The German Shepherd is one of the most popular dog breeds in the world. Known for their intelligence, loyalty and working abilities, German Shepherds make excellent companions and working dogs. This comprehensive guide provides an overview of the German Shepherd dog breed including personality traits, care tips, health information, history and more.
An Overview of the German Shepherd Breed
The German Shepherd is a large, athletic dog originally bred as a herding dog in Germany in the late 1800s. Here are some quick facts about the German Shepherd breed:
- AKC Group: Herding
- Size: Medium to large; Males 24-26 inches, 65-90 lbs; Females 22-24 inches, 50-70 lbs
- Coat: Double coat with thick undercoat and straight, coarse outer coat
- Color: Most commonly tan and black or red and black
- Life expectancy: 9-13 years
German Shepherds are known for their confidence, courage, loyalty and willingness to learn. They are adaptable working dogs and make excellent guard dogs, police dogs, military dogs, guide dogs and search and rescue dogs. When properly trained and socialized, German Shepherds are great family companions.
German Shepherd Personality and Temperament
Intelligent and Eager to Learn
The German Shepherd is an extremely intelligent dog breed. They are quick learners and are highly trainable. German Shepherds enjoy having mental stimulation and excel in many types of canine jobs and dog sports.
Loyal and Bond Closely with Their Owners
German Shepherds form strong bonds with their owners and families. They aim to please and will quickly learn cues, commands and tricks. German Shepherds will often be protective and devoted to their families.
Confident and Courageous
German Shepherds are self-assured and fearless. They have a bold spirit and make excellent watch dogs. With proper socialization and training, their confidence does not turn into aggression.
Energetic and Playful
German Shepherd puppies and young adults especially have lots of energy. They need daily exercise and interactive play to stay physically and mentally stimulated. Training activities and dog sports are great outlets for their high energy levels.
Alert and Observant
German Shepherds are always aware of their surroundings. Their alertness and observational skills make them excellent guard dogs and watch dogs for property.
Can Be Wary of Strangers
German Shepherds can be cautious around new people. Proper socialization from a young age can help a German Shepherd gain confidence and learn discernment skills.
Active and Working Dogs
German Shepherds were bred to be working dogs. They thrive when given jobs to do. German Shepherds enjoy activities, dog sports and interactive play with their family members.
Taking Care of a German Shepherd
German Shepherds are large, energetic dogs that need physical activity, mental stimulation and attention from their family. Here are some key care tips for German Shepherds:
- German Shepherds need at least 60 minutes of exercise per day. This can include walks, hikes, playing fetch or other active games.
- Mental stimulation through training or puzzle toys is also important. Without enough activity, German Shepherds may become destructive or neurotic.
- Early socialization and obedience training are essential for the German Shepherd. This helps them learn good manners and discernment skills.
- German Shepherds excel at many dog sports and jobs including agility, obedience trails, herding and service dog work. These activities are great outlets for their intelligence and energy.
- Use positive reinforcement training and be patient but firm during training. Harsh methods do not work well with this sensitive breed.
- Brush German Shepherds 1-2 times per week. Use an undercoat rake to control shedding.
- Trim their nails as needed, usually every 1-2 weeks. Clean their ears weekly.
- German Shepherds shed moderately year-round and heavily during seasonal shedding cycles.
Diet and Nutrition
- German Shepherds should eat high-quality dog food formulated for large, active breeds. Feed them 2-3 cups divided into two meals.
- Maintain a lean, athletic physique. Avoid overfeeding. Monitor their treat intake.
Ideal Home Environment
- German Shepherds need homes with involved owners who can provide adequate exercise, training and attention. They are well-suited for active singles, couples and families.
- German Shepherds should be kept in homes with fenced backyards. They should not be left alone for long periods.
- Their herding background makes German Shepherds good companions for children but supervision is still required. Proper socialization is important.
Potential Health Issues
- German Shepherds are at risk for joint dysplasia, allergies, bloat and some neurological disorders. Responsible breeding minimizes these risks.
With proper care, training and attention, the German Shepherd makes a loyal family pet while retaining their intelligence and working abilities.
German Shepherd History and Origins
Here is an overview of the history of the German Shepherd breed:
Origins in Germany in the Late 1800s
The German Shepherd breed was developed in Germany in the late 1800s primarily by Captain Max von Stephanitz. His goal was to breed an ideal herding and working dog. The foundation sire of the breed was Horand von Grafrath.
Gained Popularity as Working Dogs in World War I
During World War I, German Shepherds served as messenger dogs, rescue dogs, guard dogs and more. Their intelligence and trainability made them ideal military working dogs. The breed gained international popularity.
Continued Use as Service Dogs and Working Dogs
Today German Shepherds are still valued for their working abilities. They serve as police dogs, military dogs, service dogs, search and rescue dogs and more. They are the second most popular breed choice for these roles.
Recognition by Major Kennel Clubs in 1900s
The German Shepherd was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1908. It is the second most popular registered breed in the United States and fourth most popular in the United Kingdom.
Breed Split into Show Dogs and Working Dogs
After World War I, German Shepherd breeding diverged into show dog lines and working dog lines. Show German Shepherds have a sloped back while working lines maintain a straight back and athletic structure.
Popularity Boom After World War II and Rin Tin Tin
The German Shepherd gained widespread popularity after World War II. America fell in love with returned GI’s German Shepherd dogs. The popular Rin Tin Tin movies also increased their appeal.
Today, the German Shepherd remains one of the most versatile working breeds. They are valued as police dogs, war dogs, service dogs and loyal family companions. Responsible breeding maintains their health and working abilities.
Pros and Cons of the German Shepherd Breed
Here are some key pros and cons to consider before getting a German Shepherd:
Pros of the German Shepherd Breed
- Highly intelligent and trainable
- Excellent working, herding and service dogs
- Loyal; forms close bonds with family
- Protective; makes good guard dog
- Confident, courageous and energetic personality
- Adaptable and athletic
Potential Cons of the German Shepherd Breed
- Require significant exercise and mental stimulation
- Prone to boredom and destruction without activity
- Large size and energy may be overwhelming for some families
- Heavy seasonal shedding
- Can be wary of strangers if not properly socialized
- At risk for some health problems like hip dysplasia
For an active individual or family looking for an intelligent, loyal companion the German Shepherd is an excellent choice. Their energy and exercise needs require an owner committed to providing adequate activity and training. When properly stimulated, the German Shepherd is an amazing dog breed.
6 Common German Shepherd Health Problems
While German Shepherds are generally quite hardy, there are some health issues relatively common in the breed. Here are 6 conditions to be aware of:
1. Hip and Elbow Dysplasia
Hip and elbow dysplasia are inherited conditions causing malformation of these joints. This leads to osteoarthritis and lameness. Careful breeding can reduce risk.
Bloat is a life-threatening condition where the stomach twists. It is more common in large, deep chested breeds. Feeding multiple small meals can help prevent bloat.
German Shepherds are prone to allergies causing itchy skin or digestive issues. Common triggers include certain proteins and grains. Identifying and avoiding allergens is key.
4. Degenerative Myelopathy
This neurological disease causes progressive hind limb weakness and paralysis. It usually occurs in older German Shepherds. There is no cure but supportive care can help.
5. EPI (Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency)
EPI is the inability to properly digest food due to inadequate pancreatic enzyme production. It is manageable with enzyme supplements and diet change.
This malignant cancer of blood vessel walls is more common in German Shepherds than other breeds. Seek immediate vet care for symptoms like collapse or unexplained bleeding.
Careful screening and selecting healthy parents from tested breeding stock can help minimize health issues. Know the common conditions to catch problems early.
Choosing a German Shepherd Puppy
Here are some tips for selecting a healthy German Shepherd puppy:
- Find a responsible breeder who screens breeding dogs for health and temperament. Meet both parents if possible.
- The ideal age to take a puppy home is 8-12 weeks after weaning. Puppies still with their littermates at this age are best socialized.
- Ask to see health clearances for conditions like hip dysplasia. Review vet records.
- Meet puppies in person before adopting. Assess energy level and personalities.
- Select an outgoing puppy without excessive shyness or dominance towards litter mates.
- Choose an active puppy with bright eyes, a healthy coat and no signs of diarrhea.
- Be prepared for household disruption for initial puppy training and socialization. Enroll in a puppy kindergarten class.
Choosing your German Shepherd puppy carefully from healthy, screened parents sets up your dog for success as a happy, healthy companion. Do your research to find a quality breeder.
Training a German Shepherd Puppy
Here are some key tips for training a German Shepherd puppy:
Start Training Early
Begin basic obedience training with reward-based methods as soon as you bring your puppy home at 8-12 weeks old. Take them to puppy kindergarten group classes for continued socialization.
Use Positive Reinforcement
German Shepherds respond best to positive reinforcement training where they are rewarded with treats, praise or toys for correct responses. Avoid harsh reprimands.
Focus on Socialization
Thoroughly socialize your German Shepherd puppy to new places, people, dogs, sounds and experiences. Well-socialized German Shepherds discern friend from foe.
Teach and Reward Basic Commands
Train your puppy to respond to commands like “sit”, “stay”, “come”, “down” and “heel”. Practice at home and in distracting environments. Keep training sessions short and upbeat.
Discourage Nipping and Mouthing
German Shepherd puppies may nip and bite during play. Say “no” and redirect to a toy. Praise them for gentle play. Do not encourage roughhousing.
Crate Train Your Puppy
Use crate training to help housetrain your puppy and prevent destruction when you cannot supervise them. Make it positive – provide treats and toys in the crate.
Start Obedience Training and Socialization ASAP
The first 16 weeks of life are vital for puppy socialization and habit formation. Take advantage of this impressionable time to shape your German Shepherd’s behavior.
With dedicated training and socialization starting young, German Shepherds mature into well-mannered companions. Their intelligence allows them to learn quickly.
Finding a German Shepherd Rescue or Adoption
If you are interested in adopting an adult or senior German Shepherd in need of a new home, here are some tips:
- Search for local German Shepherd breed-specific rescues. These rescues thoroughly evaluate dogs before adopting them out.
- Look for German Shepherds available for adoption through your local humane society or shelter. Ask about their health and temperament testing procedures.
- Be realistic about whether you can handle the needs of an adult German Shepherd. They require significant exercise and mental stimulation.
- Ask about the German Shepherd’s past history and reason for surrender if known. Select a dog with an energy level and temperament that fits your lifestyle.
- Be prepared to take time to help your adopted German Shepherd adjust to your household routine and bond with family.
- Expect there to be an adjustment period as the German Shepherd settles in. Be patient and keep training positive.
With realistic expectations, an adult German Shepherd can make a wonderful addition to your active family. Give an adoptable Shepherd a second chance at a happy forever home.
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Frequently Asked Questions about German Shepherds
Answers to some common questions about the German Shepherd breed:
Are German Shepherds good family dogs?
Yes, with proper training and socialization German Shepherds can be excellent family companions. They form close bonds with household members and enjoy activities together. Their high energy may be difficult for very sedentary families however.
What health problems do German Shepherds have?
Hip and elbow dysplasia, bloat, allergies, degenerative myelopathy, EPI, hemangiosarcoma and eye conditions are relatively common in German Shepherds. Choosing healthy parents and prompt vet care helps minimize issues.
How much exercise does a German Shepherd need daily?
German Shepherds require a minimum of 60 minutes of vigorous exercise per day. This can include running, hiking, playing fetch or engaging in dog sports. Mental exercise through training is also important. Without enough activity they may become restless or destructive.
What is the best way to train a German Shepherd?
Use reward-based positive reinforcement training starting in puppyhood. German Shepherds bond closely with owners, aim to please and are highly intelligent. Make training fun and be patient but consistent. Harsh methods do not work well.
Do German Shepherds shed a lot?
Yes, German Shepherds shed year-round and “blow coat” seasonally. Daily brushing when shedding heavily can help manage loose hair. Their double coat also helps insulate them from heat and cold. Expect hair on your clothes and furniture.
How long do German Shepherds typically live?
The average lifespan for a German Shepherd is 9 to 13 years. Responsible breeding for health, keeping up with vet care, proper nutrition and exercise all help maximize a German Shepherd’s longevity.
Is the German Shepherd the Right Breed For You?
If you are able to provide adequate exercise, training, socialization and healthcare, a German Shepherd can make an amazing family pet and companion. Their trainability, loyalty and versatility make them a top choice for many households.
Consider if your lifestyle, activity level and experience match well with this highly energetic, intelligent breed before making the commitment. German Shepherds need engaged owners able to provide proper care and training.
When thinking about adding a German Shepherd to your home, reflect honestly on your ability to fully meet their needs. If you decide this breed is a great fit, choose your individual dog carefully and prepare to enjoy the companionship of this remarkable canine!