Breed of the Month: German Shepherd
German Shepherds are one of the most recognizable breeds. Whether you've seen them in movies, on television, or at your local police station, you won't have trouble recognizing these beautiful dogs. The German Shepherd, or GSD, is a companion, a friend, and a protector. They're a unique breed, known for their intelligence, strength, and loyalty. Read on to learn more about this incredible breed and see if a GSD is the dog for you.
A General Overview of the GSD
The German Shepherd is a large breed of dog in the herding dog category. Once used as herders, the GSD now has a role as a working dog and as a companion. We know these dogs for their loyalty, intelligence, obedience, and tenaciousness.
Owning a GSD as a pet is quite an experience. They're very vocal so don't be surprised if your dog is constantly trying to tell you something. Whether it's groans after an ear rub or whining at the television (and they find TV interesting) they're usually speaking to you.
They can be rough but gentle at the same time. Playtime is a fun bonding experience where you might get some fake nips, a lot of noise making, and plenty of laughs.
History and Background
The German Shepherd was originally a type of dog used to protect cattle and herd sheep. Their origins are fairly new—the mid to late 1800s. Look at any history book on World War I and World War II, and you'll read about how the GSD was integral to the German Army.
Physical Characteristics and Breed Standard
German Shepherds range in size from medium to large. The American Kennel Club (AKC) standard is a height of 24-26 inches in males and 22-24 inches in females. The standard weight is 65-90 pounds in males and 50-70 pounds in females. Of course, you'll see dogs that far exceed those ranges, with some German Shepherds weighing a healthy 100 pounds or more.
The life expectancy is 12-14 years. Interestingly, the oldest known German Shepherds lived to 18 years and older! With the right diet and care, they can exceed the life expectancy as long as they don't have underlying illnesses.
Personality and Temperament
German Shepherd dogs have a wide range of talents. That's why you often see them in helpful roles. Here are just some examples of the work these dogs do:
- Police dogs
- Military dogs
- Guide dogs
- Support dogs
- Bomb-sniffing dogs
- Drug dogs
- Guard dogs
They're excellent as working dogs because of their high intelligence and desire to please their owners. Yet, these traits also make them fit companions. The GSD learns what makes their family happy and will do whatever it takes to protect them. They can be friendly and calm once they get to know strangers, unless they detect a threat to their family members. As noted by the AKC:
There are many reasons German Shepherds stand in the front rank of canine royalty, but experts say their defining attribute is character: loyalty, courage, confidence, the ability to learn commands for many tasks, and the willingness to put their life on the line in defense of loved ones.
Care and Needs
Like any dog, a German Shepherd has specific care needs you must know when taking on the responsibility.
A healthy diet is important to your dog's health. Make sure you have food that has vitamins and minerals. As far as people food goes, items like eggs, yogurt, and cooked veggies are fine. Be careful of other human foods - a regulated diet with dog food or safe foods is best.
German Shepherds shed excessively. You will find dust bunnies the size of Texas if you're not constantly cleaning the floors. This is because these dogs have a double coat. What this means is that they have a soft undercoat with a close-lying outer coat. Brush your German Shepherd every few days to reduce the shedding, but remember that this shedding is much more prevalent at certain times of year. Give your dog a bath every so often and trim the toenails every month.
German Shepherds are active dogs, and they need exercise and playtime to flourish. Daily walks or open play in fenced areas is ideal. You may even enjoy engaging your dog in activities like tracking, herding, dock diving, or agility.
Here are some exercises good for your German Shepherd.
- Walking. If your dog is healthy and full of energy, walk them up to three times a day.
- Running or Jogging. These are perfect to increase your dog's endurance. This works after the dog is at least 18 months old. Be wary of the surface you use. Dogs don't wear running shoes so stay away from rocky surfaces, uneven areas, and hot asphalt. Go running or jogging twice a week.
- Spring Pole Training. The spring pole increases your dog's power and muscle mass. Not to mention that it's a fun exercise he will enjoy. This is ideal twice each week.
- Weave Poles. These are another tool that maximizes endurance and agility. Start with a treat to show them how to maneuver through the poles. Practice until your dog can do it with no treat.
- Doggy Squats. Just like in humans, squats increase mobility. They're fairly easy too!
Have your dog follow your sit command.
Then, have them stand.
Use treats to entice them to keep repeating the action.
After two weeks, increase the reps in healthy dogs (not puppies or seniors).
Have your dog start with 2 sets of 5 squats and add on from there.
Without exercise, your dog may face a variety of health issues like obesity, muscle atrophy, and joint issues.
As mentioned, German Shepherds are extremely intelligent. By using reward-based training, the results should be more than satisfactory. Start out as early as possible. Even if you rescue an adult German Shepherd, know that they're smart enough to ignore the old "You can't teach an old dog new tricks" saying. It's simply not true with this breed.
The AKC recommends socialization from 8 to 16 weeks.
Also included in integral training:
- Crate training
- House training
From 3 to 9 months
- Obedience training
- Recall (teaching him to come when called)
- Impulse control
From 9 to 24 months
Continuing to work on impulse control, improve obedience skills, and advance to training in more focused activities like tracking, scent work, protection work, agility, and herding—all of which (and more) are capabilities of this breed—must continue throughout this period and then be reinforced as your GSD reaches adulthood.
German Shepherds are fairly healthy dogs. There are two areas to keep in consideration. They can be prone to hip dysplasia and degenerative myelopathy. Sometimes, they may experience bloat, which is a swelling of the stomach and can be life-threatening.
Hip dysplasia is one of the more common issues in this breed and others. It occurs during growth where there is a deformity of the hip. According to VCA Hospitals:
Hip dysplasia is a genetic disease factored by diet, environment, exercise, growth rate, muscle mass, and hormones. As this disease is most commonly seen in large breed dogs, these puppies should be at a normal, lean weight during growth, rather than overfed and encouraged to grow "big."
The first signs are pain and/or weakness in the hind legs. It may occur in puppies but many dogs don't show signs until they're older. There are supplements that help with joint mobility and health. And the vet may prescribe certain medications to help if it is more serious.
German Shepherds are the third most intelligent dog, and their IQ is around 60.
A German Shepherd was the first dog used to help a blind person.
Schutzhund is a dog sport first created for German Shepherds. Schutzhund tests the natural abilities of the GSD, although other dogs can take part as well.
They're the second most popular dog in the United States.
Famous German Shepherds
No list is complete without some famous German Shepherds!
Rin-Tin-Tin was a box office star.
Chips was a military hero, and the most decorated war dog during World War II.
Apollo worked with the NYPD K-9 Urban Search and Rescue Team. Along with his handler, he was the first search-and-rescue dog team on site at the World Trade Center after the attack on 9/11.
Remember the first seeing-eye dog? That was Buddy, a pioneer in seeing-eye dogs.
German Shepherds to Follow
It's fun to watch German Shepherds in action. One of our favorites to follow on Instagram is Jade the Sable. Jade and Jasper are two Canadian internet stars where the antics are hilarious, sweet, and totally watchable.
Another fun pair is Dakota and Rocky. These two love to go to the beach and people watch.
And for the cutest police officer ever, check out K9 Caz.
What to Expect Owning a German Shepherd
While every experience is different, what we can tell you is you'll have years of a loyal companion, an intelligent adversary, and a best friend. They're unique dogs and will love you forever. And whether it's solely a pet or you have a working dog, they're loyal till the end. By knowing more about this wonderful breed, you ensure your furry friend gets the best care and the most love. Let's face it, German Shepherds are special dogs and deserve a special owner too.
- Holly W