The German Shepherd is an iconic figure among dogs. Anyone who sees the silhouette of a German Shepherd will instantly recognize the breed. The German Shepherd is known as a force to be reckoned with when it comes to police work, guard dog work, military duty, and work as a bomb-detection dog. If there’s work to do, then the courageous German Shepherd is on call!
History of the German Shepherd
Although today the German Shepherd is primarily thought of as a working dog, involved in police work, the German Shepherd actually comes from a herding background. Germany and other European countries had many shepherd-type dogs in the 19th century. Their job was to herd and protect their flocks. Some of these dogs also had all-purpose farm duties. In the 1890s in Germany a man named Captain Max von Stephanitz, along with others, was working to create a shepherd-type dog that would excel at working duties. In 1899 he was introduced to a dog named Hektor Linksrhein, who was the result of generations of careful breeding. Von Stephanitz bought him right away, changed his name to Honrad von Grafrath and based the entire German Shepherd breed on the dog. This was the first German Shepherd. Honrad was bred to dogs owned by other people who also wanted to see a working German Shepherd. Through careful breeding the breed was created in a very short time and the physical type was set. The Kennel Club in Britain registered the German Shepherd in 1919. The breed was first registered by the American Kennel Club in 1908 but it didn’t start becoming popular in the U.S. until American soldiers, returning from Europe, began spreading word about the breed. By the early 1920s the German Shepherd Strongheart became the first canine film star in Hollywood and Americans had fallen in love with German Shepherds. He was soon followed by Rin-Tin-Tin. The breed’s popularity waned following WWII due to anti-German sentiment, but the breed eventually came back more popular than ever and has been one of the top ten most popular breeds in the U.S. for many years.
The German Shepherd has an average lifespan of about 9.7 years, which is on the low side for a dog of their size. As with many medium-large dogs, the German Shepherd can be prone to hip and elbow dysplasia. These ailments can lead to problems with arthritis later in life. If you are thinking of getting a German Shepherd puppy or dog, you should inquire about the hip status of the parent dogs.
German Shepherds can also be prone to bloat, also known as gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV). This is a life-threatening condition in which the stomach fills with air and can twist. If the air is not released quickly, and the stomach returned to its normal position, the dog can die. The condition usually comes on very quickly, without warning, and it often requires emergency surgery to correct. Bloat is most common in large, deep-chested breeds.
German Shepherds can also suffer from degenerative myelopathy. This is a neurological disease affecting the spinal cord. The dog loses coordination and the hind limbs are affected. Von Willebrand Disease also occurs in German Shepherds. This is a bleeding disorder similar to hemophilia in humans.
German Shepherds can also be prone to allergies and food intolerances and they may have problems with ear infections.
Temperament and Training
The German Shepherd is one of the most intelligent of all breeds of dogs. According to the book The Intelligence of Dogs, by Dr. Stanley Coren, the German Shepherd was rated as the third most intelligent dog breed, based on ease of understanding new commands, and obeying a command the first time it was given. These dogs are very smart and they have an intense desire to learn and obey. They thrive on training. These dogs do well in a very structured home environment. They prefer structure, order, and training. If you get a German Shepherd you should plan on working with the dog and providing some training. Otherwise the dog will probably not be happy. They want to work in some way. They are extremely capable dogs, whether it’s obedience training, agility, playing frisbee, playing flyball, herding ducks, doing therapy dog work, or visiting schools to let children read to them. Whatever you do with your dog, they do want to do something besides just lie around the house. If they don’t have enough activity and training to keep them mentally occupied, they can find ways to get into trouble. They may boss other pets or become very demanding at home.
German Shepherds are not generally welcoming of strangers. They are friendly to people they know and they are protective of children, but these are not outgoing dogs. They tend to be suspicious of anyone they don’t know and they will be aloof until they see if you want someone to visit.
At home, the German Shepherd is affectionate and will want to be wherever you are. They are devoted and loyal and they bond closely to their owner.
We provide German Shepherd dog and puppy training in Beverly Hills and West LA. Learn more about our private dog training classes.
German Shepherds do not require a great deal of grooming but they do need to be brushed regularly. They shed heavily on a seasonal basis and some dogs shed small amounts of hair all the time. You will need to keep up with your regular brushing in order to keep hair from wafting around your living space.
Otherwise, German Shepherds need to have their ears cleaned and checked regularly and their nails trimmed on a weekly basis.
Special Needs of Care
The German Shepherd is a high energy, active dog and they need a lot of exercise. It’s best if this exercise can be combined with training or learning in some ways. These dogs are extremely intelligent and they crave mental stimulation. They love to learn and do things with their owners. If they don’t get enough exercise and mental stimulation they can be hard to manage and find ways to get into trouble in the home.