Versatility on four feet
* Fitting a GSD to your family
* Physical attributes
* Care and training
Characterized by its great adaptability and physical prowess, the
German Shepherd Dog is respected, admired, and utilized throughout
the world. One of the most easily recognized and one of the most
popular of all breeds, it is acclaimed for its versatility, renowned
for its intelligence, and beloved for its devotion and loyalty to
Surprisingly, the GSD has been in existence as a distinct breed
for only about 110 years. The breed traces its ancestors to a widely
diverse group of sheepherding and farm dogs in Germany. In the late
19th Century, informal breeding groups of sheepherders banded together
through a common interest in their dogs and attempted to produce
dogs with the desired working attributes.
The initial group disbanded, but another society formed in 1899
flourished. This group, Der Verein fur Deutsche Schaeferhunde (sv)
was founded by Max von Stephanitz, a cavalry officer known as the
father of the breed.
The GSD came to the US as early as 1908, but its popularity rose
dramatically after World War I, when returning soldiers told of
the heroic dogs' work with the Red Cross, at the front, for the
police, and on guard duty. In addition, Rin Tin Tin and Strongheart,
two beloved silent film stars, captured the hearts of the American
Today, the German shepherd is distinguished for his loyalty, courage,
and ability to retain training for a number of special services.
Members of the breed are widely used by police officers and the
military, as guide dogs for the blind, guardians, drug and contraband
detection dogs, and Search and Rescue dogs. Most, however, are purchased
to serve the important role of devoted family friend and protector.
A sound temperament is of the utmost importance in a good companion.
Temperament is inherited, and therefore is a direct result of the
The character of the German Shepherd Dog is one of self-confidence
and nobility. Although a mature German Shepherd will not wear his
heart on his sleeve, he should be approachable and outgoing. Strangers
may be regarded with some suspicion, but the dog should be neither
overly sharp and aggressive nor cringe with fear.
A sound German Shepherd makes an excellent companion. An unsound
one is a disaster waiting to happen.
Because of a desire to have a family protector, many GSD puppy
buyers think they need a very dominant, aggressive dog -- an unwise
choice for a family. Sound GSDs are naturally protective of their
homes and families.
Puppies will begin to show some awareness of "their"
people and "their" space at about five or six months of
age and will display a desire to warn of approaching strangers.
An alert dog and a few warning barks is all the protection most
For those who have a true need for more serious protection, a sound,
balanced dog is still the best choice. Such a dog can be trained
in formal personal protection by a competent instructor. An overly
aggressive or unsound dog should not be trained in protection, for
it will be a danger and cannot be trusted. Anyone planning to acquire
a personal protection dog should choose the dog and the trainer
carefully, for a poor dog or a poor trainers can court disaster.
Popularity of the breed has led to a great deal of diversity. Colors
are black and tan, black and red, black and cream, black and silver,
solid black, sable, and white. White is considered to be a fault
in the US and white shepherds cannot enter breed classes at shows.
Coats come in a variety of lengths from short to long. Long coats
are a fault in the show ring.
Since many fanciers have specialized in a single area of interest,
some dogs are better suited for the show ring, some are better suited
for protection training or obedience competition, and some are best
suited to be good home companions.
While each of these roles is not mutually exclusive, a knowledgeable
breeder can be a big help in selecting the right dog to fit your
Fitting a GSD to your family
Those considering a German Shepherd Dog as a family addition should
make sure that this breed is the best fit for the situation. The
dogs are strong in body, spirit, and mind. They need much attention,
love, and firm guidance as they grow -- which they do quite quickly.
As a gawky, awkward teenager, a GSD may unintentially knock over
a small child or a frail elderly person. Their strong, happy tails
can clear tables, and their powerful jaws and teeth wreak havoc
This is a slowly maturing breed with a long puppyhood, so the new
owner must be prepared to provide kind but firm discipline and a
secure environment to help the dog develop into a well- behaved
adult. German Shepherds are active dogs. They love to run and explore
their surroundings with their excellent noses. They require considerable
exercise, especially while growing. This exercise can be provided
by an active owner, another dog or two, or a fenced yard or dog
run. Tying this dog to a house is unacceptable, as it will create
frustration, boredom, and a potentially dangerous dog.
German Shepherds are very sociable dogs. They need attention and
companionship. They do not do well if left in isolation from people
and other companion animals.
They make excellent family dogs, because, although they sometimes
pick one person as their special person, they can relate well to
all members of the household. If they are raised with children,
they will develop an abundance of tolerance to the grabbing and
poking of tiny fingers.
Raising a puppy with young children takes extra patience and effort
for parents. Often the fast-growing puppy will use his teeth in
playing with children and their toys, sometimes resulting in scratches.
Young children often excite puppies who want to wrestle and chase
-- like they did with their littermates.
Children can undo all the work a parent has done in training the
puppy because a small child is neither firm nor consistent with
the pup. As long as parents realize that they will need an extra
dose of patience, the German Shepherd puppy can grow up side by
side with the children and be a source of lasting memories for all.
General Appearance: robust and supple, this slightly
elongated dog is all muscle. Its dignified bearing and courageousness
Height: 65 cm (25 in) for the adult dog; 60 cm
(23 in.) for the bitch.
Weight: under Canadian standards, 34 to 38.5 kg
(75 to 85 lb) for the adult dog, and 27. 75 to 31. 75kg (60 to 70
lb) for the bitch. Elsewhere, not specified.
Head: in proportion with the body, lean, long,
broad at the back of the skull. Stop barely defined. Muzzle long
and strong. Lips clean, tight. Nose black, muzzle straight. Teeth
sound and strong, scissor bite.
Eyes: medium size, almond-shaped, slightly slanting,
not protruding, as dark as possible. Expression alert, highly intelligent.
Ears: of moderate size, but large rather than
small, broad at the base, set on high, carried erect and pointed
forward. The ears of young dogs sometimes hang until the skin month
or later, becoming erect with the replacement of the milk teeth.
Great care should be taken not to be break the cartilage.
Body: chest deep, capacious, but not too broad.
Ribs long and well sprung, not too flat. Belly firmly held, not
paunchy. Back straight. Flanks broad, strong, and well muscled.
Croup long and slightly sloping. Shoulders long, oblique, well laid
back. Loin broad and strong.
Tail: bushy, set low rather than high.
Forequarter: legs straight, elbows neither wide
apart nor sloping.
Hindquarter: thighs broad, muscular. Hocks bent,
firm, and vigorous.
Coat: stiff, thick, flat, coarse hair. Breeching
near the thighs. Hair length varies.
Colour: black with brown markings, tan, light
grey with black and dark saddle. Small white markings on the chest
or inside of legs are permissible.
Care and training
German Shepherds are keenly intelligent and enjoy learning. Basic
obedience training is excellent for them. Many of them enjoy learning
tricks as well (or more!)
This is a natural breed, meaning that it does not require clipping
or unusual grooming. Only occasional baths are needed. German Shepherds
are double-coated with a coarse, water-resistent outer coat and
a heavy, woolly undercoat. They are heavy shedders, especially in
spring, and require regular combing. This is definitely not a dog
for those who cannot abide dog hair on the furniture, carpets, clothes,
As with many breeds, popularity has had its drawbacks. Many dogs
of poor quality and unsound temperament have been brought into the
world by unknowing backyard breeders and puppy mills. Many of these
unfortunate puppies are in poor health and have genetic abnormalities
and poor temperaments.
So, if you've decided to buy a German Shepherd, it is well worth
your while to find a responsible breeder with a broad knowledge
of the breed and the ancestors of the dogs he is working with. Although
its helpful, just having Mom and Dad on the premises is not a hallmark
of a good breeder.
A responsible breeder will know about the hereditary problems
in the breed, have a working knowledge of genetics, and will take
precautions to minimize the chances that your pet will endup with
a health or temperament problem. A responsible breeder will also
offer a written sales contract and a written guarantee of the health
and soundness of their puppies. He wants the puppy you take home
to be a welcome and successful addition to the family as much as
you do and will make every effort to match the right puppy with
Purchasing a fine dog from responsible breeder costs very little
more than buying a poor quality dog from a pet store or an unknowledgeable
person. A good breeder cares about the puppies he brings into the
world and about where they are placed. (Don't be surprised if the
breeder asks questions about you, your home, and your plans for
care of the dog so he can decide if he wants to place a puppy with
Before purchasing a GSD, visit a dog show or observe a training
class to decide if you are interested in training and competition.
If so, the breeder can assist in selection of the puppy that has
the most promise in these areas.
Even if you do not intend to compete, basic obedience training
is a must.
The German Shepherd Dog has a proud and distinguished heritage.
A sound dog, raised well, makes an owner forget that other breeds
even exist. If this is the breed for you and your Dobermans were
Born to Work family, you will never have a better friend.