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This breed profile is written by one of our in house veterinarians, Dr Kimberley Chainey.
Renowned for their acts of courage, confidence and loyalty, the German Shepherd is often on the front line of the police force and military units all over the world. These attributes mean they also make excellent household guardians and a devoted member of the family. While they're not known to greet every new face with the utmost enthusiasm like their Labrador counterparts, they will form close bonds with their family and will protect their own at all costs.
At a glance
|Breed size:||Place of origin:||Other names:|
|Large||Germany||Alsation, GSD, Deutsche Schaferhund|
|Breed group:||Energy level:||Weight range:|
|Shepherd||High||Female: 30kg, Male: 36kg|
|Life expectancy:||Tendency to bark:||Height range:|
|7 - 10 years||Low||55cm to 65cm at shoulder|
|Drool factor:||Coat length:||Colours:|
|Low||Short to medium outder coat with thick undercoat||Black and tan most common, a white coat is disqualified in the show setting|
|Shedding factor:||Overall grooming needs:||Social needs:|
|Moderate to high||High||Highly intelligent and happiest when with their family|
It'll be no great surprise to hear that the German Shepherd originated from Germany, however their history is a little more interesting than that! Initially descending from a family of German hunting dogs, this breed varied considerably between districts until the late 19th century. A prominent German officer by the name of Captain Max von Stephanitz set out to develop the ideal German herder, crossing various strains of hunting dogs from the different German districts, creating the ancestor of today's German Shepherd Dog. The German Shepherd was first shown in 1882 and the German Breed Club for GSD's was formed in 1899, called the Verein fur Deutsche Schaferhunde.
German Shepherds were used as messenger dogs during the First World War and to help locate the wounded. They were then introduced to the United States by soldiers returning home after the war, and were the military dog of choice in the Second World War. The term 'Alsatian' was coined in the United Kingdom, to help protect the breed from anti-German sentiments after WWI.
Personality and characteristics
This breed can be described as intelligent, loyal and self-assured. They are a breed that requires a lot of mental stimulation, attention and are extremely responsive to training. Puppy preschool and socialisation when they are young is a must, with the critical socialisation window between 8 to 16 weeks of age. It is also recommended to continue training through adulthood and pet parents might also want to consider enrolling in other activities such as obedience, agility, tracking or rescue work. Without sufficient mental stimulation and exercise, they can develop destructive behaviours which can be difficult to manage.
The German Shepherd can also be described as aloof and may not immediately accept or greet newcomers, prefering to stick by their human's side until they are comfortable. They therefore make an excellent guard dog and companion to owners who have plenty of time to spend with them.
Top toy recommendations for German Shepherds
These nylon bones come in a range of delectable flavour and withstand hours of intense Staffy chewing. Go large or mega for maximum durability.
Seriously strong toys to withstand the powerful jaw of the German Shepherd. Choose the large size for this breed.
Made from the most durable KONG rubber, the KONG Extreme can be filled with treats, paste, kibble or even frozen stock to prolong play time. Choose XL or XXL for power chewers.
While they may not last forever or withstand true power chewers, the range of Tuffy Toys are your best bet for a snuggly toy for your German Shepherd.
Health concerns affecting the German Shepherd are those that also affect large and giant breed dogs in general, the most common of which are orthopaedic diseases and gastric dilation and volvulus.
Hip dysplasia: The term 'dysplasia' means abnormal growth, therefore 'hip dysplasia' means abnormal growth or development of the hips. What causes hip dysplasia? While the condition is primarily genetic in origin, the degree of hip dysplasia will vary between dogs due to a combination of factors such as body weight, nutrition, hormonal factors and other environmental considerations such as exercise. It's important to note that the inheritance of the gene is not simple, and breeding dogs with 'normal' hips can give rise to offspring with dysplastic hips and vice versa. The Orthopaedic Foundation of America publishes statistics of certain breed-related conditions based on breed and is worth a look if you are considering owning a German Shepherd. For example, of the 125,412 dogs examined in the United States, 20.5% of the hips were found to be abnormal. You can access the full report at the Orthopaedic Foundation of America website.
How do we prevent hip dysplasia? Responsible breeders will ensure their breeding stock is tested prior to breeding. Since 2016, the Australian National Kennel Council Ltd (ANKC) have been responsible for the Canine Hip and Elbow Dysplasia Scheme (CHEDS) which is weighted towards secondary joint changes associated with hip dysplasia. It's important to note that some of these changes may not be evident at 12 months of age and in some cases, not before 24 months of age. To help identify this condition at an earlier age, the PennHIP scheme is available which assesses hip laxity using radiography and a distraction index and can be performed as early as 4 months of age. For more information about how to diagnose and manage this condition, we recommend speaking with your regular veterinarian.
Degenerative Myelopathy: This a genetic condition that causes progressive weakness, incoordination and paralysis of the hindlimbs and typically affects dogs over the age of 5 years. As the name suggests, the disease causes degeneration of the nerve fibres within the spinal cord and their insulating layer called 'myelin'. While these changes can occur anywhere along the spine, they typically occur in the middle to lower back. Unfortunately, there are no treatments to reverse the clinical signs and supportive care with physical therapy is considered the mainstay of management. Responsible breeding is the only way to prevent the disease. If you're planning on getting a purebred puppy, speak to the breeder about the history of degenerative myelopathy in the kennel's line.
Want to know more? Read our Vet's Guide to Managing Arthritis in Dogs.
GDV or "Bloat" - Gastric Dilation and Volvulus
Bloat is a life-threatening condition whereby the stomach stretches many times its normal size and in many cases twists and rotates, cutting off its own blood supply. The spleen is usually an innocent bystander that gets pulled into the rotation, also compromising its blood supply. While this condition typically affects deep chested dogs such as the German Shepherd and Great Dane, it can affect any breed and size, even Chihuahua's and Dachshunds. How do you know if your dog has bloat? The main signs to look out for are sudden onset of abdominal distension, distress, anxiety, pain (such as panting, guarding the belly), drooling and multiple unproductive attempts to vomit. What should you do in this situation? Transport them to a veterinary hospital or emergency clinic immediately where urgent treatment and surgery is required. Do not attempt to give anything by mouth.
In breeds with a high risk of bloat, a preventative surgery called a prophylactic gastropexy can be performed at the same time as desexing. The surgery involves securing the stomach to the inside of the abdomen to prevent it rotating. For more information about bloat and preventative surgery, we recommend speaking with your regular veterinarian.
Want to know more? Check out our article: How to spot a good breeder.
Top health and supplement recommendations for German Shepherds:
Glyde is a joint supplement containing New Zealand Green Lipped Mussel which is rich in omega 3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals to help reduce joint inflammation. Palatable and safe to give long term.
Contains Epiitalis, a unique plant oil extract combined with marine concentrates including green lipped mussel, shark cartilage and abalone to target joint inflammation. Palatable and safe to give long term.
Eating rapidly is a risk factor for the development of bloat. Anti gulping bowls help to slow down the rate of food intake and minimise excessive air intake during feeding.
A lightweight, non slip ramp ideal for helping eldery or sore dogs in and out of the car.
German Shepherd puppies require a diet that is less energy dense than a standard puppy food, because overfeeding and an overweight body condition are important risk factors for the development of orthopaedic disease. Diets formulated for large breed puppies also contain an appropriate amount of calcium and phosphorus with a lower overall calcium content than a regular growth diet. Puppy diets should be fed in controlled amounts to promote a slow rate of growth and a lean body condition score.
Top food recommendations for German Shepherd Puppies
Designed specifically for German Shepherd puppies up to 15 months of age, this diet is highly digestible and formulated in an exclusive kibble size and shape.
An Australian made diet to support the unique nutritional requirements of large breed puppies. Added green lipped mussel to support joint health.
Natural, grain free dry food for large breed puppies. Free from artificial colours, flavours and preservatives.
Contains optimal levels of calcium, phosphorus and energy for controlled bone growth and to minimise the risk of developmental bone and joint problems.
Want to know more? Check out our article: What is the best puppy food?
Top food recommendations for Adult German Shepherds
Australian made, high quality adult food with turkey as the first ingredient. Added stabilised green lipped mussel powder to support joint health.
A premium diet containing high quality animal protein, natural glucosamine and chondroitin and optimal levels of omega fatty acids.
Suitable for adult German Shepherds from 15 months of age. Contains highly digestible ingredients and nutrients to support bone and joint health.
This Australian made kibble contains highly palatable salmon and sardine, combined with omega 3 fatty acids, antioxidants and brown rice.