German Shepherd
German Shepherd at the park (Photo: Adobe Stock)
helloBARK! staff
By helloBARK! staff
Updated on April 18, 2019
Fact Checked

The German Shepherd is one of the most popular dogs in the world.

These medium-to-large sized dogs have a reputation for being courageous and versatile.

Created in 1890s, German Shepherds have played a vital role in society, both as working dogs and family pets.

The breed was known as Alasation in the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland before it was changed back to German Shepherd in 1977.

They are alert and confident dogs that are extremely smart and trustworthy.

As a result, German Shepherds are often used for disability assistance, search-and-rescue, as well as working for the police and military.

A brief introduction to German Shepherds

Murray the German Shepherd (Photo: murray_thegsd / Instagram)
Murray the German Shepherd (Photo: murray_thegsd / Instagram)

The German Shepherd’s history dates back to the late 1890s. Ex-military captain Max von Stephanitz wanted to create his ideal herding dog.

While he was an admirer of Germany’s native sheepdogs, Von Stephanitz set about a quest to find the perfect working dog to satisfy his needs.

He came across a dog named Hektor Linksrhein at a dog show in 1899. Hektor would become the founding member of the German Shepherd breed.

According to Wikipedia, he was particularly pleased with Hektor’s “intelligence, loyalty and beauty” and purchased the dog immediately.

After renaming Hektor to Horand von Grafrath, Von Stephanitz started the Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde (Society for the German Shepherd Dog).

Horand (aka Hektor) was the first German Shepherd listed on society’s register and so began one of the most popular breeds in the world.

Deutscher Schäferhund translates literally as German Shepherd dog, emphasising their origins as herding dogs who were used to protect sheep.

However, their name was changed to Alsation Wolf Dog in the United Kingdom following World War I due to concerns the use of German would affect their popularity.

Alsation was a reference to the French region of Alsace bordering Germany and eventually “Wolf dog” was dropped from the name.

In 1977, the Kennel Club recognised German Shepherd as the official name after a number of campaigns. Some people in Great Britain do still refer to these dogs as Alsations.

German Shepherds are the second-most popular breed in the United States and seventh-most popular in the United Kingdom.

How big are German Shepherds?

German Shepherds are considered to be medium to large-sized dogs.

Males can grow to be 60-65cm (24–26 in) tall and can weigh between 30-40 kg (66–88 lb), while the standard for females at the withers is 55–60 cm (22–24 in) and they can weigh between 22-33 kg (49–73 lb).

While the American Kennel Club lists a suggested weight range for these dogs on their website, their breed standard makes no reference to how much these dogs should weigh.

German Shepherd description

Murray the German Shepherd (Photo: murray_thegsd / Instagram)
Murray the German Shepherd (Photo: murray_thegsd / Instagram)

One of the standout features of the German Shepherd is their wide and wedge-shaped head.

The AKC states “The head is noble, cleanly chiseled, strong without coarseness, but above all not fine, and in proportion to the body. The head of the male is distinctly masculine, and that of the bitch distinctly feminine”.

German Shepherds have trademark pointed ears that give them their alert appearance. They are medium sized and shaped like an almond.

Another feature is their long bushy tail, which should gently slope and descend towards the ground.

Their long muzzle is a useful tool for tracking scents, while their bite strength is second only to the Rottweiler.

What colours are German Shepherd?

German Shepherds can come in a variety of different colours. The most common is black and tan but these dogs can also be all black, yellow, sable and brown.

The AKC guidelines for the breed standard state: “The German Shepherd Dog varies in color, and most colors are permissible. Strong rich colors are preferred. Pale, washed-out colors and blues or livers are serious faults. A white dog must be disqualified.”

Are German shepherds difficult?

The breed have a reputation for being fearless and no nonsense dogs. Often used for military and police activities, there is a stigma attached to the German Shepherds.

Their size and stature can make them seem intimidating but they are not aggressive by nature but are very alert.

Only Border Collies and Poodles have a great IQ than German Shepherds so these dogs are highly intelligent.

However, GSD need to know their pecking order in the household pack and will try to run the home if their owner doesn’t estalish themselves as pack leader.

Why are German Shepherds easy to train?

Given they are the third most intelligent dogs, German Shepherds are quick learners and easy to train.

They reach their full potential by being trained with positive enforcement.

Sometimes nicknamed ‘German shredders”, as with all dogs, the more exercise they get, the better behaved they will be.

Given their heritage as herding dogs, GSD do seem to have a desire to please their owner and work alongside them to achieve a common goal.

Is a German Shepherd a good family dog?

Murray the German Shepherd (Photo: murray_thegsd / Instagram)
Murray the German Shepherd (Photo: murray_thegsd / Instagram)

These German dogs do make great family pets in the right environment with the appropriate training and lots of exercise.

Given their intelligence, GSD are relatively easy to train provided you start from a young age.

They have a reputation for being loyal dogs and will protect their owners and the household. Hence their reputation for being good guard dogs.

While GSDs are courageous and strong-willed, they have a softer side that makes the German Shepherd a great companion dog.

Provided they are socialised from a young age and attend classes such as puppy manners and basic obedience training, they should do fine with children.

However, you should never leave a child alone unsupervised with a German Shepherd – or any dog for that matter.

Are German shepherds known to be aggressive?

The German Shepherds have a reputation for being aggressive dogs. This stems from their working roles alongside the military and police.

However, owners of these dogs need to curb any aggressive behaviour or tendencies. The German Shepherd has the bite strength superior to most other canine breeds.

It is a good idea to avail of the services of a professional dog trainer if you are worried about your GSD showing an aggressive streak.

Are German shepherds affectionate?

German Shepherds are parental animals that like to look after and protect their owners. They will show a lot of affection to family members.

However, the breed are cautious around strangers so lots of socialisation from a young age can help to make these dogs more approachable.

They do listen to their owners and love to interact with humans, making them great family pets.

While they make good companion dogs, they aren’t dependent on your company and can sometimes be aloof.

Do German shepherds shed a lot?

German Shepherd owners will attest to the amount of hair that these dogs shed.

If you’re interested in a GSD, you should be prepared for lots of hair and ensure you have a good quality vacuum.

They have a medium-length, double coat. They have a dense, harsh outer coat to protect them from challenging weather conditions and environments but come with a softer undercoat.

This breed will shed a lot once or twice a year, which can be a particularly challenging time for GSD owners.

It is recommended that you groom your dog multiple times a week to help maintain their coat and keep on top of the shedding.

These dogs don’t need regular baths because it can damage the natural protection of their hair. Every two months should be sufficient for this breed.

How often should I walk my German shepherd?

German Shepherd at the park (Photo: Adobe Stock)
German Shepherd at the park (Photo: Adobe Stock)

The German Shepherd requires a lot of exercise, so owners will need to be willing to go on lots of walk with their GSD.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that these herding dogs like to be very active which can help to maintain their good health and mental wellbeing.

Like all dogs, the more excercise GSD get, the happier they’ll be. Unwanted destructive behaviours can be reduced or even eradicated by regular exercise.

The AKC recommends activities such as agility, herding, tracking and even dock diving.

It is recommended that a German Shepherd gets around two hours of exercise per day.

Is German Shepherd loyal?

German Shepherds were first created in 1899 (Photo: Adobe Stock)
German Shepherds were first created in 1899 (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Another stereotype is German Shepherds are loyal dogs. However, GSD need to learn to be loyal, which is the result of obedience training.

Given these dogs strive to please their owners, the chances are pretty good that they will develop a loyalty to the pack leaders and those within the household.

Are German Shepherd good with cats?

As with the case with most dogs, socialisation with other dogs and pets from a young age can improve their chances of getting alone.

However, it has to be noted that German Shepherds are prey driven so they could pose a threat to other small animals in the home.

Even if your GSD gets along with the family cat, they should never be left alone together to avoid potential injury to your feline pet.

Can a German Shepherd be left alone during the day?

German Shepherds shouldn’t be left alone for long periods if dog owners want to avoid unwanted behaviours.

The breed are sociable dogs so they crave human companionship and interaction. Given their high IQ, these dogs can get up to mischief if they are left alone or are unstimulated.

They can be prone to separation anxiety, which manifests itself in the form of excessive barking or whining, destructive chewing, scratching or digging.

It is not recommended that you leave a GSD alone for eight or nine hours a day.

There are some steps that you can take if you do have to leave your German Sherpherd at home alone for a number of hours.

They require a lot of exercise so going for a substantial run or walk can help to tire out these dogs and soothe any anxious tendencies.

Dog cameras with treat dispensers can be a good tool to tackle any seperation anxiety that your GSD may suffer from.

RELATED: The three best dog cameras on the market

You could also avail of the services of a professional dog walker to ensure your GSD gets some exericse while you’re away from home.

What do German Shepherds eat?

Given the breed tend to be working dogs or active pets, German Shepherds need a lot of protein to maintain muscle growth.

Not only that, GSD require some healthy fats to maintain their energy levels.

They will also need Omega-3’s to maintain a healthy coat and carbohydrates to supplement their active lifestyles.

You are able to feed GSDs some human food but experts suggest that it shouldn’t comprise of more than 15 per cent of their diet.

The amount of food that you feed your German Shepherd will depend on their day-to-day lifestyles.

Best dog food delivery
We've picked out the top five leading dog food delivery companies to help you keep an eye on your pets

Can German Shepherds eat raw meat? GSDs can eat raw meat but helloBARK! recommend consulting with your vet if you are interested in this diet for your dog.
Can German Shepherds eat bananas? This breed can eat bananas but in moderation to avoid constipation.
Can German Shepherds eat fish? These dogs are able to eat fish as long as it is cooked properly without any oil or seasonings.
Can German Shepherds eat grapes? Grapes and raisins are poisonous to dogs so avoid at all costs.
Can German Shepherds eat potatoes? Experts recommend sweet potatoes due to the positive impact they can have on GSD’s digestive systems. Moderation is key.

German Shepherd life expectancy

The average age of a GSD can range from between 9 and 13.

However, a healthy German Shepherd can live past 13 years.

German Shepherd health problems

The German Shepherd do suffer from some hereditary health problems such as elbow and hip dysplasia.

Hip dysplasia – This is an abnormal formation of the hip socket. If the problem worsens, it can unfortunately lead to lameness and arthritis of the joints. It is one of the most common problems found in dogs and it is common amongst GSD. According to Petmd, the development of hip dysplasia is “determined by an interaction of genetic and environmental factors”. They go on to add that “gender does not seem to be a factor, but some breeds are more likely to have the genetic predisposition for hip dysplasia than other breeds”. The German Shepherd is one such breed.

Epilepsy – A common hereditary disease found in German Shepherd dogs is epilepsy. It is defined as “spontaneous, random electrical over-activity of a small or large part of the brain which causes localised muscle activity (eg twitches) or generalised, whole body seizures, convulsions or fits”. A GSD can start to experience epileptic fits between the ages of 1 and 4. Long-term medication can help to control this condition.

Degenerative myelopathy – This is is a spontaneously occurring, adult-onset spinal cord disorder that affects dogs. It is another common problem for German Shepherds.

Bloat or Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV) – GDV can occur when a dog eats its food too quickly before exercising. It can lead to a build up of gas and if the dog is unable to release the gas, the pressure can make it difficult to breathe or the body can go into shock.

These are four of the common issues that can affect GSD but there are more. helloBARK! recommends speaking to your vet about what symptoms to look out for if you own a German Shepherd.

How much do German Shepherd puppies cost?

The price of a German Shepherd can range from between $500 and $1000 depending on each individual breeder.

However, if a German Shepherd comes from a distinguished line of GSDs, you can expect to pay between $2000 and $10000.

BrightStar German Shepherd Rescue advise that owning a German Shepherd can cost $1,200-$1,500 a year.

Where to adopt a German Shepherd?

The American German Shepherd Rescue Association was founded to help rehome GSD. The organisation provide an online directory of rescues by US state to simplify your search.

The German Shepherd Association of America recommend contacting your breeder first if you have a GSD that you are no longer able to provide for.

Where to rescue a German Shepherd?

In the United Kingdom, the German Shepherd Rescue UK is a good first port of call if you are looking to adopt a GSD.

They are the biggest and best charity in England and Wales helping to foster and rehome German Shepherd puppies and German Shepherd dogs (Alsatians).

Famous German Shepherds

Hektor deserves a special mention as the founding member of the breed but there are some famous examples of German Shepherds in modern culture.

Rin-Tin-Tin was rescued from World War I by American soldier Lee Duncan. The veteran went on to train Rin-Tin-Tin which lead to movie stardom.

Nicknamed Rin, the GSD went on to star in 27 Hollywood films and reportedly received up to 10,000 letters from fans a week.

The first “Seeing Eye dog” in America was actually a German Shepherd, not a Labrador. Originally named Kiss but renamed Buddy, this heroic GSD helped American Frank Morris after thorough training in Switzerland.

Max the Bionic Dog was a German shepherd who appeared in the The Bionic Woman. In the television show, Max had the ability to bite through metals such as steel.

German Shepherds on Instagram worth a follow

1) Loki & Tallulah (loki_the_shep) – 54,000 followers

2) Guinness (@guinness_the_gsd) – 17,000 followers

3) Cairo the German Shepherd (@cairo_sable_gsd) – 36,000 followers

4) Murray (@murray_thegsd) – 32,000 followers

5) Cedarcroft Midnight Son (@theneighbourhoodwolf) – 53,000 followers

What German Shepherd owners have to say about the breed?

More to follow.

In conclusion

The German Shepherd is one of the most popular dog breeds in the way. It is easy to see why with their handsome, regal appearance.

These fearless dogs make great family pets and working dogs. They serve a key purpose for military and police personnel.

Founded in Germany in 1899, the GSD is considered one of the most versatile of all the working dogs.

They served in World War I and World War II as working dogs but they were also the first dog to hit the Hollywood screen.

These athletic dogs are quick learners and easy to train.