German Shepherd

Breed At A Glance


Loyal, courageous, extremely intelligent and eager to learn

Life Expectancy
Approximately 13 years

Average Height
Males 24-26 inches; Females 22-24 inches

Average Weight
77-85 lbs

Coat Color
Black with tan, sable or all black

Coat Length/Texture
Short, medium or long harsh outer coat with a softer undercoat

Shedding Propensity
Consistent year round, and seasonally heavy

Also known as Deutscher Schäferhund, Schäferhund, Alsatian Herder

General Temperament

The German Shepherd is known best for it’s unending courage, loyalty, calmness and confidence. It’s intelligence is exceptional, often near-human. GSD’s are highly trainable and eager to work and please. Despite their reputation as an aggressive breed, they can be quite lovable, patient and gentle with members of it’s family, even small children.

German Shepherds are family-oriented and need consistent companionship; they should not be left alone for extended periods. They are very loyal and protective of their “den” and “pack” and are wary of strangers, qualities which make them excellent guard dogs. Socialization at an early age is essential to ensure proper interaction with people and other dogs. Aggression in this breed is usually due to improper breeding or handling. A well-trained and socialized GSD is wonderful with other pets and children in the family. Their temperament is a combination of both inherited characteristics and early nurturing, so finding a reputable breeder and researching the individual dog’s breeding line is just as important as proper socialization during puppyhood.

To be truly happy, the German Shepherd needs a job to do. In addition to it’s well-known work in areas such as law enforcement, guarding and guiding, it can also succeed in dog sports such as agility, tracking, obedience, and schutzhund (a dog sport that was developed in Germany a specific dog acts and performs in the manner that the breed was intended, rather than simply evaluating a dog’s appearance).

Breed History

The German Shepherd dog (also known as GSD) was developed in the late 19th century by Max Von Stephanitz from local shepherd dogs in Germany. He was primarily interested in improving and standardizing the German shepherding dogs, which previously were inconsistently varied. His first German Shepherd, named Horand von Grafrath, is the genetic basis for the German Shepherd as we know it today. Though it was originally conceived as a sheep-herding dog, the specific working drives of tracking, obedience, and protection have been intentionally highlighted in the breed by selective breeding, making German Shepherds very well-suited for a variety of active working environments, including law enforcement, guarding, search and rescue, therapy, guide dogs for the blind, and in the military.

Body Structure and Composition

The German Shepherd is a strong dog with a large head, muscular neck, ears that stand straight up, a wedge-shaped muzzle and compact legs. It looks substantial and not spindly, giving the impression of muscular fitness and nimbleness without any sign of clumsiness. The tail is bushy, reaching almost to its hocks and hanging down when the dog is at rest. German Shepherds have a smooth & flowing gait, taking long strides and covering a maximum amount of ground with the minimum number of steps. The fur is double-coated, and while some organizations accept long-haired German Shepherds, short-haired dogs are typically preferred.

Medical Information

The popularity of the GSD has, unfortunately, lead to questionable breeding practices by backyard breeders and puppy mills. As a result, this breed is prone to several hereditary diseases (as well as poor temperaments). Be sure to thoroughly research the parentage of a puppy before you purchase a German Shepherd.

Like many large breeds, German Shepherd are prone to Hip and Elbow Dysplasia (when the head of the bone no longer fits firmly in the “cup” provided by the socket, causing pain and arthritis-like symptoms). Blood disorders such as Von Wildebrand’s Disease (VWD) are also present in this breed. VWD is an inherited blood clotting condition which causes hemorrhaging from a simple injury or illness. This condition can be identified through a blood test when the dog is a puppy, and reputable breeders will provide this information to you prior to purchase. German Shepherds are also prone to pancreas deficiency, where the pancreas stops creating enzymes so that the animal is unable to pass any feces. Skin allergies, epilepsy (recurrent seizures), and various eye problems can also be a concern for this breed.

Canine degenerative myelopathy (also known as chronic degenerative radiculomyelopathy) is a chronic and progressive neurological disease common in German Shepherds that can result in lameness. This condition causes spinal degeneration and initially affects the back legs, causing muscle weakness and lack of coordination. As the disease progresses, the dog can have difficulty walking and eventually will become paralyzed.

Like all large bodied dogs, the GSD is also prone to Gastric Dilation Volvulus, or GDV, also know as bloat/torsion. Excess gas trapped in the dog’s stomach causes “bloat,” and twisting of the stomach (volvulus or “torsion”) causes or is caused by excess gas. GDV is an emergency condition requiring immediate veterinary treatment. It has been suggested that feeding the dog two or three smaller meals from a bowl on a raised surface, as opposed to one large meal on the floor, may help to prevent this situation.

The GSD is a natural dog that requires little grooming. They should only be bathed once or twice per year to avoid skin oil depletion. They shed regularly and a daily brushing is recommended to help maintain household cleanliness.

Anecdotal Information

Based on 2006 American Kennel Club registration, the German Shepherd is the third most popular breed in the United States.

Rin-Tin-Tin is arguably the most famous German Shepherd dog. He was considered to be one of Hollywood’s top stars during the 1920’s and 30’s. At the peak of his career, Rin-Tin-Tin received as many as 10,000 fan letters a week.

The German Shepherd’s trainability and calmness have won them numerous film roles, including I Am LegendGarden State,The Call of the Wild, and The Cell.

The German Shepherd dog is one of the most widely-used breeds in a wide variety of scent-work roles, including search and rescue, cadaver searching, narcotics detection, explosives detection, accelerant detection, and mine detection.

A female GSD named Buddy was the first formally trained guide dog in the United States.

Adolf Hitler had a German Shepherd named Blondi, who accompanied Hitler into his underground bunker at the start of the Battle of Berlin. Blondi was euthanized in the bunker just prior to her owner’s suicide.

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