German Shepherds: What Makes Them Popular Among Dog Owners?
Versatile, skillful, and smart–these are the words I would use to describe the German Shepherd. However, if there’s only one word I could attach to their name, it would be the word ‘overachiever.’ Given their impressive origin and history, German Shepherds have rightfully earned their place as one of the world’s most popular dog breeds, and honestly who can argue with that?
What Is a German Shepherd?
Ranking 4th in 2021’s Most Popular Dog Breed, the German Shepherd, also called the Alsatian, is one of today’s beloved dogs, not just in the United States but also in other parts of the world. German Shepherd dogs possess all the traits of a wonderful family companion. They are incredibly loyal, intelligent, protective, and energetic, making them an excellent choice as a pet, even for first-time dog owners!
Origin of the German Shepherd
As suggested by their name, the German Shepherd dog breed originated in Germany during the 1800s by a man named Captain Max Von Stephanitz. The idea of breeding the first German Shepherd dog came from Von Stephanitz’s admiration of the local shepherding dogs, who showed great skills of agility, fast reflexes, and intelligence.
Von Stephanitz saw the decline of these amazing shepherding dogs and decided to step up by developing the first German Shepherd dog. He wanted to make the ideal herding dog and he did that by crossing different breeds from northern and central Germany, and thus the ancestors of the modern German Shepherds were born.
Captain Max Von Stephanitz became the co-founder of the first club for GSDs, known as the Verein fur deutsche Schaferhunde, along with nine other people. By 1908, the first German Shepherd dog was officially recognized by the American Kennel Club as part of the Herding Group, and later then, in 1913, the German Shepherd Dog Club of America was formed.
The German Shepherd became one of the most recognizable breeds up to this day, and this is thanks to none other than Corporal Lee Duncan’s puppy Rin Tin Tin. Rin Tin Tin was originally found in the battlegrounds of France during the time of World War I. Corporal Lee Duncan brought him home to California and Rin Tin Tin appeared as a movie star dog in “The Adventures of Rin-Tin-Tin” and other films, eventually capturing the attention of the whole of America.
Did You Know: The German Shepherd dog got renamed the Alsatian Wolf Dog by Britain due to the surge of the anti-German sentiment during World War I. Some Europeans today still use Alsatian to refer to the German Shepherd dog.
What Was the German Shepherd Bred for?
German Shepherds were originally bred to herd sheep. Their name having the word “shepherd” is a testament to their skill and ability to herd sheep. However, GSDs are not only useful as herding dogs, but also as working dogs in general. The German Shepherd has the skills, intelligence, and trainability to work as police dogs, guard dogs, rescue dogs, search and rescue dogs, service dogs, and guide dogs.
What Does a German Shepherd Look Like?
German Shepherds are quite known for having a wolf-like appearance, starting from their large, muscular body, strong, pointy ears, long muzzle, lean legs, and piercing brown gaze. Overall, the German Shepherd dog exudes an aura of sophistication, nobility, and confidence that no other dog can come close to matching.
German Shepherd’s coat can vary in length from short-length, medium-length, to long-haired GSDs. Based on AKC’s breed standard, the ideal German Shepherd features a medium-length double coat with a dense, straight, close-lying outer coat and softer undercoat. Their double coat makes them perfect herding breeds for extreme climates, once again proving their versatility.
The GSD’s coat also comes in different colors and patterns. The 12 official standard colors of the GSD are:
- Black & Cream
- Black & Red
- Black & Silver
- Black & Tan
The German Shepherd dog breed shows off dark almond-shaped eyes, slightly oblique, and not protruding. Their eyes usually exhibit a keen and intelligent expression.
GSDs are naturally born with floppy ears, however, as they mature their ears turn moderately pointed and perfectly proportioned to their skill. If your German Shepherd’s ears suddenly perk up this is a sign that they’re on alert, but if they’re in a relaxed state, it means they are feeling calm or friendly.
The GSD’s long, strong snout and wedge-shaped muzzle are recognizable even from afar, with the topline of the muzzle parallel to the top of the skull.
AKC describes the German Shepherd’s tail as bushy, long, and set low with a slight hook at the end when at rest. When they’re excited, the tail is usually raised and emphasized, but never curved beyond a vertical line.
How Big Does a Full-grown German Shepherd Get?
A German Shepherd dog can be considered full-grown in ages between 18 months to 24 months old. On average, an adult GSD can grow 22 to 26 inches tall. Male German Shepherds can grow between 24 to 26 inches tall, while female German Shepherds can grow as tall as 22 to 24 inches tall.
Meanwhile, the average weight of a GSD ranges from 50 to 90 pounds. A full-frown male GSD has an average weight of 65 to 90 pounds, and a full-grown female GSD can weigh between 50 to 70 pounds.
Different Types of German Shepherds
German Shepherds are grouped into two breed types: Working Lines and Show Lines. With two types of GSDs in the Working Line and three types of GSDs in the Show Line, that makes it a total of five different types of German Shepherds.
West-German Working Line German Shepherds
First on the list are the West-German Working Line Shepherds, which are considered the originals of the German Shepherd breed, primarily developed by Max von Stephanitz. They were purposefully bred for working rather than appearance. West German Shepherds typically have higher energy and prey drive, which are traits that make them suitable to be on-the-field working dogs.
East German DDR Working Line German Shepherds
The East German DDR Working Line German Shepherd doesn’t have much difference from the West German Shepherd. Like the former, they are particularly skilled working dogs and are prey-driven.
Czech Working Line German Shepherds
Czech Working Line German Shepherds are your typical workaholic GSD. They were originally bred to patrol and guard, which makes them the perfect breed type for various jobs. The Czech German Shepherd is particularly inclined to work as a police dog, military dog, guard dog, or rescue dog. In addition, they also have a temperament suitable for a large family.
American Show Line German Shepherds
American Show Line German Shepherds are the common type of German Shepherd you can see in the U.S. and Canada. Among the GSD breed types, the American German Shepherds are the most different in appearance. In comparison with the European GSD, American GSDs have a sloping, side gait, and longer hocks with a thicker chest.
European Show Line German Shepherds
Last, but certainly not least, is the European Show line German Shepherd who is bred for overall greatness. If you want a GSD that can balance work and showmanship, the European German Shepherd is the perfect candidate.
Nothing about the European GSD is worth criticizing, from their looks and temperament to their health. They are originally bred for show, however, unlike their American counterpart, they can also work as guard dogs or service dogs.
How to Take Care of a German Shepherd?
German Shepherds are high maintenance breeds, so if you’re thinking of being a parent to one, you need to be hands-on and present to take care of them.
These are high-energy dogs and you will need to constantly engage them in physically and mentally stimulating activities to keep them from getting bored. Dogs with high energy or activity levels need a generous amount of exercise per day, otherwise, they can develop unwanted behaviors.
Engage your GSD in activities like jogging, playing fetch, or dog sports like agility, herding, tracking, and dock diving. If you want something more adventurous go hiking or trailing. Exercising with your GSD can also serve as a beautiful bonding moment between the two of you. Just remember that German Shepherds are quite the speedsters and it’s better to keep them on the leash to keep them from running away from you.
German Shepherd dogs are heavy shedders and it is a must to brush their dog hair daily. They have thick double-coated fur, so their high grooming needs are inevitable, especially during spring and fall, their shedding season. Frequent bathing is not necessary, but the best time to give them good bathing is every three to four months.
Meanwhile, you will need to trim their nails every month if they don’t naturally get worn down. As always daily brushing of the teeth is needed to prevent bad breath, plaque, and tartar buildup. Also, make sure to check their ears and clean them regularly.
High-quality and age-specific dog foods designed to meet the German Shepherd’s nutritional needs are the best diets for them. Since the GSD is an active and energetic canine, an adult German Shepherd will need at least 18% of protein, while developing GSDs require 22% of protein content. A good balance of healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals are also essential for a canine’s diet.
Related Review: 9 Best Dog Foods For German Shepherds in 2022 – Dog Nerdz
1. How much to feed
An adult German Shepherd needs about 2.5 cups to 3.5 cups of high-quality dry kibble every day. Senior GSDs can thrive on 2.5 cups of dry food per day.
Although, for puppies, there are specific food requirements since these are still developing pups.
|Age||Cups per meal||Meal per day|
|Up to 16 weeks old||1/2 to 1 cup||3|
|16 weeks to 9 months old||1 to 1 3/4 cup||3|
|9 months to 12 months old||2 to 2 1/2 cup||3|
|12 months old||2 1/2 to 3 1/2 cup||2|
Your dog’s food intake should depend on their age, weight, activity level, and metabolism.
2. How often to feed
The recommended meal per day for adult GSDs is two meals a day. On the other hand, a German Shepherd puppy needs three to four meals a day to sustain their energy needs.
3. Common food allergies
Any dog breed can develop food sensitivities. In general, you’ll want to watch out for some of these common food allergens including animal proteins (chicken, beef, pork, or fish), corn, wheat, soy, dairy, and eggs. Other possible triggers of food allergies are animal by-products, fillers, or artificial additives.
The common signs and symptoms of allergies are:
- Irritated skin like itching, rash, or skin sores
- Skin inflammation
- Hair loss
- Dry and dull coat
- Glassy eyes
- Teary eyes
- Bloodshot eyes
- Chronic ear infection
- Upset stomach or diarrhea
- Coughing or wheezing
- Biting or scratching of their own skin
Are German Shepherds Easy to Train?
German Shepherd dogs are highly trainable furry fellas. It’s not only their skills and intelligence that play a huge role in training, but also their obedience. For a big doggo like the GSD, they must receive proper training and early socialization. An untrained German Shepherd dog can develop undesirable behaviors like barking, chewing, or biting.
Positive reinforcement training, obedience training, or dog sports like agility are the best training methods for the German Shepherd. You will want to constantly interact and engage them with physically-demanding activities as these are what keep the GSDs entertained.
Are they easy to potty train?
Yes, GSDs are fairly easy to potty train. As we have said many times before, this particular breed is inclined to be intelligent, obedient, and eager to please. You will have no problem potty training or house training a German Shepherd puppy. By 8 to 12 weeks, your GSD pupper should be able to learn basic commands and tricks.
German Shepherd Temperament
Aside from being intelligent and obedient, the GSD is also known for their loyalty and protectiveness, especially with their human family members. If you want a reliable furry companion, getting a German Shepherd dog is one of the best choices for a best friend.
Does this breed do well with children?
The German Shepherd tent to interact well with children as long as partnered with early socialization and proper training. GSDs are particularly fond of children that belong to the family. GSDs are high-energy canines and it’s no doubt they can keep up with the energy of children. However, since the GSD is quite large in size, it’s necessary that they are under supervision, especially around smaller and younger children.
Does it do well with other pets?
The best way to socialize your GSD with other dogs or pets is to raise them together. This allows them to form a bond and earn each other’s trust at a younger age. Generally, German Shepherd would have no problems with other dogs or pets, however, that may not always be the case. If you have an adult GSD getting them to form a relationship with new household pets might be more difficult and could require the expertise of a professional trainer.
Are German Shepherds aggressive?
Many German Shepherds that exhibit aggressive behavior are mainly due to poor socialization and training. Remember that the GSD can be protective and territorial and not properly training them can encourage these unwanted and aggressive tendencies. That’s why it’s highly recommended to start training them at a young age, so you can still correct these types of behavior and prevent future complications.
What Environment Is Ideal for a German Shepherd?
German Shepherd dogs are adaptable and can survive in most climates. Their double coat makes this even more possible for them. Although, one thing about them is that German Shepherds love a wide space where they freely play or train. Their ideal environment is probably in a country or neighborhood where they’ll have plenty of opportunities to go outside for most of the day. Keeping them locked inside the house is not a good idea as this breed needs to be physically stimulated for most of their lives.
What Is the Average Life Span of German Shepherds
The GSD has a life expectancy of 9 to 13 years. Health issues play a large role in your dog’s life expectancy. If you want to prolong your pooch’s life, one of the things that can help them is regular checkups and vet visits.
German Shepherd Common Health Issues
A GSD may give you the impression that they’re always strong and tough, however, like other purebreds, German Shepherds are also troubled with certain health issues. Let’s take a look at the common health problems of a German Shepherd.
Degenerative Myelopathy is a neurological condition that affects the spinal cord causing mobility issues in GSDs. This disease starts off with weakness and loss of coordination in the hind legs, and as it progresses can lead to complete paralysis. This condition mostly occurs in adult or senior dogs between the ages of 8 to 14 years.
Bloat, otherwise known as Gastric Dilatation–Volvulus, is a life-threatening condition caused by the swelling and twisting of the stomach due to excessive gas, food, or liquid buildup in the stomach. This can cause excruciating pain for affected dogs. The twisting of the stomach blocks the entrance and exit of the stomach, inhibiting the proper passage of food and stool.
Early signs of bloating are hard to recognize but if you observe these signs and symptoms from your dog, immediately take them to the vet for a proper diagnosis.
- Difficulty breathing
- Enlargement of the abdomen
- Lack of appetite
- Dry heaving
- Sudden collapse
- Failed attempt at pooping
- Looking at their belly
- Stomach appears to be hard
Elbow and Hip Dysplasia
Elbow and hip dysplasia are two common joint conditions that affect most large breeds. Dysplasia means abnormal growth or development. Hip Dysplasia occurs due to the malformation of the hip joints, ball and socket, while elbow dysplasia usually occurs in the elbow joints. These are prevalent among large breeds but can also develop due to obesity.
Dogs with elbow and hip dysplasia show the following signs and symptoms:
- Exercise intolerance
- Stiffness on the rear legs
- Skipping or hopping
- Physically in pain
- Difficulty walking, running, or climbing
- Loss of interest in exercises or physical activities they used to have fun doing
German Shepherds are also prone to epilepsy, specifically Idiopathic Epilepsy, where the cause of the condition is unknown. It’s an inherited neurological disorder that causes seizures, among other things, in dogs. Epilepsy can occur between the ages of 1 to 4 years old.
The signs and symptoms of epilepsy include:
- Muscle twitching
- Loss of consciousness
- Tongue chewing
- Foaming at the mouth
Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency
Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency or EPI is a pancreatic disease characterized by the poor production of digestive enzymes. These enzymes are responsible for digesting fats, proteins, and carbohydrates that enter the body. Insufficiency of these enzymes can lead to poor digestion and nutrient absorption.
Early signs of Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency are:
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Change in stools
- Chronic diarrhea
- Occasional vomiting
How Much Does a German Shepherd Cost?
The cost for a purebred German Shepherd puppy ranges from $500 to $4000 on average. Some cheaper options include adopting from local rescue shelters, which costs between $500 to $1000. The price tag on a GSD depends on a few factors such as the breeder’s reputation, location, age, pedigree, coat color, and breed line (Work Line or Show Line).
Before buying a puppy, always consider future and additional expenses like dog foods, pet insurance, vet visits, medications, grooming, supplies, pet accessories, etc. Maintaining a GSD can cost you $1000 to $1500 a year. It can get as low as $700, assuming only their basic necessities are met.
Other Similar Dog Breeds to the German Shepherd
The German Shepherd dog has many endearing traits that make them great family dogs. In case, you think the GSD is not the best match for you, but you still want a dog that closely resembles their gorgeous features, here is a list of similar dog breeds to German Shepherds.
|Other Dog Breeds||Similarities||Differences|
|Belgian Malinois||military or police dog, long snout, perky ears, fearless, intelligent, loyal, great family pet||lighter in weight, short-haired, slimmer build|
|King Shepherd||agile, guard dog, eager to please, protective, energetic, athletic||bigger in size, not a purebred, calm, more friendly and gentle|
|Dutch Shepherd||intelligent, athletic, herding dog, obedient, loyal, protective, high energy||longer life expectancy, slightly smaller in size, more tolerant of other pets, hard to find|
|Shiloh Shepherd||intelligent, high energy, pointy ears, loyal, confident, courageous||thicker and softer coat, rare breed, larger in size, calmer, heavier, less aggressive, friendlier|
|Bohemian Shepherd||energetic, intelligent, versatile, loyal, highly trainable, affectionate||less aggressive, slimmer build, thicker and longer coat, smaller in size|
|Byelorussian Shepherd||protective, guard dog, confident, lively, intelligent, loyal, stubborn||calm, independent, social|
|Northern Inuit Dog||wolf-like features, strong, athletic, great family pet, smart, stubborn||gentle, difficult to train, friendlier, better with kids|
|Belgian Tervuren Shepherd||smart, eager to please, affectionate, easy to train, sensitive, loyal||moderate shedder, reserved with strangers, lighter in weight, smaller in size|
|American Alsatian||wolf-like traits, high grooming needs||friendly, docile, giant breed, great with children, calm, gentle, less aggressive|
Tips on Finding the Right Breeder
Pet breeding is a risky business to venture in. If you’re set on getting a GSD pupper, you need a reputable breeder to ensure the quality of your dog is top-notch. Reputable breeders will go out of their way to screen and conduct tests for possible health problems in a GSD. AKC highly encourages breeders to conduct an elbow and hip evaluation for their breed stocks.
Signs to look for in a responsible breeder
Additionally, here are the signs of a responsible breeder you should look for when buying a puppy.
- The breeder is part of parent breed clubs (i.e. German Shepherd Dog Club of America or National Breed Club)
- Extensive breeding background
- Shows genuine concern for animals
- Creates a high-quality living environment for dogs
- Shows transparency about the history of the dogs
- Provides necessary documents such as Hip Certification, Genetic Testing, Registration, and Bloodline
- Open to answering questions
- Implements health clearances to ensure puppy’s health is in good condition
- Schedules a visit or video call to see the puppy
- They make sure that the puppy will live in a good home with good fur parents
What to avoid when looking for a breeder
Again, pet breeding is a risky business. Most of the time you’ll find people taking advantage of first-time pet owners by selling them low-quality dogs that are prone to health issues just to gain profit. It’s better to be knowledgeable about these types of breeders and watch out for them.
- Backyard breeders and puppy mills… enough said
- They sell two to three litters of puppies at the same time
- Making false undocumented claims about the dog’s character
- Defensive when asked about their breeding practices
- Doesn’t allow visits
- If visits are allowed, the place where the puppies are bred doesn’t satisfy comfortable living conditions
- No pedigree information and registration documents are available
- No medical history was provided
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To sum up, German Shepherds are awesome dog breeds! If you want a furry companion that’s family-centered, loyal, and devoted, the GSD is one of the best dog breeds you can opt for. Their lovely and energetic temperament is a perfect match for households with large families. They may be on the high maintenance side, but taking care of them is worth every while! With someone as loyal and protective as them, you’ll have the best furry companion to have by your side.