The German Shepherd Dog is a natural protector and so adaptable and intelligent that he has performed just about every job known to dog. If he had opposable thumbs, he would be unstoppable.
The German Shepherd Dog is one of America’s most popular dog breeds — for good reason. He’s an intelligent and capable working dog. His devotion and courage are unmatched. And he’s amazingly versatile, excelling at most anything he’s trained to do: guide and assistance work for the handicapped, police and military service, herding, search and rescue, drug detection, competitive obedience and, last but not least, faithful companion.
Rin Tin Tin, a pup found in a World War I battle zone, became the world’s first canine movie star, forever marking the German Shepherd Dog as one of the most easily recognized breeds. From his imposing size to his erect ears and dark, intelligent eyes, he has achieved legendary status as the ideal canine. A versatile, athletic and fearless working dog, the Shepherd has done just about every job a dog can do, from leading the blind and detecting illicit drugs to bringing down fleeing criminals and serving in the armed forces. An energetic, loyal and devoted companion, the German Shepherd isn’t a breed but a lifestyle.
The abilities of this breed go far beyond its origin as a herding dog. The German Shepherd has made a name for himself as a police and military dog, guide and assistance dog, search and rescue dog, and detector dog. He has excelled in every canine sport, including agility, obedience, rally, tracking and, of course, herding. German Shepherds still work livestock on farms and ranches around the world, including the United States. If you have horses, they will trot alongside you while you ride and help you put the horses back in the barn when you’re done.
It takes some dedication to live with a German Shepherd. Be prepared to provide plenty of exercise and mental stimulation. A half-hour walk twice a day, plus a vigorous play or training session, is a good start.
The protective but loving German Shepherd is a great choice for families with children, but singles and couples who love the outdoors also match up well with this breed. With sufficient exercise and opportunities to use their considerable athleticism and brains, these versatile companions can handle anything from a small city apartment to a vast ranch. They’re not suited for life in the backyard or a doghouse, but need to live indoors as a member of the family.
- German Shepherds isn’t the breed for you if you’re away from home frequently or for long periods of time. When left alone they can become anxious or bored, and are likely to express their worry in ways you don’t like — barking, chewing, and digging.
- The German Shepherd is an active and intelligent dog. He must be kept busy learning, playing, and working. Daily exercise, both physical and mental, is a must.
- German Shepherds can be aloof and suspicious of strangers. To raise a social and well-behaved dog, expose your German Shepherd puppy to many experiences, places, and people. Obedience training, beginning with puppy classes, is important for getting him used to other people and dogs, as well as teaching him basic canine manners.
- These dogs shed, shed, shed — in fact, their nickname is the “German shedder.” Brush him several times a week and buy a good vacuum. You’ll need it.
- Crate training is not only a wonderful way to housetrain a puppy, it helps teach him to be calm and happy when separated from his owner. This is especially important for the German Shepherd, who sometimes suffers separation anxiety, or extreme anxiety when left alone.
- He’s got a reputation for being a great watchdog — and he is — but the German Shepherd should never be chained or tethered just to stand guard. No dog should; it leads to frustration and aggression. The German Shepherd is happiest living indoors with the family, but with access to a large, fenced yard, where he can burn off some of his natural energy.
- To get a healthy dog, never buy a puppy from an irresponsible breeder, puppy mill, or pet store. Look for a reputable breeder who tests her breeding dogs to make sure they’re free of genetic diseases that they might pass onto the puppies, and that they have sound temperaments.
- The German Shepherd is highly intelligent and will not be content to live life as a couch potato. He’s a dog of action, and he needs to live with an active person who will give him a job worthy of his talents.
- German Shepherds love children and make great family dogs when they are given early socialization and training.
- Most of us think of the German Shepherd as a black and tan dog, but they can also be sable and solid black. Dogs with white, blue or liver-colored coats are frowned upon by breeders, so don’t fall for marketing claims that those colors are “rare” and command a higher price.
- A German Shepherd should never be shy, nervous or aggressive.
- Comparable Breeds: Doberman Pinscher, Rottweiler
As his name suggests, the German Shepherd originated in Germany, where he was created in the nineteenth century primarily by Captain Max von Stephanitz, who wanted to develop a dog that could be used for military and police work. The result was a dog that encompassed striking good looks, intelligence and versatility.
The adaptable and attractive dogs soon drew the attention of dog lovers in other countries. While Rin Tin Tin is the most famous of the early German Shepherds, he was not the first to come to the United States. One is known to have been brought to the U.S. in 1906, and the American Kennel Club registered a German Shepherd in 1912. The following year, people interested in the breed formed the German Shepherd Dog Club of America.
World War I put a dent in the breed’s burgeoning popularity because the dogs were associated with the enemy. German Shepherds braved artillery fire, land mines and tanks to supply German soldiers in the trenches with deliveries of food and other necessities.
After the war, movies featuring Rin Tin Tin and fellow German Shepherd Strongheart brought the breed back into favor. American audiences loved them. For a time, the German Shepherd was the most popular breed in the United States.
One of the best known modern German Shepherds was the first and so far only member of the breed to win Best in Show at Westminster Kennel Club, in 1987. His name was Ch. Covy Tucker Hill’s Manhattan, ROM, nicknamed Hatter. Hatter drew crowds wherever he went and loved meeting his fans, especially children.
These days, the breed’s star is rising again. Current AKC rankings place him second only to the Labrador Retriever.
The German Shepherd personality is aloof but not usually aggressive. He’s a reserved dog; he doesn’t make friends immediately, but once he does, he’s extremely loyal. With his family he’s easy-going and approachable, but when threatened he can be strong and protective, making him an excellent watchdog.
This highly intelligent and trainable breed thrives on having a job to do — any job. The German Shepherd can be trained to do almost anything, from alerting a deaf person to a doorbell ring to sniffing out an avalanche victim.
One thing he’s not good at is being alone for long periods of time. Without the companionship he needs — as well as exercise and the chance to put his intelligence to work — he becomes bored and frustrated. A German Shepherd who’s under-exercised and ignored by his family is likely to express his pent-up energy in ways you don’t like, such as barking and chewing.
Like every dog, the German Shepherd needs early socialization — exposure to many different people, sights, sounds, and experiences — when they’re young. Socialization helps ensure that your German Shepherd puppy grows up to be a well-rounded dog.
The German Shepherd has an average lifespan of between 10 to 12 years. It is, however, susceptible to some serious health conditions like elbow dysplasia and canine hip dysplasia (CHD), as well as minor problems like cardiomyopathy, hemangiosarcoma, panosteitis, von Willebrand’s Disease (vWD), degenerative myelopathy, cauda equina, malignant neoplasms, pannus, hot spots, skin allergies, gastric torsion, cataract, and perianal fistulas. This breed is also prone to a fatal fungal infection due to the Aspergillus mold. Because of these susceptibilities German Shepherds, like most other dogs, need to be seen by a veterinarian for routine checkups. There they will undergo hip, elbow blood, eye and other tests.
The German Shepherd can live outdoors in cool or temperate climates, but enjoys living indoors too. Frequent training or exercise sessions are essential for keeping its mind and body active, and because the German Shepherd sheds throughout the year, its coat should be brushed once or twice a week to encourage turnover as well as to minimize buildup in the home.
The German Shepherd will do okay in an apartment if sufficiently exercised. They are relatively inactive indoors and do best with at least a large yard.
German Shepherd Dogs love strenuous activity, preferably combined with training of some kind, for these dogs are very intelligent and crave a good challenge. They need to be taken on a daily, brisk, long walk, jog or run alongside you when you bicycle. While out on the walk the dog must be made to heel beside or behind the person holding the lead, as in a dog’s mind the leader leads the way, and that leader needs to be the human. Most shepherds love to play ball or Frisbee. Ten to fifteen minutes of fetching along with daily pack walks will tire your dog out quite nicely as well as give him a sense of purpose. Whether it is ball chasing, Frisbee catching, obedience training, participation in a canine playgroup or just taking long walks/jogs, you must be willing to provide some form of daily, constructive exercise. The daily exercise must always include daily walks/jogs to satisfy the dog’s migration instinct. If under-exercised and/or mentally challenged, this breed can become restless and destructive. Does best with a job to do.
The German Shepherd Dog has a thick, medium-length double coat that sheds, a lot and constantly, so much that even his fans call him a “German shedder.” The undercoat sheds heavily in spring and fall, and the German Shepherd must be brushed and bathed frequently during that time to get out all the loose hair. The rest of the year, weekly brushing is generally enough to keep him clean. If the German Shepherd is your breed of choice, purchase a heavy-duty vacuum cleaner; don’t get a German Shepherd if you have allergies or are a fussy housekeeper.
The rest is basic care. Trim his nails every few weeks, as needed, and brush his teeth frequently for good overall health and fresh breath.
Is this breed right for you?
Any household and any lifestyle are ideal for this versatile breed. Excellent family members and wonderful with children, German Shepherds make great companions and watchdogs with proper training. They can adapt to apartment living with proper daily exercise and can adjust to a variety of climates. Although they make excellent family pets, they take loyalty to their masters extremely seriously. With a long muzzle that can exert up to 238 pounds of pressure, this breed has the capability to cause serious damage. Early training and adaptation is necessary for responsible ownership. If you suffer from allergies or are bothered by dog hair, think twice before getting this breed.
If he’s well trained and has had plenty of exposure to kids, especially as a puppy, a German Shepherd is a great companion for children. In fact, some say he’s a cross between a babysitter and a cop, both gentle with, and protective of, the children in his family.
This is a big dog, though, capable of mistakenly bumping a toddler or small child. True to his reserved nature, he’s not tail-wagging friendly with kids he doesn’t know, but he’s generally trustworthy.
The German Shepherd can also live peacefully with other dogs and pets, as long as he was taught to do so from puppyhood. Introducing an adult German Shepherd to a household with other pets can be more difficult if the dog isn’t used to getting along with other dogs or cats. You may need to hire a professional trainer to help, or get advice from the rescue organization if that’s where you acquired the adult German Shepherd.
In popular culture
German Shepherds have been featured in a wide range of media. In 1921 Strongheart became one of the earliest canine film stars, and was followed in 1922 by Rin Tin Tin, who is considered the most famous German Shepherd. Both have stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. German Shepherds were used in the popular Canadian series The Littlest Hobo. Batman’s dog Ace the Bat-Hound appeared in the Batman comic books, initially in 1955, through 1964. Between 1964 and 2007, his appearances were sporadic. A German Shepherd called Inspector Rex, is the star of Austrian Police procedural drama program, which won many awards, where German Shepherd Rex assists the Vienna Kriminalpolizei homicide unit. The show was aired in many languages.
Did You Know?
President Herbert Hoover owned a German Shepherd named King Tut, who was perhaps the first dog to play a successful role in a presidential campaign, helping Hoover to appear kind and approachable.
A dream day in the life of a German Shepherd
Tall, svelte and athletic with a nose for sniffing out trouble, German Shepherds are most often recognized for their work on the police force. German Shepherds are a product of very careful breeding solely intended for the creation of an ideal service dog. A solid combination of brains and brawn made this breed brave enough to be four-legged soldiers of war while their natural charm made them big-screen approved as seen in the likes of tail-wagging greats, including Rin Tin Tin and Strongheart. Loyal to the core, this breed can be protective and territorial.