Smart, hard-working, strong, and obedient: that’s a German Shepherd. It usually only takes one glance at a German Shepherd to understand why the breed is so well-loved. You may recognize this popular dog breed by its wolf-like appearance, which is magnificent-looking from their pointed ears and distinctive grin all the way down to their furry tails.
Also known as Alsatians in much of Europe, the German Shepherd is loyal, trainable, and (dare we say) majestic. For these reasons and more, the German Shepherd remains one of the most popular dog breeds in the United States. Read on for more about the German Shepherd, and to learn whether a German Shepherd dog is right for you.
German Shepherd facts
The German Shepherd dog is a medium to large sized herding dog. According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), German Shepherds are anywhere from 22 to 26 inches in height and weigh between 50 and 90 pounds. Females are on the smaller end of these ranges. A German Shepherd’s life expectancy is typically between seven and 10 years of age.
German Shepherd types
Although German Shepherds are one breed, they have a fairly wide range of coloring. Whether they have a medium or long coat, most are tan and black or red and black, with a black mask. Other less common colorings are sable, black, white, blue, silver, and “panda.”
German Shepherd history
German Shepherds were originally bred for work as sheep herding dogs in late 19th and early 20th century Germany, specifically by the German military.
An army captain by the name of Max von Stephanitz bought a sheep herding dog with a high degree of intelligence to begin breeding a dog that could work under any condition. This first dog was named “Horand von Grafrath” and became the first registered German Shepherd dog in history.
Horand was inbred heavily to consolidate the characteristics Stephanitz saw as critical to the breed. Stephanitz used his influence as a military officer to convince various branches of the German government to use the dogs as messengers, supply carriers, guard sentries, and crowd control animals.
Although the first German Shepherd came to America in 1907, it was not until 1917 that the breed became popular. American soldiers returning home from World War I brought German Shepherds back with them in large numbers, exposing them to the general public.
The German Shepherd’s intelligence and good looks landed it in the Hollywood spotlight with Rin-Tin-Tin and Strongheart (two famous German Shepherd pooch movie stars) making multiple appearances in films.
German Shepherd personality
German Shepherds like to work, and they do it well. That’s why they’ve made such valuable service dogs. You’ll find German Shepherds working as search and rescue dogs, guide dogs, guard dogs, police dogs, military scouts, and even actors.
German Shepherds are curious, and so they like to learn and have a purpose. German Shepherds are also famously fast learners, which is part of why they make such prized working dogs. These quick studies are capable of learning all the commands dog owners can teach them.
As one of the most intelligent and trainable dog breeds, you can expect your German Shepherd to learn a new skill with only a handful of repetitions. Teaching your German Shepherd dog more advanced tasks can help engage them mentally and prevent boredom, and give you a way to show off to friends and family.
Another great quality of German Shepherds is their protectiveness, which makes them steadfast companions and ideal family pets. However, their protectiveness can become over-protectiveness if they are not properly socialized.
That’s why it’s important, especially with larger dogs like a German Shepherd, to be proactive about socialization and training. Training your German Shepherd not to bite, ideally as a puppy, can also help prevent dangerous attacks in adulthood. German Shepherds have one of the most powerful bites of all dog breeds.
Caring for your German Shepherd
A German Shepherd dog usually has a moderate energy level and likes daily exercise, which means they will happily follow you on walks, and chase balls as much as you throw them. However, because of their skeletal vulnerabilities, it’s important to limit jumping and rough play, especially if your dog has shown signs of skeletal disorders.
German Shepherds, like many other dog breeds, tend to develop specific health problems. The most common health issues German Shepherds face are skeletal disorders. German Shepherds are also more likely to experience hip and elbow dysplasia, arthritis, degenerative spinal stenosis, degenerative myelopathy, and (more rarely) Von Willebrand disease. Be sure to check with your breeder for any issues in your dog’s bloodline, as well as genetic testing for some health conditions.
German Shepherds have a two-layer coat, and their hair is either medium-length or long. Because of their double coat, they shed continuously. You’ll need to brush them regularly, and you might want to invest in a lint roller (or several) and a good vacuum.
You can expect your German Shepherd to shed more heavily during shedding season (summer), when they lose their puppy coat, or when they are experiencing health issues. If your German Shepherd seems to be shedding a lot and off-season (winter), it’s a good idea to take them to the vet to look for any health problems or to discuss adjusting their diet for better skin and hair health.
For the German Shepherd obsessed
Ready to get a German Shepherd ASAP? If you’re all set to invite a German Shepherd puppy or a German Shepherd rescue into your home, you might be stumped on a perfect name for the dog you love. Check out our list of popular German Shepherd names for some creative inspiration.
Want to buy some German Shepherd themed merchandise for the German Shepherd lover you know (even if it’s you)? Check out our guide to German Shepherd themed gifts.
Just want to read more about German Shepherds being generally awesome, brave, and clever? Check out our top pieces on German Shepherds, bound to increase your love and respect for this incredible dog breed.