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German-shepherd

Breed overview

  • Breed groupHerding Group (American Kennel Club)
  • Height22 to 26 inches
  • Weight65 to 90 pounds
  • Coat length & textureCourse, medium-length double coat
  • Coat colorBlack with tan, cream, silver, or red markings on the chest, stomach, and legs. Sable markings are acceptable, along with solid black, blue, gray, liver, white, and bi-color coats. Puppies tend to be black with tan or cream “boots” on their feet.
  • Exercise needsHigh
  • IntelligenceHigh intelligence 
  • BarkingWhen necessary
  • Life span10 to 14 years
  • TemperamentSocial family dogs with guarding tendencies
  • HypoallergenicNo
  • OriginGermany

👉 No dog breed is 100% hypoallergenic, but some are better than others for allergy sufferers.

German shepherd fun facts

  • German shepherds were used as guide dogs for the visually impaired as early as the 1920s.
  • The breed is a popular police and military working dog due to its intelligence, athleticism, and tenacity. 
  • Finland launched a program in 2020 to train German shepherds to detect COVID-19.
German-shepherd-funfacts

German shepherd temperament and characteristics

The playful, active nature of German shepherd dogs (GSDs) makes them great large dogs for active families. However, it’s important that they are socialized and trained. Even well-socialized German shepherds can be easily excitable and protective of their homes. Owners should be mindful of this when inviting strangers over.

German shepherds are often unfairly stereotyped as aggressive by nature. In actuality, much of any dog’s temperament and personality is formed through early training and socialization. Overall, a  well-socialized German shepherd can be great with other dogs, cats, and pets. Also, reputable breeders are selective about their lineage, but less cautious breeders will often sell GSDs that experience high levels of anxiety and nervousness. This can lead to undesirable behavioral issues. If you want to avoid breeders, consider a rescue. A foster home can typically offer valuable feedback about a dog’s temperament.

Common German shepherd health problems

Unfortunately, these dogs have a genetic predisposition for some health conditions. Other things, like obesity and hereditary concerns, can contribute to the likelihood of developing problems. New owners can ask their vet about an inexpensive DNA saliva test, which can be ordered and administered to screen for health problems. Some of the more common conditions associated with German shepherds include:

  • Degenerative myelopathy (DM). A painful and chronic condition, DM is the deterioration of the spinal cord and is frequently seen in GSDs. It requires pain management from a vet.
  • MPS VII. Marked by head deformities, dwarfism, and weakness in the extremities, Mucopolysaccharidosis VII Shepherd Type , or MPS VII, is prevalent in shepherd breeds like German shepherds.
  • Bone and joint problems. Arthritic conditions are common with larger breeds, including German shepherds. For this dog breed, though, hip dysplasia is the most common joint issue.
  • Dental disease. Pets in general are likely to have dental issues, but German shepherds are prone to infections. These infections can lead to serious health problems.
  • Cancer. Many factors can determine if a German shepherd gets cancer or not, but they tend to be more susceptible to cancer—particularly hemangiosarcoma—when compared to some other breeds.

Cost of caring for German shepherds

The costs associated with a German shepherd are typical for a big dog. Because German shepherds are larger, eat more than smaller dogs, and have some unique health risks, the cost of having a German shepherd can vary. Investing in pet insurance early on is a great way to ensure that costs don’t add up later. 

Consider creating a pet budget and save up to make sure you can afford the costs associated with having a German shepherd.

History of the German shepherd

Originally bred in 19th century Germany, the history of these dogs is relatively short compared to some ancient breeds. They were selectively bred for their courage, intelligence, imposing posture, and guarding instincts—all traits we still associate with the breed today.

After World War I, the Alsatian wolf dog (an alternative name for the breed) found its way to the United States. These large dogs became a favorite for American households due to famous cinematic canines like Strongheart and Rin Tin Tin. German shepherds remain a popular dog breed globally, and in the United States, they’re consistently one of the most-registered breeds.

Today, they aren’t just family dogs or winning agility prizes at prestigious dog shows. They continue to be a popular choice as military dogs and often the first choice to serve as police dogs. True to their heroic nature, a German shepherd named Apollo was the first search and rescue dog on the ground at 9/11 and was instrumental in saving lives in the aftermath of the New York City attack.

German-shepherd-history

Caring for your German shepherd

A new furry family member is exciting, but it can quickly be overwhelming with everything that goes into caring for a pet—particularly larger breeds like German shepherds. From first vet visits and vaccines to puppy-proofing your home and toy shopping for teething, there are plenty of ways to keep your German shepherd happy and healthy.

Exercise 

With puppies, less is more when it comes to exercise. Up until about two years of age, puppies are still developing, so make sure that playtime and exercise doesn’t involve jumping more than an inch or so. 

For dogs who have finished growing, there are a few great ways to help them exercise:

  • Leisurely walks. Take walks in areas with a variety of textures, but avoid harder surfaces like concrete or asphalt.
  • Go off leash. Provide off-leash time in a safe, fenced-in area. Include inclines to promote cardiovascular health.
  • Play treibball. A game designed for herding dogs, you can let your dog “herd” exercise balls with this stimulating activity.
  • Provide mental stimulation. Give your pup toys and games that engage their mind as well, like a puzzle box.
  • Use a balancing disc. For aging or recovering dogs that need to build muscle strength, balancing discs are a great choice as well.

Make exercise a fun bonding experience with fall and winter outdoor activities—don’t worry, they are great in summer, too!  There are plenty of ways to keep your German shepherd healthy at any stage. However, make sure to monitor activity with any growing puppy to ensure they can handle it. “In larger breed dogs such as German shepherds, growth plates, which are responsible for controlling the growth of the bones, are still developing up until almost 2 years of age,” says Dr. Dwight Alleyne.

German-shepherd-exercise

Grooming 

With their thick coats, German shepherds are heavy shedders. It’s year-round too, though twice a year it tends to be significantly worse, as they shed summer and winter coats. Owners should brush their German shepherd multiple times a week, vacuum often, and simply accept that their clothing and furniture will be accented with dog hair. Fortunately, German shepherds are usually clean dogs and won’t need frequent visits to the groomer.

While shedding is simply a fact of life in a home with German shepherds, nails and ears are easier to care for. Nails should be trimmed about once a month and monitored. Ears should be checked every week for dirt, ear mites, redness, or other signs of an ear infection. Lastly, it’s also important to brush their teeth. German shepherds love chewing so it’s a common belief that they keep their own teeth clean, but it’s still important to check their teeth and remove any built-up tartar and look for signs of gingivitis.

Diet and nutrition 

It’s best to get your veterinarian’s recommendation regarding nutrition. Typically larger, more active breeds like German shepherds need foods specially formulated for those needs. And, as dogs age, those needs will change as well. Puppies eat foods that are different from older dogs, while dogs with health concerns will have unique needs.

Additionally, watch for overfeeding. Obesity is a real danger for household pets, and it can lead to other conditions, like diabetes. About three cups a day should be fine for the average German shepherd. Dogs that lead a more sedentary lifestyle should eat a bit less than that, though, while dogs who are especially active may need more. By the way, nothing is wrong with the occasional healthy treat.

Training your German shepherd

Generally speaking, German shepherds are highly intelligent, and eager to work and earn praise. When it comes to training, this is helpful—and it makes training that much more important.  Housetraining and crate training are both essential to preventing German shepherds from becoming destructive later on. 

While highly intelligent, keep in mind that dogs aren’t people. Even the smartest German shepherd needs time to pick things up. Don’t progress with advanced obedience training until they have the basics down pat.

👉 Keep training sessions positive, short, and ideally, twice a day to help pups retain information.

Other pet owners, breeders, and experts have established clubs both in the United States and all over the world, including the German Shepherd Dog Club of America, UK Kennel Club, and Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde (Germany)

German-shepherd-training

Breeds similar to the German shepherd

Not quite sure that a German shepherd is right for you? Even if you are, it’s worth taking the time to research and consider other similar breeds. Here are a few to get you started:

  • Poodle. Considered to share similar intelligence as German shepherds, poodles are great for owners who want a dog with a big vocabulary.
  • Tibetan mastiff. Mastiffs overall are a good choice for those who want a guard dog, but the Tibetan mastiff is an excellent choice for size, loyalty, and temperament.
  • Bohemian shepherd. Another member of the shepherd family, Bohemian shepherds have the look and personality of a German shepherd, but in a smaller package.

Frequently asked questions

Is a German shepherd a good family dog?

When trained and socialized from early on, German shepherds make excellent family dogs! Protective, loyal, playful, and very intelligent, they are great for families and more serious jobs, like property safety.

What are the different types of German shepherds? 

Initially, there were only two types that occurred due to the Berlin Wall. Since then, five distinct lines developed: the original west and east German working lines, the Czech working line, and the European and American show lines.

What are the pros and cons of having a pet German shepherd? 

As a pet, German shepherds are easy to groom, do well in most climates, and are protective of the home and family. Some cons of the breed include the need for stimulation and attention, and in some cases, may have health problems regardless of lifestyle.