What Exactly Is a Runt Of a Litter?

By the vague definition, a “runt” simply means the smallest or weakest in a group. When looking for a new furry pal to bring into the family, most people tend to look at a litter of puppies and ignore the cute little runt of the litter. This is usually because they assume the puppy, being smaller and weaker, is less playful and more susceptible to sickness.

In reality, there is no universal definition of what constitutes the runt of the litter. Although a runt is usually physically smaller in size than the rest of their siblings, this does not necessarily mean they are weaker or sicker at the start of life. Also, a puppy being smaller than the rest of his/her brothers and sisters doesn’t necessarily mean they are the runt. This is where the catch comes in. We’ll get to that later. 

Why Does a Runt in the Litter Occur?

Runts are born because of the fact that mama dogs, like most animals, have a Y-shaped uterus. By luck, the puppies in utero who are closest to the blood are able to obtain higher levels of nutrients, while the babies in the mid-section of the uterus receive less. This is why all the puppies in a litter differ in size, at least by a little bit, with the puppy who probably received the least amount of sustenance being the runt. There has never been a recorded case of there being more than one runt in a single litter.

Is Getting a Runt a Good Idea?

Now back to the catch; Because runts are indeed tinier than their puppy siblings, they are unlucky in that they have to live with certain disadvantages. To start, at the beginning of their life, runts struggle to compete with their siblings for milk from mom, due to their small size. This can be dangerous, as the most important time frame for a newborn puppy to drink mama’s milk is within the first 48 hours when colostrum, (the antibody-rich milk for immune strength) content is high.

If the runt fails to get enough, or any colostrum in these first two days, they will have much weaker immune systems and definitely be more susceptible to sickness, or death. Due to this, the caregiver will need to provide the pup with a natural puppy formula that contains naturally occurring microbes. 

Secondly, the runt of the litter is sadly sometimes ignored by the mama dog for natural selection reasons. In other words, she decides that the healthy pups are more important to sustain, as they are more likely to survive. All of this means that runt puppies, being so fragile and more prone to sickness, need extra tender loving care, especially if they do end up coming down with a mild to severe illness. 

Deciding to take a runt of the litter home is not a bad idea if the right steps are taken to ensure they stay healthy. In fact, there are a lot of stories of people bringing home a runt puppy, only to see them thrive later in life and in some instances grow to be huge!

Raising a Runt Puppy

The first step that should be taken when a runt is born is to help them get milk from mom. Since they will have more trouble getting to the milk than the other puppies will, you may need to assist them. In addition, being weaker, once on the nipple, they may not be able to get as much milk out as their siblings. You can help them with this by allowing one of the bigger pups to nurse first, getting the milk to flow, and then gently taking them off to let the runt nurse with ease. Another tip is to place the runt at the lowest teats, closest to the mama dog’s tail, as these produce the most milk.

Secondly, it is important to get the runt a checkup with a veterinarian to make sure they do not have a genetic abnormality or congenital defect that may be preventing them from growing. If all is well, and your little runt is simply underweight, it is crucial to weigh them daily to be sure they are catching up on weight gain. Sometimes, a veterinarian may recommend a supplement to help them along. 

All puppies, especially runts, require lots of warmth during the first weeks of life. It is a good idea to place a warming lamp above their whelping box, which keeps the area situated at around 85 to 90 degrees Farenheight. (Try to look for one that does not emit radiation). Your runt puppy may need serious medical intervention from a vet if they are failing to gain weight or if they feel cool to the touch, even with all warmth provided. 

Lastly, if you keep the runt together with the rest of his puppy family, it is vital to keep a close eye on their interactions, as the bigger, chunkier puppies can easily hurt the smaller runt when playing or roughhousing.

German Shepherd

The Origins of the German Shepherd

The German Shepard dog is a relatively new breed that was developed by a German cavalry officer during the first half of the twentieth century. Max von Stephanitz was president of the Verein far Deutsche Scharferhund S.V. Using a variety of German sheepdogs, von Stephanitz was able to produce a distinct breed in a very brief period of time. In his breeding program, von Stephanitz focused in usefulness and intelligence to create a dog that would have the ability to herd sheep and other animals as well as being able to function in other ears such as military and police work.

The initial appearance of the German Shepherd in the United States is believed to have been in the early 1900s by a female named Queen of Switzerland. However, her offspring suffered multiple defects, which led to a decline in the breed’s popularity. After World War I, the breed declined even further due to its association with Germany. However, following the rise of the German Shepherd Rin-Tin-Tin character with its high intelligence and extreme loyalty, the German Shepherd is now one of America’s favorite companion and working dogs.

The German Shepherd was officially recognized as a breed by the American Kennel Club in 1942. The Kennel Club of the U.K. renamed the breed “Alsatian” in an attempt to disassociate the breed with the war. It was only recently in 2010 that the breed returned to its original name of German Shepherd in the United Kingdom.

According to the American Kennel Club, the German Shepard ranks right at the top at #2 out of 194 for popularity. The black German Shepherd is generally the result of breeding two black German Shepherd or two bi-colored German Shepherds to produce a range of colored puppies.

German Shepherd Medalist

Characteristics of the German Shepherd

German Shepherds are muscular dogs with a well-balanced build. The are slightly longer than they are tall and possess a coat of medium length, erect ears and a tail that is usually carried in a slight curve like that of a saber. German Shepherds are made up of smooth curves rather than sharp angles like greyhounds. The head is proportional to the body and give the dog a strong appearance without looking brutish. Differences between the genders are easy to spot. Males appears masculine without looking coarse or rough. Females appear feminine without looking too delicate or fine. The German Shepherd is an all-around working dog and should be given plenty of opportunities to do so to avoid depression and boredom.

German Shepherds are confident and fearless, making them ideal for dangerous work such as military and police operations. German Shepherds are extremely loyal to their masters and will demonstrate a certain level of aloofness toward anyone not vetted by their owner. When working, the German Shepherd is serious and single-minded and adapts well to new tasks. The breed is also quite skilled at maintaining a steady speed for extended periods of time and is most efficient when moving along at a trot.

While German Shepherds are considered to be aggressive guard dogs, they are not automatically a threatening and vicious breed. They can certainly be trained to protect, but they are also incredibly family-friendly and make devoted members if given love and attention. If properly trained and socialized from a young age, the Black German Shepherd will be equally able to patrol the property and play with the children after school.

German Shepherds are extremely alert and watchful. The y will bark to let you know when something is out of place, even if it is something you did yourself. The people-oriented German Shepherd needs to be given sufficient attention. Otherwise, the dog will become stressed and anxious and may become destructive and disruptive. Because they are so loyal, German Shepherds can have a difficult time accepting strangers. However, once they do, they will remain a friend for the course of their lives.

German Shepherd – Police Buddy

Physical Characteristics of the Ideal German Shepherd

The Head
The head is proportionate compared to the rest of the body and is clean cut. The skull and the muzzle are equal in length while remaining parallel to one another. There will be very little, if any, median furrow on the dog’s forehead.

The Skull
The skull of a German Shepherd is broad with a slight dome. In males, the skull will be wider than it is long. In females, the skull will be slightly narrower it is long. From the front, the skull appears to taper from the ears to the muzzle with slightly rounded cheeks.

The Muzzle
The muzzle of a German Shepherd is long and shaped like a wedge with strong jaws. The muzzle is straight and parallel to the top line of the skull with darkly pigmented and tight lips. The nose of a show dog will be either black or self-colored in liver or blue dogs, although a snow nose is also acceptable. German Shepherds also come with zero nose pigment in some varieties.

The Ears
The ears of a German Shepherd are erect and pointed, shaped like triangles. The ears are a sign of the dog’s level of alertness. At high alert, the dog will have its ears pointed forward and will appear to be intently watching the immediate area.

The Neck
The neck of the German Shepherd is long and very muscular. The head tends to be set a little higher than the shoulders, particularly when the dog is moving.

The Fore- and Hindquarters
The forequarters and hindquarters of a German Shepherd are muscular and contribute greatly to its characteristic effortless movement. The foot pads are thick and hard with strong claws.

The Coat
The coat of a German Shepherd is double layered. The outer coat lies close to the body and tends to have a harsh texture while remaining dense and straight, although some long-haired varieties may have a slight wave to their coats. The undercoat is short and fine and very dense to provide warmth in cold weather. The coat of a German Shepherd allows the dog to withstand poor weather conditions with relative ease and comfort.

Facts and Figures

Aside from its solid black coat, the Black German Shepherd is no different than the “classic” German Shepherd.

Fact chart for Black German Shepherds

Breed type Herding
Purpose Working and companion dog
SizeMales: 24 to 26 inches
Females: 22 to 24 inches
Weight Males: 65 to 90 pounds
Females: 50 – 75 pounds
LifespanNine to 13 years
TemperamentActive, loyal, courageous, intelligent, obedient, stable
Daily exercise requirements Very high – 60+ minutes per day
Activity level High
Daily food consumption 20 calories per pound of body weight
Known health issues Hip dysplasia, spinal cord disease, osteoarthritis and back stiffness

Caring for a German Shepherd

Meals and Diet

German Shepherd puppies should be fed four times a day. This spacing out of food is especially important for large dog breeds, as their stomachs are more prone to bloating, a condition that is usually fatal. At around six months, the meals can be reduced to two or three times a day. Most adult German Shepherds will be okay with two meals a day.

Some manufacturers have designed foods specifically for large breeds. Fully mature large-breed dogs generally require 1.19 grams of protein and 0.59 grams of fat per pound of body weight. Carbs are not as important to the German Shepherd as these but are still necessary in moderate portions to ensure a balanced diet. Meat should be listed as the one of the top three – if not the first – ingredient in food for a German Shepherd.

Large-breed dogs use around 20 calories per pound of body weight per day. As an example, a German Shepherd weighing 80 pounds will need approximately 1600 calories a day. These guidelines are a good way to determine what your dog needs.

German Shepherd Puppers


Puppy: 2,200 to 3,000 calories
Adult: 1,300 to 1,800 calories


Puppy: 1,700 to 2,500 calories
Adult: 1,000 to 1,500 calories

Most dog food manufacturers will include a feeding guideline on their products to help you determine the correct amounts based on your dog’s target weight. You should be able to see a clearly defined waistline in a healthy dog with minimal rib visibility. Any concerns should be brought to the immediate attention of the veterinarian.


To help ensure that your German Shepherd is well rounded in his role as protector and family dog, you will need to socialize him from the start. Introduce the puppy to people of all shapes, sizes and colors in various types of clothing. Let the puppy experience the world it will be living it with cars and loud machinery, crying babies, noisy kitchens and backyard games. Training should include lots of positive reinforcement and rewards to keep the dog from getting depressed.


German Shepherds shed twice a year, with minimal shedding in between. Dogs with short to medium length coats can probably get by with brushing twice a week. Dogs with longer coats will require daily brushing to avoid knots and tangles.

Double coated breeds such as the German Shepherd need to be given a bath and a dry grooming around two to three times a year. Over-bathing a dog with a double coat will cause the fur to dry out and become dull and brittle. A professional groomer can help you determine the best treatment schedule for your German Shepherd. Dogs with skin problems usually require more frequent baths and might also need medicated shampoos. Grooming at a young age is another way to accustom a puppy to being handled and touched.

Regular grooming of your pet can also help you keep an eye on any skin abnormalities that can develop between appointments. Changes such as bad odor or increased dander should be taken seriously. Animals with long coats are more prone to skin irritation when the fur is clipped if they are not brushed on a daily basis. They are also more prone to fly strike and maggot infestation that can hide under matted fur. Flies and maggots can further damage the skin and cause wounds, which can them become infected. Infections have the potential to lead to sepsis and death if not caught in time. Certain skin conditions should be brought to the attention of a certified veterinary dermatologist.

Ear Care

You will need to check the ears of your German Shepherd on a daily basis. Because the ears sit on the tops of their heads, they tend to collect dust and debris. When cleaning your Black German Shepherd’s ears, consider saturating a cotton ball with an ear cleanser that is approved by your vet. Gently place the cotton ball into the ear and massage the area to allow the cleaner to travel along the ear canal. An additional cotton ball can be used after the dog shakes its head to remove any excess fluid. Q-tips are strongly discouraged against, as they can damage the ear canal.

A sign of ear problems is usually manifested by scratching or rubbing of the ears. This is often associated with redness, a foul odor and discharge. Dogs that swim a lot are more prone to ear problems that those that don’t and should be given special attention to ensure that minor issues do not devolve into something worse.

Known Likely Health Problems

There are several health problems that the German Shepherd is prone to.

Hip Dysplasia

Hip dysplasia takes place when the hips fail to develop normally. The weakened hips will deteriorate and may eventually become arthritic. The condition can range from mild to debilitating and is common among large breeds due to their rapid growth as puppies. The condition can generally be managed through therapy and medications. In extreme circumstances, surgery may be required.


Canine degenerative radiculomyelopathy (CDRM) is more currently known as canine degenerative myelopathy (CDM). This condition is a disease of the spinal cord where the nerve cells cease working correctly. The condition results in paralysis of the hind legs.

Cauda Equina Syndrome

Cauda Equina syndrome is another back problem that causes compression of the nerves. The condition results in lameness, stiffness, and pain in the back, hips and tail areas. Should you choose to breed, always check the hip score of the sire and the bitch before the breeding process. Those with a high score should not be bred. Annual vet checkups and vaccinations will also help keep certain health conditions from forming or progressing to a point of no return.


Once they have accepted you as a friend, a German Shepherd will be loyal to you for life. The Black German Shepherd is a classic example of “man’s best friend” and will give you years of delight if properly cared for and loved.