German Shepherd

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German Shepherd Dog
Other names None
Nicknames German Shepherd, Shepherd, Police Dog, Alsatian, GSD
Country of origin Germany
Weight Male 30–40 kg (66–88 lb)[1]
Female 22–32 kg (49–71 lb)[1]
Height Male 60–65 cm (24–26 in)[2]
Female 55–60 cm (22–24 in)[2]
Coat Double coat: Stock-haired[a] (Short/Medium) or Long Stock-haired
Colour Black and Tan (Black Saddle, Black Blanket and Bicolour[b]), All Black, Grey[c] (which includes Golden Sable[d] and Grey Sable), White[e]
Litter size 5–10
Life span 9–13 years[6]
Dog (Canis lupus familiaris)

The German Shepherd Dog, known colloquially as the German Shepherd or simply the Shepherd;[7] frequently written in abbreviated form as the GSD; and sometimes known as the Alsatian (a former breed-name used by The Kennel Club of the UK and other clubs around the world), is a relatively new breed of dog that originated in the 1890s in Germany where it has been known since its founding as the deutsche Schäferhund (German pronunciation: [ˈdɔɪ̯ʧə ˈʃɛːfɐˌhʊnt]) which translates directly as the German Shepherd Dog. (Breed Standards in German write, "Deutscher Schäferhund".[f]) Under the guidance of the Society for German Shepherd Dogs (Verein für deutsche Schäferhunde) founded in 1899, and its President until 1935, Max von Stephanitz, the breed consolidated its primary characteristics. Following World War I, it became one of the most popular breeds around the world. The breed was developed from shepherding dogs, and is classified in most Breed Standards under Herding Group, Pastoral Group, Working Group, etc. However, because of the German Shepherd Dog's strength, courage, intelligence and trainability, it has often been the preferred breed for many types of work including guide-dogs, personal-protection, search-and-rescue, police, military, and acting.[8] Over the years, the breed has been criticised and, at times, fallen from favour because of issues related to temperament, health and physical structure. Nevertheless, in 2012, German Shepherd Dogs were the second-most popular dog in the United States[9] and fourth-most popular in the United Kingdom.[10]


Pollux and Flock, Early German Shepherd Dogs around 1894

Prior to the middle of the 19th century in Europe, sheepdogs had been bred primarily to preserve from generation to generation, traits that assisted in their jobs of protecting flocks from predators, herding sheep (driving and gathering), and confining the movement of sheep (tending) especially keeping sheep off the often unfenced cultivated fields (warding off[11]). Breeding was usually practiced within local communities where herdsmen and shepherds selected dogs on the basis of the dogs' abilities, resulting in sheepdogs that were generally capable of performing their tasks, but that differed significantly, both in appearance and general character, from one locality to another. In the second half of the 19th century, as Germany became increasingly industrialised and urbanised, the pure-breeding and exhibiting of dogs became a popular pastime. In April 1879, the Delegate Commission (Delegierten-Commission für das deutsche Hundestammbuch), was established to oversee the formation of Breed Standards and to maintain a register of pure-bred dogs in Germany.[12] There soon developed a quest to identify and standardise a German Shepherd Dog breed.

In December 1891, Rittmeister (Riding Master) Riechelmann of Dunau in Hannover, and Graf (Count) von Hahn, formerly of Wildungen, founded the first breeders' club for the German Shepherd Dog, the Phylax Society (Phylax Spezial Klub für deutsche Schäferhunde und Spitze) based in Berlin.[13] "Phylax" means "Guard" (from Ancient Greek), and the original intentions of the Society were for the improvement of the breed as a working dog. However, those intentions were suppressed by the "preponderating influence" of those with a one-sided emphasis on the purely fancy-dog breeds, and the Society disbanded after only three years as a result of private disagreement.[14]

Fritz von Schwenningen, a son of Pollux and Prima

A notable member of the Phylax Society was the painter, illustrator and author, Herr Ludwig Beckmann, whose second volume of his book, "Geschichte und Beschreibung der Rassen des hundes" ("History and Description of the Breeds of Dogs"), includes a Breed Standard (Rassezeichen) for the German Shepherd Dog that was first published by the Delegate Commission in July 1890.[15] Beckmann described the great variation of Germany's shepherd dogs as "a Labyrinth", a solution to which he believed could only be found in distinguishing between three different breeds of German shepherd dogs according to hair-type: rough-haired; smooth-haired or stock-haired;[a] and long-haired. He noted that at the Hannover Fair in 1893, as in 1894 in Dortmund, almost only the stock-haired breed was represented. Likewise, at the Berlin Agricultural Exhibition in 1894, the stock-haired dogs prevailed by far. According to Beckmann, the rough-haired dogs were at home in western Germany on the Lower Rhine and in the Bergisch, while the long-haired or shaggy dogs were especially purebred in the neighbourhood of Braunschweig in north central Germany.[16] In Beckmann's view, a major obstacle to the pure-breeding of German shepherd dogs was that most of the dogs were in the possession of professional shepherds whose interest was very little in the pure cultivation of their dogs, but only in the dogs' fitness for use. Similarly, the shepherds were little interested in taking their dogs out of work to travel to exhibitions. However, Beckmann believed the Phylax Society made positive progress through its association with agricultural societies, and he urged the approval of additional prizes at dog shows.[17]

Ultimately, two types of dog were pivotal in the development of a uniform German Shepherd Dog breed: the so-called Thuringian shepherd dog from central and northern Germany; and the so-called Wurtemberg shepherd dog from southern Germany. Shepherd dogs from the centre and north had a lighter build, erect ears and a tendency to curl their tails. The shepherd dogs of the south and the mountains had a generally larger build, usually slightly-curved hanging tails, and often folded ears. For shepherd-dog breeders in Germany at the end of the 19th century, what "the crowd" prized most was a dog of wolf-like appearance with erect ears, a hanging tail and the wolf-grey colour. The Thuringian shepherd dog frequently had the prized appearance, and, as a working dog, was full of vigour, but in the hands of whole-sale breeders, it often deteriorated into "intolerable impudence and untamable wildness", much to the detriment of the breed. On the other hand, the Wurtemberg shepherd dog was more relaxed with a reliably better tail-carriage. In turn, the breeders of Wurtemberg recognised the desires of the north, and began to introduce shepherd dogs with the wolf-like appearance through the crossing between dogs from the north and the south of Germany, fostering and consolidating the good points on both sides and eliminating faults, and, more often than not, the Wurtemberg dogs had seen service. Thus, for the German Shepherd Dog breed, the "Egg of Columbus" was laid.[18]

Hektor von Schwaben, Sieger in 1900 and 1901

Rittmeister Max von Stephanitz (30 December 1864 – 22 April 1936) was a great admirer of the intelligence, strength and ability of Germany's native shepherd dogs. In April 1899, von Stephanitz attended a dog show in Karlsruhe where he showed[g] a dog that was named Hektor Linksrhein (but known as Horand von Grafrath).[19][20] Von Stephanitz said, "Horand embodied for the fancy-dog enthusiasts of that time the fulfilment of their fondest dreams". (Emphasis added.)[21][22] Immediately after the Karlsruhe show, von Stephanitz and his colleague, Herr Arthur Meyer, founded the Society for German Shepherd Dogs (Verein für deutsche Schäferhunde, abbreviated as SV) based originally in Stuttgart where Meyer lived.[23] In September 1899, the Society drew up a Breed Standard for the German Shepherd Dog. At the instigation of Meyer, the Society also established a formal Breed Register or Studbook (Zuchtbuch für deutsche Schäferhunde, abbreviated as SZ), to record not only the details of noteworthy German Shepherd Dogs, but the "names of all existing shepherd dogs" to make the Studbook as complete as possible.[24] Hektor Linksrhein (Horand von Grafrath) was the first dog entered in the Studbook. In 1901, following the death of Meyer, the Society moved its headquarters to Munich, near to the home of von Stephanitz, "Grafrath".

Hektor Linksrhein was bred by Herr Sparwasser of the Sparwasser Kennels in Frankfurt, and passed through several hands, including Herr Eiselen of the Krone Kennels in Wurtemberg, before being purchased by von Stephanitz who called him Horand von Grafrath. Von Stephanitz proclaimed that Horand was the "guiding star" of the new German Shepherd Dog breed, but admitted that this accomplishment was attained in the hands of previous owners.[21] It was not merely Horand's physical attributes - size, build, coat and colour, with erect ears and a relaxed hanging tail - that impressed. Von Stephanitz said, "His character corresponded to his exterior qualities; marvellous in his obedient fidelity to his master; and above all else, the straightforward nature of a gentleman with a boundless and irrepressible zest for living." Most importantly, "Horand handed on these wonderful characteristics of the high breed to his immediate descendants."[25]

Roland von Starkenburg, Sieger in 1906 and 1907

Horand sired 140 registered progeny,[26] the most famous being Hektor von Schwaben who was whelped from a Wurtemberg working (shepherding) bitch, Mores-Plieningen, and who became the German Shepherd Dog Champion (Sieger) in 1900 and 1901. Hektor sired 141 registered progeny,[27] and was inbred with other offspring of Horand including Thekla I von der Krone who was whelped from another Wurtemberg working bitch, Madame von der Krone die Ӓltere. The union between Hektor and his half-sister, Thekla, produced the well-known son, Beowulf (formerly named Beowulf-Sonnenberg and Wolf) and an important but less-known son, Pilot. Beowulf sired 107 litters and 304 progeny[27] (or 280 progeny registered in his lifetime.[28])

Another dog that made a significant contribution to the foundation of the breed was Roland von Starkenburg who was the Sieger in 1906 and 1907. Roland had as his two grandfathers, the Horand-son, Hektor, and the Horand-grandson, Beowulf. An all-black, Roland was extremely popular - the first super-star of the breed - and sired the phenomenal amount of 973 registered progeny.[27]

The early inbreeding was deemed necessary in order to fix the traits being sought in the breed. However, von Stephanitz warned that inbreeding could also strengthen and consolidate undesirable characteristics in addition to the desirable, and he advised that "Exact knowledge, careful selection and suitable keeping of the breeding couple, an acute observation, and, if necessary, extermination of the results of such breeding are the sine qua non for successful inbreeding. If all these are carefully observed, it will not lead to overbreeding and degeneration, but to success."[29] To provide essential knowledge to breeders, the Society carefully maintained the comprehensive Studbook, and later, the Breed Survey Reports. It is believed the Society accomplished most of its goals due to von Stephanitz's strong, uncompromising leadership and he is therefore credited with being the creator of the German Shepherd Dog breed.[26]

Von Stephanitz firmly believed that the future of the German Shepherd Dog lay in the retention of its excellent working-dog characteristics. In the early 1920s he saw that the mental capacity of the breed on a broad basis had reached a high level, but the ideal powerful, well-knit and well-proprtioned working-dog's body had not yet been transmitted to the whole breed. For the future development of the breed, he urged breeders to seek out dogs that would improve the exterior features while retaining the mental talents. To that aim, he said, "The dogs that are bred by our shepherds are indeed a fountain of rejuvenation for our breed, from which it must satisfy its needs again and again in order to remain vigorous."[30]

Concerning the alleged wolf crosses[edit]

Wolfsnest Kennel Advertisement, including Wölfi vom Wolfsnest (centre)

In his book, "The Alsatian Wolf-Dog", Mr George Horowitz implicates three early German Shepherd Dogs in crossings with wolves: Phylax von Eulau I, Mores-Plieningen and Wölfi vom Wolfnest (formerly Zuleika-Saar).[31]

Horowitz says that the famous author, Herr Richard Strebel, witnessed Phylax von Eulau I provoke the furore of a pack of Borzoi dogs (known for their wolf-hunting skills) at a dog show in Dresden. "Did they smell wolf's blood? Chi lo sa? [Who knows?]"[32]

Mores-Plieningen was the great-granddam of the dog, Hektor von Wohlen, that was owned and bred by Monsieur Otto Rahm of Switzerland. The skull of Hektor was investigated by the Swiss scientist, Professor Theophil Studer, who, in conclusion, suspected that "there was a mixture of wolf's blood in at least one generation". Rahm confirmed the presumption by informing Studer that Mores-Plieningen was the product of a cross between a wolf and a German Shepherd Dog. The cross had been mentioned in the Swiss canine journal, "Centralblatt fur Jagd- und Hundliebhaber", 16 January 1903. Studer says that in the same journal of 30 January 1903, von Stephanitz corrected the information by stating that the great grandsire of Mores-Plieningen had been a cross between a she-wolf and a German Shepherd Dog in about 1881.[33]

Horowitz says that Zamba-Saar, the granddam of the mother of Wölfi vom Wolfnest was a she-wolf, and that Strebel used Wölfi to illustrate the hybrids of wolves. In a letter to a concerned Australian, J. Schaeller (more likely, Herr Fritz Schaeller) of the Fachschaft für deutsche Schäferhunde says "The bitch, Wölfi vom Wolfnest (the mother of Wanda-Saar), pretended to descend from a shepherd dog and a she-wolf, is registered with the S. Z. under No. 65... As regards the cross breeding bitch, Wölfi, appearing as dam with registration No. 69 to 74, it has to be considered that the dogs in question have never been used for breeding, and these lines died away."[34]


In Germany, protector dogs (Schutzhunde) that accompanied flocks of sheep, were also called sheepdog, field- or cattledog and sheep-poodle, but never shepherd dog ("Schafhund, Feld- oder Viehhund und Schafpudel, niemals aber Schäferhund"[35]). The name "shepherd dog" only appeared later when herdsmen developed into shepherds and their dogs came to be used more for tending (keeping sheep off cultivated fields).[36]

Von Stephanitz identified a large type of shepherd dog with shaggy hair (Zotthaarige deutscher Schäferhund) that was known locally as a "Schafhund" or "Altdeutscher" ("Old German") to distinguish it from the smooth-haired Schäferhunden (shepherd dogs) and Wolfshunden (wolf-dogs) as the wolf-coloured kind were called.[37] The shaggy-haired Altdeutscher type of dog was included in the Breed Standard for the German Shepherd Dog until sometime after 1930 but was rare. [The rough- or wire-haired German Shepherd Dog (Rauh- oder Drahthaarige deutsche Schäferhund) was also in the early Breed Standard, but similarly rare.]

Non-standardized shepherd dogs of German origin also came to be known as Altdeutsche Schäferhunde. Later, the long stock-haired[a] variant of the German Shepherd Dog breed (with long smooth rather than shaggy hair), which had been excluded from show-rings for a period, also came to be known as "Altdeutsche Schäferhunde", so the shaggy-haired, rough-haired and non-standardized dogs became part of a loosely-defined group called "Altdeutsche Hütehunde" ("Old German Herding Dogs").

Initially, a direct translation of the German breed-name was adopted for use by most breed clubs and national dog registries. European countries such as Switzerland and Austria formed the first breed clubs outside Germany. In France, a breed club, Club Français du Chien de Berger Allemand (French Club for the German Shepherd Dog), was established in 1910.[38] In the United States, the German Shepherd Dog Club of America was established in 1913, even though the breed had been named by the American Kennel Club as the "German Sheepdog".[39]

However, toward the end of World War I, it was believed in many countries that the inclusion of the word "German" could harm the breed's popularity due to the anti-German sentiment of the era. During the War, the French club changed its name to the Club du Chien de Berger d’Alsace (Club for the Alsatian Shepherd Dog)[40] — "d'Alsace" ("Alsatian") after the French-German border area of Alsace-Lorraine which at the time was part of Germany under conflict. In 1918, the American Kennel Club changed the breed's name to the "Shepherd Dog" and the American breed club did likewise.[41] In 1919, the first German Shepherd Dog breed club in the UK was established as the Alsatian Wolf-Dog Club, and the breed was officially recognised and named by The Kennel Club (UK) as the "Alsatian Wolf-Dog". The word "Alsatian" was also adopted in preference to the word "German" by other breed and kennel clubs during and after World War I.

In 1922, the leading German Shepherd Dog breed club in Alsace-Lorraine (which had become part of France), the Club Alsacien et Lorrain du Chien de Berger Allemand, gave official notice that it was in favour of the re-adoption of the breed's former name of "deutscher Schäferhund" (or "Chien de Berger Allemand"; "German Shepherd Dog").[42] The view was shared by others, and many European clubs reinstated the original breed-name. The American Kennel Club restored the word "German" to the breed-name in about 1931.

In the UK, the appendage "Wolf-Dog" was believed to be just as damaging as the word "German" because of the implication of a close relationship with the wolf.[43] "Wolf-Dog" was eliminated from the name of the main breed club in about 1925 following the amalgamation of the Alsatian Wolf-Dog Club and the newer Alsatian League into the Alsatian League and Club of Great Britain, and the breed became known as the "Alsatian". In 1936, acknowledging the predominant breed-name used around the world, The Kennel Club (UK) added to the name such that it became the "Alsatian (German Shepherd Dog)". That name remained for four decades until 1977 when the order of the name was reversed to "German Shepherd Dog (Alsatian)". The word "Alsatian" appeared in parentheses until it was removed in 2010.[44]

Because of its significant role in police forces, a popular unofficial name for the breed has been the "Police Dog". When the American Kennel Club required a change of name from "German Sheepdog" during World War I, the German Shepherd Dog Club of America proposed the name "Police Dog" (among other names), but it was rejected in favour of "Shepherd Dog".[41] An early book about the breed was published in the United States in 1924 under the title, "The Police Dog: A Study Of The German Shepherd Dog (or Alsatian)".[45]


Strongheart, one of the earliest canine movie stars (Photoplay Magazine, 1921)

German Shepherd Dogs were exported from Germany prior to World War I (1914–18) and breed clubs were formed in Europe and abroad. The first German Shepherd Dog (or German Sheepdog) registered with the American Kennel Club is said to have been Queen of Switzerland in 1908.[46] A year earlier, in 1907, the Washington Post newspaper reported the first appearance of a German Shepherd Dog at a dog show in New York: "New York, Feb. 12. — The Westminster Kennel Club opened its show this morning with about 2,000 dogs on exhibition... Mlra of Dalmore, a replica of the wolf of Red Riding Hood, was the oddest exhibit. Its fur would be just right for an automobile coat, being thick, soft, and glossy. It was the first Belgian sheepdog[h] ever seen in New York, and an exhibit in the miscellaneous class. Mira is owned in Port Allegany, Pa., and regarded with sulky indifference by its 1,999 neighbors of better known breeds."[48]

It was toward the end of World War I that the German Shepherd Dog first gained widespread international recognition when returning soldiers spoke highly of the breed especially after witnessing the dogs' exploits during the campaign. When The Kennel Club (UK) first accepted registrations for the breed in 1919, fifty-four dogs were registered. By 1926 this number had grown to over 8,000.[49] During the 1920s and later, the animal actors, Rin Tin Tin and Strongheart contributed to the breed's world-wide popularity.

However, in the late 1920s and 1930s, puppy factories flourished to meet the demand, glutting the American market with poor quality German Shepherd Dogs (or "German Police Dogs" as they were often called), resulting in a down-turn in the popularity of the breed in the United States.[46] Similarly, in the UK, from being the most popular breed in 1926-7, registrations tumbled almost as dramatically as they had risen. "Temperament, in particular, left much to be desired."[50] The end of World War II (1939–45) saw the breed's popularity revitalised.

In the late 1920s in Australia, articles concerning the potential threat of Alsatian Wolf-dogs to livestock were published in magazines and newspapers.[51] The breed became very unpopular with bodies representing pastoralists, especially the Graziers' Federal Council, and, in August 1928, the Australian Government announced that the importation of Alsatian Dogs would be prohibited.[52] However, the decision was delayed pending the outcome of an inquiry. Eventually, on 17 May 1929, the Australian Government prohibited the importation of Alsatian Dogs for five years.[53] The ban was made permanent on 7 June 1934.[54] The separate governments of the States of Australia were left to decide the fate of existing German Shepherd Dogs. Many breed clubs and registries continued to support the breed. The federal ban was not lifted until 29 November 1972.[55]

A German Shepherd Dog on a teeter-totter at an agility competition

The German Shepherd Dog's trainability and physical prowess saw a rapid rise in the breed's profile as it quickly become the most commonly used dog in military and police forces. The attributes of the breed are also very well suited to athletic competition, and German Shepherd Dogs are very common competitors in dog sports such as agility trials, tracking trials, and schutzhund (the latter of which was devised for the German Shepherd Dog). The German Shepherd Dog was also the eminent breed in obedience trials. A survey of obedience trials in the United States for the years 1965 to 1968 showed that German Shepherd Dogs were awarded 4,224 Companion Dog (CD) titles compared to the next highest ranked breeds of Poodles (3,139 CDs), Shetland Sheepdogs (1,294 CDs) and Doberman Pinschers (690 CDs).[56] The suitability of the breed for such sports has added to its popularity.

The German Shepherd Dog is typically among the most popular breed in dog registries around the world.

In Popular Culture[edit]

German Shepherd Dogs have been featured in a wide range of media.

  • Strongheart the German Shepherd Dog was one of the earliest canine film stars starting in 1921 and was followed in 1922 by Rin Tin Tin, who is considered the most famous German Shepherd Dog of all time. Both have stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.[57]
  • German Shepherd Dogs were used in the popular long-running Canadian series The Littlest Hobo.
  • Batman's dog Ace the Bat-Hound appeared in the Batman comic books, initially in 1955,[58] then through to 1964.[59] Between 1964 and 2007, Ace's appearances were sporadic.
  • A German Shepherd Dog called Inspector Rex, is the star of an Austrian-Italian Police procedural drama program where Rex assists the Vienna Kriminalpolizei homicide unit. The program has been shown in over 180 countries and has won many awards.[60]

Use as Working Dogs[edit]

Urban Search and Rescue Task Force dog works to uncover survivors at the site of the collapsed World Trade Center after the September 11, 2001 attacks
A German night-watchman from 1950 with his German Shepherd Dog

German Shepherd Dogs are a popular selection for use as working dogs. The first Breed Standard of the Society for German Shepherd Dogs (SV) stated, "Traits such as special characteristics of vigilance, loyalty, incorruptibility and courage make the pure-bred German Shepherd Dog in an excellent manner, suitable for watch- and companion-dog (Schutzhund). Pleasing appearance is desirable, but the working ability of the dog must not be called into question." (Emphasis added.)[61] Von Stephanitz acknowledged that the German shepherd dog was being chosen by amateur dog-keepers as a "Hovawart", that is watch and companion dog until they recognised the full value of the shepherd dog and its nature. When the SV commenced, it attempted to find a place for the German Shepherd Dog in the two available branches of the German Military: War dogs and Ambulance dogs. As places were limited, it advised amateur keepers to train their dogs for such a possible use and to provide training as protection dogs. From this, the SV's Police Dog Institute evolved and came to the forefront of the Service Dog movement.[62]

Indeed, the breed is especially well known for its police work which includes tracking criminals, patrolling troubled areas and detection and holding of suspects. However, an American author noted in 1921, "Perhaps the greatest misnomer, on the part of the uninformed public, of the true and natural disposition of dogs of this breed is a natural result of the commonly given name 'Police Dog.' By nature the Shepherd is quick, affectionate, intelligent, faithful, of fine mind and memory, devoted to its master, and zealous in his interest. It is these very attributes that constitute a fine groundwork for the training of certain of these dogs for police service. It is well then to consider that the true dog of the breed is a shepherd by type, and that only specialized training transforms him to a police dog. As a police dog his fine basic characteristics are accentuated and developed to a point of usefulness for the particular work at hand."[63]

Additionally thousands of German Shepherd Dogs have been used by the military. Usually trained for scout duty, they are used to warn soldiers to the presence of enemies or of booby traps or other hazards.[64] German Shepherd Dogs have also been trained by military groups to parachute from aircraft[65] and to perform as anti-tank weapons. They were used in World War II as messenger dogs, rescue dogs and personal guard dogs. In 1946, the United States War Department named the German Shepherd Dog as the official U. S. Army dog. In 1970, Jane G. Bennett wrote, "Their service in Vietnam has been reported almost weekly, and returning servicemen tell repeatedly of how the alerting actions of scouting dogs have saved platoon after platoon."[66]

The German Shepherd Dog is one of the most widely used breeds in a wide variety of scent-work roles. These tasks include search and rescue, cadaver searching, narcotics detection, explosives detection, accelerant detection and land-mine detection, among others. They are suited for these lines of work because of their keen sense of smell and their ability to work regardless of distractions.[64]

At one time the German Shepherd Dog was the breed chosen almost exclusively to be used as a guide dog for the visually impaired. When formal guide dog training began in Switzerland in the 1920s under the leadership of Dorothy Eustis, all of the dogs trained were German Shepherd Dog females.[67] An experiment in temperament testing of a group of Labrador Retrievers and German Shepherd Dogs showed that the Retrievers scored higher on average in emotional stability and ability to recover promptly from frightening situations, cooperative behavior and friendliness; while the German Shepherd Dogs were superior in aggression and defensive behavior. These results suggested that Labrador Retreivers were more suited to guide dog work while German Shepherd Dogs were more suited to police work.[68] Currently, Labradors and Golden Retrievers are more widely used for this work, although there are still German Shepherd Dogs being trained. In 2013, about 15% of the dogs trained by Guide Dogs of America are German Shepherd Dogs, while the remainder are Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers.[69] The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association in the United Kingdom states that crosses between Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers make the best guide dogs, although they also train some German Shepherd Dogs, as well as some other breeds.[70] Guide Dogs for the Blind in the United States trains only Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers and crosses between these breeds.[71] Guide Dogs Queensland in Australia also trains only Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers.[72]

German Shepherd Dogs are still used for herding and tending sheep grazing in meadows next to gardens and crop fields. They are expected to patrol the boundaries to keep sheep from trespassing and damaging the crops. In Germany and other places these skills are tested in utility dog trials also known as HGH (Herdengebrauchshund) herding utility dog trials.[73]


Close-up of a German Shepherd Dog's face showing the long muzzle, black nose and brown, medium-sized eyes
A Long Stock-haired German Shepherd Dog puppy. At 14-weeks of age, ears are not completely erect
2-year-old black German Shepherd Dog


The Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI) Breed Standard describes the German Shepherd Dog as medium-sized. However, the breed is often considered as a large breed. The body is longer than tall (elongated). Most (if not all) Standards specify the correct height at the withers as 60–65 cm (24–26 in) for males and 55–60 cm (22–24 in) for females. (The UK Standard diverges slightly by 0.5 cm extra height, presumably as the result of a conversion to metric.[74]) The FCI Standard specifies the correct weight as 30–40 kilograms (66–88 lb) for males and 22–32 kilograms (49–71 lb) for females.

The American Standard requires the head to be noble, cleanly chiseled, strong without coarseness, but above all not fine.[75] The forehead of a German Shepherd Dog is only slightly arched when seen from the front and side, and tapers gradually, without a pronounced stop, to a long wedge-shaped powerful muzzle. The jaws are strong, with a scissor-like bite. The eyes are medium-sized, almond-shaped and brown (or as dark as possible) with a lively, intelligent and self-assured look. The ears are large and stand erect, open at the front and parallel, but they often are pulled back during movement.

They have a fairly long neck, which is raised when excited and lowered when moving at a fast pace. The tail is bushy on the underside, and forms a slightly curved sabre-shape reaching to the hock when at rest.[2]

Varieties of coat[edit]

German Shepherd Dogs sport a double coat. The outer coat, which sheds all year round, is close and dense with a thick undercoat. The stock-haired[a] coat was accepted in two variants; medium (or relatively short) and long (Langstockhaar). There is also a long-haired variety with very little or no undercoat (Langhaar). The long-hair gene is recessive, making the long-haired variety rarer. Treatment of the long stock-haired variation differed internationally, while the long-haired variation (without undercoat) has been widely considered a disqualifying fault because of its lack of strong protection from the environment. In an interview in January 1949, Direktor Kremhelmer, manager of the Society for German Shepherd Dogs (SV), said that breeders were being advised to avoid using dogs whose hair had become too long, and that "Shepherds with long hair are no longer being registered."[76]

In August 2010, the FCI approved an amended Breed Standard, effective from 1 January 2011, that allowed the two varieties of coat, stock-haired and long stock-haired, but disallowed the cross-breeding of dogs of the two varieties.[77] In October 2010, Dr Trainin, representing the FCI scientific commission expressed the commission's dissatisfaction stating that the commission was in favour of the cross-breeding of the long-haired and short-haired varieties. A member of the FCI General Committee, Mr Hindse, explained that such cross-breeding would result in the disappearance of the short-haired (Stockhaar) variety, and it was resolved by the General Committee that it was too late to reverse the earlier decision.[78] The differences between the two varieties are, for the Stock-hair, "The guard hair [of the outer coat] shall be as dense as possible, particularly harsh and close fitting", whereas, for the Long Stock-hair, "The guard hair shall be long, soft and not close fitting, with tufts on the ears and legs, bushy trousers and bushy tail with downward formation of tuft".[77]

(In a Circular dated 9 January 2012, the FCI listed Deutscher Schäferhund (double coat) and Deutscher Schäferhund (long double coat) as breed varieties that can be crossed under a guideline to encourage crosses between breed varieties in order to increase the gene pool and improve dog health.[79])


Grey German Shepherd Dog, Pedigree color, grau; subjectively a grey sable with black and yellow hair-tips. The bright eyes are not desirable.

German Shepherd Dogs have a variety of colours, the most common of which are combinations of black and tan, and black and reddish-brown. Most colour varieties have black masks and black body markings which can range from a classic "saddle" to an over-all "blanket." Rarer colour variations include the sable,[d] all-black, all-white, liver and blue varieties. The all-black and sable varieties are acceptable according to most standards; however, the blue and liver are considered to be serious faults and the all-white is grounds for instant disqualification in some standards,[1][75] and described as highly undesirable in others.[74]

White-coated German Shepherd Dogs (specifically those with some pigmentation seen primarily as black noses, eye-rims, lips and feet-pads — that is, non-albinos) maintained a strong following despite being classified as undesirable or disqualified in the major Breed Standards. In Switzerland, these dogs were recognised as a new breed named Berger Blanc (Weisser Schaferhund), and registered in the appendix of the Swiss Stud Book (LOS) commencing in June 1991. The principal progenitor of the Berger Blanc was a dog named Lobo who was whelped in the United States in 1966 and exported to Switzerland.[80] In the United States, a new breed called the White Shepherd, stated to be a direct descendant of the German Shepherd Dog breed, was recognized by the United Kennel Club on 14 April 1999.[81] On 1 January 2003, the White Swiss Shepherd Dog (Berger Blanc Suisse, Weisser Schweizer Schäferhund) was provisionally recognised by the FCI as a distinct new breed having its origins in the Berger Blanc of Switzerland.[82] It achieved definitive recognition on 4–5 July 2011.[83]


German Shepherd Dogs are highly active dogs and described in breed standards as self-assured.[75] The breed is marked by a willingness to learn and an eagerness to have a purpose. They are curious which makes them excellent guard dogs and suitable for search missions. They can become over-protective of their family and territory, especially if not socialized correctly. They are not inclined to become immediate friends with strangers.[84]

A German Shepherd Dog with a baby


In the book The Intelligence of Dogs, author Stanley Coren ranked the breed third for intelligence, behind Border Collies and Poodles.[8][85] He found that they had the ability to learn simple tasks after only five repetitions and obeyed the first command given 95% of the time.[8]

Aggression and Biting[edit]

Well-trained and socialized German Shepherd Dogs have a reputation as being very safe. However, an Australian report from 1999 provides statistics showing that German Shepherds are the third breed most likely to attack a person in some Australian locales.[86]

The bite-force of animals is difficult to measure and the units of measurement are unclear. The bite-force of a human has been measured at 120 pounds-force (530 N).[87] Dr Brady Barr of the National Geographic Channel television show, Dangerous Encounters, used a bite-sleeve to measure the bite-force of trained dogs from three different breeds and found the bite of a German Shepherd Dog can have a force of 238 pounds-force (1,060 N) compared to a Rottweiler's bite-force of 328 pounds-force (1,460 N) and a Pit Bull's bite-force of 235 pounds-force (1,050 N).[88][89] Using a different measurement technique, Barr recorded the force of a defensive bite from a wolf at 406 pounds-force (1,810 N).[90]

Types and styles[edit]

"The word type in reference to a dog refers specifically to the description of what defines that breed and what makes that breed of dog different from every other breed, as can be found in that breed's written Standard... The term style refers to characteristics that are different in each dog that already has breed type. There can be a vast variety of styles existing in each breed of dog." [See Breed type (dog) this version The German Shepherd Dog is one of the most recognisable breeds around the world, particularly in its well-known colours of black and tan, and with its regular stock-haired coat. However, within the global breed, a number of consistent variations in appearance and temperament can be distinguished. Some of these variations may be attributable to differences between Breed Standards and may be correctly referred to as different types of German Shepherd Dogs. However, historical photographs and reports suggest that, even with very little change in a particular Breed Standard, there can be significant variations over time in what constituted a correct type. These historical variations might be better described as different styles, but there are also contemporaneous differences in style under the same Breed Standard. The following is a list of some of the different types and styles identified by Linda J. Shaw.[91]

  • German Old Style
  • West German Type ("West German" is used for historical reasons)
  • East German (or DDR) Type ("East German" is used for historical reasons)
  • Czechoslovakian Type
  • American Type
  • Old American Style
  • British Type
  • British Alsatian Style

Modern Breed[edit]

Modern German Shepherd Dogs bred for show usually have an extremely sloping topline

The modern German Shepherd Dog is criticized by some for straying away from the original ideology for the breed.

Controversy in the UK[edit]

In 2009, The Kennel Club (UK) became involved in a dispute with German Shepherd Dog breed clubs about the breed's lack of soundness of the hindquarters, particularly the hocks. The Kennel Club's position is that "this issue of soundness is not a simple difference of opinion, it is the fundamental issue of the breed’s essential conformation and movement."[92] (The debate appears to have been sparked when issues about the conformation and health of show dogs were raised in the BBC documentary, Pedigree Dogs Exposed which was aired in 2008.[93] The documentary said that critics of the German Shepherd Dog described it as "half dog, half frog" referring to the shape of the dog resulting from its sloping top-line and weak hindquarters. An orthopedic vet remarked about footage of dogs in a show ring, that they were "not normal".) The Kennel Club decided to retrain judges to penalize dogs suffering these problems.[94] As of 2014, The Kennel Club lists the German Shepherd Dog in its "Fit for Life: Breed Watch" programme under Category 3 (Breeds where some dogs have visible conditions or exaggerations that can cause pain or discomfort). The points of concern for special attention by judges were: cow hocks, excessive turn of stifle, nervous temperament, sickle hocks, and weak hindquarters.[95]


According to a survey in the UK covering periods from 2007 to 2011, the median life span of German Shepherd Dogs is 10.95 years.[6] Over four years from 1 January 1993 to 31 December 1996, the average age at death (or euthanasia) for a group of 284 German Shepherd Dogs among a population of Military Working Dogs (MWD) in the United States was 10.18 years.[96] For the group of German Shepherd MWDs, the main causes of death or reasons for euthanasia were degenerative joint disease of the appendicular skeleton, usually of the hip joint (58 dogs or 20.4%); neurologic disease of the spinal cord or cauda equina which included the diseases degenerative myelopathy and lumbosacral spondylopathy (55 dogs or 19.4%); "geriatric", defined as a decline in performance or quality of life but without substantial gross or histologic lesions associated with a single anatomic system (43 dogs or 15.1%); neoplasia (36 dogs or 12.7%); and gastric dilatation-volvulus, commonly called bloat (29 dogs or 10.2%).[96] For the first three causes of death (or reasons for euthanasia), the average age at death was higher than the group's overall average.

Canine Hip Dysplasia (HD) is an inherited developmental disease which leads to a malformation of the ball-and-socket joint of the hip. HD may cause pain and lameness primarily through the development of secondary osteoarthrosis (OA; also referred to as osteoarthritis and degenerative joint disease). Environmental factors such as nutrition, exercise and climate may influence the progression of pain and lameness in dogs with HD. The prevalence of HD in the population of German Shepherd Dogs is difficult to determine because entries into most databases and registries that contain HD information are voluntary in nature. Many dogs are unofficially assessed or pre-screened, and those with poor preliminary assessments are less likely to be formally submitted and entered in the databases. It is widely understood that the databases are biased toward dogs with good hips.[97][98] The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) found that 19.0% of all German Shepherd Dogs evaluated for HD by the OFA from 1974 to 2013 were affected. The breed ranked 40th in terms of the percentage of individuals within the breed affected by HD (highest percentage ranked first).[99]

Elbow Dysplasia (ED) is an inherited developmental disease which leads to a malformation of the elbow joint, and may cause pain and lameness primarily through the development of secondary osteoarthrosis (or osteoarthritis). Clinical signs of ED, such as pain, lameness or awkward gait in the forelimbs are usually detected in young dogs between four and eighteen months of age. However, the International Elbow Working Group (IEWG) refers to that group as the "tip of the iceberg" because many cases of ED are subclinical (showing no immediate signs) yet still capable of passing the disease on to offspring.[100][101] ED is regarded as a broad term encompassing four distinct abnormalities which may occur singly or in combination with one another: joint incongruity (JI), fragmented medial coronoid process (FCP), osteochondrosis or osteochondritis of the medial humeral condyle (OCD) and ununited anconeal process (UAP). Cases of UAP have been reported more often in the German Shepherd Dog than in other breeds.[102] However, within the breed, FCP was found to be the most frequent primary lesion in a study of radiographs supplied by the Society for German Shepherd Dogs (SV), although, some studies found UAP to be the most prevalent primary lesion of the elbow joint in clinically affected dogs.[103] The anconeal process forms part of the hinge-joint at the back of the elbow, and UAP more often leads to lameness and further clinical signs than other forms of ED.[103] As with HD, many dogs are unofficially assessed or pre-screened for ED, and the databases containing ED information are regarded as biased toward dogs with good elbows. The OFA found that 18.9% of all German Shepherd Dogs evaluated for ED by the OFA from 1990 (when the OFA's ED database was established[104]) to 2013 were affected. The breed ranked 14th in terms of the percentage of individuals within the breed affected by ED (highest percentage ranked first).[105]

Degenerative Myelopathy (DM), also known as Chronic Degenerative Radiculomyelopathy (CDRM) and German Shepherd Dog myelopathy, is a disease seen almost exclusively in adult German Shepherd Dogs. DM is a non-painful neurological disease characterised by an increasing loss of co-ordination and strength (ataxia and paresis) in the hind region. Most affected dogs suffer from a loss of mobility (paralysis) of the hind legs, faecal and urinary incontinence, and are humanely euthanased before the disease progresses to its more advanced stages. The disease is particularly tragic to observe because there is no loss of brain activity until a very advanced stage of the disease. The fact that the German Shepherd Dog is the most affected breed by far suggests that genetic factors are involved.[106] "In one study 2% of all GSDs presented at USA veterinary teaching hospitals were found to be affected (Coates et al 2007)."[107] Beginning in about 2007, a group of genetic researchers considered myelopathy in a generic sense, broadened the clinical spectrum of DM, and subsequently discovered the disease through post-mortem examination in an increasing number of breeds.[108] The group of researchers identified a genetic mutation in most of the dogs that they said were affected by DM, and began marketing a genetic test through organisations such as the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA). Regarding the genetic mutation, the OFA states, "evidence suggest[s] there are other causes of DM in some breeds."[109] The OFA recommends that "breeders take into consideration the DM test results as they plan their breeding programs; however, they should not over-emphasize the test results."[110]

Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV), commonly called bloat in dogs, involves both the swelling (or distention; dilation) and the twisting (or torsion; volvulus) of the stomach. GDV is a cause of death in German Shepherd Dogs.

Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI) is a degenerative disease of the pancreas. The disease is more common in German Shepherd Dogs than in other breeds. It has been estimated that 1% of the German Shepherd Dog population suffers from this disease. Treatment is life-long and is usually in the form of pancreatic supplements being given with food.[111][112]

Epilepsy is known in the German Shepherd Dog breed, and certain individual dogs are known to have passed the heritable form of the disease (idiopathic epilepsy) onto descendants.

Haemophilia is also known in the German Shepherd Dog breed. It is a failure of the blood to clot normally.

German Shepherd Dogs have a higher than normal incidence of Von Willebrand Disease (VWD), a common inherited bleeding disorder.[113]

A study conducted by the University of Zurich found that 45% of the police working dogs were affected by degenerative spinal stenosis, although the sample studied was small.[114]

Breed-health improvement schemes[edit]

Many countries have implemented schemes for testing German Shepherd Dogs for Hip Dysplasia and Elbow Dysplasia and classifying the individual dogs on the basis of the results.

Hip Dysplasia schemes[edit]

Canine Hip Dysplasia (HD) was first described by Dr Gerry B. Schnelle of Boston in 1935.[115] The incidence of HD indicated a hereditary disease. Schnelle is said to have discovered the disease in the kennels of a prominent German Shepherd Dog breeder, Ms Marie Leary, who consequently had her affected dogs destroyed. Other breeders in the US followed.[116] In 1959, Sweden became the first country to implement active measures for the control of HD. For certain activities, the Swedish Kennel Club required German Shepherd Dogs to have certificates of normal hips. The scheme was abandoned in 1967 and support was given to a voluntary scheme open to all breeds.[117]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Stock-haired: from the German word "Stockhaarig", the original definition of which appears to have been lost but may be "straight-haired" as derived from "stick" (English translation), or, as defined in more recent publications, "double-coated"[3][4]
  2. ^ In the German Shepherd Dog, "bicolour" means predominantly black with minimal tan on the feet, lower limbs and/or under the base of the tail.
  3. ^ Some Breed Standards do not consider "Sable" to be technically a colour, and thus define "sable" as "grey" or, in German, "Grau".
  4. ^ a b In the German Shepherd Dog, the word "sable" is a pattern of the individual guard hairs of the outer coat where only the tips are distinctively coloured, such as black or tan, and the base of the hairs is usually a lighter colour such as white, grey or yellow.[5]
  5. ^ Most Breed Standards have specified All-white colouration (which includes Albinism) as a disqualifying fault. Inconspicuous white markings are usually acceptable but not desirable.
  6. ^ As a rule, the major registries use capitalisation when writing breed-names, so deutsche becomes Deutsche or Deutscher without a definite article such as Der or "The". Historically, the title of the founding breed club, the Verein für deutsche Schäferhunde, did not use full capitalisation, but it appears to have been changed.
  7. ^ Accounts differ as to whether von Stephanitz showed, or, was shown, the dog at the Karlsruhe Show. Some sources, mostly in German, state that von Stephanitz had purchased the dog on 15 January 1898, well before the Karlsruhe Show. Others, mainly in French, state that he purchased the dog on 3 April 1899 in Frankfurt (or, according to others, Hannover). There is no doubt that the Karlsruhe Exhibition was held on 15 to 17 April 1899.
  8. ^ Mlra of Dalmore is reported by the newspaper as a Belgian Sheepdog. The 1907 American Kennel Club Stud Book lists her as a German Sheepdog winning in New York and coming second in Buffalo in that year.[47]


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Further reading[edit]

  • Brazil-Adelman, Dr. Mary Belle (2000). The German Shepherd Dog Handbook. Hauppauge, NY: Barron's Educational. ISBN 0-7641-1332-1. 
  • Cree, John (1977). Training the Alsatian, the Obedient Companion or Working Partner. Pelham. ISBN 0-7207-0993-8. 
  • Hart, Ernest H. (1985). The German Shepherd Dog. New Jersey: T. F. H. ISBN 0-86622-031-3. 
  • Rice, Dan (1999). Training Your German Shepherd Dog. Hauppauge, NY: Barron's. ISBN 0-7641-0852-2. 
  • Stevens, Katrina (2002). The German Shepherd Dog. Willow Creek Press. ISBN 1-57223-512-8. 
  • von Stephanitz, Max; Revised by Schwabacher, Joseph (original 1925; reprinted 1994). The German Shepherd Dog in Word and Picture. Hoflin Publishing Ltd. ISBN 978-99932-80-05-7. 
  • Willis, Malcolm (1976). The German Shepherd Dog: Its History, Development and Genetics. K and R Books. ISBN 0-903264-15-3. 

External links[edit]