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Dwarf German Shepherd: Characteristics, Care, and Health Issues - PawSafe

Dwarf German Shepherd: Characteristics, Care, and Health Issues

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

dwarf German Shephered

Few things sound cuter than a dwarf German Shepherd with short little legs like a Corgi, and some may be thrilled to know that German Shepherd Dog (GSD) dwarfs exist. But GSD aficionados will know that dwarfism in the breed is a genetic issue that can cause severe health issues. So pause to read this before you search for dwarf German Shepherd prices or dwarf German Shepherd puppies for sale.

Now, there is more than one cause of dwarfism in GSDs and the most common one is a disorder in the pituitary gland. These dogs can be very small and fragile compared to the normal majestic German Shepherd, so one needs specialized equipment for them, such as a safe no-pull harness to avoid pressure on their throats.

So to dive into what you need to know about a dwarf GSD, we’ve looked at medical studies and research into pituitary dwarfism in GSDs and a condition known as osteochondrodysplasia, which causes abnormalities like short limbs in dogs.

Dwarf German Shepherds typically weigh between 35 to 50 pounds and stand at a height of 15 to 20 inches. However, their size and look can vary a lot depending on what kind of disorder they have and how severe it is. 

It is important to note that Dwarf German Shepherds may have health issues associated with their dwarfism genes, such as joint problems, hormonal issues, and spinal issues. Therefore, no ethical German Shepherd breeder will breed a dwarf GSD on purpose. If you do get one, they often make fantastic pets and we do adore them, but it is vital not to support any breeder who intentionally breeds dwarfs.

In fact, it does happen that breeders will breed dogs with dwarfism genes to create “teacups” or dogs like toy Bulldogs, teacup French Bulldogs, or teacup Huskies. This is not always the case (there are several different ways of getting a smaller dog), but it is something to be aware of when breeders advertise unusually small dogs for higher prices.

In this article, we will discuss the different causes of dwarfism and how best to care for a GSD if they happen to have it. 

Is a Miniature German Shepherd a Dwarf?

Some people may call dwarf German Shepherds Miniature German Shepherds or Mini German Shepherds, but this is not correct. A miniature German Shepherd is really just smaller than a typical German Shepherd. They don’t need to have any genetic abnormality; they’re just born smaller. But a dwarf is a dog with genetic issues that stunted normal growth.

Causes of Dwarfism in German Shepherds

Pituitary Dwarfism

Pituitary dwarfism is a genetic condition that affects the production of growth hormones in German Shepherds. Dogs with this condition have a small pituitary gland, which leads to insufficient growth hormone production. This results in stunted growth and other physical abnormalities such as a large head and short limbs.

The condition is inherited in an autosomal recessive manner, meaning that both parents must carry the gene for the puppy to inherit the condition. Although pituitary dwarfism is rare in German Shepherds, it is important for breeders to test their dogs for the gene to prevent the spread of the condition. If your German Shepherd puppy has pituitary dwarfism you should see the signs within the first 2 to 3 months. 

  1. Stunted Growth: The dog will grow more slowly than expected and remain smaller in size.
  2. Delayed Teething: Teething may occur later than in normal puppies.
  3. Thin Coat or Hair Loss: The coat might be sparse and thin, and the puppy may even suffer from bald spots.
  4. Skin Problems: There may be various skin issues like flaking or increased pigmentation.
  5. Lack of Sexual Development: Affected dogs might not develop sexual characteristics typical of their gender.
  6. Protruding Abdomen: This might be seen as the abdomen looking distended or pot-bellied.
  7. Delayed Closure of Growth Plates: The growth plates in the bones close later than normal, affecting the overall growth of the dog.
  8. Weak Immune System: The dog may be more prone to infections and other illnesses.
  9. Chronic Hunger: The affected puppy may always appear hungry and might eat more than normal but still doesn’t grow as expected.
  10. Behavioral Issues: Some dogs with pituitary dwarfism may display behavioral issues, often becoming lethargic or fearful.

They also usually have small, fox-like faces and a shrill bark.

It’s worth mentioning that pituitary dwarfism can be diagnosed and treated, but early detection is crucial. If you suspect your German Shepherd puppy may be affected by this condition, consulting with a veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment is highly advised.


Chondrodysplasia is another genetic condition that affects the development of cartilage in German Shepherds. Dogs with this condition have shorter legs and a larger head, giving them a dwarf-like appearance. The condition is caused by a mutation in the COL10A1 gene, which affects the formation of bone and cartilage.

Chondrodysplasia is also inherited in an autosomal recessive manner, and breeders should test their dogs for the gene to prevent the spread of the condition. It is important to note that not all German Shepherds with short legs have chondrodysplasia, as there are other factors that can contribute to this physical characteristic.

Here’s a list of some common symptoms:

  1. Shortened Limbs: This is often the most noticeable symptom, where the legs appear disproportionately short compared to the body.
  2. Enlarged Joints: The joints, especially in the legs, may appear larger and more pronounced.
  3. Spinal Deformities: Abnormalities in the spinal column can lead to a range of issues, including difficulty moving and pain.
  4. Facial Deformities: The skull may develop abnormally, leading to a changed appearance in the face, including a shorter snout.
  5. Difficulty Walking: Due to the shortened limbs and potential joint problems, the dog may have a noticeable limp or difficulty walking.
  6. Pain: The dog may experience chronic pain, particularly in the joints, due to the abnormal development of cartilage and bone.
  7. Slow Growth: Growth may be stunted, with puppies not growing at the expected rate.
  8. Dental Problems: There might be dental issues due to the misalignment of jaws.
  9. Respiratory Issues: Some dogs may develop breathing problems due to the abnormal development of the chest and ribcage.

It’s essential to note that these symptoms can vary in severity and may not all be present in every dog with the condition. If you suspect your German Shepherd may have chondrodysplasia, it’s advisable to consult with a veterinarian who can diagnose the condition and help manage the symptoms. There may also be some overlap between the symptoms of chondrodysplasia and other forms of dwarfism, so professional veterinary evaluation is essential.

Understanding Chondrodysplasia vs. Chondrodystrophy in Dogs with Dwarfism

Now to understand dwarfism in GSDs that is not from the pituitary gland, we need to look at something called chondrodysplasia and chondrodystrophy. Now these terms sound intimidating, but we’re going to break down the differences between chondrodysplasia (CDPA) and chondrodystrophy (CDDY) in an easy-going and simple way, using information from UC Davis.

Think of CDPA and CDDY as two different ways that a dog might end up with short legs (and we might call them dwarfs, although it is not always true dwarfism). They might look similar, but there’s a big difference between them.

Chondrodysplasia (CDPA):

  • What It Does: Makes dogs have short legs. That’s pretty much it. You see it in adorable breeds like Corgis and Bassets, where it’s a normal thing. But once in a while, it can pop up in German Shepherds because of a hidden gene that decides to make an appearance.
  • How It’s Passed On: It’s what’s called an “autosomal dominant” trait, which means if a dog has the gene, the short legs are likely to show up.

Chondrodystrophy (CDDY):

  • What It Does: Also gives dogs short legs, but there’s a twist. CDDY comes with something extra – a problem with the cushioning discs between the bones in the dog’s back. These discs can start to break down way too early (this is called IVDD), and they might even slip out of place (herniate). This is a big deal and can be painful.
  • How It’s Passed On: It’s also “autosomal dominant” for the disc disease part, meaning if the gene’s there, the problem’s likely to show up. For the short legs, it’s “semi-dominant,” which means it might not always cause the short legs but can still influence it.

So, if you’re looking at a short-legged doggie, you might think CDPA and CDDY are the same. But remember, CDPA is just about short legs (and it’s actually normal in breeds like Corgis), while CDDY also includes those pesky back problems. And they’re both passed on in a dominant way, but with some variations in how they show up in a pup.

Characteristics of Dwarf German Shepherd

What Does a German Shepherd with Dwarfism Look Like?

The different causes of Dwarfism in German Shepherds is what massively impacts what these dogs look like. Dogs with chondrodysplasia or chondrodystrophy look like normal German shepherds, but they may just have shorter legs (or perhaps a shorter back). Meanwhile, dogs with pituitary dwarfism look stunted and foxlike, with patchy or thin hair.

We will use three YouTube videos to get an idea of what the different types of dwarf GSDs may look like.

In the video, we see a German Shepherd Puppy called Ranger that has pituitary dwarfism (note that Ranger has a much fuller coat than these dogs often have):

The German Shepherd Puppy Will Never Grow Up | The Dodo Little But Fierce

In the next video, we can see a video of a GSD with a different kind of abnormality that gives him a very short back:

Finally, in the next video we see the extremely rare Mikeygus, a German Shepherd with Chondrodystrophy or chondroplasia, making him look a bit like a Corgi mix.

Health Concerns in Dwarf German Shepherds

Common Health Issues

Dwarf German Shepherds are prone to a few health issues that are common in chondrodysplastic dogs. One of the most common issues is Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) or disk herniation. This condition is caused by the compression of the spinal cord due to the degeneration of the intervertebral discs. Symptoms of IVDD include back pain, difficulty walking, and even paralysis. It is important to keep your dog at a healthy weight and avoid activities that put excessive strain on their back to prevent this condition.

Pituitary dwarfism can also lead to other health problems such as pituitary cysts and secondary endocrine issues such as hypothyroidism and Addison’s disease. They will need hormone treatment from early on.

Life Expectancy

German Shepherd Dogs with pituitary dwarfism have shorter life expectancies than normal-sized dogs. On average, they live to be around 4 to 5 years old. On the other hand, German Shepherds with chondrodysplasia also have shorter life expectancies due to their susceptibility to IVDD and other health issues. However, with proper care and management of their health, these dogs can live happy and fulfilling lives, often living up to 8 to 10 years.

Also, see our article on how long German Shepherds live.

It is important for owners of dwarf German Shepherds to be aware of these common health issues and take proactive measures to prevent them. Regular check-ups with a veterinarian and maintaining a healthy weight can go a long way in ensuring the health and longevity of these special dogs.

Care and Maintenance

Dietary Requirements

Dwarf German Shepherds require a well-balanced diet to stay healthy and active. The diet should consist of high-quality proteins, healthy fats, and essential vitamins and minerals. It is recommended to feed them dry kibble made specifically for small breeds, as it is easier for them to chew and digest.

It is important to avoid overfeeding a dwarf German Shepherd, as they are prone to obesity. Feeding them small meals throughout the day instead of one large meal can help prevent overeating. Providing plenty of fresh water is also essential to keep them hydrated and healthy.

Exercise Needs

Dwarf German Shepherds are an active breed and require regular exercise to maintain their physical and mental health. They enjoy going for walks, playing fetch, and other outdoor activities. It is recommended to provide them with at least 30 minutes of exercise per day, but they will benefit from more if possible. However, their exercise needs will really depend on how their dwarfism affects their health and physical ability.

In addition to physical exercise, mental stimulation is also important for a dwarf German Shepherd. Providing them with puzzle toys, training sessions, and other mentally stimulating activities can help keep them engaged and prevent boredom.

Overall, caring for a dwarf German Shepherd requires a commitment to providing them with a healthy diet and regular exercise. With proper care and attention, they can live a long and happy life.

How to Adopt a Dwarf German Shepherd or Other Dog with Special Needs

If you’re looking to adopt a German Shepherd with dwarfism or other special needs, there are some incredible rescue organizations dedicated to providing loving homes for dogs that need extra care and attention. Here’s a bit about three of them:

  1. Heath’s Haven Rescue

    Located in Post Falls, Idaho, Heath’s Haven Rescue focuses on dogs with special medical needs, including dwarfism. They take in dogs from shelters that can’t provide necessary medical care, rehabilitate them, and place them in loving forever homes. Visit their website here to see available dogs and learn more about their mission.

  2. Speak for the Unspoken

    Based in Ohio, Speak for the Unspoken is all about giving a voice to pets with special needs. They specialize in the rescue of animals with disabilities and genetic differences. If you’re interested in adopting a German Shepherd with dwarfism or learning more about their cause, click here.

  3. SNARR Northeast

    Special Needs Animal Rescue & Rehabilitation (SNARR) is devoted to rescuing the toughest cases in the Northeastern part of the U.S. They take in medically complicated dogs, including those with dwarfism, and provide them with the care they need before finding them the perfect home. Check out their website here for more information and available adoptions.

Adopting a dog with special needs can be a rewarding and fulfilling experience. These organizations provide tremendous support to both the animals and their prospective owners, ensuring that each adoption is a great match and that the dogs receive the love and care they deserve.

Health Care Needs & Treatment

Dwarf German Shepherds require regular veterinary check-ups to maintain their health. Due to their unique physical characteristics, they are prone to certain health issues that require special attention. Here are some of the common health care needs and treatments for these dogs:

Pituitary Dwarfism

To manage pituitary dwarfism, regular veterinary check-ups are crucial. The vet may recommend hormone replacement therapy to help the dog grow and develop normally. They may also recommend a special diet and exercise plan to maintain the dog’s health.


Chondrodysplasia is a form of dwarfism that affects the bones and cartilage of the dog. It results in shorter legs and a shorter stature. This condition can also cause joint problems, such as hip dysplasia, and respiratory issues.

To manage chondrodysplasia, regular veterinary check-ups are necessary. The vet may recommend physical therapy and a special diet to maintain the dog’s joint health. Additionally, surgery may be required to correct joint problems. Make sure they stay on life-long canine joint supplements.

Overall, it is important to provide proper healthcare and treatment for Dwarf German Shepherds to ensure they live a healthy and happy life.

Training a Dwarf German Shepherd

Training Techniques

Training a Dwarf German Shepherd is similar to training any other dog. Positive reinforcement techniques work best with this breed. Consistency is key when training a Dwarf German Shepherd, as hormone issues can lead to other problems, like lethargy or behavioral problems. It is important to establish yourself as the leader early on in the training process.

Also see how to potty train German Shepherds.

Using treats and praise to reward good behavior is effective. Punishing bad behavior is not recommended, as it can lead to fear and anxiety in the dog. Instead, redirect their attention to a more appropriate behavior.

Dwarf German Shepherds are intelligent and eager to please, making them quick learners. Training sessions should be short and frequent to keep the dog engaged and motivated.

Socialization Needs

Socialization is crucial for Dwarf German Shepherds. They need to be exposed to different people, animals, and environments to prevent fear and aggression. Early socialization is recommended, starting from a young age.

Introducing the dog to new experiences gradually is important. This can be done through puppy classes, playdates with other dogs, and walks in different environments. Positive interactions with other animals and people will help the dog develop good social skills.

It is important to supervise interactions with other dogs and animals, especially during the early stages of socialization. This will prevent any negative experiences that could impact the dog’s social development.

In conclusion, training and socialization are important aspects of owning a Dwarf German Shepherd. Positive reinforcement techniques and early socialization are key to raising a well-behaved and social dog.

Is There a Miniature German Shepherd?

Many people love the German Shepherd breed for their loyalty, intelligence, and versatility. However, some may prefer a smaller version of this breed, perhaps due to limited living space or a preference for smaller dogs. This has led some to wonder if a miniature German Shepherd exists.

Despite some claims by breeders and sellers, there is no such thing as a true miniature German Shepherd. The breed standard for German Shepherds, established by the American Kennel Club (AKC), specifies a height range of 22-26 inches for males and 20-24 inches for females. Any dog that falls outside of this range cannot be considered a purebred German Shepherd.

Some breeders may attempt to create a smaller version of the breed by breeding smaller German Shepherds together or by crossing them with other small dog breeds. There are also several German Shepherd “designer breeds” like the German Doodle (also see the Doberdoodle). 

However, deliberately breeding smaller dogs can result in significant health problems and is not recognized by the AKC as a legitimate breed.

So, it is important to be cautious when considering purchasing a dog that is marketed as a miniature German Shepherd. These dogs may be the result of unethical breeding practices or may be a mix of several breeds, making it difficult to predict their temperament and health issues.

Perhaps the best smaller German Shepherds are really mixed breeds. Also, be very careful not to confuse a Belgian Malinois or Dutch Shepherd with a German Shepherd. These two dogs may look similar, and a Malinois by look like a miniature German Shepherd, but they are usually far more intense military grade working dogs and they are not good dogs for the average pet parent.

In conclusion, while there is no such thing as a true miniature German Shepherd, there are other small dog breeds that may share some physical and personality traits with the German Shepherd. It is important to do thorough research and choose a reputable breeder or rescue organization when looking to add a new furry friend to your family.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the average lifespan of a dwarf German Shepherd?

The average lifespan of a dwarf German Shepherd with pituitary dwarfism is 4 to 5 years. German Shepherds with chondrodysplasia may live as long as 8 to 10 years, unless their lifespan is cut short by a debilitating complication like IVDD. 

What is the price range for a dwarf German Shepherd?

The price range for a dwarf German Shepherd varies depending on the breeder and location. Ethically, these dogs should not cost much as they are dogs with a disability that need special care and may have high vet bills. Nevertheless, some unscrupulous breeders may try to sell them as miniatures or pocket German Shepherds and ask prices of $1500 or more. Try not to support these breeders, but by all means, do adopt a dwarf if you find it, as they are still rewarding and wonderful pets.

How big do pocket shepherds typically get?

Pocket shepherds, also known as dwarf German Shepherds, typically weigh between 25 to 50 pounds and stand around 12 to 16 inches tall at the shoulder. However their size and weight differs drastically depending on the type and severity of dwarfism.

What is the difference between a dwarf German Shepherd and a miniature German Shepherd?

There is no official breed standard for a miniature German Shepherd. Some breeders may refer to smaller German Shepherds as “miniatures,” while others may refer to them as “dwarfs” or “pocket” German Shepherds. However, it is important to note that a true miniature German Shepherd does not exist, and any dog marketed as such may be a mixed breed or the result of selective breeding.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, the Dwarf German Shepherd is a unique dog that offers many benefits to potential owners. While they may be smaller in size, they make up for it with their loyal and sweet nature. They are highly intelligent and trainable, making them an ideal choice for those looking for a companion that can also serve as a working dog.

One of the most appealing aspects of the Dwarf German Shepherd is its adaptability. They can thrive in a variety of living situations, from apartments to large homes with yards. They are also well-suited for families with children and can be trained to be gentle and patient with them.

It’s important to note that the Dwarf German Shepherd may have some health concerns that may need lifelong treatment. However, with proper care and attention, these issues can be minimized.

Overall, the Dwarf German Shepherd is an excellent choice for those looking for a loyal and intelligent companion that can also serve as a working dog. They are adaptable, trainable, and make great family pets.

Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe


Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.