Also known as the Alsatian, the Alsatian wolf dog, the GSD, and the Deutscher Schäferhund, the German Shepherd is a well-rounded dog. Agile, intelligent, muscular, and driven, this large breed is a great companion and hard worker.
- The third most intelligent breed of dog
- An energetic and agile breed
- A dog with a high prey drive
- A heavy shedder
- A breed frequently relied on by police and other working professionals
- The second most popular breed after the Labrador Retriever
The History of the German Shepherd
Derived from farming and herding dogs, the German Shepherd has long been a companion and servant to man. Centuries of selective breeding has refined this versatile breed to become a first choice among canine handling professionals as well as pet owners.
In early years, the German Shepherd more accurately resembled the Dutch Shepherd of today. A sleek and fast-moving dog, it was prized for its protective nature and ability to herd. Breeding these dogs with other working dogs and sheep-dogs led to the dog we recognize today as the German Shepherd. This shift in physical appearance was down to Max von Stephanitz, a German ex-cavalry captain who pioneered an extensive breeding program.
After the end of World War I, the German Shepherd became known as the “Alsatian” by many international breeding clubs. This new name referred to the Alsace region of France that borders Germany where these dogs were also commonly used. The change in name resulted from the anti-German sentiment of the time. It wasn’t until 1977 that protests from dog lovers resulted in the return of the German Shepherd name.
Appearance and Vital Stats
The German Shepherd is a member of the herding group. The most popular breed in the herding group, the shepherd is also the second most popular dog breed in the world! Bred for their intelligence as well as their athletic ability, these well-rounded dogs excel in all fields.
Originally bred as a guardian of sheep, the German Shepherd began as a much slenderer dog built for agility. Once the true intelligence of the breed was discovered, however, the German Shepherd became more representative of the dog we know today. The physical build became more distinctive and the musculature more unique.
The German Shepherd weighs between 75 to 95lbs and stands between 1’10” to 2’2” at the shoulder. Although considered to be a large breed, these dogs should also maintain a slender and athletic build.
Male German Shepherds are almost always heavier than females.
The German Shepherd dog has a life span of 10 to 14 years. Some have been known to live longer with the longest living dog reaching 24-years-old!
The German Shepherd coat is a medium length double coat, although some do develop a longhaired coat. The coat is thick and straight, although it can have a slightly wavy appearance. The back of the hocks and the tail of this breed are heavily feathered.
There are eleven standard colors for the German Shepherd coat – bi-color, black, black and cream, black and red, black and silver, black and tan, blue, gray, liver, sable, and white.
The German Shepherd tail is thick and bushy and is held low against the back hocks of the dog – although not between the legs. The thick tail may feel wiry to the touch or it may simply have a “kink” to the texture.
The ears of the German Shepherd are classically erect and come to a rather sharp point. Although the adult German Shepherd’s ears are erect, the younger puppy has folded over ears. Some owners choose to tape their dog’s ears to encourage them to stand erect, but at around 5 months, most puppies’ ears stand up on their own. It is not unusual, however, for a puppy to have folded ears or one folded and one erect ear into adulthood.
An exceptionally intelligent dog, the German Shepherd is easily trained by an experienced dog owner. This is not the ideal dog for a novice, however, since their intelligence can lead to their dominating their owner and their training.
It is the German Shepherd’s ease of training and desire to learn that makes it an ideal candidate for police work.
A very playful breed, the German Shepherd has energy to spare. While they make great family dogs, interaction with children needs monitoring to prevent over-exuberance or mouthing behavior.
While the German Shepherd can adjust to apartment life if necessary, it is not the ideal apartment breed. Energetic and large, these dogs also have a tendency towards barking and boredom if not given adequate exercise. This makes for very unhappy apartment neighbors.
Compatibility with Children and Pets
The German Shepherd can be the ideal companion for a family with children, but only if the family has dog handling experience. Without proper training and reinforcement of training, the German Shepherd can be too much for young children. Their energy and size can mean frequently knocking over children and their intensity can mean not knowing when to stop.
This is a suspicious breed that can be selective of its canine companions depending on their socialization during puppyhood. The high prey drive of this herding dog also doesn’t make it a particularly good companion for smaller pets.
A Note About the German Shepherd as a “Dangerous Dog”
In years past, the German Shepherd has been labeled as a dangerous dog breed – a label used these days for pit-bull breeds. This labeling of the German Shepherd arises from multiple factors:
- Overreporting of German Shepherd bite incidences compared to other dog breed biting incidences.
- Dog breed fads that led to more homes owning German Shepherds.
- German Shepherds being owned by “bad owners” who buy the breed for their size and prey drive
- Ownership of German Shepherds as a “fad breed” without adequate knowledge of how to care for and train such an active breed.
Are German Shepherds truly more dangerous than any other breed of dog? Not necessarily. A dog’s aggression depends on the individual dog in question. That said, a German Shepherd that isn’t trained well, isn’t socialized, and isn’t care for well is certainly going to do more damage in a bite incident than a similarly raised chihuahua. So, yes, a German Shepherd can be a dangerous dog, but in similar circumstances, any other large breed dog could be just as dangerous.
A healthy German Shepherd raised in a healthy environment where they are mentally and physically stimulated is no more dangerous than any other dog.
Obesity is not a real problem for German Shepherd simply due to their high energy level. Like any dog, however, a lack of exercise and overfeeding can contribute to weight problems.
German Shepherds are quite rapidly growing dogs during their first year, so unlike other puppies which usually eat puppy formula food until 12 months, the German Shepherd puppy usually only eats puppy food until 6 months. Earlier introduction of adult food helps to slow down their rapid growth and prevent the development of health conditions associated with accelerated growth rate.
German Shepherds are heavy shedders, something that many dog owners underestimate when choosing the breed. Fortunately, they are easily groomed. A thorough brushing two or three times a week will promote coat health and cut down on shedding too.
Exercise is not just necessary for this breed, it’s mandatory. Two to three walks daily and socialization with doggy daycare or dog parks on weekends are all necessary for a happy dog.
It is important not to put too much strain on a German Shepherd puppy’s joints through exercise. Until they reach around two years old when joints and bones are developed fully, avoid intense exercise on hard surfaces.
Mental stimulation is equally as important for this working breed of dog. Their incredible intelligence means that when this dog gets bored, they know how to get into trouble! Good ways to provide this stimulation include interactive toys and exercise activities like agility work.
The extensive breeding patterns that contributed to this breed, unfortunately, led to a prevalence of many health conditions. Some of the most common ailments in these dogs include hip dysplasia, degenerative myelopathy, and arthritis. German Shepherds also suffer from an increased risk of Von Willebrand disease and exocrine pancreatic insufficiency.
Von Willebrand Disease
Von Willebrand factor is an adhesive factor in the blood that helps to bind blood platelets and clot small blood vessel injuries. Dogs with Von Willebrand disease have a deficiency of this factor that is transmitted by carrying parents. Von Willebrand disease is the most commonly seen blood disorder in dogs and is compared to hemophilia in humans. There are two forms of Von Willebrand’s disease – mild and severe. Dogs with milder forms of this disease can live a healthy life but do require blood transfusions to provide the blood factor lacking. Additionally, these dogs require special care during surgical procedures. More severe cases of Von Willebrand’s disease require regular monitoring and lifestyle changes.
Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency
Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency is a condition where a dog’s pancreas fails to produce enough of the necessary pancreatic digestive enzymes. Dogs with this insufficiency often experience gastrointestinal difficulties and frequently exhibit weight loss and even symptoms of malnutrition. Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency is treated with the supplementation of pancreatic enzymes. It is believed that exocrine pancreatic insufficiency is a hereditary in the German Shepherd breed.
Breeds similar to the German shepherd are numerous and they all derive from the same herding and guardian stock dogs throughout history.
The Belgian Shepherd originates from Belgium versus Germany, is slightly taller, and has a longer lifespan. This dog also has a rougher coat and more black coloring than the German Shepherd.
The King Shepherd originates from the United States and is not a breed recognized by the AKC at this time. A much taller dog than the German Shepherd, the King Shepherd has longer rougher textured hair and always has a sable color to their coat.
The Dutch Shepherd, unlike the German Shepherd, hails from the Netherlands. Although these two breeds are comparable in height, the Dutch Shepherd is much lighter weight and has a longer lifespan. The Dutch Shepherd coat is darker than most of the German Shepherd coats, but they are not recognized by the AKC.
The Shiloh Shepherd originates from the U.S. and is considerably taller than the German Shepherd. The Shiloh is also a much heavier breed, yet it tends to have a longer lifespan. The coloration of the Shiloh breed is much more diverse; however, this is not a breed that is recognized by the AKC or CKC.
The Bohemian Shepherd’s history lies in the Czech Republic. This is a smaller and much lighter breed of shepherd with a thicker almost woolen coat. The Bohemian Shepherd is not recognized by most of the global canine clubs.
Belgian Tervuren Shepherd
The Belgian Tervuren Shepherd is another Belgian shepherd breed. Slightly shorter and lighter than the German Shepherd, the Tervuren has a longer lifespan and a richer brown coat color.
Although often confused, the Belgian Malinois coat is exceptionally short in comparison to that of the German Shepherd. Similar in size, the Malinois, however, is a lighter and more agile of the two breeds. Both the Malinois and Shepherd have similar life expectancies.