German shepherd dogs (GSD) are noble, diligent, loyal, and highly intelligent dogs. They are large in size and have very streamlined, athletic builds that make them both strong and agile. Though they are excellent herding dogs, German shepherds are very well suited to work as service animals, such as guide dogs for the blind. They are excellent performing as working dogs, especially in police and military operations. They also make highly effective guard dogs. Of course, the German shepherd dog also makes a wonderful companion in the right home.

IN THIS ARTICLE

 

Breed Overview

GROUP: Herding

HEIGHT: 22 to 26 inches

WEIGHT: 60 to 100 pounds

COAT AND COLOR: Coarse, medium-length double coat. Most colors are acceptable, such as bicolor, black and tan, black and cream, black and red, black and silver, solid black, gray, sable. Note that blue or liver is unfavorable based on the breed standard. White is not an acceptable color based on the breed standards.

LIFE EXPECTANCY: 7 to 10 years

 German Shepherd Characteristics

Affection Level High
Friendliness High
Kid-Friendly High
Pet-Friendly Low
Exercise Needs High
Playfulness High
Energy Level Medium
Trainability High
Intelligence High
Tendency to Bark High
Amount of Shedding High

German Shepherd History

The ancestors of German shepherd dogs acted as both servants and companions to humans for hundreds of years. Developed from the old shepherd and farm dogs, the GSD we know today was first introduced in Germany in 1899. Captain Max von Stephanitz is credited with the breed’s beginnings.

 

During World Wars I and II, the word “German” was dropped, and the breed was referred to as the shepherd dog or the Alsatian (a name that stuck in some regions). Worldwide interest in the breed began rising in the early 1900s and the GSD was recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1908. In modern times it remains as one of the most popular dog breeds, currently ranking second in the AKC listings. Cross-breeding these dogs with Shiloh shepherds resulted in king shepherds.

German Shepherd Care

Black and Tan German Shepherd Dog

German shepherds have coarse, sometimes wiry, medium length hair with thick undercoats. Their coats should be brushed every few days. German shepherds have a relatively high shedding rate which can be lessened by routine grooming. Be prepared to have hairs on your clothing and furniture and you’ll need to vacuum frequently. Luckily, the coat also resists dirt and debris and you won’t need to bathe your dog more than once a month. In fact, too-frequent bathing will strip out the oils that keep it healthy.

Due to the high energy level of this breed, plenty of regular exercises is essential. Your GSD probably needs more exercise than you think. A daily walk is not enough. If you’re a jogger, a German shepherd can be a good running companion. Your dog needs to run, play, and explore to prevent frustrations, boredom, and pent-up energy. A dog that is bored may develop problems such as barking, digging, and chewing.
German shepherds can be very gentle companions and family protectors with proper training and socialization. It’s an ideal breed for active households. The intelligence and protective demeanor of this breed can make it a good choice for families with children as long as the dog is properly trained.
Individual dogs of this breed may have a tendency to chase cats and other small pets. They may not be a good fit for a multi-pet household unless raised together and with attention to socializing your dog to other pets. They also may not get along with strange dogs, especially of the same sex, which may be a problem when you visit a dog park.
A German shepherd is better off in a home where there is a fenced yard for play rather than an apartment. But it’s even more important that your dog is given plenty of attention and not left alone most of the day.

Common Health Problems

Short-coated Brown and Black German Shepherd Dog

Responsible breeders strive to maintain the highest breed standards as established by kennel clubs like the AKC. Dogs bred by these standards are less likely to inherit health conditions. However, some hereditary health problems can occur in the breed. The following are some conditions to be aware of:

  • Hip dysplasia
  • Elbow dysplasia
  • Elbow hygroma
  • Gastric dilatation-volvulus
  • Degenerative myelopathy
Illustration The Spruce – Emilie Dunphy

Diet and Nutrition

Your German shepherd will need two meals a day of up to two cups of dry dog food, but this will depend on the dog’s size, activity level, age, and other factors. As they are prone to bloating and possible stomach torsion, you want to avoid giving one large meal a day and having the dog gulp it down. Be sure your dog has access to clean, freshwater.

Monitor your dog’s weight and address any overweight issues early. Obesity will shorten your dog’s life. Discuss nutritional needs with your veterinarian to get recommendations for feeding schedules and dog food types throughout your dog’s life.

Where to Adopt or Buy a German Shepherd

If you think you’d like to adopt a German shepherd, you can start by contacting one of the following organizations:

These groups will be able to provide guidance and next steps for adoption. If you aren’t certain the breed is right for you, you may be able to try foster care to test if a GSD is a good fit for your home.