The German Shepherd is one of the most beloved dog types in the world today. A working breed with intelligence, stamina, and tenacity to spare, the German Shepherd excels at any pursuit he applies himself to. A dog breed dedicated to those he loves most, the GSD readily displays his bravery when called upon to do so. The breed’s versatility is one of its greatest attributes.
The German Shepherd is sometimes referred to as an Alsatian or simply a GSD (German Shepherd Dog). True to his roots as a working and herding dog, the German Shepherd is equally at home as a service or therapy dog, at work for the police or military, herding livestock, search and rescue, scent detection, obedience, Rally, agility, and conformation. But most importantly, GSDs make wonderful family pets.
If you’re looking for a new canine pal that loves life in a busy family, the German Shepherd may be the perfect breed for you. Read on to learn more about this confident and courageous canine.
Height: Males=24 to 26 inches
Females=22 to 24 inches
Weight: Males=65 to 90 pounds
Females=50 to 70 pounds
Life Span:7 to 10 years
Breed Size: Large
Best Suited To: Families with children, active families
Personality: Intelligent, affectionate, loving, loyal, athletic, brave, self-assured
Intelligence: Very intelligent
Shedding: Sheds profusely and blows coat twice per year
Exercise: Vigorous daily exercise required
Energy: Moderate to high
Barking: Not much of a barker
Drooling: Not prone to drooling
AKC/CKC Group: Herding group
Colors: Black, black and cream, black and red, black and silver, black and tan, blue, grey, liver, sable, white, and bi-color
Coat Types: Medium length double coat
German Shepherd Overview
A dog breed known by several different names including the Alsatian and the GSD, the German Shepherd consistently ranks in the top ten dog breeds not only in the United States but also throughout the world. The German Shepherd’s rise in popularity can partially be attributed to a puppy brought to the United States from a decimated French kennel after World War I. Upon arrival in the US, the puppy was trained by his owner, Corporal Lee Duncan, and became the movie star we know of today as Rin Tin Tin. Rin Tin Tin had a large following and received up to 10,000 fan letters on a weekly basis.
The German Shepherd is well known for his versatility. The breed excels as a guide dog for the blind, assisting with hunting down criminals and sniffing out drugs, working in the military, comforting the sick, and herding livestock. Often found in the role of hero, the GSD played a vital part in the rescue efforts at the World Trade Center.
Though the German Shepherd makes for an excellent companion, they are not the right fit for every family. A dog breed developed to herd livestock, the German Shepherd is a high drive dog with energy that must be expended productively each day. Failure to provide sufficient activity for this breed can lead to a dog with nuisance behaviors such as barking, chewing, and general destruction.
German Shepherds do not trust outsiders readily. They make for excellent guardians of the home; however, it is important to note that this breed will take some time to warm up to new friends. Early socialization is key to helping the German Shepherd see new people as friends and not foes.
German Shepherds come from two very different lines: American and German. Experts in the breed feel that American breeders favor producing dogs that are better suited to the show ring while German breeders prioritize working ability in their dogs. Some believe American German Shepherds are softer natured; however, proponents of German bred Shepherds feel the American GSD can no longer effectively fulfill his role as a working dog and may also be more susceptible to problems like separation anxiety.
Interestingly enough, GSDs bred in their native Germany are required to pass several different tests as proof of the physical and mental characteristics the ideal German Shepherd should possess. Important hallmarks of the German-bred GSD are high drive, exuberant energy levels, and strong work ethic.
Weighing between 50 and 90 pounds and standing from 22 to 26 inches at the shoulder, the German Shepherd is a sturdy dog of impressive musculature and strength. The breed is alert by nature and possesses immense reserves of energy, traits that make this dog an excellent herder.
The ideal GSD should be longer through the body than he is tall, and his chest should be quite deep. The ears of this breed are upright, and his expression is that of alert curiousness. The German Shepherd is somewhat stocky but should never have an appearance of coarseness. Great care should be taken to keep this flexible working breed in excellent shape. When in motion, the German Shepherd’s topline displays a slight slope; however, the breed should never have a roached (rounded) back. Dogs that are roached are not suitable to be sold as working dogs.
The German Shepherd’s ideal coat is comprised of two layers. The undercoat should be voluminous and thick, and the topcoat should be shorter and a little coarser to the touch. The GSD will blow his coat twice yearly in preparation for the more extreme weather seasons such as winter and summer. During these times, the dog’s amount of undercoat will adapt to the weather conditions, becoming thinner or thicker as needed. For GSDs that spend the majority of their time outdoors, their undercoat will also differ from dogs that primarily reside in their homes.
Though German Shepherds come in a number of different colors, this is one breed that is not (and should not be) available in white.
Because the German Shepherd was originally intended to function as a working dog, the breed was developed to possess a high energy level, giving him the stamina required for long hours herding livestock or sheep. Potential owners must realize that this energy must be productively channeled if nuisance behaviors are to be prevented.
The German Shepherd loves to learn and is eager to please those he loves most. This innate desire can be engaged through regular training exercises that help to satisfy this intelligent dog’s mind and body. The breed possesses a natural curiosity which uniquely qualifies him for such tasks as home guardianship and search and rescue work.
A dog known for his immense courage, the German Shepherd is bold but not aggressive. He is confident yet aloof and sometimes wary. The breed is incredibly intelligent yet chooses to be a willing partner and companion to his family. This dog type is not fond of strangers but isn’t afraid of them and does not approach people with shyness.
The German Shepherd is a large breed dog with energy to spare. Because of this, the breed is not well suited to life in an apartment. The ideal living situation for this dog type is a home with a fully fenced in yard. However, even with a secure yard to run and play in, the German Shepherd will still need daily walks to help productively expend his energy.
The German Shepherd is a highly trainable dog. Because this breed bonds very deeply with his family, he is an eager and willing training partner. Able to pick up new skills with ease, all it takes is some tasty treats and lots of praise for this dog type to be motivated to learn.
Not particularly prone to wandering, it is still important to keep the GSD in a securely fenced yard. Since the GSD is a herding dog, the temptation to corral other animals may be too strong, resulting in escape attempts.
Though the German Shepherd can thrive in a multi-pet home, this is not always the case. For best results, it is recommended that a German Shepherd be introduced to a multi-pet home while still a puppy. Introductions should take place on neutral territory to prevent the established household pets from becoming territorial.
German Shepherds love children and are gentle, protective, and patient with them. However, all children should be taught to respect the GSD’s boundaries and to treat them with love and care. All interactions between dogs and children should be carefully supervised for the safety of both parties.
The German Shepherd’s coat is relatively low maintenance. To keep the GSD’s coat in good condition is recommended that he be brushed three to four times per week. Though the GSD is a big shedder, frequent brushing helps to keep shed hair in the home to a minimum. This shedding will increase just before winter and summer when the dog blows his coat.
The GSD should be bathed on an as needed basis. Typically, a bath every few months is all that is required to keep the German Shepherd’s skin and coat looking and smelling its very best. Avoid bathing too frequently as this can cause the skin to become dry and irritated.
Nail trims once per week will ensure the GSD’s feet remain in good health. It is also recommended that the German Shepherd’s teeth be brushed several times per week.
The German Shepherd thrives when allowed to live a very active lifestyle. An hour of vigorous exercise per day is recommended. This hour can be broken up into several shorter periods or done all at once. There are many different activities that can satisfy this dog type’s need for activity. These including hiking, running, walking, swimming, retrieval work, and more. The GSD also excels at many dog performance sports including scent detection, tracking, agility, obedience, and Rally.
Like most dogs, the German Shepherd enjoys a good meal. All meals should be measured and all treats monitored to prevent this active working dog from becoming overweight.
German Shepherd Health
All dog breeds are predisposed to certain genetic conditions. Thankfully, through careful health testing of breeding dogs, it is possible to limit and even possibly eliminate the transmission of some of the most commonly seen problems in some breeds. The main problems that can affect the German Shepherd include:
- Hip dysplasia
- Elbow dysplasia
- Degenerative myelopathy
- Gastric dilatation volvulus (bloat)
- Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency
Reputable breeders conduct the appropriate physical and DNA tests on their dogs prior to any matings to ensure genetic illness is not knowingly passed from generation to generation.
A breed that traces its roots to Germany and the year 1899, the German Shepherd was developed by Captain Max von Stephanitz. Captain von Stephanitz served in the German army and made it his mission to create a herding dog of superior ability and intelligence.
Prior to Captain von Stephanitz’s work, farmers in the region made use of dogs for the herding and protection of their livestock. When the Captain retired from the military, he applied himself to the development of this ideal herding dog. Through careful study of the breeding trends and records of the British, he was able to glean important findings that would greatly aid him in his efforts.
In 1899, the Captain attended a dog show and noticed an attractive dog that closely resembled a wolf. Liking what he saw, he purchased the dog and renamed him from Hektor Linksrhei to Horand v Grafeth. Because the need for herding dogs was beginning to diminish at this time, the Captain focused his efforts on the development of a working dog that would be well suited to many different types of activities. These early dogs of the Captain’s breeding were put to the test by the German military. It was at this time that the German Shepherd found employment as a messenger, guardian, rescuer, and Red Cross dog.
The German Shepherd gained popularity in America when Allied troops began to import them for family pets. It is from this practice that Hollywood gained Rin Tin Tin, a famed canine actor that starred in 26 feature films. Rin Tin Tin greatly increased the breed’s profile in the United States, helping them to become one of the most popular breeds in the country.
The Captain continued breeding German Shepherds, assisting with the breed’s development. By 1922, he was seeing some traits in the breed that caused him distress. Some of the German Shepherds he encountered displayed bad temperaments and early tooth decay. To help revert from the current negative trends to more stable temperaments and good oral health, the Captain instituted a series of testing that all dogs must pass prior to being used in a breeding program. In this way, he was able to help control the direction in which future generations of the breed proceeded. Among the tests breeding dogs were required to pass include intelligence, athleticism, health, and temperament.
However, this system of rigorous testing was not utilized in the United States. During this time, many claim that American breeders sought to produce dogs that had the traits judges favored in the show ring. The primary traits these breeders tried to improve on and preserve were appearance and gait.
Following World War II, dramatic differences existed between German and American-bred GSDs. Looking for dogs better suited for work, the American military brought GSDs over from Germany, feeling that American born and bred German Shepherds were not performing well on required tests and also suffered from many genetic health problems. Today, there is little agreement between the breeders of the two distinct lines of GSDs: the American and the German.
Fun Facts About the German Shepherd
- The very first guide dog for the blind was a German Shepherd.
- The popular canine sport Schutzhund, an activity that tests the stability of a dog’s temperament, was developed specifically for the German Shepherd.
- The German Shepherd has been rated the second most popular dog breed in the United States.
- The American Kennel Club recognizes 11 different colors for the German Shepherd Dog.
- The German Shepherd Dog should never be white.
- The German Shepherd is believed to be the third most intelligent dog breed in the world.
- There are many different dog breeds that trace their roots to the German Shepherd. These include the King Shepherd, the Shiloh Shepherd, the Berger Blanc Suisse, and the East-European Shepherd.