German Shepherd breed guide
Up to 26 inches (to shoulder).
Males and females up to 95lbs.
10 to 14 years.
The German Shepherd Dog, as the name suggests, was bred in Germany as a sheep dog. A former cavalryman, Captain Max von Stephanitz dedicated his life to creating a dog breed that encompassed all of the desired traits of a good sheepdog: agility; athleticism; intelligence; capability and loyalty. Across Europe, different dogs were prized for different abilities and shepherds were willing to travel great distances to breed their bitches with reputable studs. Von Stephanitz decided to try and amalgamate all of these qualities into one breed of dog. In 1899 von Stephanitz was at a dog show when he spotted a wolfish dog with a muscular, powerful physique and high intelligence and immediately bought him to become the lynchpin of his breeding programme.
As time went by, farming processes became more industrialised and sheepdogs became less prevalent, as motors took over and roaming spaces were more limited. Von Stephanitz changed tack and marketed his breed, the German Shepherd that we know today, to the German military and police force. It proved its worth as a guard dog, messenger and rescue dog.
During World War I several Allied servicemen encountered these dogs in Germany and were impressed by their qualities, taking puppies home to the US and UK with them. While anti-German sentiments were still rife after the war, the dog was temporarily renamed “Alsatian Wolf Dog”, though the name German Shepherd has now come back into use.
Nowadays the German Shepherd is still often found as a working dog for law enforcement and the military while also being fairly popular as family pets.
The German Shepherd is similar in silhouette to a wolf, with a muscular body and pointed, upright ears. They are handsome dogs with very thick coats and bushy tails. Their noses are generally black and their coats are typically tan and black, though white and “panda” varieties have been known but are extremely uncommon and are considered “faults” by kennel and show clubs.
German Shepherds are very brave, alert and loyal. They are very obedient and keen to learn and please their owners. They are extremely intelligent and loving of their immediate “pack” and can make for a great family pet with the right training. German Shepherds do require a lot of socialising at a young age to condition them against being wary of other dogs and strange people, as this can lead to aggression if they feel their family is threatened. They do best with firm authority and a strict training regime.
German Shepherds are very energetic and need a lot of exercise in open space to help them stay fit and, importantly, let off steam. These dogs thrive with consistency and having a clear “pack leader” in the family will give them a point of authority. They are very agile and strong and, being rather territorial, make excellent guard dogs. They have a very good nose and have been used to detect drugs, bombs and even gas leaks.
Things to watch out for
German Shepherd Dogs have a reputation for being aggressive. This reputation isn’t entirely fair as these dogs are very responsive to social conditioning and training. While dogs employed for military and police work are trained to exhibit combative behaviour, a family dog - with the right training - will be more friendly and gentle. You must be prepared to put in a lot of groundwork with a German Shepherd puppy to make sure they are very well socialised and know where they stand in their pack.
With their thick, soft coats, they shed year-round and your home is likely to be covered in fur on a constant basis. You can minimise this with daily brushing, but even so you will want to have a very good vacuum cleaner on hand.
Like all dogs, without adequate exercise they can become restless and destructive. They also don’t particularly like being left alone for long periods of time. Make sure they get plenty of exercise between walks, training and playtime. This will help you to avoid undesirable behaviour.
They are protective dogs so they are likely to be quite vocal, particularly when strangers approach the house. Make sure your dog is emotionally secure and comfortable with strangers by exposing them to plenty of people at a young age. They should get used to meeting new people and animals and will be less stressed by it.
Is a German Shepherd for me?
German Shepherds are beautiful, clever, athletic and loyal. When handled with care and given the proper training they can make great pets. It does have to be noted that their training and lives require a great deal of structure and they do require more attention than some other breeds, so perhaps they aren’t quite right for you if you don’t have adequate time to spare. However, if you do have the time, space and energy to dedicate to this lively dog then perhaps a German Shepherd is the dog for you!
Did you know?
German Shepherd Dogs were the number 1 most popular breed in the US from 1925 to 1930.