German Shepherd: Dog Breed Profile

German Shepherd: Dog Breed Profile

A German Shepherd

German shepherd dogs (GSD) are noble, diligent, loyal, and highly intelligent dogs. They are large in size and have very streamlined, athletic builds that make them both strong and agile. Though they are excellent herding dogs, German shepherds are very well suited to work as service animals, such as guide dogs for the blind. They are excellent performing as working dogs, especially in police and military operations. They also make highly effective guard dogs. Of course, the German shepherd dog also makes a wonderful companion in the right home.

Breed Overview

GROUP: Herding

HEIGHT: 22 to 26 inches

WEIGHT: 60 to 100 pounds

COAT AND COLOR: Coarse, medium-length double coat. Most colors are acceptable, such as bicolor, black and tan, black and cream, black and red, black and silver, solid black, gray, sable. Note that blue or liver is unfavorable based on breed standard. White is not an acceptable color based on breed standard.

LIFE EXPECTANCY: 7 to 10 years

Characteristics of the German Shepherd

Affection LevelHigh
Exercise NeedsHigh
Energy LevelMedium
Tendency to BarkHigh
Amount of SheddingHigh
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History of the German Shepherd

The ancestors of German shepherd dogs acted as both servants and companions to humans for hundreds of years. Developed from old shepherd and farm dogs, the GSD we know today was first introduced in Germany in 1899. Captain Max von Stephanitz is credited with the breed’s beginnings.

During World Wars I and II, the word “German” was dropped, and the breed was referred to as the shepherd dog or the Alsatian (a name that stuck in some regions).

Worldwide interest in the breed began rising in the early 1900s and the GSD was recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1908. In modern times it remains as one of the most popular dog breeds, currently ranking second in the AKC listings. Cross-breeding these dogs with Shiloh shepherds resulted in king shepherds.

There is the recent controversy over the breeding of show dogs to have a sloping back rather than the straight back seen with working dogs. This practice has been criticized as leading to poor gait.

US Marine and German Shepherd in South Vietnam.
US Marine and German Shepherd in South Vietnam.  Co Rentmeester / Getty Images
Training Dogs for the French "Gendarmerie"
Earthquake rescue workers with german shepherds
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German Shepherd Care

German shepherds have coarse, sometimes wiry, medium length hair with thick undercoats. Their coats should be brushed every few days. German shepherds have a relatively high shedding rate which can be lessened by routine grooming. Be prepared to have hairs on your clothing and furniture and you’ll need to vacuum frequently. Luckily, the coat also resists dirt and debris and you won’t need to bathe your dog more than once a month. In fact, too frequent bathing will strip out the oils that keep it healthy.

Remember to keep the nails trimmed to help your GSD walk around comfortably. You should also help your dog maintain good dental hygiene and brush his teeth a couple of times a week. These dogs like to chew and have powerful jaws, so keep durable chew toys available.

German shepherds may sometimes become anxious or even aggressive if not properly trained and handled. These dogs will ideally be trained to perform a duty and will take pride in such. Be sure to thoroughly train your GSD. The breed’s intelligence and desire to work should make training fairly easy. Proper socialization is also necessary to make sure your GSD does not become stressed or scared when meeting new people or animals and seeing new environments. They are typically aloof around new people and maybe suspicious.

Due to the high energy level of this breed, plenty of regular exercise is essential. Your GSD probably needs more exercise than you think. A daily walk is not enough. If you’re a jogger, a German shepherd can be a good running companion. Your dog needs to run, play, and explore to prevent frustrations, boredom, and pent-up energy. A dog that is bored may develop problems such as barking, digging, and chewing.

German shepherds can be very gentle companions and family protectors with proper training and socialization. It’s an ideal breed for active households. The intelligence and protective demeanor of this breed can make it a good choice for families with children as long as the dog is properly trained.

Individual dogs of this breed may have a tendency to chase cats and other small pets. They may not be a good fit for a multi-pet household unless raised together and with attention to socializing your dog to other pets. They also may not get along with strange dogs, especially of the same sex, which may be a problem when you visit a dog park.

A German shepherd is better off in a home where there is a fenced yard for play rather than an apartment. But it’s even more important that your dog is given plenty of attention and not left alone most of the day.

Portrait of a German Shepherd
 The Spruce / Kevin Norris 
Side profile of a German Shepherd


Closeup of a German Shepherd's fur
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Common Health Problems

Responsible breeders strive to maintain the highest breed standards as established by kennel clubs like the AKC. Dogs bred by these standards are less likely to inherit health conditions. However, some hereditary health problems can occur in the breed. The following are some conditions to be aware of:

  • Hip dysplasia
  • Elbow dysplasia
  • Elbow hygroma
  • Gastric dilatation-volvulus
  • Degenerative myelopathy
german shepherds as pets illustration
 The Spruce / Emilie Dunphy
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Diet and Nutrition

Your German shepherd will need two meals a day of up to two cups of dry dog food, but this will depend on the dog’s size, activity level, age, and other factors. As they are prone to bloating and possible stomach torsion, you want to avoid giving one large meal a day and having the dog gulp it down. Be sure your dog has access to clean, freshwater.

Monitor your dog’s weight and address any overweight issues early. Obesity will shorten your dog’s life. Discuss nutritional needs with your veterinarian to get recommendations for feeding schedules and dog food types throughout your dog’s life.

  • Extremely trainable
  • Loyal
  • Effective guard dog
  • May not get along with other pets
  • May be aggressive if not properly trained
  • Needs a yard
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Where to Adopt of Buy a German Shepherd

If you think you’d like to adopt a German shepherd, start by contacting one of the following organizations:

These groups will be able to provide guidance and the next steps for adoption. If you aren’t certain the breed is right for you, you may be able to try foster care to test if a GSD is a good fit for your home.


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