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German Shepherd

German Shepherd Dog
Other names Alsatian
Berger Allemand
Deutscher Schäferhund
Country of origin Germany
Weight Male 30–40 kilograms (66–88 lb)
Female 22–32 kilograms (49–71 lb)
Height Male 60–65 centimetres (24–26 in)
Female 53–60 centimetres (21–24 in)
Coat See Description section below
Color Most commonly black and tan
Litter size 5-10
Life span 7 - 10 years[1]

The German Shepherd Dog (GSD, also known as an Alsatian), (German: Deutscher Schäferhund) is a breed of medium-sized dog that originated in Germany.[2] German Shepherds are a relatively new breed of dog, whose origins date to 1899. As part of the Herding group, the German Shepherd is a working dog developed originally for herding sheep. Because of their strength, intelligence and abilities in obedience training they are often employed in police and military roles, in forces around the world.[3] Due to their loyal and protective nature, the German Shepherd is one of the most registered of breeds.[4]



Horand von Grafrath; the first German Shepherd Dog pictured with Max von Stephanitz; the creator of the breed.


In Europe during the 1800s, attempts were being made to standardize breeds.[5] The dogs were bred to preserve traits that assisted in their job of herding sheep and protecting flocks from predators. In Germany this was practiced within local communities, where shepherds selected and bred dogs that they believed had traits necessary for herding sheep, such as intelligence, strength, and keen senses of smell. The results were dogs that were able to perform admirably in their task, but that differed significantly, both in appearance and ability, from one locality to another.[5]

To combat these differences, the Phylax Society was formed in 1891 with the intention of creating standardised dog breeds in Germany. The society disbanded after only three years due to an ongoing, internal conflict regarding the traits that the society should promote; some members believed dogs should be bred solely for working purposes, while others believed dogs should be bred also for appearance.[6] While unsuccessful in their goal, the Phylax Society had inspired people to pursue standardising dog breeds independently.

German Shepherd Dogs. Female (left), Male (right).

Max von Stephanitz, an ex-cavalry captain and former student of the Berlin Veterinary College, was one such ex-member. He believed strongly that dogs should be bred for working.

A German night-watchman from 1950 with his dog

In 1899, Von Stephanitz was attending a dog show when he was shown a dog named Hektor Linksrhein. Hektor was the product of many generations of selective breeding and completely fulfilled what Von Stephanitz believed a working dog should be. He was pleased with the strength of the dog and was so taken by the animal's intelligence and loyalty, that he purchased it immediately.[5] After purchasing the dog he changed its name to Horand von Grafrath and Von Stephanitz founded the Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde (Society for the German Shepherd Dog).[5] Horand was declared to be the first German Shepherd Dog and was the first dog added to the society's breed register.

Horand became the centre-point of the breeding programs and was bred with dogs belonging to other society members that displayed desirable traits. Although fathering many pups, Horand's most successful was Hektor von Schwaben.[7] Hektor was inbred with another of Horand's offspring and produced Beowulf, who later fathered a total of eighty-four pups, mostly through being inbred with Hektor's other offspring.[8] Beowulf's progeny also were inbred and it is from these pups that all German Shepherds draw a genetic link. It is believed the society accomplished its goal mostly due to Von Stephanitz's strong, uncompromising leadership and he is therefore credited with being the creator of the German Shepherd Dog.[9]


When the UK Kennel Club first accepted registrations for the breed in 1919, fifty-four dogs were registered, and by 1926 this number had grown to over 8,000.[5] The breed first gained international recognition at the decline of World War I after returning soldiers spoke highly of the breed, and animal actors Rin Tin Tin and Strongheart popularised the breed further.[10] The first German Shepherd Dog registered in the United States was Queen of Switzerland; however, her offspring suffered from defects as the result of poor breeding, which caused the breed to suffer a decline in popularity during the late 1920s.[10] Popularity increased again after the German Shepherd Sieger Pfeffer von Bern became the 1937 and 1938 Grand Victor in American Kennel club dog shows, only to suffer another decline at the conclusion of World War II, due to anti-German sentiment of the time.[10] As time progressed, their popularity increased gradually until 1993, when they became the third most popular breed in the United States, a position the breed still holds.[10][11] Additionally, the breed is typically among the most popular in other registries.[10]


The breed was named Deutscher Schäferhund by Von Stephanitz, literally translating to "German Shepherd Dog". The breed was so named due its original purpose of assisting shepherds in herding and protecting sheep. At the time, all other herding dogs in Germany were referred to by this name; they thus became known as Altdeutsche Schäferhunde or Old German Shepherd Dogs. Shepherds were first exported to Britain in 1908, and the UK Kennel Club began to recognise the breed in 1919.

The direct translation of the name was adopted for use in the official breed registry; however, at the conclusion of World War I, it was believed that the inclusion of the word "German" would harm the breed's popularity,[12] due to the anti-German sentiment of the era.[13] The breed was officially renamed by the UK Kennel Club to "Alsatian Wolf Dog"[a][12] which was also adopted by many other international kennel clubs. Eventually, the appendage "wolf dog" was dropped.[12] The name Alsatian remained for five decades,[12] until 1977, when successful campaigns by dog enthusiasts pressured the British kennel clubs to allow the breed to be registered again as German Shepherd Dogs.[2]

DDR German Shepherd puppy at 4 months

Modern breed

The modern German Shepherd is criticised for straying away from von Stephanitz's original ideology for the breed:[14] that German Shepherds should be bred primarily as working dogs, and that breeding should be strictly controlled to eliminate defects quickly.[b] Critics believe that careless breeding has promoted disease and other defects.[14] Under the breeding programs overseen by von Stephanitz, defects were quickly bred out; however, in modern times without regulation on breeding, genetic problems such as colour-paling, hip dysplasia, monorchidism, weakness of temperament, and missing teeth are common, as well as bent or folded ears which never fully turn up when reaching adulthood.[15]


A close-up of a German Shepherd's face showing the long muzzle, black nose and brown, medium-sized eyes

German Shepherds are a medium sized dog which generally are between 55 and 65 centimetres (22 and 26 in) at the withers and weigh between 22 and 40 kilograms (49 and 88 lb).[16] The ideal height is 63 centimetres (25 in), according to Kennel Club standards.[17] They have a domed forehead, a long square-cut muzzle and a black nose. The jaws are strong, with a scissor-like bite. The eyes are medium-sized and brown with a lively, intelligent, and self-assured look. The ears are large and stand erect, open at the front and parallel, but they often are pulled back during movement. They have a long neck, which is raised when excited and lowered when moving at a fast pace. The tail is bushy and reaches to the hock.[17]

A solid black German Shepherd

German Shepherds can be a variety of colours, the most common of which are the tan/black and red/black varieties. Both varieties have black masks and black body markings which can range from a classic "saddle" to an over-all "blanket." Rarer colour variations include the sable, all-black, all-white, liver, and blue varieties. The all-black and sable varieties are acceptable according to most standards; however, the blue and liver are considered to be serious faults and the all-white is grounds for instant disqualification in some standards.[18] This is because the white coat is more visible, making the dog a poor guard dog, and harder to see in conditions such as snow or when herding sheep.[19]

German Shepherds sport a double coat. The outer coat, which is shed all year round, is close and dense with a thick undercoat. The coat is accepted in two variants; medium and long. The long-hair gene is recessive, making the long-hair variety rarer. Treatment of the long-hair variation differs across standards; they are accepted under the German and UK Kennel Clubs but are considered a fault in the American Kennel Club.[17][18][20]


German Shepherds were bred specifically for their intelligence,[21] a trait for which they are now renowned.[3] They are considered to be the third most intelligent breed of dog, behind Border Collies and Poodles.[22][23] In the book The Intelligence of Dogs, author Stanley Coren ranked the breed third for intelligence. He found that they had the ability to learn simple tasks after only five repetitions and obeyed the first command given 95% of the time.[3] Coupled with their strength, this trait makes the breed desirable as police, guard, and search and rescue dogs, as they are able to quickly learn various tasks and interpret instructions better than other large breeds.[24]

Aggression and biting

German Shepherd Dogs have a reputation among some individuals for biting and have been banned in some jurisdictions as a result.[25] However, German Shepherd Dogs are among the top five most popular dogs in the United States according to American Kennel Club statistics[26] and well-trained and socialized German Shepherd Dogs have a reputation among many as being very safe (see Temperament section below). In the United States, one source suggests that German Shepherd Dogs are responsible for more reported bitings than any other breed, and suggest a tendency to attack smaller breeds of dogs.[27] An Australian report from 1999 provides statistics showing that German Shepherd Dogs are the breed third most likely to attack a person in some Australian locales.[28]

However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which advises on dog bite prevention and related matters, states "There is currently no accurate way to identify the number of dogs of a particular breed, and consequently no measure to determine which breeds are more likely to bite or kill."[29] Similarly, the American Veterinary Medical Association through its Task Force on Canine Aggression and Canine-Human Interactions reports, "There are several reasons why it is not possible to calculate a bite rate for a breed or to compare rates between breeds. First, the breed of the biting dog may not be accurately recorded, and mixed-breed dogs are commonly described as if they were purebreds. Second, the actual number of bites that occur in a community is not known, especially if they did not result in serious injury. Third, the number of dogs of a particular breed or combination of breeds in a community is not known, because it is rare for all dogs in a community to be licensed, and existing licensing data is then incomplete."[30] Moreover, studies rely on 'reported' bites, leading the National Geographic Channel television show, The Dog Whisperer to conclude that small dog breeds are likely responsible for more bites than large dog breeds, but often go unreported.[31] In addition, according to the National Geographic Channel television show, Dangerous Encounters, the bite of a German Shepherd Dog has a force of over 200 pounds (compared with that of a Rottweiler, over 300 pounds of force, a Pitbull, also over 200 pounds of force, a Labrador Retriever, of approximately 125 pounds of force, or a human, of approximately 170 pounds of force), which means it is important to note the impact that 'reported' bites and serious injury have on any dog bite studies and to distinguish a dog attack from 'aggression'.[32] Regardless, one source indicates that fatalities have been attributed to over 30 breeds since 1975, including small breeds, such as the Pomeranian.[33]

These claims have also been disputed on the statistical basis that German Shepherds represent a higher proportion of the population than other breeds and also because of the use of German Shepherd Dogs as protection dogs, which would require controlling statistical data for "pet" or "companion" use and not military, police or guard use.It is also important to note that German Shepherds are very common in cross-bred canines.[citation needed] And due to their popularity the layman will likely recognize most GSD cross-breeds simply as "German Shepherd," if a report is ever filed.[citation needed]


German Shepherds bond well with children they are familiar with

German Shepherds are highly active dogs, and described in breed standards as self-assured.[18] The breed is marked by a willingness to learn and an eagerness to have a purpose. Shepherds have a loyal nature and bond well with people they know. However, they can become over-protective of their family and territory, especially if not socialized correctly. An aloof personality makes them approachable, but not inclined to become immediate friends with strangers.[34] German Shepherds are highly intelligent and obedient and some people think they require a "firm hand", but more recent research into training methods has shown they respond as well, if not better, to reward based training methods.[35]


A German Shepherd Dog at an agility competition.

Many common ailments of the German Shepherds are a result of the inbreeding required early in the breed's life.[36] One such common issue is hip and elbow dysplasia which may lead to the dog experiencing pain in later life, and may cause arthritis.[37] A study by the University of Zurich in police working dogs found that 45% were affected by degenerative spinal stenosis, although the sample studied was small[38]. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals found that 19.1% of German Shepherd are affected by hip dysplasia [39] Chiefly because of Hip and Elbow dysplasia and spinal stenosis, the popularity of the German Shepherd as a working dog is declining with Police Forces and Armies worldwide. Even the German Army is increasingly utilizing the Malinois as a working dog [40]. Due to the large and open nature of their ears, Shepherds are prone to ear infections.[41] German Shepherds, like all large bodied dogs, are prone to bloat.

The average lifespan of a German Shepherd is 7 - 10 years,[1] which is normal for a dog of their size.[42] According to a study done by R.M. Clemmons, DVM PhD who is a Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery at the University of Florida, Degenerative Myelopathy, or DM is a neurological disease that occurs with enough regularity specifically in the breed to suggest the disease is one that is genetically predisposed in German Shepherd Dogs. [43] Additionally, German Shepherd Dogs have a higher than normal incidence of Von Willebrand Disease, a common inherited bleeding disorder.[44]

Use as working dogs

Urban Search and Rescue Task Force dog works to uncover survivors at the site of the collapsed World Trade Center after the September 11, 2001 attacks

German Shepherds are a very popular selection for use as working dogs. They are especially well known for their police work, being used for tracking criminals, patrolling troubled areas, and detection and holding of suspects. Additionally thousands of German Shepherds have been used by the military. Usually trained for scout duty, they are used to warn soldiers to the presence of enemies or of booby traps or other hazards.[45] German Shepherds have been trained by military groups to parachute from aircraft.[46]

The German Shepherd Dog is one of the most widely-used breeds in a wide variety of scent-work roles. These include search and rescue, cadaver searching, narcotics detection, explosives detection, accelerant detection, and mine detection dog, amongst others. They are suited for these lines of work because of their keen sense of smell and their ability to work regardless of distractions.[45]

At one time the German Shepherd Dog was the breed chosen almost exclusively to be used as a guide dog for the visually impaired. In recent years, Labrador and Golden Retrievers have been more widely used for this work, although there are still German Shepherds being trained. A versatile breed, they excel in this field due to their strong sense of duty, their mental abilities, their fearlessness, and their attachment to their owner.

In popular culture

Strongheart, one of the earliest canine stars

German Shepherds have been featured in a wide range of media. Strongheart the German Shepherd was one of the earliest canine film stars and was followed by Rin Tin Tin, who is now acclaimed as being the most famous German Shepherd. Both are credited with stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.[47]

The Littlest Hobo is a Canadian television series, based upon a stray German Shepherd who wanders from town to town, helping people in need.

German Shepherds have also played central parts in a number of recent films, including K-9 (which featured a real police-dog, Koton), The Hills Have Eyes and I am Legend (which was played by Renee Calvin's "Ben"). Blondi, Adolf Hitler's German Shepherd, has been featured in a number of documentaries and films about the dictator, such as Downfall. The Austrian police drama series Inspector Rex centres around a highly intelligent German Shepherd.

Batman's dog Ace the Bat-Hound appeared in the Batman comic books, initially in 1955, through 1964. Between 1964 and 1977, his appearances were sporadic.


a. ^ Named after the German-French border, Alsace-Lorraine.[48]

b. ^ The first standard of the German Shepherd Dog Society, written by von Stephanitz said "A pleasing appearance is desirable, but it can not put the dog's working ability into question ... German Shepherd breeding is working dog breeding, or it is not German Shepherd breeding"[49]


  • Choron, Sandra (2005). Planet Dog: A Doglopedia. Houghton Mifflin Books. ISBN 0618517529. 
  • Conan, Michel (2000). The German Shepherd Handbook. Hauppauge, NY: Barron's. ISBN 0764113321. 
  • Coren, Stanley (1995). The Intelligence of Dogs: A Guide to the Thoughts, Emotions, and Inner Lives of our Canine Companions. New York: Bantam Books. ISBN 0553374524. 
  • Cree, John (1977). Training the Alsatian, the Obedient Companion or Working Partner. Pelham. ISBN 0720709938. 
  • Palika, Liz (2008). Your Happy Healthy Pet: German Shepherd Dog. Wiley. ISBN 0470192313. 
  • Rice, Dan (1999). Training Your German Shepherd Dog. Hauppauge, NY: Barron's. ISBN 0764108522. 
  • Ross, John; McKinney, Barbara (1996). Puppy Preschool: Raising Your Puppy Right—Right from the Start. St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0312140290. 
  • Stevens, Katrina (2002). The German Shepherd Dog. Willow Creek Press. ISBN 1572235128. 
  • Strickland, Winifred Gibson; Moses, James A. (1998). The German Shepherd Today. Howell Book House. ISBN 0-87605-154-9. 
  • Willis, Malcolm; Bennett, Janet (1992). The German Shepherd Dog: A Genetic History. Maxwell Macmillan International. ISBN 0876051751. 
  • Willis, Malcolm (1976). The German Shepherd Dog: Its History, Development and Genetics. K and R Books. ISBN 0903264153. 
  • Fisher, John (1992). Dogwise: The Natural Way to Train Your Dog. Souvenir Press Ltd.. ISBN 0285631144. 


  1. ^ a b Dr. Kelly M. Cassidy. "Breed Data Summary". Retrieved 2008-07-19. 
  2. ^ a b "German Shepherd — The Ultimate Service Dog". German Culture. Retrieved 2008-07-15. 
  3. ^ a b c Coren, p.134
  4. ^ Rice, p.8
  5. ^ a b c d e "History of the Breed". German Retrieved 2008-07-15. 
  6. ^ Rice, p.11
  7. ^ Stevens, p.11
  8. ^ "Progency list for V Beowulf". Pedigree Database. Retrieved 2008-08-14. 
  9. ^ Willis, p.5
  10. ^ a b c d e Palika p.25
  11. ^ "AKC Dog Registration Statistics". American Kennel Club. Retrieved 2008-07-15. 
  12. ^ a b c d Palika p.22
  13. ^ Rice p.12
  14. ^ a b Conan, p.43
  15. ^ "The History of the German Shepherd Dog". German Shepherd Dog Club Queensland. Retrieved 2008-07-15. 
  16. ^ "USA German Shepherd Dog Standard". United Schutzhund Clubs of America. Retrieved 2008-07-20. 
  17. ^ a b c "German Shepherd Dog (Alsatian) Breed Standard". The Kennel Club (UK). Retrieved 2008-07-15. 
  18. ^ a b c "German Shepherd Dog Breed Standard". American Kennel Club. Retrieved 2008-07-15. 
  19. ^ Stowe, Holly. "German Shepherd Dog FAQ - "Why is a white GSD disqualified from the show ring in many clubs?"". Retrieved 2008-07-15. 
  20. ^ "Rasse-Lexikon Deutscher Schäferhund" (in German). Verband für das Deutsche Hundewesen. Retrieved 2008-07-15. 
  21. ^ von Stephanitz, p.12
  22. ^ "Ranks 1 to 10 - Brightest Dogs". Petrix. Retrieved 2008-07-15. 
  23. ^ "The Top 10 Smartest Dog Breeds In The World". Pet Meds Online. Retrieved 2008-07-15. 
  24. ^ "About the Breed". White Paws: German Shepherd. Retrieved 2008-07-15. 
  25. ^ Hogan, Louise (2007-07-14). "City council stands firm on dog ban". Irish Independent. Retrieved 2008-11-18. 
  26. ^ "AKC Dog Registration Statistics". American Kennel Club. Retrieved 2009-12-16. 
  27. ^ Ross, John; McKinney, Barbara (1996). Puppy Preschool: Raising Your Puppy Right--right from the Start. St. Martin's Press. p. 58. ISBN 0312140290. 
  28. ^ "Reported Dog Attack Survey" (pdf). New South Wales Department of Local Government. 1999. Retrieved 2008-11-18. 
  29. ^ "Dog Bite Prevention". Centers for Disease Control. Retrieved 2009-12-16. 
  30. ^ "A Community Approach to Dog Bite Prevention" (pdf). AVMA. 2001. Retrieved 2009-12-16. 
  31. ^ "Chihuahuas From Hell". National Geographic Channel. Retrieved 2009-12-16. 
  32. ^ "Canine bite force". 2008. Retrieved 2009-12-16. 
  33. ^ "Dog Bite Law: Statistics". Retrieved 2009-12-16. 
  34. ^ "Breed Standard — German Shepherd". New Zealand Kennel Club. Retrieved 2008-07-19. "While the dog should be approachable and friendly, he does not make immediate friendships with strangers." 
  35. ^ Dogwise: The Natural way to Train your Dog (1992), John Fisher, Souvenir Press Ltd. ISBN 0-285-63114-4
  36. ^ Willis, p.31
  37. ^ "German Shepherd Dog Health Problems". Dog Biz. Retrieved 2008-07-19. 
  38. ^
  39. ^
  40. ^
  41. ^ "German Shepherd Health Problems". Bodeus. Retrieved 2008-07-19. 
  42. ^ Dr. Kelly M. Cassidy. "Weight and Lifespan". Retrieved 2008-07-19. 
  43. ^ "Degenerative Myelopathy German Shepherd Dogs". University of Florida 1998. Retrieved 2009-04-11. 
  44. ^ "Von Willebrand's Disease (vWD): A Type of Hemophilia in Dogs". Drs. Foster & Smith, Inc.. Retrieved 2009-05-10. 
  45. ^ a b Strickland, p.17-28
  46. ^ "It's a dog's life in the Army". New Zealand Herald. 2008-07-22. Retrieved 2008-08-11. 
  47. ^ Choron, p.40
  48. ^ Palika, p.22
  49. ^ Harder, Aimee. "GSD vs. WGSD — It’s not a black or white issue!". White German Shepherd Dog Club of America. Retrieved 2008-07-20. 

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