German Shepherds are famous for their intelligent, loyal, and hardworking natures. They are often used as guide, therapy, search-and-rescue, police, military, and narcotics and explosives detecting dogs. While they can come across as aloof to strangers, they are known to be wonderful family dogs.
As the name suggests, these dogs were originally bred in Germany as shepherd dogs. Max von Stephanitz was the first official breeder of German Shepherds. He was a Captain in the German Calvary who was looking to create a breed that would be an unsurpassed herding dog.
With their pointed ears, bushy tails, and long snouts, German Shepherds have a look that’s easy to recognize.
Size and Shape
These dogs are long and can measure around 22 to 26 inches in length. On average, they weigh about 75 to 95 pounds. They also have strong upper bodies and an elegant stride.
Coat and Coloring
German Shepherds have a double coat that consists of a thick undercoat and a dense outer coat that can be straight or a little wavy. Their coats are medium to long although longer hair is less common since it is passed on through a recessive gene. The outer coat sheds year round and requires regular brushing.
They’re probably best known for being black and tan, all white, or all black. However, they can have other colorings, including black and red, black and silver, gray, blue, and liver.
Dogs have unique personalities that depend more on their lifestyle and environment than their breed. That said, there are certain qualities that are commonly attributed to German Shepherds. They are famous for being highly intelligent, loyal, courageous, and protective, so it’s not surprising that they’re used for all sorts of jobs from search-and-rescue missions to guiding the blind.
They’re also known as loving, affectionate, and kid-friendly dogs that make great family pets. While they can be suspicious of strangers at first and may come across as reserved and aloof, they are typically very caring and devoted dogs once you get to know them.
German Shepherd Facts
From playing the famous role of Rin Tin Tin to changes in the breed’s name, there are quite a few fun facts about German Shepherds, like these:
1. Rin Tin Tin starred in dozens of movies and TV shows, helping make this breed one of the most famous in the world.
2. When he was a puppy, the original Rin Tin Tin was saved from a breeding kennel in France during WWI by Corporal Lee Duncan. He brought the pup to Los Angeles where his movie career began.
3. Rin Tin Tin had a famous predecessor named Strongheart, who was one of the earliest dog celebrities after starring in silent films in the early 1920s.
4. Rin Tin Tin and Strongheart both have stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
5. During World War I, the American Kennel Club changed the name of the breed to Shepherd Dog because of negative feelings about Germany. They changed it back to German Shepherd in 1931.
6. The breed has been called the Alsatian in Great Britain and parts of Europe.
7. They shed all year round, earning them the nickname “German Shedder.”
8. The first guide dogs formally trained in Switzerland during the 1920s were German Shepherds.
9. They made up a large part of the search-and-rescue team at the World Trade Center after 9/11.
How to Care for Your German Shepherd
German Shepherds need the same kind of care as most canines, such as proper nutrition and regular veterinary visits, but can also benefit from special attention in areas like grooming and socialization.
Brush their coats regularly
German Shepherds have an outer coat that sheds year round. Brushing your dog at least once a week can help minimize shedding and keep their coat and skin healthy. You’ll also want to invest in a reliable vacuum and a few lint brushes to leave around the house.
Brush those teeth too
Regular tooth brushing along with an annual dental cleaning can help them avoid periodontal disease and other health issues.
Clip their nails
These dogs tend to love being outside, which can help keep their nails worn down from rubbing on rough surfaces. However, you should still keep an eye on their nails and trim them carefully when they get too long.
Bathe as needed
Avoid bathing your German Shepherd too often, because it can strip away the natural oils that keep their coats healthy. However, you’ll still need to give your dog a bath from time to time. You can also spot clean them by wiping debris from the ears and face with a soft cloth or cotton ball.
Health and Nutrition
Get an annual check-up
German Shepherds are prone to heart issues, which makes it especially important to schedule routine exams so they can be detected early. These visits are also a great time to ask your doctor about preventing bloat, skin conditions, and other common issues.
Feed them a nutritious diet
Choose a high-quality brand of dog food that’s appropriate for your pooch’s age. You can ask your veterinarian for a recommendation if you’re confused by all the options. You can even supplement your dog’s diet with foods such as boneless, skinless cooked chicken or pet-safe fruits and veggies, but it’s important to know what not to feed your dog.
Give them lots of exercise
German Shepherds need plenty of exercise to help keep them in shape and avoid boredom or frustration, which can lead to unwanted behaviors like excessive barking or destructive chewing. They typically love the great outdoors, so you can take them for long walks or fun romps in the park.
Provide safe chew toys
Like all dogs, German Shepherds love to chew. Chewing is natural for dogs and helps keep their teeth and jaws strong and healthy. You can help avoid coming home to chewed up shoes, carpet, or couch cushions by giving your dog safe chew toys.
Socialization and Behavior
Avoid leaving them alone for long periods of time
These loyal and loving dogs can be prone to separation anxiety and typically don’t like being left alone for hours on end. Crate training can help address this issue since it gives the dog a safe and comfortable retreat. However, a crate should never be used as punishment or for very long periods of time.
Socialize them early
You can help ensure your German Shepherd gets along well with others by providing them with plenty of positive experiences with puppies, dogs, and a variety of people at a young age.
Train them well
German Shepherds need to be trained to learn how to behave properly and respond to your commands. They can also be very vocal dogs because of their herding background. Teaching them the “Quiet” command is very useful!
Common Health Issues
German Shepherds are predisposed to certain conditions because of their breed and larger size, including:
- Elbow and Hip Dysplasia – These are inherited conditions where there is an abnormality in the way the hip or elbow joint is formed, and the bone doesn’t fit properly in the socket. It can be painful and cause lameness. It can also make the dog more prone to arthritis later in life.
- Bloat and Gastric Torsion – This is a life-threatening issue that affects deep-chested dogs like German Shepherds and Golden Retrievers. It happens when the dog’s stomach gets filled with air or gas and puts pressure on the internal organs. It can cause the stomach to twist and impede blood flow to the heart. Learn how to help prevent bloat.
- Allergies – German Shepherds are prone to environmental or food allergies. If you suspect your dog has an allergy, speak with your veterinarian to help determine the source of the problem.
- Degenerative Myelopathy (DM) – DM is a progressive disease of the spinal cord, which can result in a loss of the ability to move the back legs.
- Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI) – EPI is an inherited disease, which damages the cells in the pancreas responsible for producing digestive enzymes. It can typically be managed with proper diet and medication.
- Von Willebrand Disease (VWD) – This genetic bleeding disorder occurs when there is an absence or lack of clotting protein called the von Willebrand factor (WWF). It can cause uncontrolled bleeding that requires immediate medical attention.
- Heart Problems – As a bigger breed, German Shepherds are subject to heart issues, such as valve problems, murmurs, or enlarged hearts.
While this list might seem long, German Shepherds are generally pretty healthy and can be expected to live between 10 to 14 years.
Top 10 Claims for German Shepherds
Like all dogs, German Shepherds can get sick or injured unexpectedly. The top 10 accident and illness claims received by ASPCA Pet Health Insurance* for this breed are:
1. Skin Irritation
3. Ear Infection
4. Gastrointestinal Issue
8. Lameness—which could indicate hip or elbow dysplasia
9. Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL)
10. Back Pain or Injury
* Internal claims data, 2015
An ASPCA Pet Health Insurance plan can help you give your German Shepherd the best care possible for accidents, illnesses, and more.
Dog Insurance for German Shepherds
Because of the health issues that can affect German Shepherds, including heart disorders and bloat, they can have expensive veterinary bills. An ASPCA Pet Health Insurance plan can help you give your German Shepherd the best care possible for accidents, illnesses, and more. See your options now.