German Shepherd: Is It A Great Family Dog?

German Shepherd laying on ground (caption: Guide to German Shepherds)The German Shepherd is a breed that has found its place in just about every niche from family dog to service dog work. Just what is it that makes the German Shepherd such a good candidate for so many varied activities?

Article Overview


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 Dog (GSD) 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 GSD continued to be shown as a wire-haired and a long-haired breed up until 1915.

These days, however, only the short-haired GSD 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.

What Does Today’s German Shepherd Look Like?

Male GSDs stand between 24 and 26 inches whereas females are 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.

German Shepherds are 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 GSD 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.


German Shepherd laying on ground with shiny coatThere 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 GSDs 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 as the German Shedder because this dog sheds hair constantly. Shedding an average amount of hair throughout the year, the GSD 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 over bathe 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 13 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


German Shepherd with cape on and training weightThe 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 is confident, works hard and is obedient. 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 GSD 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. (Doggy Dan is a great resource for online training videos that you can do yourself.)

When trained and socialized from a young age, the GSD 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 GSD 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.

Video: Monster Ben (It’s Me Or The Dog)

Watch this British TV show to see a family with a GSD named Ben. He was sweet as a puppy but grew into being an aggressive dog so they worked with a trainer to make changes in his behavior. Did it work or did the kids move out?


The GSD 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 require physical activity and games to stimulate them and keep them out of mischief.

This breed not only loves hard work, but it also loves work that involves using its brain, so it’s 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.

If you’re curious about how much exercise your dog gets daily, consider getting them a dog activity tracker.


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’re serving in a professional capacity the GSD 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 100 dog breeds as they were judged by 200 dog obedience judges while learning new commands. Dogs were ranked based on their ability to perform commands 95% of the time or better based on less than 5 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 GSD 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’s 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. If you love going for runs or long walks, don’t have dog allergies and love teaching your dog new tricks, a GSD may be the perfect breed for you.

Why do you love German Shepherds?

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