The German Shepherd is undoubtedly one of the most recognisable dog breeds in the world. These are magnificent, remarkably intelligent, versatile animals. German Shepherds make great family dogs as well as military and police dogs, guide dogs, and assistance dogs.
A Brief History
The German Shepherd Dog is a fairly recent breed, which emerged in Germany at the end of the 19th century. Due to the industrial revolution, sheepdogs and cattle dogs were faced with the threat of extinction. As such, dog breeders decided to create a single breed of dog by crossbreeding all the sheepdogs that existed in Germany at the time. Their goal was to combine all the best physical and intellectual characteristics of each breed. Numerous crosses followed until finally a single breed was chosen: the result of a crossbreeding performed by famous Prussian cavalry captain, Max Emil Frédéric von Stephanitz. This breed has been recognised since 1898.
From the very beginning, the German Shepherd was considered a utility dog. First as shepherd dogs, then as police dogs. From 1914, they were also used as military dogs. Ever since the First World War, and right up to today, these clever dogs have accompanied their masters in the army and police force.
After the war, it was believed that the inclusion of the word "German" in the name would harm the breed's popularity. Thus, in the UK, The Kennel Club changed the breed name to "Alsatian Wolf Dog". Eventually, the appendage "wolf dog" was dropped, but the name "Alsatian" (after the French region of Alsace, bordering Germany) remained the official breed name until 1977 when it was changed back to German Shepherd.
Today, the German Shepherd remains one of the most popular breeds in the world. Several German Shepherds have even become famous, such as animal actors Rin Tin Tin and Strongheart.
German Shepherd Physical Characteristics
Body: The German Shepherd is a large dog - although slightly smaller than other Shepherd dogs. The body is slightly longer than it is tall, with a strong, straight back and gently sloping croup. This is a flexible, athletic, and elegant dog.
Head: The head is well-proportioned, clean-cut, and fairly broad between the ears. The forehead is slightly domed with a slight stop. Nose black.
Ears: The ears are medium-sized, set high and erect, and open at the front. They are straight in adulthood and taper to a point.
Eyes: The eyes are medium-sized, almond-shaped, and generally dark brown.
Tail: The tail is slightly curved and carried quite low. The hair is quite bushy and longer on the inside. When the dog is on the lookout, the tail raises a little, but ideally never above back level.
Coat: The coat is short and dense. It lies close to the body with a very thick undercoat. There is also a long-haired variety of German Shepherd.
Colour: The most common colour for German Shepherds is black and tan. Black coats with tan or gold to light grey markings are also popular. You can also find solid-coloured black or charcoal grey coats. Blues, livers, albinos, and whites are highly undesirable.
German Shepherd Temperament
German Shepherds are known for their loyal, docile, and intelligent temperament. They are obedient dogs, who quickly understand what is expected of them. They tend to be protective of their family and very patient with children. German Shepherds are also very athletic; they cannot stand inactivity. They, therefore, require active owners who can exercise with them several hours a day.
German Shepherds are naturally hardworking dogs and make good watchdogs, though not aggressive towards strangers. Nevertheless, they need to be socialised from a young age. These dogs are capable of being alone, but be careful not to be absent for too long: German Shepherds need regular attention and daily physical activity to ensure they don't sink into boredom or depression.
Do German Shepherds Get Along Well with Others?
German Shepherds get along wonderfully with children, with whom they are particularly gentle and patient. With other animals, it's all about making sure your dog is socialised from an early age. German Shepherds can display a rather predatory instinct, which you want to avoid encouraging. As such, be careful when socialising your German Shepherd dog with smaller animals, such as cats and exotic pets, who cannot stand up against them.
Is a German Shepherd the Right Dog for Me?
Although German Shepherds are very popular, they're not for everyone. This energetic dog breed requires an owner who is both athletic and available, with enough time to devote to them for daily playtime and exercise. That being said, German Shepherds make great first dogs for the right owners, thanks to their intelligent, docile, and obedient nature.
German Shepherd Health Problems
Unfortunately, the popularity of the breed has encouraged the development of certain diseases over time. Like all large dogs, German Shepherds are subject to hip and elbow dysplasia. These two articular disorders are usually hereditary. It is therefore essential to choose your breeder carefully and be able to verify that both parents did not suffer from any joint problems. However, dysplasia can also appear if your dog puts too much strain on its joints during its growth period.
German Shepherds are also affected by different types of cancer, including hemangiosarcoma, which is particularly aggressive. The breed is prone to degenerative myelopathy, a serious and incurable neurological disorder. There are also other, more minor, disorders to keep an eye out for, such as skin problems, allergies, or perianal fistulas.
The average lifespan of a German Shepherd is between 12 and 14 years. Before adopting a German Shepherd, always take the time to research the kennels and breeders you visit.
Ideal Living Conditions for a German Shepherd
Being relatively adaptable, German Shepherds can live in apartments, provided they are let out very regularly. They can also live alongside other animals just fine, so long as they have been socialised correctly from birth. This socialisation should begin as soon as you welcome your new puppy home so that they can learn to get along with their peers.
German Shepherds are very athletic dogs, who will require much more exercise than just the brief walks intended for them to relieve themselves. Don't hesitate to take your pooch with you to participate in all your favourite sporting activities, such as jogging or hiking. If you have a dog park nearby, take advantage of the opportunity to let your German Shepherd meet other dogs. Avoid leaving your dog alone for too long; their boredom and sadness may manifest as destructive behaviour or barking, which could be a big problem if you live in an apartment.
German Shepherd Training
Thanks to their intelligence and close bond with their owners, German Shepherds are fairly easy to train. There's a reason why they make such good police and rescue dogs! However, as with all dog breeds, you still need to be firm with them, while never raising your voice or showing any violence; German Shepherds are sensitive and do not react well to violence. Be patient with your pooch and adopt a positive approach to their dog training, favouring rewards and words of praise.
Training sessions should begin at an early age - the earlier the better! Be consistent with your dog and don't allow them to do anything at the start that you plan to forbid later. Any change in your behaviours could quickly disrupt their training and the family hierarchy. Your dog needs to understand that they must obey their master, as well as any other human members of the household.
Diet: What to Feed Your German Shepherd
Your German Shepherd's diet has an obvious impact on their health. You must therefore be able to provide your dog with high-quality food, which can sustain their energy levels while also ensuring the proper functioning of their body. One of the golden rules of dog food is to avoid the industrial dog food found in supermarkets, as much as possible. This is because it tends to be very poor in quality and thus incapable of meeting the nutritional needs of your dog.
It should be noted that alternatives to industrial dog food are not necessarily more expensive, on the contrary. Opt for dog food rich in animal protein - never buy dog food with a plant protein base! Remember that your German Shepherd is an opportunistic carnivore. Learn how to decipher product labels to understand exactly what you're feeding your dog and be sure to choose a healthy composition, without added preservatives or sweeteners.
A German Shepherd needs between 290 and 440g of dry dog food per day, to be divided into two or three meals and adjusted according to their age, health condition, and caloric expenditure. If you don't want to feed your dog dry food, you can also offer them wet dog food (pâté), which is often more appetising. Finally, if you have the time and want to control all the ingredients you offer your pooch, you can try feeding them homemade dog food or a BARF diet - but be sure to check with your vet first!
German Shepherd Care
Vaccines: between £30 to £60 for the first injection series, plus annual boosters
Dog food: from around £50 per month for high-quality dog food
Monthly budget: minimum £105 per month
Caring for your German Shepherd is quite simple, but it must nevertheless be done regularly to ensure the good health of your dog. With regards to brushing, if your dog is short-haired, they only need brushing once per week. If you have a long-haired German Shepherd, you'll need to brush their coat two or three times per week. During moulting periods, which occur twice a year in spring and autumn, German Shepherds lose a lot of hair. To prevent a build-up of dead hairs, brush your pooch every day during these periods, using a suitable brush.
When it comes to bathing, be careful not to wash your dog too often! Combined with regular brushing, one or two baths per year will be more than enough, except, of course, if your four-legged friend needs an express clean after getting dirty. Also remember to trim your dog's nails, and clean their eyes, ears, and teeth. It's important to also keep all your dog's deworming and antiparasitic treatments (for fleas and ticks in particular) up to date. During your annual veterinary check-up, make sure to request a health check for your dog, especially when they get older.
German Shepherd Price
The price of a pedigree German Shepherd is always quite high, although less exorbitant than some of the more "fashionable" breeds. Be sure to research and choose your breeder carefully. As a general rule, a German Shepherd puppy can cost anywhere between £800 and £2600. This price varies according to several criteria. The rarer the breed, the greater the demand, and the higher the prices. Likewise, some breeders ask for higher prices if the animal is intended for exhibition or reproduction, or if it comes from an exceptional line.
German Shepherd Sleep
It's important to understand your dog's sleep cycle because German Shepherds especially need to rest undisturbed. Their sleep cycle will change with age. A puppy needs almost twenty hours of sleep per day, interspersed with periods of activity to play and poop, while an adult German Shepherd will sleep about 12 hours a day. As they age, senior dogs need more sleep to recover - around 16 hours per day.
Your German Shepherd should have a corner specially designed for them to rest in. Never disturb your dog while they're sleeping. If you have children, teach them to respect your dog's needs. Your four-legged friend can sleep outside, in an insulated kennel adapted to their size. If your dog sleeps indoors, set aside a quiet corner for them, a little out of the way. Avoid letting your German Shepherd sleep in your bedroom: you may inadvertently encourage the development of separation anxiety.
Games and Physical Activities for Your German Shepherd
The German Shepherd is a dog that needs a lot of exercise and exerts a lot of energy. If you don't have a lot of time to spare, it might be best to move on to a less demanding breed. If you enjoy running, your dog will love accompanying you. You can also try your hand at canicross or bikejoring. German Shepherds love water games - why not take your pooch for a swim when you have the chance?
Make sure to also buy some brain games to keep your dog occupied while you're gone. German Shepherds enjoy games like puzzles as well as toys like Kongs, which allow them to collect a treat at the end. Be careful to choose a Kong adapted to the size of your dog's jaw.
Pet Insurance: Protecting Your German Shepherd
German Shepherds are not considered dangerous dogs, so pet insurance is not obligatory. However, taking out a pet insurance policy for your dog helps to cover you in the event of accident or illness. Even if your dog is not aggressive by nature, accidents can happen quickly and you would be held responsible for any damage or harm caused to a third party by your dog. Pet insurance is a great way to make sure you're not hit with any nasty surprises. Most home insurance policies offer the option to include animal liability insurance. You can also purchase third party public liability dog insurance, which provides additional protection.
Additionally, pet insurance for dogs is a great way to make sure your German Shepherd gets the healthcare they deserve throughout their life. This dog breed is prone to certain diseases and, as vet fees are not standardised in the UK, veterinary costs can be very high. Health insurance for your German Shepherd works the same way as for humans: you pay a monthly premium to an insurance company and, in return, they reimburse you for any veterinary expenses.
In any case, before deciding on a particular contract, make sure to shop around for quotes and assess which best suits your circumstances. Then, take the time to read the fine print to ascertain the type of services offered, as well as the reimbursement rate, limits, and eligibility or exclusion clauses. Some insurance companies may refuse to insure dogs that are too old, too young, or already sick. So don't wait for your German Shepherd to get sick or old before taking out pet insurance for them, or you may risk them not being properly taken care of. Insurance companies may also refuse to reimburse costs incurred for certain diseases, genetic or hereditary diseases in particular. Read your contract carefully before signing and don't hesitate to ask your vet for advice.
German Shepherd Size and Weight
The German Shepherd is a large dog. Males measure between 60 and 65cm at the withers, while females measure between 55 and 60cm at the withers. The male is generally heavier than the female, weighing between 30 and 40kg versus 22 to 32kg.
The Kennel Club classifies German Shepherds in The Pastoral Group, which consists of herding dogs associated with working cattle and sheep.