The German shepherd dog, usually just called the “German shepherd,” or “GSD” in breed circles, is one of the best known dog breeds in the world. There is no doubt that the breed is beautiful and sometimes even intimidating. Seen as a symbol of strength and power, they are often used by the military and police.
This dog’s dedication and intelligence make it a popular choice for many types of people. The breed maintains a loyal following despite discussion of some temperament and health issues. Read on to learn more about the German shepherd.
Description of the German Shepherd
Although dogs like the border collie and Australian shepherd may first jump to mind as herding dogs, the German shepherd was also bred to tend sheep. In fact, they were created as a mix of many different regional German dogs.
These shepherds are working dogs at heart, strong and muscular – their diligence and cleverness mean that they can perform a variety of jobs. GSDs are particularly willing to work for people that have taken the time to create a strong bond. They tend to be wary of strange people and dogs.
Unfortunately, their versatility can make it hard to predict their temperaments. Working dogs are bred to be more austere than calmer show lines. Some GSDs, especially those from irresponsible breeders, can display a surprising level of nervousness and anxiety – probably an overbreeding of the “alert” quality of a good GSD.
These dogs are large and imposing. Their big chests and pointed ears give off an air of confidence. The outer layer of their coat is course and of medium length. Although a black and tan coloration is associated with the breed, other colors are possible, including sable, black, and white.
Life Expectancy and Size
Like with many large dog breeds, the German shepherd’s life expectancy is notably shorter than most small to medium breeds. Most live between 7 and 10 years.
Some notorious health issues, like joint problems, may develop as they age. This may consequentially shorten their lives, or decrease their quality of life. Along with proper diet and exercise, it is especially important to find a reputable breeder.
Male dogs can grow to be quite big. Reaching weights of up to 90 pounds, they may be nearly the size of a small person! However, females are more commonly between 50 and 70 pounds. The breed stands quite tall, generally between 22 and 26 inches at the shoulder.
This breed, along with others like the Rottweiler and Doberman, is in many ways the poster child of guard dogs. Their image can be intimidating: large, fit, and armed with extremely menacing teeth. A defensive or territorial German shepherd is a scary sight!
However, the characteristic that makes this breed most suited for protection is their ability to bond strongly. Although they may initially seem aloof, they are extremely loyal to their humans. Many German shepherds are willing to put their own lives at risk if need be.
These dogs certainly have the physical and mental capacity to protect their owners. Because of this, it is extremely important to begin reward-based training at a young age. Specific attention should be paid to socialization with strange dogs and people to avoid any behavioral issues later.
The German shepherd has all of the tools necessary to be an efficient learner. They are smart, hard-working, and capable. It is no surprise, then, that this breed is used in some of the most important canine work forces. They are commonly used as service dogs, drug dogs, bomb dogs, security guards, and even serve in the military and law enforcement.
GSDs have the capacity to do so much, it is a shame when they do not receive adequate stimulation. If they are not asked to use their brains in a constructive manner, they may begin to cause problems. Thankfully, this can be avoided by participating in fun and interactive activities. Many GSD excel in agility and showmanship.
It is best to initiate early training with a confident, calm person. This allows puppies to begin socialization and obedience exercises before developing negative behaviors. They also appreciate the stability of learning from a partner they trust. Like all dogs, German shepherds respond best to consistent reward-based instruction.
No surprise here – the German shepherd is a high energy breed.
They particularly crave specific jobs, rather than more generalized play. Many GSDs love to work in exchange for tug-o-war or fetch, so there’s no need to use treats in training with some. Working a German shepherd’s mind as well as his body is especially important.
It is important that they receive adequate daily exercise. Maintaining their fitness level can also help them avoid health problems as they age. This dog needs both mental and physical exertion for the entirety of his life.
What Living with a German Shepherd is Like
The German shepherd is a complex soul, made even more complicated by the people who breed them. They are a well known breed, and remain very popular. Their bravery, intelligence, and strength make them an unparalleled choice for many important jobs. Able to form strong bonds with humans, they are also favored by active families.
Individuals and families that intend to raise this breed without a particular job in mind should take a few things into account. These dogs absolutely need physical and mental activity to thrive. They do best when they are able to live and spend time with their family. The German shepherd can be great with kids, as long as they are properly socialized at an early age.
It is very important to work with a reputable breeder. Uninformed owners may be surprised how much variety the breed can have in temperament and health. Some poorly bred dogs have extraordinary issues with health, and may have temperaments that range from skittish to aggressive. The German shepherd can be a great addition to many environments, as long as the proper care and thought are taken.
The breed also has a unique problem to overcome: public opinion. Some people are scared of even the most well-trained German shepherd. This can mean restrictions in certain communities or apartments, and even insurance issues. Even if misguided, these real obstacles are important to take into account.
Care of the German Shepherd
Owning a German shepherd is a big responsibility. However, they have the potential to make dedicated, capable companions.
The German shepherd is a hardy breed. They are well suited to most climates, able to withstand both cold and heat. Of course, they always need to have access to shade and water. The breed does best with large amounts of time in the outdoors, though not alone. Engaging in healthy and fun activities with your dog will allow him to properly stretch his very athletic legs.
Exercise is extremely important for the these dogs, starting in puppyhood. From a young age, they should be taken on increasingly long walks. Once adults, they may enjoy going on a run with their owners.
These dogs should also have access to a safe, enclosed area where they can go off leash. The German shepherd is very fast, and loves to run. Allowing these dogs to exercise at full speed will help to keep them fit and agile.
Try to incorporate mental tasks into the German shepherd’s routine. This could involve simple games like fetch, or sports like agility and obedience. Even activities like hide-and-seek, and puzzle toys, will help to keep these dogs alert and happy.
Shedding and Grooming
This breed is known for copious shedding. It is normal for them to shed heavily once or twice a year, and maintain moderate shedding during the rest of the time.
However, it’s not difficult to take care of their coats. Weekly brushing can help keep shedding manageable. Only occasional baths are necessary. Other than the care that every dog requires, it is important to pay particular attention to their nails. Regular trimming can help avoid painful problems that may affect their gait.
Ideal Home Environment
The German shepherd is the perfect choice for many kinds of work. Search and rescue, active duty, and herding are just some of the many jobs they can perform well. Also, this breed is very commonly used as service dogs and guide dogs.
The breed can also be well suited to family life, as long as proper care is taken. They should have adequate exercise and access to the outdoors. Ideally, they should be provided with some sort of job, even if it’s just for fun! This will help them stay mentally sound and better behaved. Proper socialization and obedience, with a reward-based training program can help them integrate into family life.
The GSD should not be brought into a family that does not have the time or energy to deal with its athletic tendencies. They have the capability to create beautiful, strong bonds with their people. It is important to be ready to channel that.
Also be aware that the German shepherd might need extra mental support or healthcare. Finding a dog from a reputable breeder, with the dog’s specific purpose in mind, is the first step. However, it is impossible to completely predict a dog’s temperament and health.
The breed is known for joint problems, specifically degenerative myelopathy, and elbow and hip dysplasia. Some of this can be mitigated by using a reputable breeder that uses DNA testing to avoid passing these issues on to their puppies. Preventative actions center around providing the dogs with adequate exercise and regular veterinary care. However, this may not solve all issues. Avoid any breeder that does not have proof of health testing, especially in hip and spine areas.
A licensed veterinarian can also assess autoimmune problems and allergies. Many preventative measures can be taken, including adjusting the amounts and types of food provided. A lethal issue called bloat, where the stomach twists inside the chest cavity, is a concern for the GSD and many other dogs of similar build.
Still, many German shepherds are healthy, happy dogs. Understanding the risks, and taking appropriate action, is the first step to being a responsible owner.
Most behavioral issues arise when the German shepherd has not been properly trained or socialized. They want to please their owners, so creating strong bonds and initiating a reward-based training program is the foundation for a happy life.
It is important to provide these dogs with enough mental and physical activity. This will help address any destructive tendencies that arise from boredom.
Along with early action, continued socialization will help keep the GSD friendly and calm. Unsocialized dogs can be territorial or aggressive. This is particularly true of the German shepherds bred for work. Sometimes this appears in the form of cat-chasing. Barking at strangers can be another issue.
Of course, consult with a behavioral specialist if there are any serious behavioral issues. Many German shepherds live happy, healthy lives with no more behavioral obstacles than any other dog.