new puppy or adult dog's diet, here are my favorite grain-free food brands.
A Dehydrated Food Diet
I love the range of excellent dehydrated dog foods the market offers. These foods are perfect for nutrient-savvy dog owners who understand the value of high-quality ingredients with minimal processing.
A few food brands out there genuinely stand head and shoulders above the rest of the market.
My first choice is the company Spot and Tango with their Unkibble food. It's slow-dried using their proprietory Fresh Dry™ process to produce a nutrient-rich food for dogs of all ages.
I've extensively chatted to the folks at Spot and Tango, and you can read my full review of their Unkibble food here.
And then there's Ziwi Peak, a brand originating in North Island, New Zealand.
Ziwi Peak uses its Z-TWINTECH™ air drying technology to lock in nutrients without artificial preservation required.
You can see the range of foods from Ziwi Peak on Chewy.
A Cooked Diet
You may be surprised to see my recommendation for a cooked diet here. And that's understandable when you consider the myth spread on the interwebs that cooked diets are devoid of nutrients.
Folks who spread this myth have very little knowledge of nutrition in general.
Especially when most of them eat a predominantly cooked diet themselves and are still alive and kicking to spread myths!
However, cooking does indeed cause loss of some nutrients, and these should be replaced.
And so, unless you have the knowledge and tools to formulate cooked meals, your next best option is to work with a company or professional who can do this for you.
This is where Spot and Tango come into the fray again. They offer not only high-quality dehydrated food but also a cooked meal option which they formulate around your dog's age, weight, and activity level.
Sleeping Gear for Puppies to Seniors
Next up, we have the great you'll need for your new family member's sleeping arrangements.
And first on the list is a crate. As a dog trainer, I like and recommend crates. Or at least crate training if you're not planning on using a crate long-term.
My dogs are crate trained, although I don't use crates for them regularly anymore.
But being trained to accept being in an enclosed environment means they are comfortable if they ever need to spend a night or two at the vet.
Crates are an excellent way to fast-track potty training for dogs of all ages. And since dogs are den-animals, having a crate available to chill inside is a good option.
Whether you're planning on using a crate long-term or just in the interim, crate training is essential from a management perspective.
How to Pick the Right Size Crate
If you're bringing an adult or senior rescue into your home, this step is straightforward. You'll measure your dog once, purchase the correct size, and bingo!
If your new best friend is a growing puppy, you'll measure in the same way, but you'll need to decide on a few things, which I'll get into shortly.
Here's how to measure your new puppy or dog…
- Have your dog stand for this one.
- Hold your measuring tape at the tip of their nose to the base of their tail and takedown that length.
- Add 4 inches to that number.
- Your dog can either sit or stand for this measurement.
- Now measure from the tip of their ear to the floor.
- Now add 4 inches to that number.
Your puppy or dog should be able to stand upright and comfortably turn around in their crate.
If you have a puppy who still needs to develop into an upright ear carriage, you may need someone to help you gently hold an ear in the proper position while you do the measuring.
Here's a neat video from Chewy showing exactly how to do these measurements.
Now for that decision about puppy crates…
You have two options here.
Either purchase a crate that fits your puppy's current size and keep upgrading as they grow.
Or, purchase a crate that will fit them as an adult and use a divider to give them just enough space, so they are comfortable.
But not too much so that they begin to use the extra space as their toilet.
As they grow, you can move the divider back to give them more space, and you can remove it when your pup is fully developed.
Regardless of which option you choose, there are fantastic crate options available.
One of my personal favorites is the one made by Frisco and available on Chewy.
Frisco Heavy Duty Dog Crate
A single door collapsable crate with a divider, perfect for puppies to adults and grey-muzzled senior German Shepherds.
I have an obsession with dog beds! My dogs have a bed in every room of our house, except in the kitchen!
We have regular beds, orthopedic beds, camping beds, and raised beds strewn around our home.
I believe this is a vital part of giving our dogs a choice to find comfort at any given moment.
Because of my TINY obsession with dog beds, I've written extensively on the different options available.
In this blog post, you'll find my thoughts on regular beds, raised beds, and camping beds. And this article details the orthopedic beds I find the most appealing with value for money.
Many people overlook or ignore the powerful exercise pen as a tool in dog training and potty training. And this is a mistake.
Because they are a vital way to give an in-training puppy more freedom while learning their potty rules.
By using an ex-pen, you can create a safe zone for your puppy where the temptation to chew on things they shouldn't – like cables, shoes, furniture, and remote controls is limited.
And if you ever need to place your dog on crate rest, an ex-pen is a gift!
I learned this when my now departed GSD Charley had her FHO (hip surgery), and she needed eight weeks of rest.
If it were not for our ex-pen, Charley would not have made the remarkable recovery she did.
Ex-pens are also a unique way to give a young puppy some outside time without giving them access to your entire garden.
Because too much access to all areas too soon can be the start of the kinds of behaviors we'd rather not see.
I like having more than one ex-pen, so I'm not moving one between my inside and outside areas. So I'll have one set up outside and another permanently set up inside.
I love this 8-sided ex-pen from Petmate.
Petmate Exercise Pen
Easy indoor and outdoor playing area. Boasts easy setup with zero tools required. Folds flat for effortless storage and transport.
Blankets are not a must, and some dogs find it extremely rewarding to chew on the corners.
But once new canine family members have learned the ropes, blankets are a great way to offer extra comfort and warmth.
I tend to use the fleece kind for humans, but you can use any blanket you wish.
German Shepherd Wearables
In my opinion, as a dog trainer, flat collars are good for only two things, and it's not as a leash attachment.
Yes, I'm serious; I'd never walk a dog of any age on a flat collar. If you'd like to know why, here's an excellent article by Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM, about the dangers of collars.
My dogs wear collars permanently, but not for walking. Here are the reasons I fit my dogs with collars.
Collar Grabs: My dogs are taught from puppyhood to be comfortable with my hand reaching out to grab their collar. And this is a great safety measure.
My dogs are so comfortable with this; they'll drive back to me and offer their collar for me to grab.
There is one more reason you may want to consider a flat collar…
Fitting ID Tags: Depending on the regulations of your state, province, and country, your dog or puppy may be required to wear ID tags. And these are easy to attach to a flat collar.
I love using a harness to teach my dogs and client's dogs to walk on a loose leash.
And I particularly love the harnesses with a double-clip—one on the chest and another at the shoulders.
The chest clip is an excellent tool to use when working with a dog who has a long and strong reinforcement history of pulling on the leash.
A good harness will evenly distribute your dog's weight and, more importantly, not restrict their natural gait.
I have been using the Rogz Explore Harness for my dogs. And when I bring my next puppy home, I'll be sticking with this harness from the get-go.
Leashes and Longlines
My dogs have more leashes than beds! And that's because I've had to do a lot of experimenting to find one that I find the most useful.
In the end, I stuck with the Rogz Utility Multi-Purpose Leash for a few reasons.
Firstly, it works well as a double clip harness for the Rogz Explore Harness.
And it offers six other uses, all in one leash – the long leash, the medium leash, the short leash, and the medium leash.
You can also use it as a shoulder leash if you want to be hands-free for any reason. And it works well as a double leash for walking two dogs. And lastly, it's great to use as a temporary tie-out if you need it.
Longlines are an absolute must for dog owners, whether you have a puppy, adult, or grey-muzzled senior.
They come in varying lengths and are an outstanding tool for training for things like recall and BAT.
Longlines also offer us the opportunity to give our dogs more space to roam while they may not be fluent in a recall yet.
84% of the population put their dogs' lives at risk by not strapping them in or crating them while taking a car ride.
I like to use a safety harness specifically designed for dogs to wear while being transported.
We love the EzyDog Drive Harness. And you can read a full write-up of my experience with the harness in this post.
Grooming Gear for German Shepherds
German Shepherds have high-maintenance coats and require at least a daily brushing.
They shed all year round and blow their undercoats twice a year. Although with a young puppy, this does not start until around 12 months of age.
You can choose to send your dog to a groomer regularly, but my dogs and I love the bonding experience, and so I do all their bathing and grooming myself.
And even if you're planning on sending your dog for a pamper at the groomers regularly, these grooming supplies are helpful to have for in-between maintenance.
And more importantly, to help your dog be comfortable with these tools BEFORE visiting the groomers.
For the longest time, I used nail clippers to keep my dog's nails in good shape.
But to be honest, they have some limitations that made all of us uncomfortable in the long run.
- Firstly, if you accidentally cut the quick of your dog's nail, they will not be happy. And it creates a negative association for them towards the clippers.
- Secondly, if they are not Minora-blade sharp, they tend to crack the nails on impact.
- And thirdly, it takes careful aim and several clips to get just one nail done.
So as an alternative, I started conditioning my dogs to love a pedicure with a nail grinder.
We do nail trimming once a week, and it's an absolute breeze!
And so, my recommendation for nail care is to use a grinder instead of a clipper.
I have a favorite nail trimmer that you can read about here. But there are other options available too.
Other Grooming Tools
I've already mentioned that I've written about grooming and tools extensively. Here is where you can find all the grooming tools I like and use for my dogs.
You'll find recommendations for brushes, undercoat rakes, glove brushes, dryers, and shower attachments in that post.
And in this post, you'll find my recommendations for the healthiest and most natural shampoos – with more coming in the future.
The Best Toys for German Shepherds
Puzzle and Enrichment Toys
Studies point out that boredom can negatively impact neural, cognitive, and behavioral flexibility.
And so, we need to offer our dogs (regardless of their age) mental enrichment.
I've shared a comprehensive breakdown of the puzzle games we use in our house to keep dogs of all ages flexible and enriched.
And I've shared a how-to guide for making a snuffle mat for your dog at home. Of course, you can purchase one, but if you enjoy DIY, you might just want to make your own.
I've also written about other ways to employ our dog's five senses to continue offering them enrichment.
As a dog trainer, the game of tug is an essential part of bonding and learning.
I use tug games to maintain arousal states during a training session and grow and maintain confidence in a dog.
In this post, you'll find recommendations for tug of war toys from German Shepherds of all ages.
And I'm excited to add this video from Susan Garrett about the beauty of playing tug with any dog.
If you think chew toys are only for puppies – my 8-year-old GSD would 100% disagree!
Sure, chew toys are essential for puppies to help them learn to chew on appropriate items and not our shoes.
But teaching a dog the value of chewing is something that will stand your dog (and you) in good stead for your dog's entire life.
Chewing is a natural behavior for dogs and results in the release of the feel-good hormone Dopamine, which equals a happy and calm dog.
If you want to know which chew toys reign supreme in our house, here are some you can read more about – indestructible dog toys, best chew toys for German Shepherds and
best toys for German Shepherd puppies.
Training Gear for German Shepherds
A lot of the gear we've looked at in this post is related to training, so I won't go over them again.
But there are two items that I have not touched on yet.
As a trainer, I think a clicker is essential to dog training. I don't use a clicker exclusively, but many great trainers do.
Think of a clicker as a scalpel for a surgeon. It's precise! And a clicker is like a scalpel for dog training – you can mark the exact behavior you're looking for accurately.
A clicker has no emotion attached to it, and dogs are extremely good at inferring information from our tone of voice and the emotion behind it.
Sometimes we want to communicate that emotion, and sometimes we don't want to.
In this post, you can read about why a clicker is such an important tool. And also how to use one in dog training.
Welcome to the vast world of training treats! And when I say vast, I honestly mean it!
All foods that are safe for dogs can be training treats. This is because food is a primary reinforcer for dogs – in other words, they need food to survive.
I've used everything from carrot sticks, blueberries, roasted sweet potato to seared steak, kibble, and a wide range of dehydrated commercial food.
The key in using food treats as training tools is determining what your puppy or dog finds the most value in and rate those choices.
You can read more about doing this in an article I wrote about the first GSD I owned. Just scroll down to the part titled “The Power of Food in Dog Training.”
If you're looking for recommendations on training treats, here's what I'm using at the moment…
Pee pads are not my favorite way of potty training any dog. Simply because using them involves some extra steps to phase them out.
But if there is a reason you need to use them – like if you live in an apartment or don't have a fenced yard, I think they are an excellent tool to use temporarily.
Here's a quick video from Victoria Stilwell on how to use pee pads in potty training.
You may be wondering why a cleaning product is in the training section of this post, but stay with me on this…
Ideally, we want errorless learning when it comes to potty training. But your puppy or new rescue will likely have at least a few accidents inside.
Using an enzymatic cleaner will wipe the slate clean, removing the odor left behind.
Why is this important?
If you use regular cleaning products (which contain) ammonia, this will amplify the scent or odor left behind. You can't smell it, but your dog can.
And that scent signals to your dog, “this is a good place to potty.”
So although a cleaning product is not technically a training tool, it does level up potty training by removing the signal left behind by any accidents.
You can use any enzymatic cleaner, but I like the one from Rocco and Roxie because it's safe and gentle and approved by the Carpet and Rug Institute.
ID Tags: As I mentioned in the section on flat collars, depending on where you live, your dog may have a legal requirement to wear ID tags. And some places will also require a tag displaying rabies vaccine status.
A Microchip: Microchipping is a controversial subject because there are voices that claim the chips can move and even cause entry-site tumors.
However, I am a supporter of microchipping purely because the number of times these chips have reunited lost pets with their owners far outweighs the risks.
Non-Essential (but worth it) German Shepherd Gear
GPS Tracking System
Keeping with the subject of reuniting lost dogs with their owners, you may want to consider a GPS tracking system in the future.
There are a lot of pros and cons to relying on these systems. And I would not recommend relying only on a GPS.
But if your dog tends to escape or enjoys finding ways to roam, this might be the answer to avoid losing them forever.
As the cost of veterinary services and treatments increases, taking out pet insurance for your dog might be worth considering.
I've written extensively on the pet insurance options available to dog owners. And although I have placed Pet Insurance under the non-essential gear, I think it's worth the monthly premium to have peace of mind that you can afford the care your dog or puppy needs in the event of a catastrophe.