Hardworking with a heart of gold: The German Shepherd
By Lauren Rey
German Shepherd – Fast Facts
- Breed Group – Working
- Temperament – Smart, loyal, and protective
- Energy level - High
- Height – 22 to 26 inches
- Weight – 50 to 90 pounds
- Life expectancy – 7 to 10 years
The German Shepherd
Hardworking with a heart of gold, the German Shepherd is a steadfast working breed with exceptional intelligence and loyalty. German Shepherds are true working dogs that take their jobs seriously, whether serving as guard dogs, police dogs, guide dogs, or family dogs. Also known for being athletic and agile, German Shepherds will usually excel in any task they are put up to.
German Shepherds are fiercely loyal and spirited, owning one comes with great responsibility. Here’s an in-depth look at this exceptional breed.
History of the German Shepherd
German Shepherds originated in, well, you probably guessed it—Germany. In the late 1800s, German Calvary officer, Max Von Stephanitz began a mission to create the perfect herding dog. He crossbred different types of German herding dogs until reaching a certain set of desired traits which became known as the German Shepherd Dog, or GSD for short.
By the turn of the century, Von Stephanitz had founded the world’s first German Shepherd breed club, known as the Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde. The breed became popular all over Germany and Von Stephanitz became known as the father of the German Shepherd. In the early 1900s, GSDs were brought to North America and became popular there as well.
Throughout the 1900s, the German Shepherd proved to be a versatile canine, serving in many roles including military, police, and as the first guide dog. The breed was further popularized by the famous Rin Tin Tin, a German Shepherd character featured in film and television. Today, the German Shepherd is still an immensely popular breed, both in working roles and as family dogs. Their unwavering loyalty and spirit remain unmatched!
German Shepherd traits and characteristics
There are several unique attributes that help define the German Shepherd breed. Here’s what you can expect from a purebred German Shepherd.
German Shepherd size and appearance
German Shepherds are medium to large-sized dogs with a hearty, deep-chested athletic build. They have a striking appearance with a long snout, erect ears, and an intense gaze. Males of the breed can weigh 65 to 90 pounds and stand at 24 to 26 inches tall. Females are generally smaller, weighing 50 to 70 pounds and standing at 22 to 24 inches tall.
While they can come in a variety of colors, German Shepherds are most commonly seen in black and tan. They possess a double coat, typically in medium length but long-haired German Shepherds do exist. Their eye color is almost always a shade of dark brown.
Key traits of a German Shepherd
German Shepherds are loyal, energetic, and intelligent. They were originally bred for herding but have proven themselves to be highly capable in numerous endeavors. They excel at every task and always do best when they have a “job” to do.
The German Shepherd temperament is protective, confident, and fearless in the face of danger. One of the many reasons they excel in police, military, and protection roles. These traits can make German Shepherds wary of strangers (human or canine) which can be a problem for some owners. If you are looking for a more social, happy-go-lucky dog to frolic at the dog park or hang out in breweries, the German Shepherd might not be for you.
Because they are such a powerful breed, training and exercise are key to a well-rounded German Shepherd. If not properly trained or given an outlet for their energy, German Shepherds may become destructive or try to escape. Unfortunately, they are one of the top breeds known to go missing. You can protect your German Shepherd with a microchip and a 24Petwatch Lifetime Protection Membership with access to 24/7 lost pet recovery specialists and the largest microchip data registry in North America.
German Shepherd health and lifespan
The German Shepherd is a generally healthy breed with a lifespan of 7 to 10 years. Like all purebred dogs, German Shepherds can be predisposed to certain conditions such as:
- Hip dysplasia
- Elbow dysplasia
- Gastric dilatation and volvulus or GDV (a gastric torsion commonly known as bloat)
- Heart disease
- Degenerative myelopathy (neurologic disorder that causes paralysis)
While not every German Shepherd will be impacted by one of these conditions, pet insurance is always a good thing to have to help with veterinary expenses. Especially in cases of accidents or emergencies. Protect your German Shepherd with a 24Petprotect Insurance Plan.
Living with a German Shepherd
Given the energetic, athletic dogs they are, German Shepherds are best suited to spacious homes with owners that have an active lifestyle. A German Shepherd needs freedom to run, but not too much freedom that they might take off. The ideal German Shepherd home would have a fenced-in yard.
German Shepherds need plenty of exercise, usually a minimum of 90 minutes a day. Long walks, runs, hikes, games of fetch, and agility courses are all great ways to exercise your German Shepherd. In addition to physical exercise, German Shepherds need mental stimulation like puzzle toys or nose work games.
Life with a German Shepherd also means dealing with dog hair. GSDs are heavy shedders so be prepared for weekly brushings and stock up on lint rollers! German Shepherds are also strong chewers, they’ll need durable toys like Kongs.
Identifying and preventing bloat in German Shepherds
Living with a German Shepherd also means being educated on the perils of bloat. Gastric dilation and volvulus, GDV, or more commonly, bloat, is a life-threatening condition that occurs when a dog’s stomach becomes overextended with gas, causing it to twist or flip. It typically affects large, deep-chested breeds so German Shepherds are at an increased risk. Shepherd owners are urged to take extra daily precautions and learn the signs of bloat.
Symptoms of bloat:
- Swollen or distended abdomen
- Abdominal pain
- Unproductive retching/dry heaving
If you suspect your German Shepherd may be experiencing bloat, take them to the nearest emergency veterinary hospital immediately!
Tips to help prevent bloat:
- Feed smaller, more frequent meals instead of one big meal
- Don’t allow your dog to gorge on food or water, use a slow feeder if necessary
- Never allow unfettered access to food (make sure their food bags/bins are out of reach)
- No exercise for a minimum of one hour before or two hours after meals
- Talk to your veterinarian about a gastropexy, a preventative procedure for high-risk dogs
While nothing is 100% foolproof when it comes to bloat, following some of these tips may help reduce your German Shepherd’s risk of developing the condition.
Top things to consider before owning a German Shepherd
German Shepherds are rockstar dogs, but they’re not for everyone. This breed can be challenging so it’s important to make sure you are truly ready before bringing one home. Here are the top things to consider if you’re thinking about owning a German Shepherd:
- German Shepherds are a 7 to 10-year commitment to lots of daily exercise
- Early training and socialization are crucial for German Shepherd puppies, they grow up to be big powerful dogs
- German Shepherds can get bored easily, they were bred to work and need a “job” to do or they might become destructive
- As a naturally protective breed, German Shepherds will assume the role of guard dog in your home whether you want them to or not, this can mean barking at everything and not being particularly social with guests
- German Shepherds shed a lot, be prepared for dog hair everywhere
In general, inexperienced dog owners or those looking for a low-maintenance dog should not get a high-energy working breed like the German Shepherd. On the contrary, active owners that would love a loyal running or hiking partner may find a German Shepherd to be just the right breed.
German Shepherd FAQs
Are German Shepherds good family dogs?
Overall, German Shepherds are known to be good family dogs. They are loving, loyal, and protective of their families, especially children. Their energy can also make them great playmates for equally energetic children. Of course, every dog is still an individual so interactions between dogs and children (regardless of breed) should be supervised. Early training and socialization are key to a well-rounded German Shepherd that will be good with children!
Are German Shepherds good guard dogs?
German Shepherds are one of the top breeds when it comes to guard dogs. They are naturally protective and will keep a watchful eye on their home and family. They are powerful dogs, so harnessing their guard dog capabilities will require training. German Shepherds should be taught commands early on when to stand down, especially if you have a lot of visitors to your home.
Do German Shepherds bark a lot?
German Shepherds bark a lot when they are alerted to something or when they are bored or anxious. Making sure your German Shepherd has enough exercise and training can help curb some barking, but many will still bark when they sense a disturbance, it’s part of their protective nature.
Can a German Shepherd live in an apartment?
Being the large, high-energy dogs they are, apartments are not ideal for German Shepherds but, dedicated owners have been known to make it work. Living in an apartment with a German Shepherd means lots of daily walks and playtime. Finding a place to give your German Shepherd some off-leash time is also important, but many are not social enough for a dog park. With the rise of private dog park rentals like Sniffspot, German Shepherd owners without a yard can still find safe places to let their dogs run off-leash.
Can German Shepherds be left alone for long periods?
If your German Shepherd is having their daily exercise needs met, most will do fine with being left alone for a few hours. If they are not getting enough exercise, they may get bored and become destructive. Most dog experts agree that 4 to 6 hours should be the limit your dog should be left alone. If you have a job that requires long hours away from home, consider a dog walker or dog daycare service for your German Shepherd.
Ready for a German Shepherd?
Owning a German Shepherd is both a great privilege and great responsibility. Potential GSD owners should ensure they have the time, energy, and space to meet the demands of this high-spirited breed.