German Shepherd: Breed Facts and Temperament
The German Shepherd breed has been classified by the American Kennel Club as a herding dog. It is also a hugely popular breed to own as a pet both in the US and worldwide and they are fiercely loyal to their human companions. Their confidence and intelligence also makes them excellent service dogs. You will see German Shepherds working with the fire service, the police and border control as well as in the armed forces.
The same attributes make them highly popular pets and they are the second most popular canine breed here in the US. They are also loved because of their adorable appearance. They are a proud and regal dog with gently curving body contours and a thick coat. They have a domed forehead and strong jaws and their muzzle has an angular silhouette. They may trot easily by your side but it’s obvious that they are a true athlete when it is required.
If you are thinking about inviting a German Shepherd to share your life with you, here are the main things that you need to know about them.
- German Shepherds are known as a ‘one man’ dog because they can become very loyal to one human. This is often the member of the family that they spend most of their time with and that feeds and looks after them. They need a leader to look up to otherwise they will assume that they are the boss.
- These dogs reach a maximum of about 25 inches in height. You can expect an adult to weigh up to 95 pounds.
- A combination of poor breeding, inadequate training and poor socialization can result in them being nervous and they may over guard and display aggressive behavior.
- German Shepherds are often in the news. There are reports of them taking bullets for their owners and jumping into raging rivers to save children. This is a very brave breed!
- They can suffer pituitary dwarfism. Dogs with this condition look like puppies for their entire life. They may look super cute but they also suffer from a lot of health issues.
- The breed was first recognized by the American Kennel Club as far back as 1908 and evolved from European herding dogs.
The German Shepherd breed oozes confidence and they are highly self-assured. However, they are not arrogant. They are extremely willing to learn and love to have a purpose in life. Give them a job and they will do it to the best of their ability. If you don’t give them a job, you could experience a few problems. They have been bred to work and are happiest when they are doing just that. They need a lot of mental and physical stimulation to keep them happy.
It is sensible to check out the temperaments of your pup’s parents before you make a commitment. Go and visit them and spend time with them. You also need to socialize your German Shepherd pup from a young age so that they can get used to a lot of different sights and sounds and get used to people and other animals.
If your German Shepherd is not a working dog, you will need to find some activities to keep them entertained. Take them on lots of walks, play games with them and let them spend a lot of time with you. This is what suits their temperament best.
Training is a breeze when you have a German Shepherd. They learn to follow commands and how to do tricks faster than just about any other breed. You often only have to show them how to do it once. They will pick up even complex tasks after just three or five training sessions. Start their training early on as German Shepherd pups learn faster than adults.
German Shepherds have an unearned reputation as being aggressive and this is associated with their valuable work as guard dogs. Whilst it is true that they can be very protective towards those that they love, they are not naturally aggressive. If they are brought up around children and other animals they will be very affectionate and relaxed dogs.
Things You Should Know
Taking on a German shepherd is a big commitment. They are very intelligent and obedient dogs but they have their own challenges just like any other breed. They are highly energetic and require a lot of physical and mental stimulation so they do not suit the lifestyle of all families.
Here are the main things that you should know about the German Shepherd before you get one as your pet.
Dog training is vital to keep your pooch safe and happy. It is also vital to keep your stress levels under control and nip behavioral issues in the bud. So, how do you train a German shepherd?
The good news is that this breed is exceptionally easy to train. They are so intelligent that they will understand exactly what you want them to do and (most of the time) will be very eager to do it. They are people pleasers and will want to make you happy. Nevertheless, these dogs are looking for a pack leader to follow. If you do not show that you are the leader, they may decide to take on that role for themselves and this is a recipe for disaster. To avoid potential behavioral issues, you must be able to assert your authority. You must also be able to dedicate at least 30 minutes a day to exercising them and at least another 30 minutes to one-to-one bonding time with your dog when they get your undivided attention.
Only ever train a German Shepherd with treats and with positive reinforcement of good behavior. They will very soon get the hang of what you are trying to teach them. Give them a job or a project, even if it is just tidying up their own toys. They live to serve and are happiest when they feel that they are doing a good job for you. You do not want a bored German Shepherd in your home!
German Shepherds have a long and luxurious coat. They were bred to work outside and they needed this thick coat to protect them from the cold and the rain as they were herding sheep around the rugged mountains of Europe. Unfortunately, their coat sheds a lot in the spring and in the fall so you will have a lot of cleaning up to do. You may need to invest in a vacuum cleaner that is good at picking up pet hairs.
You can try to prevent some of the mess in your home by brushing them every day – you may want to do this outside when you can. A dog shedding brush will help a lot with this. However, because your dog has a double coat, you may find that the ‘rake’ which looks more like a comb and has long teeth and a sturdy handle is more useful. Even when they are not shedding, they will need a thorough brush one a week.
They do not need frequent baths as they are not a naturally smelly dog! However, every three months they should be bathed using a special dog shampoo so that it does not strip the natural oils from the skin and coat. Nail clipping is also important and if you are not comfortable doing it yourself, you can get a professional groomer to do it. However, you can save yourself a lot of money by investing in a good pair of dog nail clippers. If you start when your pup is young, they will soon get used to it and will co-operate with you.
German Shepherds are a strong and sturdy breed who are bred to work hard. You can expect your lovely pooch to live for at least nine or ten years and many live into their mid to late teens.
They can suffer from some of the health problems that are common in larger breeds. One of the most common of these is hip dysplasia. This is an abnormality of the hip that causes canine hip arthritis – an inflammation of the hip joint. The surfaces of the bones rub against each other in an abnormal way. It is mainly genetic in origin but lifestyle factors can contribute. Early on in the disease, you will notice that the joint seems loose and your dog is not moving around as much as they used to. As the condition progresses, it develops into joint degeneration and osteoarthritis. Your dog may find it hard to get up, they may be lame and there may be a loss of muscle around the thighs. It is recommended by the American Kennel Club that you have a hip and shoulder evaluation before your purchase a German Shepherd pup as this will prevent unpleasant surprises as your dog gets older.
Another common health issue is degenerative myelopathy. This is a degenerative condition that will eventually prove fatal. It affects the spinal cord and sadly there is no treatment. Eventually, it leads to paralysis of all of the limbs. It is caused by a gradual degeneration of the outer layer of the spinal cord. There is thought to be a genetic origin to the disease. The symptoms are only apparent in older dogs. It typically starts at around eight or nine years of age and is spotted first as a swaying gait. As it progresses, you will notice weakness in the hindlimbs and an inability to stand.
Bloat is another condition that you should look for but there is a lot that you can do to prevent this. It is also called gastric dilation-volvulus and is basically a twisted stomach. It is an extremely serious condition that occurs suddenly and half of the dogs who develop it will die. A dog with bloat will have an enlarged abdomen, they will retch, salivate and will be restless. It is vital that you get them to the vet quickly. You can help to prevent boat by not feeding your dog immediately before exercise.
It is thought that the current German Shepherd breed evolved from no fewer than six different breeds of herding dogs that were found in Europe. By the middle of the 1800s, attempts were being made to standardize the breeds. The most important point in history for the breed was probably when a breeder called Max von Stephanitz came across a dog called Hektor. He was very impressed by the dog’s intelligence and strength and thought that he was the perfect working dog. He purchased the dog from its owner and established the first Society for the German Shepherd dog. Hektor was the very first member.
By the early 1900s, the breed had been subject to stringent selection and was introduced to the US for the first time and they soon became very popular. Sadly, with the outbreak of World War I and the associated anti-German sentiments, their popularity decreased. Yet it was during the wars that the German Shepherd demonstrated its bravery and versatility as a working dog serving alongside allied troops. Nevertheless, their popularity took another hit after World War II.
The popularity of the breed soon recovered, in part due to some notable movie stars including Strongheart and Rin Tin Tin. They have been widely used as guide dogs and service dogs ever since.
Today, they are one of the most popular and valued breeds of dogs in the US and are loved by families all over the country.