The German Shepherd is one of the most popular breeds of dog in the world. As their name suggests, they were developed in Germany in the late 1800’s. They originated from old farm and herding breeds which were specifically chosen for their working ability, to produce a strong and intelligent all-purpose working dog.
Also known until recently as the Alsatian, the German Shepherd Dog was first exhibited in the United States in 1907. They play a number of roles in our community, from police dogs to search and rescue dogs, and even guide dogs.
German Shepherd Dogs are a large breed of dog. They can grow as tall as 26 inches at the shoulder, and a large male can weigh up to 88lbs. They have an air of strength, agility and nobility, and are often described as “handsome”. Their erect ears and direct gaze give them a watchful, alert expression.
They have a short double coat, with a coarse, dense outer coat and a soft undercoat. However, some German Shepherds carry the genetic code for a long coat, but this is the exception rather than the rule. The most well recognized colors are black and tan, and red and tan. Breeders don’t like to see white German Shepherds, but even if they aren’t permitted in the show ring, they can still be wonderful service dogs or family pets. During the 1970’s, owners of white German Shepherds formed their own dog clubs, and members are working to obtain recognition of the white German Shepherd as a separate breed.
One particular characteristic of the GSD is that male dogs are very definitely masculine, and female dogs have a feminine appearance. It shouldn’t be too difficult to tell the gender of a dog just from the way they look.
German Shepherd Dogs are well known for their intelligence. They are easy to train and very loyal, which makes them ideal to work alongside police officers, security guards and the military. They are confident and self assured, and very willing to learn.
These dogs can be aloof, and they may take a while to warm to new people. However they form a strong bond with those they know and love. They can become very protective of their family, and will defend them from unwelcome intruders. This has given them the undeserved reputation of being aggressive. A well trained, well socialized German Shepherd Dog is not dangerous, but they are not a breed to be taken on lightly.
Although it sounds like they are a serious breed for a serious owner, German Shepherds are great fun. They love to play, they love company, and they are the ideal companion to accompany you on bush hikes or any other outings.
As a breed, the German Shepherd is known to have problems with their hips. Hip Dysplasia is common, and it has a strong hereditary basis. Responsible breeders are having their dogs hip scored before they are mated, to reduce the incidence of this disease in their pups. A lower score means a dog has better hips. By x-raying their dogs’ hips, and only breeding from the soundest animals, the average hip score of German Shepherds has dropped. It’s important to remember that hip dysplasia is multi-factorial; there are many factors that contribute to this disease in dogs. One that can be managed by a dog’s owner is rapid weight gain; a very fast growth rate has been associated with a higher incidence of hip dysplasia.
Some people believe that the preference for German Shepherds with sloping backs has increased the amount of hip disease in the breed. It’s fair to say that those who use German Shepherds as working dogs, such as Police Departments, do seem to prefer the dogs with the straight top-line.
Elbow dysplasia is also hereditary in the German Shepherd, and x-rays and elbow scoring have been used to try to reduce this problem in the breed.
Von Willebrand’s Disease is a blood clotting disorder which is also thought to be hereditary in the breed.
Before you purchase your German Shepherd puppy, ask your breeder to show you the results of any tests performed on the parents, including hip scores, elbow scores and Von Willebrand Disease status.
The German Shepherd can suffer from allergies which cause itchy inflamed skin and ear infections. It’s possible that this too has some sort of hereditary cause, but that hasn’t yet been confirmed.
Like any deep chested breed of dog, the German Shepherd can suffer from bloat, a potentially fatal accumulation of gas in the stomach. These dogs shouldn’t be overfed, nor should they be allowed to drink a lot of water or exercise soon after eating.
The German Shepherd is a working breed, and they thrive when they have a job to do. This needn’t be herding sheep, or protecting their police handler. It can be as simple as learning obedience exercises, or mastering agility obstacles. They are not happy if left to their own devices, because they have nothing to do with their brain and become bored. Start your German Shepherd off with puppy pre-school and continue their training at obedience classes and you’ll have a happy, well mannered dog that is a pleasure to own.
Keep your German Shepherd in good condition with regular exercise. A good walk or run every day will expend their energy, keep them trim and allow them to explore their neighborhood.
Their thick coat needs a regular brushing to remove loose hair, otherwise you can expect drifts of dog hair in your home. When they are shedding their coat, which happens all year round, the fur can come out in tufts! You may also want to clean their ears out weekly or fortnightly with a gentle ear cleaner and cotton ball, to help prevent infections. Don’t be tempted to use a Q Tip in their ears, as this can go in too far and damage the inner ear.
The German Shepherd’s intelligence and need for training may be a bit much for the dog owner who is looking for a laid back companion to lounge on the couch and watch television with them. They are not the right breed for someone who isn’t prepared to put the effort into meeting their physical and mental needs.
These dogs do get on well with children, but they need supervision. They are powerful dogs, and can inadvertently hurt small people. Children must learn how to behave around any breed of dog, but particularly so around this strong working dog.
German Shepherd Dogs live for up to 12 years. Although they do make wonderful family pets, any potential owner needs to do their homework and be prepared to put time and effort into raising their German Shepherd, before choosing to welcome this wonderful breed into their lives.