German Shepherd Dog Breed Characteristics & Care
The German Shepherd dog is one of the most popular breeds across the world and for a good reason. They are loyal, intelligent, noble and capable working dogs, while their courage and devotion are simply unmatched.
This breed is known for its brown and black coat and athletic and streamlined body composition. Even though they are fantastic herding dogs, German Shepherds are also employed as guide dogs for blind people or working dogs in police and military operations.
Besides all these characteristics, German Shepherds can be caring companions and great pets. Let's learn more about this wonderful breed.
History of the German Shepherd
German Shephard's ancestors were both servants and companions for humans for hundreds of years. Developed from an old farm and shepherd dog, the German Shepherds we know today first appeared in Germany in 1899. Captain Max von Stephanitz is responsible for the breed's beginnings.
During the First and Second World War, no one used the word "German," and the breed was referred to as Alsatian or shepherd dog. But in the early 1900s, the interest in this breed started rising, and in 1908, the German Shepherd was officially recognized as a breed.
German Shepherd Appearance
- Ears: They are born with soft, floppy ears, which around five months old naturally become pointy. Their ears are particularly erect when these canines are alert.
- Eyes: German Shepherds have almond-shaped, dark-coloured eyes with an eager and intelligent expression.
- Nose: This breed has a long, straight muzzle and a predominantly black, square nose.
- Height: Males: 60-64 cm, Females: 55-60 cm.
- Coat length and colour: German Shepherds have a medium-length coat. It's straight, dense and can be slightly wavy. The colour of their fur varies but it's always a combination of black and another colour. It can be black and brown, black and red or black and silver. Although very rare, you can even find a German Shepherd that has a white coat.
- Tail: This breed has a long, bushy tail.
- Weight: Males: 30-40 kg, Females: 22-32 kg.
German Shepherd temperament
Their personality isn't usually aggressive but they tend to be aloof. They are reserved and need time to adjust to a new environment and the people around them. Once they make friends, they are incredibly loyal.
With their owners and family, German Shepherds are approachable and easy-going but when threatened, these canines can be protective and strong, which makes them great watchdogs.
This highly trainable and intelligent breed thrives on having a job to do, so it's no wonder they are popular service dogs. In fact, you can train German Shepherds to do anything, from alerting a deaf person to sniffing out drugs at airports.
However, you don't want to leave your German Shepherd alone for a long time. They will become frustrated and bored without company and something to do. A dog neglected and ignored by its owners will most likely express all that pent-up energy by chewing furniture and barking.
Like any breed, the German Shepherd requires early socialisation and exposure to different experiences, sights, sounds and people. Socialisation will help German Shepherd puppies to become well-rounded dogs.
How to take care of your German Shepherd?
A German Shepherd puppy can become one of the best companions you could ever ask for. But they can be challenging, particularly in the grooming department. However, thanks to their intelligence and ability to learn quickly, your efforts will be well worth it.
Compared to other breeds, German Shephard's grooming requirements are rigorous. They have a double, dense coat that protects them from weather elements, sun exposure and cold. You need to get a pin brush and regularly brush their coat, especially during spring or fall when they tend to shed a lot.
Bathing them too frequently will remove natural oils from their coat. Talk to your vet to come up with a bathing schedule that will be safe for your pet. These grooming sessions also include brushing their teeth with a specifically designed dog toothbrush and dog toothpaste.
This will prevent plaque, tartar buildup and bad breath. Have your veterinarian professionally clean their teeth once a year. German Shepherd's ears don't require regular maintenance, but when brushing their coat, check for any signs of infection, like ear odour or redness.
German Shepherds require proper training, which should always include positive reinforcement, using lots of praise, toys and treats. An untrained dog can be mischievous; so start their training early.
Because they tend to be wary of strangers, socialising your pet with other animals and people would be beneficial. Try introducing them to new objects and experiences. You could get them into a puppy school where they will interact with other dogs and people and start their obedience training which includes some basic commands, like come, stay or sit.
German Shepherds have a strong bite, so it’s important to teach them not to bite when they are young. When you are at home, work on their sniffing skills or engage in canine sports like herding, tracking or agility.
Diet and nutrition
A German Shepherd's diet should include high-quality food and age, activity level, and health concerns are some of the factors when determining what formula to give your dog. Consult your vet and work on a feeding regime that will let you know how much and how often you need to feed your pet based on their specific needs.
German Shepherds have sensitive skin and stomach. Pick food that contains nutrients and highly digestible proteins that will support their skin health and aid digestion. You could also include homemade ingredients, like eggs and cooked vegetables, but consult your vet before adding anything to their diet.
Remember to give them treats! They are an important part of their training but you don’t want to exceed their daily calorie needs.
German Shepherds are highly energetic dogs and you need to use all that energy if you want to keep your pet well-maintained. Spend at least two hours every day keeping them physically and mentally engaged.
This could include scent walks, meaning your dog can stop and sniff stuff around them, brisk jogs around the neighbourhood or a game of fetch. Make sure to keep your canine on a leash until you are sure they won’t run away. This breed is famous for their speed and can run up to 48 km/h.
You don’t want your dog catching some interesting smell and running off. Most German Shepherds enjoy the water, so they will gladly dip into a pool or lake, especially when it’s hot outside. Take them to a dog park or on a hike where they can explore the environment and discover new scents.
Don’t forget that their brains need engagement as well. Instead of giving them treats for good behaviour, try hiding treats under the box, so your pup can move the box around to get a treat. To further stimulate their mind and engage their nose, you could use interactive feeding toys or stash kibble in different spots throughout the house.
German Shepherd Health
This breed has a life expectancy of 12 to 14 years and is prone to several health issues. It is essential to be aware of the common health conditions that can affect your canine to help them live long and happy life.
This degenerative joint disease tends to cause a lot of pain throughout their life. In the case of hip dysplasia, joints don’t fit properly and nearly 20% of German Shepherds suffer from this condition. Common signs include a decreased range of motions and limping. The treatment can be surgery, reduced movement or weight loss.
Degenerative myelopathy affects the spinal cord and can cause paralysis of the hind legs. Early signs are difficulty standing up and weakness in the hind legs. Currently, there is no treatment for this condition, but physical therapy helps greatly.
This breed can develop certain types of cancer, such as intestinal, lung and bone cancer. Treatment options include surgery, radiation and chemo, depending on how serious it is.
Bloat is a life-threatening condition where the abdomen swells and twists, commonly affecting canines with deep chests like German Shepherds. If you notice their stomach becoming big and painful to the touch, take them to the vet to prevent a fatal outcome.
Humans sneeze and dogs scratch. If you see your pup scratching a lot, consult a veterinarian to determine what type of allergy you are dealing with. You could consider giving them some dog vitamins to improve their immune system, which can help them combat allergies.
This breed is perennially popular and you can commonly find German Shepherds in Australia. In fact, many people love having them in their homes. But before purchasing a German Shepherd, make sure you understand what goes into owning one and what responsibilities you may face along the way.