German Shepherd

A complete breed guide for German Shepherd dogs

Last Updated 14 FEBRUARY 2022

This article is written by Pet Circle veterinarian, Dr Carla Paszkowski, BVSc

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.

Contents

Facts about the German Shepherd

History

Personality

Health Problems

Diet and Nutrition

Related Breeds

Further Reading

Facts about the German Shepherd

Breed size: Place of origin: Other names:
Large Germany Alsation, GSD, Deutsche Schaferhund
Breed group: Energy level: Weight range:
Shepherd High Female: 22-32kg, Male: 30-40kg
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 outer 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

How long do German Shepherds live?

The average life expectancy of German Shepherds is between 7-10 years.

Do German Shepherds shed?

Yes, German Shepherds do shed all year round, with some periods of intense shedding. German Shepherds have a double coat, consisting of the softer undercoat and the coarser guard hairs. Weekly grooming with a deshedding tool, such as a Furminator is necessary, increasing to daily when required. Bathing is best done irregularly, as frequent washing can strip the coat of it's natural oils and predispose to skin conditions.

How much do German Shepherds cost?

Pure bred German Shepherd puppies vary considerably in price, depending on the quality of the parents. You can expect to pay up to $3000 or more for a healthy, sound puppy from parents who have been tested and scored for several different diseases and conformation problems, such as hip dysplasia.

Are German Shepherds good pets?

German Shepherds are incredibly intelligent, loyal dogs who love to learn. They are very social dogs who love being with their family pack. Being so intelligent, they require a high level of mental and physical exercise, and it is necessary to ensure they have plenty of space to move and play. German Shepherds can tend to be aloof with strangers, and make excellent guard dogs.

How much do German Shepherds weigh?

Adult female German Shepherds can weigh between 22-32kg and grow to 55-60cm at the shoulders. Adult male German Shepherd dogs have an average weight between 30-40kg and stand 60-65cm at the shoulders.

Do German Shepherds bark?

German Shepherds make excellent watch dogs and will bark at strangers, however their overall tendency to bark is low.

How do I know which German Shepherd breeder to choose?

It is important to choose a German Shepherd puppy from a reputable breeder who seeks to improve the health of the breed through their breeding practices. For more information on what to look for, take a read through How to Find a Good Breeder.

German Shepherd History

It'll come as 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.

German Shepherd Personality

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 like digging 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

German Shepherds have powerful jaws, so choose large to extra-large sized toys to suit. For more tips, check out Heavy duty toys for power chewers.

Can't decide? Why not let us choose for you with the Curious Box? Each Curious Box contains a selection of two to three engaging toys ( and treats!) Even better, the theme changes every 6 weeks, making it the perfect way to keep your dog's supply of toys and treats fresh, fun, and varied!

German Shepherd Health Problems

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 to 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.

Top health and supplement recommendations for German Shepherds

Given their predisposition to orthopaedic diseases and GDV, the following joint supplements and products are recommebded to support the health of your German Shepherd.

Glyde

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.

4Cyte

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.

Anti Gulp Bowl

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.

Canine Care Dog Ramp

A lightweight, non slip ramp ideal for helping eldery or sore dogs in and out of the car.

German Shepherd Diet and Nutrition

German Shepherd Puppies

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.

As we've mentioned, German Shepherd's are highly intelligent and German Shepherd puppies learn quickly and thrive on training. Training treats are a must to have on hand for obedience training, toilet training, crate training and clicker training.

Best food for German Shepherd Puppies

Our Vets recommend the following premium foods to ensure your German Shepherd puppy not only grows appropriately, but thrives as well.

Royal Canin German Shepherd Puppy

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.

Advance Puppy Large Breed

An Australian made diet to support the unique nutritional requirements of large breed puppies. Added green lipped mussel to support joint health.

Ivory Coat Large Breed Puppy

Natural, grain free dry food for large breed puppies. Free from artificial colours, flavours and preservatives.

Hills Large Breed Puppy

Contains optimal levels of calcium, phosphorus and energy for controlled bone growth and to minimise the risk of developmental bone and joint problems.

Best foods for Adult German Shepherds

With adapted calorie levels to help prevent weight gain in large breed dogs, and beneficial ingredients to support bone and joint health, we recommend the following diets for your adult German Shepherd.

Advance Shepherds Large Breed

Australian made, high quality adult food with turkey as the first ingredient. Added stabilised green lipped mussel powder to support joint health.

Eukanuba Large Breed

A premium diet containing high quality animal protein, natural glucosamine and chondroitin and optimal levels of omega fatty acids.

Royal Canin Adult German Shepherd

Suitable for adult German Shepherds from 15 months of age. Contains highly digestible ingredients and nutrients to support bone and joint health.

Meals for Mutts Salmon and Sardine

This Australian made kibble contains highly palatable salmon and sardine, combined with omega 3 fatty acids, antioxidants and brown rice.

Related Breeds

German Shepherds are part of the herding group of dogs, along with some other well known breeds such as the Border Collie, Corgi, Australian Cattle Dog, Shetland Sheepdog and Belgian Shepherd. German Shepherd crosses are popular pets.

Border Collie

Border Collies are well known as the smartest dog breed in the world. They have a very high exercise requirement, are easily trainable and thrive when they have a job to do.

Australian Shepherd

Australian Shepherds are trending as a very popular breed. Contrary to their name, this breed likely came from Spahnish herding dogs and the breed was developed in the USA. Like the Border Collie, they are highly intelligent and easily trainable.

Corgi

It may seem unlikely with their short little legs, but Corgi's were first bred for herding sheep and cattle! Their lifestyle tends to be somewhat different now, and they are popular pets, their popularity helped by the British Royal family affection for them. Check out our Corgi Fun Facts!

German Shepherd Cross Husky

This mixed breed is known colloquially as the 'Shepsky', 'German Husky', 'Siberian Shepherd' or 'Gerberian Shepsky'. This cross tends to be smaller than a pure bred German Shepherd but larger than a Husky. They are very intelligent, high energy dogs who require regular training, mental stimulation and a large amount of exercise.

Further Reading

Complete Beginner's Guide To Puppy Care

How To Spot A Good Pet Food

Heavy Duty Toys for Power Chewers

Which Flea and Worming Product Does YOUR Dog Need?

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