What happens when you take two of the most popular dogs in the world, and combine them? You get a Sheprador! Or a Labrashepherd. Whichever you prefer. Since this is a mixed breed, it’s not officially recognized by the American Kennel Club (though some organizations do recognize it). This means that you may encounter the name ‘Sheprador’ being used to refer to another cross – for instance, the Australian Shepherd/Labrador mix.
But just what is a Sheprador, other than adorable? Since it’s a cross of two other breeds, it’s hard to be too specific, as you can’t guarantee which traits you’ll get. Even within a litter, there will be some variability. You might get the floppy ears of the lab, or the pointed alert ones of the German Shepherd. The muzzle might be longer like the German Shepherd, but it might also have the gorgeous golden fur of some labs.
But just where did the idea to breed this ‘designer dog’ come from? We’re not entirely certain – after all, before a certain point of popularity, a designer dog is just a cross, a mongrel or a mutt. Generally, most people would place the origin somewhere in the 1980s, a decade in which many of the hybrid breeds first came to popular attention.
It’s much easier to trace the history of the two breeds behind it, however. The Labrador – or Labrador retriever, to give it its full name, can be traced back to the 1800s. Originally coming from the St John’s water dog, a now extinct breed of working dog, they were bred specifically to retrieve nets or fowl from the water. When they were brought to England, they were named after the location they came from – though, in an odd quirk of events, the dogs we know as Labradors worked in Newfoundland, and those that we know as Newfoundlands worked in Labrador!
Most Labradors would be a darker black, but in the early 20th century the yellow and chocolate puppies became more popular, with the first recognized yellow lab born in 1899 and the chocolate labs in the 1930s.
The GSD (so called because its official name is the German Shepherd Dog) came about slightly later, dating back to around 1899 – the same as the first yellow labs! Also known as the Alsatian, it is a working dog that was originally bred to herd sheep. From the 1850s onwards there was an attempt in Europe to standardize dog breeds, and in Germany a group known as the ‘Phylax Society’ was formed to assist with this. Unfortunately, there were disagreements over what to breed for – work, appearance, or something else? – and they fell apart. One ex-member who believed dogs should be breed for work purchased a dog he considered an exemplary example of this, and began to breed them – and it is this dog that is the ancestor of the GSD today.
Both the Labrador and the German Shepherd are very intelligent dogs, and a Sheprador is no exception. Taking the best of both, they can be trained in a variety of roles including police work, search and rescue, agility and therapy work. Don’t assume this makes them serious though – they absolutely aren’t! Like most working dogs, they can be trained to recognize when they are ‘on the job’, and when they aren’t. This means that, with the right training, you get a dog that can be both obedient and professional one moment, and puppy-like and playful the next.
GSD’s tend to be slightly skittish and wary of strangers, and this trait is one most Shepradors tend to inherit. Staunchly loyal to their family unit, they tend to be on high alert with strangers, but can quickly warm up to them when encouraged. With people they know, it’s a different case entirely – they are playful, even-tempered and eager to please. Less full-on than a lab, they are still affectionate and patient, but can be a little quieter than you may expect.
Picking The Perfect One
If you’re looking to pick one out for you, there’s a few things you should look out for. As with most breeds, there are some health issues to be aware of – and as this is a cross, that means the list is a little longer! Common issues include:
There are other issues, but these are the big ones to look out for. Any respectable breeder should screen their dogs for the genetic markers of those they can, and keep thorough medical records that you can check. If they seem reluctant to share information about these issues with you then you should avoid using them. If you can meet the parent dogs – or at least, the mother, take advantage of it! Not only will you have the chance to see her temperament, you can also get a feel for size and appearance of your future dog. This is complicated by it being a cross, in that only meeting one parent only shows you have the picture, but it’s a good way to check there are no immediate issues – for example, the long sloping back a GSD could have that you should avoid.
As the breed is growing in popularity so too will the prices. At the moment puppies cost between $150 and $600, but expect this to vary depending on the lineage of the parents. Don’t forget to allow for medical costs too – both the initial vaccinations and spay/neuter, as well as potential future costs and insurance.
With all that out of the way, it’s time to think about temperament. When choosing a puppy, it’s tempting to go for the one that is most excited or the one you feel a bit sorry for, but try to think about this further. A puppy that is already excitable and loud will continue to be so, whilst a shy one may take a long time to warm up to you. There is nothing wrong with either of these things, but it’s worth being aware of so you know what to expect.
You might think that being highly intelligent means your dog will be easy to train, but that’s not always the case. Luckily, Shepradors tend to be eager to please, but be aware that any intelligent dog will often try to test their owner, and be somewhat cheeky when they can! Additionally, they can easily get bored so make sure you’re prepared to keep them entertained (or at least, provide them with things to entertain themselves).
We recommend starting training early, with lots of positivity and rewards (whether in the form of food or affection). They’ll learn quickly, so try to teach them things beyond the basics – after all, both dogs can be trained to take on complex roles. Training them to do more complicated things can help prevent boredom, and also encourage a stronger bond between you and your dog. Take advantage of the lab’s natural retriever instincts – whilst the obvious choice is fetch, they’re smart enough to go further than this. A fun game can be based on the idea of search and rescue, where they have to go find something for you. This can be something you do outdoors with fetch toy for big dogs (or a person!), or inside. It may sound like a game, but you’ll soon have your dog fetching your slippers on command. Entertaining for them, and useful for you.
Early socialization is important to this breed, especially with children and other animals. They can be boisterous, so make sure that this socialization is supervised. Try to encourage ‘quiet play’ with them – this is a great opportunity for further training and useful for more public situations too!
Health and Care
One main thing to watch out for is overeating. If allowed, a Sheprador will eat everything, and this can very quickly lead to a lot of health problems. Their weight should remain between 25 and 55 pounds (if male) and 35 to 45 pounds (if female) but consult your vet if you’re not sure about this. You should feed them at regular times rather than leaving a food bowl for them throughout the day.
When cared for well, the average life expectancy is around 10 to 14 years, which is fairly high compared to other large breeds! However, this requires attention to some of the aforementioned common issues. As a dog ages, it is more likely to suffer from joint problems – increasing the risk of dysplasia. Luckily, with a well-managed diet and sufficient exercise, this can often be managed. One key issue that you need to watch out for is bloat (gastric dilatation-volvulus). This is when the stomach dilates and then rotates, and it can have very severe effects. Watch out for abdominal pain, collapse, vomiting and labored breathing. Whilst the cause is unknown, deep-chested breeds like the Sheprador have an increased risk – and this is worsened by the breed’s tendency to overeat! Whilst it’s unlikely that your dog will suffer from this, it’s always worth being aware and watching their food intake just in case.
As with any large dog, a Sheprador needs a good amount of exercise – and this is even more vital given their tendency towards boredom. Luckily, their easiness to train means you can master games like fetch and even agility training if you so desire. Generally, you should only get a Sheprador if you have a garden, or a very large house and a lot of free time! They’ll need a couple of long walks each day (though one could be swapped out for an exercise-based activity, such as a length game of fetch). Without this regular exercise, you might find that they start to act out – digging up your garden, scratching your furniture or trying to sneak into places they shouldn’t.
Shepradors can live in warmer climates, but they do much better in colder ones due to their thick double coat. Make sure they don’t overheat in warmer months by providing lots of cool water and shade, as well as keeping them professionally groomed. On the note of grooming, expect a lot of shedding! They have a full shed twice a year, so make sure you brush them down to remove the loose hair. A regular brush will also keep their coat shiny, as well as reducing the amount of hair on your furniture.
Owning a Sheprador
If you’re looking for a quiet, calm lap dog, then a Sheprador is definitely not for you. But, if you’re looking for an active, intelligent and loving pet, then you’ve found the right breed. Owning a Sheprador can be a lot of work, as you will have to keep them from getting bored, and there’ll be a lot of exercise involved. That said, they make wonderful companions for hikers or any outdoorsy types, and you’ll never be lonely on your treks. These dogs are beautiful, friendly and a brilliant choice for anyone wanting an active and loyal pet.