Let's talk German Shepherds

Call him Mr. Popularity. The celebrated German Shepherd Dog is one of the most universally sought-after breeds, praised for their high intelligence and unflinching loyalty. A wonderful family pet, the German Shepherd is very obedient, which makes them easy to train, and they have a great time doing it. The added bonus: those bright eyes coupled with stunning markings.

Official name: German Shepherd Dog

Other names: German, Shepherd, Alsatian, GSD

Origins: Germany

German Shepherd adult in black and white
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*We advise against leaving pets alone for long stretches. Companionship can prevent emotional distress and destructive behaviour. Speak to your veterinarian for recommendations. Every pet is different, even within a breed. This snapshot of this breed specifics should be taken as an indication only. For a happy, healthy, and well-behaved pet, we recommend educating and socializing your pet, as well as meeting their basic welfare needs (and their social and behavioral needs). Pets should never be left unsupervised with a child. Contact your breeder or veterinarian for further advice. All domestic pets are sociable and prefer company. However, they can be taught to cope with solitude from an early age. Seek the advice of your veterinarian or trainer to help you do this.
Illustration of a black and brown German Shepherd from the side
60 - 65 cm55 - 60 cm
30 - 40 kg22 - 32 kg
2 to 15 months15 months to 5 years
5 to 8 years8 to 18 years
Birth to 2 months
Close-up side view of German Shepherd panting
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Get to know German Shepherd 

All you need to know about the breed

An intelligent, lively, and steadfast breed, the German Shepherd fulfils so much that’s wanted in a dog. Devoted to their owner and to their family, this is a dog who will follow you from room to room, into the car, really anywhere you go.

The energy level of the German Shepherd? High. But that can also equate to fun, as the breed looks upon any activity as welcome activity. Walking, running, and hiking all work for the German Shepherd, as do tracking and agility competitions, which they excel at.

If there’s one characteristic that defines the German Shepherd, it’s their smarts. They are known for having incredibly high intelligence and the ability to figure things out — part of the reason, along with their faithful nature, that they’re often used by armed forces.

Because of their very high intelligence, the German Shepherd dog is also used widely as a service dog for disabled or visually impaired people. They’re ideally suited for the role given their unwavering loyalty, intelligence, and keen sense of smell.

Train them well and this breed will return your requests in spades. As singularly self-assured as they are, the breed is also known to be a great companion dog. They are incredibly bonded to their owner, so teaching your German Shepherd won’t be hard, it just needs to be consistent.

The other breed hallmark: that coat! It’s a double one, and composed of thick, plush fur dappled with distinctive, rich colourings that give the German Shepherd breed their regal look.

Side view of German Shepherd with legs of police officers in background
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Two facts about German Shepherds

1. An incredible sense of smell

The German Shepherd breed is one of the leaders in olfactory abilities — that means smell. They are traditionally used to perform search and rescue, and for bomb and drug sniffing in police and military work because of this keen characteristic.

2. Speaking of noses... 

Bred as a herding dog, the German Shepherd is known for rounding up not only other animals, but also humans. They’ll nudge you with their nose — when they want to go out, go for a walk, or when it’s mealtime. It’s a charming and harmless trait, and could be handy where little ones are concerned as the German Shepherd tends to be highly protective too.

German Shepherd sitting with two puppies in black and white
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History of the breed

Even-keeled and loyal to a fault, the German Shepherd temperament reflects the careful breeding done by Captain Max Frederic Emile Von Stephanitz in Germany starting in 1899. Von Stephanitz wanted to produce a superior herding dog, particularly for sheep, so brought together sheepdogs in southern and central Germany. The goal was a dog with high intelligence and athletic ability. The “Shep-herd” was born.

Von Stephanitz then founded a club for the breed in Frankfurt in 1899. The breed developed a keen obedience in the ensuing years, becoming increasingly used for security, especially by the military and police, who still widely deploy the German Shepherd today. And the public has joined their ranks: The German Shepherd gained huge popularity in the early 20th century in the US as a result of dog movie stars Rin-Tin-Tin and Strongheart. The breed is highly popular worldwide — it's been in the top 10 of US breeds for the past 10 years according to the American Kennel Club, usually coming second to the Labrador Retriever.

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From head to tail

Physical characteristics of German Shepherds

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1.Ears

Ears pert ending in point, slant forward to frame face.

2.Head

Well-proportioned, wedge-shaped head, strong muzzle.

3.Fur

Thick undercoat, coarse top coat, distinctive colourings of deep black and tan, silver, and white.

4.Body

Muscular, strong body, lanky with sense of balance and even proportion, firm ribs and chest, not stocky.

5.Tail

Thick, long hair on tail, slightly longer on underside.
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Things to look out for

From specific breed traits to a general health overview, here are some interesting facts about your German Shepherd

A strong breed with a sensitive stomach

When it comes to health, German Shepherds can have occasional bouts of digestive tract disorders and diarrhea — not life-threatening, but not much fun for the dog. Look for adverse reactions to food, diarrhea, or loose stool, gastroenteritis, pancreatic insufficiency, bloat, or IBD, among other disorders. Allergic dermatitis, or skin irritation, can also occur. Feeding your dog highly nutritious food will keep them on track. A proper diagnostic examination is mandatory, which can be time — and money — consuming. A good veterinarian can help you find solutions.

It’s those hips!

Hip dysplasia is the third most common illness in German Shepherds — in fact, they are predisposed. It's a developmental syndrome of the ball-and-socket joint where the thigh bone and the hip bone don’t quite conform. The result is arthritis. It’s important that the rate of growth, especially for large-breed dogs, stay constant so their bones and muscles develop together. Dysplasia can happen more often when muscles grow faster, thus putting stress on bones and joints, potentially causing arthritis and then dysplasia. A simple veterinarian check for your German Shepherd can find signs of any occurrence.

Energy to burn

Forewarned is forearmed: the German Shepherd dog is an extremely high-energy breed. It’s exciting to think about adding this gracious canine to your home, but they are not the breed for everyone. They thrive on a lot of daily exercise — so much so that the German Shepherd will easily accompany you on long runs, trotting alongside for hours.

Like all breeds however, the German Shepherd can suffer from health issues when some of their physical features are over-exaggerated, in their case, a sloped back. The feature came from developing the dog for shows, with breeders thinking an elegant line and shortened legs made for a bouncy gait when the dog moved through the show ring. We advise you to seek advice from your veterinarian, where needed, to obtain a dog from a responsible breeder.

German Shepherd running over earth and leaves
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Caring for your German Shepherd

Grooming, training, and exercise tips

German Shepherds and exercise go hand-in-hand. They require a large amount of daily activity as a highly athletic and high-functioning dog. Great runners — alone or with humans — they can go long distances. Herding, tracking, or agility exercises are also excellent for the breed who is often a competitor in these kinds of contests, not to mention working dog competitions and dog shows of all kinds.

German Shepherds have a double coat — a slightly thick coarse outer coat with a soft undercoat. Brushing twice a week is best. Despite their high athleticism, German Shepherds don’t need baths too often. Typically, long-haired breeds do shed, but less so if brushed regularly. Shedding will happen twice a year, to make way for the new fur. Nail trims should be done monthly. However, dogs that walk on hard surfaces will rub down their nails, so subsequently won't need to get their nails clipped as frequently.

A highly trainable breed, German Shepherds have a personality that responds well to direction and commands. They very much want to please, and it’s no exaggeration to say they’re incredibly intelligent, a great combination when it comes to shaping them into a superb companion. It’s recommended to start training very early on, as German Shepherds are always in search of a task. They are highly bonded to their human family members.

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All about German Shepherds

Sources
  1. Veterinary Centers of America https://vcahospitals.com/
  2. Royal Canin Dog Encyclopaedia. Ed 2010 and 2020
  3. Banfield Pet Hospital https://www.banfield.com/
  4. Royal Canin BHN Product Book
  5. American Kennel Club https://www.akc.org/

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