Getting to Know the German Shepherd

The next entry in our “Getting to Know Your Breed Series” is the breed that has gone up and down on the AKC Most Popular Dog Breed list over the years, but recently has settled in at the #2 spot - the German Shepherd Dog (GSD).

Life expectancy: GSDs have a fairly short life expectancy of 9-12 years

Size: Height: 24-26 inches (male), 22-24 inches (female); Weight: 65-90 pounds (male), 50-70 pounds (female)

Color: GSDs are typically tan with a black saddle and/or ‘mask’. They can be seen in all black, white or liver colors although the only accepted ‘breed standard’ is the tan/black or all black.

Origins: Germany. Max von Stephanitz, an ex-cavalry captain and former student of the Berlin Veterinary College is recognized as the founder of today’s current German Shepherd Dog (GSD). He specifically bred the dog to be a working dog, specifically, to herd sheep.

Personality: GSD are known to be protective of their families. This is one of the reasons they are used so often as guard dogs. They are also quite intelligent and confident which makes them good working dogs for the police, and the military. GSD’s make good family dogs and while they are good with children, they can be somewhat standoffish and wary of strangers. Owners of GSDs must be prepared to work with the dog to ensure their better natures shine through.

Health Issues: Unfortunately, there has been a lot of inbreeding in the GSD lineage which has resulted in a number of frequent health related issues. Of most concern is hip and elbow dysplasia which is found in almost 20% of registered GSDs.

Degenerative myelopathy, a progressive disease of the canine spinal cord is seen with enough regularity in the GSD to assume a predisposition. The same is true of Von Willebrand disease, a bleeding disorder.

Other health issues include chronic ear infections. Due to the shape, size and openness of GSD’s ears, they are frequently afflicted with ear infections.


Fitness/energy level: GSD are high to medium energy and require daily mental and physical exercise. Because of their working background and purposeful nature, GSDs like to have a ‘job’. This trait makes them excellent for police, search & rescue and of course herding work. A family pet may transfer that trait to herding the children or develop bad habits of herding cyclists or runners. It’s best for their owners to give them plenty of mental stimulation in the form of treat games or even nose work competitions or agility work.

Native foods for the German Shepherd Dog: Native foods for GSDs found in Germany would have been wild boar or pheasants, fish such as salmon or carp, fruits such as apples and lemons and tubers such as sweet potatoes and turnips.

Good Foods to Feed: Based on the GSD’s origin, here are a few foods that contain some of the key ingredients that the original GSDs would have likely eaten. This list is not meant to be exhaustive, but rather provide ‘food for thought’.

  • Fromm Four Star Grain-Free Game Bird Recipe
  • Addiction Turkey with Cranberries and Apples
  • Wild Calling™ Rocky Mountain Medley Elk, Whitefish Meal & Turkey Meal Recipe

Fun Facts About the GSD: Probably the most famous GSD is Rin Tin Tin who was the star in over 27 movies. The original Rin Tin Tin was rescued from a German battlefield during World War I by an American soldier. When the soldier returned home with “Rinty” he found work in silent films.

GSDs were the first dogs used as seeing eye dogs. Mrs. Harrison Eustis founded “The Seeing Eye” in 1929 to aid soldiers returning from the war with eye injuries and blindness.

2017 was the first time a GSD won the Westminster Dog Show since 1987 and 1987 was the only other time a GSD won the prestigious show.

Watch for the next post in our series: Bulldog.
See our previous post about Labrador Retrievers.

Amazing Facts About German Shepherds
AKC: German Shepherd Dog
Wikipedia: German Shepherd
German Shepherd Dog Club of America
German Shepherd Temperament: What's Good About 'Em, What's Bad About 'Em
Wikipedia: Germany

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