German Shepherd Rescue

The German shepherd is often one of the breeds most often found at shelters and picked up as a stray. Unfortunately, most people assume that these dogs are abandoned because there’s something wrong with them but this is usually not the case. These dogs are often rejected when the original owner’s situation changes or sometimes irresponsible pet owners give up their dogs if they’re expecting a baby, getting married, traveling overseas, moving into rental property that does not allow dogs, allergic to dogs, accepting a new job, or getting a divorce.

Unfortunately for the German shepherd, these owners did not properly consider the depth of responsibility involved in owning this or any breed of dog at the beginning of the dog/human relationship. The dog becomes an innocent victim of the situation. Committed dog owners will find a way to make things work!

Abused and or neglected German shepherds also make up a significant portion of abandoned dogs. Many people just want an animal that will threaten thieves and trespassers, and they treat the dog as though he were a weapon. When a puppy doesn’t show any signs of aggression, an irresponsible owner might starve, beat, or otherwise abuse a shepherd to create the mean guard dog he is looking for. If this experiment fails, the dog is abandoned and left fearful and often ill from the mistreatment.

Sources for Adult Dogs

Shelters, pounds, and breed rescues are usually inundated with German Shepherds that need placement but there are some additional sources for adult dogs that one should consider.

From time to time, a respected, reputable breeder may have a young adult dog for sale that did not quite develop the way he had hoped. Sometimes, a dog will suffer an injury that swiftly ends her/his show or competitive career. Or perhaps the breeder was training a puppy in Schutzhund or K-9 work, but during more advanced training it became obvious that the dog lacked the necessary drives for these specialized jobs. Just because a dog is not show-worthy or skillful enough for police K-9 work does not mean that the dog won’t make a fantastic companion. Most reputable breeders with adult dogs to sell will have made sure the dogs are well socialized, housebroken, and basically trained. The breeder will likely require that the dog be altered, but beyond that, the dog can become a great pet without the need for much rehabilitation.

Another possible source for a great German shepherd is a service dog agency, which trains dogs to serve the blind, those with hearing impairments, and people with impaired mobility. Many of these organizations have their own programs for German Shepherds. The puppies are raised by foster parents to eighteen months of age. At this point, these dogs are evaluated for service training. Not all dogs make it through dog training. When this happens, the agency places the dog in a home. The puppy’s foster parent has the first dibs on purchasing the dog. If he/she declines, then the dog is available for adoption.

Service agencies maintain a list of carefully screened individuals who would like to adopt any dog that fails the program. If you are interested and don’t mind waiting; possibly for several years, you could wind up with one fantastic dog.

Working with a Breed Rescue

One of the best organizations in which to find a good, adoptable German Shepherd is a German Shepherd rescue. Breed rescues are national, regional, or local organizations that specialize in only one breed and are comprised of experienced breeders, trainers, and owners of that breed.

If you are adopting an adult German shepherd through a breed rescue, you will have to endure a certain amount of screening and fill out an application. The German shepherd rescue wants to insure a rescued dog’s adoptive home will be a permanent one, and they want new owners to be happy with the dogs they adopt.

The rescue will want to know such things as your experience with dogs, your past dogs’ causes of death, the number and ages of any children in the home, what other pets are in the home, the size of your house and yard, and what your expectations are for your new shepherd.

After you have turned in your application, you will receive a call from one of the rescue volunteers. This person will answer any questions you might have and ask you for additional information.

If you pass the test up to this point, you’ll be invited to meet some adult German shepherds. Either you’ll be invited to one of the volunteer’s home to visit with dogs, or a volunteer may bring the dogs to your home. In addition to being able to talk to you in person, the volunteer wants to see how you react to the dogs. If you are preoccupied with picking hairs off your slacks or if your child runs screaming away from the dog, the volunteer will likely judge you are not a good candidate at this time.

Once you’ve been accepted to receive a rescue dog, you’ll be placed on a waiting list. When the German shepherd rescue receives a dog they think might be a match for you, they’ll give you a call. Rescues try to make the best possible placements. If it looks like a particular dog may not adapt well to your lifestyle, or if he has issues that may be difficult for you to deal with, the rescue will wait until a more appropriate dog becomes available.

When you are finally introduced to the dog the rescue chooses for you, he will have been examined, received his vaccinations, and undergone tests for heartworm. The dog will have been in a foster home for at least ten days to a month, and his temperament will have been fully evaluated. It is likely, too, that the dog will be housetrained. Additionally, the dog will have received some obedience training and leash-walking skills.

Even if you’ve met all the criteria for adoption and you like the dog selected for you, the rescue still might not let you adopt this particular German shepherd. The reason for this is simple: Most rescues believe that it is not a true match until the dog chooses you. The rescue volunteer will be able to sense whether the dog feels comfortable with you.

After your new dog has chosen you, you will be asked to complete some paperwork. This will include a contract that allows the rescue to check up on the condition of the rescued dog at any time. The contract will also reserve the rescue group’s right to take the dog back if he is found at any time to be neglected or abused. Additionally, the rescue will require you to return the dog if you can no longer take care of him for any reason.

Shelters and Dog Pounds

Shelters and animal-control facilities run the gamut from large, privately funded organizations with animal behaviorists and noted trainers on staff to municipally funded, understaffed facilities that are stretched to the limit. If you are fortunate and have an excellent shelter in your area, it is possible to work with the staff to find a good adult German shepherd to adopt. If your local shelter does not have this volunteer or paid support, it will be much more difficult to find an adoptable German shepherd.

Municipally funded animal-controlled facilities pick up stray dogs and place them in holding areas with all other dogs that were found on that date. If a dog has no identification and is not claimed or adopted within the specified number of days, the dog is euthanized. Because of limited resources, pounds usually do not have placement services to help you evaluate a dog’s health or temperament.

Unfortunately, the shepherd’s biggest problem in a pound is that they don’t kennel well. For some shepherds, the noise of the other dogs barking, the constant movement of strangers, and the lack of human interaction can cause stress. This can cause even a nice shepherd to appear off-kilter, extremely aggressive, or excessively timid. It is virtually impossible to accurately assess a dog under these conditions. For these reasons, you should not adopt a German shepherd from a shelter or pound unless you have experienced professional help.


Virtually all German shepherds that wind up in shelters or pounds have not been treated with heartworm preventive. Consequently, many of these dogs have heartworms. The good news is that depending on the severity of the infestation and the overall health of the dog, most dogs can be treated for heartworms successfully.

Most abandoned or stray dogs have one or more types of intestinal worms. It is assumed, too, that strays and dumped dogs have not received any vaccinations. Shelters routinely vaccinate and worm dogs as they are accepted into their facilities; pounds do not. Depending on where you find your dog, you may need to take care of this with your veterinarian immediately.

The Age Issue

Many people interested in adopting a dog are concerned with the dog’s age for two reasons. They are worried that an adult dog won’t bond as deeply as a puppy, and they know that an adult dog won’t live as long as a puppy.

As for the bonding issue, many of the dogs that are given up or found as strays have never had the opportunity to bond with a kind human being. When they find their family, these dogs bond quickly and intensely. Dogs that were well treated and have bonded with previous owners are also quite capable of bonding closely again.

As for the number of years that you will be able to enjoy your shepherd, it’s important to remember that there are no guarantees in life. A puppy could be found to suffer from an unseen heart condition only months after entering your home and heart. An adolescent dog could get hit by a car. A middle-aged shepherd could get bone cancer. On the other hand, your puppy or adult shepherd could be with you for twelve years of quality companionship. Fear of eventually losing your dog is no reason not to adopt one. Adult dogs need loving homes just as much, if not more, than puppies do. Puppies are generally easier to adopt out, as their natural cuteness attracts owners.

In fact, there is one German shepherd that routinely gets passed up for adoption at breed rescues, as well as shelters and pounds: the senior dog. Often, the senior dog is one who has been a well-cared-for and loving pet. His or her only fault may have been outliving their owner, or she may have been too large to follow her owner to an assisted-care facility. It is heartbreaking enough to think that a beloved dog can’t be with her owner, and it’s worse knowing that this dog may sit forever waiting for an owner at a rescue.

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