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The German shepherd is a breed that has found its place in just about every niche from schutzhund to service dog work. Just what is it that makes the German Shepherd such a good candidate for so many varied activities? Below we will take a look at the characteristics that make this breed so popular from physical characteristics to smarts.
The History of the German Shepherd
The first German Shepherd was presented at Hanover in 1882 after being bred by a number of breeders in Karlsruhe, Germany. The objective when breeding the German Shepherd was to produce a dog that was as handsome as it was responsive and obedient. A number of different breeds were used in the creation of the shepherd including a variety of local farm and herding dogs. The sheer variety in coat length and texture resulted in variation along the shepherd lines as they were developed. Originally the shepherd had longer hair and in 1889 the first short haired shepherd was presented in Berlin.
The first dog recognized as a German Shepherd dog was named Horan and was registered in April of 1899 by Captain Max von Stephanitz. The German Shepherd continued to be shown as a wire haired and a long haired breed up until 1915. These days however, only the shorter haired German Shepherd is shown. This breed was brought from Germany to the United States and in 1907 the first American German shepherd was shown. In 1908 the German Shepherd became an American Kennel Club recognized breed in the herding class.
The German shepherd breed is now recognized by the CKC, FCI, AKC, UKC, KCGB, CKC, ANKC, NKC, NZKC, GSDCA, APRI, ACR, DRA and NAPR.
What Does Today’s German Shepherd Look Like?
Today’s German Shepherd dog stands between 22 and 26 inches tall. Male German Shepherds stand between 24 and 26 inches tall whereas the females are a little shorter standing between 22 and 24 inches tall. The average weight for this breed is between 75 and 85 pounds and females are generally lighter than males.
The body of the German Shepherd is muscular and strong with a sloping body that slants backwards. The teeth of this breed meet in a strong scissor bite and the eyes are almond in shape. The German Shepherd has ears that point upright and forwards which may not peak upwards completely when the dog is a young puppy. This working breed has a bushy tail and thick rear legs.
The Coat of the German Shepherd
There are three recognized coats on the German Shepherd dog, the double coat, the plush coat and the longhaired coat. All of these coats can come in a variety of colors including liver and white and blue but most commonly black and tan, sable and all black. Liver, white and blue German Shepherds are not recognized as breed standard dogs and are cause for eliminating a dog from the show ring. White German Shepherds are considered to be a completely different breed. In few instances a type called a Panda Shepherd is recognized, this is a piebald colored dog that has 35% white coloration and the remaining coat is black and tan. The interesting thing about the Panda Shepherd is that there is no White Shepherd in the dog’s blood line.
Shedding and the German Shepherd
The German Shepherd is commonly referred to by lovers of the breed as the German Shedder because this dog sheds hair constantly. Shedding an average amount of hair throughout the year, the German Shepherd is also a heavy shedder seasonally. In an effort to reduce the amount of hair that this breed leaves throughout the home it should be brushed daily. Daily grooming should also include ear checks and claw trimming. German shepherd owners should be sure not to over bathe this breed however as this can result in oil depletion from the skin which can exacerbate skin conditions such as eczema.
The Overall Health of the German Shepherd
The average lifespan of the German Shepherd is around thirteen years.
Unfortunately, the German Shepherd is a dog that has been bred indiscriminately and as a result a considerable number of hereditary diseases have developed in the dog’s lineage. Some of the common health concerns that occur in these dogs include hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, epilepsy, corneal inflammation, digestive difficulty, blood disorders, bloating, eczema, flea allergies, dwarfism, endocrine pancreatic insufficiency, degenerative myelitis, Von Willebrand’s disease and perianal fistulas. Many of these conditions can be completely avoided by tracing the lineage of a bitch and sire before breeding them. Pet owners should always ask for evidence of a dog’s parental lineage prior to purchasing any purebred puppy.
The Temperament of the German Shepherd
The German shepherd is a working dog and has been since it was first designed by breeding local farm and working dogs. As a result, this dog possesses all of the characteristics one would look for in a working dog such as confidence, work ethic and obedience. Certainly these characteristics make this dog a great candidate for most working positions, however, they can make owning a pet German Shepherd tricky for less experienced dog owners. This is a breed that is calm, clever, confident and serious and when put in the hands of an experienced dog handler they will be brave and faithful and will perform their duty until they drop. When put in to the hands of a less than confident pack leader, this is one breed that will try to rule the roost. In order to be seen as a strong pack leader the owner of a German Shepherd should be firm and consistent but also have an air of calmness about them. If this dog senses any lack of leadership it will not hesitate to rise to the position. It is important to remember that this breed will not respond well to harsh punishment or training techniques.
When trained and socialized from a young age however, the German Shepherd is the perfect breed in many ways. Loyal to its family, there is no doubt that this breed would put its life on the line if its pack were in danger. The German Shepherd is good with children and other animals when socialized from an early age and becomes extremely attached to its family. This need for affection from its pack means that this breed does not do well in isolation and certainly do not make good “outdoor” dogs.
When they are not trained and do not experience socialization, the German shepherd can be shy, aggressive, unstable and unresponsive. Guarding issues are not unusual in German shepherds that are not trained and socialized well. When they receive adequate training and socialization however, this breed is a far cry from the stereotype that some dangerous dog protestors talk of.
Exercise and the German Shepherd
The German Shepherd is a working dog and as such it requires a considerable amount of exercise, both physical and psychological. This is not a dog breed that Is happy to be a couch potato, they require physical activity and games to stimulate them and keep them out of mischief. This dog not only loves hard work, but it also loves work that involves using its brain, so it is important to provide a long daily walk or better yet, a run as well as to include obedience and games. German Shepherds should be made to heel when walking to solidify their place in the pack. Ideally these dogs also love pack games like fetch or Frisbee which also serve well to tire them out.
German Shepherd owners often find that if they are not able to participate in extra activities with their dog, that doggy daycare works well to sufficiently exercise their dog. Doggy daycare is a great option if you are unable to be home with your shepherd during the day as well because it prevents the dog from becoming destructive out of boredom.
Activities and the German Shepherd
The German shepherd is a very versatile breed and has been spotted in a number of positions varying from fun to serious job responsibilities. When they are serving in a professional capacity the German shepherd can be found taking part in police work, guard dog work, sheepdog work, service dog work, military work and search and rescue work. Other “non-professional” sports that the German shepherd frequently participates in include: schutzhund, obedience, tracking, flyball, ring sport and agility.
The Intelligence of the German Shepherd
According to a recent study by the author of “The Intelligence of Dogs,” Stanley Coren, PhD, ranks the German shepherd as the third smartest dog breed in the top ten dog breeds. This study took a look at more than one hundred dog breeds as they were judged by two hundred dog obedience judges while learning new commands. Dogs were ranked based upon their ability to perform commands 95% of the time or better based upon less than five repetitions of the command.
The incredible level of intelligence in the German shepherd, a level only bested by the Border collie and the poodle, makes this breed incredibly versatile. An ability to quickly pick up new commands and an intense desire to please its master means that the German Shepherd is the perfect candidate for any number of professional positions available to canines. This is perhaps why this is the breed of choice for both military and police work around the world.
Is the German Shepherd the Right Choice for You?
When choosing a dog breed it is important to ensure that you pick the right dog breed. This means not only that the dog suits your preferences but also that you are able to meet the dog’s needs.
The single biggest thing to take in to consideration when you are deciding whether a German Shepherd is the right dog for you is the amount of exercise that this dog will need. This is a working dog breed and without adequate exercise not only will the dog become obese but it will become bored and destructive which will quickly strain your relationship. A German Shepherd requires rigorous daily exercise which involves more than a single stroll around the neighborhood. If you are looking for a running buddy then this could be the right breed for you.
Dog breeds like the German Shepherd require constant psychological stimulation to be happy. Without an adequate level of stimulation this dog will not only become bored but they can also become depressed. Psychological stimulation requires dedication to training your dog as well as taking part in interactive games and teaching tricks. If you are willing to spare time each night to work with your dog on teaching new commands then the German Shepherd could be the breed you are looking for.
If allergies or the presence of dog hair in the home are a concern for you or any of your family members then the German Shepherd is not the dog for you. Regardless of how often you brush this breed, shedding is inevitable and this is something that should be seriously considered prior to bringing home a German Shepherd. One of the biggest reasons that this dog breed finds itself in the shelter is because they “shed too much.” Daily brushing will greatly reduce shedding and dog hair in the home but any dog owner should expect a reasonable amount of dog hair in the home.
Experience with dog handling is important when considering adding a German Shepherd to your home. If you do not have experience with the breed already then make sure to do plenty of research to ensure that you provide a solid position of leadership in your household. It is important that you understand how to lead your new dog and provide then the structure of a pack that allows them to understand their position in the home. If you are inexperienced at dog handling and are unwilling to educate yourself and learn about the German Shepherd breed then this is not the dog for you. This breed requires dedication.