The German Shepherd (German: Deutscher Schäferhund) (formerly known as Alsatian and Alsatian Wolf Dog in Britain) is a breed of large-sized dog that originated in Germany. German Shepherds are a relatively new breed of dog, with their origin dating to 1899. As part of the Herding Group, German Shepherds are working dogs developed originally for herding sheep. Since that time, however, because of their strength, intelligence, trainability and obedience, German Shepherds around the world are often the preferred breed for many types of work, including search-and-rescue, police and military roles and even acting. German Shepherds are the second-most popular dog in the United States and fourth-most popular in the United Kingdom.
All in all, German Shepherds are fierce but friendly, and have a calm confidence that may seem kind of aloof. When in need, however, a German Shepherd is instantly ready to protect, play a game or perform a task—in some cases as a guard dog, police dog, herder or seeing eye dog. With a strong work ethic and an eager intelligence, they crave challenges. Enjoy!
German Shepherds were bred specifically for their intelligence, a trait for which they are now famous. In the book The Intelligence of Dogs, author Stanley Coren ranked the breed third for intelligence, behind Border Collies and Poodles. He found that they had the ability to learn simple tasks after only five repetitions and obeyed the first command given 95% of the time. Coupled with their strength, this trait makes the breed desirable as police, guard and search and rescue dogs, as they are able to quickly learn various tasks and interpret instructions better than other large breeds.
German Shepherds are highly active dogs and described in breed standards as self-assured. The breed is marked by a willingness to learn and an eagerness to have a purpose. They are curious which makes them excellent guard dogs and suitable for search missions. They can become over-protective of their family and territory, especially if not socialized correctly. They are not inclined to become immediate friends with strangers. German Shepherds are highly intelligent and obedient.
What They Are Like to Live With
Not to be left alone in the house too long, German Shepherds crave interaction and involvement. They are fiercely protective of their homes and families—sometimes known to “herd” children—and they get along with other pets. Standoffish and detached with strangers or those outside the family unit, they have been known to “over-guard” or bark protectively.
German Shepherds have great instincts and fertile minds. Lots of activity and exercise will make them happy, but tracking, obedience and agility games—or any task-oriented activity—will make them even happier. A bored or neglected German Shepherd may resort to chewing furniture, digging up flowers and other mischief.
Things You Should Know
The benefits of a German Shepherd—loyalty, protectiveness and eagerness, to name a few—come from careful obedience training and authority. Everyone in the household must be prepared to show “authority” and earn the dog’s respect with a firm but loving touch. They do not respond to negativity or anger. Once achieved, this respect may need to be earned again and again.
Shepherds don’t need to be bathed very often, but they tend to shed in great quantities. Brush them daily, outside if possible. Like any large dog, they can handle apartment living quite well but need daily walks and, if possible, vigorous exercise to stay sharp.
Some common health problems include hip and elbow dysplasia, skin allergies and pancreas deficiencies, They normally live up to 12 years.