The German shepherd (GSD) dog is a large working breed that was originally bred as a herding dog and to protect livestock from predators, but which today is equally popular as a pet and within a range of other highly varied working roles too. Handsome, noble and very distinctive, virtually anyone could pick a German shepherd out of a line-up, and the breed is also reliably one of the most commonly owned pets within the UK too.
The German shepherd is also one of the breeds that sometimes give people pause if they are not familiar with dogs, as the GSD can appear rather formidable, with a loud bark and tenacious nature, and they are also widely used in working roles such as personal protection, property guarding, crowd control, and police and military work. The well trained and properly cared for German shepherd is a highly rewarding pet that is protective but not aggressive or untrustworthy, and these, along with their multiple other positive traits, ensure that the breed has a strong and loyal following.
Every German shepherd is of course different, and while some thrive within working roles, others will only be truly happy as pets. Despite the numerous differences between individual dogs, the breed as a whole still tends to share several almost universal personality traits, which we will look at in more detail within this article.
The German shepherd is one breed that is incredibly loyal to their immediate family and regular handlers, and the trust that they will place in the people that care for them is part of what makes them such excellent working dogs. They tend to be slightly speculative about other people and may take a while to warm up to newcomers, but once you have made friends with them, they will consider you part of their inner circle, and treat you accordingly!
The well trained German shepherd should be trustworthy and reliable with strangers, but they do not usually share the “everyone’s best friend at first meeting” traits of some other breeds, preferring to take the time to get to know you better first!
The size, build and strong working instincts of the German shepherd mean that they can be seen all over the world excelling in a huge variety of canine jobs, and they are one of the most versatile breeds out there. Their strong desire to please their handlers, tenacious natures and problem-solving abilities mean that they get on equally well in protective roles, detection roles, and in canine sports such as agility and obedience.
The German shepherd is a fairly territorial dog, which will soon work out the boundaries of their home and garden and patrol it to look out for intruders. They will bark and make a fuss to let you know when someone is coming, and left to their own devices, will often physically block people from coming too close to their territory, or the smaller members of their family!
This protective trait can either be enhanced with training where necessary for working dogs, or muted to ensure that they can relax and live happily within a suburban family home.
The German shepherd is widely recognised as one of the smartest breeds around, coming third in the list of over 130 breeds in the Coren ranking of canine intelligence. Bested only by the Border collie and the poodle, the German shepherd can learn commands quickly, execute them reliably, retain a wide range of different commands, and competently execute complex, chain and higher-level commands with no problems at all.
This also means that they can pick up bad habits with ease too, and so they require an experienced and competent trainer that has the skills to stay one step ahead of the dog, and keep them engaged in learning and developing!
German shepherds are very bold, and will not back down when push comes to shove! They will stand their ground in the face of virtually any threat, and in fact one of the standard tests for working German shepherd police dogs is the dog’s ability and willingness to keep a grip on the arm of a police dog handler acting out the role of a criminal, while the “criminal” shouts and screams at the dog and swings a baton around the dogs head in a threat display.
German shepherds are brave and protective, and their deep level of trust in their handlers means that they will follow their commands under all sorts of conditions, placing their trust in their owner and relying on them to keep them safe. They have charged into battle alongside of the mounted cavalry, and are often used by the military as bomb detection dogs, proving that the German shepherd is one of the most fearless and loyal breeds around.