German Shepherd Dog (GSD)

Steaming breath of a German shepherd dog in cold sunny morning.
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German shepherd dogs (GSD) are noble, diligent, loyal and highly intelligent dogs. They are large in size and have very streamlined, athletic builds which make them both strong and agile. Though they are excellent herding dogs, German shepherds are very well suited to work as service animals, such as guide dogs for the blind. They are excellent performing as working dogs, especially in police and military operations.

They also make highly effective guard dogs. Of course, the German shepherd dog also makes a wonderful companion in the right home.

Breed Overview

  • Group: Herding
  • Size: Weight of 60 to 100 pounds; height of 22 to 26 inches
  • Coat and Color: Coarse, medium-length double coat. Most colors are acceptable, such as bicolor, black and tan, black and cream, black and red, black and silver, solid black, gray, sable. Note that blue or liver is unfavorable based on breed standard. White is not an acceptable color based on breed standard.
  • Life Expectancy: 7 to10 years

Characteristics of the German Shepherd

Affection LevelHigh
FriendlinessHigh
Kid-FriendlyHigh
Pet-FriendlyLow
Exercise NeedsHigh
PlayfulnessHigh
Energy LevelMedium
TrainabilityHigh
IntelligenceHigh
Tendency to BarkHigh
Amount of SheddingHigh

History of the German Shepherd

The ancestors of German shepherd dogs acted as both servants and companions to humans for hundreds of years.

Developed from old shepherd and farm dogs, the GSD we know today was first introduced in Germany in 1899. Captain Max von Stephanitz is credited with the breed's beginnings.

During World Wars I and II, the word "German" was dropped, and the breed was referred to as the shepherd dog or the Alsatian (a name that stuck in some regions).

Worldwide interest in the breed began rising in the early 1900s and the GSD was recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1908. In modern times it remains as one of the most popular dog breeds, currently ranking second in the AKC listings.

There is recent controversy over the breeding of show dogs to have a sloping back rather than the straight back seen with working dogs. This has been criticized as leading to poor gait.

German Shepherd Care

German shepherds have coarse, sometimes wiry, medium length hair with thick undercoats. Their coats should be brushed every few days. German shepherds have a relatively high shedding rate which can be lessened by routine grooming. Be prepared to have hairs on your clothing and furniture and to vacuum frequently. Luckily, the coat also resists dirt and debris and you won't need to bathe your dog often. In fact, too-frequent bathing will strip out the oils that keep it healthy.

Remember to keep the nails trimmed to help your GSD walk around comfortably. You should also help your dog maintain good dental hygiene and brush his teeth a couple of times a week. These dogs like to chew and have powerful jaws, so keep durable chew toys available.

German shepherds may sometimes become anxious or even aggressive if not properly trained and handled.

These dogs will ideally be trained to perform a duty and will take pride in such. Be sure to thoroughly train your GSD. The breed's intelligence and desire to work should make training fairly easy. Proper socialization is also necessary to make sure your GSD does not become stressed or scared when meeting new people or animals and seeing new environments. They are typically aloof around new people and may be suspicious.

Due to the high energy level of this breed, plenty of regular exercise is essential. Your GSD probably needs more exercise than you think. A daily walk is not enough. If you are a jogger, a German shepherd can be a good running companion. Your dog needs to run, play, and explore to prevent frustrations, boredom, and pent-up energy. A dog that is bored may develop problems such as barking, digging, and chewing.

German shepherds can be very gentle companions and family protectors with proper training and socialization. It is an ideal breed for active households. The intelligence and protective demeanor of this breed can make it a good choice for families with children as long as the dog is properly trained.

Individual dogs of this breed may have a tendency to chase cats and other small pets. They may not be a good fit for a multi-pet household unless raised together and with attention to socializing your dog to other pets. They also may not get along with strange dogs, especially of the same sex, which may be a problem when you visit a dog park.

A German shepherd is better off in a home where there is a fenced yard for play rather than an apartment. But it is even more important that your dog is given plenty of attention and not left alone most of the day.

Common Health Problems

Responsible breeders strive to maintain the highest breed standards as established by kennel clubs like the AKC. Dogs bred by these standards are less likely to inherit health conditions. However, some hereditary health problems can occur in the breed. The following are some conditions to be aware of:

Diet and Nutrition

Your German shepherd will need two meals a day of up to two cups of dry dog food, but this will depend on the dog's size, activity level, age, and other factors. As they are prone to bloating and possible stomach torsion, you want to avoid giving one large meal a day and having the dog gulp it down. Be sure your dog has access to clean, fresh water.

Monitor your dog's weight and address any overweight issues early. Obesity will shorten your dog's life. Discuss nutritional needs with your veterinarian to get recommendations for feeding schedules and dog food types throughout your dog's life.

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

As with any breed, if you think the German shepherd dog is right for you, be sure to do plenty of research before you get one.

Talk to other GSD owners, reputable breeders, and rescue groups to learn more.

If you’re interested in similar breeds, look into these to compare the pros and cons.

Explore more of the dog breeds out there. With a little research, you can find the right one to bring home.