- Dogs suitable for experienced owners
- Extra training required
- Potential health risks
- Enjoys vigorous walks
- Enjoys one to two hours of walking a day
- Large dog
- Some drool
- Requires grooming every other day
- Chatty and vocal dog
- Barks, alerts and may be physically protective/suspicious of visitors
- Could have issues with unknown dogs but gets along with known dogs
- May need additional training to live with other pets
- May need additional supervision to live with children
- Needs a large garden
- Can live in semi-rural areas
- Can be left occasionally with training
|Lifespan:||9 – 13 years|
|Weight:||22 – 40kg|
|Height:||58 – 63cm|
|Colours:||Coats come in a range of colours including black, sable, black and tan, black and gold. See Kennel Club website for the full range|
|UK Kennel Club Groups:||Pastoral|
|Easy to train:||5/5|
|Tolerates being alone:||2/5|
|Likes other pets:||2/5|
Renowned as a ‘one man (or woman) dog’, the GSD forms a strong, affectionate and close bond with their handler and will want to be with them as much as possible. Their loyalty is undeniable, however unfortunately over the last few decades many breeders seeking to promote their natural guarding tendencies have selected for nervous animals who alert faster out of a lack of confidence and who are willing to use aggression first rather than last.
A well-bred, well-reared German Shepherd should be bold, confident, swift and intelligent, and always calm and steady enough to be able to listen to their owner or handler whatever the circumstances. They are eager to learn and easy to train with the right approach, using kindness, positive reinforcement and patience.
History and Origins
Country of Origin: Germany
Originally a herding dog, although not in the way you may think – the German Shepherd works as a living fence, walking or running an invisible boundary between sheep and land they need to be kept from, keeping livestock where they are meant to be. If they spotted a sheep straying from the flock, they would silently move them back into the fold without barking – which would alarm the whole flock. Formed from a variety of different sheep-herding dogs, they can trace their origins back to the 7th Century.
First shown in 1882, the Verein fur Deutsche Schaferhunde, the German breed club for GSD’s was formed in 1899. Through this club GSD’s were developed for use with the police and armed forces, thus saving them from extinction during the difficult times. During the first World War, GSD’s lost favour outside of Germany and allied countries when all things German became unpopular. At this time the breed name was changed to the Alsatian in England and France to avoid this discrimination. Thankfully this is far in the past and the German Shepherd Dog has regained their original name.
The German Shepherd dog is predisposed to a number of problems including gastrointestinal diseases, a specific stomach condition (gastric dilation volvulus), a disease of the spinal cord and epilepsy. As with many other breeds, they can also suffer from hip and elbow dysplasia (joint conditions that can be painful and lead to mobility problems). Hip scoring of dogs prior to breeding is therefore important.
The breed club monitor the health of the breed carefully and should be contacted for the most up-to-date information and details of any DNA or additional testing they recommend. Breed Clubs can be found on the Kennel Club website.
Two hours or more exercise with plenty of variety in route and location should meet the adult GSD’s needs. Puppies require careful exercise to avoid damaging still developing joints. Lots of training and puzzle solving games will keep that sharp mind engaged productively. A bored or lonely German Shepherd is likely to be reactive, vocal and destructive!
This is a big dog who takes a long time to physically mature and so is not suited to flats accessed by stairs or homes without access to a secure garden. Town or country will be fine, but plenty of space to walk, train and run freely is advisable. They will guard and so a busy urban environment can be too stimulating for them.
Large breed dogs, as well as having large appetites, benefit from a different balance of nutrients including minerals and vitamins compared to smaller-breed dogs. The German Shepherd dog can be prone to bloating and stomach problems; smaller, more frequent meals can help minimise this risk.
Grooming should be done several times a week, with a vigorous brushing to remove any dead or loose hairs. If it is a longhaired German Shepherd dog, combing will also be necessary. No trimming is required and bathing should only be done as needed. This is a shedding dog but the more you groom them, the less they will shed.
Early and consistent socialisation is vital to ensure the GSD grows up confident and happy in a variety of situations with people, other animals, livestock and children. This is a breed that needs to be sourced form a breeder who understands the importance of early habituation and socialisation with this potentially reactive breed.
Easy to train if you employ kind reward-based training methods. Patience is needed as the GSD is slow to mature and often suffers from looking like an adult physically long before their brain has matured! A well-trained GSD is capable of most jobs, sports or activities – in fact one of the first non-herding and non-military uses for the GSD was as Guide Dogs for the Blind.
A German Shepherd Dog from a breeder who focuses on temperament and health makes an excellent family pet if you have the time to dedicate to training, exercise and vacuuming up shed hair. Possibly a little too boisterous and large for homes with tiny children or frail older family members.
While many dogs are traditionally thought of as being good with children, all dogs and children need to be taught to get on with and respect each other, and be safe together. Even so, dogs and young children should never be left alone together and adults should supervise all interactions between them.
Did You Know?
- German Shepherd Dogs have had many jobs, one of the least well known however was as guide dogs for the blind, and the GSD was preferred as their height made them very suitable for blinded ex-military men, who would have found the Labradors and Golden Retrievers (and their mixes) too short! They are still used today for taller people but the amount of hair they shed makes them less popular.
- Long before Lassie, the first canine film star was a German Shepherd Dog known as Rin Tin Tin who was rescued as a puppy in 1918 from a World War I battlefield by Lee Duncan, an American soldier. He made 26 films, had his own radio show and even his own private chef!
- German Shepherds are super intelligent and can learn new tricks and behaviours in only a few repetitions.
- After the World Wars, Americans and Europeans were very concerned about anything German so their named was changed to Alsatian Wolf Dogs, some still refer to them by that name today.
- The German Shepherd is incredibly popular and are the second most registered breed by the American Kennel Club after the Labrador Retriever.