two german shepherds sitting in the snow

German Shepherd: Everything You Need To Know About The Dog Breed 

German Shepherds are large breed dogs. They're the second most popular dog in America, right after the retriever. They're part of the working class breed group and are often still in the workforce today. Although these dogs are active in military and law enforcement matters, it doesn't stop them from being great family dogs.

These dogs originated in Germany in 1899. Originally they were to be herding dogs. When WWI and WWII came around, Germany found a way to train these brilliant dogs to work in the military. A dog named Rin Tin Tin was a famous German Shepherd found and rescued from a WWI battlefield. Another interesting fact about GSDs is the first registered service dog in the United States was a German Shepherd. These dogs have a long history of assisting the public, and they've even worked for law enforcement, with the most common breed of police dogs being the German Shepherd breed. They are most notably known to sniff out contraband or perform search and rescue missions. These search and rescue dogs assist police work efficiently because of their high intelligence and sensitivity to scent.

The German Shepherd has long been a trained dog, readily available for work from its family. That's part of the reason they are such popular dogs. In this article, we'll cover many things about the GSD breed's past origins, temperament, diet, and anything else you need to know to figure out if this breed of dog is the best fit for you.

Where does the German Shepherd Dog come from? 

German Shepherds are a famous breed, and although they originated as sheepdogs, there is still a lot to be known about German Shepherds. For example, there are five types of German Shepherds. The five types include the saddle coat German Shepherd, the black GSD, the sable GSD, the panda GSD, and the white GSD. White German Shepherds are the rarest of the five.

The German Shepherd breed originated as herding dogs. This breed was born in the late 1800's thanks to a man named Max Von Stephanitz. Stephanitz saw a wolf-like dog at a dog show and saw how great this dog was at herding. Stephanitz began to breed these dogs, and through his time producing them, Captain Max Von Stephanitz decided to focus on creating an excellent breed for police and military forces, and they were. Many German Shepherds served in World War I and World War II as messenger dogs and performed other tasks such as search and rescue missions and supply carriers. 

A famous German Shepherd by the name of Rin Tin Tin became a movie star in the 1920s. The German Shepherd puppy was rescued from a World War I battlefield by a man named Lee Duncan. When Duncan returned to his hometown of Los Angeles, he had many silent short films about his pup. Rin Tin Tin's fun adventures made him famous.

Another famous German Shepherd was Strongheart, otherwise called Etzel Von Oeringen. He was born in Germany and participated as a German red cross dog during WWI. After the war, his owner was impoverished and could no longer care for the dog. The dog then made its way to the United States and participated in a competition for the German Shepherd breed, and he landed third place. A man named Laurence Trimble noticed the dog's potential and made it so he was ready to become a movie star. This dog became the first canine the United States made a movie about, thanks to Laurence Trimble.

The German Shepherd breed impacted soldiers in WWI so much that many brought German Shepherd puppies back to the United States in the 1900s. After these dogs started becoming popular on the big screen, it didn't take long to become a popular breed in the US. In 1908, the American Kennel Club recognized the German Shepherd as a breed, and in 1913, the German Shepherd dog club of America was founded.

However, after tensions with Germany rose during and after WWI, all German things were stigmatized. The American Kennel Club renamed the breed "Shepherd dog" to separate them from their German ancestry. Similarly, the United Kingdom renamed the GSD the "Alsatian Wolf Dog." After 1931, the AKC reverted to the breed's original name. The UK also reverted to the GSD's actual name in the 1970s. However, some parts of the UK and Europe still refer to the GSD as the Alsatian dog. 

german shepherd running with stick

Appearance

The GSD stands between 22 to 26 inches tall. They can weigh anywhere from 50 to 90 pounds, and they're considered to be large breed dogs. The German Shepherd breed lives anywhere from seven to ten years on average. A German Shepherd puppy has a thick double coat consisting of one regular coat and an undercoat to keep dogs warm during colder seasons. However, if they live in a warmer climate, they may shed their undercoat to adjust to the heat. They shed an average amount, although they need to be brushed twice a week. Their medium-length double coat can get tangled and dirty quite quickly. Brushing the coat twice a week ensures the best skin and fur health for these dogs.

These coats can be an array of colors. The possibilities include black, white, brown, chocolate, liver, and sable. The iconic image of a German Shepherd is that of a sable-colored one. These dogs have statement almond brown eyes. 

Temperament 

German Shepherds are considered one of the most loyal dog breeds. They are confident, courageous, intelligent, gentle, and kind. The German Shepherd can learn to love other animals and people if they are correctly taught at a young age. Early socialization is the key to a friendly German Shepherd. Beginning behavioral training young also helps these dogs learn commands faster.

Although the dogs can be friendly to anyone, they are often guarded and standoffish with strangers. The reason for this is because of their history of being a guard dog. Since they often work as police dogs, they have created a breed personality that is very alert and very protective. Their police work is also the reason they need to have a companion near all the time. They are used to always having someone with them, during work and at home. They love their family members and are committed to protecting them. 

These dogs are programmed to be protectors. They are often dominant dogs and might be stubborn while also being very trainable. The German Shepherd breed is sometimes called velcro dogs because they tend to create a deep bond of trust with one lucky human. Their powerful bond can also cause intense separation anxiety. Anyone who wants to own a German Shepherd should know they don't do great if they're constantly alone. So it's best if someone is always going to be home with your German Shepherd, or at least make sure you aren't away from home too often. 

Separation anxiety can cause disruptive and destructive behavior. To avoid barking, chewing, or tearing the couch cushions up, make sure to help your dog through social anxiety issues. Try meeting with a dog behavioralist or try at-home remedies. Some owners give their pups CBD in the form of treats or oils to add to their food. CBD can help dogs feel less anxious when they're left alone. Make sure to consult your vet before deciding anything. 

The German Shepherd breed has helped many blind and deaf people throughout history. GSDs provide independence and trust to many in those communities. Their work as guide dogs is just one example of their loyalty to their owners. Because the German Shepherd breed has worked alongside people for so long, they have a lot of mental energy. 

To ensure you get the best relationship with your German Shepherd possible, you want to provide consistent time with them while allowing them to get their energy out. They're big dogs with a lot of energy and mental work. Mental stimulation is imperative to these dogs' best health. German Shepherds are at their best when their physical and mental needs are met. 

german shepherd sitting amongst autumn leaves

Intelligence

The German Shepherd breed has higher cognitive abilities than many other breeds. This intelligence comes with blessings and burdens. Blessings include that these dogs are easily trainable and often want to train or do some sort of work to release their mental energy. Their intelligence also means they can be stubborn sometimes and try to out-alpha their owners.

The German Shepherd breed ranks the third most intelligent working dog breed when it comes to overall dog intelligence. This ranking is decided by several factors both scientists and veterinarians have observed. On average, German Shepherds will follow a command they already know 95% of the time and can learn a new trick in as little as five repetitions. 

Part of the reason these dogs understand human commands so well is their history of working alongside us. So while a German Shepherd might be stubborn, a few obedience classes or dedicated training time will help them break that bad habit. Before you know it, they'll be your best friend and work companion. 

Trainability

German Shepherds have been bred and trained for generations. These dogs understand training and often need it to be as happy and well-behaved as possible. They have instincts already where they want to herd and guard. If you want them to have these traits, great! Training will help them hone their instincts, and they'll become very dependable guard dogs. If you want your German Shepherd to chillax and be a part of the family, that's an option, too, of course. Taking your German Shepherd to dog training will only help them understand basic commands and stop when you tell them to. In other words, training can help a GSD become a loving and well-behaved family dog.

Obedience training and classes can help these dogs understand their roles in a family. They are used to being watchdogs, so training them for that can be beneficial if that is what a family wants. They can be taught to listen to specific sounds or taught certain cues. These dogs are often used in competitions, so having them compete in dog sports or obstacle courses can be excellent ways to train them as well.

The bottom line is training your dog begins with you. Dog's look to their owners for direction, and a loyal GSD is no exception. The dogs trust their instincts, and they understand ours as well. Your dog will see you as their leader and conform to you and what you want. Taking your pup to obedience training will be essential to make sure you do this the best way possible and that your dog is reacting well.

german shepherd sitting in flower field

Energy Levels

The GSD is a very active dog breed. Their history has always given them a role to play, whether it be search and rescue dog, supply runner, police dog, or watchdog. The jobs they have been given for hundreds of years have given them a steady amount of energy. Because of this, they need a lot of exercise and mental stimulation.

Daily exercise is needed to ensure these dogs stay in tip-top shape. Families that are active in sports or take a lot of walks would be perfect for a German Shepherd dog. It's recommended that they get at least two hours of daily exercise to ensure they get their activity met. Their high energy could also be put to the test in challenging mental exercises. Hiding treats or toys for them to sniff out is an excellent way to help them use their energy. They can also participate in long jobs or training competitions. The dogs are part of the working dog breed for a reason; they're used to having work to do. Giving them something that ends in rewards or helps them feel useful is helping them to live their best life.

Common Health Problems

The average GSD lifespan is anywhere from ten to fourteen years. The famous dog Rin Tin Tin, mentioned earlier in the article, lived to be about fourteen years old. That dog lived through the stress of both World War I and working in Hollywood. This shows that the lifespan of a GSD varies based on activity level, diet, genetics, and overall health.

German Shepherds have a few common health issues. These issues include things like hip and elbow dysplasia which can be solved with medication or corrective surgery. They are also at a higher risk of contracting things like bloat. Bloat in dogs is a life-threatening health condition. wOnder need to learn health conditions the German Shepherd is at a higher risk of experiencing and the symptoms accompanying them. 

Hip Dysplasia

Hip Dysplasia will look like a dog has issues walking. It's when the femur doesn't correctly fit into the pelvic socket located in the hip joint. A German Shepherd puppy can have this condition with or without clinical symptoms. This can cause pain and discomfort and possibly reduce the range of movement. Some dogs experience lameness in the affected leg. Sometimes this can cause arthritis to set in.

If this is caught early enough, a dog may be treated with pain management medication or surgery to correct the joint. Whatever may be done will be decided after a vet correctly understands what is going on in a dog's body. An x-ray can verify whether a dog suffers from hip dysplasia or not. To help prevent the rising risk of this in the German Shepherd dog breed, dogs that suffer from hip dysplasia should not be bred.

This issue is common but does not occur randomly. The most common cause of hip dysplasia is obesity. Make sure to keep your German Shepherd puppy healthy and on a good diet. Also, be sure to give them plenty of exercise, and it will only benefit them. 

german shepherd looking up at sky

Elbow Dysplasia

Elbow dysplasia, similar to hip dysplasia, is when the body is not meeting various joints correctly. Elbow dysplasia takes presence in three different bones that connect at a dog's elbow. When these joints don't meet correctly, it can also cause pain and discomfort.

To help a dog suffering from elbow dysplasia, your vet may recommend medication to help with the pain or surgery to correct the health condition altogether. Again, this is most commonly caused by obesity. Make sure your dog has a healthy diet and an active lifestyle, and you should be in the clear.

Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus

Gastric Dilation-Volvulus, commonly referred to as bloat, is a life-threatening health condition. When bloat occurs, it's because gas is trapped in a dog's stomach. This gas causes the stomach to twist, stopping blood flow to other parts of the body. This causes some stomach tissue to die and can even cause a dog to have a seizure, stroke, or lose consciousness. Dogs with large and deep chests are most at risk of this condition because they have more room in their body for their stomach to twist. 

When a dog experiences Myelopathy, it may exhibit many symptoms. Symptoms to look out for include failed vomiting, a swollen abdomen, excessive salivation (if it isn't normal for your dog), restlessness, or sudden unconsciousness. While scientists aren't sure what causes bloat, they know specific genes make some dog breeds at higher risk than others. German Shepherds are one of those breeds. 

If you ever suspect your dog is experiencing bloat, the best thing to do is to take them to their vet immediately. Dogs with bloat may die in a few hours or as little as thirty minutes. The only way to fix this health condition is to perform medical tasks to release the gas from the stomach. If bloat is caught early enough, surgery may not be necessary, and a vet might be able to stick a tube down the dog's throat to release gas. But if a dog's stomach has twisted, surgery is their only chance for survival. 

Gastropexy surgery is what vets do to help prevent bloat from occurring in dogs. A vet attaches the dog's stomach to their abdomen, which prevents the stomach from twisting. If a dog needs emergency surgery because they are suffering from bloat, vets often opt to enact this surgery to make sure the bloat is less likely to happen again. 

Another way to lessen the risk of a dog contracting bloat is to make sure to spread out meals instead of giving your dog just one large meal a day. Split the dog's meals into two separate meals. Also, make sure your dog doesn't run around right after eating or drinking a lot of water. Feeding a dog from an elevated food bowl may also raise the risk of a dog contracting bloat.

german shepherd running with toy in mouth

Degenerative Myelopathy

Degenerative Myelopathy is a disease that attacks the spinal cord over time. It specifically targets the part of the spinal cord that controls the hind legs. Degenerative myelopathy can cause a dog to lose the ability to walk altogether. While the condition is usually incurable, there is rarely a way to help a dog with this disease. Sometimes, the situation is related to a lack of vitamin 12 or vitamin E. This is one of the best case scenarios because then a dog can take vitamin supplements and might be able to stabilize the condition. If a dog is not the rare case where the degeneration leads to vitamin deficiencies, they often get put down.

Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency

Another health condition the German Shepherd breed is at higher risk of experiencing is exocrine pancreatic insufficiency. EPI is another degenerative disease that destroys the cells in the pancreas, which contain digestive enzymes. This disease makes it so a dog can no longer digest and absorb nutrients from food.

Symptoms a dog may experience include excessive gas, loss of appetite, extreme weight loss, and change in stools. A dog with this health condition becomes very underweight and incredibly hungry. This insufficiency can be diagnosed with a blood test. If it turns out a dog does have this degenerative disease, it can be treated by adding the digestive enzyme to their food. Often, dogs that are treated adequately with observed medication recover. 

Grooming & Care

These dogs have thick double coats. They're natural shedders and will lose some fur during the changes in season. There is a misconception that GSDs can't thrive in warmer climates, but it's not true. These dogs have lived in cold temperatures for years, but they can adapt well to warmer climates and even have the capabilities of shedding one of their layers of fur. 

To make sure your German Shepherd puppy has the best health possible, make sure to brush them twice a week at least. Brushing them three to four times might be necessary if your pup has a thicker, longer coat. Only bathe your puppy when needed, maybe once a month if they tend to get dirty. When looking for dog shampoo, make sure you do research. You must find a dog shampoo that doesn't remove your puppy's natural oils. This could give your GSD dry skin and irritable red spots. Another option for care is to spot clean your dog with a damp cloth. You could even use a deodorizing spray to help with the smell. 

These dogs should have naturally healthy coats if they're getting the proper nutrients in their diet. However, if you want to give them a little boost, there are some actions you can take. Try giving your dog German Shepherd supplements. Omega-3 fatty acids, coconut oil, beta carotene, zinc, and flax oil seeds are just some of the many products that can help your dog's coat shine. Be sure to feed your dog a diet that is 25% protein. Talk with your vet to understand how many calories your dog should eat daily. Your German Shepherd dog's diet will vary depending on their sex, activity level, and age. Older dogs don't need as many calories as young and active dogs will.

All breeds can benefit from an owner who finds the best ways possible to care for them. Taking your dog to its regular vet check-ups is vital in maintaining its best health. These check-ups help keep your dog vaccinated. Vets can also screen for any illnesses these dogs may be prone to. To make sure your dog is happy at home, be sure to provide enough work, play, and rest time. 

German Shepherds love working. They are active dogs with active minds, but all that energy has to go somewhere, so eventually, these dogs need to recharge. Provide your dog with a safe space for them to rest. Consider buying them a blanket or stuffed animal. They may bond to it, and it may even help comfort them when their owners are away. Another great idea is to get your dog a great dog bed. All breeds can benefit from the comforts of having their bed. Giving your dog things that are just their own may help them feel more secure when their special humans aren't around.

german shepherd leaning on tree

Are you thinking of owning a German Shepherd?

If you want to get your German Shepherd from a breeder, make sure you're finding an ethical one. The AKC has excellent resources for this. On this site, you can find German Shepherd puppies from reputable breeders. Do your research and make sure the dogs are cared for correctly. Always meet your puppy before adopting them to make sure everything is kept up to date. 

If you're ready to adopt a dog and after reading this, you think a German Shepherd may be an excellent fit for you, that's great! When looking to get your very own German Shepherd puppy, consider adoption. There are websites dedicated to helping people adopt their special German Shepherd puppy. There are tons of dedicated German Shepherd rescues across the nation, so it isn't hard to find one to adopt from. 

German Shepherds are fantastic dogs because of their loyalty and work ethic. They're intelligent and want to protect their family. Getting a German Shepherd may sound like a great idea but remember everything these pups need to thrive. It's just as essential to make sure you're ready to love a dog as it's crucial to be able to care for a dog. They need two hours of daily exercise, and they don't like being left alone often. If you can't offer these, consider getting a dog that doesn't need as much time and activity.

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