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German Shepherd

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The German Shepherd Dog has been a hero, a dedicated working dog and a loyal and loving family companion. With great drive, high energy and dedication it is understandable why it is America's second most popular dog.

Here is the German Shepherd at a Glance
Name German Shepherd Dog
Other Names Alsatian
Nicknames GSD, German Shepherd
Origin Germany
Average size Large
Average weight 75 to 95 pounds
Average height 22 to 26 inches
Life span 10 to 12 years
Coat type Double, medium to long
Hypoallergenic No
Color Sable, black, tan, blue
Popularity Very high – It is ranked at number 2 by the AKC
Intelligence Very high – This is one of the most intelligent dog breeds
Tolerance to heat Good – it can handle some heat but not extremes
Tolerance to cold Very good – it does better in cold than hot climates
Shedding High – There will be a lot of hair to clean up
Drooling Low – It is not prone to a lot of drooling
Obesity Not prone to obesity – tracking food and exercise is still a good idea though
Grooming/brushing Daily – as it sheds a lot daily brushing is a must
Barking Frequent – It is a vocal dog so make sure you have understanding neighbors
Exercise needs Very high – It needs to be with owners who are very active themselves
Trainability Easy with experience – it is eager to please and intelligent
Friendliness Friendly when well trained and socialized
Good first dog No – it needs an owner with experience
Good family pet Very good – The GSD is number 2 with families for good reason
Good with children Excellent with socialization and training – will play and be affectionate
Good with other dogs Moderate – needs socialization and an owner in control
Good with other pets Very good with socialization
Good with strangers Very good – this is an approachable dog when raised well
Good apartment dog No – it needs room, it is too large and too active for apartment living
Handles alone time well No – it does not like to be left alone for long periods and can become anxious
Health issues Depends on breeder – joint problems a big possibility
Medical expenses $485 a year
Food expenses $265 a year
Miscellaneous expenses $115 a year
Average annual expense $965 plus
Cost to purchase $1100
Biting Statistics Attacks: 113 Maimings: 73 Child victims: 65 Deaths: 15

The German Shepherd Dog's Beginnings

The German Shepherd Dog is actually a new breed compared to many. In 1899 in Germany a former cavalry officer, Captain Max von Stephanitz developed it aiming to create the best dog for herding. For hundreds of years farmers in Europe used dogs to protect and move their herds. But there was no distinct local breed until the Captain began to experiment with dog breeding.

He studied German herding dogs all over Germany studying and even studied British breeding techniques. While he found dogs who with desirable qualities like athleticism, intelligence and capability, none seemed to have all of them. In 1899 he saw a dog with promise and bought it naming it Horand v Grafeth. The Captain started a society to create a breed from its offspring.

Unfortunately von Stephanitz began his breeding program for a herding dog at the time of Industrialization, when demand for such a dog was actually on the decline. Wanting his breed to be a working dog still he used his connections to the military to get the GSD into the military and the police force.

World War I they were used as messengers, rescuers, sentries, supply carriers, guards and Red Cross dogs. Although they had come to American before the war it was American servicemen seeing how hard working, loyal and brave the GAD was that made them popular. Many were brought back after the war including the famous hero and Hollywood dog, Rin Tin Tin.

New Lease on Life

Von Stephanitz stayed in control of how the GSD was being bred and developed very controlled and strict requirements for breeders of the GSD. Dogs had to pass intelligence, temperament, athleticism and health tests before they could be used for breeding. And those strict rules are still in place today in Germany.

In American though there was a division from the German strict regulation. American breeders wanted dogs for shows and so breeding focused just on looks and movement. This has lead to a lot of health problems in GSD that are not bred in Germany. When the military and police looked for GSD to work with they would go to the German bred dogs.

Thankfully some steps are being taken to try and fix this problem and some breeders are going back to prioritizing the dog's health, intelligence, temperament and ability rather than just its looks.

The Dog You See Today

There are actually three varieties of German Shepherds, longhaired coat, double coat and plush coat. Usually they will be sable, black or tan with black. While technically you can find them in other colors including blue and liver and white these are deemed by breeders to be a fault.

When you observe a German Shepherd Dog it has a body that is elongated slightly but remains well proportioned and looks muscular and strong. It has a rounded forehead and a head the looks in proportion. The GSD has a solid but still light bone structure with muscular shoulders and front legs. The thick thighs are a part of its appearance of strength. German Shepherd tails are bushy and they reach lower than its hocks. When it is resting its tail hangs down. They also has round feet with soles that are hard.

The face usually has a black nose though some have one that is liver or blue. Again the latter two colors are considered a fault. Its eyes never protrude and are a dark almond shape. Ears are pointed upwards and forward facing and are wider at the base. However when they are puppies German Shepherd Dogs have ears that may droop a little.

The Inner German Shepherd Dog


German Shepherds are amazingly loyal and loving dogs to own. They are also strong, courageous, quick and very intelligent. They desperately want to please their owners and have strong protective instincts that mean they will protect their family.


If well trained, meaning from a young age they have been introduced and acclimatized to different situations and children they will do well in a house with young children. But these instincts and qualities are also what make them excellent as police or military dogs. German Shepherds can be wary however of people they do not know and will bark if a stranger approaches the house. Therefore it may be necessary to socialize it further with other people and pets.

Thanks to its intelligence it is quick to pick up better behavior when being trained and it is easy to train in matters of work or obedience. Keeping its mind agile is as important as giving physical exercise so let it learn. Owners of German Shepherds need to be firmly in command making sure it knows who is the boss otherwise it will try to dominate you. It is not a dog you can leave alone for a long time. German Shepherds can grow anxious which leads to behavior problems including digging, barking excessively, chasing and chewing.

Living with a German Shepherd Dog

Training needs

As mentioned German Shepherds are very clever so they are very trainable and pick it up quickly. They like to please and when well trained if given an order in a firm manner by their owner they will obey. They need to be trained and do best when receiving obedience as well as agility training. Their leader needs to be authoritative and commanding but also gentle and positive.

If it senses you are unsure, not fully skilled or confident in your command it will try to domineer you. It is best to give him training from a young age, and a good way to manage the anxiety they can feel when home alone is to use crate training. Do not leave an untrained German Shepherd alone with young children or other pets.

Early socialization is also very important. It will help it adapt to new people or situations and be less wary or anxious so less likely to snap or feel threatened.

How active is this dog?

The German Shepherd needs a lot of attention and exercise so needs very committed and active owners. When they get bored they express it with unwanted bad behavior like chewing, barking, and digging. You need to give it daily exercise and incorporate some learning so that it burns up energy and keeps its mind working. Regular walks, jogs and training sessions can achieve this.

It should not chained outside to a post to stand guard. This will cause more aggression. It will be far happier living with the family indoors with access to a large fenced area outside. It is too active and large to live in an apartment.

Caring for the German Shepherd Dog

Grooming needs

German Shepherds can have long hair but tend to have a double medium length coat. The outer coat is dense and wiry and is close to the body. They do shed a lot all year round so need regular grooming. In one year they also have two seasonal even bigger sheds. Owners of German Shepherds can be spotted from the hair on their clothing!

Avoid giving too many baths as there are oils in the coat that are needed and bathing strips them. Nails will need to be trimmed once a month and make sure the ears are checked once a week. Their teeth can be looked after with dental chew toys and bones and you can also help by using a soft toothbrush and dog toothpaste and brushing at least twice a week.

Feeding the GSD

When feeding the recommended amount is 3 to 4 cups of dry food split into two meals. Use high quality dry dog food. Judge the amount by how active it is and its size and metabolism. You can check whether it is overweight by placing your hands on it so the thumbs are along the spine and the fingers hang down the side. You should be able to feel the ribs under the muscle. Also watch the amount of treats you give it.


Puppies grow quickly between the ages of 4 months and 7 months so this is a time when they need high quality food with around 24% protein and 15% fat.

How are German Shepherds with other pets and children?

Well trained German Shepherds will have been exposed to children and other animals as a puppy so will be a great friend. It will be gentle and protective of younger members in the family but being big may sometimes accidentally bump a toddler down. With children it does not know it is more reserved but can usually be trusted.

If you are trying to bring an adult German Shepherd into a house that has other pets it may be more difficult and a professional trainer may be needed to help out.

What Might Go Wrong?

Health Concerns

While not all German Shepherds become ill, there are certain health conditions that can affect them and they are known to have health problems as too many poor breeders breeding dogs without any checks or care. To avoid this problem buy from a good breeder who can prove the dog and its parents have been tested and cleared of certain conditions. All reputable breeders should be able to show you this health clearance.

Health concerns for the GSD can include Joint Dysplasia, Hypothyroidism, Von Willebrand's disease, Thrombopathia, Eye problems, Bloat, Degenerative Myelopathy, Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency and Allergies.

Biting Statistics

When reviewing reports of people being attacked by dogs over the last 34 years the GSD can be found to be involved in 113 attacks. 65 of those victims were children. Out of those 113, 15 attacks led to the victim dying and 73 were maimed. A maiming is when the victim has been left with permanent disfigurement, scarring and loss of limb. One of the deaths was a dog being overly eager and excited when greeting an elderly and fragile family member. This puts them in the top 10% attacks on people and averages at about 3 attacks a year.

As this article has tried to make clear, while this is a popular family dog and can be a great and loving pet, it has very high needs in terms of exercise, stimulation, training and socialization. It is also not one to be left alone, it needs your time, love and commitment. A GSD who is not given what it needs can become aggressive, just as any dog can.

Your Pup’s Price Tag

Prices vary by quite a large sum depending on the breeder or where you get your GSD from. Back yard breeders, people with accidental puppies are likely to sell their dogs for less. Adopting is often the least expensive option and you get the bonus of giving a dog in a shelter a new home, for around $200. But in that case it would more than likely be an adult dog. With a division in European and American breeders there is also that to factor in. On average expect to spend about $1100 plus at a respected American breeder. European lines can range from that up to $3000 or even as high as $10,000 for the real top of the line breeders and dogs.

When you have your dog home it will need some initial medical work completed. Blood tests, deworming, a check over, neutering or spaying. Together these will cost about $290. There are also items it will need when it is home like a crate and collar and leash. These will cost another $160. You will also need to get a license for it at about $20 a year.

Yearly costs for recurring medical needs like vaccinations, flea prevention, examinations by a vet and heartworm prevention come to $260. Emergency medical savings or pet insurance will be about $225 a year.

Other annual costs for a good quality dry dog food and for treats come to $265 a year. Should you opt for more expensive and 'special' treats or food that cost will go up.

Essential training and socialization will cost at least $120 a year. It is possible if you have the experience to do this yourself so you will not have to pay for professional help. However remember that GSDs really need firm handling with experienced and committed owners.

Overall you are looking at initial costs of $450 and up and annual costs of $985 and up.


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The German Shepherd is devoted, courageous, intelligent, versatile and great as a working dog. As well as being a loyal and faithful companion with good training it can work with the police, in the military, herding, as a guide and assistance dog, drug detection, search and rescue, competitive obedience and more.

There is a difference in the dog depending on whether you buy from a German breeder or an American breeder. American bred German Shepherd puppies tend to be bred for looks with the long term goal of creating dog show champions. German breeders focus more on their abilities to work and the dog has a number of tests to undergo, physical and mental, to prove its worth. For this reason these dogs have a lot of energy and are more driven.

Owners of American bred dogs say they tend to be calmer but opponents say not only have these dogs lost some of their talents, they can also have more behavior problems because they can have separation anxiety.

Also be sure to get health clearances from OFA, CERF and Auburn University which you can confirm as genuine on the OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals) web site.

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