Are you thinking of getting a dog and are on the fence about what breed to get? Well, have no fear because this blog post is here to help! In today's post, we'll discuss the pros and cons of owning a German Shepherd. The German Shepherd's temperament is loyal, fierce and intelligent, and they aren't without reason topping the lists of favourite dog breeds all over the world.
This famous police dog has much to offer for the outdoor-loving individual and will enrich your life. But they also require a lot of care, training and stimulation, so they might not be the best choice for everybody. So are you ready for this fierce protector and loyal friend?
Without further ado, let's dive right in!
History of the German Shepherd
Max von Stephanitz is the breeder most associated with the first breeding programs of German Shepherd Dogs. As the name suggests, this breed originated in Germany in the mid-1800s. During that time, more people wanted to standardise breeds and breed dogs for different purposes, mainly working dogs.
In 1899, Stephanitz attended a dog show where he met a dog called Hektor Linksrhein. Hektor was a working dog, explicitly bred for herding and protecting. Taken by the dog's beauty, intelligence and loyalty, Stephanitz purchased him. And so Horand/Hektor became the first German Shepherd to enter the breed register.
Back then, the German Shepherds looked slightly different, with rough coats, short tails, and resembling mongrels. But with his strong leadership and strict breeding program, Stephanitz paved the way for this dog's fierce, loyal and protective temperament.
The UK Kennel Club started taking first registrations in 1919 after soldiers who returned from the war praised the breed. Animal actors like Rin Tin Tin and Strongheart popularised the breed and carried it to America.
Their first decline in popularity followed shortly after World War II due to the rise in anti-german sentiments. So the Brits changed the dog breed name to "Alsatian", which is still used today.
In 1993 the German Shepherd became the third most popular dog breed in the US and reached second place in 2009.
Today, a working German Shepherd can perform any work: Police dogs, guard dogs, assistance dogs or bomb-sniffing dogs.
German Shepherds are popular due to their intelligence. They rank third after the Border Collie and Poodle. Stanley Coran writes in his book "The Intelligence of Dogs" that the Shepherd can learn simple tasks after five repetitions, and they obey the first command 95% of the time.
The UK Kennel Club recognises the below breed colours:
Black & Gold
Black & Tan
In Q2 2022, 1,924 German Shepherds have been registered with the UK Kennel Club. There is clearly an ongoing love between this dog and the British people.
Source: UK Kennel Club October 2022 https://www.thekennelclub.org.uk/media/3931/quarterly-breed-stats-pastoral.pdf
Now that we have learnt so much about the German Shepherds' history let's have a closer look at the temperament of this working dog breed.
What is it like to live with a German Shepherd?
Having a German Shepherd feels like being on a constant adventure. These dogs are energetic and active. They love spending time outside and will thrive with an outdoorsy owner or family. If a German Shepherd had the choice between a lazy evening in front of a fireplace or going on an 8-hour hike up a mountain, they would undoubtedly choose the latter. The happiest German Shepherd is a busy German Shepherd.
Frequent exercise and games to mentally stimulate the German Shepherd will keep your pup away from unwanting behaviours. Remember, the German Shepherd is an athlete dog, and they need two or more hours of exercise per day.
German Shepherds are extremely intelligent and are, therefore, easy to train. They have a great attention span and are eager to please. It is no wonder they are the most popular breed in police work.
German Shepherds have an unwavering loyalty and are born guardians. This versatile temperament makes for great trainability and attentiveness.
German Shepherds also attach themselves very quickly to one owner. They're very owner-focused, bond deeply with their family, and therefore are the perfect breed for obedience training. It will build their confidence and make them happy. Being working dogs, they're also looking preferably for single leadership.
All the above temperament traits require the GSD to burn off excess energy. If you don't have the time to dedicate to your German Shepherd, this dog might not be the best choice. Without stimulation, this dog can become destructive and show frustration by chewing, chasing and load barking.
The German Shepherd's temperament is an alert and watchful one. Being bred to be guardians, they naturally tend to eye people outside their family suspiciously. They can be reserved towards strangers but usually friendly and follow their owner's lead.
Early socialisation and exposing your dog to different people and situations are crucial for this breed. Puppy training should be started at eight weeks and continued consistently. Due to their tendency to please their owner, positive reinforcement training is the way to go. Set clear boundaries for this breed during training.
In the early puppy stage, bring your dog to food markets, dog parks and busy areas so they can experience different crowds and smells. Your dog will grow familiarised with it, making them less nervous in stressful situations. The German Shepherd is a watch-and guardian dog, so they will always try to keep you safe. If the dog is not used to crowds, it might become anxious and nervous.
The German Shepherd, if properly trained, is not dangerous or aggressive. However, missing the socialisation stage might cause your Shepherd to become reactive to certain stimuli and act out driven by fear. They need to be taught appropriate interactions and respond positively to situations that are considered non-threatening.
It's crucial to note that if you can't provide minimum training requirements, this dog might not be suitable for you, and you shouldn't take them on if you're a first-time dog owner at the same time.
Due to their size, an unsocialised and nervous German Shepherd can be dangerous. If you're planning to take on a German Shepherd as a first-time dog owner, calculate the costs of a dog behaviourist specialising in German Shepherds. Training your dog to be its best version will be an excellent investment.
If you're very houseproud, be warned that German Shepherds shed a lot. Also, they're not recommended to people with allergies as they shed a lot of dander. The moulting season is in spring and fall, but the Shepherd tends to moult continuously throughout the year, earning them the nickname "German Shedder".
Let's now have a look at some common German Shepherd questions.
Will a German Shepherd protect me?
German Shepherds are born protectors. Their size alone can act as a deterrent. Typically your German Shepherd will protect you without training as their natural instinct is to see you as part of their pack. Being a working dog, their world is to work, and their instinct is to protect their world.
The level of protection can vary from dog to dog. Some dogs will bark to alert you of danger or scare the threat away, some growl, and some stay as close to you as possible. Setting clear boundaries for their interactions will determine the reaction of your dog.
Are German Shepherds and Alsatians the same?
A German Shepherd and Alsatian are the same dog breed, and the name Alsatian comes from the German-French border area of Alsace- Lorraine. German Shepherds rose to fame just after World War I. However, after World War II broke out, there was much anti-german sentiment, and many German words were renamed and changed due to the negative connotation.
What are the most common German Shepherd Breed mixes?
The most common German Shepherd mixes are the below:
German Shepherd-Husky mix (Shepsky)
German Shepherd-Golden Retriever mix (Golden Shepherd)
German Shepherd-Pitbull mix (German Pit)
German Shepherd-Lab mix (German Sheprador)
German Shepherd-Rottweiler mix (German Shepweiler)
German Shepherd-Corgi mix (Corman Shepherd)
German Shepherd Temperament in a nutshell
People-orientated, loyal and eager to please
Early socialisation is crucial for this breed to have a well-balanced dog. If you don't have the time this dog is not right for you
Can be aloof with strangers and suspicious
Extremely intelligent and easy to train
Requires a lot of exercise and mental stimulation
Potential health problems in the German Shepherd breed
There are certain health conditions that the German Shepherd can be prone to. Naturally, bigger dogs amount to more considerable medical expenses when needing treatment. That said, not all GSD will experience the below hereditary diseases.
It's essential to be aware of them to spot problems early on so you can follow up with immediate treatment. The average life span of a Shepherd is between 9 and 13 years. When choosing a puppy, a reputable breeder must have all health certificates. Due to some poor breeding programs, the German Shepherd temperament can suffer from nervousness. Furthermore, below health problems are regularly associated with the breed:
Pancreatic insufficiency occurs when a dog's pancreas doesn't produce enough digestive enzymes. This can lead to bowel problems.
Spleen tumours: German Shepherds are prone to spleen tumours. It can spread into the kidneys, liver and spleen quite rapidly.
Hip and elbow dysplasia: A reputable breeder can lower the risk of hip dysplasia and should provide certificates to prove the hip and elbow scores. Hip dysplasia develops in the hip joint and can lead to stiffness and arthritis.
Anal furunculosis: A condition that leads to ulcers and inflammation around the dog's anus.
Gastric dilatation and volvulus (bloating): A condition all deep-chested breeds are susceptible to. It is recommended not to exercise the GSD 1 hour before they eat and at least 1 hour afterwards. Please consult your vet for more details and tips.
German Shepherd fun fact
When we think of German Shepherds, we usually imagine them in black and tan colours, which is probably the most common colour combination. But there are much rarer colour combinations. One of them is displayed in the Panda German Shepherd.
The Panda German Shepherd coat comes with distinctive and symmetrical white markings. The markings are down to a genetic anomaly caused by a mutation of the CD117 gene.
The first Panda German Shepherd was the offspring of two black and tan coloured parents in 2000. Before that, there was no record of a Shepherd with white markings. Kennel Clubs do not recognise the colouring. But underneath their white coat is a purebred German Shepherd with the same temperament as their normal brother and sisters.
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Conclusion: Is the German Shepherd a wonderful dog to own?
The German Shepherd is the right dog for you if you're an active person with a garden and time on your hand. Training a Shepherd is fun, and you will be rewarded with a well-balanced protector and loyal friend.
They are lovely pets but not for the faint-hearted dog lover. If you decide that a German Shepherd is a suitable dog for you, be sure to do your research so that you can provide him or her with the best possible care.
Despite them looking for one person for leadership, there is no doubt that they're excellent family dogs who will make your safety their first priority.