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German Shepherd

Breed Highlights

German Shepherds are highly intelligent
In the right hands, a GSD is easy to train
Extremely loyal to their families
Good with children of all ages
Very protective, hence good watchdogs
They excel at many canine activities
Trustworthy and dependable when correctly bred

What to consider 

Not the best choice for first time owners
Can suffer from quite a few hereditary health disorders
GSDs need to be given lots of mental stimulation and daily exercise
Not suited to apartment living

Basic Breed Information

German Shepherds are one of the most popular breeds the world over and have consistently been so for many years. Extremely loyal and intelligent, the GSD is not only a great choice as a family pet, but they are extremely versatile in a working environment too. Over the years the breed has been used by police forces in many countries, they play a vital role in the army thanks to their intelligence, alertness, resilience, stamina, reliability and extraordinary scenting skills.

Loyal and courageous, the German Shepherd is an elegant and proud dog that soon lets an owner know when strangers are around which is one of the reasons the breed has always been a highly prized watchdog throughout the world. Because they are so intelligent, German Shepherds need lots of mental stimulation and physical exercise to be truly happy, well-balanced dogs. They also need to be correctly trained and handled with a firm and gentle hand so they know who is alpha dog in a household. GSDs are never happier than when they know their place in the pack and who to look to for direction and guidance becoming valuable members of a family.

Where did the German Shepherd originate from?

The German Shepherd we see today was first developed in Germany at the end of the eighteenth century by a cavalry captain named Max von Stephanitz. He spent thirty-five years developing and promoting the breed to produce a trustworthy, reliable and handsome dog. He encouraged the police force in his native country to use German Shepherds in their line of work and during the First World War, thousands of GSDs became part of the German army.

German Shepherds were originally bred as herding dogs and they job was to guard large flocks, but the demand for herding dogs decreased over time which is when Max von Stephanitz stepped in to promote the breed’s other skills while at the same time honing specific traits, namely a dog’s stamina, strength, speed, intelligence, eagerness to please and work.

By the late 1800s, the first Breed Dog Club was set up in Germany called the Phylax Society, (Phylax being Greek for ‘Guardsman’). It was established by Max von Stephanitz together with other breed enthusiasts who further developed and promoted the GSD as a working dog and they were subsequently often used by the German army and police force. Their aim was to standardise the breed countrywide. When the first club disbanded, Stephanitz set up the Society for the German Shepherd Dog and his own GSD, a dog called Hektor was the first GSD to be registered. He then changed his dog’s name to Horand von Grafrath and used him in breeding programmes to produce well-bred, strong and resilient German Shepherd Dogs, namely the ancestors of many German Shepherd lines that we see today.

The breed has evolved over the last fifty years or so with a marked difference in breed “type” appearing on the scene. More recently, a longer coated variety of GSD is now part of the recognised Kennel Club Breed Standard.

Did you know….

Are German Shepherds a vulnerable breed? No, they are among the most popular dogs in the world and rated one of the most popular in Ireland also
GSDs proved they were reliable and trustworthy dogs during the World Wars when they were used as messengers and guard dogs
The German Shepherd is one of the very few breeds to have the word “dog” in their name
The sport of Schutzhund was created in the 1900’s for German Shepherd Dogs
Max von Stephanitz is known as the “father of the breed”
German Shepherds were highly regarded for their reliability during the World Wars
A German Shepherd called Strongheart has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
German Shepherd Dogs were the first guide dogs

What should my German Shepherd Look Like?

Average height to withers: Males 60 – 65 cm, Females 55 – 60 cm

Average weight: Males 30 – 40 kg, Females 22 – 32 kg

The GSD is a mid size to large dog that boasts being a little longer in the body than they are tall. They are powerful, muscular dogs with extremely weather-resilient coats. They are very well proportioned dogs with slightly domed foreheads and nicely wedged shaped muzzles.

Their eyes are almond-shaped and medium in size with dark brown being the preferred colour although lighter eye colours are acceptable. The German Shepherd has a lively, intelligent expression and gives the impression of being a confident and self-assured character.

German Shepherds have medium to largish size ears that are broader at the base and set high on a dog’s head. They carry their ears erect and parallel to each other. These dogs have a strong jaw line with a perfect bite. The boast longish necks that are strong and well-muscled which they carry at an angle at rest, but higher when they are on the move or excited.

As previously mentioned, the GSD is a well-proportioned dog which sees well-muscled shoulders and legs. They are long in the body compared to their height with a deep chest that’s neither too broad nor too thin. Their topline falls away very slightly from the wither down to the croup. Hindquarters are well-muscled, strong and broad with powerful back legs. Their feet are well rounded with short dark nails and their pads are extremely well cushioned.

German Shepherds have long tails that they hold in a curve when at rest and a little higher when they move although they never hold their tails higher than the level of their backs.

When it comes to their coat, there are two different types in the GSD with the first being short and the second being long, but both are extremely weather-resilient. A GSD’s outer coat is straight, dense and close-lying with dogs having a much thicker and denser undercoat. The hair on a GSD’s head, ears, front legs, paws and toes is short, but longer and denser on their necks, backs of their legs and hindquarters. Dogs with longer coats have feathers on the underside of their tails, longer hair on the back of their front legs. The hair is also longer both behind and inside their ears which look like tufts. Some male GSDs may have a slight ruff. It is worth noting that mole-type coats in GSDs are highly undesirable.

Longer coated GSDs have much longer outer coats which don’t necessarily have to be straight or close-lying, but they do have a very dense and thick undercoat. The hair on the inside and behind a dog’s ears is markedly longer so it forms moderately sized tufts. The hair on the back of a dog’s front legs is longer and through to their loins too with their hind legs being densely feathered. Tails are bushy having a slight amount of feathering on the underside. Coat colours can be varied and include the following:

Black & Gold
Black & Red
Black & Red Gold
Black & Silver
Black & Tan
Black Gold & Silver
Black Sable
Black Tan & Gold
Black Tan & Sable
Blue & Gold
Blue & Tan
Blue Sable
Dark Sable
Gold Sable
Grey Sable
Red Sable
Silver Sable
Puppies with nearly all black coats typically have black and gold coats as they mature. However, it’s very hard to predict the amount of black a GSD may have in the coats as adult dogs just by looking at their puppy coats.

One thing worth noting is that although not recognised by KC breed standards, the American White Shepherd is continuing to gain popularity as a separate breed.

How does a German Shepherd Walk?

The German Shepherd Dog has quite a unique gait and they move positively covering a lot of ground when they do. They move forward placing their feet diagonally with a front leg and opposite back leg moving forward at the same time. They throw a back foot forward to the mid-section of their bodies all the while having a long reach with their front feet which does not alter the shape of their backlines.

What do Kennel Clubs look for?

Under the Kennel Club Breed Standard, any departures from the standard would be considered as faults with the seriousness of a fault being judged on how much it affects the well-being and health of a dog and their ability to work.

Male GSDs must have two normal testicles fully descended and if they are not, this would be deemed a fault.

It is also worth noting that the size given in a GSDs Kennel Club breed standard is to be used as a guide only. As such, a German Shepherd Dog may be slightly larger or smaller and weigh a little less or more than stated in their breed standard.

Does a German Shepherd Have a Good Temperament?

German Shepherds are renowned for their intelligence, alertness and loyalty. However, they are not the best choice for first-time owners because they need to be expertly and calmly handled with a firm yet gentle hand. These dogs must know their place in the pack and that their owner is the alpha dog or they could start displaying dominant behaviours which can lead to all sorts of problems which can make a GSD that much harder to handle.

Being essentially a “working” dog, German Shepherds need lots of mental stimulation as well as enough daily exercise to be truly happy and well-balanced dogs when they are in a home environment. Because they are so intelligent, they are quick to learn new things and this includes picking up “bad habits” all too easily. If left to their own devices and not given the right amount of daily exercise and mental stimulation, a German Shepherd Dog may well become a little destructive and noisy around the home and it could be put down to sheer boredom.

GSDs respond extremely well to positive reinforcement training because they are sensitive by nature. They do not react well to any kind of heavy handed handling which could have an adverse effect on a dog’s nature. Being alert and loyal, German Shepherds can be a little territorial which is something to bear in mind when you know anyone is coming to visit your home and why they have always been so highly prized as watchdogs.

German Shepherds are high maintenance and thrive on being with owners who have the time to devote to a canine companion. They need at least 2 hours exercise every day which must be combined with lots of mental stimulation. Although very versatile, a German Shepherd would not do well living in an apartment and ideally, they should have a safe, large garden to roam around in as often as possible. The GSD prefers to live in a structured family environment and thrives on human companionship which in short means they are better suited to households where one person remains at home when other people are out.

With correct handling, the GSD is one of the smartest, most trainable of dogs on the planet and when tempered with their calm and unflappable natures, they make wonderful family pets and are known for their trustworthiness in a working environment.

Is a German Shepherd a good choice for first time owners?

German Shepherds are not the best choice for first time dog owners because although they are highly intelligent and therefore easy to train, they are better suited to people who are familiar with the breed’s specific needs and who therefore know how to handle and train them.

Do they have a strong prey drive?

German Shepherds do have high prey drives, but the good news is that with correct training and management, a GSD can be taught not to “chase” anything unless it is a ball or object that has been thrown for them. With this said, they are known to have other “drives” which includes the following:

Defence drive – this is very strong in German Shepherds which is why they have always been highly regarded as watch dogs
Rank drive – a German Shepherd needs to know their place in the “pack” because they have a very high rank drive and if allowed, a GSD would quickly take on the role of alpha dog in a household
Pack drive – GSDs have a high pack drive which is why they hate it so much when they find themselves on their own

Are German Shepherds playful?

German Shepherds have a playful side to their natures and enjoy playing interactive games. The excel at many canine sports and thoroughly enjoy taking part in training sessions and competitions. The thing to bear in mind that with dogs like the GSD, it’s important to differentiate between a dog being playful and when they are asserting their dominance which is something to be avoided at all costs.

What about adaptability?

German Shepherds are better suited to households with largish back gardens. They do not adapt that well to living in an apartment. The reason being that GSDs need the room to express themselves and a good back yard to stretch their legs in whenever they can.

Do German Shepherds suffer from separation anxiety?

German Shepherd Dogs thrive on human company and are never happy when left on their own even for shorter periods of time. If a GSD is left alone, they suffer separation anxiety which would result in excessive barking and being destructive around the house. When dogs are destructive, it is their way of relieving the stress they experience at being alone.

Do German Shepherds Bark a lot?

German Shepherds are intelligent and can be taught not to bark unnecessarily. However, if a dog is unhappy for whatever reason and this includes because they are left on their own for too long, then a GSD could well start barking incessantly because they are stressed out and are trying to get attention. With this said, GSDs are good watchdogs and will bark if there are strangers about or if something they don’t like is going on in their environment.

Do German Shepherds like Swimming?

German Shepherd Dogs do like water and enjoy swimming, but it’s not a good idea to let a dog swim in a pool because of all the chemicals that are used in them. Care should always be taken when a GSD is taken for a walk anywhere near a dangerous water course just in case they decide to leap in.

Are German Shepherds good watchdogs?

German Shepherd Dogs make excellent watchdogs because the need to “protect” is a trait that is deeply embedded in their psyche and why the breed has always been such a highly regarded guard dog throughout the world.

Is a German Shepherd easy to train?

German Shepherds are highly intelligent and need a tremendous amount of mental stimulation to be truly well-rounded characters. In the right hands and with the correct amount of training, they are extremely responsive to commands they are taught. They excel when they take part in obedience classes for this very reason. They are particularly receptive to voice commands when the right sort of intonation is used.

German Shepherds respond well to positive reinforcement and will not accept any harsh methods or handling which includes the way they are corrected when they get something wrong. Well handled, they excel at all the canine sporting activities which includes agility, Flyball and obedience, but they can also be seen working as rescue dogs, tracking dogs and helping the police and other authorities in their work, all of which are jobs which German Shepherds take in their stride.

It is worth noting that German Shepherds pick new things up very quickly and will respond well to a command even when they have only been given it four or five times. Puppies need to be taught ground rules and commands from the word go and their training must be consistent so dogs understand what an owner expects of them. As previously mentioned, an adult GSD should always be handled firmly and fairly to make sure they understand their place in the “pack” and who is the alpha dog in a household. They are never happier than when they know who they can look to for guidance and direction. The key to successfully training a German Shepherd is to always be consistent and to make training sessions short and interesting which helps a GSD stay focused on what is being asked of them.

Are German Shepherds Safe with Children and other pets?

German Shepherds are known to be good around children of all ages because they are so calm and patient, more especially if they are well-bred, even tempered dogs. With this said, GSD puppies can be boisterous during playtime and mature German Shepherds can grow into large dogs. As such, care should always be taken when there are toddlers in the home because a GSD may accidentally knock them over during playtime.

GSDs get on well with the family cat and will tolerate being around other family pets they have grown up with. Care should always be taken when a German Shepherd is introduced or meets any other small animals and pets just to be on the safe side.