Learn What's to Love About German Shepherd Dogs (2024)

German shepherd dogs are one of the most popular breeds in the world, treasured for their intelligence, loyalty, and athleticism. They're large brown-and-black dogs with a streamlined build that makes them both strong and agile.

Though they're excellent herding dogs,German shepherdsare also very well suited to work as service animals, suchas guide dogs for the visually impaired. They also serve as police officers, members of the military, guard dogs, and even movie stars.

They're undoubtedly versatile dogs, but they need owners who can give them enough ways to expend their energy and smarts. If you think you can keep up, read on to learn more about the German shepherd dog.

Breed Overview

Group:Herding

Height: 22 to 26 inches

Weight: 60 to 100 pounds

Coat: Coarse, medium-length double coat

Coat Color: Black and tan, black and cream, black and red, black and silver, solid black, gray, sable. Note that blue, liver or white are unfavorable based on breed standards.

Temperament: Intelligent, courageous, alert, bold, loyal, protective

Hypoallergenic: No

Origin: Germany

Characteristics of the German Shepherd

German shepherds are protective, loyal companions. Bred with a strong work ethic, they are among the most popular dog breeds in the United States—No. 4 in 2022—thanks in large part to their ability to be great family dogs. They love "their people" but can be cautious around strangers or newcomers and thrive on the care and attention of their family.

This isn't the right breed for you if you are rarely home, live in a very small home without access to a yard, or simply don't have a lot of time to devote to your pet. The German shepherd needs a lot of companionship and attention to thrive and to help ward off destructive or annoying behaviors that can rise out of anxiety or boredom.

While most German shepherds are family pets, many of these dogs are hard-working canines in various jobs that serve humans, including search-and-rescue, police, drug- or bomb-sniffing, service, and entertainment work.

Affection LevelHigh
FriendlinessMedium
Kid-FriendlyHigh
Pet-FriendlyLow
Exercise NeedsHigh
PlayfulnessHigh
Energy LevelHigh
TrainabilityHigh
IntelligenceHigh
Tendency to BarkHigh
Amount of SheddingHigh

History of the German Shepherd

The ancestors of German shepherd dogs acted as both servants and companions to humans for hundreds of years. Developed from old shepherd and farm dogs, the German shepherd dogs we know today were first introduced in Germany in 1899. That's when Capt. Max von Stephanitz founded the breed.

Worldwide interest in the breed began rising in the early 1900s and the German shepherd was recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1908. During World Wars I and II, the word "German" was dropped and the breed was referred to as the shepherd dog or the Alsatian (a name that is still often used in Europe).

The breed's popularity has led to cross-breeding, including the development of king shepherds, a mix between German shepherds and Shiloh shepherds.

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German Shepherd Care

German shepherd dogs require frequent care, training, and attention but they will reward you with many years of loyalty and love. They are well suited to families, though they're best acquired as pets when they're young so they have ample time to adjust to life with their humans and undergo training.

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Exercise

Plenty of regular exerciseis essential for German shepherds because they have so much energy. A daily walk is not enough. If you're a jogger, a German shepherd can be a good running companion. Your dog needs to run, play, and explore to prevent frustration, boredom, and pent-up energy. A bored dog may resort to barking, digging, and chewing.

Even if they aren't bored, these dogs like to chew and have powerful jaws, so keep durable chew toys available.

German shepherds are better off in a home with a fenced yard for play rather than an apartment. However, it's even more important that your dog receives plenty of attention and isn't left alone most of the day.

Grooming

German shepherds have coarse, sometimes wiry, medium-length hair with thick undercoats. Their coats should be brushed every few days to combat their relatively high shedding rate, which can be lessened by routine grooming. Still, you should be prepared to have dog hair on your clothing and furniture—you'll need to vacuum frequently. Luckily, a German shepherd's coat also resists dirt and debris, so you won't need to bathe your dog more than once a month. In fact, too-frequent bathing will strip out the oils that keep their coats healthy.

Remember to keep your dog's nails trimmed to help them walk around comfortably. You should also help your dog maintain good dental hygiene by brushing their teeth a couple times a week.

Training

German shepherds can be very gentle companions and family protectors with propertrainingand socialization. They're an ideal breed for active households, and the intelligence and protective demeanor of this breed canmakeit a good choice forfamilies with childrenas long as the dog is properly trained.

German shepherds can sometimes become anxious or even aggressive if not properly trained and handled. These dogs will ideally be trained to perform a duty they'll take pride in—such as canine sports. The breed's intelligence and desire to work should make training fairly easy. Socialization will make sure your German shepherd does not become stressed or scared when meeting new people or animals and seeing new environments.

Additionally, German shepherds may have a tendency to chase cats and other small pets, so they may not be a good fit for a multi-pet household unless raised together. They also may not get along with strange dogs, especially of the same sex, which may be a problem when you visit a dog park.

Common Health Problems

Responsible breeders strive to maintain the highest breed standards as established by kennel clubs like the American Kennel Club. German shepherd dogs bred by these standards are less likely to inherit health conditions, however, some hereditary health problems can occur in the breed. The following are some conditions to be aware of:

  • Hip dysplasia: This genetic orthopedic disorder affects the hip joints of many large-breed dogs. It causes pain, limping, and degeneration of the joint.
  • Elbow dysplasia: This is another orthopedic problem that is similar to hip dysplasia but affects the dog's front legs.
  • Elbow hygroma: This alarming, but non-cancerous growth swells over the dog's elbow. Filled with fluid, it's usually caused by minor trauma, and although unsightly, it normally does not cause the dog pain unless the hygroma becomes infected.
  • Gastric dilatation-volvulus: Also called bloat, this is a very serious condition that occurs when a dog's stomach expands with gas or food and then flips within the abdominal cavity, cutting off the exits from the dog's stomach. Bloat can be fatal without prompt treatment.
  • Degenerative myelopathy: This progressive neurological condition affects a dog's spinal cord. It starts with weakness in the hind legs and ultimately progresses to paralysis.

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Diet and Nutrition

Your adult German shepherd will need two meals a day of up to 2 cups of dry dog food, but this will depend on the dog's size, activity level, age, and health. You may also want to mix canned dog food into the kibble for extra flavor and interest. German shepherds are prone to bloating and possible stomach torsion, so you'll want to avoid giving one large meal a day and having the dog gulp it down. Be sure your dog has constant access to clean, fresh water.

Monitor your dog's weight and address any overweight issues early, as obesity will shorten your dog's lifespan. You can also discuss nutritional needs with your veterinarian to get recommendations for feeding schedules and dog food types throughout your dog's life.

Where to Adopt or Buy a German Shepherd

If you think you'd like to adopt a German shepherd, start by contacting one of the following organizations:

These groups will be able to provide guidance and next steps for adoption as well as direct you to reputable breeders if you choose to go that route. The AKC also boasts a marketplace where you can inquire about AKC-registered litters that have been cared for and raised according to breed standards. While prices vary, you can generally expect to pay $2,000 or more for a German shepherd puppy, depending on sex, appearance, demand, and bloodline.

German shepherds, especially German shepherd mixes, are very common at animal rescues, so if you aren't concerned about your dog being purebred, or you simply prefer to rescue a pet rather than purchase one, it's always a good idea to start your search with local animal rescue organizations.

German Shepherd Overview

German shepherds are perennially popular dogs and will continue to be desirable, loving companions for decades to come. Provided you can meet their requirements for training, exercise and companionship, they are sure to be a great addition to your home and family.

Pros:

  • Loyal, loving
  • Smart, trainable
  • Effective guard dog
  • Versatile

Cons:

  • Needs a yard and plenty of exercise
  • Sheds frequently
  • Can be aggressive without training
  • May not get along with other pets

10 Best Dog Breeds for Protection

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

As with any breed, if you think the German shepherd dog is right for you, be sure to do plenty of research before you get one. Talk to other owners, reputable breeders, and rescue groups to learn more.

If you’re interested in similar breeds, look into these breeds to compare the pros and cons.

  • Belgian Malinois
  • Doberman pinscher
  • Chinook

There's a whole world of potential dog breeds out there—with a little research, you can find the right one to bring home!

FAQ

  • How long can German shepherds be left alone?

    You should leave your German shepherd along for no more than several hours. If you do have to disappear for longer, make sure you leave your dog with plenty of toys for chewing and playing.

  • Are German shepherds low maintenance?

    No, German shepherds are not low maintenance. They require plenty of training when you first bring them home, and then you'll have to spend plenty of time making sure they get enough exercise and attending to their grooming needs—aka plenty of fur brushing.

  • How long do German shepherds live?

    You can expect a German shepherd to live around 10 years, according to the American Kennel Club.

The Spruce Pets uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. German Shepherd Dog; American Kennel Club

  2. The History of the German Shepherd Dog; German Shepherd Dog Club of America

Learn What's to Love About German Shepherd Dogs (2024)

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