It is, without a doubt, one of the races with the most charisma thanks to the world of cinema and literature. The German Shepherd is part of the collective imagination of Humanity. With a unique appearance, excellent capacities as a shepherd dog to help humans at work and extreme intelligence, we are facing one of the best-valued dog breeds internationally. But it is also a fixture in homes around the world.
With a short but intense history, the German Shepherd has been linked to human society since its inception. Product of mixtures according to the interests of the breeders of its time, over the years it has managed to become one of the best valued and most recognized breeds, with followers all over the world who do not hesitate to consider it the most attractive breed of all.
Characteristics of the German Shepherd
The German Shepherd is one of the easiest dogs to identify by anyone regardless of their knowledge of animal species. Common in public work, as a companion animal and even in the world of cinema, its physical and behavioral characteristics have gone around the world to become part of common knowledge.
With an estimated weight between 30 and 40 kilograms in males and 20-30 in females, the German Shepherd is above all a large dog. It can reach 65 centimeters in height, developing strong muscles if we get used to physical exercise and a daily work rhythm. By having so much strength, he maintains a robust body at all times, capable of withstanding long days of activity without showing apparent symptoms of fatigue .
It is common to find specimens with extremely muscular legs, the result of continuous exercise allowing them to quickly increase their speed while increasing their resistance to fatigue. In the same way, we can be calm when he plays with other dogs and we are afraid that he will hurt himself: his back is one of the body parts that tends most to bodybuilding.
On the part of the ears, we find in most German Shepherds a medium size, erect and open forwards, giving them a challenging appearance at all times. When they are puppies they have hanging ears, standing up over the months, but not all the specimens manage to develop it on their own, needing the help of accessories such as bandages to keep them erect until they are fully developed. The muzzle is very prominent, with a slightly arched view punctuated by a bulging black nose. On the part of the eyes, they will almost always be brown with almond tones, being dark in all the specimens.
The coat of the German Shepherd is one of its most characteristic aspects, with black and tan colors throughout the body seasoned with small marks of different shades. There are varieties with black and white in their entirety, but not all institutions recognize German shepherd specimens that deviate from the usual combinations. The tail has a lot of hair throughout its length, being one of the breeds that develops more fur in this area. Normally it will be external, being below the hocks and hanging at rest, but more muscular dogs can keep it up constantly.
The German Shepherd personality is defined by his bravery and faithfulness. They are one of the most energetic breeds in the sense of working with the people in their charge, being delighted to release all their energy helping their owners with the tasks entrusted to them. The bond that they establish with the human being is absolute, accompanying them at all times where they will make the requests that we make, showing obedience and trust in our orders. It is a dog that has been found at all times linked to human activity, developing for generations the characteristics associated with fidelity and obedience to guarantee its effectiveness in field work. Although today the number of German Shepherds focused on being merely companion animals far exceeds those focused on work, they have inherited these characteristics in their behavior in all cases.
This extreme loyalty has certain problems when they are not properly educated. Being so faithful to their owners, they can be suspicious of strangers, emitting barking behaviors in the form of a warning and can even show signs of aggressiveness. We should not see it, at least at first, as a behavior problem, being so used to human treatment that it will not take us to get used to being around strangers, staying relaxed and prone to obeying our orders. Above all, it is a dog that shows its nobility and balance whenever it is given the opportunity, very sure of itself despite being a dog of considerable size and capable of intimidating anyone.
The German Shepherd With Children And With Other Dogs
If they are well trained and have had a lot of exposure to children, especially as puppies, a German Shepherd is a great companion for children. In fact, some say they are a cross between a babysitter and a policeman, both kind and protective of the children in their family. This is a large dog, however, capable of accidentally bumping into a small child or toddler. True to their reserved nature, they are not friendly with children they do not know, but they are generally trustworthy.
With Dogs and Other Pets
With other dogs he is polite, but also dominant. It will usually ignore smaller animals, wanting to play with other specimens that resemble it in both size and strength. The German Shepherd can also live peacefully with other dogs and pets, as long as they are taught to do so since they are puppies. Introducing an adult German Shepherd into a home with other pets can be more difficult if the dog is not used to getting along with other dogs or cats. You may need to hire a professional trainer to help you or get advice from the rescue organization if that’s where you acquired the adult German Shepherd.
- Height at the withers: between 60 and 65 cm.
- Weight: from 30 to 40 kg.
- Layer: Black, Black and tan, Sable, Gray, Black and tan, Black with silver.
- Average lifespan: 9 to 13 years
- Character: brave, faithful, intelligent and obedient
- Relationship with children: can be good
- Relationship with other dogs: good with their size
- Skills: protection, vigilance, companionship
- Space: needs : need daily exercise
- Food: depends on size and activity
- Fix: constant brushing
- Maintenance cost: moderate
Unlike other breeds, the origins of the German Shepherd are relatively easy to trace. With the 19th century drawing to a close, a group of shepherds in Germany decided that they needed a new type of dog that would really fit what they needed. The wolves had become one of the greatest threats, needing to protect the cattle with a dog that combined intelligence, speed, confidence and nobility in its functions.
Through the crossing of races such as the Bavarian shepherd or the Thuringian shepherd, specimens were obtained that were closer and closer to that ideal, with qualities such as resistance or commitment to work and their owners as common denominators. However, it would be Maximilian von Stephanitz, cavalry captain of the German army, who really gave rise to the birth of the race itself. Maximilan was looking for a working dog that could become the breed for Germany as a whole, beyond the functions associated with herding and with enough intelligence to adapt to any family and work.
Development in the first half of the 20th century
It was in 1899 when he found what is considered the first German shepherd in history, a specimen exhibited among many others at a cattle dog fair. The appearance of the animal impressed him so much that he did not hesitate to acquire it, baptizing it as Horand von Grafrath and registering it as a German shepherd. Horand perfectly fulfilled all the traits that were sought from the beginning, managing to maintain them in his offspring by making a series of crossings selectively between members of the same lineage. With the founding of the Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde (SV), the largest club in the world today for a specific breed, the German Shepherd became the national dog focused entirely on work.
Since 1900 the breed became the most popular in all of Germany, accepting that new national breed where they could be reflected thanks to their excellent work and the fidelity they showed to their owners. Curiously, Maximilian did not agree with the social change that was taking place around him by banishing agricultural and livestock work for an economy based on industrialization. He feared that the German shepherd would be prompted to perform functions that he was not able to fulfill due to the false expectations that were created around him, the result of ignorance and bad practice in his upbringing. Luckily for the breed, he managed to convince the government to use him as a breed for police work, a collaboration that would mark the fate of the German Shepherd.
A Soldier Dog: The Two World Wars
The international jump was immediate. In 1906 he would cross the ocean to enter the United States at the hands of private breeders with business prospects, an idea that did not take long to be confirmed thanks to the rapid acceptance that the breed had in the country. It was a dog that worked in the field, but also as an assistant for tracking tasks without losing sight of the affection it professed as a companion animal. With the First World War his popularity declined as he inevitably associated with his home country, encouraged by his role alongside German soldiers in locating the wounded, acting as messengers and detecting enemy incursions.
The Second World War took the same paths, coming to be used as practically soldiers in the front line of battle. With the experience of past conflicts and the German police working closely with the army, the German Shepherds were feared as well as respected throughout the course of the conflict. Fortunately for the race, many Allied soldiers took notice of his characteristics, appreciating his dedication to being able to perform on a battlefield surrounded by chaos and noise. The soldiers returned both with stories and with specimens to their countries of origin, avoiding an absolute banishment of the race by inevitably associating it with the Germans participating in the wars.
Loss of popularity and recovery of the German Shepherd
World War I took a toll on the breed’s growing popularity because dogs were associated with the enemy. German shepherds braved artillery fire, land mines, and tanks to supply German soldiers in the trenches with food deliveries and other necessities. After the war, movies starring Rin Tin Tin and his fellow German Shepherd Strongheart made the breed popular again. The American public loved them. For a time, the German Shepherd was the most popular breed in the United States.
In addition, for years groups were created to protect the German shepherd, even spreading the name of the Alsatian wolfdog to avoid its association with Germany. Thanks to the good work of the specimens that were brought in after the Second World War, their name was quickly cleared, recognizing their excellent qualities in such highly valued functions as the rescue of injured people or the protection of the population acting as police dogs. Being such a noble and brave dog, an uncontrollable breeding was produced in the 50s and 60s, with specimens that showed behavioral problems and even anomalies such as hip dysplasia that are still present today.
The German Shepherd Today
Today the German Shepherd is one of the most appreciated breeds by far. Without the need for frills in their demeanor or outward adornments, their noble, hard-working character has won over segments of the population of all stripes, including wealthy families and farm workers reluctant to keep pets beyond work. The functions he performs today are as varied as they are curious: detection of drugs, explosives, people, guard dog, guide dog, herding in the field, dog therapy. He performs many jobs, always using his own energy to achieve the results expected of him.
The future of the German Shepherd couldn’t be more promising. Valued for both its beauty and character, it has become the pride of Germany and a fixture on favorite lists around the world. Due to the uncontrolled breeding that took place during the 20th century, there are rigorous controls to prevent the spread of disorders such as hip dysplasia, seeking to achieve that the breed can finally develop without problems of the past products of the hand of man.
The AKC recognized the breed in the 1960s while the FCI recognized it in 1955, although its official standard was published in 2010 (in Spanish in 2019).
Education and Training
As a pet it is undoubtedly one of the best regardless of the character of its owner. The German Shepherd will always be sociable with people, maintaining a cautious behavior to the maximum degree when strangers appear that cause distrust. Unlike other breeds, it is difficult for it to show dominance in the home, but it is not impossible when we allow it to act as it pleases without any control. If from puppies we allow it to approach other people and show it its space in our house, we will not have future problems in this regard. In addition, it is one of the best dogs to deal with young children, resistant enough to withstand any type of mischief without feeling threatened and patient like no other to spend hours by their side simply observing them.
Being such an energetic animal we will have to be careful that it does not start conflicts when it starts to play with other dogs, especially with those that we notice that they tend to be skittish responding aggressively. A great advantage of their vigor is that it will not be difficult for them to have fun on their own when the other dogs do not dare to accompany you on your adventures: a long enough area will help them to relax. We must remember first of all that the German Shepherd needs a lot of exercise, and behavior problems can appear if we do not make sure to supply this need.
Considering its origins it is easy to predict the training potential of the German Shepherd. It is an intelligent dog with a great capacity for learning, tolerating all kinds of reinforcement programs, establishing the relationships between the stimuli in very few trials. The behaviors that it develops are greatly strengthened, extending to all kinds of contexts and situations as long as its owner orders it. Positive reinforcement should be the method we choose from when they are puppies, without the need to resort to an excess of unconditioned stimuli to strengthen learning or to have to apply punishments which in most cases will be useless. With a few sessions a day for a while we will be able to instill all kinds of behaviors, easily relating them to the stimuli that we are interested in conditioning.
It is important that we dedicate some time to basic training, focusing above all on our pet exercising in a controlled and safe way for everyone around him and himself. The obedience that he shows from a young age will help us to develop basic behaviors that will allow us to live together, showing him his space in the home, the toys that correspond to him and the times of the day where we can dedicate more time to him. For them, having a goal, a task to perform where they can discharge their energy, is a fundamental part of being comfortable, having to show them tasks to keep them busy. If we live in the city, we can focus on walks through large areas where we can fully stretch, training them for games related to the search and collection of objects that we throw at them. The hard balls will be our greatest allies with them,
It is in working side by side in collaboration with humans that the German Shepherd excels. They have an extraordinary ability to learn for tracking behaviors, being able to train you to find hidden objects throughout the house by associating them with the smell. This ability has made it the preferred breed for law enforcement, finding narcotics and explosive material hidden in the most unexpected corners. Its agility has also been useful in open country areas, with rescue work and pastoral functions in the most rural environments.
The Schutzhund program is specifically designed to measure the ability of dogs to protect people, with measures that include the confidence that the animal shows when carrying out the task, its smell, resistance to distractors or the determination in front of the orders of its owners. Finally, it is also an excellent guide dog thanks to its intelligence and serenity, being able to remain undaunted to help disabled people to navigate the urban environment.
German Shepherds are generally healthy, but like all breeds, they are prone to certain health conditions. Not all German Shepherds will get some or all of these diseases, but they are important to keep in mind if you are considering this breed.
The hip dysplasia is a hereditary condition in which the femur not fit neatly into the pelvic cavity of the hip joint. Hip dysplasia can exist with or without clinical signs. Some dogs have pain and a limp in one or both hind legs. As the dog ages, arthritis can develop.
This is also a common inherited condition in large breed dogs. It is believed to be caused by different growth rates of the three bones that make up the dog’s elbow, causing joint laxity. This can cause a painful limp. Your vet may recommend surgery to correct the problem or medications to control the pain.
Commonly called gastric bloating or torsion, this is a life-threatening condition that affects large, deep-chested dogs such as Golden Retrievers or German Shepherds, especially if given a large meal a day, they eat quickly, drink large volumes of water afterward. eating, and exercise vigorously after eating. Bloating occurs when the stomach is distended with gas or air and then twists.
The dog is unable to burp or vomit to get rid of excess air in his stomach and the normal return of blood to the heart is impeded. Blood pressure drops and the dog goes into shock. Without immediate medical attention, the dog can die. Suspect bloat if your dog has a distended abdomen, excessive saliva, and vomits without vomiting. You may also be restless, depressed, lethargic, and weak with a fast heart rate. It is important to take your dog to the vet as soon as possible.
Degenerative myelopathy is a progressive disease of the spinal cord, specifically the part of the spinal cord that communicates information to the brain regarding the hind legs. Dogs with this condition act as if they don’t know where their hind legs are and can’t move them properly. The disease progresses to the point where the dog stops walking. Most of the time, there is no treatment and the dog is put to sleep. However, in a few rare cases, the condition is related to a lack of vitamin 12 or vitamin E. If this is the case, vitamin supplements could stabilize the condition.
Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency
It is a genetic disease of the pancreas in which the cells that produce digestive enzymes are destroyed. As a result, the dog can no longer digest or absorb food. The first signs of the condition are gas, loss of appetite, weight loss, and changes in stool. The dog becomes very thin and very hungry. It is diagnosed with a simple blood test and the treatment is also simple: pancreatic enzymes are added to the dog’s food. With proper medication supervision, most dogs recover.
Some German Shepherds suffer from a variety of allergies, ranging from contact allergies to food allergies. Allergy symptoms in dogs are similar to those in people. If your German Shepherd scratches, licks his paws, or rubs his face a lot, suspect that he is allergic and have him checked by your vet.
Originally bred to herd flocks all day, German Shepherds are made for action. This means that they have a lot of energy that they need to burn with daily exercise. If you leave them alone for long periods of time without exercising, you will have problems. Boredom and inactivity lead to behavior problems: they chew, dig, and bark. The German Shepherd desperately needs to exercise both his body (jogging, playing in the dog park) and his mind (training exercises such as agility or obedience competitions), luckily for this there are many toys to encourage mental activity.
Like many herding breeds, German Shepherds will bark and while not a problem per se, it can be if the dog is bored. Learning the “Silence” command should be part of every German Shepherd’s obedience training. German Shepherds like to chew and their powerful jaws can destroy most materials. If they pick the wrong thing to bite on, they can damage their teeth, swallow something that makes them sick, or even choke. Save your dog and your belongings by giving them bones and safe chew toys so they can be entertained when you are not playing with them.
Hygiene and Brushing
The German Shepherd has a thick, medium-length double coat that sheds a lot and constantly, so much so that even his fans call him a “German Shepherd.” The undercoat sheds a lot in spring and fall, and the German Shepherd needs to be brushed and bathed frequently during that time to remove all loose hair. The rest of the year, weekly brushing is usually enough to keep it clean. If the German Shepherd is your preferred breed, buy a heavy duty vacuum cleaner; don’t get a German Shepherd if you have allergies or are a fussy housekeeper.
A high-quality, age-appropriate dog food (puppy, adult, or older) will have all the nutrients the breed needs. Table scraps can cause digestive discomfort, so you should feed them in moderation, if at all, especially avoiding cooked bones and high-fat foods. Small pieces of biscuit or dog kibble can be used as treats for training.
If you are feeding a high-quality food, vitamin and mineral supplements should not be necessary, although adding small amounts of yogurt, cooked vegetables, or eggs to the meal can be beneficial. Learning which human foods are safe for dogs and which are not is essential in these cases. Consult with your vet if you have any concerns about your dog’s weight or diet.
How to get a German Shepherd?
Luckily, getting a pedigree German Shepherd is relatively straightforward. There are many breeders around the world that will allow you to get one. But if you don’t need it to be purebred, you can approach your vet and ask if he knows any unborn or newborn litters. In any case, remember that in Spain the sale of animals is very regularized and that, much more so in a breed as common as this, you have options of being able to adopt one if you approach local associations and kennels.
Other Similar Dogs
If you are looking for a dog that has similar characteristics, you can try one of the following:
- Slovak Tchuvatch.
- Australian Kelpie
- South Russian Shepherd Dog
- Croatian Shepherd Dog.
- Catalan Shepherd Dog .
- Belgian Shepherd
- Mallorquin Shepherd .
- Australian shepherd dog
- Pyrenean Shepherd with a flat face .
- Beauce Shepherd .
- Brie Shepherd.
- Picardy Shepherd.
- Long-haired Pyrenean Shepherd Dog.
- Kuvasz .
- Mudi .
- Puli .
- Bergamasco Shepherd .
- Sheepdog of the Maremma and Abruzzo.
- Dutch Shepherd.
- Saarloos Wolfdog.
- Dutch Schapendoes.
- Polish Plains Sheepdog .
- Polish Shepherd from Podhale.
- Portuguese Shepherd Dog.
- Old English Sheepdog.
- Border Collie.
- Long haired collie
- Czechoslovakian Wolfdog
- Romanian Shepherd from Mioritza .
- White Swiss Shepherd.