Charlie is a DDR German Shepherd based in Canada.
The first thing you’ll notice about Charlie is his striking black coat.
This black shepherd is in good hands given his mom Camilla is in her fourth year at veterinarian school.
With a following of over 125,000 people, Charlie and Camilla are advocates of the German Shepherd breed and responsible dog ownership.
We spoke to Camilla to learn more about Charlie, the German Shepherd breed and her veterinarian studies and work.
1) How did you first hear about the “DDR” German Shepherd?
Within the German Shepherd breed there are multiple lineages that were bred for a specific purpose and each has their own set of unique traits. When I was doing my research into getting a German Shepherd, I looked into each lineage to make sure I would make the choice that suits me and my lifestyle the best. The DDR German Shepherd was a very carefully bred line of German Shepherds whose main purpose was to serve in the military and border police of the Deutsche Demokratische Republik after WWII – they tend to excel in schutzhund, police work, search and rescue and many other working disciplines.
2) What attracted you to the German Shepherd breed?
My great grandfather used to train German Shepherds for the Belgian police force, so I have always been fascinated with the breed. What attracts me to the breed is their willingness to work, their loyalty, athleticism, and their intelligence.
3) Can you give us an insight into Charlie’s personality?
Charlie is such a goofy dog – he loves to be the center of attention and is constantly coming up with funny things to do to get everyone’s eyes centered on him! He has a healthy amount of confidence, a good off switch and loves being around people!
4) How did you find training Charlie?
Training Charlie has been both extremely rewarding and challenging at the same time: on one hand he is so eager to work and learn, and on the other hand he is so smart that he often tries to outsmart me. There are still days where his selective hearing takes over, where it has taken countless hours of work for him to learn to direct his focus on me despite distractions. The biggest struggle I have had with Charlie is his prey drive around my cats – he would chase them and be extremely rough with them. There were days where I had to leash him to me in our home to safely practice recall and impulse control. Luckily, the hard work has paid off and he has made immense improvements!
5) Does Charlie require a lot of mental and physical stimulation?
Charlie requires a lot of mental and physical stimulation. I incorporate his training into our daily activities and routine, and he gets multiple hours of exercise scattered throughout the day! We are lucky that Charlie’s best friend Skye lives with us – she is my roommate’s 2-year-old Border Collie. Charlie and Skye keep each other entertained mentally and physically throughout the day.
6) What are some of the health problems that potential German Shepherd owners should be aware of?
There are quite a few health problems that German Shepherd owners should be aware of, many of which are believed to have an inherited basis or are conditions with a predilection for the breed. Examples include Degenerative Myelopathy, Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency, Hip and Elbow Dysplasia, Pannus and Subaortic Stenosis. Environmental allergies and dietary sensitivities are also relatively common in the breed. The Canine Inherited Disorders Database is a great and reputable resource for dog owners that want to educate themselves more on common genetic disorders in dog breeds and you can read more here. I encourage anyone looking to get a German Shepherd to seek out reputable breeders that do extensive health testing on their dogs to reduce the risk of health issues in their future puppy.
7) What inspired you to go to veterinary school? How has the experience been so far?
I have wanted to be a veterinarian since I was 4 years old, I have always been utterly obsessed with animals! The reason I wanted to become a veterinarian is so that I could help animals in need – as a child I always felt so helpless if an animal was in pain, now I have the knowledge and ability to help and save lives. Veterinary school so far has been an amazing experience, despite the challenges and stress that come with completing a doctorate degree.
8) Why is pet insurance important for GSD owners or any dog owners?
Pet Insurance for any dog breed is of importance, especially in a breed like the German Shepherd where common health problems are often very expensive and, in many cases, require surgery, lifelong treatment and/or supportive care. In my opinion, the security of knowing that my dog’s health care is covered is worth the small monthly investment. I always like to put the cost of insurance into perspective for clients: Charlie’s monthly insurance cost amounts to the same as me stopping for a drive-through coffee on my way into school every day of the work week – making coffee at home instead is a small sacrifice to make to make sure Charlie’s health is covered.
9) In your experience with Charlie, are German Shepherds fussy eaters?
Yes, they can be quite fussy eaters in comparison to other breeds haha. Charlie often needs to work up an appetite, but his fussiness is more related to texture. Charlie is very awkward about certain textures. To give you an example: he loves the smell and taste of bananas, but the texture is so bizarre to him that it takes him a solid 20 minutes to eat a small piece and he often gives up trying to eat it all together.
10) What are some of the misconceptions surrounding German Shepherds that frustrate you as a GSD owner?
One of the biggest misconceptions that frustrates me as a GSD owner is the assumption that due to the breed’s intelligence, you get a well-trained/behaved dog when you pick up a GSD puppy. While yes the breed is intelligent, they need a substantial amount of training and commitment put into them to be respectful and well-trained dogs. Another misconception that I have received a lot of inquiries about over social media is people thinking that getting a GSD automatically gets them a good guard dog. While yes it may be more instinctive to guard for a GSD compared to other breeds, protection is a skill that should be trained properly and by a professional. Another misconception about the breed that is very frustrating is the assumption that German Shepherds are aggressive – many landlords will not rent out to Shepherd owners, and some local campgrounds in our area have breed restrictions where GSDs are prohibited.
11) Do you think German Shepherds make suitable family pets?
This is a tricky question because in my opinion this really depends on the family. They are a breed that requires a lot of training, consistency, and stimulation so they could make a suitable family pet for a very active family that is committed to making sure their dog’s physical and mental needs are always met. However when I think of a family pet, the German Shepherd isn’t the first breed that comes to mind – as mentioned above, it would require a particular type of family to be a good fit.
12) Would you recommend a German Shepherd for a first-time dog owner?
Again, in my opinion this really depends on the owner. I do believe that some general dog sense is needed to be able to properly read and understand your dog’s body language to then adjust your training/approach to certain challenges accordingly. I have grown up with dogs my entire life and would consider myself an experienced dog person, but getting Charlie was still a learning curve for me. In the vast majority of cases I would lean more towards German Shepherds not being a great first-time dog, however I have no doubt that a committed first-time dog owner who does their research could make it work.
13) Why did you decide to start a social media presence for Charlie?
I started Charlie’s Instagram account so that I would not spam my family and friends on my personal account with constant puppy pictures and videos. It has now become a platform where I have some of my best memories of Charlie saved in one spot for me to look back on. I never expected Charlie to gain so much popularity so quickly!
14) What advice would you give to someone looking to start an Instagram for their dog?
The best advice I can give is to post content that you genuinely enjoy putting together – it is a lot of work to successfully run an Instagram account, and so you really have to enjoy the process for it to be worth the effort you are putting into it. Be genuine, post good quality content, do not focus on numbers, and try to engage with your followers as much as you can!
15) What is your favourite social media post/memory with Charlie?
I would have to say my favourite posts/memories are of those spending time out in nature – we have a lot of fields and trails close to our home where we can go on very long hikes, I know that I will miss these hikes a lot once I finish my degree and move back home. I particularly like re-watching my stories and posts of our winter hikes in the snow!
16) What are the regular questions or comments you get about Charlie in person or online?
Online, I think the most common question I get asked is how I keep Charlie’s coat looking so immaculate! I wish I had a straightforward answer to that, but the truth is that other than having him on a good quality diet, engaging in a regular brushing routine and genetics, there really isn’t much more to it. I also get asked about his diet a lot. In person, the most asked question is what breed he is!
17) What other German Shepherd accounts would you recommend to our readers?
Gosh, there are so many amazing German Shepherd accounts out there! Some of my favourite accounts include (there are so many more that I haven’t listed here):
18) What advice would you give to yourself if you could go back to when you started an Instagram page for Charlie?
My advice would be to take more puppy videos!! I really didn’t record very many puppy videos, and that is a big regret of mine. The more puppy videos, the better!! In general, I wish I had started posting videos sooner.
Finally, could you give us some of the pros and cons of German Shepherds in your experience?
• Pros: I absolutely love how active and fun the breed is, while still having a good off-switch. I love having my own personal shadow – where I go, Charlie goes. Their intelligence and willingness to work makes them wonderful prospects for dog sports and activities.
• Cons: German Shepherds can be prone to a variety of health and behavioural problems and finding reputable breeders that do extensive health and temperament testing can be difficult. German Shepherds shed A LOT – there’s a saying that goes “GSDs shed twice a year, for 6 months each time”! German Shepherds are a very vocal breed, barking has been something we are still working on. Speaking from my own personal experience, Charlie requires quite some space with a backyard and so my living costs increased a lot in order to provide that for him!