Thanks to The Daily Shep for this guest article.
According to AKC registration stats, the German Shepherd dog is the second most popular dog breed in America. Chances are either you’ve had one as a family pet at one point, or you have a friend who has.
So, what is it that makes the German Shepherd so attractive not only to families, but the wider dog-loving community? We’ve rounded up five special hallmarks of this popular breed that will give us some clues.
Signature Black and Tan Coat, with Variations
When they think of the German Shepherd, most people think of the renowned medium-length double coat with an unmistakable black and tan color.
Although the black and tan is a dominant coat color gene in the most popular show lines of the breed, there are other German Shepherd colored coats that you may not be aware of.
These alternate coat colors include, but are not limited to:
- Black and cream
- Black and red
- Black and silver
- Brindle (not officially recognized)
For showing purposes, the AKC states: ‘pale, washed-out colors and blues or livers are serious faults. A white dog must be disqualified.’
Satellite Ears & Head Tilt
German Shepherd owners will agree that although they love their dog unconditionally, they’re especially fond of the normally ultra-erect ears and signature head tilt.
By default, purebred German Shepherds have erect ears. The ears can go up, come back down, and go back up any number of times between the ages of about 4 weeks and 7 months of age. This is when a German Shepherd is going through teething and informally ‘puppy puberty’. Their body is developing and growing this stage, so the cartilage in the ears is still forming.
One common question owners have about their German Shepherd’s ears is how can you tell if they are going to stand up or not? These owners should know genetics and DNA play a large role in whether the ears will stand up.
If your German Shepherd’s ears aren’t standing up, you should consider health and grooming routines before you attempt to address floppy ears. Cleaning the ears, for example, is an important part of a German Shepherd’s overall grooming and health routine.
In regards to head tilting: some people believe that head tilting is a sign of intelligence, while others believe that dogs tilt their heads to the side to see us properly—as their muzzle/nose can block their vision from head on.
Regardless, it never gets old to most owners!
German Shepherd Temperament
The German Shepherd temperament is great, and it’s highly adaptable. On the one hand, they are loyal and loving to family members, but on the other, they can be standoffish and territorial to strangers unless they are trained otherwise.
As a family dog, German Shepherds are loyal, loving and protective of both adults and children that they consider part of their pack. They can really can become a child’s best friend! However, if a German Shepherd detects a threat to its territory or the people he/she cares for, they will assert their dominance and go into guard or protection dog mode.
German Shepherds by nature do not form friendships with strangers quickly.
Amazing Flexibility as a Working Dog
Hailing from Germany, this extremely intelligent and athletic dog breed was created to be the ultimateworking dog.
The creator of the Deutsche Schäferhunde, Captain Max von Stephanitz, said, “the most striking features of the correctly bred German Shepherds are firmness of nerves, attentiveness, unshockability, tractability, watchfulness, reliability and incorruptibility together with courage, fighting tenacity and harness.”
It’s thanks to this breed guideline that the German Shepherd has gone on to become one of the most flexible working breeds alive today. Sheps can be found in the military and in guide dog programs the world around. They also excel in agility competition, Schutzhund protection, police work, as guard dogs, herding dogs, service dogs, and in obedience training.
The German Shepherd Dogs was officially recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1908 and are members of the herding group.
Genetic Health Concerns in German Shepherds
Unfortunately, German Shepherds are more prone to certain health problems than other breeds, including hip dysplasia, elbow displaysia and degenerative myelopathy.
Hip and elbow problems are prevalent among larger breeds of dogs, and they can couple with and compound the effects of joint disease like arthritis over the years. Degenerative myelepathy is a progressive spine disorder which can leave older dogs paralyzed.
It’s very important if you are thinking about rescuing or buying a German Shepherd that you ask for a thorough health and conformation evaluation for both the puppy and the parents. Only work with responsible breeders, and look for pets with a healthy genetic history.