Do you ever look at your German Shepherd and see the world’s saddest face? I know how you feel! In fact, this is quite a common issue among GSDs.
Canine depression is a real thing, and in this article, I’ll outline potential causes, what to look out for and what you can do to help your GSD get back on track.
Can German Shepherds Get Depressed?
Canine depression is indeed a real thing. Top universities have conducted many studies on how dogs can develop, show, and understand emotions.
It turns out, that our furry friends are extremely advanced in this area, and can develop similar emotions as we can.
Your GSD can experience common emotions from happiness, jealousy, anger, depression, and more.
It was also found that dogs were very capable of understanding the emotions that we experience and give off.
This means that when you are happy, your German Shepherd genuinely understands this as happiness.
Just like when you are sad, your GSD will also be aware of what that means. This is something I will cover more later.
How To Know If Your German Shepherd Is Depressed
So how do you even know if your German Shepherd is depressed? Before going further, it’s important to understand the common signs of canine depression. After all, your GSD may not actually be “depressed.” Let’s run through the signs.
One thing, as depression is considered a behavioral issue rather than a medical one, it’s much harder to diagnose. It’s not always a simple “yes” or “no” situation.
1. Hiding and avoiding
One of the classic signs of canine depression is hiding or avoiding. Your GSD may be avoiding everyone collectively or one particular person.
It’s common for dogs to venture off and find their own private space to avoid being in the busy area of the home. If you frequently find your GSD hiding or laying down in another room of the house, this is quite a strong indicator.
2. Sleeping habits change
Similarly to us, canine depression can influence their sleeping habits. Just like how we may not feel like getting out of bed, the same can happen to our dogs.
If your German Shepherd starts sleeping a lot more, refusing to get out of his bed or wake up, it could indicate depression. This ties in with the next indicator…
3. Lack of interest
Showing a general lack of interest in pretty much everything is a very common and prominent sign of canine depression.
Ignoring, or not responding to things your GSD used to love, like playtime, dinner, going for a walk, all point towards emotional problems. This ties into having a change of sleeping habits, as a general lack of interest may be why your GSD remains in his bed all day.
4. Changes in appetite
Having a lack of appetite is another common sign of canine depression, but it must also be said that a decrease in appetite is a very common symptom of a wide range of unrelated health issues.
As I will explain further on, it’s important to spot multiple signs of canine depression before coming to any conclusions.
5. Excessive paw licking
Believe it or not, excessive paw licking is another sign that’s not frequently mentioned. Please note that excessive paw licking can of course indicate other issues like yeast infections and so on.
This one is not as well understood, but some experts consider the act of paw-licking to have a very strong pacifying effect. And dogs will excessively lick their paws, as a way to comfort themselves.
⭐ Take everything into context, and look for multiple signs before making conclusions. It’s important not to jump to conclusions, and remember that seeing one sign on its own, may not indicate depression at all. If you see multiple signs happening every day, you can be more sure.
⭐ Some signs are indicators of other health issues. Another important point to make is that some signs, especially when on their own, may indicate a different issue altogether. For example, a change in appetite is a common symptom of many health issues.
7 Reasons Why Your German Shepherd May Be Depressed
If you are seeing some of the above signs, then it’s time to think about why this may be happening. Let’s run through the most common causes.
If someone in your family or even another pet has passed away, your German Shepherd will know exactly what’s happened. Dog’s are known to grieve just like how we do, and there’s no telling how long this period will last.
Additionally, if you or someone else in the household is grieving over the loss of someone that you GSD didn’t even know, he’ll still pick up on those emotions, and will likely react in a similar way.
Our furry friends are particularly sensitive to how their owners feel, compared to other members of the household.
2. Lack of attention
German Shepherds like their fair share of attention, and despite appearing quite independent, like to be made a fuss of.
GSD’s often look to who they consider their main leader/owner for attention and recognition. And if you aren’t giving him enough of it, it can certainly impact his emotions and increase his stress levels, leading to depression.
3. The addition of a baby or partner
The addition of a baby or new partner into your household is an exciting and welcomed change for you, but for your German Shepherd, it might not be!
Sometimes, a change like this can spark emotions of jealousy and make your GSD feel left out.
If your German Shepherd goes from being the focus of your attention to, well, not being your focus of attention… It can really upset them and take a long time to change.
4. Someone in your household is depressed
As I mentioned earlier, dogs are very sensitive to how we are feeling, and will oftentimes mimic our emotions.
If you or someone else in the household is feeling down, sad, or is actually depressed, it can impact your GSD’s emotions significantly.
This can be the case in both the short term and long term. Your GSD will pick up on the emotions of someone instantly and may immediately feel that way themselves.
5. Moving house
Big lifestyle changes and events such as moving house can also trigger an array of unexpected emotional responses from your GSD.
It’s part of a dog’s natural instinct to be sensitive to their environment, as it’s where they need to feel safe and secure.
Suddenly going from their old house to a new house one day to the next is a very uncomfortable situation for any dog, and it can take a long time for them to adjust.
6. Not receiving enough exercise or mental stimulation
As a working breed, GSDs must feel like they are adding value to their pack (which is your family). They have an inherent desire to fulfill roles and complete tasks for their leader.
A strong work ethic is practically built into all German shepherds, and without frequently feeling like they have achieved something, they will start feeling dissatisfied very quickly.
It’s extremely important that you “put to work” your German shepherd. You don’t need to nurture the next police dog, but you do need to put your German shepherd through his paces both physically and mentally.
A healthy adult should receive around 2 hours of exercise, and have various activities throughout the day to get their mind working (training, socializing, puzzle toys, nose-work games).
7. Punitive training
Last, but certainly not least, is punitive training. Unfortunately, this kind of training still happens today. Punitive training is when a dog is punished for getting something wrong, rather than being rewarded when they get it right.
You may be surprised that this happens on a very small, almost unnoticeable level, all the way up to the worst-case scenario which involves physical abuse.
The best way to train your German shepherd is ONLY through positive reinforcement. This means rewarding your GSD when he gets things right. When he gets them wrong, you either ignore it or redirect the behavior to what is appropriate, then reward him after.
The issue with punishment (shouting or hitting) is that dogs often misunderstand what they are being told off for, and eventually start associating negative emotions to their leader, which creates further distrust and disobedience. And the nasty cycle keeps repeating.
Of course, I guarantee this is not something you are doing, but It’s still a legitimate cause of canine depression, so it’s on the list!
Recommended Read: Could a GSD attack their owner? ever?
What Can Be Done About It?
First, it’s best to witness multiple signs over a span of days before concluding anything. And if you do see them, try to find a cause for it.
Consider whether your GSD has a legitimate reason to be depressed… maybe he isn’t receiving quite the attention he used to, maybe he’s left alone for the entire day while everyone is at work or school… or perhaps another pet in the family has recently passed away.
Once you have identified a likely cause, you are better able to help your GSD.
Some causes, like bereavement, do not have a simple fix, and most of the time, it’s a matter of being there for him and giving him your undivided attention to help him recover.
Other times, when it’s a matter of not receiving enough of your attention, or that his basic needs aren’t being met, the solutions are more straightforward.
If you realize you have only been giving him 40 minutes of exercise per day and practically zero training, you can improve upon that area and see how it affects him.
When To See a Veterinarian
I can’t stress enough that some of the signs of depression are also common symptoms of underlying health concerns.
Due to this, unless you have a clear and obvious reason as to why your GSD is depressed, it’s best to first rule out health concerns with your veterinarian.
If there are no underlying health concerns, your veterinarian will then be able to help you diagnose whether or not your GSD is suffering from depression, and give you further advice.
● Thank you for reading! I hope this had given you some extra information to work with. If you have further questions please feel free to contact me. All the best, Harry.
Be sure to check out our other German Shepherd articles here on The Puppy Mag