German Shepherd Dog – A Breed Primer

I have always admired German Shepherds . They have a grace and a beauty all their own. Growing up, my neighbors had one. He was so wonderful! He loved to play with me. He was kind, gentle and always on the look out. No one messed with this dog because if he bared his teeth, he meant business. It didn’t happen very often, though. Most of my memories of Sasha are fond ones – rolling in the grass with him and getting all the snuggling I could ever want. Nowadays, my in-laws have one. Sebastian is just as great as Sasha. Ready to protect, but always loving and fun. These dogs are just great to have around.

The Deutsche Schaferhunde was first shown by Captain Max von Stephanitz in 1899. It was bred from different long-haired, short-haired and wire-haired shepherd dogs. Breeders wanted a handsome, smart and obedient dog. Different coated varieties were shown up until 1915. But today, most of them are the short haired version. The AKC recognizes the German Shepherd in the herding group. Many are still used today for herding, but even more are used as companion or show dogs. You’ll often see them as police dogs, search and rescue dogs and narcotic dogs.

Most German Shepherds have a pleasant temperament. They are able to work so well because of their ability to learn quickly and are very obedient. They have very little fear in them and are always alert to what is going on around them. You’ll find them to be confident, but not to the point of pushing you around. They love to stay close to their families and tend to stress themselves out a bit if separated for too long. We call Sebastian the worrier. If he’s not right by your side, he’ll whine. He wants to make sure everyone is okay at all times. Make sure that you socialize this breed well or he’ll be over protective and overly aggressive. Because of that natural instinct to protect, this breed is well known for bites. It has one of the highest bite rates in the U.S. You must be a confident and consistent handler with the GSD to keep this under control.

One way to have a well behaved GSD is to keep him active. Mentally and physically. Daily exercise and play is a must. This breed is happiest when busy. Even though he can be used in military work, police work, even service for the disabled, he’ll be fine in a regular household. Keep him busy with a variety of toys. Tug ropes, frisbees, flyballs, even give him the chance to compete in agility and obedience. For those that are not that enthusiastic about competitions, just throw the tennis ball or stick for him and he’ll be happy!

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GSD’s do come in a variety of colors. They can be blue, white,(which is being called the American White Shepherd) liver, sable, black and tan. No matter what color they are, expect a lot of shedding! Daily brushing helps to decrease this, but you will never be able to get away from it completely. Don’t get this breed if you are allergic or just having hair everywhere bothers you. For us, we just accept it and sometimes wear the pin that says, “My outfit isn’t complete without dog hair!” You have to keep your sense of humor with it. If you must have a spotless house, don’t get this dog!

Size doesn’t vary much with the GSD. Males will get to be around 24 to 26 inches tall and females 22 to 24. They can be a hefty weight, though. Both sexes can weigh anywhere between 77 to 85 pounds, but I know Sebastian is around 100, if not more. He’s not obese, he’s just big. Strong, too!

With most of the larger breeds, you’ll have certain health concerns. Hip and elbow dysplasia is one, but you can have both parents checked out to see what the risk is for the puppy. They can also inherit blood disorders and digestive problems. Epilepsy can show up, also. Sebastian has had seizures and has been placed on medicine in the past. He also is very nervous and takes pills to help calm him down, especially during storms. No matter what, make sure you are ready to take care of this dog if a problem does arise. Check out the breeder if you are buying and if you are adopting, make sure you get as much history on the dog as possible. If the dog is healthy, no matter where you get him, he can live to be around 13 years old.

I want to make sure that you really want this dog before you go and get it. Too many end up in shelters or on the street because the owner didn’t expect to have to spend so much time or money on him. They are a large breed, so expect them to cost more for care at the vet and more food will be eaten. A lot of people get this dog thinking that they’ll use it just for protection. They need a lot more interaction than just sitting around guarding you or your property. A lot of people get rid of them because they are so surprised at the amount of shedding they do. Make sure that you and everyone in your household is prepared to deal with the hair. It sheds all of the time, but then they have their “blow outs”, too. This means at certain times, like spring and summer, they’ll lose even more hair. I don’t care how much you brush or what you do, hair will be a constant in the house. If you know someone with a GSD, go spend time with it before getting one for yourself. Talk to people that own them and make sure you are ready for the commitment.

These are great dogs and deserve to live great lives. Do your part before getting one – educate yourself!

DISCLAIMER: The information on this site is not intended to replace the advice of your own veterinarian or doctor. Should you think that your pet needs medical attention, please contact your local veterinarian.  
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