The German Shepherd, also known as the Alsatian, was developed in the late 1800's. It was originally bred to help herd and guard sheep flocks, and characteristics thought best for its line of work were preferred, such as intelligence and keen sense of smell. One breeder, Max von Stephanitz, established a registry that espoused this perspective and helped to establish the standards for today's German Shepherd.
This versatile large breed (males and females weighing in between 75 and 95 lbs.) are often used as working dogs and excel at sheep herding. It is well-known as a guard dog, police and army dog, tracker, search and rescue dog, show or obedience dog, as well as loyal and devoted personal companion.
The German Shepherd is extremely intelligent and is ranked third on Stanley Coren's Intelligence of Dogs. It is known for its fearlessness, strength, and protectiveness of its owner.
The coat can vary in color, but the most predominant are shades of tan and red with black. A black mask and saddle may be present. Other solid colors are acceptable, such as black, but an all-white dog is usually rejected as the color might indicate serious defects in genes.
The German Shepherd has a medium-length coat that can be straight or slightly wavy. The outer coat is rough, flat, and dense while the under coat is thick and softer. A long-haired coat is possible, and is a recessive trait.
The German Shepherd is well-known for its devotion to its owner and family. This dog thrives on human interaction, but will not easily extend friendship to newly introduced people. Exceptionally alert and confident, the German Shepherd will survey people and situations with a calm fearlessness, and will always be "on point" for its owners. It is happiest when working or serving in a capacity that makes use of its natural abilities, such as guiding, tracking, guarding, herding. It will bond readily with people and other animals it has been raised with, and is an outstanding companion dog.
German Shepherds may suffer from hip and elbow dysplasia, and hereditary diseases such as von Willebrand's disease (a blood disorder), bloat (gastric torsion), epilepsy, seasonal or year-round skin allergies, eye problems (inflammation of the cornea). This breed requires a quick daily brushing because they are regular shedders, with seasonal heavy shedding. Use a mild shampoo once or twice a year to clean out heavier dirt and avoid drying out the skin.
The German Shepherd is not recommended for inexperienced owners. With its very strong protective instinct, this dog requires early intensive socialization and obedience training to tone down territorialism when grown. Training must be done with consistency, firmness, fairness, and rewards. Harsh or heavy-handed methods could damage the dog's personality.
The German Shepherd's exceptional intelligence needs to be harnessed for some purpose. It is essential that the dog feels that it has a real job to do, to keep it stimulated and happy. Family activities or agility sports like schutzhund, fly-ball and ring will help maintain its weight and deepen bonds with its family.
The German Shepherd will do okay in an apartment if provided with enough exercise, stimulation and challenge. It is relatively inactive indoors and do best with at least a large safely fenced area to play and run freely in.