German Shepherd Dogs - Breed Introduction
The German Shepherd Dog, also referred to by the acronym GSD, the Alsation (in the British Commonwealth) or Deutsche Schaferhund (in Germany), is a member of the herding group of dogs and was originally developed for the purpose of herding sheep.
Today, however, this popular breed is capable of much more. In addition to making excellent companion dogs, the German Shepherds’ keen senses and intelligence make them well-suited to police and military work, avalanche search-and-rescue teamwork, and serving as companion guides for the blind.
German Shepherds average 22 to 26 inches (56 to 66 centimeters) in height; and weigh from 65 to 95 pounds (24 to 35 kilograms).
History of Breed
The ancestral line of the German Shepherd Dog, which descended from a variety of different types of shepherd dogs, can be traced back as far as the 7th century. However, its wolf-like appearance suggests that it may date back even farther. Cornelius Tacitus, a senator and historian of the Roman Empire, wrote of “the wolf-like dog of the country around the Rhine,” which resembled the German Shepherd.
However, it wasn’t until the late 1800s that the modern German Shepherd was developed. The breed as we know it today is credited to the efforts of German cavalry officer Max von Stephanitz, who wanted to develop a sheep-herding dog that would be handsome, responsible, and intelligent. He used longhaired, short-haired, and wire-haired local shepherd dogs from Wurtemberg, Thurginia, and Bavaria to achieve his goal.
In 1899, the Verein fur Deutsche Schaferhunde, which is the German breed club for German Shepherds, was formed. Through this club and the work of von Stephanitz, the breed was further developed for use with police and military organizations.
During World War I, the German armed forces used German Shepherds, which were widespread throughout Germany by then, as messenger dogs and to locate the wounded. Members of the Allied forces admired the dogs’ intelligence and courage, and many took German Shepherds home with them, thus spreading the breed’s roots to other countries.
More recently, German Shepherds have earned increased esteem through honorable careers as police and guide dogs.
Color and Coat
Most people picture German Shepherds as black and tan, but they may also be a variety of other colors. Black, sable, or black with tan or gray markings are American Kennel Club (AKC) standards for the breed, but German Shepherds can also be yellow, cream, or white. Most German Shepherds have short- to medium-length hair, but longhaired and wired-haired options also exist.
German Shepherds sport a weatherproof double coat. A thick undercoat is topped by an outercoat of thick, dense, coarse, flat hair.
Personality and Temperament
German Shephers are bright, active, playful, confident, and good-natured. To those who earn their friendship, they are both affectionate and extremely loyal. They develop very close bonds with their human families or handlers, and want to spend as much time with them as possible. In the company of strangers, German Shepherds initially tend to be reserved, though not hostile, and they warm up quickly.
Not surprisingly, the highly intelligent German Shepherd is very responsive to training, and is likely to be the star of his obedience class. Firm, fair, and consistent training is important, as these dogs will test you if you don’t provide solid guidelines, and they occasionally need to be reminded who’s boss.
German Shepherds are willing to learn and eager to please. They respond well to voice commands given with the appropriate intonation. From basic obedience, German Shepherds can go on to excel in agility, tracking, rescue work, or personal assistance work.
German Shepherds have a high activity level, and they need strenuous exercise. An ideal exercise routine for these dogs consists of four 30-minute exercise periods, or a total of two hours per day.
It’s a good idea to socialize German Shepherds while they’re still young, to help them overcome any reserve, and especially to acclimate them to children if they will be in a family setting. They generally do well with children, though it’s important for children to treat them with respect and not antagonize them. Most German Shepherds are also tolerant of other animals.
German Shepherds make excellent watchdogs. They are very protective, and will not back down if their owners or their property are threatened. Their jaws have a powerful grip, giving them the ability to detain a criminal, if needed.
Due to their energy levels, German Shepherds thrive in suburban areas or the country. They can adapt to city life, but their exercise needs must be met. These dogs do best with active families or individuals who have the willingness to train them and satisfy their need for both mental and physical stimulation.
Until 1915, both longhaired and wire-haired varieties were exhibited in addition to the typical short-haired type. Today, however, only the short coat is recognized for show purposes in most countries.
Black and tan, sable, black and grey, and solid black are acceptable colors for exhibition, while yellow, cream, and white varieties, though still routinely produced, are unacceptable in most countries.
German Shepherds should be muscular, and have an alert and noble appearance. These dogs are agile and graceful, and carry themselves with pride. They are well-balanced in the fore and hindquarters. Their build consists of smooth curves as opposed to a square appearance, and their length should be greater than their height.
The head of the German Shepherd features a long, strong muzzle; a moderately arched forehead with a subtle stop; and dark, medium-sized, almond-shaped eyes. The ears are open to the front and moderately pointed. A drooping or folded ear is considered a fault. Fitted lips close over the scissor bite. Dewclaws should be removed. The tail is bushy and low-set, and has the curve of a saber.
Typical Health Concerns
Many of the health problems German Shepherds are prone to have resulted from irresponsible breeders allowing hereditary conditions to proliferate over successive generations. The most common of these is hip dysplasia. Elbow dysplasia and arthritis are other bone diseases that German Shepherds may exhibit.
Others include bloat (a disease affecting deep-chested dogs), epilepsy, exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, spinal-cord paralysis, and congenital heart problems. Puppies are susceptible to cutaneous vasculopathy, which causes the ears and tails to be crusty, and the pads of the feet to become swollen and cracked.
Daily brushing is the only grooming requirement of a German Shepherd. However, be advised that this breed sheds a lot. To avoid a wall-to-wall carpeting of hair, a rake and comb should be used when shedding is at its peak.
Country of Origin
Germany is considered the country of origin of the German Shepherd.
Average Life Span
The life span of the German Shepherd ranges from 9 to 15 years, with the average being 12 years.