German Shepherd: Is It A Great Family Dog?

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German ShepherdThe 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.

History Of The German Shepherd

The first German Shepherd was presented at Hanover in 1882 after being bred by several 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. Many 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 short-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 but can vary as widely as 50 to 90 pounds. Females are generally lighter than males.

The body of the German Shepherd is muscular and strong with a sloping body that slants backward. 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

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 bloodline.


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. 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 not overbathe this breed because it can result in oil depletion from the skin, exacerbating skin conditions such as eczema.

Overall Health

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.

Pet Insurance Testimonial

German Shepherd Dog: Toby
Pet Parent: Charlotte
Illness/Injury: MRI and Surgery
Petplan Reimbursement: $4,641

We have covered our GSD, “Toby” with a Petplan policy for 8 years. They have consistently covered every illness and injury. When they say “coverage for life” they actually mean coverage for life. Our GSD has several illnesses [Conjunctivitis and Osteoarthritis] that are lifetime illnesses. Petplan has paid every covered claim, every year, for each lifetime illness. All I do is provide a completed claim form, medical records, and my invoice. There has never been a delay in processing a claim. Most recently, we consulted with a surgeon for potential hip replacement. The surgeon quickly identified that there was something very wrong with Toby’s spine—Toby was having slight difficulty walking. An MRI was scheduled for the following week. The morning of the MRI, Toby was unable to move his backend. The MRI was immediately reviewed and it was discovered that Toby had an inter vertebral disk extrusion at T13-L1 that would require immediate surgery—if Toby was to ever walk again. Without hesitation we consented to the surgery. He is now 3 weeks post-surgery. Recovery is slow but promising. Rehab has begun—hydro-therapy (water treadmill) twice a week and laser therapy for his hips once a week. I filed the first claim for this medical emergency [MRI and surgery] on Dec 20th. Petplan paid $4,641. Yeah Petplan!!

Learn More About Pet Insurance Here


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 into the hands of a less than confident pack leader, this is one breed that will try to rule the roost. 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, 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, this breed is a far cry from the stereotype that some dangerous dog protestors talk of.


The German Shepherd is a working dog and 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 requires 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 exercise their dog sufficiently. 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.


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.


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.

Exercise Requirements

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.

Psychological Stimulation

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.

Why do you love German Shepherds?

About The Author:

Amy grew up in England and in the early 1990's moved to North Carolina where she completed a bachelors degree in Psychology in 2001. Amy's personal interest in writing was sparked by her love of reading fiction and her creative writing hobby. Amy is currently self employed as a freelance writer and web designer. When she is not working Amy can be found curled up with a good book and her black Labrador, Jet.

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Although I had two border collies prior to owning a shepherd that I thought were the greatest, smartest, most amazing dogs on the planet, I am very pleased with my shepherd. It would have taken an extraordinary breed of dog for me to be happy with it vs the border collies, I truly am pleased with the GSD. My shepherd was bred and trained for personal protection work and I love her temperament, her work ethic, her beauty and her devotion, shepherds are not a dog for everyone. They are a magnificent breed although a bit hard on the vacuum cleaner.
Kimberly Alt (Admin)
We completely agree, GSD’s are magnificent dogs! And yes, they can be hard to keep up with in regards to their shedding. If your vacuum is at the end of its life, you may find one of these vacuums for pet hair work excellent.
Kunal singh
Very excellent Dog With good loyalty.
They will die to please you and protect you , the best.
Articles like this make a generalization that all GSD’s are working dogs. Most of the typical GSDs sold as let’s in the USA are far removed from being a real working dog. They’ve been bred for show and or backyard breeding’s with no sound reasoning behind the breeding. There is a difference between a real working GSD breeding and your typical German Shepherd the neighbor has across the street
Your very true. The shepherd I have is not very prey driven, laid back and he’s a outside dog who is very aloof and greets me with a wiggly body then goes and lays down away just far enough to keep an eye on what I’m up too. He’s not destructive in the least. He seriously watches my chickens peck the ground. Always happy to chill on the porches and greet visitors by simply staring at them. Of course the stare scares some people and others know he’s just looking to see what’s going on. He’d rather ride the golf cart than run even though he’s a young dog. I’ve never actually trained him to do anything because he’s pretty good at being a dog and nothing is expected of him. I had him since a puppy rescued from a backyard breeder that did not feed well or give basic vet care. He’s definitely not the stereotypical working breed that needs interaction and demanding physical stimuli described in the article.
Ro Thom
It is cruel to have a dog that is not part of your family. They were bred to be companions to humans. It destroys their souls to isolate them outside. Maybe you should read the article again. You shouldn’t have a dog. There is no such thing as an “outside” dog.
Can the working part of the dog really be bred out?
Zoa Rockenstein
Yes, it can.
Our first family dog was a GSD named Maximus, and my parents got him when I was three. He lived 12 years and we got another GSD less than a year later who sadly died from bone cancer about six years ago. I’ve lived with GSDs since I was a child and they’ve remained my favorite dog breed, but I’ve never owned one on my own. I know they’re very active animals, but I’m not sure how long they can go without a rest? I’m wanting to get my own GSD in the near future, but also want to make sure the dog I have would enjoy a four mile run several times per week, along with regular outdoor adventures.
Zoa Rockenstein
Yes, but you would want to wait on those four mile runs until the puppy is about a year old.
Oh, they would! They love exercise. I mean they love it!
Dawn Shaphin
I love them because:
Loyal & intelligent.
8yrs old when I got my first one.
As an adult 1 German, 1 Belgium Malinois, & currently 2 mix shepherds.
Lost my German at 15 to DM, my Belgium at 7 to Hemangiosarcoma after beating LS.
I can tell you I have lost both my parents & the loss of these two baby boyz were the hardest loss in my life. It has been 5 & 3 yrs & not a day goes by I do not miss my sons. We did everything together, including riding a wave runner.
The 2 I currently have are sporting dogs, Rallly, Agility, Obedience, TDI, Nosework, CGC.
As you can see I have as an adult 20 years of Shepherds in my life. Once you have one and you understand them you will always have one.
I could talk about them & never find and end.
They become your life and I love them wholy.
Murrie Z
I recently rescued a gs who is about a year old. He is very aggressive, and although I had shepherds in the past, never experienced one with so many behavior issues. He is a sweet loving animal to me, but no one else can come near him. I’m so frustrated I don’t know what to do. Any suggestions?
Marlo M
It sounds like your dog needs socialization with people and animals at the least. If you’re out of ideas it might be time to hire a trainer to help you get some direction and progress. A trainer that uses TBTE methods would probably be good in this situation.
Zoa Rockenstein
Temperament is inherited. Personality can be influenced by the owner up to 16 weeks of age. It is best to get a German Shepherd from a reputable breeder of show dogs. Most puppies from show parents are pet quality and are placed as pets. They are far superior to pets from backyard breeders. American show-line dogs are very different in temperament from German show-line and German working-line dogs. One is not intrinsically better than the other; it just depends on what you want and can handle. American bred dogs are more laid back. They are protective without being unduly aggressive. German-line dogs tend to be more high energy and aggressive because these qualities are required in the sports in which they participate. These sports require the dog to attack and bite people, hopefully under the control of the handler. Breeders want to win, so the breed for the qualities that winners need to possess. American bred show dogs compete in sports that do not require aggression such as obedience, herding, agility, rally, and scent work. Show breeders do extensive health testing on their breeding stock. They also do temperament testing. They are knowledgeable about the genetic background of their puppies with regard to health and temperament. When you get a gsd from rescue, there is no way to know any of these things. The most common reason that gsds are surrendered to rescue is poor temperament, not shedding as the article says. Serious health issues, like hip dysplasia are also among the main reasons for surrender. Some rescue people believe that any dog with a behavior problem can be rehabilitated. This is not true. If the aggression is a function of inherited temperament, no amount of training will ever make that dog truly trustworthy. Such a dog can be dangerous. I would return it to the shelter. While this may be a heartbreaking decision, it beats having to put the dog down and/or getting sued and/or losing your home owner’s insurance because the dog bit someone.
Michael A Nosal
My two GSDs had puppies, and while I am not a show dog breeder, the puppies we had all have the BEST temperaments. Each of the owners of these pups marvel on how well behaved and loving they are.

That has to do with me never truly leaving the side of them.and their mother from the day they were born until they went to their forever homes. I laid in the whelping box with them when the momma needed a break.

You can be a “professional” breeder, but if you do not treat the pups with attention and affection from birth to adoption, then you will have subpar animals.

Anna Maria Iannetta
My female german shepherd lived over 18 years plus, almost 19, she died from a stroke!!! Miss her ♥️
Zoa Rockenstein
Wow! That is a long life for a German Shepherd! You took excellent care of her. So sorry about your loss.
Kiki Andrade
My 2 YO is alive because of my old GSD Leo. His mother was in the initial stages of a grand mal seizure. I was in the “doghouse”(couch) after an evening argument. When Leo started to lick my face while I was listening. Licking turned to whining, whining turned to out of excessive barking until I got up. He kept going into the room and returning to the living room until I followed him. That’s when I realized my pregnant girlfriend was beginning to convulse. Got her and the dog followed me into the car. Doc said a full blown seizure could’ve triggered a miscarriage. It was a shame I had to part ways with him. But, I will forever be grateful to him every time I see my boy.
Michael A Nosal
Why did you part ways? Unless he died, that dog would have been that boy’s protector its whole life.
I love how they always want to make you happy inner definitely smart and learn tricks very quick. Not to mention that they’re almost the same speed as a second fastest dog breed on Earth the English Whip It.
Linda Boone
I love them for how smart they are. I also love the breed my favorite and most how loyal and loving they are to their faimly.
Heidi C Hausmann
As an Animal Advocate and Canine Rescue for 3 decades I have helped save 658 dogs. In recent years, I have focused on German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois because so many are sadly misunderstood and killed in our shelters today.
This Breed is intelligent, loyal, resilient and beautiful. I hope and pray to rescue many more
Linda Boone
I love the breed becouse they are very intelagent love learning are very loyal and are so beautiful. I have one that’s 21 month’s old named marley named after bob marley I teach him how to count ill say bring me 2 boonies saying 1,2 showing my fingers on camand I love teaching him new thing’s all the time he’s my dog and I love him very much he’s my very first german shepherd I ever had and as a child I alway’s wanted one. We take alout of walk’s and play he’s my best friend.
Ann Casselman
I have had my German Shepherd for 8 years and yes she pushes my buttons and insists on play time. I recently had to retrain her after an eye cyst operation. I find Lucky Dog on Saturday mornings is amazing for training tips. The show shows how a dog is rescued and trained for placement in the home. It has been very effective for my needs and you may be pleasantly surprised…and it is free.
We have a 5 month old male & a 4 year old female, both are great with are grandson. The pup is a little more socialable, the female has working a generation of working K-9 in her. They due require a little more care and work, such as grooming, exercise, and training. You do need to deal with a reputable breeder who watches the genetics and does selective breeding, the extra cost is worth it.
Zoa Rockenstein
Thank you for supporting reputable, preservation breeders!
Ok i know all that stuff about a german shepherd being a great working dog but why is it on cdc for one of the most dog to bite people what is the percentage of people how many times im moving and wanted so bad to finally get a german shepherd for me and my 12yr old little girl but now i cant because my landlord said if there on here i can’t get one but you don’t tell r explain why it made the list all dogs do a little biting sometimes so please explain the percentage and why they r dangerous but yet such good dog’s at the sametime i want a german shepherd and with it being on the cdc bite list is ruing my chance so i could at least could get percentage and why it made the list thanks
Kimberly Alt (Admin)
Hi Tim, I suggest you read our article about dog bites. It mentions the GSD and links to sources.
Michael A Nosal
That’s because people do not realize that it is a pack animal. They need to be the ones to initiate first contact. They need to be the one to accept you into the “pack circle.”

Many bites happen because people try to impose themselves before the dog is ready.

The CDC should state that GSD bites are not due to the breed.

But, to the ignorance and carelessness of those who get bit.

Somewhere over the rainbow.
I need help and I can’t afford a trainer. My dog is a mixed dog, specifically German Shepherd and pug. He’s a saint around my boyfriend but will not listen to me at all. He jumps on me, whines, “talks back”, barks and throws temper tantrums. He’s incredibly smart, I have trained him to sit, stay, go potty on command, roll over and more. I don’t give him attention when he acts up and give him treats when he acts right. I’ve even tried a shock collar to no avail. It’s causing problems in my relationship because he acts up so much and it’s gotten to the point where we’ve even considered taking him back to the pound. I really don’t want to have to do that and I’m just so sad over the whole situation. I don’t know what to do.
Kimberly Alt (Admin)
I’m so sorry this has put a strain on your relationship. Is there anything different your boyfriend does with your dog that you don’t do with him or vice versa? Is he getting walked regularly and enough exercise outside everyday?
Somewhere over the rainbow.
He gets walked every day, he doesn’t really get to run around outside much because we live in an apartment. In all honesty, though, I don’t see why he would only act up with me if it’s due to lack of exercise. I would think he’d act up with both of us if that were the case. My boyfriend is more aggressive with him and I think Leo sees him as an alpha male. It’s hard for me to be that way because that’s not my personality at all. I know that you have to be assertive so I’m wondering if that’s the problem. If so, how can I go about teaching him that I’m the boss and not him?
Kimberly Alt (Admin)
To appear as the “boss”, try being the one who does things for him. You take him on his walks, feed him, give him treats and toys, etc. He must behave well for you not for your boyfriend. Therefore he must impress you. This may change his attitude and make him behave better.
Somewhere over the rainbow.
I am the one who takes care of the dog. I feed him, walk him, take him out to potty, etc. I make him sit and stay before leaving the apartment and before coming back in… You know, I do everything all my boyfriend does is watch him on his days off.
Kimberly Alt (Admin)
It’s important to remain calm and assertive with your dog. Since a certified dog trainer isn’t an option, perhaps you can learn some tips from some off of YouTube. Here’s one for example:
We have a german shepherd and found that it isn’t just who feeds her but what she needs to do to get fed by us. She needs to earn her food positively even if its just shaking paw and sitting a few more seconds without demanding for the food bowl. It allows her to demonstrate obedience and submissively. If she becomes insistent, then she is demonstrating alpha over you.
I have found that controlling my “space”, mostly my lap, the dogs I have are learning to see me not as an equal, but as a leader. We have a Daschund mix, her daughter, a Daschund mix& Chihuahua, and a gorgeous 14 month old GSD who basically just showed up on our door. The girls are learning to tolerate the big guy, and he adores them. He is smart enough to have learned some things from the girls, and was quick to learn the basics. I would love to have him trained to be my service dog. I will be needing that in the future!
Take here to dog park or anyplace you can expose herto other dogs as much as possible if making her a service dog other people with dogs should be able to walk up yo you and engage you with your dog being disinterested or at least not reactive
What worked for mine is for him to ‘ask your permission’ with eye contact, before a he gets food/toys/to leave the kennel. (Note: it’s really important you work on the ‘stay’ command) A good way to start is to have him sit in from of you and put his favorite treat in one hand, extend your arm away from you, and only give him the treat when he gives you eye contact instead of when he looks at the hand with the treats. And carry treats on you, so that every time he looks to you and makes eye contact, you reward him. Then do the same with other things, for example, have him in a ‘down stay’ while you put down his food and only release him to eat it, after he gives you eye contact. Now, the shock collar is an incredibly useful tool, but only if you use it properly. Use it when you see him in the beginning stages of (‘thinking about’) performing the bad behavior (Ex: you see him about to jump on you, throw a temper tantrum, etc.). By the same token, make a big deal every time he does the right thing—I mean, really pull out all the stops, treats/affection/toys/etc.. What you’re doing is making it so performing ‘bad’ behavior isn’t worth it while making the opposite true for good behavior—he’s going to do what gets him what he wants. Trust me.
Michael A Nosal
We have taught ours to say “please” by giving us a paw. They learned it so well that they will stare at us when we eat and raise that one paw without being prompted.

We look at each other and say “Gotta give ’em a treat for that!”

Shelly R Berchem
Please start a GFMP for your GS to have training also go to the library and get books, videos, look on line for additional information to help your GS! Good Luck and do not let your pet down… 🙂