The German Shepherd: A Legendary Breed

Last Updated on April 26, 2023

Meet the German Shepherd (GSD). Globally popular and incredibly versatile, this purebred is the stuff of dreams.

Whether you’re looking for a working dog, a show dog, or just the perfect family companion, look no further than this canine.

In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about the GSD. Stay with us!

Two German Shepherds standing outside

What is the origin of the German Shepherd?

To fully understand the very essence of this legendary dog, our guide will begin with a history lesson.

Let’s travel back in time to 1899 when the breed first came into existence. The man credited with the first German Shepherd was a captain in the German cavalry named Max von Stephanitz.

During that time, talented herding dogs were prized for their genes, so much so that farmers would travel from all over Germany to breed their dogs with the creme de la creme.

The thing is, there was no distinct breed of herding dog in the region. Freshly retired from military service, the determined captain dreamed of a German herding dog that was unrivaled in intelligence, efficiency and agility.

Von Stephanitz’s second career took off when he became passionate about genetic experimentation to create the ultimate canine.

He poured time and energy into traveling throughout Germany to various dog shows for observation. He studied British breeding techniques since they were renowned for their impeccable herding dogs.

Finally, at one competition, Von Stephanitz spotted an unusual wolf-like dog and became mesmerized by its strong physique and alert presence. He bought the dog and named it Horand von Grafrath.

side view of Horand von Grafrath, the first German Shepherd
Horand von Grafrath, the first German Shepherd (source)

This dog would become the sire of the GSD bloodline. The captain founded Verein fur deutsche Schaferhunde – a society focused on creating a breed out of Horand’s descendants.

Except now, von Stephanitz steered the breed away from herding since the need for such dogs had declined due to industrialization. He knew that this superstar breed’s future would be in police and military work.

During WWI, von Stephanitz used his influence to convince the German military that his new breed of working dog could be useful. The first GSD became a Red Cross dog, and soon took on other roles such as guard, messenger, and supply carrier.

After the war, US servicemen were impressed with the skills of the GSD and brought several of them back to the States. The breed flourished, becoming not only a working dog, but a favored companion and family dog.

Today, the GSD is by far one of the most versatile breeds. It earns top marks as a police dog, military dog, narcotics sniffer, search and rescue hound and service dog.

3 amazing German Shepherd facts

  1. Does the name Rin Tin Tin sound familiar? He gained global fame as the world’s first movie star, also making the breed gain popularity. Another bonus fact: Rin Tin Tin was a puppy plucked from a bomb-riddled war zone during WWI before making it to the US.
  2. How popular is the GSD? It’s the 2nd most registered breed in the AKC and 7th highest Kennel Club register.
  3. In 1928 a GSD named Buddy arrived in the US with her blind owner, Morris Frank. Buddy had completed special training in Switzerland to assist Frank. Americans were stunned when she adept pup helped his owner cross a busy New York street. She became the first guide dog in the US.

This is what a GSD looks like

The German Shepherd is a beautiful canine, with a long, slender body and sloping hips. The head sits tall and alert with prick ears and a long snout that gives it a wolf resemblance.

She can reach a height of 25 inches (65 cm) and weigh up to 88 lbs (40 kg). She is strong and sleek, built for speed and agility.

German Shepherd standing outdoors

Also Read: Is the Miniature German Shepherd dog real?

How German Shepherd ears stand up

German Shepherd pups often have floppy ears, as the cartilage is still soft and developing.

When teething starts around 16 to 20 weeks, German Shepherd ears will start to stand on their own. If they are not standing by 5 months and this is the look you desire, take her to the vet for a check up.

The German Shepherd’s coat

There are several coat colors and patterns flaunted by this breed. Please note that not all of these colors (blue, liver, white) are accepted as the AKC breed standard.

Don’t miss: Find out more about German Shepherd Colors

Bust out the vacuum cleaner…this dog sheds.

A significant amount of German Shepherd grooming is required to keep the “German Shedder” in check. You must invest in a heavy-duty comb and brush her medium-length double coat 2 to 3 times per week.

The good news is, even though she sheds like mad, her coat is odorless. The bad news is that this dog is not hypoallergenic.

Myths about the German Shepherd’s appearance uncovered

  • As we mentioned, these dogs come in more shades than just black and tan. However, coat colors such as blue, sable, and liver are not considered to be the breed standard. Beware of breeders market these traits as “rare” and ask for more money.
  • A GSD puppy will be born with a coat that is either black, gray or white. There is no way to tell what color your German Shepherd puppy will be until it’s 8 weeks old.
  • Are German Shepherds part wolf? They certainly look like they can be! The truth of the matter is they are NOT part wolf. The GSD is descended from the Gray Wolf, just as much as a Chihuahua or any (all) dog breeds.
  • Some people wonder if a German Shepherd can have blue eyes. They can, but it’s exceedingly rare. If a GSD does sport blue eyes, it is most likely from a genetic variation or a mixed breed background.

Types of German Shepherds

We’ve mentioned the all-black and all-white GSD a few times already. Are they distinct breeds on their own? Let’s see what these dogs are all about.

White German Shepherd

White Shepherd on grasslands
Source: @isozphoto / IG

There is a bit of confusion surrounding the White German Shepherd. If you do your homework, you’ll find some that claim this to be a separate breed altogether.

The truth of the matter is that the only difference between this dog and the traditional GSD is the coat color.

The characteristics, health, and temperament are the same because it is the same dog!

Controversy arose in the 1930s when the recessive white gene that has ALWAYS been present with the breed was deemed a “fault”, preventing recognition.

Supporters of the white GSD began forming their own clubs and registries in the 1970s. Since then, it has been recognized by the UKC, but not the AKC.

Black German Shepherd

Black German Shepherd lying in the grass
Black German Shepherd

This black beauty is sometimes viewed as a separate breed as well. Just like the White GSD, she is 100% purebred with the only difference being coat color.

In fact, even German Shepherds with traditional coloring can produce all-black puppies. Despite their difference in color, GSDs and Black German Shepherds will share the same personality and characteristics.

Don’t miss: More Types of German Shepherds

The German Shepherd’s temperament: fiercely loyal & highly intelligent

The GSD is one of the most talented breeds out there. She is confident, easy to train, and affectionate.

Loyalty is one of the defining features of this breed. In fact, it isn’t uncommon for the GSD to choose one family member over the others in its human pack.

You can count on her to never leave your side. You won’t have to worry about having a pesky escape artist that always keeps you stressed about closed doors.

Her loyalty means that she’ll be on alert at all times. German Shepherds are highly protective, with unwavering bravery that will have her barking at the window or out the door in no time to keep her family and territory safe.

This quality makes the GSD an excellent guard dog. Unfortunately, she has also fostered a reputation as an aggressive breed.

Complete and utter devotion to her owner means that separation anxiety can be a problem. Long hours spent apart will make her eye those shoes or leather sofa with drool dripping from her hungry teeth.

German Shepherd with its head on the floor

Is the GSD too dangerous to be around children?

The short answer to this is NO. The GSD is one of the most popular family dogs around. The American Pit Bull Terrier and the Kangal are other dogs that suffer from the same misconception but are actually excellent companions for children.

The dangerous stigma comes from dogs that have been either mistreated or trained improperly. Honestly, this can be applied to any breed!

When an animal (especially a dog) is not given guidance or shown who the alpha of the pack is, it’s only natural for it to act out. A GSD won’t take any chances if her family is threatened.

My family has always had German Shepherds, so I grew up with a protector turned “momma” dog. I only have the fondest childhood memories with this canine in the house.

What’s cute about the GSD is that they know when it’s time to be serious and when it’s time to be silly. And man can they be silly!

When children are around the working dog persona melts away, the inner puppy comes out and she’ll run to find her favorite toy, ready to romp and roll around!

German Shepherd training tips

We mentioned the importance of training a dog to get rid of unpredictable temperaments and bad habits. This is especially true for the GSD.

It is vital that obedience training and early socialization is introduced. This will…

  • Build confidence
  • Stimulate the brain
  • Get her used to being around strangers and other dogs
  • Challenge her intelligence
  • Stop boredom and destructive behavior, such as chewing

A German Shepherd runs the course

German Shepherds were bred to work, so nothing makes her happier than being given a job to do.

She thrives on the agility course or in a dog competition, looking to her owner for the next challenge. She is sharp as a tack and learns quickly, eager to impress.

3 best training techniques for a GSD

Establishing a training routine should definitely be on the to-do list. Remember to start her young and stay consistent to reap the full benefits.

1. Crate training

When your German Shepherd is a puppy, crate training is the perfect way to housetrain and reduce stress. This is especially useful to combat separation anxiety displayed by this breed.

Crate training sometimes gets a negative nod as being too harsh since a dog is caged for hours at a time. In fact, crate training creates a den-like environment that dogs crave. The den, with its familiar smell, is their space to relax and feel safe.

Your puppy will also learn to use the toilet outside, since dogs naturally do not like to relieve themselves where they sleep and hang out.

2. Obedience training

Obedience training will not only stimulate the sharp mind of the GSD, but also serve as the foundation for her good behavior. That means no pulling on the leash, following your commands seamlessly, and learning to remain calm in unfamiliar places.

You can hire a professional dog trainer to work with your pup, or go for it yourself. If you decide to undertake training, here are some helpful tips.

  • You must be consistent with training.
  • Be calm, confident and assertive. Losing patience will get you ignored.
  • Training doesn’t stop after a lesson. Always acknowledge when your GSD follows commands daily, rewarding with praise.
  • Never blame the dog – YOU are the master!

3. Socialization

Since German Shepherds are highly protective, socialization will help her relax and feel comfortable around people she doesn’t know.

If you have other pets in the house, let them spend time around each other. This is the first step to acceptance.

Next, take your GSD to the local dog park. Keep the leash taut and allow her to interact with other dogs.

Make the dog park a regular part of your week until she is comfortable and confident enough to be off the leash.

German Shepherd and cat lying side by side

The German Shepherd’s health issues

Unfortunately, health is something you will really need to watch if you have a GSD. As talented and amazing as this breed is, several serious genetic disorders are common.

The top German Shepherd health issues to watch out for are hypothyroidism, elbow dysplasia, hypothyroidism, von Willebrand’s disease, thrombopathia, eye problems, and dun, dun, dun… HIP DYSPLASIA.

The 101 on German Shepherd hip dysplasia

The biggest disease to educate yourself on is canine hip dysplasia. This painful disease starts in the hip joints, causing abnormal growth patterns and deformity over time.

Hip dysplasia greatly impacts the mobility of the dog, often resulting in lameness.

There are two reasons why this disease is prevalent in the GSD breed.

  1. The disease is undetectable when the dog is a puppy. It takes months for the first signs of a problem to be noticed. If not educated on the disease, buyers often purchase a healthy-looking puppy only to be devastated as it grows into an adult.
  1. The GSD is in high demand. That brings on an influx of bad breeders looking to make a quick buck. They don’t follow guidelines or take responsibility when breeding dogs, passing on genes that cause hip dysplasia while tainting healthy bloodlines.

How can you prevent hip problems in your dog?

I won’t sugar coat it: hip dysplasia is a tragic disease. You fall in love with your dog and then the suffering comes out of nowhere.

The good news is that there are measures you can take to ensure you purchase a German Shepherd without hip problems.

  • Always choose a reputable breeder. We’ll talk more about how to find the best breeders later on.
  • Ask questions about the puppy’s family medical background and if hip dysplasia is predestined.
  • The breeder MUST provide health clearances. They’ll have their dogs certified with OFA or PennHip, ensuring that a vet has had hip X rays completed and was given the thumbs up for breeding.
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle for your dog, with a solid diet (keep it low on the treats) and plenty of exercise. Obesity puts too much strain on the hips, and exercise will keep her muscles strong.

If you purchase or adopt a dog that shows the following symptoms, then she might have hip dysplasia and you need to take her to the vet for confirmation immediately.

  • Limping
  • Hesitates to do activity
  • Starts to “bunny hop” when walking or running
  • Favors a certain leg
  • Trouble standing
  • Growls if hip area is touched

Hip dysplasia doesn’t need to be scary. Keep your GSD healthy and she’ll live a long, happy lifespan of 9 to 13 years long.

Don’t miss: German Shepherd Lifespan

German Shepherd running fast

What should a German Shepherd eat?

Follow a strict feeding schedule that consists of 3 to 4 cups of dog food that is divided between two meals each day.

It’s worth it to spend extra on high-quality dog food so your beloved GSD can benefit from a low-calorie, protein-driven diet.

Rice, barley and oats are easy to digest, while corn products are not. You can add supplements like fish oil to amp up the Omega-3 fatty acids in your dog’s diet and maintain its luscious coat of fur.

Here is a list of recommended protein-rich foods for your German Shepherd’s diet:

  • 50% to 70% low-fat meat that is baked or boiled
  • Baked salmon, mackerel, trout or sardines
  • Liver
  • Raw bones with meat

Don’t forget to ask your vet about food recommendations for your German Shepherd, too! Every dog is unique and requires a diet tailored to her individual nutritional needs.

The German Shepherd needs a ton of exercise.

This dog was bred to be active! After all, it first saw action on the intense battlefields of WWI.

You’ll need to put aside at least 40 minutes a day to give your GSD time to play. This dog thrives on burning energy!

Exercise will not only keep her joints in peak condition, but it wards off destructive behavior such as chewing and digging up flowers in your beloved garden.

Take note that you’ll have to do more than just let her out in the backyard. Since the GSD is super smart, you need to stimulate and challenge her. That means satisfying her physical as well as mental needs. Here are some ideas.

  • Go for a long walk or run
  • Play in the dog park
  • Swimming is easy on the joints
  • High-grade chew toys for tugging
  • Dog puzzle toys
  • Set up an agility course in your backyard
  • Play fetch with a ball or frisbee

It’s a good idea to wait until your dog is 2 years old before letting them run and jump on hard surfaces. At this age, the joints are fully formed and less prone to injury.

Check out this German Shepherd rocking the agility course!

Popular GSD Mixed Breeds

Because of its beauty, intelligence, and loving nature, the GSD is commonly used as a parent dog for hybrids.

Here is a list of some of the more popular German Shepherd mixes.

The German Shepherd compared to other breeds

There are many dog breeds that are part of the Shepherd family. Here’s how the German Shepherd stacks up to some of the other favorites.

GSD vs Dutch Shepherd

Dutch Shepherd in the snow
Dutch Shepherd

These cousin breeds are very similar but have distinct differences in physical appearance.

The Dutch Shepherd comes from the Netherlands and was also used as a herding dog until the industrial era.

She has a wolf-like appearance but is actually smaller than the GSD. Her head is a wedge shape rather than long.

The biggest difference is the coat color. The Dutchie sports a brindle coat, which the GSD does not.

Both breeds are touted for loyalty, intelligence and affection towards family. Some Dutchie aficionados claim the Dutch Shepherd is more independent and boasts a stronger work drive than the GSD, who relies greatly on the commands of the handler.

GSD vs. Shiloh Shepherd

Beautiful long haired Shiloh Shepherd sitting outdoors
Shiloh Shepherd – Source: @a_pack_of_shilohs / IG

The Shiloh Shepherd is the result of breeding from a select group of German Shepherds to keep certain traits within the group.

If you like the Dire Wolf from Game of Thrones, the Shiloh is a dream come true.

This Shepherd is BIG, weighing up to 120 lbs. They have a long, shaggy coat that only adds to their size and also differentiates them from the standard GSD.

When it comes to temperament, you won’t find much difference except that the Shiloh is said to be the gentler of the two.

This Shepherd is often used for therapy work because of her calm, patient and friendly nature.

GSD vs King Shepherd

The name says it all – this GSD hybrid can grow up to 29 inches and weigh up to 150 lbs.

The main difference between the King and the GSD is pedigree. The King Shepherd features genes from the American and European German Shepherds, Great Pyrenees and Alaskan Malamutes.

Since the King is a crossbreed, its appearance and temperament varies from puppy to puppy. But, generally, this gentle giant is a wonderful family dog that does especially well with small children.

Here you can watch a King Shepherd playing with a standard GSD.

GSD vs Belgian Malinois

Belgian Malinois portrait shot
Belgian Malinois

The Belgian Malinois and GSD are actually pretty similar when it comes to personality.

Both are intelligent and athletic dogs, used for work and companionship.

The biggest difference is appearance. The Malinois is smaller, with deep ears and a short, thick coat.

Believe it or not, the Malinois is a big-time shedder, maybe more so than the GSD.

While the GSD is ranked by the AKC as one of the most popular breeds, the Malinois lingers around the 50th spot.

This can change, though, as it is starting to turn heads and gain interest.

You just can’t beat a dog from the Shepherd family!

Buying a German Shepherd puppy

A German Shepherd’s price varies greatly, depending on where you buy the German Shepherd puppy and other factors like its coat color.

The more inexpensive dogs come from rescue centers and shelters. They can be free or cost up to $200.

German Shepherds bred for companionship can cost between $300 and $900, while a GSD bred for show is much more pricey, costing anywhere between $6000 and 7000.

And that’s just the beginning. The decision to purchase a dog means a whole lot more than just the initial cost. If you are serious about buying a GSD, you must understand the investment you’ll be making for the next 13 years.

Take a seat, put on your thinking cap, and create an annual budget. In your heart, you may be ready for a dog, but is your bank account ready?

Below, I’ve listed the majority of expenses specifically for this breed to give you an idea of annual costs.

  • Initial costs (first vet visit, tests, spay/neuter, vaccines, parasite treatment): $650
  • Food: $150 to $250
  • Supplies (toys, collar, leash, etc.): $250
  • Health insurance: $30 to $50 per month
  • Training: $30 to $100 per hour

Of course, these figures aren’t set in stone. You might decide to waive pet insurance or take on the training yourself. In the end, it all comes down to the life you want to give your dog.

Just remember, once you hand over the money and hold that wriggling little ball of fur in your arms, she will put her trust in you to ensure she is safe and sound for the rest of her life.

A GSD puppy looks up

Finding the best German Shepherd breeders

You’ve learned about the colorful history and origin of the German Shepherd. Then, you were dazzled by her beauty and impressed by her talent and fine temperament.

After sitting down, contemplating the responsibilities of keeping a GSD healthy and writing out a budget, you are ready to take the leap and buy a puppy.

Here are some reputable breeders to get you started on your search:

  • Vom Ragnar German Shepherds (Illinois)
  • Nadelhaus (California)
  • Landheim German Shepherds (Indiana)
  • Vom Haus am Lerchenweg (Idaho)
  • Sapphire Shepherds (Montana)

Avoiding puppy mills

Do you know what a puppy mill is? The dictionary definition is, “Literal hell on earth for dogs.”

Okay, so that isn’t the literal definition, but I think dog lovers can all agree that pretty much fits the bill.

When you begin your search for a GSD puppy, take time, research thoroughly and don’t go for the first breeder you come across. This is a popular breed, and unfortunately, the dogs in high demand translates to quick money to be made.

Puppy mills breed dogs relentlessly with little regard to health, happiness, and well being. These breeding establishments are more like factories, where female dogs are bred over and over to exhaustion or death.

They live in squalid conditions, stuck in cages. Medical records aren’t kept either, so the puppies that go up for sale are often prone to health problems.

A German Shepherd puppy playing in the grass

Top 10 tips for finding German Shepherd breeders

Puppy mills are all over the internet, but you can learn the signs and red flags to avoid these places and find a puppy that comes from a reputable breeder.

1. Do not make transactions online.

Puppy mills thrive on the Internet. They make outlandish guarantees about the “rare” color of a puppy’s coat or how the temperament will be when the puppy grows up.

They are ready to tempt you with a cute puppy picture they pulled off Pinterest, assuring that you can purchase that very puppy.

The thing is, you better do it quickly and enter your credit card information online, because other interested buyers are about to snatch your dream Pinterest puppy.

I’m sure you get the picture. Avoid making impulsive purchases online. A puppy is a living creature, not a toy you can add to your virtual shopping cart.

2. Cheap is not always better.

When you are perusing breeders online, you are probably taking account of each German Shepherd puppy’s cost. It might be tempting to go for the cheapest lot, but in this case, that is a sure sign of a puppy mill.

They just want to make a quick buck, sending puppies out the door as fast as they can. Ethical breeders take pride in the their litters, only selling to those who have the money to pay for quality bloodlines.

3. Take your time.

Puppy mills are trying to trick you into buying right away. As a rule of thumb, never go with the first breeder you come across, no matter how squeaky-clean they seem to be.

Look at several breeders and make a list of your top favorites. Then, begin contacting them for more in-depth information.

4. Visit the breeder.

An ethical breeder will be overjoyed to have you visit the premises where the puppies were born and spent the first part of their young lives.

Visiting the breeder is one of the most important steps to take before buying a puppy. It makes sense that where a puppy was raised and how it was treated will make a lasting impact on its life.

Check out the cleanliness, if there is plenty of space, and whether the puppies were kept in cages or were allowed to roam.

Two German Shepherd puppies lying down beside each other

5. Ask the right questions.

Brainstorm and write down questions to ask the breeder. Here are some ideas:

  • Were the puppies checked by the vet?
  • Are they registered with any clubs?
  • Did they receive heartworm meds or any other initial treatments?
  • Did the puppies get to socialize with other dogs/people from the time they were born?
  • How long have you been a breeder?
  • Why did you become a breeder?

6. Meet the parents.

This step is also very important. Meeting the parents is the best way to gather clues to how a puppy will grow to look and act.

Ask about the breeder about the parents’ bloodlines and medical background, especially regarding hip dysplasia.

7. Get health clearances.

Remember those health clearances I mentioned? This is the time to ask about them.

A responsible breeder will have hip dysplasia clearance and other medical documents on hand to certify that the puppy has been checked by a vet and is healthy.

8. Look at testimonials.

One of the best ways to learn about breeders is to look at past customers. You can usually find reviews online and breeders will showcase them as well.

This is a great way to get transparent, raw information about how these breeders operate as a business.

9. Observe the puppies

When you visit the puppies, try not to get swept away by their cuteness. Watch for certain behaviors that signify a potential health issue or behavior problem.

Puppies shouldn’t be overly shy or fearful. Watch how they move, taking note of a limp or injury. Stay until the puppy has relieved himself. The stool should be firm, not runny or bloody.

10. Stay in touch

After you make your puppy purchase, keep in contact with the breeder. They know the puppy better than anyone, so if any problems arise over time, you can contact them for guidance.

German Shepherd adoption and rescue

It’s always a good decision to adopt a dog that has been abandoned. Yes, the GSD is a popular breed, but that also means an abundance of dogs being left in shelters by owners who can’t handle them.

If you are interested in adoption, here are some great shelters to check out.

  • German Shepherd Rescue: North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia
  • Mid-Atlantic German Shepherd Rescue: MD, DC, VA, PA & DE
  • Westside German Shepherd Rescue: California
  • German Shepherd Dog Club of America

Conclusion: is this the breed for you?

A GSD rolling in the grass

Congratulations – you are now one giant step closer to being a GSD expert. The question now is, what do you think about this magnificent breed?

It’s a famous dog, but it’s not for everyone.

With its sharp mind and active body, the GSD is perfect for someone who has time to dedicate for training and playtime. This breed needs mental and physical stimulation to keep boredom and anxiety at bay.

Since this is a large dog, a house with a fenced yard is recommended over an apartment in the city.

This loving canine is great for singles or families. They are protective and affectionate towards children and other pets.  Unfortunately, their loyal nature makes them prone to separation anxiety as well.

What do you think about the German Shepherd? Tell us in the comments!

Further Reading: Learn more about German Shepherds


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