1. Key Breed Facts
2. Breed Characteristics
3. Looking for a German Shepherd ?
8. Intelligence / Trainability
9. Children and Other Pets
11. Caring for a German Shepherd
15. Average Cost to keep/care for a German Shepherd
German Shepherds are one of the most popular breeds the world over and have consistently been so for many years. Extremely loyal and intelligent, the GSD is not only a great choice as a family pet, but they are extremely versatile in a working environment too. Over the years, the breed has been used by police forces in many countries, they play a vital role in the army all due to their intelligence, alertness, resilience, stamina and extraordinary scenting skills.
Loyal and courageous, the German Shepherd is an elegant and proud looking dog that soon lets their owners know when anyone is around. Because they are so intelligent, they need to be given lots of mental stimulation and physical exercise to be truly happy, well balanced dogs. They also need to be correctly trained and handled with a firm and gentle hand so they know who is alpha dog. They are never happier than when they know their place in the pack and who to look to for direction and guidance.
The German Shepherd we see today was first established at the end of the eighteenth century in Germany by a cavalry captain named Max von Stephanitz who spent thirty five years promoting the breed. He encouraged the police force in his native country to use German Shepherds in their line of work. During the First World War, thousands of these dogs became part of the German army.
German Shepherds were originally bred as herding dogs that guarded flocks, but the demand for them decreased over time which is when Max von Stephanitz stepped in to promote the breed's other skills while at the same time honing in on specific traits, namely their stamina, strength, speed, intelligence and eagerness to please and work.
By the late eighteen hundreds the first Breed Dog Club was set up in Germany called the Phylax Society, (Phylax being Greek for 'Guardsman'). The aim was to standardise the breed countrywide, one prominent member being Max von Stephanitz. When the first club disbanded, he set up the Society for the German Shepherd Dog and his own GSD Hektor was the first dog to be registered. He changed his dog's name to Horand von Grafrath and used him in breeding programmes to produce well-bred, strong and resilient German Shepherds, namely the ancestors of many German Shepherd lines that are around today.
Average height at the withers : Males 60 - 65 cm, Females 55 - 60 cm
Average weight : Males : 30 - 40 kg, Females 22 - 32 kg
The GSD is a mid size to large dog that boasts being a little longer in the body as compared to their height. They are powerful, muscular dogs that have extremely weather-resilient coats. They are very well proportioned dogs with slightly domed foreheads and nicely wedged shaped muzzles.
Their eyes are almond-shaped and medium in size with dark brown being the preferred colour although lighter eye colours are acceptable. The German Shepherd has a lively, intelligent expression and gives the impression of being a confident and self-assured character.
German Shepherds have medium to largish size ears that are broader at the base and set high on a dog's head. They carry their ears erect and parallel to each other. These dogs have a strong jaw line with a perfect bite. The boast longish necks that are strong and well muscled which they carry at an angle at rest, but higher when they are on the move or excited.
As previously mentioned, the GSD is a well proportioned dog which sees well muscled shoulders and legs. They are long in the body compared to their height with a deep chest that's neither too broad nor too thin. Their topline falls away from the wither down to the croup. Hindquarters are well-muscled, strong and broad with powerful back legs. Their feet are well rounded with short dark nails and their pads are extremely well cushioned.
German Shepherds have long tails that they hold in a curve when at rest and a little higher when they move although they never hold their tails higher than the level of their backs.
When it comes to their coat, this is extremely weather-resilient and the breed boasts two types, being short and long. Their outer coat is straight and dense lying close to the body with a thick undercoat. The hair on a GSD's head, ears, front legs, paws and toes is short, but longer and denser on their necks, backs of their legs and hindquarters. Dogs with longer coats have feathers on the underside of their tails, longer hair on the back of their front legs. The hair is also longer both behind and inside their ears which look like tufts.
Coat colours can be varied and include the following:
• Solid black
• Black and tan, gold, pale grey or fawn markings
• Sable - grey with lighter or darker markings
Puppies with nearly all black coats typically have black and gold coats as they mature. However, it's really hard to predict the amount of black a GSD may have in the coats as adult dogs just by looking at their puppy coats.
One thing worth noting is that although not recognised by KC breed standards, the- American White Shepherd is continuing to gain popularity as a separate breed.
German Shepherds are renowned for their intelligence, alertness and loyalty. However, they are not the best choice for first-time owners because they need to be expertly and calmly handled with a firm yet gentle hand. These dogs have to know their place in the pack and that their owner is the alpha dog or they could start displaying dominant behaviours which can lead to all sorts of problems.
Being essentially a "working" dog, German Shepherds need to be given lots of mental stimulation as well as enough daily exercise to be truly happy and well-balanced in a home environment. Because they are so intelligent, they are quick to learn and this includes picking up "bad habits" all too easily if allowed to. If left to their own devices and not given the right amount of exercise, a German Shepherd may well become a little destructive and noisy around the home through sheer boredom.
These dogs respond well to positive reinforcement training because they are quite sensitive by nature and do not react well to any heavy handed handling. Being very alert and loyal, German Shepherds can be a little territorial which is something to bear in mind when you know anyone is coming to visit you in your home.
German Shepherds are high maintenance dogs and they thrive on being with owners who can devote their time to their canine companions. They need to be given at least 2 hours exercise every day and lots of mental stimulation to be truly happy and well balanced characters. Although very versatile, a German Shepherd would not do well living in an apartment and ideally they should have a safe, large garden to roam around in as often as possible. The GSD prefers to live in a structured family environment and thrives on human companionship.
With the correct handling, this is one of the smartest and most trainable of dogs on the planet and when tempered with their calm and unflappable natures, the GSD is an ideal dog for families and as a working dog.
German Shepherds are highly intelligent dogs that need a tremendous amount of mental stimulation to be truly well-rounded characters. In the right hands and with the correct amount of training, they are extremely responsive and excel when they take part in obedience classes. They are particularly receptive to voice commands when the right sort of intonation is used.
German Shepherds respond well to positive reinforcement and will not accept any harsh methods which includes correction. When these dogs are well handled, they excel at all the canine sporting activities which includes agility, Flyball and obedience, but they can also be seen working as rescue dogs, tracking dogs and helping the police and other authorities in their work, all of which are jobs which German Shepherds take in their stride.
However, if well socialised and introduced to lots of people, different situations and other animals when they are puppies and young dogs, the German Shepherd generally turns out to be a well-balanced and relaxed dog when they are around people they don't know, other dogs and family pets.
With this said, German Shepherds need to be well socialised when they are puppies and because they are so intelligent, they quickly learn the rules. They can learn new things after being shown and taught a command five times - which makes the breed so very special.
All introductions to new pets and animals needs to be slowly and carefully to make sure everything stays nice and calm which reduces the risk of any aggressive behaviour.
For further advice please read our article on Keeping Children Safe around Dogs.
The average life expectancy of a German Shepherd is between 9 - 13 years and sometimes longer when properly cared for and fed an appropriate good quality diet to suit their ages.
With this said, the breed is known to suffer from certain hereditary and acquired health issues which includes the following:
Other health issues that are sometimes seen in the breed include the following:
As with any other breed, German Shepherds need to be groomed on a regular basis to make sure their coats and skin are kept in tip-top condition. They also need to be given regular daily exercise so they remain fit and healthy. On top of this, German Shepherds need to be fed a good quality diet throughout their lives to ensure all their nutritional needs are met.
German Shepherds are considered to be heavy shedders due to their thick and dense double coats. As such, these dogs really benefit from being groomed as often as possible and ideally this should be done daily because once a week would not be enough to keep a dog's coat looking good and free of any loose hair.
However, they don't need bathing that often and overdoing this could result in altering the natural PH balance which could lead to a dog developing skin allergies. One thing to bear in mind is that long haired German Shepherds need a lot more in the way of grooming than shorter haired dogs and they tend to be heavier shedders too.
German Shepherds are high maintenance dogs in the exercise department and ideally need to be taken out for a walk a minimum of twice a day for a good hour each time. However, they also need to be given a tremendous amount of mental stimulation or they can quickly start showing signs of boredom and dominance.
These dogs thrive on learning new things and as previously mentioned are one of the smartest dogs on the planet which in short means they can also pick up some bad habits if not handled and trained correctly both at an early age and throughout their lives. They are a great choice for people who like to be out and about in the great outdoors as often as they can with a canine companion in tow. German Shepherds are not a good choice of pet for anyone who leads a more sedentary life.
It is also wise to take into account the feeding cost for a German Shepherd if you are thinking about sharing your home with one of these loyal and large dogs because it would work out quite a bit more expensive than other smaller breeds. Being high energy dogs, German Shepherds need to be fed a good quality, nutritious diet that has a higher protein content to meet their needs and the different stages of their lives.
If you've decided to get a puppy, they would need to be fed a diet specifically formulated for puppies because it contains all the extra vitamins, minerals and other nutrients a puppy need to grow and develop properly. German Shepherd puppies need to be fed at least 3 to 4 times a day to begin with all the while teaching them to go outside to do their "business" so they learn the ropes and are house trained. However, a responsible breeder would recommend you feed a puppy the same diet they are used to before gradually changing it over a few weeks to avoid them suffering any stomach upsets.
Adult dogs are not known to be fussy eaters, but it is recommended they not be fed a rich and fatty diet because of the fact they have a tendency to suffer from pancreatic issues. It is also very important to feed a GSD at specific times and a good hour before and after they are given any exercise because of their predisposition to developing bloat (gastric torsion).
Older German Shepherds need to be fed a diet to suit their ages too and this may mean feeding them smaller amounts more frequently throughout the day. This would mean feeding a dog 3 to 4 times a day so they find it easier to digest their food. It is also very important to avoid giving a German Shepherd any fatty foods when they are in their golden years. Just like any other breed, they need to have free access to fresh, clean water at all times.
If you are looking to buy a German Shepherd Dog, be prepared to pay anything from £250 to well over £2000 for a well-bred pedigree puppy bought from a reputable breeder or private seller. The cost of insuring a 3 year old German Shepherd if you live in the north of England would be just over £20 a month for basic cover up to just over £80 for a lifetime policy (quote as of March 2016). It's worth bearing in mind that lots of things are factored into a dog's insurance premium and this includes where you live in the UK and a dog's age.
When it comes to food costs, you would need to buy the best quality dog food whether wet or dry for your dog throughout their lives and to suit the different stages of their lives. This would set you back between £40-£60 a month. On top of all of these costs you would need to factor in the cost of neutering or spaying a young GSD when the time is right and the price of keeping them vaccinated which when all added up comes to over a £1000 a year.
As a rough guide, the average cost of owning a German Shepherd would be in the region of anything between £100 to £150 a month not including the cost of buying a pure bred German Shepherd puppy in the first place.
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