Breed group: Herding Group
HistoryThe German Shepherd Dog (GSD) is a descendent of various German herding dogs, originally bred to herd sheep. In the late 1800s, an ex-German cavalry officer and former student of the Berlin Veterinary College named Max von Stephanitz set out to develop the ideal German herder. He was most drawn to shepherds with a wolf-like appearance, such as those equipped perky ears and strong upper bodies. To refine the breed, Von Stephanitz cross-bred dogs from northern and central districts and became the first official GSD breeder. He co-founded the world’s first GSD club with Artur Meyer and spent 35 years perfecting, standardizing and promoting the breed.
When the need for canine herding began to decline, von Stephanitz smartly promoted the GSD as an ideal K-9 dog. It is now a top choice around the world for police, military and law enforcement jobs. Their intelligence and willingness to learn has also made them popular as guide, service, therapy and search-and-rescue dogs.
The GSD rose in popularity in the United States around the early 1900s, in part because the breed was featured in movies like Rin Tin Tin and Strongheart. In 1908, the American Kennel Club (AKC) officially recognized the GSD as its 60th breed. During World War I, the AKC changed the breed's name to create separation from its German roots, but reverted to the original "German Shepherd Dog" in 1931. Although they suffered from anti-German sentiment from the world wars, the GSD ranks as the second most popular breed in the U.S. today.
Height: 24-26 inches (male), 22-24 inches (female)
Weight: 65-90 pounds (male), 50-70 pounds (female)
Coat colors: Black and tan (most common), red and black, black, white, gray, liver, sable, silver, blue, pandaGerman Shepherds are medium to large sized dogs that looks strong, agile, athletic and noble. They are longer than they are tall, yet still well-balanced in the forequarter and hindquarter. They are muscular and substantial, but lean with a silhouette of smooth curves, rather than angles. They have a domed forehead with a long, pointed snout and ears, as well as almond-shaped eyes that are usually dark brown. Their necks slope down to muscular shoulders and front legs, while their backs slope to strong hind legs and a long, bushy tail that typically reaches their hocks.
The GSD coat comes in a medium or long variety, though the long-hair version is more rare because it is recessive. They have shorter fur on their heads and paws and longer, thicker hair on their necks, hind legs and tails. Their coats can be a variety of colors, with black and tan the most common. But there are also red and black, black, white, gray, liver, sable, silver, blue, panda coat types. GSD's often have black masks on their faces and body markings that present as a large "saddle" patch or an all over "blanket."
GroomingThe German Shepherds' medium-long double coat consists of a dense, harsh topcoat and a thick, soft undercoat.
Shedding: year round; more heavily twice a year, typically fall and spring.
Brush: at least once or twice a week, increase to daily during heavy shedding.
Bathe: every 4-5 months (not more unless very dirty, as over-bathing strips the coat of natural oils and leaves the skin dry); increase bathing during heavy shedding season as necessary.
Shave: not recommended.
Trim nails: once a month.
Brush teeth: daily is ideal, two to three times per week is more realistic.
Clean ears: once a month (increase to once a week if your GSD has a history of ear problems).
Temperament & PersonalityGerman Shepherds are intelligent, loyal, courageous, confident, self-assured, hard-working, curious, decisive, obedient and willing to learn. These characteristics allow them to excel at many tasks that involve problem-solving and high stakes, such as law enforcement or search-and-rescue. They bond easily with their families, showing great affection and loyalty to them, but are sometimes aloof to strangers. They can be good family dogs as they are sweet, playful and fun-loving to people they know and trust.
Recommended: 45 minutes to two hours of exercise and mental stimulation.Because they were bred as herding dogs, German Shepherds are active and athletic dogs who are eager to have a purpose. Their intelligence, curiosity and hard-working nature means they require frequent mental and physical exercise. A German Shepherd who doesn't receive enough activity may become bored and destructive. It's recommended that puppies get short daily walks and play sessions, while adults receive between 45 minutes to two hours of exercise and mental stimulation. Adult GSDs can really benefit from task-oriented canine activities such as agility, herding, tracking and obedience. They desire interaction and involvement, so they thoroughly enjoy partaking in family activities. They may even end up "herding" children. If your GSD enjoys water, you can teach them to swim for a low-impact activity that provides great physical exercise.
- Walks (one long or multiple shorter)
- Herding activities
- Nose work
- Agility training / exercises
- Obedience training / exercises
- Family activities
- Swimming (if your GSD likes water)
TrainingGerman Shepherds are known to be highly trainable, thanks to their intelligent, curious and hard-working nature. They need to begin at an early age to ensure the training sticks and they don't become unruly or destructive. To fully enjoy the benefits of the breed, obedience training is recommended. In addition, owners must come from a place of authority to earn their GSD's respect (which may need to be earned multiple times). Be firm but loving and use positive reinforcement, as they do not respond well to punishment, anger or negativity.
In addition, socialization training is recommended for German Shepherds because they can be aloof to strangers, protective of their family and dominant or assertive to dogs. Begin socializing at a young age to warm them up to others and prevent reactivity.
- Begin early, between 8 to 12 weeks old.
- Choose to train in a place where there will be little distractions.
- Start simple, beginning with sit, stay and down.
- Use treats or attention (pats, verbal encouragement, etc.) to reward good behavior.
Average life span: 9-13 yearsGerman Shepherds are usually healthy dogs. Some health issues that are commonly associated with the breed include:
- Hip dysplasia
- Elbow dysplasia
- Joint dysplasia
- Degenerative myelopathy
- Perianal fistula
- Cardiomyopathy and other heart issues like enlarged heart and murmurs
- Von Willebrand's Disease (blood disorder similar to hemophilia)
- Cauda equina
- Malignant neoplasms
- Hot spots
- Skin allergies
- Gastric torsion
- Fatal fungal infection due to the Aspergillus mold
- Ear infections
Suggested tests: hip, elbow, blood, eye and heart.
Responsible breeders will screen for many of these health conditions, including joint dysplasia and degenerative myelopathy. But it's important to go for routine vet checkups where they can undergo annual heart exams as well as hip, elbow, joint, eye and blood tests, among others.
Pro Tip: Know the signs of these issues so you can recognize them early on and seek treatment as soon as possible.