German Shepherd

The German Shepherd is one of the world’s most popular dog breeds. They are strong, athletic and incredibly intelligent working dogs. This loyal and courageous breed not only makes a great family dog but also excels in a working environment. Over the years, German Shepherds have been trained as military and police dogs, guide and assistance dogs, search and rescue dogs, drug detection dogs, and competitive obedience. This elegant and proud looking dog comes in a variety of colors, most commonly black and tan.

Key Breed Stats

Alternative names: The German Shepherd breed is also commonly known by the names GSD, Alsatian, Alsatian Wolfdog, Berger Allemand, Shepherd, Deutscher Schäferhund.

Popularity: Very popular

Life expectancy: 9 - 14 years

Breed group: Herding Dogs (AKC), Pastoral Dogs (KC), Sheepdogs and Cattle Dogs Dogs (FCI)

Size: Large

Male Female
Height 24 - 26 in 22 - 24 in
Weight 66 - 88 lbs 49 - 71 lbs

Coat: Short, Medium, Long

Colors: Black, Black and Red, Black and Cream, Black and Silver, Black and Tan

Key Breed Facts

Shedding: Heavy shedder

Grooming requirements: Minimal

Good with children: Yes

Good with other pets: Average

Intelligence / Trainability: Very high

Exercise needs: Very high

Tolerates being alone: Not really

Hunting drive: Very high

Suited as Guard dog: Very good

Sensitivity: Very sensitive

Good for novice owners: No

Hypoallergenic breed: No

Drooling: Low

Barking: Frequent

General health: Average

Cost to keep: High

History

The German Shepherd as we know today is a relatively new breed. It was created by the German Captain Max von Stephanitz at the end of the 19th century. He wanted a breed that combined the positive traits of different of local shepherd breeds in one breed. The result was a dog that was athletic, intelligent, strong, intelligence and eager to please and work. In 1899 Horan von Grafrath was registered as the first “German Schäferhund” (German Shepherd Dog).

Illustration of a German Shepherd - 1909 Public domain. Image source: Wikimedia
The first German Shepherd was shown in the US in 1907 and the breed was recognized by the AKC in 1908. Until 1915 both longhaired and shorthaired dogs were recognized. Today only the short coat is recognized for show purposes in most countries.

Using his military connections, von Stephanitz convinced the German government to use his breed for police and military work. During World War I German Shepherds served as ammunition carriers, guards, messengers, and search and rescue dogs.Allied soldiers noticed the dog's bravery and intelligence on the battlefield. Some of them took a German Shepherd home with them. One of these dogs was Rin Tin Tin. He became a star in a number Hollywood films and was responsible for the popularity of the breed as a household pet.

After the war, the German roots were not a desired trait. Both the AKC and the Kennel Club renamed the dog to Shepherd Dog (AKC) and Alsatian Wolf Dog (KC). After a while, both reverted back to the original name: German Shepherd.

In Germany, recognized breeders are subject to a strict breeding program. For example, the breeder should ensure sure that puppies have better traits than their parents and should seek to improve the breed each generation. Unfortunately, the same level of quality control does not exist in the US, and many breeders focus on appearance rather than temperament.

Appearance

A German Shepherd always makes a striking first impression. They are strong, muscular dogs with a confident, intelligent expression, always ready for action.
Typical characteristics are:


  • Wedge shaped head, with dark, almond shape eyes, erect ears, upright and aligned and a black nose.

  • Muscular body, slightly longer than its height.

  • Long curved tail.

  • Double coat or long, harsh outer coat, both with undercoat.

  • Colors: black/tan – black/reddish brown, black. Most color varieties have a black mask and classic black saddle marking.

Temperament

Intelligence/ Trainability

The German Shepherd is extremely intelligent and learns very quickly. They respond well to positive reinforcement training and do not respond well to harsh training methods.

With the correct amount of training, they will excel in obedience classes and in all the canine sporting activities like agility, flyball, tracking, and as service dogs and working dogs.

The down side of their intelligence: if you’re not teaching them the rules, they will figure it out for themselves, and you’re probably not going to like them.

It might seem contradictory, but although they’re eager to learn, it’s not the best breed for novice dog owners. They are not afraid to challenge an owner and require a consistent, firm, but balanced and gentle hand.

Activity

The German Shepherd is a working dog and this high-energy dog needs some sort of job to be happy. If he becomes bored, he will often show his boredom and frustration with unpleasant behavior like barking, digging or chewing.

As a German Shepherd owner, you need to prepared to spend a considerable amount of quality time (at least one hour per day, ideally more) with your dog. A short walk around the block will not satisfy the needs of this high maintenance dog.

Part of it should be physical exercise – like long walks, biking, swimming, running. The other part should be mental stimulation like fetching balls, agility, treasure hunts, teaching new tricks, and new toys and activities.

Exercising your German Shepherd puppy requires a few special considerations. Large breeds grow quite fast and have an increased risk of hip dysplasia. Avoid exercising on slippery surfaces and climbing stairs under the age of 3 months. Exercise is needed, however, as strong muscles will increase the stability of the hip joint. Outdoor exercise on soft, uneven grounds seems to have a lower risk. Try to avoid exercise that involves running, jumping and playing on hard surfaces until the age of 2.

Independence

A German Shepherd loves and needs to be with its family. If left alone for too long they can become anxious or bored. They shouldn't be left alone for long periods of time.

Protective

The German Shepherd is aloof and a sometimes a bit suspicious. The are generally easy going and approachable with their family members but can be a bit suspicious towards strangers visiting the house.

German Shepherds are a very protective breed. If they feel threatened, they are brave and aggressive protectors of their family.

They tend to be territorial and will notify you if an intruder comes on your property. It’s a great trait for a watchdog but can cause issues with your visiting friends or the mailman. By exposing your German Shepherd puppy to many different situations and people from a very young age, he will learn to behave when strangers are visiting your house; proper socialization is incredibly important.

Living Conditions

Although very versatile, a German Shepherd is not very well adapted to apartment living. Ideally, they should have a safe, large yard or space where they can roam around and play.

Children and Other Pets

A well trained German Shepherd can be a great companion for children, provided it has had sufficient exposure to kids, especially as a puppy.

That said, extra care should be taken, especially with young children (under the age of 6)


  • German Shepherds are large, high-energy dogs that can easily knock down children while playing

  • Young children may unintentionally invade the personal space of your dog and are unable to interpret the warning signals of your dog.

  • Dogs consider the family as a pack, and may consider the younger children as subordinates and may try to correct them.

  • Young children are very time-consuming. They may take away from the time you have to spend with your dog and he may become bored or frustrated.


In general, a German Shepherds are tolerant of children. However, no dog, whatever the breed, should be left unattended with young children.

A German Shepherd can live peacefully with other dogs and pets if he was correctly socialized as a puppy. Special care needs to be taken when introducing a new puppy to your other pets. It needs to be done slowly and very careful to make sure that everything goes smoothly and that it is a calm, positive experience for the puppy.

Health

The average life expectancy of a German Shepherd is between 9 - 14 years. Like all breeds, the German Shepherd is prone to certain hereditary health conditions. A responsible breeder will only breed with dogs that have been cleared for these conditions. A German Shepherd is prone to these diseases:
  • Hip/Elbow Dysplasia (hereditary)
  • Von Willebrand's Disease (VWD) (hereditary)
  • Allergies (hereditary)
  • Retinal Dysplasia (hereditary)
  • Elbow Dysplasia (hereditary)
  • Distichiasis (hereditary)
  • Cardiac Disease (hereditary)
  • Corneal Dystrophy (hereditary)
  • Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) (hereditary)
  • Canine Hip Dysplasia (hereditary) : Canine hip dysplasia (CHD) is a very common genetic orthopedic trait, which is affected by environmental and dietary factors. Canine hip dysplasia occurs when there is an abnormality in the development of the hip joint. More info»

Grooming

German Shepherds need to be groomed on a regular basis (ideally daily) to make sure their coats and skin are kept in top condition. Long hair versions will shed more.

The coat of a GSD is quite resistant to dirt and they don't need bathing that often – once or twice a year is sufficient. Too much washing could have a negative effect on the natural PH balance and could lead to skin allergies. A German shepherd normally doesn’t have a “doggy” smell, except when he is wet.

Ears should be checked regularly for dirt, redness or a bad smell that could indicate an infection. Clean your dog'sears when needed with an ear cleaner made specifically for dogs. Nail clipping won't be necessary if your dog walks/runs on concrete/stone surfaces. However, long nails will require clipping and all puppies should be introduced to nail clipping early on so that it will be easier when they are older.

German Shepherds love chewing which helps to clean their teeth. Give them sturdy, safe dental chew toys or bones to chew on. The chewing prevents the buildup of tartar on their teeth. Consider brushing their teeth with a soft toothbrush and special dog toothpaste. All puppies should become accustomed to having their mouths and teeth checked regularly.

Feeding

Large breeds like German Shepherds eat a lot. As high energy dogs, they need to be fed a high-quality diet, with a healthy blend of fats, proteins, carbohydrates and minerals. Recommended daily amount: 3 to 4 cups of high-quality dry kibble, divided into two meals. (How much your dog needs depend on his size, age and activity level – a very active dog will need more than a lazy one. It also depends on the quality of the food - higher quality food will be digested more easily so you will need to use less).

Special attention is needed when feeding puppies: use food specifically designed for large breed puppies. Adult dog food contains too much calcium, which will increase the risk for hip and elbow dysplasia. Don’t overfeed your puppy, as overweight puppies also have an increased risk for dysplasia. Puppies need to be fed 3 to 4 times a day. This might seem like a hassle, but it will help when it comes to housebreaking. A puppy’s digestive system works very fast. Five to 30 minutes after his meal, he will need to go out to do his business.

Just like any other breed, they need to have free access to fresh, clean water at all times.

Older dogs, like puppies, might need a diet adapted to their needs. In some cases, it is advisable to feed them smaller portions 3 to 4 times a day.

When changing your dog’s diet, it’s recommended to do it gradually over a period of a few days to avoid stomach problems.

Avoid exercise 1 hour before and after the meal, to reduce the risk of gastric torsion (bloat).

Make sure that your dog is not becoming overweight. Obese dogs suffer can suffer from all kinds of health conditions. If you can’t feel the ribs when you move your hands over his sides, he needs to be put on a diet.

Costs

The price of German Shepherd puppy can vary depending on source – but count on 600-900 US$ (and more) if you buy one from a respected breeder.

Estimated costs of the first year: : $700 to $3500 for the first year (excluding the acquisition cost)


  • Veterinary care: $100 – $450

  • Vaccines/parasite treatments: $100 – $400

  • Spay or neuter: $150 – $250

  • Food: $150 – $400

  • Miscellaneous expenses, including collar, leash, crate, bowls, toys, grooming supplies, boarding and obedience training: $200 – $2000


Estimated costs next years: $450 to $1600 per year

  • Veterinary care: $100 – $550

  • Vaccines/parasite treatments: $100 – $400

  • Spay or neuter: $150 – $250

  • Food: $150 – $400

  • Miscellaneous expenses: $100 – $300


These figures are estimates only (and do not include additional expenses related to illness, injury, travel), and veterinary costs are likely to increase when your dog ages.