The German Shepherd is one of the most popular dog breeds and for all the right reasons! They love to work and please their owners, using their high intelligence and their sweet, soft heart! Being well-known workaholics comes with great devotion, courage and hard work. These attributes have contributed to all the different jobs they perform with ease and excellence, such as: guiding, assisting, police and military services, drug detection, searching, and rescuing, among many. Their obedience and loyalty makes the German Shepherds very loving companions worldwide!
Breed Group: Sheepdogs and Cattle Dogs (except Swiss Mountain and Cattle Dogs)
Dog breed: German Shepherd
Utility: Versatile – Working, Herding and Service dog
Breed Color: Black with tan, Sable or all Black
German Shepherds are known to be the kind of dogs that would take a bullet to protect their owner! There are numerous heroic cases coming from these dogs, either while on duty or simple daily life!
- 1 History/Origin of the German Shepherd
- 2 Physical Appearance of the German Shepherd
- 3 Personality, Temperament and Character of the German Shepherd
- 4 German Shepherd Health Problems
- 5 Exercise
- 6 Training the German Shepherd
- 7 Feeding the German Shepherd
- 8 Grooming
- 9 Highlights
- 10 Famous German Shepherds
- 11 Facts about German Shepherd (Known stories)
History/Origin of the German Shepherd
Originally, the German Shepherds were bred to herd. They were firstly registered in Germany and came to prominence in the year 1899. Created by Captain Max von Stephanitz, a career captain in German cavalry, who wanted to create an unparalleled herding dog!
Von Stephanitz noticed that there was not a distinct German breed of shepherd dogs, therefore after retiring from the military, he embarked on the journey to create a German Shepherd dog that would encompass athletic, intelligent, and versatility traits! He started visiting dog shows around Europe in order to search for the perfect dogs to combine.
In 1899, a dog that resembled wolves in appearance and strength, caught his attention! He decided to adopt the dog and create the perfect descendants, which he surely did!
His primary concern was to come up with the perfect herding dog, but as Germany and the region was moving towards industrialization, he found it more reasonable that the dog be able to perform police and military services, too. Having been part of the military, he used his connections in order to convince the German government to start using German Shepherds in various tasks. In this way, the dogs got to be used as rescuers, guards, carriers, and messengers during the World War I.
Shortly after, the breed became well-known in the US, too. Their intelligence and fearlessness caused a lot of the US soldiers to bring German Shepherds back home!
One of the German Shepherds that was brought to US by the soldiers during the World War I, was the notable movie star Rin Tin Tin, who appeared in over 26 movies. The breed quickly became very famous in the US, too!
Once the German Shepherd’s breeding in the US began, von Stephanitz became devastated by the changes that occurred in the breed. Poor temperament and tooth decay were two of the primary problems that made the creator of the breed become alarmed. Therefore, he decided to create the quality control system before breeding. The quality test incorporated in itself the intelligence test, temperament test, athleticism, and health. The breeding continued in both countries, but the differences started getting more emphasized!
The distinction between the American Shepherd Dog and the German Shepherd Dog generally lies in maintenance. American Shepherds are bred for other purposes, like: champion dog shows, therefore they are calmer and more prone to separation anxiety, compared to the German Shepherds, who are more talented towards accomplishing work tasks. And German Shepherds are also are more energetic, driven, and healthy as such!
This has influenced the American military and police to continue importing German Shepherds in order to fulfill duties, instead of using the homegrown ones in this regard.
Also, it has caused American breeders to start paying more attention towards the breed’s abilities, rather than their appearance.
Nowadays, the American-bred German Shepherd is relatively the same as its counterpart in Germany!
Sheepdog Type Characteristics
Sheepdogs are the type of dogs bred for the purpose of controlling and protecting large sheep flocks as well as herds of cattle from predators. They are energetic dogs, intelligent and quite serious as they still try to control their families, at the least!
There is nothing that these dogs love more than to have all family members together in one compact space in order to be able to keep a good eye on them, all the time!
They are highly protective of their pack, and territory – resulting also with great watchdog abilities. They are quick and excellent in reacting to the sound of a whistle or command!
Their herding instinct makes them nip at people in order to control them. It is never directed as a threat or as an attack!
If you are thinking about adopting a dog that belongs in this group or type of breed then you should exercise firmness! In order to train these dogs, you need to provide consistent and firm training! Also, engage them in plenty of sports, as they are quick, intelligent, light, energetic and workaholics!
German Shepherds Allergies
If you notice your German Shepherd scratching or licking their paws, rubbing their face frequently and continuously, you should start thinking about doing an allergy test and consulting the veterinarian.
Three main types of skin allergies are the most common among German Shepherds and they are usually a consequence of:
Inhalant Allergy and ‘Cherry Eye‘
This type of allergy usually arises due to inhalation of allergens like dust, pollen, mites, molds or other chemicals. You may notice your dog feeling more itchy around the feet, groin, armpits and abdomen. This allergy is also the main reason for your dogs‘ ear infections!
When your dog rubs the abdomen with the outside world, they may come in contact with these allergens.
Meanwhile, the ‘Cherry Eye‘ is caused by the inhalation of chemicals, which cause your dog’s eye to become cherry-colored. ‘Cherry Eye’predominantly occurs among puppies!
It may occur after having come in contact with certain allergens, such as flea collars, specific plants, grass, wood, dog shampoo, among others. It is important to consult your vet and undertake the right actions towards finding out the specific allergens causing such reactions in your dog, and subsequently, avoid contact with these factors!
Usually, food allergies cause itchy skin and scratchy-ears – similar as other allergies – and your dog may also turn to biting and licking their paws, rubbing their faces in the carpet, coughing, diarrhea, flatulence, sneezing, gagging, seizures, ear inflammation, and other discomforting reactions.
The most ordinary food allergens found among dogs are soy products, corn, wheat, chicken, beef, pork, fish, milk, eggs, whey, additives, preservatives, sugar, artificial flavorings – products that are usually found in commercial foods. Therefore, you should consult with your vet and go after identification of allergen ingredients – and this may take weeks to find out – then change your dog’s diet accordingly!
The most likely foods to cause allergic reactions in dogs include:
However, if you notice your dog having allergic reactions to one of the above mentioned foods, consider very much possible the rise of allergic reactions to the rest of the listed ingredients!
In dogs, fleas can cause allergy reactions through their saliva, not their ticking. If you cannot detect any fleas in your dog, it is advisable to take your dog to the vet and perform the tick-allergy test which enables determining whether your dog has any fleas! If positive, a routine removal of remaining fleas must be done, and then your vet may also prescribe necessary remedies like capsules, sprays or shampoos.
Flea allergy, food allergy, parasitic allergy cause similar symptoms. Check for fleas or other parasites‘ presence as their salivas may be what causes the allergic reaction in your dog!
Flea shampoos, soaps and other dedicated medications have proven helpful in eliminating such skin allergies in dogs! Always remain alert towards your pet dog’s health and behavior!
Physical Appearance of the German Shepherd
German Shepherds are well proportioned dogs with a solid bone structure. They have muscular, and long bodies and their marking are their ears, which at birth are slightly curved forward towards their forehead. Their puppyhood floppy ears resemble a lot with the wolves’ way of growing! German Shepherds have a slight resemblance to the wolves even after having grown fully and becoming adults! However, after puppyhood, their ears should take on a different look by becoming erect and more sturdy!
Their head is in good proportion to their body and their forehead is slightly rounded. Their teeth meet proportionally, enabling a strong scissor bite! Whereas, their tough jaw is 2nd only to the Rottweilers’!
Their noses are usually black, although blue and liver colored noses may happen among the breed, but such colors are usually recognized as a fault!
Their legs and shoulders are also muscular, firm, and thick, while their tails are bushy and hang down when the dog is at rest!
There are double-coated, plush-coated and long-hair-coated types of German Shepherds, while the usual coat colors vary between: black with tan, sable or all black.
There are also white, blue and liver, as well as piebald color variations, however, these are not considered standard German Shepherds. These colors are being recognized as separate breeds and they are called American White Shepherds, whereas the piebald-colored are recognized as Panda Shepherds! These differentiations mainly occur due to the existence of many kennel clubs and organizations around the world, which sometimes bring about different breed standards!
Regardless, these dogs are still all German Shepherds, if they are purebred, as coat color and length may vary!
Height, Weight and Life Span
German Shepherds are considered a large sized dog breed! Below are listed the standard height and weight variations among female and male German Shepherds.
- Female Height: 55-60 cm
- Female Weight: 22-32 kg
- Male Height: 60-65 cm
- Male Weight: 30-40 kg
- Life Span: Around 13 years
Personality, Temperament and Character of the German Shepherd
Being as highly energetic, German Shepherds need a lot of activity and exercise, otherwise they may take up destructive behavior like barking, digging and chewing – which explains why they are not fit for owners who are not at home for long periods of time during the day!
German Shepherds are suspicious by nature and that is what makes them ranked as top watchdogs. In addition, they will not be very welcoming to unknown guests in your house!
In order to see good behavior and manners, you must socialize and get your German Shepherd puppy accustomed quite early to different situations, sounds, smells, sights, people and animals!
Engaging your German Shepherd in daily physical and mental exercise is a must. German Shepherds are naturally alert, brave, confident, faithful and extremely clever. These traits combined, as much as are appreciated, also do come with additional weight. Such traits imply that the German Shepherds should be trained and not made to believe they are the pack leaders! Naturally authoritative, calm, firm, and consistent owners are the perfect fit for the German Shepherds. On the other hand, if treated and trained with aggressiveness or harshness, they will not obey. Likewise, if they feel they are mentally stronger than their owners, they will not obey!
In general, they excel in various dog activities – in the likes of tracking, obedience, agility, Flyball, ring sport, show dogs, sniffing, searching, rescuing! They are capable of sniffing for drugs, intruders, underground mines and gas leaks. When combined with their fearlessness, the German Shepherds excel at offering services for the military and the police! They are much sought after, and without a doubt they have become known as real police deputies!
Despite their serious looks and jobs, they are very soft and lovable pets at heart! They will do great with other pets and children if exposed to them and well trained as puppies. In such cases, they will turn out gentle and protective of children, and their families at the same time! Although trustworthy, the German Shepherd will not be very excited about other unknown kids!
Introducing adult German Shepherds in homes where there are other pets present will not be such a great idea. You may need professionals to handle these situations with care or you should be an experienced owner!
In the overall, German Shepherds possess all the qualities to make for great family companions!
German Shepherd Health Problems
There are several health problems that may occur in German Shepherds, even though generally, they are healthy dogs. First and foremost, they are prone to hip and elbow dysplasia, then blood disorders, digestive problems, bloat, epilepsy, chronic eczema, keratitis (inflammation of the cornea), dwarfism and flea allergies. Other disease that may also occur in your dog are Splenic tumors, degenerative myelitis, exocrine pancreatic insufficiency and perianal fistulas and Von Willebrand’s disease.
*Note: It does not mean that the diseases mentioned will occur to all German Shepherds or your own! Nevertheless, it is to your advantage to be aware of possible health conditions!
It is recommended that you get your puppy from a trustworthy breeder, who does not breed dogs before the age of two, as that is the age when most inherited diseases may show! And you should always ask for the DNA testing of inherited conditions, simply for the sake of being aware and certain!
This is an inherited condition, which occurs when the femur does not fit in the pelvic socket of the hip joint. It mostly occurs in large dogs, and the signs and symptoms in some dogs may not even show. X-ray screenings are the best way to find out if your German Shepherd is suffering from hip dysplasia. If your dog suffers from it, it is advised to not breed as it is an inherited disease!
Elbow dysplasia is also an inherited condition which is common among large breeds of dogs and it is caused by different growing rates between the 3 bones that make up the elbow. This condition can lead to pain, although some dogs may not show signs and symptoms. Surgery is the way to correct this problem, whereas medication may be prescribed to ease the pain!
Or otherwise known as Bloat, is a life-threatening condition which affects large dogs with deep chests. The condition may develop if your dog is fed only one but large meal per day, eats fast, drinks large volumes of water right after eating, or exercises strenuously after eating.
Bloat causes filling of the stomach with air or gas and it can turn fatal if the dog twists. As it is impossible to throw-up air, it will continue to cause problems with blood circulation and the heart, which may further lead to shock. If you cannot react immediately, your dog may even die! Be mindful towards your dog’s behavior! If you notice a swollen abdomen in your dog, or if drooling is excessive, tries to throw up without actually throwing up or he seems restless, weak, depressed, and has a rapid heart rate – you should take your dog to the vet for a quick check up!
This is a disease of the spinal cord, particularly the part which controls the rear legs in your dog. If you notice your dog being unable to move their rear legs or acting as if unaware where their rear legs are, you should consult your vet!
It is a disease which progresses and may prevent your dog from walking, completely. Many times the same symptoms have been linked to vitamin 12 or vitamin E deficiency, but if Degenerative Myelopathy is present, there is no treatment for the condition!
Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency
EMI is another genetic disease which affects the pancreas, where the cells producing digestive enzymes are ruined. Because of the condition, your dog will no longer be able to absorb and digest food. Although, there is hope for this condition as pancreatic enzymes can be added to the dog’s food. And, with the correct supervision, your dog recovers! Simple blood tests will show whether the condition is present in your dog. Well-known symptoms include: loss of appetite, gas, change in stools, weight loss, and hunger.
Having been bred for herding flocks of sheep, German Shepherds should be given plenty of exercise and action. They need to burn their excessive energy through daily exercises! Stay positive that you will find a mess whenever you leave your German Shepherd without walking or exercising! When they get bored, they turn to improper and destructive behavior!
Offer plenty of ball playing, jogging, walking, Frisbee, and also take him running whenever you go biking. They love to be challenged daily!
Also, mental exercise should not be neglected with these dogs! Agility and obedience competitions will do wonders for the mood and the overall well-being of the German Shepherds!
They enjoy hard and demanding activities as they will offer your German Shepherd a sense of purpose. Engage them in performing tasks, completing jobs – they ask to be engaged the whole time! If not, expect a lot of annoying barking to come from them! Whereas, chewing will totally be part of the nerve-wrecking activity they will engage in.
Except for destroying most of the materials they chew on, what makes the situation even worse is that they will not choose wisely on what they will chew, and can damage their teeth, swallow sickening products, or choke! Make sure you provide plenty of chewing toys and bones whenever you cannot attend or play with your German Shepherd, so that they can safely entertain themselves!
If they get the regular exercise mentioned above, your German Shepherd will be fine living in an apartment, too. Although, they will be a bit inactive in apartments, as they obviously prefer large yards!
Training the German Shepherd
The German Shepherd’s worst nightmare is not being able to please their owner! Provided this, you can easily assume that they will be great at training and obedience as long as they see they are pleasing their owner!
They thrive in games of fetch, which you can easily play with a ball, stick or a Frisbee. They enjoy advanced obedience training and agility courses and you can train them to do nearly anything. German Shepherds do not bow down, instead they conquer any task you set for them!
Smartness, boldness, alertness and single-mindedness, are the German Shepherd’s tools by which they accomplish all tasks they go for!
It is preferable to start training your German Shepherd while still young – in their puppyhood! Although, you should be one strong and firm owner, in order to train a German Shepherd as well as to maintain the pack leader position, since they generally project dominance!
Overall, the German Shepherds are among the smartest and trainable dogs. What made them extremely required as ‘police officers’ is their smartness and excellent obedience – the ability to stop when being told!
*Note: An important factor to keep in mind until your German Shepherd reaches two years of age is to avoid running, jumping or playing on hard surfaces, in order to allow the full formation of the joints.
Feeding the German Shepherd
It is recommended to feed your German Shepherd 3 to 4 cups of high-quality dry dog food daily, which you should divide into two meals. Your dog’s meals should be given at regular times as dogs love routine! Concerning your German Shepherd puppy, you will have the chance to consult with your breeder in order to understand in detail how often to feed your newly adopted puppy and the amount you should give within a day!
Depending on the discussions you have with the breeder and the vet, you should be able to determine what exactly to feed your dog as well as the exact amounts! It is good to add raw fruits and vegetables to their diet, from time to time! Although, you must consult your vet regarding this issue, in order to understand specific fruits and vegetables that are allowed to be included in your dog’s diet!
Other than that, be careful and avoid overfeeding at any cost. You may influence health problems in your dog if not careful! Do not leave food in their bowl the whole time! Their joints are vulnerable until a certain age either way, so do not increase the pressure by unnecessary extra pounds!
As German Shepherds grow rapidly during the first four to seven months, you must be careful regarding feeding and exercising as they are highly vulnerable to developing bone disorders. During these specific months, balancing protein and fat intake is a great idea in order to prevent a very rapid growth that can result damaging for them!
The amount of food your adult German Shepherd eats also depends on the activity level they engage in, their metabolism, age and built!
Having originally been bred to herd flocks in harsher climates, they also have the appropriate coat developed in order to enable such activities. Their double-coat is a rain and snow protector! But the downside of their dense, medium-long double-coat is that it sheds throughout the year, especially during spring and fall! Therefore, practice daily brushings if possible! But, brushing two to three times weekly is also perfectly fine! Whereas, bathing should not be done often in order to avoid skin problems due to skin oil depletion!
Other grooming responsibilities include cleaning your German Shepherd’s ears and trimming their nails regularly!
It is preferable to trim their nails once a month, while their ears should be cleaned weekly with a dampened cotton ball. You should also check their ears for any foul odors, or redness, which indicate infection!
Regarding teeth brushing, it is recommended to do it three times a week! Also, giving them dental chew toys or bones to keep their teeth clean is another way to protect their teeth from tartar and bacteria. German Shepherd’s just love chewing!
- German Shepherds are not appropriate dogs for families that may leave them alone for long periods of time, during the day. If so, they may turn to destructive behavior, out of sheer boredom, like: starting chewing, digging, and barking.
- To get them to feel calm and happy even when separated from their owners, start early crate training!
- Being highly active and intelligent dogs, the German Shepherds require daily physical, mental activities and exercises to keep them busy!
- German Shepherds’ instinct makes them suspicious towards strangers, therefore, socialize them with different people, animals, and situations at an early age in order to teach them proper manners and comfort!
- You must brush them frequently within a week, as they are known to be heavy shedding dogs!
- Although they are great guard dogs, the German Shepherds should not be kept outside on a leash to guard your house! They are loving dogs and need to be kept in house, within their families. Take them into the yard only to burn off some of their natural energy!
- Never buy a German Shepherd puppy from irresponsible breeders. Find a well-known breeder who also does periodic examinations for any possible inherited genetic diseases!
Famous German Shepherds
Due to their intelligence and energy levels, German Shepherds quickly became famous and earned the title of movie stars as well as deputy officers!
Rin Tin Tin
Rin Tin Tin is the Hollywood star, who served as a Red Cross Dog during the World War I together with his owner Lee Duncan, who initially rescued him. He has made around 27 films for the Warner Brothers until 1932. He became an immediate success and is responsible for the fast fame German Shepherds gained.
Also, he has contributed a lot to the success of the Warner Brothers studios and the career of the director. At the time, Warner Brothers had a bit of a downfall, and Rin Tin Tin helped in getting them back on their feet!
Rin Tin Tin had received over 10,000 letters from fans during one week only, and became the top Hollywood star among dogs!
Rin Tin Tin II and IV
These other German Shepherds continued filming for The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin after Rin Tin Tin I’s death, but they have not been as successful on screen, therefore, they did not continue same as the 1st and real Rin Tin Tin! Yet, they continued to enforce the preferences of Americans when choosing to adopt a dog!
The Littlest Hobo
Another famous German Shepherd was called London, and he starred in a television movie, called The Littlest Hobo, in 1958. After the initial huge success of the movie, a black and white television series continued during the years 1963-1965, with 65 episodes in total. Later on, in 1979 the series got remade and continued to be a favorite for many years to come while never ceasing to emphasize the smartness of the German Shepherds!
Facts about German Shepherd (Known stories)
In 1995 Bruno was a nine-month old German Shepherd that saved the life of his eleven-year old family member while he was almost drowning in a ditch he fell, by being thrown from his bike.
The boy started bleeding intensely and was lying unconscious in the ditch, but, his German Shepherd Bruno did not stop licking Donnie’s face until he brought him back conscious. Then, he started dragging him by his collar out of the ditch and towards home! The heroic act of the young German Shepherd Bruno continues its legacy, and will always be remembered dearly!
Brit is a very popular German Shepherd, that has won numerous awards for his outstanding performance as a police dog! He has won the Apprehension Citation Award in 1997, the Unit Citation in 1995 by the Waldwick Police Chief, the Certificate of Recognition in 1994 for burglar apprehension, then the Exceptional Duty Award in 1998 as well as the Support Services Award! Because of his outstanding contribution to the police, upon his death, Brit was given a proper police funeral, which was an exception!
Furthermore, Sgt. Litchult who worked with Brit, received a posthumous K-9 Service Award on behalf of Brit. The posthumous award was given from the American Police Hall of Fame and Museum in Miami, Florida.
German Shepherds continue to amaze us with their precise performances in whatever duty they undertake!