Courageous, kind, hard-working, quick-witted, and obedient, the German Shepherd is a hailed as one of the most popular dog breeds in the world. Of the 193 dog breeds registered with the American Kennel Club, the German Shepherd is ranked #2.
Originated in Germany, the German Shepherd was standardized by Captain Max von Stephanitz, who is credited with standardizing the breed in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Von Stephanitz wanted to develop a dog specifically for working. While attending a dog show, von Stephanitz discovered a dog that exhibited great intelligence, was extremely obedient, and resembled a primal canine.
He was so impressed with the dog, who was named Hektor Linksrhein, that he purchased him and founded the Society of the German Shepherd Dog.
Hektor Linksrheing became the first registered German Shepherd, and von Stephanitz began breeding him with other canines who also possessed highly desirable traits to create a breed that would serve as the ideal herding dog to assist sheepherders with managing their flocks.
As a result of von Stephanitz work, the German Shepherd breed was standardized.
While this breed was originally bred for herding, the rise of industrialization decreased the need for herding dogs, and von Stephanitz decided that his dogs would better serve as military and police dogs. During World War 1, the breed served as a sentry, a search and rescue dog, a messenger, a guard dog, and even assisted with carrying supplies for the military.
While the German Shepherd was introduced to the United States in 1906 and was registered with the American Kennel Club in 1912, it wasn’t until World War I that this breed became popular in the country. American soldiers who served in the war were very taken with the breeds intelligence, loyalty, and bravery, and many took German Shepherds back to the US.
One of these dogs, a young puppy, was saved by an American corporal from a kennel in war-torn France. The corporal took the puppy back home to Los Angeles, trained him, and eventually, this German Shepherd became Rin Tin Tin, one of the first canine movie stars. It was largely due to this celebrity dog that the popularity of the German Shepherd grew throughout the US.
A member of the herding group, this working breed still performs a variety of jobs today. The German Shepherd continues to assist police and military, and it also performs detective and search and rescue work; and of course, it also functions as a herding dog, managing livestock on ranches and farms across the globe.
This breed also makes a wonderful canine companion; however, those who are interested in making a German Shepherd a pet must be willing to offer a great deal of dedication, as due to their intelligence and active nature, they require training and exercise.
Regular walks on a properly fitted dog collar or dog harness and obedience and agility training are good foundations for this breed. German Shepherds are adaptable and can successfully live in an apartment in a city or on an expansive rural property; however, regardless of the living situation, they do need to live indoors with their human pack members and should not be confined to a dog house outside.
With proper care, a German Shepherd will make a loving, loyal pet.
Characteristics of the German Shepherd
Next, we’ll go into the appearance and temperament of the German Shepherd.
The German Shepherd is a medium to large breed dog. Females usually weigh between 50 and 70 pounds and stand 22 to 24 inches tall, while males typically weigh between 65 and 90 pounds and stand 24 to 26 inches tall. Both gender are extremely muscular and are famous for their strong, yet elegant physique, which features graceful curves. Their build makes them well-suited for the work that they were bred for.
The face of a German Shepherd is long and they feature wedge-like muzzles. The eyes of this breed are dark, aware, and animated. This breed has a double coat of dense, bushy, medium-length hair that can be either straight or wavy and offers protection from the elements. Their colors vary and can include cream, red, black, silver, sable, white, and even blue. They can be solid-colored, but typically, their coats feature a pattern of two or more colors.
The German Shepherd is famous for its courageous, confident, and obedient disposition. This breed is also extremely intelligent. They are extremely loyal, as well; so much so that they are willing to put their lives in jeopardy to protect their human pack members. The temperament and physique of this breed make it well-suited for the working dog that it was bred to be; however, it also makes an exceptional pet.
A German Shepherd will do well with people of all ages and will firmly protect their loved ones; however, it should be noted that they can seem detached at first, so those who are considering adopting this breed should not expect to earn the love and affection of their pet immediately. Human pack members need to earn their respect and in time, they will develop a strong bond.
In regard to other animals, this breed generally does well with other cats and dogs, especially those who are members of their “pack”; but, it should be noted that some dogs may exhibit aggression toward other animals – especially those that run – as their natural instinct to herd and protect is strong.
To avoid issues, families with other pets may need to slowly acclimate their dog with other animals and should be diligent with their efforts; offering plenty of encouragement and praise goes a long with this breed.
As noted, German Shepherds are extremely astute and very active. This breed has a lot of energy and requires regular exercise and interaction; if you are interested in a low-key dog whose favorite activity is sleeping the day away in a dog bed, a German Shepherd isn’t a good pick. Pet parents need to be prepared to offer a canine companion of this breed plenty of activity.
They love to play, and as such, should have access to plenty of interactive dog toys. All German Shepherds like to play on land and will enjoy playing exciting games of tug-o-war with rope and tug toys; and, those they were not bred for water, owing to their athletic nature and courageous personality, most do well in the water, so water toys for dogs are another excellent way to provide the activity this breed requires.
Since they are so intelligent, German Shepherds need to be trained; they crave direction and have a strong need to feel useful and to please their pack leaders. Using a dog training book, you will be able to teach your pet virtually any command, trick, and skill. It is because this breed is so smart and trainable that they are so often used for police and military work, search and rescue canines, and even assistance dogs for the handicapped.
While the German Shepherd certainly possesses a variety of desirable traits, they can exhibit behavioral issues; this is especially true if they are left to become bored. Their keen intelligence and desire to feel useful can lead a German Shepherd to become destructive and depressed if they are not provided with regular activity and interaction; for example, they may dig holes, destroy furniture, or even become aggressive.
Offering this breed puzzle toys for dogs when human interaction is limited is one way to satisfy their instinctual needs and avoid trouble. Chew toys for dogs and dental chews can also provide stimulation, as can automatic fetch machines.
If trained properly and offered plenty of exercise and affection, German Shepherds will make wonderful family pets. With an average life expectancy of 7 to 10 years, this breed will become a proud member of your family’s pack.
Caring for a German Shepherd
Just like any other dog breed, it’s vital for pet parents do understand how to properly care for a German Shepherd. With proper care, this type of dog will live a happy and healthy life.
A German Shepherd requires a well-balanced, highly nutritious diet in order to ensure that his dietary needs are met. Since these canines are extremely active, they should be fed a protein-rich dog food; protein should comprise around 15 to 30% of this breed’s diet, depending on age, activity level, and weight.
To further fuel a German Shepherd’s energy levels, a diet that consists of 5 to 8% carbohydrates is also recommended. However, due to the fact that this breed can be prone to gluten sensitivities, it’s best to avoid recipes that use corn, wheat, or soy, and instead, opt for a grain free dog food. Wholesome fruits and vegetables should also make up a large portion of a German Shepherd’s diet.
Formulas from reputable dog food brands that contain high quality sources of protein as the first ingredients (lamb, bison, salmon, etc) and use non-gluten based ingredients as carbohydrates, such as peas and potatoes, are ideal. Trustworthy brands that offer recipes that will meet the nutritional needs of this breed include Taste of the Wild dog food, Blue Buffalo dog food, and Addiction dog food.
As with any dog, it’s important to establish a regular eating routine for this breed. Meal sizes should be consistent and contain the appropriate amount of calories for the dog’s age, size, and activity level. They should also be fed at the same time each day. If offering human food, make sure that it is safe for dogs to avoid complications.
The coat of a German Shepherd is course, thick, and medium in length. As such, their coat should require trimming; however, since they are double-coated and because their hair is thick, they do tend to be heavy shedders. As such, using a sturdy dog brush to remove the buildup of spent hair is important.
Not only will regular brushing reduce shedding, but it will also improve the appearance of the coat, as the action releases natural oils from the skin, which nourish the coat. Furthermore, these oils can help to minimize dry skin, a problem that many German Shepherds develop. Baths should not be given frequently, as regular bathing can strip their skin and coat of vital oils.
Bathing is often only needed every few months, or when the dog is extremely dirty. This breed is very good at maintaining their own coat and prides itself on cleanliness. When offering a German Shepherd a bath, make sure to use a premium quality dog shampoo that moisturizes the skin; using a natural shampoo that is free of artificial perfumes and dyes is ideal
Nails should be trimmed monthly or whenever they are long enough to “click” on the floor while walking. The ears should be checked for infection on a weekly basis; use a dog ear cleaner to remove the buildup of wax and debris. Brushing the teeth at least once a week will help to prevent plaque and tartar buildup, reduce bad breath, and strengthen the dog’s overall oral health.
Exercise and Activity
Since German Shepherds are so astute and active, they require a great deal of exercise and activity. Regular walks a few times a day are a must. Because this breed is so intelligent, agility training is a great way to cater to the physical and mental stimulation that your pet will require.
Other activities that are well-suited for German Shepherds include hikes, swimming, searching for missing objects, fetch, tug-o-war, and even hide-and-seek. When walks and other physical activities are not possible, a dog tie out in a secure yard or an outdoor dog kennel may be used; however, as mentioned, a German Shepherd should not be kept outside indefinitely, but rather need to live indoors with their pack.
As discussed, German Shepherds are very trainable. Their keen intelligence not makes them easy to train and their strong desire to feel useful necessities this dog’s desire to have a job to do. Therefore, training your pet is crucial for the overall mental and physical health and well-being of this breed. German Shepherds that are not trained can develop severe behavioral problems, as they can become bored, stressed, or even anxious.
The earlier German Shepherds are trained, the better. Training sessions should be fun and interactive, and positive reinforcement should always be used; never scold your pet. Begin with teaching your pet the basic commands, including “stay”, “heel”, and “sit”. As those basic commands are mastered, a German Shepherd will be ready and eager to learn more difficult commands and tasks.
In regard to house breaking, training a German Shepherd should be relatively easy. House training should be started as young as possible; however, even older German Shepherds can be housebroken quickly. Training experts say that crate training is the most effective approach. With a properly sized dog crate, consistency, and positive reinforcement, a German Shepherd can be housetrained in a matter of days.
Developing a routine and sticking to it is essential for all training efforts. All canines – including German Shepherds – are creatures of habit and thrive when they know what to expect. Therefore, in order to make any type of training a success, establishing a consistent routine is vital.
Generally, German Shepherd dogs are considered a very healthy breed. However, there are a few health conditions that this breed is genetically predisposed to. As a pet parent, it is important to be aware of the potential complications that could arise so that you know how to prevent them or treat them, should they arise.
Joint health issues, including hip and elbow dysplasia, as well as arthritis, are common issues among German Shepherds. These conditions can be painful and can reduce mobility. Offering your pet a dog joint supplement in addition to a premium quality dog food for German Shepherds can help to offset the development of joint problems. Perianal Fistula, a condition that is marked by diarrhea and blood stool, is also common among this breed. Again, feeding your pet a well-balanced diet, as well as offering him regular exercise, can help to prevent this complication.
Degenerative myelopathy, a neurological genetic disorder that can lead to paralysis, can also affect German Shepherds. Typically, only dogs that are not responsibly bred suffer from this condition. Panosteitis (also known as wandering lameness), which causes random limping, is another health condition to be aware of, as is progressive retinal atrophy, which can cause blindness, and allergies.
Routine visits to the veterinarian and providing your pet with the proper care that he requires are the keys to prevention and treatment of health conditions among all dog breeds, including German Shepherds. As mentioned, with proper care, this breed is generally considered to be very healthy and will life a long, happy, and fulfilling life.
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