The German Shepherd Dog (GSD) is a medium to large dog breed well-loved the world over. Their loyalty, courage and intelligence make them an excellent choice as a pet or working dog.
German Shepherds have been used as reliable watchdogs and police dogs for decades and they are easily trained in the right hands, responding well to gentle but firm handling so they know who to look to for leadership. They are a regular feature of armies all over the world due to their stamina, resilience, reliability and incredible scenting skills. However, their loyalty to their loved humans and long list of positive traits also makes the German Shepherd wonderful family pets.
Males: 24-26 inches (60-65cm)
Females: 22-24 inches (55-60cm)
Males: 66-88lbs (30-40kg)
Females: 49-70lbs (30-40kg)
Average Litter Size: 5-15 although can be bigger
Life Expectancy: 9-13 years
Good with Children: Yes
Kennel Club Classification: Pastoral group
The GSD can have short or long coats, with the longer coated dogs also having feathered tails and legs. Regardless of coat length, they are extremely weather resistant and come in a variety of solid and mixed colours:
• 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
The German Shepherd has a thick double coat that protects it from winter elements and UV rays in summer.
Grooming is essential to stop matts and tangles and to remove loose dead hair. German Shepherds shed all year round so grooming two or three times a week is needed, or daily during the two high shedding seasons per year. Ironically, longer haired GSDs don’t shed as much as their undercoat gets trapped by the longer hairs on top.
Step one is to detangle with a detangling tool to work out any tangles or matts. Then get to work on the undercoat with a de-shedding tool and pin brush to remove dead, loose hair from head to tail. Finish off with a soft bristle brush on the overcoat to remove any remaining loose hairs and debris.
As with grooming any dog, keep feeling for lumps, bumps and ticks as you work.
An occasional bath can be given as well, although drying the thick double coat could take several hours. If you are using a dryer make sure the temperature isn’t too high and that you blow in the direction of hair growth to avoid tangling.
As with most dog breeds, the German Shepherd can suffer from hereditary conditions. The most common for the GSD is hip and/or elbow dysplasia for which tests and scoring is available. In male dogs only, haemophilia, a blood clotting disorder can be a problem.
The GSD is extremely alert, loyal and intelligent. This means that as a breed they are very easy to train and pick up new tasks quickly. However, their mental agility also means they need plenty of stimulation so as not to get into mischief. They need a firm, calm and experienced hand so that they know their place. German Shepherds that don’t have a strong leader to follow can try and exert dominance themselves.
They are good with children but like with any puppy play can become boisterous and German Shepherds quickly grow into large dogs so care around toddlers is sensible.
The German Shepherd’s high intelligence and focus along with their calm, unflappable nature makes them easy to train in the right hands. They have both prey drive and defence drive, but both can be managed well with correct handling.
Given the tendency to become alpha in any group, the GSD needs firm and steady training with plenty of positive reinforcement to be content and happy with their place in the pack. Puppies need firm ground rules from the start.
Despite their size and impressive bark, the German Shepherd is a sensitive dog who would not respond well to rough or negative correction measures when training. Their ability to learn quickly and fierce loyalty is why these dogs are seen alongside the police and army as well as in family homes.
German Shepherds need a lot of physical and mental exercise every day so wouldn’t be first choice for a sedentary lifestyle. In their prime, a minimum of 60 minutes outside exercise every day is needed but ideally an owner should aim for two hours. As much of this should be off lead as possible, where it is safe to do so.
Not only do these large dogs need physical exertion but mental stimulation as well so plenty of interactive games are a must. They have an incredible sense of smell so hide and seek games are fantastic for keeping their mind and nose busy.
The German Shepherd Dog is a relatively new breed compared to some, and first appeared in Germany in the late 19th century although that dog looked rather different to the breed we recognise today. The more familiar GSD we see today wasn’t seen regularly until after the Second World War.
Max Von Stephanitz, a calvary captain now known as the “father of the breed” was responsible for developing the result of cross breeding sheep dogs in rural Germany in order to create a loyal, protective herding dog that could cover long distances at a steady trot. It took Von Stephanitz 35 years to develop and promote the handsome breed and as the need for herding dogs decreased, he instead focused on honing the other many traits of the GSD with the aim of producing a great all-round working dog that could operate under any conditions.
By the late 1800s, the first GSD breed club was established in Germany which aimed to standardise the breed. When that club disbanded and the Society for the German Shepherd Dog was set up in its place, Von Stephanitz’s own GSD, Hektor, was the first to be registered.
Von Stehanitz encouraged the use of the German Shepherd in the police force and thousands served in the German army during the First World War where they were used as messenger and guard dogs. It was immediately prior to World War I that the GSD was becoming popular in America. Unfortunately, the onset of The War meant all things German were taboo, so they became known as ‘the Shepherd Dog’ for a while.
The GSD is still called an Alsation in some parts of the UK, which is possibly due to the fact that the Alsace region of France, where this breed was very popular, was part of Germany when they were first bred.
After the war, British and Americans were so impressed by the breed that they took their own home to start breeding and they have gained popularity as family pets and working dogs ever since.