Chews made from dried tendons offer what I consider to be the ideal chewy consistency, but can’t be found in a large enough size to ensure that my large dog will be forced to chew them slowly, rather than swallow chunks that he could choke on. Dried “pizzles” (made from beef and other animal penises) also offer an ideal consistency, but I admit that I find them (and certain other chewy but identifiable anatomical parts, like pig snouts) too gross to handle.
That leaves me looking at the rawhide chews. Rawhide is made from dried animal skin, so it is stiff, but quickly softens under the influence of a dog’s saliva and the mechanical action of the dog’s jaws: no sharp shards! Purchased in the right form, it takes a lot of work for the dog to chew off little bits, so it presents a lower risk of choking or digestive problems than many other chews. It’s generally not smelly, messy, or overtly disgusting to touch or look upon, even though it’s an animal product. And because it’s an animal product, most dogs are immediately drawn to it and enjoy chewing it.
As attractive as rawhide is as a canine chew item, it’s not uniformly safe or wholesome. Rawhide comes in many forms, and not all of them are appropriate for your dog. Here’s how to identify the best rawhide chews. Please note that top-quality chews may not be available in every pet supply store you happen to visit; you may have to shop around or order online from reputable businesses to find reliably safe, good products.
What Rawhide Is
As I said before rawhide is a by-product of the leather industry; its production starts in a tannery -and tanneries are rare in the United States today. One rawhide company representative I interviewed estimated that there are about 30 in the whole country; Mexico, in comparison, may have in excess of 3,000.
Tanneries use an enormous amount of water -and thereby create an enormous amount of waste water -to process beef hides. The cost of all that water, in addition to environmental laws, neighbor complaints, and the relatively higher cost of a relatively unpleasant business have all contributed to today’s shortage of tanneries in this country. According to Cattle Network, an information resource for the cattle industry, the U.S. exports more than $1 billion worth of hides annually to China alone; we are China’s largest source of hides from cattle, sheep, and pigs. Hides from American cattle fetch top dollar; the breeds of cattle here and our seasonally cool climate combine to produce a thick, consistent hide that, in turn, produces top-quality leather.
Cattle hides are shipped from slaughterhouses to tanneries for processing. Like any perishable meat product, the hides should be handled in a manner that prevents or minimizes decay. Hides that will be processed quickly, in this country, are generally iced and delivered to the tannery within no more than a few days. The vast majority of hides, however, go directly from the kill floor into a brine-filled trough; the highly concentrated salt solution arrests any protein-destroying organisms. The hides “cure” in the brine bath for about 12 to 18 hours before they are packed and shipped for export.
Of course, exportation takes time -and though the brining process helps slow decay, it can’t prevent it forever. Hides sent to China are typically trucked to ports on the West Coast, where they are packed into containers and loaded onto ships. It may take weeks or months for the hides to reach the tanneries in China and continue the process that turns them into chews for our dogs.
Once at the tannery, the hides are soaked, treated with lime (which helps strip the fat from the hide), de-haired (through physical and a chemical process), and then de-limed (accomplished by numerous water rinses). They are then treated with chemicals that help “puff” the hide, making it easier to split into layers. (“Full-grain” leather is made from unsplit hides.)
The outer layer of the hide is further processed into leather goods -car seats, clothing, and so on. The inner layer is the source of rawhide (and collagen, which is made into gelatin, cosmetics, and glue, among other things). Very thick hides may be split into three or more layers (hence the global popularity of thick American cattle hides).
Rawhide: The inner layer
Truly fresh hides -those that have been iced and refrigerated and delivered to the rawhide manufacturer within a few days of the source animal’s slaughter -require far less processing with chemicals than aged (and preserved) hides. “Sanitizing” in this case generally means some time in a bath of hydrogen peroxide. Exported hides require more extensive interventions.
Even though the brining process inhibits decay, it doesn’t arrest it altogether, and most exported rawhides are literally black with rot by the time they arrive at the rawhide processor. That means, at a minimum, they have to be bleached to improve their appearance and aroma; if the decay is advanced, they may also be treated with other chemicals and even painted with a coating of titanium oxide to make them appear white and pretty on the pet store shelves.
The global recession has slowed the demand for leather luxury goods; even the formerly strong market for leather for car seats has diminished as car sales have dropped to record lows worldwide. As a result, tanneries are buying fewer hides and producing less leather -which means they have less rawhide to sell to the makers of rawhide dog chews. It’s a bit ironic that these manufacturers are now scrambling to secure rawhide, even as containers of cattle hides have begun to accumulate all over the globe.
“Made in the USA”
Read that label carefully, by the way. The pet product manufacturers are aware that many pet owners see “Made in China” or other indications of foreign manufacture as a red flag, and they are ingenious at finding ways to make their products look as if they were domestically produced. I’ve seen products with American flags on the label that were made overseas. Even the phrases like “made in America” or “made from American beef” are abused; sometimes, the fine print will reveal that what’s meant is Mexico, or South or Central America. There is a difference!
Some companies have made a case for the use of South American (especially Brazilian) beef hides. They say that cattle there are raised on grass, with fewer hormones, pesticides, and antibiotics, resulting in a healthier, more natural rawhide. Their competitors in the U.S. counter that cattle raised in warm, equatorial climates are thinner-skinned -resulting in thinner, less chewy chews -and that foreign manufacturing can be dicey. Both arguments have some merit, which is why I don’t use country of origin as my sole (or even the most important) selection criterion when shopping for dog chews.
Instead, I look at the thickness of the hide itself (thicker is better, because it will take longer for a dog to chew) and its color. Extremely white hides are unnatural; they have to be bleached and/or painted to appear so white. Natural or lightly bleached rawhides are a light tan, like a manila folder. These less-processed hides retain more of the natural flavor and aroma of the hide. “Basted,” smoked, and decoratively tinted products might be any color (or odor) underneath the coating of (often artificial) dyes and flavors, and so I avoid them.
Speaking of odor: It stands to reason that the dried skin of an animal would naturally present some aroma. However, a rawhide chew really shouldn’t smell rotten or putrid; such an odor could indicate a high bacterial load. On the other hand, neither should a rawhide chew be completely odor-free! This would indicate that the product had been subject to extreme bleaching and chemical treatment.
More selection criteria: Form and function
So, to start, I won’t buy any rawhide products that have small or intricate pieces. I examine “knotted” products carefully; the best ones are made from a single sheet of rolled and knotted rawhide, whereas inferior products are made with separate, smaller pieces of rawhide forming the knots on the end of a rawhide “roll.” After just a few minutes of chewing, the knots loosen and separate from the roll; these small pieces can be swallowed whole, presenting a serious choking hazard.
Neither do I buy products that are made of shredded and pressed-together tiny bits of rawhide. The makers of good-quality rawhide chews say they use natural (and beneficial) collagen as a binder for these products. But since ingredients panels are not required for these products -which, despite the fact that dogs ingest them, are not considered a food item by the Food & Drug Administration -there is no sure way to know what binding agent has been used as the product’s “glue.”
The rawhide products that seem to best fit my selection criteria are the “rolled” products, made from a square of rawhide that’s been rolled up like a newspaper and dried. As the owner of a big dog, I look for the longest rolls I can find, so they last as long as possible before they are chewed to a length that my dog could possibly swallow. Then I take them away. Owners of smaller dogs could probably start with shorter rolls, but what’s the point? The longer the roll, the longer it will last.
The first thing I look at when buying a rawhide roll is the end of the roll. That’s the only way to see whether it has been made from a single, long sheet of rawhide -or whether a smaller sheet has been wrapped around a lot of bits and fragments of rawhide. As with the knots that are separate from the roll on some knotted products, these bits will be quickly released from their rawhide sheath as the dog starts to chew. And what do dogs do with small chunks of edible matter? Most dogs swallow any chunk of rawhide they can chew free, whether it is soft and safe or sharp and dangerous.
Until recently, I would dig through every bin, and examine every package of rawhide rolls until I found some that appeared to be made from just a couple of large sheets of rawhide each. Then I discovered a company that makes each of its rolls from a single long, thick piece of rawhide. I’ve never seen rawhide rolls as nice as those made by Wholesome Hide.
Quality is worth the expense
However, the Wholesome Hide rolls last much longer than most rawhide chews; it takes Otto up to a week (chewing for an hour a day or so) to chew one down to the point that I take it away for safety reasons. As expensive as these rolls are, however, I’ve found that they are less expensive than leather work boots, redwood decking, and garden hoses! It behooves me to make sure that my dog has a variety of safe chew items available to him at all times, and rawhide has provided one of the most reliably time-consuming, trouble-free chews he enjoys. Don’t get me wrong; I wouldn’t want rawhide, no matter the quality, to be a staple of any dog’s daily diet. But using top-quality rawhide as one of his regular jaw-exercisers keeps him happily occupied.
• KV Vet Supply
• West Coast Pet Supply
There used to be a company called Ecology Rawhide that made nice products, but despite seeing mentions of the company in hundreds of places on the Internet, we could not locate a working website or phone number for it.
There may be -there must be -other companies in the United States that make natural rawhide chews that meet all of our selection criteria. If you find products that meet this description, and that are not mentioned here, will you let us know?
Nancy Kerns is editor of: Whole Dog Journal.
Do GSD's make good family pets?
A well bred and properly trained German shepherd makes a wonderful family companion. They are naturally protective of their "pack". As with any other breed, young children should never be left unattended with a puppy, however, if the children learn to respect the puppy as a living being, the puppy will be a wonderful companion for the children as they all grow up together. Your dog's ranking in the "pack" should always be established as the bottom (Omega) member below humans.
What traits are present in the German Shepherd?
The breed is naturally loyal, intelligent and protective (which makes it good for police work). The GSD has an excellent nose, making it good for tracking and search and rescue work. They are calm and have a steady temperament when well-bred which is why they have been used as "Seeing Eye" dogs. A GSD thrives on regular exercise, mental stimulation and a well-balanced diet.
They are very trainable and love to work. The German shepherd is affectionate but generally not dependent. He is aloof to strangers and may often seem quite indifferent to those outside his 'pack'.
Breeding plays an important role in the temperament of GSD's, therefore selecting a reputable breeder concerned with both physical health and the personality of their puppies is of utmost importance. Different bloodlines exhibit traits differently, so question breeders about the strong and weak traits of their bloodlines. See the article on German versus American bloodlines about specific general differences.
Can you guarantee my puppy will not have hip problems?
We offer a two year guarantee for moderate to severe hip and/or elbow dysplasia. We do not ask that you return your puppy or have him/her put to sleep.
No breeder in the world can guarantee that the puppies won't
develop dysplasia, and if they do... beware.
Hip dysplasia is considered to be polygenic and is also influenced by environmental factors. That means that it's caused by a combination of genes that may not show up in any litter previously. No matter the certifications in the pedigree it is possible that your puppy could be predisposed to hip dysplasia. Treatments (both surgical and drug) can be done early to alleviate problems down the line. If in doubt, find an orthopedic specialist. Be wary of a breeder that says their puppies will definitely not have hip problems.
The parents of our puppies are certified free of dysplasia and that should your pup develop a problem, I will be available to help and guide you in deciding what steps to take.
What is the difference between males and females?
Some people will say that males are more "location" protective while females are more "pack" protective. Males are generally more territorial, so unless training steps are consistent, marking could be a problem. (Neutering may help alleviate this problem. Any dog not intended for a breeding program should be neutered or spayed. Besides eliminating the possibility of unwanted puppies and reducing some undesirable behaviors, it's considerably healthier for your dog since it eliminates or severely reduces the chance of testicular or mammary cancers. Breeding should *never* be taken lightly. I have found that it is more useful to look to the individual temperament and personality of each pup in the litter then to generalize about sex differences.
How old will my puppy be when I take it home?
Puppies are old enough to go to their new homes by eight weeks.
How big will my German shepherd be?
The full adult size of your GSD will depend in large part on the genetic background of its parents. Adult males should range between 24-26" at the shoulder blade, females from 22-24". Males within the standard may weigh anywhere from 75-90 lbs. depending on their bloodlines. Females may weigh anywhere from 55-75 lbs. Although your pup will reach close to adult height by 10-18 months, he will continue to fill out until up to 3 years old.
Be wary of breeders who emphasize "oversize", "huge", "big-boned" breeding stock or puppies. Bigger is not better in German Shepherds. The German Shepherd is not built to have a skeletal and muscular structure of an oversize breed. An inch or so out of standard may be acceptable providing the general line is not consistently out of standard. A responsible breeder will offset an oversize dog by breeding with a line that is a bit smaller in order to maintain the standards as closely as possible.
What is "socializing" and why is
it so important?
Socializing refers to exposing your puppy to a variety of experiences, including meeting lots of people of various ages, races, sizes and both sexes as well as teaching them how to acceptably interact with other dogs. Puppy kindergarten classes provide an excellent opportunity for socialization in a controlled environment.
Socializing is important because it helps strengthen your dog's confidence and reduces the chance that your dog will become shy or fearful. Fearful dogs can become fear aggressive or fear biters.
All our puppies interact daily with our young children and experience playing inside and outside with the kids, older dogs, cats and different people.
Will my German shepherd puppy's ears stand?
Although some puppies' ears stand as early as 8-10 weeks, don't be concerned if your pup's ears don't stand until 6-7 months (especially pups with large ears) after teething. Some pups ears never stand. This is known as a "soft ear". Sometimes taping is successful. "Soft ears" are a genetic trait, and dogs with soft ears should not be bred even if taping is successful. It is a disqualification in showing but does not affect the dog' health in a negative way.
What precautions should I take with my GSD
Other than the normal precautions of immunizations beware of a fast-growing puppy. There are studies that show a correlation between fast growth and hip dysplasia (if your pup is predisposed to HD). You may want to switch your puppy over to adult food if it seems to be growing very quickly.
Don't pet your puppy's ears backwards before they stand. Although people often do this by nature, it can damage the cartilage in your pup's ears which can affect the ear carriage.
Do take your puppy to puppy kindergarten and obedience training classes and do your homework for these classes. Behaviors that are cute in a 15 pound puppy can be dangerous in a 75 pound adult. Socialize your puppy with people (especially children) and other dogs frequently (after your puppy has completed its immunization series sometime after 16 weeks old).
Your puppy may go through a period known as "adolescent shyness" when it reaches 4-5 months of age. This period can last until the pup is 12-18 months old. Socializing your puppy from an early age will help minimize this shyness. Expose your puppy to a variety of experiences, but do so gently. You don't want to traumatize your puppy.
Be careful of heavy physical exertion directly before and after eating, especially if your GSD is a "gulper". German shepherds and many other large breeds can suffer from bloat. If your dog's abdomen becomes distended and rigid and it can not seem to belch or pass gas, gastric torsion may be the problem. This is an immediate health concern and you should contact your vet or an emergency clinic.
How long should I wait to switch my puppy to adult food?
We recommend switching at around 12 weeks to a feeding a high quality adult food. Check out the content of the food closely. A puppy or dog with average activity should have about 26% protein and 15-18% fat. Look for some kind of meat to be the first ingredient, not a grain product.
Studies have shown that puppies growing quickly may be more prone to developing hip and elbow dysplasia. Dry food is fine, you don't need to supplement with canned food. It's expensive and doesn't provide anything a good dry food doesn't. If your puppy doesn't want to eat the dry food, you can moisten it slightly with warm water. This may also reduce the risk of bloat and don't worry, the pup will eat when he is hungry!
How often should I feed my puppy and how
Feed the pup morning and evenings, as much as he will eat in one sitting then remove the bowl until the next meal. Of course you do need to keep an eye on your puppy's/dog's weight, you should be able to feel the ribs under the skin fairly easily. Adjust your portions appropriately if the puppy is putting on excess weight.
Remove his water source several hours before bedtime and fresh water should be available with every meal. Once the dog is housebroken, free access to water unless you will be gone for an extraordinarily long period of time should not be a problem.
What is bloat (gastric torsion)?
Bloat (otherwise known as "gastric torsion") can be a problem with any deep chested breed like German Shepherds. The stomach twists so nothing can pass through the esophagus to the stomach or through the stomach to the intestines, causing gas to build up. This is an immediate health concern where the dog should be taken to the vet or emergency clinic. Signs of bloat include a distended rigid abdomen, indications of vomiting with no results and inability to belch or pass gas.
High activity directly before or after eating can exacerbate bloating. Keeping the dog quiet at least one hour before and after eating can help reduce the chances of bloat. Pre-moistening the dog's food with water can also reduce the chances and smaller meals can also reduce the risk of bloat if you do not free-feed. (Free-fed dogs just need to have their activity level watched, but do not usually eat enough at any one sitting to cause problems. Bloat is more of a problem with a dog that "gulps" its food which a free-fed dog won't usually do. Don't leave pre-moistened food down for a free-fed dog too long as it can breed bacteria. Instead, leave them smaller portions, but refill more frequently.)
What is the life expectancy of a German shepherd?
Most lines of GSD's will live to between 10-12 years of age. 11-12 years is probably a very reasonable expectation. A GSD becomes "middle-aged" between 6-8 years old, and is generally considered "geriatric" at about 10. Their food intake and exercise and nutrition needs may change over this period of time. They may begin to develop stiffness in their joints (much like people do as they get older). Healthy teeth are important as bacteria from decaying teeth can affect the health of the dog.
What is the difference between the American/Canadian and the European bloodlines?
Do German Shepherds shed a lot?
Yes. The GSD is a "double-coated" dog with an undercoat and guard hairs. The guard hairs will be shed all year. The undercoat is "blown" twice a year. The shedding is pretty much constant, but a regular weekly brushing keeps things under control. Avoid giving baths as it dries out the coat's natural oils.
What is a long-coated German shepherds?
The correct GSD coat is relatively short with an obvious undercoat. As such it is quite waterproof. Some dogs are born with long coats which usually, though not always, also have an undercoat. The normal coat is dominant to the long version, so there are three kinds of dog: normal, normal but carrying the long coat gene, and long. About 10% of the pups are born long-coated.
If you don't intend to show your dog in conformation, there's no reason to avoid the long-coated GSD. Long-coated GSD's can and do compete in obedience and other working disciplines. You should be aware, however, that the longer coat does require more attention when grooming.
Are German shepherds smart and easy to train?
Yes and no to both. Most GSD's are eager and willing to learn and enjoy training sessions (don't overdo with a young pup - they just don't have the attention span). If you start young and teach your puppy its order in your "pack", problems with training will be minimized. However, GSD's tend to have more dominant personalities than some breeds and can be stubborn, so some care in training is recommended. Classes are extremely beneficial. A GSD that thinks it's the Alpha member of the pack can be a big handful.
We help you to select the puppy with the appropriate temperament for your living situation. This helps to insure that with proper training the relationship between your dog and your family will be harmonious.
My young GSD is limping! Is it pano or dysplasia??
You probably do want to take your pup into a vet just to make sure you can eliminate hip and elbow dysplasia from the cause of the problem. Most likely the vet will confirm that your pup has panosteitis, an inflammation of the long bones in the legs of adolescent pups. It's fairly common in GSD's It's also known as "long bone disease", "shifting leg lameness" and "growing pains". "Pano" can be detected and diagnosed by x-ray.
Onset can be from 5-12 months (occasionally later) and last until 18 months or more. Though it is uncomfortable for the puppy, it almost always grows out of it. The lameness need not be limited to one leg.
What is an average size litter?
An average size litter for a GSD is six to eight puppies.
What is the difference between a GSD and
There is no difference. After each of the World Wars, anything German fell out of popular favor. To avoid the use of the word German, "Alsatian" (from the Alsace-Lorraine area) was used. In some countries, GSD's are still known as Alsatians. The name in Germany is Deutsche Schaferhund which means "German Shepherd Dog". The word "Dog" is part of the name.
What is Schutzhund?
Schutzhund is German for "protection dog", but it also refers to a training discipline and dog sport involving 3 phases; obedience, tracking and protection. It is supposed to be a fun experience for both the dog and the handler. If it isn't for one or the other, don't consider it. Find another activity. Schutzhund is not the be all and end all of training. See the section on Schutzhund (often noted as SchH) for more information. (Also, as of this writing, a Schutzhund FAQ is being worked on by some of the subscribers to the GSD-L mailing list. See the Resources for information on GSD-L.)
More info on schutzhund
Why buy from a reputable breeder?
You should seek out a reputable breeder when looking for a GSD pup because of the health concerns noted above as well as problems in temperament brought out in ill-bred GSD's Poorly-bred GSD's can also be aggressive, fearful, or shy-sharp (a fearful dog that becomes aggressive when frightened). It is for these reasons that a reputable breeder is more likely to have sound pups, guarantee their health, help you select the puppy most suited to your lifestyle and goals, and be able to guide you as the pup grows.