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German Shepherd

German Shepherd outside
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Breed Details

  • Average Height: 22 to 26 inches
  • Average Weight: 50 to 80 lbs
  • Coloring: Black, gray, and bi-color with black and tan/cream/red/silver
  • Coat Type: Double coat with a thick undercoat and a wavy or straight outer layer
  • Dog Breed Group: Herding Group
  • Average Lifespan: 9 to 13 years
  • Key Personality Traits:
    Intelligent Intelligent
    Loyal Loyal
    Active Active
    Coachable Coachable
    Hard Working Hard Working

The German Shepherd, with an air of authority and striking good looks, is the second most popular dog in the United States. From unforgettable movie characters like Rin-Tin-Tin and Strongheart to dedicated search and rescue heros, these courageous herding dogs have been entertaining and protecting us for years. 

As a pet, the German Shepherd is an obedient and playful companion. This muscular and agile dog is best suited for an active family. 

Keep reading to learn about this fascinating dog breed and find out how you can call one your next best friend.  

History and Origin

German Shepherd dog running in the woods

As the name suggests, this confident canine originated in Germany and was used primarily for herding sheep. German cavalry officer, Captain Max von Stephanitz, further developed the breed to become an ideal herder and started the first canine club devoted to the breed in the late 1800s. 

German Shepherds became one of the few breeds to accompany both German and Allied soldiers in both the world wars. The services these canines provided throughout the Second World War helped increase their popularity in the United States.

German Shepherds (also known as GSDs), became popular in the United States in the early 1900s after the wars, mostly due to the popularity of movie stars like Rin-Tin-Tin and Strongheart. The decline of herding in the modern world led to the use of GSDs in law enforcement and the military. 

The American Kennel Club accepted the German Shepherd in 1908 in the herding breed category. Today, professionally trained GSDs can be seen protecting our cities and towns as K-9 officers alongside their police guardians, sniffing out bombs, helping our soldiers in wars, and participating in search and rescue missions after natural and man-made disasters. The obedient and charismatic German Shepherd also has a loyal following of people eager to call them their pets. 

German Shepherd Physical Characteristics

German Shepherd standing in woods

A wide and wedge-shaped head with erect and pointed ears are a German Shepherd’s most distinctive features. The dog is large in size, with a double coat, long body, 

bushy tail and sturdy legs, which he uses to stride confidently. His hair is typically tan with a black “saddle” on the top and sides. These dogs can also be red and black in color. 

Females tend to be 22-24 inches tall and weigh 50-70 pounds, and males 24-26 inches tall and weigh 65-90 pounds. German Shepherds reach adulthood between 1 and 3 years. 

German Shepherd Temperament

Portrait of smiling German Shepherd

Because German Shepherds tend to be aloof and wary of strangers, they are often misunderstood as aggressive. However, these intelligent and versatile dogs, when properly trained, are loyal and protective of their humans. 

Dr. Erin Downes, owner of Paoli Vetcare in Pennsylvania, says that German Shepherds are loyal and affectionate. “Their innate guarding instinct and strong pack instinct makes them more likely to stick close to their person at all times.” she says.  

The highly valued qualities of a German Shepherd are what makes them excel in professions and situations where a protective nature is lauded. “German Shepherds are highly intelligent, extremely loyal, but often wary of strangers; this is why they make great personal security dogs,” says Dr. Jamie Richardson of Small Door Veterinary in New York City.  

German Shepherds can do well with children and pets if they are raised with them as they tend to form strong bonds and become extremely loyal to their family. “If, however, they are not raised in a family with other pets or children, they may not be as suitable, since German Shepherds are often wary of strangers,” states Richardson. 

Richardson adds that early and regular socialization is crucial. “Owners should ensure they are regularly exposed to children/other pets, and provide consistent training,” she says.  

German Shepherd Care Guide

German Shepherd puppy in grass

These active and double-coated dogs need plenty of exercise and regular grooming. Their strong, muscular bodies thrive on a quality diet. Being a German Shepherd parent requires time and commitment for the dog’s training, mental and physical stimulation, and welfare. Here, we’ve broken down their needs to help you better prepare. 

Diet and Nutrition

German Shepherds do not have any special dietary needs. “They simply need a high-quality dog food that is appropriate for their life stage (puppy/adult/senior) and size (large breed),” says Richardson. She recommends food with an AAFCO statement, which certifies that it is nutritionally complete for their life stage. 

Additionally, because we are dealing with a large breed dog, Richardson suggests pet parents add Omega fatty acid supplements to their dog’s diet that “can help support joint and skin health.” 

Exercise and Activity

The German Shepherd’s intelligence can be both a pro and a con. According to Richardson, “They are capable of learning many commands and tasks, but they also require a great deal of mental and physical stimulation.”  

Because these dogs were bred to be working dogs, pet parents need to provide them with enough exercise and stimulation. They thrive while partaking in activities such as agility training and swimming lessons.

If proper physical stimulation is not provided, Richardson warns that “they may develop compulsive behaviors or turn to destructive behaviors to keep themselves entertained.” 

Grooming and Nail Care

The double coat of a German Shepherd is easy to maintain. “They require weekly brushing, and occasional baths,” says Richardson. “They may shed profusely once or twice a year.”

“If you don’t keep up with grooming, expect large ‘tumbleweeds’ of shed hair around the house,” says Downes. 

Nails should be trimmed every six to 10 weeks to prevent overgrown claws. 

German Shepherd Health Issues

Sick German Shepherd resting

As a large-breed dog, German Shepherds are impacted by a couple of common health conditions. Here’s what you should watch for.

Hip Dysplasia: Large breed dogs like German Shepherd suffer from hip dysplasia. If you are getting a German Shepherd puppy from a breeder, Richardson suggests checking “the sire/dam (parents) carefully to ensure the breeder has had them undergo appropriate hip screenings.” These dogs may also suffer from elbow dysplasia. 

Hip dysplasia can be managed with weight management, dietary joint supplements, anti-inflammatory medication, physical therapy, and in severe cases surgery. 

Allergies: German Shepherds are also prone to suffering from allergies and pet parents need to be vigilant about monitoring signs of allergy and getting them help as soon as possible. Symptoms, according to Richardson, include “itchiness, incessant scratching or licking, red or swollen patches of skin, and hair loss.” 

Bloat: Downes says that German Shepherds can have other health issues such as “GDV — gastric dilatation-volvulus, also known as bloat. Gastric Dilatation-volvulus is a dangerous condition where a dog’s stomach turns on itself. This life-threatening form of bloat requires emergency treatment. 

Spinal Disease: Spinal disease like degenerative myelopathy may also impact German Shepherds. This is an incurable condition that affects the nerves of the spinal cord, causing gradual loss of mobility and feeling in the limbs. 

If you have concerns about any of these health problems, discuss them with your veterinarian. 

Interesting German Shepherd Facts

German Shepherd with tongue out

German Shepherds are soon to become even more popular in the country. Find out why and learn interesting and notable facts about these canines. 

A rescued German Shepherd is about to become the First Dog of the United States for the first time ever with President-elect Biden moving into the white house in January. The Biden family adopted a GSD named Major from the Delaware Humane Association in 2018. The family has another German Shepherd named Champ. 

Canine movie and TV stars like Rin-Tin-Tin and Strongheart solidified the GSD popularity in the United States. Strongheart’s film debut took place in 1921 in an outdoor adventure film, The Silent Cal. Rin-Tin-Tin was not only one of the most famous movie stars who appeared in several movies between 1922 and 1931, he was also famous for being rescued by an American soldier during WWI. 

More recently, Sam in I am Legend, became the star of the apocalyptic sci-fi movie featuring Will Smith. 

During WWII, German Shepherds helped by transporting messages, locating wounded soldiers, and patrolling alongside officers.  

A majority of seeing eye dogs currently are Retrievers and Labradors, but the first dog to help the blind was a German Shepherd. “The Seeing Eye,” was founded by Mrs. Harrison Eustis and a 20-year-old blind man named Morris Frank in 1928 for the purpose of providing trained dogs to guide the blind. 

Popular German Shepherd Mixes

See below for some of the most common German Shepherd mixes: 

German Shepherd Husky mix: Gorgeous mix of German Shepherd with the blue-eyed Husky.    

German Shepherd Golden Retriever mix: This blend of two popular dogs—GSD and Golden Retriever—makes for one beautiful dog. 

German Shepherd Corgi mix: For those looking for a smaller dog, this cross between a GSD and Corgi is a good choice.  

German Shephrador: This cross between a GSD and the popular Labrador Retriever is an ideal mix that is both protective of their loved ones and friendly towards others. 

German Shepherd Adoption Tips and Things to Consider

Woman cuddling with German Shepherd

German Shepherd puppies are adorable, and people who get them have no idea what they are in for. When these puppies grow into adults, they often end up in shelters or breed-specific rescues because their guardians have relinquished them. 

Two main reasons that are often cited for surrendering are excessive shedding and aggressive behavior towards children. As mentioned earlier, proper training and socialization is needed at an early age for German Shepherds to get along with kids and other pets. 

That said, when getting an adult German Shepherd from the shelter or rescue, give him time to adjust and invest in dog training, especially training that includes positive reinforcement.

Below are German Shepherd rescues potential pet parents can reach out to to add a new furry family member: 

German Shepherd FAQs  

German Shepherd puppy running

Before bringing home a German Shepherd, it’s important for you to arm yourself with essential information. Here, we answer some of the most frequently asked questions about this active and athletic dog breed.

Do German Shepherds Shed? 

Yes, these dogs shed excessively. Pet parents should be ready for regular brushing and to deal with a lot of hair when German Shepherds go through seasonal shedding. 

Are German Shepherds Good with Kids? 

If the dog is raised alongside growing kids and is properly trained, he is more likely to get along with them. Parents should devote time to training and socialization early to ensure interactions between children and a German Shepherd go smoothly.

How Big Do German Shepherds Get? 

German Shepherds stand 22 to 26 inches in height and weigh between 50 and 80 pounds. A male dog can get up to 90 pounds!

Are German Shepherds Aggressive? 

They are not an aggressive breed. However, German Shepherds can express destructive behavior when not property socialized and trained. 

How Fast Can a German Shepherd Run? 

They can run up to 30 mph. Their athleticism is one of the reasons they are used regularly as police and military dogs. 

When Do German Shepherds’ Ears Stand Up? 

These dogs are born with their ears down, but they become erect at around 4-5 months of age.

Pictures of German Shepherds

With their athletic builds and distinct coloring, German Shepherd dogs are easy on the eyes. Plus, we love how expressive they look when they let their tongues hang out!

If you’re a fan, browse through our collection of pictures of German Shepherds to get a feel for the personality traits and characteristics that make them so lovable.