An all-purpose working breed, the adjectives that best define a German Shepherd’s appearance and demeanor are large, muscular, intelligent, courageous, noble, and loyal. A big dog with a mighty temperament is what a GSD is all about. Physically they appear well-balanced, with a long body stature than tall. They even have a chiseled head, medium-sized almond-shaped eyes with an intelligent expression, erect ears, and a low-set bushy tail.
From a loyal family dog to a powerful police dog or an efficient search dog, the GSD in the present times has made its presence felt everywhere. In the popularity meter, the German Shepherd has maintained a consistent position always, ranking 4th as per the AKCs Most Popular Dogs in 2021.
|Other Names||Alsatian wolf-dog, Berger Allemand, Deutscher Schäferhund, Altdeutsche Schäferhunde|
|Nicknames||DSH, GSD, Shepherd, Schäferhund|
|Coat||Double coat –Outer coat: Dense, short, straight, harsh, lying close to its body; Inner coat: Fluffy|
|Color||Black; black & cream; black & red; black & silver; black & tan; blue; gray; liver; sable; white; bi-color|
|Height||Male-24-26 inches Female– 22-24 inches|
|Weight||Male – 65-90 pounds Female – 50 – 70 pounds|
|Litter Size||2-8 puppies|
|Personality||Intelligent, obedient, courageous, stubborn|
|Good with Children||Yes; if trained well|
|Climate Compatibility||Does well in hot and cold climates all because of their double coat; however, the comfortable temperature range for them is between 20 °F and 30°F|
|Apartment Compatibility||Yes; if exercised well|
|Do they shed||Moderate throughout the year; though the shedding is at the peak during spring and fall|
|Are they Hypoallergenic||No|
|Average Cost||$1200-$1500 for puppies|
|Competitive Registration Qualification/Information||VDH, FCI, AKC|
The German Shepherd developed during the 19th century, deriving its roots from the German herding breeds. Captain von Stephanitz played a significant role in the development of this breed. He was a member of the Phylax Society, established in 1891 to create a standardized breeding program for working breeds throughout Germany. Though the society didn’t last for long, Stephanitz was on a mission to create a herding breed. Along with dog enthusiasts who thought on similar lines, he crossed strains found in different parts of Germany to establish the ancestors of the present-day GSD. The process of selective breeding bore fruits, and the German Shepherd gradually evolved into a versatile breed.
The GSD was introduced in the United States in the first half of the 20th century and gained popularity right from the start. However, people eventually regarded it as one of the most dangerous dogs owned by bootleggers and gangsters.
True, their use as herding dogs declined with the implementation of modernized techniques in livestock management. However, they rose to the stature of military and police dogs by then. Their role in rescue operations and as guard and messenger dogs in the Second World War is unforgettable. Their function remains unchanged in the present times too, with the GSD functioning as an effective military, rescue, police, and K-9 dog.
Because of their efficiency, intelligence, and loyalty to their work, the German Shepherds have won many times at the Awards for Canine Excellence (ACE). In 2021, K-9 Mattis, a GSD, clinched the title for the Uniformed Service K-9.
The breed underwent several name changes, starting with Deutscher Schäferhund, the German name for the German Shepherd. In Britain, the breed was known as Alsatian for over 50 years. The British Kennel Club finally approved registrations by the name German Shepherd after 1977.
Variants of the GSD
German Shepherds can majorly be distinguished as show line and working line dogs. The show dogs have an appealing look, lacking the athletic build of the working GSDs. They even seem to be a bit laid back instead of the agile, active nature of the working German shepherds. The five divisions of the GSD from this aspect include:
The large and mighty German Shepherd might seem a fearful dog because of its intimidating appearance. However, several breed standards deem it a dog of character mainly because of its confidence and courage, teamed with immense loyalty towards its family, particularly its master, going to any extent to safeguard the latter. No wonder the GSD is a ”one-man” dog, showing immense attachment towards its owner. However, the German Shepherd also shares a pleasant rapport with other family members. When it comes to strangers the GSD would display wariness and reservedness.
Another highlighting aspect of the German Shepherd is its high intelligence level and remarkable reasoning capacity. Surprising but true that the GSD’s mental ability equals that of a 2.5-year-old child.
Relationship with kids
When it comes to this breed’s rapport with kids, needless to say, they perform a two-in-one role – that of a caring babysitter and a protective cop. Yet, they would do better with kids above eight years of age. With the smaller ones, chances are there that the mighty dogs may knock the little ones in pursuit of play. So parental supervision is needed when infants, and toddlers interact with the GSD. They would emerge as loveable companions to the kids of their home but would maintain reservedness with children they don’t know.
With other dogs
They wouldn’t get along well with just any dog, and some compatible breeds for the GSD include Labrador Retriever, Belgian Malinois, and Golden Retrievers. However, a friendly relationship would only develop if the GSD gets introduced to the other dog since its puppy days.
Interaction with cats
Most of them maintain a cordial relationship with the family’s cats, yet this varies from one German Shepherd to the other. A few could act reserve, while some may even get aggressive. The training plays a pivotal role in determining their behavior with their feline friends.
True that the German Shepherd’s name tops the list of fatal dog attacks and bites, with the victims needing immediate hospitalization. Yet, they are not born aggressive but perhaps made aggressive, inappropriate training being one of the main reasons. Lack of socialization often triggers their territorial instinct, compelling these dogs to get into an attacking mode upon encountering strangers. Besides these, unsuitable living conditions, trauma and injury can result in an undesirable behavior.
The German Shepherd has a powerful bite with a bite force of about 238 PSI. The American Animal Hospital Association puts the German Shepherd at number 2 after a recent survey based on the severity and frequency of their bite.
The effects of the German Shepherd’s bite can be intense enough, resulting in severe infections out of a puncture wound, nerve damage, scarring, and even broken bones.
If you have decided to keep a German Shepherd as a pet, be prepared to give it plenty of exercises. A bored German Shepherd will turn destructive upon having nothing much to do. So, devise a proper exercise regime for your GSD for at least 2 hrs a day. Channelize the time well, and add about two 30-minute walks; alongside exercise within a safe area. You could even take them out to swim during the hot days. The athletic dogs they are, it is pretty evident that the GSDs would have a strong affinity for water.
Besides this, sufficient playtime and about half an hour of training sessions would help keep your German Shepherd calm and composed. Make him participate in canine events like herding, agility, dock diving, and tracking.
Due to their size, they would fit nicely into homes having a large yard, yet they would do well in an apartment setting when given the correct dose of exercise.
Their harsh outer coat and soft inner coat are not difficult to maintain, needing brushing two to three times a week using a pin or slicker brush. Since they have a fluffy undercoat, using an undercoat rake would help remove the dead undercoat while retaining the shine of the topcoat.
However, during the shedding season, mainly in spring and fall, regular brushing is needed to prevent dead hair from accumulating everywhere in your house. Bathe them occasionally, perhaps once a month or when they get messy. Frequent bathing might take away the natural oil from their skin. Instead, a rub down using a moist cloth would help keep them clean. Long nails cause pain and impair walking, so trimming their nails once a month is mandatory.
The German Shepherd has gone through several inbreeding, resulting in hip and elbow dysplasia, leading to arthritis later as they mature. According to the Orthopaedic Foundation for Animals, 19.1 % of GSDs have hip dysplasia. Most German Shepherds even have Von Willebrand disease, a bleeding disorder alongside exocrine pancreatic insufficiency.
Pituitary dwarfism is another condition commonly seen in dwarf German Shepherds leading to impaired growth due to a recessive gene.
The German Shepherd ranks 3rd in intelligence after the Border Collie and Poodle as per Stanley Coren’s Intelligence of Dogs. Several owners are also of the opinion that besides their intelligence, the German Shepherds rank high on trainability because of their obedience and ability to follow commands with ease. The GSDs would mainly grasp a new command within five exposures and follow a learned command at least 95% of the time. The best time for training your German Shepherd is between 8 and 16 weeks since they would grasp training the best between this time frame.
Socialization: Expose them to new people and new situations as much as possible during this time. GSDs are observant, and if trained correctly, it won’t take them long to follow your cues about different people and situations.
When exposing them to new sights, sounds, and people, do that safely, and always keep them on a leash under supervision. Don’t leave them to find things for themselves, as that could lead to a mishap.
Obedience: Alongside socialization training, start obedience training, too, to help your GSD puppy grows into a disciplined dog. They have a reputation for their obedience and ability to grasp new commands. So, this is what you need to channel at the earliest. Teach the basic commands first like ”Sit”, ”Down”, and ”Stay”. While the sit command helps develop a sense of discipline in your dog, the down command helps calm it if a new sight or sound has made it immensely anxious.
Housetraining: GSDs are one of the easiest dogs to housetrain, so you must start it quickly.
The German Shepherd Dog Club of America, the AKC’s parent club, developed in 1913, provides information to owners and trainers regarding training the GSD.
German Shepherds are active, energetic breeds. Keeping this in mind, you must include a sufficient amount of fat and protein in their diet, ranging from homemade to store-bought. If giving readymade dog food for puppies ensures that it has about 8% fat and 22% protein. For an adult dog, the protein and fat content should be 18% and 5%, respectively. Adding cooked vegetables, eggs, or yogurts in small amounts to their kibble would be beneficial.
Take care of the treats you keep giving, as too many table scraps might trigger a digestive disorder. Biscuit pieces are a good treat option; cooked meat, candies, or other fat-rich food aren’t desirable.
Short-haired German Shepherds are the standard variety for this breed. However, their long-haired counterparts do rarely exist, accounting for just 10% of the GSD population. The resultant breed appears beautiful, with the long hair resulting from the recessive gene.
The Belgian Malinois is one such dog that closely resembles the German Shepherd in appearance. However, both have visible physical differences, distinguishing one from the other. Though similar in height, the Belgian Malinois is lighter than the GSD, weighing 40-80 pounds, against the 50-90 pounds of the latter. The Belgian Malinois even has a square built with short, thick hair, while the GSD has a longish body stature.
Yes, they do exist, but these German shepherds aren’t purebred. Instead, the miniature counterpart is developed by crossing the GSDs with smaller breeds like a Poodle, Collie, or even a Siberian Husky.
The males grow till two years six months of age, while the females reach their adult size by two years.