German Shepherd

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german shepherd portrait
Meet the German Shepherd: a loyal, intelligent, and versatile breed that's won the hearts of dog lovers worldwide! With their striking appearance, unmatched work ethic, and unwavering devotion, it's no wonder they're consistently ranked among the top dog breeds.

Join us in this comprehensive guide as we explore everything you need to know about this breed, including their appearance, temperament, ideal environment, grooming, exercise requirements, training tips, dietary needs, health concerns, history, and more.

Best For

The German Shepherd is an ideal match for individuals and families seeking a devoted, intelligent, and energetic companion. Their natural instincts to protect and serve make them excellent guard dogs, while their trainability and versatility allow them to excel in various roles, such as service, therapy, or search and rescue work.

Overview

OFFICIAL NAMEGerman Shepherd Dog
OTHER NAMESAlsatian, Alsatian Wolf Dog, Deutscher Schäferhund, Altdeutsche Schäferhunde
ORIGINGermany
BREED GROUPHerding Group
BREED SIZELarge
HEIGHT22-26 inches
WEIGHT50-90 lbs
LIFESPAN7-10 years
LIVING SPACELarge
SENSITIVITY TO COLD WEATHERLow
SENSITIVITY TO WARM WEATHERModerate
GROOMING NEEDSHigh
EXERCISE NEEDSVery High
TRAINABILITYVery High
BARKING TENDENCYModerate
BITING TENDENCYLow
DROOLING TENDENCYLow
SHEDDING LEVELHigh
POPULARITY RANK4th
two german sheperds in a field
Photo: YamaBSM/Pixabay

Appearance

The German Shepherd is known for its robust and muscular build, which showcases both strength and agility. These dogs possess a well-balanced body structure, enabling them to perform various tasks with ease and efficiency.

Males typically stand 24-26 inches tall at the shoulder, while females measure slightly smaller at 22-24 inches. With regard to weight, males can range between 65-90 pounds, and females usually weigh between 50-70 pounds.

The German Shepherd’s body is characterized by a straight, strong back that slopes slightly downward from the withers to the hindquarters. Their deep-chested frame allows for ample lung capacity, essential for endurance and stamina. The breed’s tail is bushy and hangs down with a slight curve when at rest but may be raised higher when the dog is excited or engaged in activity.

The head of a German Shepherd is noble, cleanly chiseled, and proportionate to its body. The skull is fairly broad and tapers gracefully into a strong, wedge-shaped muzzle.

Their medium-sized almond-shaped eyes exude a lively and intelligent expression, often reflecting the breed’s curiosity and confidence. The color of their eyes varies from shades of brown to almost black, with darker hues being more desirable.

German Shepherds are known for their erect ears, which are moderately pointed and open towards the front. Their ears contribute to their alert and attentive demeanor, as they can quickly pick up on sounds and changes in their environment.

One of the most recognizable features of a German Shepherd is their dense, weather-resistant double coat. The outer coat consists of straight, harsh, and close-lying hairs, while the undercoat is soft and thick, providing insulation against harsh weather conditions.

The breed comes in various colors and patterns, including black and tan, black and red, sable, all-black, and less commonly, all-white or liver-colored coats.

German Shepherds have a natural gait that is smooth, rhythmic, and seemingly effortless. Their unique movement is characterized by the “flying trot,” in which the rear foot appears to touch down just before the front foot, giving the impression that they are almost gliding across the ground.

Overall, the German Shepherd’s appearance and physical attributes reflect a breed that is strong, agile, and well-suited for various roles, from loyal companion to a diligent working dog.

german shepherd and a puppy running with a stick
Photo: AnjaGh/Pixabay

Temperament

The German Shepherd is a breed known for its remarkable temperament, which encompasses a unique combination of courage, intelligence, loyalty, and devotion. These traits make them an excellent choice for various roles, from family companion to working dog in service, therapy, or law enforcement capacities.

One of the most endearing qualities of German Shepherds is their unwavering loyalty to their family. They form strong bonds with their owners and are fiercely protective, making them exceptional watchdogs. Their natural instinct to guard and protect ensures that they will not hesitate to alert their family of any potential threats or intruders.

When it comes to interacting with people, German Shepherds are generally friendly and approachable. They display affection and warmth towards their family members, often following them around the house and seeking their attention. However, it is essential to socialize German Shepherds early on to ensure they develop good manners and become well-rounded canines.

With children, German Shepherds are typically gentle, patient, and tolerant. They enjoy playing with kids and can be both a loving companion and a watchful guardian. Nevertheless, it is crucial to teach both the dog and the children how to interact safely and respectfully with each other, as the breed’s size and strength can sometimes be overwhelming for young ones.

German Shepherds can be reserved or cautious around strangers, which is a testament to their protective instincts. While they may not be immediately welcoming to unfamiliar faces, they usually warm up once they realize that the newcomer poses no threat. Early socialization helps German Shepherds learn to discern between friendly visitors and actual dangers.

When it comes to coexisting with other pets, German Shepherds can get along well with other dogs and animals if properly introduced and socialized from a young age. However, due to their herding instincts, they may exhibit a tendency to chase smaller animals, such as cats or squirrels. It is essential to monitor their interactions with other pets, especially during the initial introduction period.

A unique personality perk of German Shepherds is their incredible intelligence, which makes them highly trainable and eager to learn. They excel at problem-solving and can quickly pick up on commands or tasks, often needing minimal repetition. This breed thrives on mental stimulation and enjoys engaging in activities that challenge their cognitive abilities.

Another notable aspect of the German Shepherd’s temperament is their versatility. They can adapt to various environments and situations, making them suitable for a wide range of roles and activities. Their ability to switch between being a loving companion, a diligent worker, and a protective guardian showcases the breed’s remarkable character.

Ideal Environment

The ideal environment for a German Shepherd is one that caters to their physical, mental, and social needs, ensuring their overall well-being and happiness. This breed thrives in an environment where they have ample space to move around and engage in regular exercise and play. A home with a securely fenced yard is highly desirable, as it allows them to roam freely and safely while expending energy.

Climate Adaptability

Regarding climate adaptability, German Shepherds have a double coat, which provides insulation against both cold and hot weather. Their undercoat keeps them warm in colder climates, while the outer coat helps protect them from the sun’s rays in warmer environments. That being said, it is crucial to take specific precautions to ensure their comfort and safety in extreme temperatures.

In cold climates, provide your German Shepherd with a warm and dry shelter, and consider using dog jackets or sweaters for added protection during outdoor activities. Keep an eye out for signs of frostbite or hypothermia, and limit their time outside during harsh winter conditions.

Conversely, in hot climates, it is essential to provide your German Shepherd with access to shade and plenty of fresh water to prevent overheating or dehydration. Avoid exercising them during the hottest parts of the day and be mindful of hot surfaces, such as pavement, which can cause discomfort or burns to their paws. Watch for signs of heatstroke, and seek immediate veterinary attention if you notice any symptoms.

Ideal Owner

They are best suited for individuals or families who are committed to providing a consistent routine, proper training, and socialization. They require a confident and patient owner who understands the breed’s unique traits and can guide them towards becoming well-mannered and balanced dogs.

Active households that can involve the German Shepherd in various activities, such as hiking, jogging, or canine sports, are a perfect fit for their energetic nature.

Other Pets

As mentioned earlier, German Shepherds can coexist harmoniously with other pets if properly introduced and socialized from an early age. However, it is essential to monitor their interactions, especially during the initial stages, to ensure a safe and positive experience for all pets involved.

german shepherd relaxing behind a crate
Photo: AnjaGh/Pixabay

Grooming

Grooming is an essential aspect of maintaining the health and well-being of a German Shepherd. Proper grooming not only ensures that they look their best but also helps prevent potential health issues, such as skin infections or matted fur.

Coat Care

Starting with coat care, German Shepherds have a dense double coat that requires regular brushing to keep it clean, tangle-free, and healthy. It is recommended to brush your German Shepherd’s coat at least two to three times per week using a slicker brush, which can effectively remove loose hair and prevent matting.

During shedding seasons, which typically occur twice a year, daily brushing may be necessary to manage the increased shedding.

In addition to brushing, it is essential to bathe your German Shepherd occasionally to keep their coat clean and free of dirt or debris. Depending on your dog’s lifestyle and level of activity, bathing every one to three months should suffice.

Use a gentle, dog-specific shampoo to avoid irritating their skin or stripping the natural oils from their coat. After bathing, make sure to dry them thoroughly, paying particular attention to the undercoat to prevent any dampness that could lead to skin issues.

Dental Care

Dental hygiene is another critical aspect of German Shepherd grooming. Dental problems, such as plaque buildup and gum disease, can lead to more severe health issues if left unaddressed.

It is recommended to brush your dog’s teeth at least two to three times per week using a soft-bristled toothbrush and dog-specific toothpaste. Regular dental check-ups with a veterinarian are also crucial for maintaining optimal oral health.

Nail Trimming

Nail maintenance is essential for German Shepherds, as overly long nails can cause discomfort or even lead to injuries. It is advisable to trim your dog’s nails every three to four weeks, depending on how quickly they grow.

Use a pair of dog nail clippers or a grinder designed specifically for this purpose and be cautious not to cut the quick, which contains blood vessels and nerves. If you are unsure about trimming your dog’s nails yourself, seek guidance from a professional groomer or veterinarian.

Additional Grooming Tips

In addition to coat, dental, and nail care, it is essential to regularly check your German Shepherd’s ears for any signs of infection, such as redness, swelling, or foul odor. Clean their ears gently using a soft cloth or cotton ball moistened with a dog-specific ear-cleaning solution. Avoid using cotton swabs or inserting anything deep into the ear canal, as this can cause damage or push debris further in.

Lastly, it is vital to inspect your German Shepherd’s eyes and remove any discharge or debris using a soft, damp cloth. Be gentle when cleaning the eye area to avoid causing irritation or injury.

german shepherd on a desert
Photo: Marcin Jucha/Canva Pro

Exercise

German Shepherds are an active and energetic breed, requiring consistent exercise to maintain their physical and mental well-being. As working dogs, they thrive when given tasks or activities that engage both their body and mind. Meeting their exercise needs is crucial for preventing boredom, restlessness, or the development of undesirable behaviors.

Exercise Amount & Types

On average, a German Shepherd requires at least one to two hours of exercise daily. This can be broken down into shorter sessions throughout the day, depending on your dog’s age, fitness level, and individual needs. It is essential to pay attention to your dog’s signals and adjust the exercise routine accordingly, ensuring it remains engaging and enjoyable for them.

A variety of exercises can be incorporated into your German Shepherd’s routine to keep them stimulated and satisfied. These can include brisk walks, jogging, hiking, or playing fetch in a securely fenced area. Off-leash exercise is highly beneficial, as it allows them to explore and expend energy freely. However, always ensure that your dog has reliable recall before allowing them off-leash in a safe environment.

Mental exercise is equally important for German Shepherds, as their intelligence and problem-solving abilities require regular engagement. Incorporate puzzle toys, treat-dispensing toys, or scent-based games into their routine to challenge their minds and prevent boredom.

Training sessions, where they can learn new commands or tricks, also contribute to their mental stimulation while reinforcing good behavior.

Dog Sports

In addition to outdoor activities, German Shepherds excel in various canine sports and competitions, such as obedience, agility, herding trials, and tracking events. Participating in these activities not only provides physical exercise but also offers mental stimulation and strengthens the bond between you and your dog.

Exercise Precautions

It is crucial to monitor your German Shepherd’s exercise routine, especially during extreme weather conditions. In hot climates, avoid exercising during the hottest parts of the day and provide access to shade and water to prevent overheating. In colder conditions, limit their time outdoors and consider using protective gear, such as dog jackets or booties, for added warmth and comfort.

Training

German Shepherds are renowned for their intelligence and trainability, making them a popular choice for various roles, such as police work, search and rescue, and service dog tasks. Their eagerness to learn and ability to quickly grasp new concepts make the training process both enjoyable and rewarding for both the dog and the owner.

When it comes to training a German Shepherd, it is essential to begin early, ideally during puppyhood. Early socialization and exposure to various environments, people, and other animals will help develop a well-rounded and confident adult dog. Consistency and patience are key factors in successful training, ensuring that your German Shepherd understands expectations and boundaries.

Positive reinforcement methods, such as praise or treats, are highly effective when training German Shepherds. These techniques strengthen the bond between you and your dog and foster a positive association with learning. It is crucial to avoid harsh or punitive methods, as they can damage trust and hinder progress.

Obedience training is a fundamental aspect of raising a well-behaved German Shepherd. Teaching basic commands, such as sit, stay, come, and heel, provides a solid foundation for more advanced training and helps establish your role as the leader. Regular practice and reinforcement of these commands will ensure that your German Shepherd remains responsive and well-mannered.

Given their intelligence and problem-solving abilities, German Shepherds excel at learning more advanced skills and tricks. They enjoy being challenged mentally and take great pride in mastering new tasks. Engaging in activities such as agility, tracking, or herding can provide additional training opportunities while also fulfilling their exercise needs.

It is important to remember that each German Shepherd is unique, and their individual personalities may influence their training progress. Some dogs may be more headstrong or independent, requiring additional patience and persistence from their owner. Others may be more sensitive and respond better to gentle guidance and encouragement.

germen shepherd playing on a beach
Photo: Ava-Leigh/Getty Images Pro

Diet & Nutrition 

A balanced and nutritious diet is crucial for maintaining the health and well-being of a German Shepherd. As a large and active breed, they require a diet that meets their specific energy and nutritional needs.

It is essential to choose high-quality dog food that follows the AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) guidelines, ensuring that your German Shepherd receives all the necessary nutrients for optimal health.

What to Feed & How Much

There are various types of dog food available, including dry kibble, wet food, and raw food diets. Each type has its benefits, and the choice ultimately depends on your preferences and your dog’s individual needs. Regardless of the type, ensure that the chosen food is appropriate for your German Shepherd’s age, size, activity level, and any specific dietary requirements.

The amount of food you should feed your German Shepherd will depend on factors such as their age, weight, activity level, and the caloric content of the chosen diet. As a general guideline, adult German Shepherds typically consume between 1,700 to 2,400 calories per day.

Puppies, seniors, and dogs with specific health conditions may have different caloric needs. It is advisable to consult your veterinarian for personalized recommendations and adjust the feeding amounts accordingly.

Feeding your German Shepherd two meals per day, evenly spaced, can help maintain stable energy levels and prevent bloat, a condition to which deep-chested breeds like German Shepherds are prone. Always measure the food using a standard measuring cup to ensure accurate portion sizes.

Treats & Water

In addition to their main diet, treats can be used as a valuable training tool and a way to bond with your German Shepherd. However, keep in mind that treats should not exceed 10% of your dog’s daily caloric intake to prevent weight gain or imbalanced nutrition.

Lastly, providing your German Shepherd with constant access to fresh water is essential for overall health and hydration. Clean their water bowl daily and refill it with clean water to ensure they always have a sufficient supply.

Health

The German Shepherd is generally a healthy breed with a life expectancy of 7 to 10 years. However, like all breeds, they may be prone to certain health issues. A combination of a nutritious diet, regular exercise, routine veterinary care, and timely vaccinations can significantly contribute to maintaining their overall health and well-being.

Here are common health issues associated with the German Shepherd:

Hip and Elbow Dysplasia: These are genetic conditions that affect the formation of the hip and elbow joints, leading to arthritis and discomfort. Responsible breeding practices, maintaining a healthy weight, and avoiding excessive strain on growing joints can help reduce the risk of developing these conditions.

Degenerative Myelopathy: This progressive neurological disorder affects the spinal cord and can result in hind limb weakness, loss of coordination, and eventual paralysis. While there is no cure, early diagnosis and supportive care can help manage the condition.

Bloat (Gastric Torsion): Bloat is a life-threatening condition where the stomach fills with gas and twists on itself, cutting off blood flow. Deep-chested breeds like German Shepherds are more prone to bloat. Preventive measures include feeding smaller meals throughout the day, avoiding rigorous exercise immediately before or after eating, and monitoring for signs of distress.

Panosteitis: Often referred to as “growing pains,” panosteitis is an inflammatory bone condition that affects young, rapidly growing German Shepherds. Symptoms include lameness and pain, which typically resolve as the dog reaches maturity. Providing proper nutrition and avoiding excessive strain during growth periods can help manage this condition.

Allergies and Skin Issues: German Shepherds can be prone to various allergies, including food, environmental, or contact allergies. Allergies can manifest as skin irritation, itching, or gastrointestinal issues. Identifying and eliminating the allergen, along with appropriate veterinary care, can help alleviate symptoms.

To keep your German Shepherd healthy, it is essential to provide a balanced diet that meets their nutritional needs and supports their immune system.

Regular veterinary check-ups, including dental care and age-appropriate screenings, will help detect and address potential health issues early on. Additionally, keeping your dog up-to-date on vaccinations and parasite prevention is crucial for protecting them against common infectious diseases and maintaining overall health.

By taking proactive steps to monitor and maintain your German Shepherd’s health, you can help ensure they live a long, happy, and fulfilling life as a cherished member of your family.

german shepherd running
Photo: Serega/Getty Images Signature

History

The history of the German Shepherd breed dates back to the late 19th century in Germany, when efforts were made to develop a versatile and dependable working dog. The foundation of the breed is credited to Max von Stephanitz, a German cavalry officer and dog enthusiast who believed in the potential of creating the ideal herding and working dog, combining intelligence, strength, and loyalty.

To achieve this goal, von Stephanitz studied various herding dogs native to Germany and identified a dog named Horand von Grafrath, previously known as Hektor Linksrhein, that embodied his vision. In 1899, von Stephanitz founded the Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde (SV), or the Society for the German Shepherd Dog, and registered Horand as the first official German Shepherd Dog.

The early focus of the breed was on its herding abilities; however, as the need for herding dogs declined due to industrialization, von Stephanitz sought new roles for the German Shepherd.

He promoted the breed’s adaptability and intelligence for various tasks, such as police work, military service, and search and rescue operations. The German Shepherd quickly gained recognition for its exceptional capabilities as a working dog, excelling in numerous fields.

During World War I, German Shepherds were employed by both German and Allied forces for their versatility and reliability. Their skills in carrying messages, locating the wounded, and serving as guard dogs made them invaluable assets during the war. After the war, returning soldiers brought the breed to the United States and other countries, further popularizing the German Shepherd.

In popular culture, the German Shepherd has been featured in various movies, television shows, and books, often portraying faithful companions and courageous heroes.

One of the most famous early examples is Rin Tin Tin, a German Shepherd rescued from a World War I battlefield by an American soldier. Rin Tin Tin went on to star in numerous Hollywood films, contributing to the breed’s growing popularity in the United States.

Another notable German Shepherd is Strongheart, who also appeared in several Hollywood movies during the 1920s and was one of the first canine stars. More recently, the breed has been featured in various television series, such as K-9, where a German Shepherd named Bullet played the role of a police dog, further showcasing their intelligence and trainability.

The American Kennel Club (AKC) first recognized the German Shepherd breed in 1908. Since then, the breed has consistently ranked among the most popular dog breeds in the United States due to its versatility, intelligence, and loyalty.

Today, German Shepherds continue to excel in various roles, such as service dogs, therapy dogs, search and rescue, police and military work, and, of course, as beloved family companions.

Parent Club

The official parent club for the German Shepherd dog breed in the United States is the German Shepherd Dog Club of America (GSDCA). Founded in 1913, the GSDCA is dedicated to promoting the proper breeding, training, and care of German Shepherds.

The club provides resources, educational materials, and events for German Shepherd enthusiasts and owners. You can visit their website at here for more information on the breed, membership, activities, and events.

Breed Standard

A breed standard is a set of guidelines established by breed clubs or kennel organizations, defining the ideal appearance, temperament, and physical traits of a specific breed. It serves as a reference for breeders, judges, and enthusiasts to evaluate and maintain a breed’s unique qualities.

Covering aspects like size, appearance, and temperament, breed standards are used in dog shows and competitions to assess individual dogs against the ideal representation of their breed.

You can check the German Sheperd’s breed standard set by the American Kennel Club (AKC) here.

german shepherd puppy by the lake
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Acquiring

When considering acquiring a German Shepherd, it is crucial to prepare for the responsibility of owning an intelligent and active breed. Research the breed’s characteristics, exercise needs, and potential health issues to ensure you can provide a suitable environment.

Instead of purchasing from a breeder, consider rescuing a German Shepherd in need of a loving home. Many dogs are waiting in shelters or rescue organizations for their forever families.

The American Kennel Club (AKC) and the German Shepherd Dog Club of America (GSDCA) can assist in locating reputable rescue organizations. They often collaborate with rescues to ensure these dogs receive proper care and find suitable homes.

Adopting a German Shepherd not only provides a second chance for a deserving dog but also enriches your life with the love and loyalty that this remarkable breed has to offer.

FAQs

Are German Shepherds good family dogs?

Yes, German Shepherds make excellent family dogs. They are known for their loyalty, intelligence, and protectiveness, making them great companions for families. With proper socialization, training, and regular exercise, they can be affectionate and gentle members of the household.

Are German Shepherds expensive?

The initial cost of acquiring a German Shepherd can vary depending on factors such as rescue fees or breeder prices. Ongoing costs include food, grooming, routine veterinary care, and potential health issues specific to the breed. It is essential to consider these expenses before bringing a German Shepherd into your home.

Are German Shepherds easy to keep?

German Shepherds are relatively easy to keep if you can provide the necessary time, attention, and resources. They require regular exercise, mental stimulation, and consistent training to maintain their physical and mental well-being. They also need routine grooming due to their double coat.

Are German Shepherds aggressive?

German Shepherds are not inherently aggressive; however, their protective instincts can make them wary of strangers or perceived threats. Early socialization, training, and proper management can ensure that your German Shepherd remains well-mannered and non-aggressive in various situations.

Do German Shepherds require a lot of exercise?

Yes, German Shepherds are an active breed that requires 1 to 2 hours of daily exercise to maintain their physical health and prevent boredom. A combination of walks, play sessions, and mentally stimulating activities will help keep your German Shepherd happy and well-adjusted.

How often should I groom my German Shepherd?

German Shepherds have a double coat that sheds moderately throughout the year and more heavily during seasonal changes. Regular brushing (2-3 times a week) will help remove loose fur and maintain a healthy coat. Occasional baths and nail trims are also necessary for proper grooming.

Can German Shepherds live in apartments?

While German Shepherds can adapt to apartment living, it requires extra effort to ensure their exercise and mental stimulation needs are met. Consistent daily exercise, socialization, and access to outdoor spaces are essential to keep a German Shepherd content in an apartment setting.

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