German Shepherd Dog Breed

German Shepherd Resting Outside
iStock.com/Bigandt_Photography
  • Other names:
  • Alsatian
  • Alsatian Wolf Dog
  • Berger Allemand
  • Deutscher Schaferhund
  • German Shepherd Dog
  • Gsd
  • Schaferhund
  • View all 7...
Overview

The German Shepherd is a highly intelligent working dog that shows courage and devotion to their family and can be trained to perform virtually any canine task. These characteristics make the German Shepherd a popular choice for service and guard dogs as well as one of the most sought after dog breeds in America.

The breed is a good choice for many families, but some of the breed's qualities can make them a less than ideal choice for some. While the breed is intelligent, they must be kept busy mentally and physically to prevent unwanted habits from forming and they are naturally wary of strangers which can make the breed intimidating for those who have many guests.

German Shepherd Breed Details

Breed Specs
TypeLifespanHeightWeight
Purebred10-14 yrs.22-26 in.75-95 lbs
  • Friendliness
  • Overall
  • Family Friendly
  • Kid Friendly
  • Pet Friendly
  • Stranger Friendly
  • Maintenance
  • Easy to Groom
  • Energy Level
  • Exercise Needs
  • General Health
  • Shedding Amount
  • Behavior
  • Barks / Howls
  • Easy to Train
  • Guard Dog
  • Playfulness
  • Watch Dog
  • Ownership
  • Apartment Friendly
  • Can Be Alone
  • Good for Busy Owners
  • Good for Novice Owners
  • Intelligence
* The more green the stronger the trait.

Perhaps one of the more intriguing German Shepherd facts is the breed's compartmentalized versatility: while there are a great many things this breed can do, none of the many types of GSDs are suited to do all things. Depending on the version of German Shepherd Dog you adopt, they can be herders; they can be guard, therapy or watchdogs; or they can be the strictly working dogs for police, military, and search-and-rescue work. Those that are not slated for the harder work — and which are usually bloodlines from Germany or even Russia — can also be good family companions.

One thing that is the same no matter which kind of GSD you adopt is that these dogs need a lot of space. Also, while they love the outdoors, those that are family companions are not meant to be left outdoors. And if you are wondering, Are German Shepherds dangerous?, then you may not want to adopt one of these dogs so that you can learn how to train a German Shepherd to attack.

If you are still curious about adopting one, here are some facts about German Shepherd Dogs:

  • Pros
  • Versatile
  • Can be playful
  • Lots of energy
  • Highly trainable
  • Extremely strong
  • Loves challenges
  • Exceedingly loyal
  • Hardy working dog
  • Beautiful show dog
  • Excellent guard dog
  • Exceptional watchdog
  • Great exercise partner
  • Remarkably intelligent
  • Requires little bathing
  • Cons
  • Willful
  • Easily bored
  • Might bark a lot
  • Must have a job
  • May dig constantly
  • Non-stop, heavy shedding
  • May prompt legal liabilities
  • Can develop separation anxiety
  • Might be very costly in many ways
  • Careful socialization is mandatory
  • Potential for great destructiveness
  • Must have an alpha to be controlled
  • Can be aggressive toward other dogs
  • Might not be legal to own in your area
  • During puppyhood, will be rambunctious
  • Should be quickly weaned off "mouth play"
  • Requires a great amount of daily exercise
  • GSDs with stable temperaments may be hard to find
  • Very long list of possible and serious health problems

German Shepherd Breed Description

The German Shepherd is considered a medium to large dog breed. Adults can be expected to reach 22-24 inches in height from ground to shoulder and weigh between 75-95 pounds. Their size makes them large enough to be a helpful for many working dog tasks without jeopardizing agility.

German Shepherds are extremely loyal dogs to their family, but they tend to be wary of everyone else (until they are familiar with the person). They breed does well with children as long as they have been socialized with children at a younger age. German Shepherds do well with other pets, especially if introduced while a puppy.

The breed has high energy requirements and needs moderate to heavy daily exercise. Lack of exercise can cause the breed's excess energy to lead to behavior problems including digging, chewing, and barking. German Shepherds shed year round and will need to be brushed a few times each week to keep their coat healthy.

German Shepherd Breed History

German Shepherd history is steeped in a division that continues to this day. The GSD was first known in 1899, but the German desire to standardize dogs began in the 1850s. The Phylax Society was founded in 1891 to advocate dog breed standards, but it lasted only three years. The members debated how to standardize dogs: for show or performance. This "show vs work" conflict remains to this day.

One Society member, Max von Stephanitz, was responsible for the first German Shepherd Dog. He argued that Germany's dogs should be working dogs. He "discovered" his ideal dog at a dog show, renamed him Horand von Grafrath and founded the Society for the German Shepherd Dog. He recognized this herding dog would survive only if it were repurposed for police and military work.

Due to WWI, the AKC changed the dog's name to Shepherd Dog. In Britain, they were called Alsatian Wolf Dogs. If you read up on Alsatian history, you'll discover that the name change was necessary.

After WWI, GSDs were exported to America. One GSD was saved by an Army corporal whose home was in Los Angeles. That puppy became Rin Tin Tin and appeared in 26 Hollywood movies. The movies popularized the GSD. By 1931, the AKC had returned to using the breed's original name. By 1922, von Stephanitz became upset over the surge of increasingly undesirable temperament traits and remarkably poor health.

During and after WWII, the AKC did not change the breed's name; by 1977, the British Kennel Club had also gone back to German Shepherd Dog. The "show dog" folks and the "working dog" crowd continued to debate which was better. Police and military forces in the U.S. realized the poor working abilities and degenerate health of the show dog GSDs and began importing GSDs from Germany.

These days, the GSD's popularity continues to rise. According to AKC rankings, the breed is now second in popularity only to the Lab.

German Shepherd Appearance

Due to the two strongly entrenched camps regarding the German Shepherd Dog's purpose, there are basically two looks to the GSD. One is the "show" dog, which is easily identified by the sloping back (or "curved outline," as the AKC breed standard puts it). The other is the "working" GSD, which is far more sturdy and has a straight back. They are sometimes called the American German Shepherd Dog — which is the "show" dog — and just the German Shepherd: the "worker." The American version also has slanted legs and a finer coat, whereas the German version is heavier, has straight legs and longer hair. Otherwise, these two styles of GSD tend to look the same.

The German Shepherd head has a long, strong muzzle and is the shape of a wedge. The bite is the scissors style, the eyes are almonds painted black and the overall expression is alertness that expresses energy. The German Shepherd ears are large, pointed and erect. The dog's tail is bushy and curves and will usually hang down and point out as if the dog is already in action. Sometimes the dog's tail may be inclined to curve upward.

The German Shepherd coat has two layers and is lush. It typically has a black and tan saddle pattern. The coat may be thick, but it does not hide the dog's strength or balance.

German Shepherd Coloring

The German Shepherd colors are a wide variety. While many GSDs tend to have the black and tan "saddle" pattern with some slight white markings, there are many other colors. There are GSDs whose coat is a single solid color as well as parti and tri colored German Shepherds. Black German Shepherds do not behave any differently than a sable German Shepherd or any other color. There are also some very rare colors such as the all black German Shepherd Dog.

The albino German Shepherd Dog is extremely rare. These dogs should not be confused with white GSDs. Albino GSDs do have white coats — but they have pigmentation deficiencies that make their coats truly colorless and their eyes pink.

These are the colors of the German Shepherd Dog:

  • Blue
  • Gray
  • Liver
  • Sable
  • White
  • Black
  • Bi-color
  • Parti-colored
  • Black and tan
  • Black and red
  • Black and silver
  • Black and cream

German Shepherd Size

The German Shepherd weight is a serious matter due to the many breeding problems that have occurred over the decades since WWII. There is a tendency for these dogs to quickly become obese. To learn about your German Shepherd height and weight ratio, you should talk with your vet. You should also consult a reliable German Shepherd weight chart.

Typically, the male and female German Shepherd sizes are different. Fully grown female GSDs stand 22 to 24 inches tall and weigh 50 to 70 pounds. Males are 24 to 26 inches and weigh 65 to 90 pounds.

Average Adult Height

22-26 in
*Height is measured in inches from the front paws to the top of the shoulder while the dog is standing on all four legs.

Average Adult Weight

75-95 lbs

German Shepherd Variations

Depending on any given breeder's perspectives, there may be up to three different types of German Shepherds: those defined by the dog's show or work ability, those defined by the dog's coat color, and the dog's coat length.

The show dog vs working dog has prompted not just a variety of GSDs but subsets to some of them. This style, called the American Show Line, or AKC Line, is the dog with the angulated, or sloped, back. The Canadian Show Line dogs are lumped in with this variety as they look the same: a larger appearance due to the longer back but with lighter bones and shorter hair. The subset of AKC Lines is the American Pet Line, which is informal but tends to be GSDs bred indiscriminately by backyard breeders (BYBs) who do so for profit, fun or other reasons. Then there is the German Show Line which is closer to the originally desired GSD (the working dog) but still has a slightly curved back. They are bigger and heavier-looking as well as have larger heads. The "working GSD" are those bred specifically to be strong, agile and ready for police, military, and similar work.

Those who observe varietals in coat color will say that there are basically Sables, Blacks, Whites, and Blue German Shepherd Dogs. Color can be either solid (which is rare) to the well-known saddle style of black and tan where the black or the tan may be more or less than its named color and as a result be sable or blue.

Coat length is yet another way that varieties of GSD are identified. This is the simplest variety as it is determined by being a short haired German Shepherd or the long haired German Shepherd Dog, the latter of which is rather rare.

German Shepherd Temperament

There are basically two arguments regarding the German Shepherd temperament: one that says that GSDs are great protection animals who can make wonderful family companions and one that says they make be unpredictable. Both arguments have substance, and this makes it difficult to determine any German Shepherd characteristics.

Depending on the breeder from which you adopt your dog — and you should research any breeder — the German Shepherd personality can be a stringent guard dog whose watchdog capabilities will be ironclad, or a sweet family companion who is all about fun, or perhaps a somewhat anxious animal who requires constant friendship yet is suspicious of everything and everyone. The German Shepherd behavior depends heavily on genetics, bloodlines, and their parents.

Training should be relatively easy. Some GSDs may be highly demanding, however, and if they are, it's best to be patient as the results will be equally rewarding. They can excel in advanced obedience training, and they will love agility training and games. Giving them a job, socializing them early and making sure they have enough exercise and a proper diet will go a long way in keeping them happy and their temperament good.

German Shepherd and Children

If you are considering a GSD and have kids, easily one of the first questions you'll have is: Are German Shepherds good with kids? A German Shepherd and children can get along well providing the dog is socialized as a puppy with the kids. Your children should be educated on how to behave with dogs. Toddlers and infants with dogs should be closely supervised. When a baby and German Shepherd are around each other, you should stay very close.

Of course, all of this depends first and foremost on the German Shepherd temperament with kids. Because there are some GSDs that come from poor genetic backgrounds, they may be unusually high-strung or anxious. They may react badly to things you don't notice. This might be prevented by researching the dog's parents and the breeder's credentials and backgrounds to ensure you are getting a good stock of dog.

German Shepherd and Other Pets

Your German shepherd and cat can get along nicely. The dog must be socialized from very early on, and the cat should be taught to not run. A German Shepherd good with cats in the home may not be trusted outside, however, and so they should never be let off-leash lest they chase them.

If you want to know if German Shepherds with other dogs will work, this can vary. They tend to get along well enough, but larger (or larger) dogs of the same sex may be problematic. Socialization helps greatly, and this can be done by regular trips to the dog park. If a new dog (or the GSD) is being brought into a house with other, established dogs, getting them socialized may take time. Keeping the new dog in a room with a door that allows them to still smell each other might help.

German Shepherd Photos

Below are pictures of the German Shepherd dog breed.

German Shepherd Dog Breed
Tan & Black German Shepherd
Liver German Shepherd
Black & Tan German Shepherd
German Shepherd Resting Outside

Living Requirements

Owning a German Shepherd is said to be more difficult than other dogs. Along with the many health issues and their potential to fiercely protect those whom they consider a threat to their family, these dogs shed a lot — and they shed all year long as well as have a couple of blowouts annually. There are also German Shepherd allergies, and by this, I mean the dog's reactions. There are a lot of environmental things inside and out that can create havoc with the dog's skin and fur.

On the other hand, you may find that you or a family member is allergic to German Shepherd hair. These dogs are not hypoallergenic, and you will want to perhaps visit a shelter full of dogs and see if you or that person has a reaction.

Because of their reputation, a lot of people tend to first ask, Do German shepherds turn on their owners? While there are those GSDs that may be born with an anxious or even grumpy disposition, it's said that dogs only react violently if they are badly mistreated — or trained to be violent. If you remain unsure, you should study a good German Shepherd owners guide to understand how to train, socialize and behave around these dogs as well as how to adopt one from a reputable breeder who has good GSD bloodlines.

Some places have the GSD on a restricted, illegal or dangerous dog list, so always be sure to be aware of such things. The cost of owning a German Shepherd can be considerable. Be sure to consult a good German shepherd community to make absolutely sure you are ready for the responsibility before simply adopting one of these dogs when they are just cute little puppy furballs.

Random Details

Before Rin Tin Tin — the most famous of the heroic German Shepherds that starred in Hollywood films — there was Strongheart. This GSD was born in October, 1917 (six months after the U.S. entered WWI) and was formally named Etzel von Oeringen. During that world war, von Oeringen was a police dog in the German Red Cross. He ended up in the U.S. after being sent to a breeder in upstate New York.

At a Shepherd Dog Club of America show in 1920, the exceptionally large and remarkably looking dog caught the eye of film director Laurence Trimble. (He also owned the Vitagraph Dog, Jean.) Trimble got one of his screenwriters, Jane Murfin, to purchase von Oeringen. The following year, he had been "re-branded" as Strongheart and starred in his first movie — two years before Rin Tin Tin was on the silver screen! By 1925, Strongheart had starred in four films and, according to a 1925 L.A. Times article, had been paid approximately $2.5 million. (For comparison, Hollywood's first millionaire actor, Fatty Arbuckle, signed his 1920 contract for $1 million, which is about $13 million in 2016 dollars).

Strongheart died in 1929 after complications related to a tumor. It was caused by a burn from a stage light while filming a movie. Only a couple of the prints of the dog's four films have survived; only one, The Return of Boston Blackie (1927), is available to the public.

During his brief career, Strongheart was featured in a book titled "Strongheart: The Story of a Wonder Dog" (1926). In 1932, Doyle Packing Company licensed Strongheart's name and photo for a line of canned dog food. (That brand was available in stores as late as 2002.) There were at least two other books as well: "Letters to Strongheart" (1939) and "Kinship with All Life" (1954).

Despite the Strongheart films lost to history, there has been some resurgence in Strongheart's appeal. In 2014, Emily Arnold McCully wrote "Strongheart: The World's First Movie Star Dog," a book which might prompt classic fans of moving pictures to again proclaim Strongheart as one of the top 10 German Shepherd Dogs. These days, you can visit Strongheart's Hollywood Walk of Fame star on the east side of the 1700 block of Vine Street. (Rin Tin Tin, also a GSD, and Lassie, a Rough Collie, are the only other dogs who have Walk of Fame stars.)

German Shepherd Health

The health of a German Shepherd Dog is no small matter. Because of the demand to produce show dogs that are vastly different from working dogs, GSD show dogs tend to have extremely poor health. There is nearly a century of inconsiderate breeding and profit-driven backyard breeders (BYBs) that were persuaded by Rin Tin Tin movies (the first of which were in the early 1920s!) that have contributed greatly to this problem too.

There are few breeds that require so much due diligence when adopting a puppy. There is a lot of expense, pain and inadvertent cruelty that can occur if you cut corners on making sure you get a GSD that has strong bloodlines, a reputable breeder, and all the health tests and vet certifications.

The average lifespan of a German Shepherd Dog varies greatly and can be anywhere from 9 to 13 years.

Here is a list of the many health concerns that, sadly, are prone to happen to German Shepherd Dogs:

  • Allergies
  • Blindness
  • Bloat
  • Cancer
  • Cataracts
  • Cherry Eye
  • Chronic Diarrhea
  • Cruciate Ligament Rupture
  • Cushing's Syndrome
  • Degenerative Myelopathy
  • Demodectic Mange
  • Diabetes
  • Digestive Problems
  • Elbow Dysplasia
  • Epilepsy
  • Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency
  • Heart Disease
  • Hemophilia A
  • Hemophilia B
  • Hip Dysplasia
  • Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy
  • Lens Luxation
  • Lupus
  • Megaesophagus
  • Myasthenia Gravis
  • Nail Bed Disease
  • Osteochondrosis
  • Pannus
  • Panosteitis
  • Paralysis
  • Perianal Fistula
  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy
  • Retinal Dysplasia
  • Seborrhea
  • Vitiligo
  • Von Willebrand's Disease
  • Wobbler's Syndrome
  • View all 37...

German Shepherd Breed Recognition

The following dog breed registries and organizations recognize the German Shepherd as a dog breed:

  • American Canine Registry
  • American Kennel Club
  • America's Pet Registry
  • Australian National Kennel Council
  • Canadian Kennel Club
  • Continental Kennel Club
  • Dog Registry of America Inc.
  • Federation Cynologique Internationale
  • Kennel Club of Great Britain
  • National Kennel Club
  • New Zealand Kennel Club
  • North American Purebred Registry, Inc.
  • United Kennel Club
  • American Canine Association, Inc.
  • German Shepherd Dog Club Of America
  • View all 15...

German Shepherd Breeders

Interested in the German Shepherd? Contact a breeder below:

Breeder Name
Brandenburg German Shepherds
Black Paws Farm
Browning Haus German Shepherds
All breeders with 'Quality Breeder' recognition have met our Quality Breeder Requirements.
* Please note - we are not endorsed or affiliated with any of the breeders listed above. However, we do our best to only list reputable and established breeders.
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