German Shepherd: Your Guide To An Iconic Breed

German Shepherd: Your Guide To An Iconic Breed
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Gentle, fearless, protective. The stunning German Shepherd is one of the world's most popular and recognizable breeds. As a loyal and friendly dog breed, German Shepherds handle high-pressure work tasks while remaining calm and controlled. This same loyalty and steadfast nature make German Shepherds a great family companion and protector of your loved ones.


German Shepherds are intelligent, easy to train, and are a great choice for committed dog owners capable of providing an active lifestyle and adding joy to the lives of those who want an athletic companion. German Shepherds are a good fit for an owner looking for a best friend, protector, or working buddy. When given the right care, they become the hallmark companion you and your family dream of! Read further to find more information on this legendary dog breed!



german shepherd laying in the grass



German Shepherd Characteristics

German Shepherds are one of the most iconic dog breeds, being equally admired and well-loved for their physical appearance as they are for their mental skills. Shepherds are athletic, possessing a large but balanced body giving onlookers the impression of power and control. Their strong physical presence invokes the image of an aerodynamic dog possessing strength and grace in equal measure.



German Shepherds have strong, angular, squared-off faces with a strong jaw giving them a stern and serious look. Their face ends with a long rounded muzzle adding a nice contrast to their angular and athletic face, topped off with two small spade-shaped ears.



German Shepherd dogs impress onlookers with their rounded yet muscular and powerful bodies. Dogs of this breed have an iconic curved back and a body that is longer than it is tall. German Shepherds also have slightly angled legs adapted to traversing a great distance with each of its graceful strides.


Even if it seems German Shepherds have a serious, authoritative look, they aren't all business and will show their good nature by constantly wagging their big bushy tails when you are together. You can expect this often when you have reunited with your German Shepherd after a day apart, or of course, when you are taking your furry friend to their happy place at the dog park.



German Shepherd Dog Breed Size

German Shepherds usually come in 65-90 pounds as males or 50-70 pounds as females. On average they are 24-26 inches tall when male and 22-24 inches tall when female.As an athletic dog possessing significant strength, it makes sense that German Shepherds are larger than average dogs.


German Shepherds are large dogs and as a result, have a reputation as intimidating animals. This reputation is one of the reasons German Shepherds enjoy steady employment as police dogs, guide dogs, and even dog sports stars! But, Despite their large size and utility as workers, German Shepherds are gentle giants who make great companions to those they love.


German Shepherds are one of the most iconic big dog breeds, and for most people, are one of the first breeds that come to mind when discussing large dog breeds. With their many useful qualities, it is not hard to figure out why!



German Shepherd Personality

Although German Shepherds are well known for their appearance, it is their personality that’s earned them this illustrious reputation. German Shepherds are intelligent dogs who respond well to training and prove themselves as loyal companions to those who treat them well. They are prized for their protective nature but have a balanced personality and are playful, good-natured dogs.


German Shepherds show this protective nature through their strong desire to keep their owners within sight. You can expect your Shepherd to shadow you, sticking to your side and acting as a close companion. While they will also give you space at times, their origins in as a herding dog breed permeates in a strong urge to be close, so if you want a German Shepherd, be ready to spend a lot of time together.


German Shepherds are often described as noble and confident dogs, capable of exercising good restraint and active decision-making in equal measure. While generally friendly, German Shepherds express their natural protectiveness of their home and family as watchdogs who observe all the comings and goings near you and your family members. When socialized with other dogs and humans, they’ll present themselves as calm and pleasant, making them great family dogs.



German Shepherd Dog Breed Exercise

Originally bred as athletic working dogs, German Shepherds expect a lot of activity and mental stimulation. German Shepherds enjoy quality one-on-one time with their owners and value long days spent playing at the dog park to bond and blow off steam.  Bringing your German Shepherd out often is not only necessary to maintain their happiness but also to manage your dog's weight, as German Shepherds pack on pounds when participating in a less active lifestyle.


In addition to their impressive physical abilities, German Shepherds have a sharp mind that often requires stimulation in tandem with their physical exercise. Because of this, it is good to plan activities to test your dog's abilities.


Activities German Shepherds Love

Try playing a variety of games with your dog, or feel free to take him with you on fun outings for activities like:


  • Hiking - German Shepherds love spending time on the trail and will happily trot alongside you while you take in the fresh air.
  • Running - German Shepherds are very capable runners and are fast enough to outrun even the most well-trained sprinter. Take your dog along for a run, and they will prove themselves as the perfect running partner.
  • Fetch - Playing fetch with a ball, toy or your sister’s shoes is a fun way to add some cardio to your pup’s day, even when you don't have the energy to run around with them. Find your dog's favorite itemand the rest is simple! You throw the ball, they catch it, bring it back, rinse and repeat!
  • Nose work games - Sharpen your dog's senses and flex their mental abilities by treating them to some nose work games. They will love using one of their most powerful senses to problem solve and will be even happier after receiving their reward! Nose work is as simple to set up as putting a favorite food of theirs in a box or container, creating a scent trail for them to follow, and then hiding their treat! 
Related: How Much Exercise Does a Dog Need Every Day? [All Breeds & Ages]



German Shepherd Training

One of the biggest reasons German Shepherds continue to be one of the most popular dog breeds is their high trainability. As exceptionally intelligent animals, it's important to begin their training at an early age to get the most benefit. This early learning needs to include lots of obedience training and socialization to get him used to people and animals.


The first 2 to 6 months of your puppy's life with your family are instrumental in establishing your expectations and rules moving forward. Keeping this training consistent and full of positive reinforcement is very important, as this will prevent destructive behaviors. Because Shepherds bond so strongly with their owners, they benefit from living with your household, so be sure to expose them to family activities.


If you are looking to train your dog for more specialized tasks, German Shepherds are exceptional learners and will adapt if needed. This breed is very trainable, intelligent, and capable animals who enjoy working with their human friends.



German Shepherd Dog Breed History

German Shepherds are a legendary breed of dog with a fittingly mythological origin story. Captain Max von Stephanitz discovered the breed at a dog-show in 1889, where he was impressed by the dog's wolflike, primal quality and their trainability as skilled sheepherders. He purchased this dog, naming it Horand von Grafrath, making it the first recorded German Shepherd.


Establishing a Standard

Von Stephanitz went on to found the first breed club for German Shepherds, known as an SV. From there on, Von Stephanitz continued the propagation of the breed by continuing to rear more dogs and establish a breed standard. Even at this early stage, there was an appreciation for the mental abilities of the German Shepherd, as Von Stephanitz's main principle as a breeder was to promote "Utility and Intelligence," characteristics still valued in the breed to this day.


The World Wars

As time passed, the German Shepherd made its way to America through dog shows. During the first World War and the rejection of German culture present at the time, it was briefly renamed by the American Kennel Club as the Shepherd. In England the breed was alternatively renamed The Alsatian Wolf Dog. However, the time following World War I saw a great increase in demand for the breed through well-loved celebrity movie dogs like “Rin-Tin-Tin” and “Strongheart.”


During World War II the German Shepherd was sought after for implementation as a military dog by both European and American forces. During this time, many German Shepherds would assist soldiers as sentinel and rescue dogs. Following the war, The German Shepherd continued to rise in popularity as soldiers returning home retold stories celebrating the breeds many fine qualities.



Common Health Problems Found in the German Shepherd Dog

German Shepherds aren’t particularly prone to health conditions and have an average lifespan of around 9-13 years. Reputable breeders should screen their breeding stock to identify any existing genetic health problems. But as a responsible dog owner, you should still be familiar with some possible issues:


  • Degenerative myelopathy - A disease affecting the spine causing decreased hind leg movement, and eventual paralysis.
  • Hip dysplasia - A bone condition common in large dogs where the hip joint becomes worn out, causing decreased movement, discomfort and limping.
  • Elbow dysplasia - A condition where the elbow joints erode, resulting in decreased range of movement, discomfort, and limping.
  • Gastric dilation volvulus (GDV) - referred to as bloat, GDV is a serious condition occurring when a dog's stomach fills with gas, food, or liquid and becomes twisted, resulting in restricted blood flow and swelling affecting other internal organs.
  • Weight - Like any animal, this breed needs to be within an appropriate weight range to remain healthy. Neglecting their weight could result in a variety of related health conditions affecting the heart and joints.


To make sure your dog is free from these conditions or if you seek any additional advice on how to treat these health conditions, we recommend talking to a licensed veterinarian.



How to Care for a German Shepherd

Caring for a Shepherd is a task best approached by an owner with a firm and consistent hand. As family members, Shepherds don’t need much beyond ample exercise, mental stimulation, and a loving family willing to give them attention. But, this is only the minimum, and because owning a dog is a privilege, it is important to provide your companion with as much dog care as possible.



To keep your dog healthy from a young age, it’s important to keep up with their regular vaccination schedule. As puppies, they will need a variety of vaccines, so keeping up with this schedule is essential in making sure your Shepherd is taken care of. Consult your veterinarian with any questions you might have or to arrange a schedule for the administration of your puppy's shots.


Safe Toys

Because you must keep your dog busy through entertainment and activity, it is important to give them appropriate and safe toys to play with. Here’s some options for a playtime that's as fun as it is safe. 


  • Active toys - Your Shepherd will need some toys to engage with in active play. For this, you will want to provide them with durable toys appropriate for chewing. Try giving them bones or other textured objects made of hard rubber or woven rope designed for tugging and chewing!
  • Comfort toys - Some dogs might find comfort or companionship in toys and objects. They might develop a particular attachment to a soft plush toy or could become inseparable from one of your old sweaters! Not all dogs will treat their toys this way; but, if they do, be sure to provide them with toys of a good size to prevent choking hazards.
  • Distraction toys - These toys are great for your dog to burn some energy while providing them with some exciting entertainment. These toys are usually made of hard rubber, and filled with your dog's favorite treats. These are perfect for afternoons when your German Shepherd wants to have some fun and let off some energy.



Nutrition and Feeding for a German Shepherd

One of the most important considerations to keep in mind when caring for an animal is what to feed them. Generally, the rules remain the same when feeding any animal. The contents of their food should consist of natural, whole foods, high in protein but low in calories from grains. Shepherds are no exception and will get the most benefit out of protein-rich kibble where the top ingredients consist of human-grade foods. Some of the best ingredients in dog food to look out for are:


  • Chicken
  • Salmon
  • Trout
  • Pork
  • Brown Rice
  • Turkey
  • Peas
  • Potato



Coat Color And Grooming

The German Shepherd owes much of its recognizability to its easily maintained coat. While it is not the most illustrious looking fur, the German Shepherd's thickdouble coat shows its character as an all-purpose worker. 


Coat Colors

While best known for their darker colorations, German Shepherd dogs can come in a variety of colors:


  • Black
  • Black/cream
  • Black/red
  • Black/Silver
  • Black/tan
  • Blue
  • Gray
  • Liver
  • Sable
  • White
  • Bi-color



Shepherds have an easy-to-maintain coat that needs brushing once every few days. Their fur is a medium-length double coat. This requires bathing only about once per month if your Shepherd gets visibly dirty. Also, if not worn down over time, be sure to grind down or trim your pup's nails. Doing so keeps their nails to not grow too long and cause your pet discomfort.



Children And Other Pets

Like most other dogs, this breed needs training and socialization to be safe around young children and other pets. Expose your dog to family pets at a young age to build trust. Many Shepherds will become close friends to family dogs and cats alike.


Show your children how to treat a dog respectfully to ensure full safety. Discourage any ear pulling, teasing, or aggravating activity to be sure your German Shepherd remains calm around young children. With training, German Shepherds are excellent childhood companions and stout protectors of those they love.



two german shepherds in grass



German Shepherd Dog Rescue Groups

There are many ways to get a German Shepherd of your own! One of the best ways for those looking to do a good deed is to contact a dog rescue group! Dog rescue groups are non-profit organizations created to give stray dogs new loving homes. Some rescue groups dedicated to this breed:




German Shepherd Dog Breed Organizations

Many more breed clubs have come into existence in times following the foundation of Captain Von Stephanitz's club! These organizations are made for Shepherd lovers to share their love of the breed.  These clubs plan competitions, meet-ups, and other gatherings to bring the community of Shepherd owners closer together.


These organizations also develop the standards for the breed by cataloging their most identifiable and desirable traits. Some popular dog breed organizations for this breed include:




More About the German Shepherd

Utilized as a herding breed, this breed has a reputation as a trustworthy working dog. Shepherds have enjoyed steady employment as service dogs, police dogs, rescue dogs, and as family companions. For those familiar with the good character of these dogs, this should come as no surprise!


Shepherds are one of the most iconic dog breeds in the world! As such, they have all the qualities we have come to value in a canine companion. So if you love a high-energy and compassionate dog, few choices can compare to a German Shepherd!


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