The German Shepherd is a medium to large-sized dog and is a relatively new breed compared to the other dogs. It has a courageous and confident look marked with distinct body features that give an overall well-balanced expression. The German Shepherd is slightly longer than it is tall. It has a powerful, well-muscled body topped by a weather-proof coating, standing proudly, firmly and calmly. Its head is proportionate in size to the body, with a slightly domed forehead, softly rounded cheeks, and wedge-shaped muzzle with pronounced stop. It has almond-shaped dark brown eyes, medium-sized highly set ears that are carried erect, broad at the base and tapers to a point and open in front, not hanging or folding back. When viewed from the side, the dog has a slightly sloping topline – higher at the withers and sloping gently into the level back to a bushy tail that reaches to the hock, hanging slightly curve like a saber. The front legs are straight on well-muscled and obliquely angled shoulder blades. It has broad and well-muscled thighs, angulated hind and well-rounded toes with thick, durable pads. There are two types of coat: short coat and long coat. Colours are black or black saddle with tan, black, sables, and bi-colour. Males are between 60-65 cm from withers while females are usually 55-60 cm in height. Males are between 30-40 kg in weight while females are generally lighter at 22-32 kg.
The German Shepherd Dog (or Deutscher Schäferhund in German) was created by Capt. Max Emil Friedrich von Stephanitz (1864 – 1936), a German dog breeder and cavalry officer who served at the Veterinary College in Berlin. From the 1850s to the 1890s, dog breed standardization was being practiced in most of Europe. To preserve the traits of sheep dogs, local breeders in Germany selected dogs with high intelligence, speed, strength and keen sense of smell – all of which are great characteristics of a good working dog. These dogs were great at their job, although they differed dramatically in appearance and abilities across communities. In 1891, the Phylax Society dog club was formed to create a standardized German dog breed. However, misunderstandings and conflicts regarding the desired traits of the would-be standard German dog disestablished the club in 1894. As a result, von Stephanitz (who was an original member of the club) set out to create a breed in his Grafrath property with a focus on his desired working abilities rather than having a good appearance. He acquired a dog named Hektor Linkrshein in 1899 and renamed him Horand von Grafrath and was used as the primary breeding stud and generally regarded as the foundation of the German Shepherd. Von Stephanitz founded the Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde (SV) in April 1899 along with his fellow breeders, establishing a breed standard and created a breed register (Zuchtbuch) with Horand as the first dog in the registry. The German Shepherd was first registered in the UK in 1919. The original purpose of the breed was for sheep herding but the modern breed is more popular as a police and military dog, as well as a search-and-rescue dog. It is the 4th most popular breed of dog in the United Kingdom.
The German Shepherd is one of the most intelligent dog breeds. Attentive, alert, tough and untiring, it has an impeccable sense of smell – traits of a true working dog breed. It is a very loyal dog, poised and spirited. It is not timid or hostile without any reason. It is naturally curious, highly protective of its owner and is willing to learn which makes it an excellent guard dog. It has a suspicious nature and does not make friends with strangers easily but it is not outright aggressive especially if it is well-trained and socialised. Left alone for long periods, it may become anxious and bored which may result in barking, digging and sinking his teeth and claws into anything it can.
This breed is highly regarded as one of the most intelligent dog breeds. Being highly intelligent, curious and willing to learn, it is easy to train in any types of learning, playing or working activities. It is naturally aloof, so early training and socialisation is required to as many people, places and other pets as possible in order to raise a well-behaved German Shepherd. Obedience training as a puppy is a must.
There are two types of German Shepherd coat: short and long. The short coat consists of straight, hard, close-lying, dense outer coat with an equally dense undercoat. Longer and thicker hairs appear on the neck forming slight ruff, on the back of the legs to the hocks, which requires more attention. The long coat German Shepherd has longer, coarse outer coat with thick undercoat. Hair is longer behind the ears, back of forelegs through the loins and dense and longer at the hind legs which form feathering. It has a bushy tail with light feathering. This breed requires regular brushing and an occasional bath but it does not require clipping or any unusual trimming. Use a wire slicker brush or a grooming rake for general grooming. It sheds continuously all-year-round, shedding heavily during spring and fall when the entire undercoat blows over for 7-14 days so a good, durable vacuum is a must.
Hip dysplasia is one of the common health issues affecting the German Shepherd. Canine degenerative myelopathy, a progressive spinal cord disease which causes weakness and incoordination of the rear limbs resulting to paralysis is also an issue. Additionally, the breed is also affected by Von Willebrand disease which affects the pancreas. According to a UK survey done in 2012, the German Shepherd has an average lifespan of almost 11 years.
This medium to large breed is a natural working dog with a lot of energy that needs an equal amount of high-energy activities and exercises. Without proper exercise, the German Shepherd can have a tendency to bark and chew on objects. Half an hour to an hour of brisk walking, long daily jogs, a game of Frisbee or any high-energy physical activities on a daily basis are ideal exercises for this breed. This breed also excels in Schutzhund, dock diving, agility events and Flyball racing.
The German Shepherd of today is an excellent family dog. Often being attached to one family member, it can relate well to other members of the family. It has an abundance of tolerance with other children especially if it is raised with them as a puppy. A puppy German Shepherd and very young children should be supervised together when they are playing because rough, innocent games may tend to hurt either or both. This breed will go along fine with other pets if introduced when young, but some dogs hate cats and will usually chase them. There are also some German Shepherds who are aggressive with other dogs especially of the same sex.