German Shepherds: The Complete Guide

German Shepherd lying down
Source: https://www.allshepherd.com/german-shepherd-grooming/

German shepherds dogs, also known as Deutscher Schäferhund are extraordinarily loyal, well-built dogs. Possessor of exceptional intelligence and an intrinsic will to learn and follow it’s people, this dog can beautifully execute versatile tasks, making it one of the best working dog breeds. This breed is under the AKC Herding dog classification.

The breed set off its popularity worldwide as working dogs during the World War I period and with the help of movies like Rin-tin-tin, but they also make great family pets. The German Shepherd is hungry for knowledge and guidance and for that need a confident and consistent leader. They are great companions and will always want to keep you in his sight.

The German Shepherd is still one of the most popular dog breeds in the U.S., ranking 2nd place in popularity (AKC 2018), which is no surprise for this courageous, steady, devoted dog.

Origins

By the end of the 19th century, German cavalry captain Max Von Stephanitz was devoted to the idea of developing the ideal German herder dog, under the motto “utility and intelligence”. The breed started when Captain Stephanitz found Hektor Linksrhein, a medium-size, yellow and grey dog, that was already a sheepherder.

In 1908 the first German Shepherd was recognized by the AKC (American Kennel Club), but it was during World War I and II that the breed gained large popularity due to its impressive performance as war dogs. Both the Allied and the Axis forces used German Shepherds as mine detectors, sentinels, guard dogs and messengers.

Movies like Rin-tin-tin and Strongheart also helped to increase the demand for breeding German Shepherds in the United States.

Besides being used as police and war dogs, in 1927 a female German Shepherd named Buddy was trained to help with the daily activities of veterans who lost their sight during the war in Germany, becoming one of the first guide-dogs for visually impaired people. In 1928 Buddy came to America with Frank Morris, who in 1929 founded The Seeing Eye, the first dog guide school in the United States.

Due to the popularity of German Shepherds they have been a common parent of many mixed breeds as you can see from the long list below:

Appearance

Size, Height, Weight

German Shepherds are large dogs with a body shape that is longer than it is tall. They present a gentle silhouette with soft curves instead of harsh angles, although this doesn’t make them look less fierce. They have a characteristic slope that goes from front to back.

Additionally, there are German Shepherds with more muscular and structured bodies, usually classified as working lines, and less muscular and a more graceful composition, classified as show lines.

They present a characteristic elegant trotting gait that looks effortless. Their pace is perfectly calculated to allow a maximum coverage area using the minimal steps necessary. Nevertheless, they are incredibly fast dogs and can reach an outstanding 30mph (48 km/h) if necessary.

Male German Shepherds can reach a height of 24-26 inches (60-65cm) at the highest point of the shoulder blades, while a female can reach 22-24 inches (55-60cm) and they can weigh from 77-85 pounds (35-40Kg).

Even though there is a small size difference, females tend to have a slender body and be more agile than males, and usually make better agility dogs.

Coat and Color

German Shepherds lounging together
Source: https://germanshepherdcountry.com/the-many-colors-of-the-german-shepherd-dog/

German Shepherds can present a double coat or a long hair coat. Double coated German Shepherds presents a medium length, dense, thick overcoat. Long-haired German Shepherds present a longer and softer coat, and fuller particularly in the neck area, almost like forming a frame. Currently, there’s some discussion among breeders and connoisseurs if long-haired German Shepherds should be considered a separate breed or not.

There are four possible color patterns that are bred: solid color, Bi-color, Saddle back and Sable. Brindle color and Panda patterns are also possible amongst German Shepherds, but they are not recognized as the breed standards.

Although saddle back black and tan German Shepherds are the most common color, they can actually present a variety of colors ranging from pure black or white to mixtures of black and red, black and tan, black and silver and black and cream, liver, blue and gray.

German shepherds that are born all white are recognized as faulty and are categorized as another breed.

As a curiosity, all puppies are born solid black, gray or white and only by the age of 8 weeks old the coat pattern is defined.

Temperament

German Shepherds should show a strong-minded, well balanced, prideful but utterly calm posture. They should have a courageous, alert, fearless, self-confident personality. German Shepherds should not be shy or hostile when approached. They should hold a steady composure, but be ready for action when it calls.

Are German shepherds dangerous?

German shepherds are extremely loyal dogs. They are always ready to protect their family. If they sense any danger they will do all they can to protect their owners.

These dogs need an assertive leader to show them guidance. Passive owners with poor handling skills may lead to a timid, fidgety insecure dog, which can develop into fear, anxiety or aggression issues. These dogs need guidance, and if they sense that they are stronger minded than their owners, they won’t listen. As naturally strong dogs, they can cause some damage if not well trained.

Is a German Shepherd a good family dog?

German Shepherds make great family dogs. Loyal and gentle, these dogs are committed to being a family guardian. They are excellent with children, tending to present a composed personality around the family, although sometimes are known to “herd” the little ones.

German Shepherd lying down with ball
Source: Unsplash by Dustin Bowdige

Especially during the adolescence period, dogs, in general, don’t yet understand their size and can end up playing “too hard”, so playtime with the children should always be supervised.

Due to the German Shepherds eager desire for training, older children should be encouraged to actively participate in the training process, which will help to develop connection and respect.

As herding dogs, German Shepherds are prone to chasing smaller animals and cats, but with early socialization and consistent training, it’s possible to live in peace with other dogs and pets in the same household.

German Shepherds develop a deep and earnest bond with their owners and are the happiest when around their families. German Shepherds could be raised in an apartment, as long as you can provide enough physical and mental stimulation every day.

German Shepherds yearn for interaction so it’s important to give plenty of one-on-one time to your dog, and let him be around the family, as they do not do well when left alone for long periods of time.

Temperament can also be inherited, so always talk to the breeder and let him know what kind of dog you are looking for, and find out more about the dog’s ancestors background.

Do German shepherds bark a lot?

Barking is part of the German Shepherd’s instincts and it can get loud. A German Shepherd’s bark is loud and has even been recorded at times up to 108dB, about the same intensity of noise as a helicopter, one of the reasons why it can be effective in paralyzing thieves  in the middle of breaking in.

Four main reasons that a German Shepherds known for excessive barking: protective instincts, boredom, separation anxiety or aggression. Good news is that all these causes can be managed with consistent and focusedl training.

Training

Do German shepherds naturally protect their owners?

Protection is an innate skill for German Shepherds. These dogs have a remarkable connection with their owners and are willing to risk their own lives to protect their loved ones. This instinct makes these dogs outstanding police dogs or search and rescue dogs.

Family-owned German Shepherds will also have this instinct, making it imperative to socialize with both people and other dogs, starting at puppyhood, to understand when to be protective and when it’s ok to be calm.

Training should always be based on positive reinforcement techniques, as these dogs do not deal well with negative reinforcement. German Shepherds present a relatively long adolescence period that goes from 6 months until 2 years old. They will need consistent training, particularly during this period and plenty of creative brain-stimulating tasks; otherwise they will get bored and become destructive.

Do not treat this dog like a human. They were bred for centuries as working dogs, and still, have these instincts very deeply rooted. Giving clear commands to your dog and satisfying it’s mental and physical requirements, will reward you with an exemplary dog.

Why Are German Shepherds Good Police Dogs?

German Shepherds are vigorous, sharp, and attentive dogs. Loyal to the core, possessor of a sturdy body and an ingenious brain they make excellent police dogs.

German Shepherds sitting side by side
Source Pixaby

The devotion to their owners won’t allow them to think twice before putting their life at risk to defend their partner.

Being voracious learners, they can also be taught a multitude of tasks that ranges from attack and defensive moves to search and rescue skills.

They have an impressive sense of smell, being able to detect scents up to 40 feet underground and 80 feet underwater, and their bite has an incredible force of 238 psi or 108Kg.

The initial training for a police dog takes around 12 weeks to be complete, and from this point, the dog can move on into specific training to become a search and rescue dog or a substance detection dog.

In 2016 the American Kennel Club initiated the “AKC The Paw of Courage” award to express respect and admiration for the work and sacrifices that these dogs have gone through while protecting our country. Since the launch, 8 German Shepherds have been awarded this title.

Health

Common Health Problems

German Shepherds are prone to inherit genetic defects, mainly affecting their bones, and as most large dogs are also susceptible to gastric issues.

Major concerns are:

  • Hip dysplasia
  • Elbow dysplasia,
  • Bloating
  • Gastric torsion
  • Blood disorders
  • Epilepsy
  • Chronic eczema
  • Keratitis (inflammation of the cornea)
  • Splenic tumors (tumors on the spleen)
  • DM (degenerative myelitis)
  • EPI (exocrine pancreatic insufficiency).

Due to its hereditary nature, these problems are more likely to arise from careless breeding and for that reason you should always look for responsible breeders when thinking about adding a German Shepherd to your family.

Always ask for the certificate that the ancestors of the puppy (parents, grandparents…) have been screened for common genetic defects and check if the information is included in the Canine Health Information Center (CHIC) database.

German Shepherds are expected to live up to 13 years old, pretty good for a large size dog.

How to Care for a German Shepherd?

German Shepherds shed throughout the year, and during spring and fall, there’s an extra undercoat shedding period. If you are fussy about having dog hair everywhere a German Shepherd might not be the best choice. Daily brushing is a must to minimize the shedding and keep the coat and skin of your dog healthy, especially during heavy shedding season.

The breed doesn’t require any kind of special trimming, and bathing should be done no more than once a month. Unnecessary baths can be harmful to your dog, resulting in the loss of the natural oil protection in their coat and predisposing to skin issues.

Brushing teeth should be done once a day, and chewing toys and raw bones can also help with the routine. In case the nails are not being naturally worn down, trimming should be performed to ensure your dog can walk comfortably.

Apart from grooming, always check with your veterinarian if all the vaccines, flea, tick and deworming medications are up to date.

Feeding Requirements

As mentioned in the health section, German Shepherds are prone to bone malformation and stomach/intestinal problems, so how and what is offered to the dog is of the utmost importance. High-quality dog food that contains chondroitin and glucosamine in its formula is recommended.  Check out our Guide To Finding the Best German Shepherd Food.

Table scraps and cooked bones should never be given to your dog as they can cause an upset stomach. The Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) recommends that a German Shepherds require at least 22% of protein and 5-8% of fat in their dietary regimen. The proportions should be adjusted depending on the age, sex, and level of activity of the dog.

Requirements are different for puppies, and initially, they should be fed what the breeders recommended, and the daily amount should be divided into three portions until 12 weeks old. After this age, feeding should be reduced to two daily portions.

How Much Exercise Do German Shepherds Need?

German Shepherd with stick in mouth trotting with pup
Source: Pixabay

German Shepherds just like other herding breeds are working dogs, which means they are athletic and have a lot of energy to expend. They need to be exercised daily, both physically and mentally; otherwise, boredom and frustration may arise.

During puppyhood, start with daily walks and obedience training. Obedience training along with socialization is the foundation for a well-behaved German Shepherd. As the puppy grows up add long walks, jogging or running alongside you while cycling.

These dogs love playing fetch or frisbee and usually are great performers in dog sports like agility, herding, tracking, flyball or shutzhund. Swimming is also a good way to deplete some of their energy. Initially, they can be a little clumsy or shy with water, but in general, this breed loves to swim.

German Shepherds have a strong bite, so look for sturdy chewing toys and bones. They are a good option for stress relief and help to maintain a healthy and clean mouth.

How Much Does A German Shepherd Cost?

The price for a German Shepherd puppy depends on the breeding requirements. German Shepherd puppies bred for show quality are more expensive and range from 1,000 USD – 3,500 USD while family pet quality can range from 500 USD up to 2,000 USD. The price also varies according to the pedigree and color of the dog. German Shepherds may also be found all around the country at shelters of rescue organizations.

Summary

German Shepherds are extremely loyal, athletic and determined dogs. They need intensive daily exercise along with consistent focused training and have potential to excel in dog sports.

They have strong protective instincts and can be barky at times, but that’s what makes them such good police dogs.

They are loyal and like to be around their loved ones. They are good with children and other pets, making them a great family dog.

They come in a variety of patterns and colors and are heavy-shedders. Daily brushing is necessary in order to maintain a healthy coat and skin, and baths shouldn’t be given too often.

The breed is susceptible to bone malformation and gastric problems, so having a schedule and feeding high-quality food with the correct nutrients can help in preventing these issues.

A puppy can cost from 500 USD up to 3.500 USD depending on the breeding requirements. Always look for a responsible breeder as that help minimize the presence of genetics related health issues in the future.

German Shepherd Pros:

  • Highly Trainable
  • Family Friendly
  • Loyal to the Owner

German Shepherd Cons:

  • Heavy Shedding all year around
  • Extremely Active and Require Consistent Training Daily (they will require a lot of 1-on1 time)
  • Bark a Lot

Reference:

https://www.gsdca.org/german-shepherd-dogs/breed-history.html

https://www.animalwised.com/common-diseases-of-german-shepherds-550.html

https://www.allshepherd.com/c/guide/

http://www.fci.be/en/nomenclature/GERMAN-SHEPHERD-DOG-166.html

images:

https://www.allshepherd.com/german-shepherd-grooming/

https://germanshepherdcountry.com/the-many-colors-of-the-german-shepherd-dog/

https://pixabay.com/pt/photos/c%C3%A3o-sch%C3%A4fer-filhote-de-cachorro-c%C3%A3o-4357790/

 

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