German Shepherd Dog Breed Guide

Breed Group:
Herding Dogs

Middle Age: 5 years

Geriatric Age: 10 years

Life Span: 10 to 14 years

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German Shepherd Breed Info & History

The German Shepherd–despite the worldwide popularity–actually originated in the late 19th century. A German cavalry captain had an aspiration to create the world’s best herding dog. Perhaps he didn’t succeed in that specific aim (that’s a topic up for debate), but he certainly created one of the best and most popular dogs in the world.

The captain–a man named Von Stephanitz–eventually sought to narrow out an ‘alpha’ breed of the German herding dogs, and traveled throughout certain regions to assess the variety of different breeds. Eventually he found the variations he fancied, bred them, and later his breed was used by the Germans in WWI, making them a working class dog.

Despite the fact that many German Shepherds returned home with US soldiers, they were actually around the US before the war, they just had their rise to fame due to how well they serviced the soldiers. But some credit the popularity of German Shepherds to a famous Hollywood star. You’ve probably heard of him. Rin Tin Tin, anyone?

But during the time, because of the hatred Americans had for Germany, the AKC actually named the breed the ‘Shepherd Dog,’ rather than the German Shepherd. Later, the name was changed back, but funny enough the names almost separated the two breeds in a healthy way: Americans bred German Shepherds for showmanship, which inherently destroyed some of their most impressive traits, and German’s screened their breeds meticulously, wanting only ever to produce an alpha species among canines.

German Shepherd Personality & Temperament

This is one of those personalities that you’re most likely familiar with. You see a beautiful German Shepherd, and while you want to run up and pet it, you know better, as those watchful eyes are questioning and assessing you. But you also don’t fear them, as the German Shepherd temperament is not aggressive.These dogs are naturally aloof, and commonly reserved in the face of strangers. They’re loyal to absolutely no end, and once they decide you’re to be trusted, will show you a side of their personality that feels entirely like a reward. They’re extremely intelligent and have such an impressive range in what they can be trained to do, that they’re in a working class of their own.

These dogs are naturally aloof, and commonly reserved in the face of strangers. The German Shepherd traits are loyal to absolutely no end, and once they decide you’re to be trusted, will show you a side of their personality that feels entirely like a reward. They’re extremely intelligent and have such an impressive range in what they can be trained to do, that they’re in a working class of their own.

They’re excellent watchdogs, and you can count on them to protect the children. They need exercise, immense amounts of stimulation, and to be constantly around those they love (German Shepherd separation anxiety is a huge issue with these canines, as they freak out without the presence of their owner).

In some ways, this dog is truly the alpha personality: calm, assertive, assured, confident, hyper-intelligent, powerful and athletic, and with the size to make you hesitate. Then at home the German Shepherd behavior is loving, quiet, calm, and even spunky at times.

Training a German Shepherd

This dog was bred to be trained. If you read the bit about their history, then you know what we’re saying. While a German Shepherd can be trained (in possibly more ways than any breed in existence) at home, it’s incredibly beneficial to send this canine to puppy classes, or to a trainer that specializes in the breed (there are many of them out there).

They’re docile, hyper-intelligent, and starving for direction and a job. They love to learn and be challenged, and in turn love to challenge when given the opportunity. That’s why obedience classes are so important with this breed, as they’re intelligent enough to get into trouble, and also to challenge you at every learning curve. At home you need to establish yourself as the alpha, and this is one of those breeds that benefits from the owner holding a firm (never aggressive) hand.

Early-socialization is a must, too. Expose them to other dogs, people, and environments right from the get-go. These dogs have a tendency to be extremely guarded, and that temperament–while appropriate in some situations–needs to be ironed out early, or a German Shepherd can be dangerous. To that last point, they’re not as dangerous as some of the bigger breeds known for aggressive outbursts (Rottweilers and Pitbulls), but any dog with this size and power needs to know when it’s appropriate to show their hand.

Exercise Requirements for German Shepherds

The topic of exercise with a German Shepherd is a dynamic one. Reason being: on one hand, they need a whole lot of physical stimulation (which is often interwoven with their training) and on the other, they shouldn’t exercise too vigorously in their youth to mitigate the risk of developing joint problems.

With that being said, the German Shepherd puppy has a lot of energy. They love to run around, have a strong prey and herding drive, and will often keep you up at night or destroy the furniture if they’re not exhausted by the end of the day. This enthusiasm will wane, but it’s important that throughout their life they receive around 30-45 minutes of exercise per day.

They’re big dogs that benefit from having a yard to run around in, and you can add variety to their exercise methods. They love to swim, play Frisbee, play fetch, go on hikes (or do anything that involves nature), and chase you around. Be sure to incorporate their exercising routines into their obedience training, as physical and intellectual stimulation is the key to a behaved and well-tempered German Shepherd.

German Shepherd Life Span & Longevity

A German Shepherd typically lives anywhere from 9-13 years.

German Shepherd Breed Popularity

The German Shepherd ranks 2nd on the AKC’s most popular list of 155 dog breeds. That means they come in right behind the Labrador, and are perhaps even more impressive in their ranking, being that they’ve only been around in the states since the 1920’s. Perhaps they’re so popular because of their versatility. They’re fantastic companions, watchdogs, show dogs, police dogs, service dogs, and just about anything else that a dog can be (they’re trained for multiple different utilities).

Their staunch loyalty and impressive physique make them an adventure buddy, a lover of the family, and a dog powerful enough to protect those most cared for if the situation calls for it. Not to mention that a purebred German Shepherd looks simply stunning in their black and brindle coat, with their sleek and elegant faces always poised with a certain type of stoicism lost in most breeds.

Feeding Requirements for a German Shepherd

Your German Shepherd should eat 3-4 cups of high-quality dry food per day, broken into two even meals. It’s important that you strive to produce the healthiest (and highest quality) diet for your German Shepherd, as the way they eat in their puppy years can directly affect the health of their joints in adulthood. They don’t tend to be glutinous and because they love to exercise, you don’t see a lot of obesity in this breed.

Still, age, metabolism, weight, and activity-level are all integral factors that need to be considered when administering a balanced diet. Know that these dogs can tend to develop joint and leg related problems in their older ages, and be sure to provide the healthiest food for them to grow properly.

Grooming a German Shepherd

The German Shepherd sports a double coat that’s often thick and dense beneath, and wiry on top. These beautiful canines have a coat that protects them from cold (it’s water resistant), and then sheds its under layer in the winter in preparation for the summer heat. They’re bad shedders, and require weekly brushing (and sometimes daily if the season calls for it).

In fact, they’re often considered to be one of the worst shedders, and it doesn’t help that their coats are often darker (black hairs will show more on lighter surfaces). Know that when purchasing this breed you’re in for a lot of grooming.

In terms of hygiene, brush their teeth 2-3 times a week to avoid tartar and bacteria build ups. Trim their nails, although it’s doubtful that you’ll have to do this often, as their activity-level normally wears them down naturally. Examine their bodies for anything suspicious, and take them to the veterinarian to ensure that they’re growing properly, as these dogs often fall victim to joint-related issues (and if they’re caught early on it’s easier to control).

Are German Shepherds Good with Children?

The overall answer: absolutely. If raised properly, the German Shepherd will take the children as their own, love them indefinitely, and protect them at all costs. They’re playful in their youth, intuitive enough to know the boundaries of their strength when it comes to the youngsters, and intelligent enough to know what is appropriate and what is not. The German Shepherd characteristics make fantastic additions to the household with children.

With that being said, their temperament around children depends on how well they were socialized, trained, and introduced to the youngsters. Being that they’re a watchdog and protective by nature, just because they love your children doesn’t mean they’ll love your children’s friends, or all children for that matter. But—and we’re generalizing here—they’re usually perfectly fine around children, and are often gentle with them.

Common German Shepherd Health Problems

The German Shepherd is a generally healthy dog with a decent life expectancy (9-13 years). But, since they do have the #2 spot on the most popular list, this means there are puppy mills out there striving to produce a large quantity of puppies, without any regard for the responsibility they have in maintaining quality as well. It’s important when buying your German Shepherd puppy that your breeder can provide health clearances for both of the parents. These clearances need to be given by certified establishments. German Shepherd health problems are as follows:

Hip Dysplasia: if you’re at all familiar with the dog-world, then you’ve probably heard at one point or another that German Shepherds can have bad hips. This means that German Shepherd hip dysplasia is very common within this breed. It’s not an exaggeration, as hip dysplasia affects 20% of the entire breed. They’re incredibly vulnerable to this particular disorder, which occurs when there’s a displacement in the hip joint. Symptoms include pain when walking, an abnormal gait, lameness in the leg(s), and at worst immobility. There are a slew of preventative measures, treatments, and surgeries available for the condition, and it’s never life-threatening.

Elbow Dysplasia: in the same vein as hip dysplasia, this occurs when there’s a displacement in the elbow joint. It can cause lameness in the leg(s), difficulty straightening the joint, an abnormal gait, and at worse immobility. While not as prevalent in German Shepherds, it can still occur if the dog isn’t raised properly, or if they inherited bad genes. There are preventative measures, treatments, and surgery available for this condition.

Degenerative Myleopathy: this degenerative disease directly affects the spinal cord, gradually inhibiting its ability to communicate with the brain. If this occurs, your German Shepherd will have a hard time controlling its hind legs, and can often forget they’re there entirely. In some cases, there are treatments available and dietary changes that can right the disease, but more often than not the dog is put down.

Keratitis: this condition occurs when the cornea inflames. If you’re unsure what the cornea is, it’s the same as in humans; the dome that covers the eye’s pupil and iris. This painful condition can greatly affect your dog’s vision, at times painful enough that they won’t want to keep their eyes open. It’s caused by bacteria, fungi, impact (injury), and sometimes just bad genes. There are lots of treatments available for the condition, however, and it’s never life-threatening. Even though it’s more commonly found in smaller dogs, it’s also quite common in German Shepherds.

Other resources

National breed website: German Shepherd Dog Club of America
rescues: Westside German Shepherd Rescue