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German Shepherd
Characteristics, History, and Health

German Shepherd

The German Shepherd breed originated in Germany in the late 19th century, where it was initially used for herding and guarding sheep. The breed was established by Captain Max von Stephanitz, a German cavalry officer who sought to create an ideal working dog that would also be highly adaptable. The breed's traits were solidified through controlled breeding practices, with an emphasis on working abilities rather than appearance. He took various strains of German herding dogs from northern and central districts and crossed them; this resulted in ancestors of the German Shepherd we know today. Though the breed was originally made to herd sheep, their stealth, agility, intelligence and speed have made them the ideal and preferred K-9 police and military dog. The breed now holds many jobs including guide dog, explosive and narcotics detection dog, guard dog, and search-and-rescue dog (among others).

Main Info
Alternate Names
Alsatian, Wolf Dog, Berger Allemand, Deutscher Schäferhund, Altdeutsche Schäferhunde
Life Expectancy
7-10 years
Average Male Height
24-26 inches
Average Female Height
22-24 inches
Average Male Weight
65-90 pounds
Average Female Weight
50-70 pounds
Coat Length
Coat Type
Coat Colors
Black, Black & Cream, Black & Red, Black & Silver, Black & Tan, Blue, Gray, Liver, Sable, White, Bi-Color
Coat Pattern

Genetic Predispositions and Health

German Shepherds can suffer from elbow and hip dysplasia, degenerative myelopathy, cardiomyopathy, panosteitis, hemangiosarcoma, cauda equina syndrome (CES), von Willebrand Disease, malignant neoplasms, skin allergies, pannus, gastric torsion, bloat, perianal fistulas, and cataracts. They may also be affected by Canine Scott Syndrome, leukocyte adhesion deficiency (type III), pituitary dwarfism, renal cystadenocarcinoma and nodular dermatofibrosis, rod-cone degeneration, hemophilia A (type 1 and type 2), hyperuricosuria, multidrug resistance 1, chondrodystrophy (with or without chondrodysplasia), X-linked ectodermal dysplasia, and mucopolysaccharidosis VII. This breed is also prone to a fatal Aspergillus fungal infection.

Personality and Behavior

German Shepherds are known for their intelligence, loyalty, and versatility. They have a confident and courageous personality and can be protective of their family, making them effective guard dogs. They require lots of mental stimulation and physical exercise, and without proper training and socialization, they can develop behavioral issues.

Fun Facts

During World War I, the American Kennel Club (AKC) changed the name from German Shepherd to Shepherd Dog, and the British started referring to them as Alsatians, due to the anti-German sentiment of the time.

German Shepherds are the second most popular breed in the U.S., according to the AKC.

They are often used in roles such as search and rescue, police and military roles, and disability assistance.

A German Shepherd named Rin Tin Tin was one of Hollywood's first canine stars.