The German Shepherd

The German Shepherd
The German Shepherd

This is a post I wanted to write since a long time and I hope you will enjoy it. It is about the German Shepherd and I also plan to write about other popular breeds soon. The German Shepherd is the most popular dog in the world and the second most popular dog in the USA. It have been used (and still is) by police, military and rescue forces all the world and is both excellent as a working dog and a family dog. So this post will give you the story of the German Shepherd, its origin, temperament, character, ownership etc.

Introduction

The German Shepherd is known by most people. It is the most common dog breed in the world and is used by police, military and rescue forces all over the world. Its strength courage and intelligence are legendary and most of all it is easy to teach. The German Shepherd is a dog who loves working and who needs to be active. The German Shepherd is a guard dog by nature and was originally a sheep dog, as such it was used to working close to people and had the instinct of guarding and protecting.

Origin

The origin of the German Shepherd dates back to the 1800. At this time there was a dog called “The continental sheepdog”. This dog was common in Belgium, The Netherlands and Germany. These were medium to large sized dogs well-known for their speed, strength and intelligence. Their main purpose was to herd sheep and to protect them from predators. Around 1890, the three dogs, Belgian shepherd, Dutch shepherd and the German shepherd went separate ways and became three different breeds. Today, the Dutch shepherd dog is the one which resembles the most of the original continental sheepdog.

On the beach
On the beach

In the 1850, people attempted to set standards for the breeding. In Germany these standards were set locally and varied a lot from village to village. All the dogs bred were competent working dogs but their looks, size and abilities varied considerably depending on their origin. Through the creation of the Phylax society in 1891, attempts were made to standardize the breeding. However, the Phylax society was dissolved three years due to conflicts between members who wanted to breed pure working dogs and others who wanted to breed dogs for the appearance.

The story of the German Shepherd as we know it today, begins with a former member of the Phylax Society. His name was Max von Stephanitz, an ex cavalry captain and also a former student of the Berlin Veterinary College. Max von Stephanitz firmly believed that sheepdogs should be bred for their ability to work and therefore intelligence, stamina and strength should be prioritized instead of looks. He wanted to create a versatile working dog, capable of doing a lot more than just herding and guarding sheep.
In 1899 von Stephanitz attended a dog show. There he found a dog named Hector Linkstein. Hector was all that Von Stephanitz wanted from a working dog. He was astounded by the dog’s strength, intelligence and beauty. He immediately bought Hector Linkstein and then changed his name to Horand von Grafrath. Von Stephanitz then founded the “Society for the German Shepherd dog” (Verein für deutsche schäfer hunde in german).

Within in this society they started the breeding. Von Stephanitz dog Horand von Grafrath fathered many pups and these were in turn bred with each other, thus in the beginning there was a fair bit of inbreeding. There was also four wolf crosses in this early breeding and all of this was noted down in Von Stephanitz studbook over the breeding.
As Von Stephanitz was the leader of this work as well as the founder of the Society of the German Shepherd dog, he got the credit for the creation of the breed that has become the most popular dog breed in the world.
There is of course a lot more that could be said about the origin of this magnificent dog but this is briefly how this breed came about.

Description

German Shepherd Description
German Shepherd Description

The German Shepherd is a dog which is mid size to large. The weight varies between 30 and 40 kg for males and 22 and 32 for females and some gets bigger than this. The height is between 60 and 65 for males and 55 to 60 for females. The head has got a long square snout. The eyes are medium size and brown and the ears are big and erect. Colour varies from tan/black or red/black. The coat of fur has got two layers and the undercoat is thick and dense. There is also a long haired variation of the German Shepherd. The long haired German Shepherd is less common.

German Shepherds bred for dog shows look slightly different than dogs bred for working. The difference lies in the spine and hind legs. A German Shepherd bred for shows have a sloping back and slightly shorter hind legs whereas a working dog is more square in its appearance.

Temperament/Character

The German Shepherd is described as being: loyal, courageous, curious, obedient, self-assured, alert and intelligent. Its guarding nature sometimes makes it suspicious towards strangers but correctly socialized from a young age this will not be a problem. The German Shepherd is very loyal and fond of its family and therefore it can sometimes be very protective of its loved ones.
The German Shepherd is famous for its intelligence and versatility. They learn quickly and easily and they love working.

They are also less stubborn and dominant compared to for example a Rottweiler. German Shepherds are used for all kind of work. Rescue forces use them to find missing people, the police use them to track criminals and/or narcotics, they are used as guide dogs for the blind, as therapy dogs for the sick and finally for herding sheep which was what it was originally bred for. Using German Shepherds for sheep herding is less common today though, the Border Collie is the most common dog for this mission.

As the German Shepherd is an active dog it needs both physical and mental stimulation in order to stay happy and healthy. A German Shepherd will be an excellent family dog but if it is not used for working, then you must provide it with plenty of exercise and fun games to keep it stimulated. If it does not get enough exercise it may become destructive and start chewing up your belongings and/or bark excessively.

There are many things you can do together with your German Shepherd, agility training for example and I can really recommend “Brain Training for Dogs“. It is a book full of fun games which will gradually improve your dog’s ability to think and solve problems. It works for all dogs but will work particularly well with a dog as intelligent as the German Shepherd. Here is my review of Brain Training for Dogs.

Ownership

German Shepherd Playing
German Shepherd Playing

The German Shepherd is a very adaptable dog and it will make an excellent family dog though like all dogs they are suited better to certain people than to others. An active dog like the German Shepherd, Doberman or Rottweiler needs an active owner. A German Shepherd needs a fair bit of both physical and mental stimulation. It needs at least a couple of long walks every day as well as some time playing with their owners and/or other dogs. Without enough exercise they risk becoming nervous and destructive.

Thus, a German Shepherd needs an active owner. As the German Shepherd is also a great dog for protection and guarding, care must be taken when strangers (the mailman for example) approach the house.
This is not a dog who supports being left alone all day. If you work long hours everyday then you might want to consider another breed of dog (or a cat, as most dogs don’t like solitude) or hiring a dog walker who could take your dog out for a long walk in the middle of the day.

A German Shepherd requires an active owner. It also needs a firm hand. Though not as dominant as some dogs (for example the Rottweiler or Cane Corso) it still must be very clear to the dog that you are the leader and not him/her. Generally speaking females are less dominant than males.
Finally, a German Shepherd is not really suited to living in an apartment. It is much better off living in a house with a garden where it can burn off some of its excess energy. It is not impossible to have it in an apartment but in that case you have to compensate with some extra exercise. A house with a fenced garden would be the best as this allows your dog to burn of some excess energy between its walks.
Here is a video with some more facts of the German Shepherd.

Reputation

The German Shepherd have been subject to a bad reputation. It have been considered a fierce and aggressive dog who is difficult to control and thus dangerous both to people and other dogs. The reason for this is the same as for many other dogs who has suffered from a reputation of being fierce and dangerous. The Collie is one example and the Pitbull Terrier another. When a dog becomes very popular (the Collie became extremely popular after the TV series with Lassie for example) a lot of people who are unsuited to dog ownership decide to get a dog.

These poorly socialized, and sometimes badly treated dogs are often involved in either fights with other dogs or bite people. Then there are also unserious breeders who doesn’t care much about the health of the dogs they are selling, only about the profit they will make from each puppy. Unhealthy dogs with physical and/or mental problems are also more prone to attack people than dogs who are in good health.

Dogs who are considered fierce and tough (like the Pitbull) also attracts criminals who like to use the dog to threaten or even attack others. This will of course add to the bad reputation of the dog, even if the dog in this case is not responsible.

Finally, some journalists have also added to the bad reputation of the German Shepherd. Sometimes untrue stories of German Shepherds biting people have been published simply because they had nothing else to write about.

Health

The German Shepherd has a few common health problems which is probably due to inbreeding in the early years of the breed. Here I will cover the most common health problems of the German Shepherd and I will also give a link to where you can learn more.

  • Hip Dysplasia This is a common health problem with most larger size dogs and the German Shepard is no exception. It is caused by a malformation of the hip joint. The cause is both genetic and also caused by external factors such as overweight or too much exercise at a young age.
  • Elbow Dysplasia this is the same as Hip Dysplasia but effects the “elbow joints” (or knee joints if you like)
  • Degenerative Myelopathy is a neurological disorder. It affects the spine and causes weakness in the back legs and this often lead to paralysis. This usually affects middle-aged or older dogs.
  • Megaesophagus is condition which affects the esophagus (this is the tube which carries the food down to the stomach) The esophagus becomes limp and can not carry the food the way it is supposed to. This causes difficulties to swallow and often causes the dog to vomit. Dogs suffering from this often appears to be malnourished. Dogs suffering from this often have to be fed with liquid diets.
  • Bloat is caused by the development of huge amount of gases in the dog’s stomach. This is a serious condition which if left untreated can cause death in a few hours.
  • Epilepsy causes constant seizures (just like with humans) and is one of the most common diseases of the German Shepherd.

runningThese are a few common diseases of the German Shepherd and there a few more. It is very important to buy a puppy from a reputable breeder. Serious breeders constantly have their dogs checked by a veterinarian and this minimizes the risk of getting an unhealthy dog.

If you would like to learn more about Common German Shepherd Health Issues I suggest you check this post from Natural Health Dog Remedies and this which is from I heart dogs which is written by a veterinarian

Summary

This amazing breed of dog have been one of the most popular dogs in world since many, many years back. Its intelligence, strength and courage has made it a great dog for police and rescue forces and its affectionate personality has made it a great family dog. For those who wants a dog for guarding their home or for personal protection the German Shepherd would be a great choice. It will do anything to protect its loved ones.
The German Shepherd is easy to train but it is a dog who needs a firm hand as well as a fair bit of exercise. If this seems like you, then I think you would be very happy with your choice of dog.

I hope you enjoyed this post about the German Shepherd. More posts about other popular breeds will follow.

As always, please leave comments and/or questions below and if you like this post, share it on social media by using one of the buttons on the left side of the screen.

All the best.

Jojo

Comments 14

  • They are one of my favourite dog breeds. They’re such lovely animals and, as you say, are really easily trained.

    I hate how they get such a bad reputation for being violent and aggressive. This is simply not true and I’m a firm believer that it comes down to how the dog has been trained. If a dog isn’t trained or is raised in a hostile environment then naturally it’s going to be aggressive by nature or have a tendency to bite.

    • You are soo right. Many dogs has suffered from a bad reputation simply because they have been owned and handled by people who should not have had a dog in the first place. Like you say, a dog must be properly trained and socialized and this particularly true with big and strong breeds such as the German Shepherd or the Rottweiler.

  • Thank You, Jojo, for an interesting and timely post. I have never had a dog. I mean dog who I wished and got by myself. I had a cat, he is gone. I have a small dog in y house, wife’s dog. I want my own friend. I like German shepherds very much but I am afraid of the widespread harms. I read that these dogs are friendly to cats, is it?

    • They usually get along well with cats. The question is just how the cat will react when it sees a foreign dog in its territory. The thing is, they will soon get used to each other and in some cases they even become really good friends. I remember a teacher I once had. She said that her German Shepherd carried around the little kittens of the cat in her mouth and without harming them at all.

      It is all about socialisation, getting your German Shepherd puppy used to other animals and to other people. If you do this at an early age, it should all be fine.

      Well socialized and trained, a German Shepherd will be a great friend and companion. Just make sure you buy one from a reputable breeder so that you get a puppy in good health. Then prepare yourself well so that you know what to do when your puppy arrives. I can really recommend Doggy Dan’s Online Dog Trainer. He has a special section for raising a puppy and there is always support available.

      You could also take a look at my post on  How to train a German Shepherd Puppy You will also find other posts and articles on my site which I think you might find useful. If there is anything I can do to help just write to me at

      jojo@dogtrainingeasily.com or

      admin@dogtrainingeasily.com

      All the best,

      Jojo

  • Hi there,
    Many thanks for this interesting review on the German Shepherd. They are truly a great friend to have on your side and definitely are very intimidating looking as a guard dog.
    Yet, as you rightly pointed out they are also a very friendly dog, as soon as one get’s to know them.
    The training from day one is very important and I agree with you that if one was to get one of these dogs, they would want to know a good deal about how to handle dogs in general and would want to be prepared to go for long walks.
    Thanks again for the great review
    Cheers PB

    • I am glad you liked my post. Posts about other breeds will come soon.

      The German Shepherd could be handled by a first time dog owner as long as they are well prepared and have the time and patience needed. And just like you mention, they should be prepared for long walks.

      Jojo

  • Hi jojo . I really like your site, in fact I love it, I’m not allowed to have pets here at my place now but when I move up in the world and I have a nice yard I will be getting a dog and if I can afford a German Sheppard then that is what she will be, I have a question for my dad/\.s dog, he is a 5 yr old Boston Terrier who loves to get a hold of napkins or paper towels and just shred them and then leave them all over the place so any tips??

    • I am glad you like my site. My situation is a little bit like yours, I would love to have a dog but due to my work (I am away from home four days a week) I simply can not have a dog for the moment. It will have to wait.

      As for your dads Boston Terrier, I think the easiest way would be to put the paper towels and napkins out of his reach and give him something else to chew and rip apart. If you correct a dog and then give him an alternative to chew/play with, it usually works well. You might want to take a look at this video on how to stop unwanted chewing. You will also find more videos under the heading “Free Videos” on my site.

      I wish you luck and if there is anything I can help you with just write a comment or send a mail to

      jojo@dogtrainingeasily.com or

      admin@dogtrainingeasily.com

      Jojo

  • Hey Jojo
    Thank you for your excellent article about the German Shepherd
    Indeed this is a very special breed as your article intimates so well.
    It seems like the perfect combination dog between homy and attack dog but it is true the way the dog is trained is everything.
    hank you for a very informative review
    Cheers
    Orion

    • You are welcome. The German Shepherd really is a well balanced dog, intelligent, easy to train and at the same time an excellent family dog. There could be some difference between dogs from different breeders though. Dogs bred for working are often more stubborn and dominant than dogs who bred to be family dogs. This is particularly true with the Belgian Shepherd, (the Malinois for example) dogs of this breed who are bred for working can really be a handful for first time dog owner whereas a dog from the same breed bred for company is much easier to handle. It is the same with the German Shepherd but the difference between German Shepherds bred for working and those bred to be family dogs are that big.

  • Great post! I did not know the German Shepherd is the most popular dog in the world and second most popular dog in the USA. I know it is a very popular breed, but didn’t know it is that popular. It was very interesting to read about the history and origins of this breed.

    German shepherds are amazing dogs. Their intelligence always surprises me. My brother-in-law has a German shepherd and she figures things out so quickly.

    It is sad how German shepherds have a bad reputation because of bad owners. I see this so much with all breeds. Some people just aren’t meant to have dogs. They don’t understand the responsibility and aren’t consistent with their discipline and activity for the dog. It is similar to people who shouldn’t have children for the same reasons.

    Thank you for this information!

    Weston

    • Hi Weston,

      The German Shepherd is very versatile, it can adopt itself quickly to new circumstances. That is one of the reasons it has become so popular and so of such great use as a service dog. Its amazing intelligence is another.

      You are right about the fact that some owners simply should not have a dog. Dog ownership really does require a responsible person and especially when it comes to big and strong breeds such as the German Shepherd. Many dogs has gotten a bad reputation simply because their owners can not handle them or do not treat them well.

      Still the German Shepherd has remained popular despite this reputation and I think most people now realize that the German Shepherd is not a dangerous dog. It is all a question of education.

      Cheers,

      Jojo

  • Hi Jojo! This is a great informative post about the German Shepherd dog breed. From what I know they are very smart yes. I’ve never had a German shepherd, but I’ve always admired the breed. All dogs need love and a solid training foundation when being raised by their human. I’ve seen dog owners not giving their dogs enough attention, love, training and exercise then the dogs misbehave. It’s a lot of responsibility to raise a dog. The larger ones need some extra attention.

    I have two maltipoos and they are easy to raise. The older one helped me raise the younger one because she copies everything he does. Lol. I saw an episode once on the dog whisperer where Cesar said he got his dog Daddy to help raise Junior because then they will be similar. So I got the same breed puppy as my older dog and now I see double. They behave exactly the same. Except the younger one is a bit hyper but she’s still learning and getting calmer as she gets older. I love how she’s a bit crazy. Also very smart. I think if someone chooses a dog they should make sure that the dog’s personality is something that they can handle. Most get the match wrong and get overwhelmed.

    • Hi there and thank you for your interesting input. I agree completely with you. Adopting a dog is a big responsibility and requires both time and effort. In many ways it is like raising a child but of course you need to learn how a dog functions and how it thinks.

      It is interesting how your older dog helped to raise the younger one, picking up its behavior and good habits. Of course the opposite can be true as well. If you have an older dog who has some annoying habits such as for example excessive barking or chewing, then the younger might pick up the bad habits of the older dog.

      Picking the right breed of dog to suit your own personality is important. If you choose “the right dog” for you it will make your life far easier. IF you are shy and have problems imposing yourself it will for example be difficult to raise a strong and dominant dog such as Rottweiler. Some dogs require a lot of exercise and if you are not very active physically then you should choose a dog that does not require too much exercise. So it is all a question of choosing a dog which fits your lifestyle and your personality.

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