The German Shepherd dog or Alsatian is highly intelligent, agile and well-suited to active working environments.
German Shepherds are often deployed in various roles such as police work, guarding, Search and Rescue, Therapy and in the military. They can also be found working as guide dogs for the blind.
Despite their suitability for such work, German Shepherds can also make loyal and loving pets inside the home. They enjoy being around people and other animals.
German Shepherds are well-suited to obedience, with advanced & prestigious titles available to test both the handler and dog in various Schutzhund trials.
Appearance of the German Shepherd
Breed Group: Pastoral
Height: male: 60.9 – 66 cm, female: 55.8 – 60.9 cm
Color(s): white golden, tan and black
The German Shepherd dog is a large and strong dog. The fur is a double-coat and can be either short or long haired. Although the black and tan saddle may be most recognizable, German Shepherds come in a variety of colors and patterns.
Two toned German Shepherds can be black and tan, black and red, black and brown, black and silver, black and cream, blue and tan, or liver and tan. Solid colors may be black and solid white or any of the dilutes (liver, blue, or cream).
Dogs with coats that have tricolored hair (black and white with either brown or red) are called sable or agouti. Sables can come in a variety of mixtures as well including black and silver, black and red, black and cream, and black and tan.
Some various markings are referred to as ‘striping’ (black stripe markings on the legs found in some sables), ‘penciling’ (also often found on the sable as black lines on the top of the dog’s toes), ‘tar heels’ (black that runs down the back of the dog’s legs), and the bitch stripe (grey hairs along the back of a female or a neutered male.)
Different kennel clubs have different standards for the breed according to size, weight, coat color, and structure. German Shepherds that compete in dog shows, must have an appearance that conforms with the guidelines of the individual kennel club.
Some common disqualifying faults include ears that are not completely erect or a muzzle that is not predominantly black. Ear faults can be caused by weak cartilage in the ears which allow them to flop (also called “friendly-tipped”). It is often possible for a veterinarian to correct this problem by taping up the ears.
Temperament of the German Shepherd
Well-bred German Shepherd dogs have powerful jaws and strong teeth. They can develop a strong sense of loyalty and obedience, and can be trained to attack and release on command.
Sadly, poorly bred German Shepherd dogs such as those from puppy mills can be fearful, overly aggressive, or both. German Shepherd dogs (like Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, and Dobermans), are often perceived as inherently dangerous and are the target of Breed Specific Legislation in several countries.
More than poor breeding, if a German Shepherd is violent or aggressive, it often down to the owner’s lack of control or training.
German Shepherds are often used as guard, attack and police dogs, which further contributes to the perception of being a dangerous breed. However, many Shepherds function perfectly well as search dogs and family pets – roles where aggressive behavior is unsuitable.
German Shepherds have an inherent sense of loyalty and emotional bond with their owners, which is almost impossible to overstate. Separation trauma is one reason they are now used less often in guide dog roles since guide dogs are typically trained from puppyhood by one owner prior to final placement with their employer.
Health and wellbeing of the German Shepherd
Like most larger breeds of dog, German Shepherds have an average lifespan of 10-13 years.
Well bred German Shepherds are usually very healthy dogs. However they can suffer from some ailments
As is common in many large breeds, German Shepherds are prone to elbow and hip dysplasia as all large breed dogs.
Von Willebrand’s Disease
Von Willebrand disease (VWD) is the most common bleeding disease found in mammals. It is a genetic disorder caused by missing or defective von Willebrand factor, a clotting protein. The condition is named after Finnish physician Erik von Willebrand, who first described it in the 1920s.
This can easily be detected with a DNA test.
Other Health Issues
German Shephers are somewhat prone to skin allergies. It is also prudent to check the eye and ear health as German Shepherds tend to have problems with these as well.
Finally, German Shepherds, like all large bodied dogs, are also prone to bloat if overfed and/or under-exercised.
History of the German Shepherd
The breed was originated by Captain Max von Stephanitz in the late 19th century and early 20th century. His goal was to breed an all-purpose working dog and the first registered German Shepherd was catchily named Horand v. Grafrath.
Von Stephanitz admired the landrace herding dogs of his native German Empire and believed they had the potential to be all-purpose working dogs. Additionally, he was aware of the declining need for herding dogs and believed that the working abilities of the breed would decline unless it was put to other uses.
Von Stephanitz also created the Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde, or SV, as the official governing body for the breed.
The SV then created the Schutzhund trial as a breed test for the German Shepherd Dog and prohibited the breeding of any dog which could not pass the trial. The Schutzhund trial, along with the SV’s conviction that
“German Shepherd breeding is working dog breeding, or it is not German Shepherd breeding”
led to a rapid development of the breed’s abilities.
After World War I, British and American soldiers, impressed by the abilities of the dog, brought home examples to breed. The breed instantly became popular, both as a family pet and as a working dog.