German Shepherd Breed Overview
The German Shepherd is one of the world’s most recognised and respected dog breeds. A versatile and multi-talented dog, the German Shepherd has mastered multiple fields, from sheepdog to police dog to guard dog, and almost everything in between. This intelligent and active breed is equally happy having a job to perform and protecting his family. Stoic and aloof, yet not usually aggressive, the German Shepherd is a reserved dog who is dedicated and loyal to his owner.
The German Shepherd breed has some of the highest qualities and traits of dogs, but they are certainly not for everyone. They require work to keep their minds and bodies active and engaged; they are not the type of dog to leave home alone for long periods. This breed loves to learn, work, and play, and they fit best in a household that holds the same values.
German Shepherds can reach 65 cm in height and 40 kg in weight.
Their life expectancy is approximately 14 years, but there were cases when some examples reached 20 years old.
As a large breed dog, the German Shepherd can live between 10 – 14 years; however, with excellent care and some lucky genes, there have been some German Shepherds who have lived to the age of 20. Overall, the German Shepherd is a reasonably healthy breed aside from some possible genetic diseases, and if cared for, will be a loyal family member for years.
- Suitability for Children – Medium
- Tendency to Bark – High
- Energy – High
- Suitability as a Guard Dog – High
- Grooming Requirements – Once a Week
- Trimming Required – None
- Amount of hair shed – Heavy
- Food Cost – $15 to $20
- Average Monthly Pet insurance Premium – $58
Origins of German Shepherd
Dating back to 1899, the German Shepherd came into existence due to the efforts of Max von Stephanitz, a cavalry captain who wanted to create a distinct German herding breed. The captain travelled to multiple dog shows throughout Germany searching for the type of dog he envisioned as the founder of this new breed. In 1899, he found that dog at a show, purchased him, and created the breed.
Over time, von Stephanitz saw that the breed would need to be more than just a herding dog as farms were becoming scarce and herding dogs were no longer in demand. He saw that the German Shepherd could be so much more than a herding dog; this breed’s future was in military and police work. During World War I, von Stephanitz convinced the German government to use the breed for a wide range of responsibilities including as a messenger, guard, sentry, and Red Cross dog.
The German Shepherd became popular in America after an American corporal found a five-day-old puppy in a kennel in France during World War I. He trained the dog, and the dog became one of the most famous Hollywood animals, Rin Tin Tin. The dog starred in 26 movies and put the breed on the map in America. During World War II, the breed declined in popularity and was even renamed to avoid the “German” moniker; the American Kennel Club renamed the breed the Shepherd Dog, and in England, the breed was called the Alsatian Wolf Dog. The breed regained its name via the American Kennel Club in 1931.
Ironically, American breeding of the German Shepherd was not followed as strictly as had been done in Germany. Americans bred the German Shepherd to be a dog show with an emphasis on gait and looks. Today, many American police and military departments import German Shepherds from Germany and other parts of Europe because of the emphasis on the dog’s working abilities rather than appearance.
German Shepherd Temperament
Eager to learn and full of energy, the German Shepherd is an incredibly talented dog who needs exercise and engagement for his active body and mind. Walking a few times a day, running, chasing, or playing catch are all excellent examples of ways to keep a German Shepherd happy and healthy. Without appropriate mental and physical stimulation, this breed can quickly become bored and turn to destructive methods to alleviate their frustration.
The German Shepherd is a self-confident, curious, and alert breed yet the dog can become territorial and overprotective of his family if he is not properly socialised and trained from an early age. It is the breed’s intelligence and protective nature that makes it a common choice for police, drug-sniffing, tracking, guide, and search-and-rescue dogs. The German Shepherd is willing to give its life to protect the people and families that he loves, a sign of the loyalty this dog has for its owner.
This breed is susceptible to separation anxiety if left alone for long periods. The dog is an active part of any family’s household and needs to be respected and treated as such.
General Exercise and Care
The German Shepherd breed was initially created to herd flocks of livestock from sunrise to sunset; therefore, this breed is built to be energetic and active and to have the stamina to work long hours. Owners of this breed should plan to give their German Shepherd plenty of time to exercise daily both in mind and body. The breed loves to run and chase and excels at agility and obedience competitions that require a sharp mind and respect for the owner. If left alone without the ability to burn off energy or to engage the mind, the German Shepherd can become unruly and destructive. Inactivity and boredom can lead to digging, chewing, and barking issues.
Barking is a quality of this breed as it is with other herding dog breeds. With proper obedience training, the German Shepherd will learn to go silent on command; however, the breed may bark incessantly due to separation anxiety or boredom if not adequately exercised. A German Shepherd should receive at least two hours of exercise daily once he reaches adulthood.
The German Shepherd is a chewing breed; they love to chew, and their powerful jaws can quickly destroy what they pick up in their mouths. Keeping delicate or expensive material out of their reach will protect both your property and your dog’s health. German Shepherds may swallow material that can cause blockages in their gastrointestinal system leading to significant injury or death.
Diet is critically important for this breed. The German Shepherd should have food that is created with large-breed dogs in mind. Your veterinarian or board-certified nutritionist can devise a diet with proper portion sizes to adjust to this breed’s growth from puppy-hood to geriatric age. German Shepherd grow quickly between five and seven months of age, making them susceptible to bone disorders; generally, a low-calorie but high-quality diet is necessary for this breed.
Because the German Shepherd grows so rapidly, it is best to not let the breed play on hard surfaces during puppy-hood until the age of two when their joints are fully formed and strong enough to withstand the pressures of unforgiving surfaces. Be careful not to overfeed this dog breed as they can easily become overweight and place more pressure on the joints, leading to joint diseases and other health conditions.
The German Shepherd’s toenails should be trimmed monthly and the ears checked weekly for any redness, foul odour, or dirt that may be a sign of infection. Clean the ears with a pH-balanced cleaner to keep the ears clean and clear.
As German Shepherds are notorious chewers, they need to have their teeth brushed regularly to reduce the buildup of tartar and to keep the gums healthy and clean. Safe dental chew treats and toys can provide additional support for this breed’s strong teeth.
Common German Shepherd Conditions & Diseases
With an average probability for developing illnesses or diseases during its lifetime, the German Shepherd is considered one of the more affordable dog breeds to insure. That said, there are some health conditions that this breed is prone to getting and prospective owners should be aware of those potential medical problems. If you purchase your German Shepherd from a breeder, make sure the breeder is reputable and willing to provide documentation and health clearances from both of the puppy’s parents. Health certificates prove the breeding parents have been tested for genetic diseases and do not carry them.
Here are common health issues that German Shepherds may develop:
- Hip dysplasia is a deformity that occurs within the ball and socket joint of the hip when German shepherd is a puppy. These joints weaken when balanced growth does not happen during the puppy’s first months to one year of life. Hip dyspepsia can eventually cause serious arthritic conditions, such as degenerative joint disease and osteoarthritis, which will impact a German Shepherd’s quality of life as he ages. Diet and genetics are often to blame for this condition, and typical symptoms include lameness, hind end weakness, limping, and difficulty getting up or down stairs. This disease can be managed with a proper diet, moderate exercise, dietary supplements, anti-inflammatory drugs, and weight management.
- Elbow dysplasia is a disease that causes abnormal growth within the dog’s elbow joint. Genetics, diet, trauma, and over exercise may all be contributing factors to this condition, and a combination of any of them may encourage the improper growth between the wrist and the elbow. Elbow dysplasia typically affects large breed dogs like the German Shepherd, and surgery is often the only way to deal with the disease.
- Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI) is a genetic disease of the pancreas wherein cells which can no longer produce digestive enzymes are attacked and destroyed. Dogs with this disease are incapable of digesting and absorbing food. Symptoms associated with EPI are weight loss, gas, loss of appetite, and change in the constancy of stools. Eventually, the dog becomes excessively hungry and dangerously thin. A veterinarian can diagnose EPI with a blood test, and the disease can be treated successfully with medication and pancreatic enzyme dietary supplements.
- Degenerative Myelopathy is a progressive spinal cord disease that impacts the area where the spinal cord connects with the hind legs. This condition causes the communication between the spinal cord and brain in regards to the rear legs to fail; as a result, a German Shepherd suffering from this disease cannot move his back legs correctly and may not even know where his back legs are. No treatment exists to eradicate the condition, and eventually, the dog will not be able to walk. In some cases, vitamin B12 or E supplements have helped stabilise the disease, but cannot cure it.
- Allergies can afflict some German Shepherds and can range from food allergies to inhalant and contact allergies. Signs of potential allergic reactions include excessive scratching, biting, or licking at their paws. A veterinarian or nutritionist can help determine if the dog has an allergy and then, through dietary and environmental changes as well as corticosteroids, address and alleviate the allergen source.
- Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (Bloat) is a condition that impacts large breeds with deep chests which are fed one meal a day and eat it rapidly. Bloat happens when the dog’s stomach is too full of air or gas, causing the stomach to distend and twist. Dogs cannot vomit or belch to remove the excess air; the result is a severe blood pressure drop as the normal return of blood to the heart is prevented by the bloat. A dog will go into shock at this point, and without immediate veterinary attention, the dog may die. Symptoms of bloat include restlessness, depression, excessive salivation, dry heaving or gagging, lethargy, distended stomach, and a rapid heart rate.
Coat and Grooming
The German Shepherd has a medium-length double coat that protects the dog from inclement weather and helps keep the dog free of dirt and burrs. This type of coat comes from when the breed was initially bred to herd livestock in cold, rainy climates. The German Shepherd has multiple coat types, although the primary medium-length coat has an outer layer that is straight, dense, and sometimes wavy. A variety of coat colours can be found in this breed, some including patterns; colours include all black; black and red; black and silver; black and cream; black and tan; Gray; liver; sable; blue; and all white.
Shedding occurs year-round with the German Shepherd, and the breed tends to “blow” out its coat fully twice a year. Owning this breed means being willing to live in a household with lots of hair on everything in the home. Brushing your German Shepherd a few times a week can help the loose and dead fur come out on the grooming brush rather than the furniture.
The German Shepherd should be bathed only when necessary. Bathing this breed too frequently can strip the coat of the essential oils needed to keep the fur and skin healthy. Despite how much they shed, the German Shepherd is a generally odourless and clean dog.
Children and Other Pets
German Shepherds can be excellent companions to children provided that the dog has been exposed to children and appropriately trained from puppy-hood. Although this breed is not a tail-wagging type of dog, they are typically trustworthy and gentle around kids.
Most German Shepherds get along well with other family pets if they have grown up around them. However, some members of this breed have strong chasing or predatory behaviours toward small animals or pets that run quickly. In those cases, the German Shepherd should not be left alone with the other pets, and all interactions between the family pets should be observed in a safe, neutral location.
The first dog to be trained as a seeing-eye guide dog was a German Shepherd named Buddy.
- One of the first animal movie stars was a German Shepard called Strongheart.
- They shed a lot, which means that you must have a vacuum cleaner nearby. Brush them on daily basis in order to keep their fur healthy and beautiful.
A German Shepherd has a bite force of 238 PSI.
German Shepherds are the third most intelligent dog breed after the Border Collie and the Poodle.