Everything You Need to Know About German Shepherds

If you work regularly with dogs, you understand how difficult it can be to find a dog that is loyal, intelligent, and robust.

Dogs are often bred for specific characteristics or physical traits, and sometimes they are not as versatile as their owners would like.

So which breed is the ultimate dog in training, agility, and human companionship?

The German Shepherd!

Second only to the Labrador Retriever in popularity, the German Shepherd is one of the most loyal, intelligent, and hardest working dog breeds in the world.

Are you ready to learn why the German Shepherd should be your next companion?

Let’s get started!

History

The history of a German shepherd dog

As the name indicates, the first German Shepherds came from Germany.

During the Agricultural Revolution, many farmers in Europe used herding dogs to protect their animals and herd livestock.

There were very few purebred herding dogs, however, and a German named Captain Max von Stephanitz wanted to create a new breed.  His goal was to create a purebred dog that would be recognizable as a German herder.

In 1899 Stephanitz saw a dog that looked similar to a wolf.  He bought the dog, named Hektor Linksrhein, and began the German Shepherd breed through careful breeding, note-taking, and watching for defective traits.

In the early 1900s, the German economy moved from farming to industrialization, and Stephanitz recognized that a herding breed was not as wanted.  However, even as they ceased to be needed as herd dogs, the police and military began to buy Stephanitz's dogs because of their high intelligence and bravery.

So how did it become popular in the United States?

During WWI an American soldier, Corporal Lee Duncan, found a German Shepherd puppy in a destroyed French building.

He brought the puppy, named Rin Tin Tin, back to L.A. and trained it well.  Rin Tin Tin eventually starred in several Hollywood movies. The American public fell in love with this new breed, and German Shepherd popularity grew.

During WWII and the time following, many from America and England wanted a different name for the breed to avoid the negative stigma associated with the word “German.”  For a time the breed was called the “Shepherd Dog” or “Alsatian.”

During the mid 1900s American breeders focused on the breed’s looks.  In Europe, German breeders continued to breed for the intelligence and herding abilities.

This diverse approach resulted in American German Shepherds becoming inferior and developing health issues.  The U.S. police and military began importing their German Shepherds for a time to avoid these concerns in American German Shepherds.

American breeders took notice and began to be more careful and purposeful in their breeding.  While there are still differences between American and European German Shepherds, many of the health and intelligence concerns are no longer an issue.

General Information

The official AKC name for the German Shepherd is actually the “German Shepherd Dog.”  It also goes by the abbreviation GSD.

German Shepherds are usually around 22-24 inches tall at the shoulder.  Adult German Shepherds weigh between 75 and 95 pounds.

The average lifespan for a German Shepherd is 10-14 years old.

Unlike many of the retriever breeds, such as Golden Retreivers, German Shepherd crossbreeds are not very popular.  Instead, many breeders continue to focus on making the German Shepherd Dog a healthy and vibrant pure breed.

Personality Strong Points

German shepherd personality

When people think of a German Shepherd, different images come to mind.  Some think of a police dog, some think of a family pet, and some may think of a German Shepherd they perceive as dangerous.

In many ways, German Shepherds’ characteristics are misunderstood.  Instead of thinking about the original herding and farming traits in the breed, many people think only of their guarding instincts.

As the second-most favorite dog in the United States, they certainly have some attractive traits!

So what are some of the most-loved characteristics of the German Shepherd?

Worker

Going back to the original intent of Stephanitz, the German Shepherd is made for hard work.

Whether it is herding sheep or cattle, going on search-and-rescue missions, being used by the military and police, or merely running around the backyard; the German Shepherd loves activity and hard work.

German Shepherds are not afraid of long days or doing complicated tasks.  In fact, they thrive on it.

Loyalty

German Shepherds quickly become attached to their owners and handlers.

Whether it is a family, a farmer, or a policeman; a German Shepherd knows who its master is and will remain wholly loyal to that person.

Intelligent

Intelligence combined with versatility is a reason that many security institutions, such as police K-9 units, use German Shepherds.

German shepherd K9 unit

Like many other breeds, the German Shepherd can be easily trained when they are young.  What sets the German Shepherd apart, however, is their ability to learn more than the average breed.

You can quickly train a German Shepherd to do almost anything.  Along with their hard work, this is one of the main reasons they are the default breed for search-and-rescue and security purposes.

Companion

A trait that is often overlooked in German Shepherds is their companionship to humans.

Not only are they loyal to their owners and handlers, but German Shepherds also desire to be with humans that they know.  They can become moody if they go too long without human interaction.

Athletic

German Shepherds are one of the most athletic dog breeds.  To reach their full potential it is vital that they are kept in good health and do not become overweight.

Not only do they have tremendous stamina for running and hard work, but their body shape and mass are also ideal for performing other physical tasks like jumping, quick turns, and navigating treacherous terrain.

Are German Shepherds aggressive?

Like any animal, the exact characteristics of a German Shepherd vary based on the puppy you choose, the environment where it is raised, and the regular attention and care it receives.

In fact, regular training and care impact German Shepherds more than a lot of dog breeds.

What impact do training and care have?

One of the reasons some people fear German Shepherds is because they may have experienced, or heard a story, about an aggressive German Shepherd.

If a German Shepherd shows aggressive tendencies, it is often due to one of the following:

  • Their owner or handler was being threatened.
  • They are being confined in a small area and possibly neglected.
  • They were trained to be aggressive.

Many German Shepherd’s aggressiveness comes because they are kept in a small area or neglected.  And sadly, some people do train German Shepherds to be aggressive.

Why does a small area or neglect encourage aggression in a German Shepherd?

Neglect can lead to aggressiveness

Because of their high-energy nature and desire for human companionship, a confined German Shepherd’s energy begins building and leads to frustration.

If they are confined too long, this frustration gets bottled up. Then when a stranger approaches, the German Shepherd begins releasing this frustration, possibly as aggression.

German shepherds should have freedom to roam and exercise

German Shepherds who are neglected also bark a lot and chew on things around them.  This is due to their frustration and pent-up energy.

How can a German shepherd be trained to avoid aggressive actions?

 

So how can a German Shepherd be trained to avoid these aggressive actions?

  • Train them positively when they are young.
  • Give them daily companionship with their owner, family, or handler.
  • Give them an area in which to run daily and release energy.
  • Give them a purpose and make sure they are loved.

If a German Shepherd is trained and cared for properly, aggression is not a problem, and you can spend years with a loyal and well-trained dog!

Grooming

The German Shepherd is known to be a high shedder and is sometimes referred to as the “German Shedder.”

To avoid excessive shedding and loose hair, groom your German Shepherd regularly.  We recommended that you groom German Shepherds several times a week, but daily grooming is the best.  Not only does regular grooming remove loose hair, but it also keeps the coat clean and free from knots.

One of the keys to grooming your German Shepherd is to start when they are a puppy.  If you perform regular care and grooming from the start, your dog will become used to it, and grooming can be done quickly.

What are some of the best grooming practices?

German Shepherds should be brushed daily to keep the tangles out of their coat and remove loose hair.  Make sure you use a brush made for coarser hair.

They are relatively clean dogs, and they don't need regular baths due to the oils in their skin.  However, if your German Shepherd is dirty due to mud or grime, you should give them a bath.

Your German Shepherd will also need basic routine care such as tooth brushing and nail trimming.

Health

Obviously, the health of your German Shepherd is a critical factor in your dog’s quality of life, as well as how long it will live.

The German Shepherd is subject to many common disorders and illnesses of all dog breeds, but there are a few that are more specific to German Shepherds.

What is your first line of defense?

Watch for health issues with your German Shepherd

The best time to be on the lookout for health issues in your German Shepherd is during regular grooming.  Looking for sores, rashes, unusual skin or hair color, or other issues when you groom your German Shepherd will give you a jumpstart on any problems.

One of the more common issues found in all dog breeds is hip and elbow dysplasia.

This occurs when a joint in the dog’s leg or hip becomes weakened or malformed.  This can result in arthritis or even lameness if it goes untreated.

One way to prevent this is to keep your German Shepherd from running on hard surfaces.  This is most important in young dogs while their bodies are growing and developing, but it can negatively affect adult dogs too.

Thankfully dogs can be tested for dysplasia since it is a genetic disorder.  Ask your breeder if they have any dysplasia testing or health records on your puppy’s parents.  If your puppy shows any negative signs, it is a good idea to take them to your vet.

Which health problems are more specific to the German Shepherd?

German Shepherds can be prone to degenerative myelopathy.  This is a slow paralysis in the back, and it can eventually paralyze the dog.  Watch for signs of gradual pain and discomfort in your German Shepherd, especially when they are walking.  If you see them beginning to limp or favor one side, you should have your vet look at your dog.

German shepherd dogs

Another important thing to monitor with German Shepherds is their food intake. Obese German Shepherds will have more health issues and are more prone to joint problems.

The best way to keep your dog at a healthy weight is to measure regular feedings and perform the “hands-on test.”  Place your hands on your German Shepherd’s back with your thumbs on the spine and your fingers on the sides. Gently press your fingers together, and you should feel the ribs.  If you cannot feel the ribs, then your dog has an unnecessary layer of fat and may be overweight.

If you can see your German Shepherd’s ribs through its coat without touching it, then your dog is underweight.

Allergy Concerns

A potential problem for some people with German Shepherds is allergies they may create.

It is true that German Shepherds can cause allergy problems in humans.  However, there are measures you can take to reduce these problems.

What causes people to be allergic to dogs in the first place?

allergic reactions to the German shepherd dog

The simple answer is dander.  Dander is caused by dead skin cells that are shed by dogs and other animals, including humans.

Because of their tendency to shed, German Shepherds create and shed more dander than some breeds of dogs, and you should consider this if someone in your family has concerns with pet allergens.

Proper and regular grooming and cleaning a German Shepherd reduces the number of allergens it releases.

Choosing Your Dog

Choosing your German shepherd puppy

When it comes to choosing a dog, there are several options.

You can purchase from a previous owner, adopt from a shelter, or buy them as a puppy.

What are some pros and cons of the three places you can get your dog?

Buying from a Previous Owner

The first 16 weeks of a puppy’s life are critical stages of their development. When buying a German Shepherd that is several years old, those early stages of development are past. This means that much of the training and development has already happened, whether good or bad!

A well-trained dog will save you a lot of time and energy on training, but it may be a lot of work to break the bad habits of a poorly trained dog.

Because of their intense loyalty, it can also take longer to bond with an older German Shepherd that had a previous owner.  However, being loving and consistent with an older German Shepherd will develop a new bond between you and your dog.

You should also ask for any veterinarian records on your dog.  This will allow you to keep up-to-date records on your dog’s health, as well as help you and your veterinarian know that your dog is current on all recommended vaccinations.

Adopting from a shelter

Adopting from a shelter will provide a loving home to a dog in need, and the results can be beautiful.

Animal shelters are continually looking for good homes and families to adopt homeless pets, and this provides a way to give back to your local community and humane society.

If you choose to adopt from a shelter, you do want to be aware that it might require some additional TLC, patience, and training.  Much of this depends on the condition of your dog when it arrived at the animal shelter and the environment it came from.

Sometimes animal shelters know very little about the dog’s background, so spending some time with the German Shepherds in person will help you learn more about its personality.

Buying as a Puppy

Many people like to buy their German Shepherds as puppies, especially if they want a strong bond for the dog’s lifetime.

Buying a puppy provides you with a pet that will live a long, full life.  It also gives you the opportunity to provide quality training during the critical stages of development.

One of the most significant benefits of buying your German Shepherd as a puppy is that you maximize the amount of time you are able to spend with it.

Why is this important?

If you are able to bond with your German Shepherd right away as a puppy, this will establish a strong bond between the puppy and your family.

When you purchase a dog as a puppy, you can provide it with a quality environment from day one. You can avoid issues resulting from a poor background, negligence, or lack of training.

One negative in purchasing a puppy is that you are responsible for all the training.  You can either do all of the training yourself or enroll your puppy in a local obedience school.

Conclusion

If you are looking for a loyal dog with sharp intelligence and a desire for hard work, then the German Shepherd is your dog!

Purchasing a German Shepherd will ensure you with a companion that loves every minute it can spend with you, and we hope you enjoy every minute you can spend with your dog.

If you are ready to add a German Shepherd to your family, check out our available German Shepherd puppies for sale.  All puppies listed with Infinity Pups are guaranteed not to be from puppy mills, and they come with a 1-year health guarantee.

If you had something different in mind, take a look at our other breeds for sale. 

We hope you enjoy your new puppy!