German Shepherd Dog

The German Shepherd Dog (GSD), (Deutscher Schäferhund) is a breed of large-sized dog that originates from Germany. German Shepherds are a fairly new breed of dog, with their origins only dating back to 1899. Part of the herding group, shepherds are working dogs developed originally for herding sheep. Their strength, intelligence and obedience often sees them employed in police and military roles in forces around the world. They are popular as pets and guard dogs because of their loyal and protective nature.

Their popularity has seen multiple references to the breed in popular culture. The performing dogs, collectively known as Rin Tin Tin, are credited with being the world's most famous German Shepherd.



In Europe, during the 1800s, dog breeds were beginning to be standardized. The dogs were bred to preserve traits that assisted in their job of herding sheep and protecting flocks from predators. In Germany this was done within local communities, with the shepherds selecting and breeding dogs together that they believed had good traits, such as intelligence, strength and keen senses of smell. The result was dogs that were able to perform admirably in their task but that differed significantly, both in appearance and ability, across localities. To combat this, 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, in-house 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 also be bred for appearance. While unsuccessful in their goal, the Phylax Society had inspired people to independently pursue standardising dog breeds. 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. In 1899, Von Stephanitz was attending a 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. After purchasing the dog he changed its name to Horand von Grafrath and founded the Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde (Society for the German Shepherd Dog). 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 society's 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. Hektor was inbred with another of Horand's offspring and produced Beowulf, who later fathered a total of 84 pups, mostly through being inbred with Hektor's other offspring. Beowulf's progeny were also 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.


The English Kennel Club first accepted registrations for the breed in 1919. Originally 54 dogs were registered, this number inflated to over 8000 in 1926. German Shepherds are currently the third most popular breed in America.


The breed was named "Deutscher Schäferhund" by Von Stephanitz, literally translating to "German Shepherd Dog". The breed was named as such due its original purpose of assisting shepherds in herding and protecting sheep. Shepherds were first exported to Britain in 1908 and The Kennel Club began to recognise the breed in 1919 and adopted the direct translation of the name for 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, due to the anti-German sentiment of the era. The breed was officially renamed by the Kennel Club to "Alsatian Wolf Dog", this name was also adopted by many other international kennel clubs. Later the name was changed again to "Alsatian" as the appendance "wolf dog" caused discontent after media capitalised on the name to run a scare campaign advertising that "half-wolves" had been let loose in Britain. The name remained until 1977 when successful campaigns by dog enthusiasts pressured the kennel clubs to allow the breed to be again registered as German Shepherd Dogs.

Modern breed

The modern German Shepherd is criticised for straying away from von Stephanitz's original ideology for the breed. It is believed that careless breeding has promoted disease and other defects. 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. It is important to note that there a two distinct branches to the German Shepherd bloodline. These being dogs bred for work, and dogs bred for show. Most of the issues related to disease and faulty temperament come from the indiscriminate breeding being undertaken by breeders of show dogs or back yard breeders. There are many good show dog breeders, but on the whole, show dogs tend to be much weaker in every area than their working counterparts, where much more care is taken with breeding programs and the desire to fulfil the true function of the German Shepherd as an outstanding utility dog. It is critical that this fine animal is not bred to look nice or have rear angulation, which ultimately weakens the dog, but rather to produce better working dogs for service in any area as was intended by Von Stephanitz.



German Shepherds are a large-breed dog which are generally between at the withers and weigh between . The ideal height is , according to Kennel Club standards. 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, they are often 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.


German Shepherds can be a variety of colours, the most common of which are the tan and black and red and black varieties. Both varieties have black masks and saddles. Rarer variations include the sable, all-black, all-white, liver and blue varieties. The all-black variety is acceptable; however, the blue and liver are considered to be serious faults and the all-white is grounds for instant disqualification in some standards. This is because the white coat is more visible, making the dog a poor guard dog, and is harder to see in conditions such as snow.


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.


Shepherds were specifically bred for their intelligence, a trait for which they are now renowned. They are considered to be the third most intelligent breed of dog, behind Border Collies and Poodles. 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. This trait makes the breed desirable as Police, guard and rescue dogs.


German Shepherds are highly active dogs, fearless but not hostile and are often described in breed standards as self-assured and never shy. The breed is marked by a willingness to learn and an eagerness to have a purpose. Shepherds can become over-protective of their family and territory, especially if not socialised correctly. Due to their loyal nature Shepherds bond well with children they know. While typically approachable, Shepherds do not become immediate friends with strangers. German Shepherds are highly obedient and not easily distracted, but due to their self-strong will must be trained by a firm hand. Like most large breeds, Shepherds can be aggressive and uncontrollable if not trained correctly. In the United States, German Shepherds are responsible for more random bitings than any other breed and have a known tendency to attack smaller breeds of dogs.


The average lifespan of a German Shepherd is 11-12 years, which is normal for a dog of their size.

Many of the German Shepherds common ailments are a result of required inbreeding early in the breed's creation. One such common issue is hip and elbow dysplasia which can lead to the dog experiencing pain in later life, and can cause arthritis. Due to the large and open nature of their ears, Shepherds are also prone to ear infections.

Other health problems sometimes occurring in the breed are von Willebrand's disease, skin allergies and canine degenerative myelopathy. German Shepherds, like all large bodied dogs, are also prone to bloat.

Use as working dogs

German Shepherds are a very popular selection for use as working dogs. They are especially well known for their police work, being used by the police for tracking criminals, patrolling troubled areas, and detection and holding of suspects. Additionally thousands of German Shepherds have been utilised 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. German Shepherds have also been trained by military groups to parachute from aircraft.

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.

In popular culture

German Shepherds have featured in a 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. German Shepherds have played central parts in a number of recent films, including The Hills Have Eyes and I am Legend. Blondi, Adolf Hitler's German Shepherd, has been featured in a number of documentaries and films about the dictator, such as Downfall. Batman's dog Ace the Bat-Hound appeared in the Batman comic books, post-1964. In 1950s and 1960s, The Littlest Hobo television series featured a German Shepherd in a role similar to that of Lassie. Inspector Rex is an Austrian made television drama featuring a German Shepherd called Rex who functions variously as a sniffer dog (for both contraband and narcotics).


a. Named after the German-French border, Alsace-Lorraine

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


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