The German Shepherd Dog (GSD) is a relatively recent breed, having been established by Captain Max von Stephanitz in 1899 in Germany, where it is known as the Deutscher Schäferhund. The first official member of the breed was Horand von Grafrath. The breed was recognized by the American Kennel Club® in 1908. Due to anti-German feeling during and after the World War, in the 1920s it was known in the US simply as the Shepherd Dog or, more colloquially, as the Police Dog. The American Kennel Club® changed the name back to German Shepherd Dog in 1931, and today it is a member of the AKC Herding Group. The GSD is a large, well-balanced, and extremely powerful animal with a bite force second among canines only to that of the Rottweiler. Size varies, but males typically weigh 85+ lbs., with females weighing about 20% less. It is double-coated, with a straight and dense outer coat overlying a soft and shorter undercoat. It is considered a medium-coated dog, but a long-coated variety exists and is acceptable. The German Shepherd can be most color varieties, but the most common is black and tan.


The German Shepherd in Word and Picture, Max von Stephanitz, 1925 (reprint).


Meet the German Shepherd (AKC Meet the Breed Series), book & DVD, 2011.





German Shepherds from reputable breeders tend to be healthy dogs and generally live from 10 to 12 years, although some have been known to live several years longer. However, because of the breed’s popularity (#2 among AKC registrations), backyard breeding has been a problem and has fostered the prevalence of numerous genetic diseases. Anyone seeking a puppy should investigate the breeder beforehand. Because of the frequency of hip and elbow dysplasia, the puppy’s parents should have been x-rayed before breeding and their hips and elbows certified as “good” or “excellent” by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA). This information about the parents will be present on the puppy’s official pedigree. Besides dysplasia, a few of the other more notable health issues with German Shepherds are skin allergies, a serious pancreatic disease known as Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI) which is sometimes treatable but always incurable, and hemangiosarcoma, a highly aggressive cancer.




The German Shepherd is an extremely intelligent, intense, self-confident, medium-to-high-energy dog that requires a great deal of mental and physical stimulation in order to be an acceptable family pet. It is highly protective of its family, most especially the children, and is naturally aloof with strangers. It is not particularly friendly with dogs with which it has not been raised or does not otherwise know. It is fearless and will lay down its life for its family. Any stranger, man or dog, that it perceives as threatening to the family will be considered guilty until proven innocent. German Shepherds are natural watchdogs and guard dogs and do NOT need to be trained to be protective, but, rather, they require training NOT to be OVERprotective (see SOCIALIZATION & TRAINING below).  

Another prominent characteristic of the German Shepherd temperament is its sensitivity. No other breed of dog is more in tune with the subtleties and nuances of its human family’s emotions and more prone to take them to heart. Not only should a German Shepherd never be struck, but it should also never be shouted at, pointed at, have arms waved at angrily, or otherwise demeaned. It will take these behaviors personally and will often suffer for a long time after such hurtful actions. All verbal corrections should be delivered calmly and in a moderate tone of voice. Always bear in mind that many breeds care what their owners think, but the German Shepherd cares profoundly what its owners feel. Because of the serious psychological damage that can be easily done to a German Shepherd by improper, even though inadvertent, human interaction, the German Shepherd is NOT recommended for the novice dog owner.




Because herding breeds were created to control livestock and to protect it from predators, both animal and human, they are generally not reluctant to use their teeth against anyone, man or beast, they perceive as a threat. Some studies indicate that the German Shepherd is the third most likely breed to inflict a bite injury on a human. Because of this, they must be socialized with people and animals at a very early age by being taken on a leash into non-threatening environments where they can calmly encounter a variety of individuals in a relaxed atmosphere, such as, for example, a pet store or feed store that allows leashed dogs to be brought onto the premises. Dog parks are not recommended because of the frequency of serious injuries inflicted by untrained dogs in the hands of irresponsible owners. It must also be borne in mind that the window for proper socialization of a German Shepherd is actually very small. If a GSD is not socialized with people by the time it is six months old, serious problems, such as fear biting, will almost certainly develop. The final sad result of this is often euthanasia. Hence, early socialization is mandatory.

It is a matter of opinion on how early one should begin this process. Some owners maintain that a young dog should not be exposed to outside environments frequented by other dogs before its second or even its third round of vaccinations. Others maintain that exposure is acceptable after the first series of shots. New owners are advised to discuss this with their veterinarian. However, owners should be aware that far more German Shepherds have been euthanized because of the dangers they presented to people due to improper or non-existent socialization than ever have died because they walked down the aisle of a pet store after only their first round of shots. In any case, owners must decide this issue for themselves.

Because of the intelligence, strength, fearlessness, and iron will of German Shepherds, professional training is recommended. It is further advised that a new owner seek out a trainer who specializes in the herding breeds. Generic dog training classes are usually geared toward mixed breed or retriever type dogs, which do not ordinarily present the training challenges exhibited by extremely protective and high-prey-drive dogs like the German Shepherd, Belgian Malinois, Border Collie, and so forth. Two training programs that are highly advocated for German Shepherd puppies are the AKC S.T.A.R. Puppy® program and, after that is completed, the AKC Canine Good Citizen® program. The German Shepherd Dog Club of Southern Arizona, a member club of the German Shepherd Dog Club of America, intermittently offers these programs, along with testing and certification, for a nominal sum throughout the year. One need not be a member of the club to enroll in a class. Because of its astounding intelligence and eagerness to please its owners, no breed of dog responds more readily to training than does a German Shepherd.

Citizen Canine, American Kennel Club, 2010.


Teach Your Herding Breed To Be A Great Companion Dog—From Obsessive to Outstanding, Dawn Antoniak-Mitchell, 2015.


High-Energy Dogs: A Practical Guide to Living with Energetic and Driven Canines, Tracy Libby, 2009.




German Shepherds are well known for shedding 365 days a year, as well as for “blowing their coat” twice annually. Fastidious prospective owners should seek one of the non-shedding breeds rather than a GSD. German Shepherds take readily to grooming, provided they are introduced to it as puppies. The nature of their coat makes them easy to brush. Nail clipping, however, can be a problem, and some animals never get accustomed to it and might require a professional groomer or even sedation by a veterinarian. Dogs active in an area with a rough substrate, such as, for example, the Tucson Mountains, will wear down their claws naturally (even their dew claws) and might never have to be clipped. German Shepherds need to be bathed only occasionally, and excessive bathing is not recommended because of the sensitivity of their skin. As with brushing, a GSD should be introduced to bathing while still a puppy.

German Shepherds should not be left home alone for extended periods of time. The GSD is not recommended for a working couple that is absent for eight or more hours a day. German Shepherds want nothing more than to be with their family members and will suffer greatly from separation anxiety and become neurotic and destructive if left alone for a long period, which they will interpret as abandonment.

Germans Shepherds are bred to work and to work hard. They are extraordinarily intense and do nothing by half. For both their physical and psychological health, daily exercise is a must. Because of their high prey and play drives, they will fetch without being taught, can learn tricks with lightning speed, and will also enjoy and excel at hide-it-and-go-find-it games because of their excellent nose. Like all herding dogs, they also thrive on actively encouraged off-leash runs in safely fenced areas. Simply saying, “I have a big yard” is not an acceptable alternative to daily vigorous exercise and mentally challenging games and tricks. No matter how large the yard, German Shepherds will not exercise themselves and will languish and become depressed if left outside alone.




No other breed of dog combines intelligence, power, beauty, loyalty, and valor more fully and compellingly than the German Shepherd. It is also the most versatile breed of dog in the history of mankind, with the tasks it has mastered being virtually uncountable. For those willing and equipped to meet its challenges, the German Shepherd experience is, in the words of legendary dog writer Mordecai Siegal, “the dog event of a lifetime.”