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Originally bred to herd and guard stock as the name suggests, the German Shepherd Dog (GSD) or Alsatian is now often employed in by the Police or Military in a security or guarding role. The GSD is an instantly recognisable and well proportioned dog. Strong, athletic, courageous and fiercely intelligent (often cited as being in the top 3 as the most intelligent breed of dog behind Border Collies and Poodles), these dogs are also renowned for their loyalty and willingness to learn making them a popular dog to keep as a pet.
The GSD was originally bred in Germany to herd and guard stock by selecting traits useful to the stock keeper including speed, strength, stamina, desire to work and intelligence. Regional differences were very noticeable in the physical characteristics so in the late1800's a group of people formed what was the country's first German Shepherd Dog Club. Called, the Phylax Society, (Phylax being Greek for 'Guardsman'), the aim was to standardise the breed countrywide. While the society disbanded after just a few of years, one member named Max Von Stephanitzt pursued his interest in perfecting a breed of dog for this type of work and purchased a dog named Hektor. Von Stephanitzt went on to found the Society for the German Shepherd Dog and Hektor was the first dog to be registered as this breed and was successfully used to breed with other dogs showing the traits Von Stephanitzt thought desirable and thus the German Shepherd Dog we know and love today was born.
Average height to withers: Males from 24 inches - 26 inches, females between 22 inches - 24 inches.
Average weight: 35kg - 40kg for both males and females, although males do tend to be heavier than females.
The GSD is a mid size to larger dog (although excessive high is not a desirable trait as per breed standards), being strong and well proportioned. Noble and defined of the face, the GSD has a domed forehead melting into an elongated muzzle with a black nose. The large, forwards facing and erect ears are a notable physical feature of the GSD along with alert, brown eyes. The body of a GSD is elegant with the withers of the dog usually sloping in a top line to the rump followed by a bushy, thick tail extending down to the hock joint. The whole package of a GSD gives an impression of a powerful and muscular dog.
The GSD has a medium length, dense, double coat. The most recognisable colour of this dog is black and tan, although all black, sable and blue and liver are also seen. An all white variation, although still rare, is becoming more apparent. While this is not recognised by KC breed standards, it has been given its own name - American White Shepherd - and is continuing to gain popularity as a separate breed.
As a dog bred to work this is a dog which will thrive with a family or person who can devote the time it needs for exercise and mental stimulation. It is also useful for this dog to have ready access to a safe, outside area such as a garden or yard.
A distinctly alert and courageous animal, the GSD is also a loyal companion and a winning all rounder. From working as a herder or in a guarding capacity to a family pet, this is a dog whose popularity speaks for itself. A dog of many facets, the GSD can be quiet yet lively, serious yet fun and confident yet faithful. Having an instinctive capacity to protect, the GSD lives life well within a structured family unit and thrives on human companionship. As a result, they are great family pets and generally good with children and other animals provided they are socialised from an early age and given confident leadership from the pack leader, without the over use of aggressive or harsh training techniques. In fact, in a book called 'The Intelligence of Dogs', author Stanley Coren found that German Shepherd Dogs have the ability to interpret instructions from its human handler more than any other breed of larger dog, with the majority of this breed studied correctly reacting to a simple instruction after only 5 repetitions of it.
With the correct handling, this is one of the smartest and most trainable of dogs and when this is tempered with its calm and unflappable nature making it an ideal dog for many situations and roles.
The average life span of a GSD is around 10-13 years. A common problem with the GSD appears to be hip and elbow dysplasia. Hip Dysplasia (HD) can affect all breeds of dog but is more prevalent in some breeds than others. It is caused by the abnormal formation of the hip ball and socket joint. Normally the ball would form a pivot point in the socket; however, some dogs are born with a genetic predisposition for HD. This means that at birth their hips are normal but as they grow, the hip joint does not grow correctly and as a result the ball no longer fits as it should. Elbow dysplasia is a condition involving developmental abnormalities of the elbow-joint in the dog, specifically the growth of cartilage or the structures surrounding it.
After the age of a year or so, the owner can opt to have their dog 'hip scored' with similar diagnostic methods available for elbow conditions. Hip scoring is a method used by vets to determine the degree of HD in dogs and involves the vet assessing a number of criteria during a diagnostic examination. If the dog is then found to have a high probability of HD, remedial action can be taken.
In addition, some herding dogs carry a gene called the MDR1 gene. This can make them sensitive to some drugs, that are otherwise okay to give another breed of dog and in some instances the presence of this gene can be fatal.
They can also be prone to Epilepsy and some dogs can have sensitive skin, for example reacting badly to flea bites and other allergies.
For further infromation on health issues common to German Shepherds, please read our German Shepherd health issues article.
As a very heavy shedder of its thick, double coat, the GSD will benefit from a regular schedule of grooming although due to it being prone to skin condition, over shampooing should be avoided. This breed will also require frequent and varied exercise and is not suited to a sedentary lifestyle so only people with the time to dedicate should own one. It is also wise to take into account feeding cost for this dog, as a mid - large size dog, feeding coast may be higher than some smaller breeds.