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What do you get when you cross two of the most popular dog breeds in the United States? You get a Sheprador – a German Shepherd Lab Mix. At least “Sheprador” is what I’m going to call it, since I find the other common alternative, Labrashepherd, to sound just a bit awkward.
When it comes to Labrador crosses, the Sheprador has not yet attained the popularity of the Labradoodle (Labrador/Standard Poodle) or the Pitador (Pit Bull/Labrador), but stay tuned. As more and more people discover the pleasing qualities of this large crossbreed, you can almost certainly expect to see more Shepradors.
Regular readers know that my personal preference is for large dogs. I am not overly fond of small crossbreeds, and I deplore the practice of breeding tiny dogs in an effort to make them even tinier (see my post, Why You Should Walk Away From Teacup Dogs), to the point where serious health conditions are the result. This is not to say that I think all small crosses are undesirable – just that they’re not my thing.
That said, in future posts, I will talk about some of the more desirable small-breed crosses. I freely admit to personal bias, but I always try to be honest and fair, so if you’re interested in small crossbreeds, be patient – I’ll get to you.
The simplest answer to this is, of course, you need a German Shepherd and a Labrador Retriever. So let’s take a look at the “raw materials” that are used to make a Sheprador.
The German Shepherd comes by its name honestly, having been developed in the late 19th and early 20th century. Max von Stephanitz, a German breeder, greatly admired German sheepdogs for their herding ability, stamina and intelligence. Having discovered a dog that he believed could be the “breed standard,” he set about producing puppies, and creating a breed registry, leading to the development of the German Shepherd we know today, all of which owe their origin to von Stephanitz’s original dog, Horand von Grafath.
Labrador Retrievers, on the other hand, do not one specific ancestor in common. Instead, they are descendants of a breed known as the St. John’s Water Dog, a breed that was developed in the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador (yes, it is just one province; that wasn’t a typo) and that is now extinct. The ancestors of the St. John’s Water Dog were mixes of Portuguese, Irish and English working dogs, all of which had superior retrieving ability. From this auspicious beginning, today’s Labrador came to be.
The Labrador Retriever is the most popular dog breed in America, and the German Shepherd is a close second. Given the ubiquitous nature of both breeds, it was probably a given that accidental breedings between the two would occur. However, it is only recently that Geman Shepherd Lab mixes have been deliberately bred.
No, it is not; it is simply a very pleasing cross. Will the Sheprador ever be recognized as a breed? From where I’m sitting, I think it’s unlikely. The AKC has historically been unwilling to recognize crossbreeds, even when they become firmly entrenched. The Cockapoo, for instance, has been bred for decades, and in recent times some breeders have bred Cockapoo to Cockapoo for generations – you’d think this would lead to a breed in and of itself, but the AKC has stood firm in denying the Cockapoo breed status.
I can see the wisdom in this. After all, where might all this crossbreeding lead? If the AKC recognizes one crossbreed, and that crossbreed is repeatedly bred with another crossbreed, does the result of that breeding also have to be recognized? Of course, I freely admit to being a dog snob, but you see where I’m going with this.Indiscriminate crossing simply leads to mutts, and I firmly believe that there is something to be said for maintaining breed purity.
One thing you can be sure of when you cross a German Shepherd with a Labrador Retriever is that you’re going to end up with a pretty sizeable dog. German Shepherds usually weigh anywhere from 49 to 88 pounds, and stand between 22 and 26 inches at the shoulder. Labrador Retrievers usually weigh between 55 and 80 pounds, and stand between 22 and 25 inches at the shoulder. So, a German Shepherd Lab mix could easily top out at 80 pounds and 25 inches.
In terms of their features, there is no real standard. The coat color will largely depend on what the puppies inherit from either parent, and some Shepradors may appear more Shepherd-like while others will look more like the Lab.
I realize that this is probably not the most helpful description, but that’s simply because one German Shepherd Lab mix can look very different from another. Check out these images to see what I mean!
Whenever I talk about dog breeds, I always point out that temperament depends on a number of factors, including heredity and environment. If you’re thinking about a German Shepherd Lab mix puppy, you should always make sure that you’re able to visit the mother and the litter. Don’t panic if you can’t see the father – there’s no guarantee that the breeder also owns the male, or even that the male lives nearby. Not being able to meet the proud papa is not a “red flag,” but if the breeder won’t let you see Mom and the rest of the litter, find another breeder.
When you visit, pay close attention to how the puppies behave. You don’t want the little guy who’s bullying his littermates, nor do you want the overly shy one who huddles in a corner of the whelping pen and doesn’t want to interact with his siblings. Your best choice is a “middle of the road” puppy who is curious and playful, sociable with his littermates and interested in people. And of course if Mom is a sweetie, chances are that her offspring will be as well.
Labradors and German Shepherds are both typically outgoing and intelligent, and very energetic. You’re going to want to channel that fine brain and exuberant nature in a positive direction, so start training early. Early training is important for pretty much any type of dog, but even moreso for the German Shepherd Lab mix – if you put off training, you could have difficulty handling this very strong, energetic dog. You’ll need a long training leash for recall work, and a good collar or harness. Then find yourself a nice, open space and get to work!
Your Sheprador is no different from any other dog in that positive reinforcement is the best way to train. Harsh treatment is not conducive to your dog learning what you are trying to teach him, so be firm but kind. And remember, a few treats are always helpful!
Although much is “luck of the draw” with a German Shepherd Lab mix, one thing you can be assured of is that your Sheprador puppy will inherit a double coat. He’ll have a coarse outer coat, and a soft, fluffy undercoat. He will almost certainly not have a long coat, since long coats are the result of a recessive gene, and not at all common in Labrador Retrievers. What this means is that you won’t have to obsess over grooming with your German Shepherd Lab mix. A good once-over a couple of times a week with a de-shedding brush should be sufficient to get the job done.
Unless your dog gets really dirty, you probably won’t need to bathe him all that often. However, it’s best to introduce your German Shepherd Lab mix to baths when he’s a puppy – the last thing you want to have to do is wrestle a full-grown Sheprador into the tub if he’s not used to being bathed!
There is no such thing as a perfectly healthy dog breed, and certain breeds are known to be prone to specific health conditions. The conventional wisdom has always been that cross-breeding will “breed out” many conditions that are common to the originating breeds. This is only true to some extent.
With decades of breeding, often for undesirable, exaggerated characteristics on the part of the German Shepherd, the Shepherd has become prone to a variety of health issues. Hip dysplasia, bloat, and chronic degenerative radiculomyopathy (a progressive paralysis of the hind legs) are among the problems that plague the breed.Labrador Retrievers are generally healthier. However, they can also be prone to hip dysplasia. So what does this mean for the Sheprador?
Nobody really knows at this point what health issues are likely to affect the German Shepherd Lab mix. One would hope that the more vigorous health of the Lab would offset some of the problems that can occur in the Shepherd, but there’s no guarantee. When choosing a German Shepherd Lab mix puppy, your best course of action is to ask the breeder to provide clearances indicating that the parents are free of known defects. You can also offset the likelihood of health problems by feeding a good diet to prevent obesity, and making sure your dog gets regular exercise and veterinary checkups.
Are Shepradors Good Family Dogs?
German Shepherds and Labrador Retrievers are both loyal, loving dogs, so it’s a safe bet that your German Shepherd Lab mix will take on the characteristics of both breeds. It’s very important, though, to socialize your puppy properly very early on – a dog the size of a Sheprador can be a menace if he’s not raised to be calm, confident and friendly with people. Make sure that your puppy is exposed to as many different people as possible, as soon as possible. Effective socialization is a commitment that you absolutely must make and stick with.
Shepradors love spending time with their humans, and will be more than happy to play vigorously with your children, and then keep you company in the evenings when you’re enjoying “family time.” Keep in mind, though, that you’re dealing with a dog of considerable size that could easily knock over a toddler – never leave your kids unsupervised when they’re playing with the dog.
This actually goes for any breed – no child should be left alone with any dog, ever. Even small breeds can injure a child if the dog becomes frightened or accidentally injured during play, and even the sweetest, gentlest dog can bite if provoked.
Both German Shepherds and Labrador Retrievers are good with children, provided that they’re properly socialized. Just make sure that your kids treat the dog with kindness and respect, and you should have no problems with a German Shepherd Lab mix.
Finding a Puppy
If you’re looking for a German Shepherd Lab puppy, chances are that you’ll be able to find one locally, or at least not far from where you live. The Sheprador is gaining in popularity, so more people are breeding this appealing cross. As a bonus, you’ll likely find that this type of crossbreed won’t cost you nearly as much as some of the “designer” dog breeds.
Beware of ridiculously low prices, though. When a breeding is deliberate, whether it’s a purebred or a cross, it’s going to cost the breeder money. Prenatal care for the bitch along with proper nutrition and initial veterinary care for the puppies are expenses that the breeder can reasonably expect to incur. So if you see and advertisement offering German Shepherd Lab mix puppies for, say, $50, you should suspect that something is “off.” The bitch has probably not been properly cared for pre-whelping, the puppies have probably not had their first shots and worming, and for that matter, who even knows if the puppies are truly Shepradors? It’s hard to tell at an early age, and you could end up with a puppy that is half Lab, or half Shepherd, but also half God-Only-Knows-What-Else.
In short, be willing to pay a reasonable price for your German Shepherd Lab mix puppy, but not an exorbitant one. Currently, you can expect to pay $150-$600 for a Sheprador. If this particular mix gains in popularity, the price will likely go up.
There are so many crossbreeds out there, and some (at least as far as I’m concerned) aren’t worth breeding. The German Shepherd Lab mix, though, definitely gets my personal seal of approval. Shepradors are loving and intelligent, strong and loyal, and properly trained and socialized, can be a wonderful addition to any family.