Hi stranger! Signing up for MypetMD is easy, free and puts the most relevant content at your fingertips.

Get Instant Access To

  • 24/7 alerts for pet-related recalls

  • Your own library of articles, blogs, and favorite pet names

  • Tools designed to keep your pets happy and healthy

or Connect with Facebook

By joining petMD, you agree to the Privacy Policy.

German Shepherd Dog


Breed Popularity Ranking
Breed Group
Herding Group
Average Weight
50-88 lbs (approx.)
Country of Origin
Personality Traits
Dauntless, intelligent, devoted
Short - Medium

The German Shepherd Dog is a large-sized breed belonging to the herding group of working dogs. Intelligent as it is versatile, this breed was originally developed in Germany to guard and herd a shepherd's flocks. The German Shepherd requires an active lifestyle, and makes for an ideal companion and protector.

Physical Characteristics

The German Shepherd has a double coat, which is comprised of a thick undercoat and a dense, slightly wavy or straight outer coat. Its hair, usually tan and black, or red and black in color, is medium in length and is shed all year round. Other rarer color variations include all-Black, all-White, liver and blue.

The German Shepherd's body is long -- generally between 22 and 26 inches -- in proportion to its height. This gives the dog strength, agility, elasticity and long, elegant strides.

Personality and Temperament

The German Shepherd is very protective and devoted to its family and home, maintaining a suspicious and aloof demeanor around strangers. It can be dominating and assertive towards dogs, though it is normally friendly with other pets in the home. The German Shepherd is an immensely versatile dog, displaying a keen intelligence while dutifully performing its tasks.


The German Shepherd can live outdoors in cool or temperate climates, but enjoys living indoors too. Frequent training or exercise sessions are essential for keeping its mind and body active, and because the German Shepherd sheds throughout the year, its coat should be brushed once or twice a week to encourage turnover as well as to minimize buildup in the home.


The German Shepherd has an average lifespan of between 10 to 12 years. It is, however, susceptible to some serious health conditions like elbow dysplasia and canine hip dysplasia (CHD), as well as minor problems like cardiomyopathy, hemangiosarcoma, panosteitis, von Willebrand's Disease (vWD), degenerative myelopathy, cauda equina, malignant neoplasms, pannus, hot spots, skin allergies, gastric torsion, cataract, and perianal fistulas. This breed is also prone to a fatal fungal infection due to the Aspergillus mold. Because of these susceptibilities German Shepherds, like most other dogs, need to be seen by a veterinarian for routine checkups. There they will undergo hip, elbow blood, eye and other tests.

History and Background


The German Shepherd breed over the years has served in many different capacities: police dog, guide dog, guard dog, war dog, explosives- and narcotics-detecting dog, search-and-rescue dog, show dog, and most notably as a shepherding dog. Developed primarily for the purpose of guarding and herding a shepherd's flocks, there have been few other breeds with such a versatile repertoire.

Max von Stephanitz, the first official breeder of German Shepherd Dogs, was attracted to the shepherding dogs used by Germans and, noting that there were many different types of shepherd dogs, concluded that a breed standard needed to be introduced. He was most fond of the shepherd dogs that had a wolfish appearance, with the strong upper body and prick ears, and that also had sharp minds and a willingness to work. In 1889 he bought a shepherd dog that met his ideal, changed the dog's name from Hektor Linkrshein to Horand von Grafrath (named for the nearby town of Grafrath), registered the dog under a new breed registry, and set about creating a standard, with Horand as the genetic basis for the breed. In that same year, the Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde (roughly translated into the Society for the German Shepherd Dog) was formed by Stephanitz and Artur Meyer to advance the German Shepherd Dog's breed standard. 

There is some debate as to how much wolf is actually a part of the German Shepherd breed. It was said that Horan was part wolf, and that Stephanitz used wolves in the crossbreeding. In Stephanitz's stud book there are four entires for wolf crosses at different points in the breed's development. However, some point out that at the time, many breeders use the term "wolf" to generically describe a pattern that is currently referred to as "sable." Other accounts suggest that if Stephanitz did use pure wolf genes, he was able to acquire the genetic input from wolves that were housed in a zoo. In any case, in 1923 when Stephanitz wrote his book, The German Shepherd in Word and Picture, he strongly advised against using wolves for crossbreeding.

Stephanitz focused on strength, intelligence and an ability to work well with people throughout, and succeeded so well that the German Shepherd Dog grew steadily in popularity. During World War I, the breed was selected as a war sentry by various countries. At the same time, the American Kennel Club (AKC) chose to alter the name of the breed from German Sheepdog to Shepherd Dog, while Britain renamed it the Alsatian Wolfdog -- both in an attempt to separate the breed from its German roots.

In 1931, the AKC reverted the dog back to its original name: the German Shepherd Dog. Since then, popular German Shepherds have been on the silver screen, including movie stars Rin Tin Tin and Strongheart. The Shepherd has become a mainstay in the American home -- maintaining a position as one of the ten most popular dogs in the U.S., and even ranking at number one in many American cities.

Comments  13

Leave Comment
  • Check your history.
    03/12/2013 02:25am

    You need to check up on the history of a breed before you print it.
    The German Shepherd Dog was concived of and bred by one man, Colonel Max von Stephaniz. He later formed the Schaferhunde Verein to regulate the breed to the working and conformation standards he had set.
    Also if you read the original the German Shepherd in Word and Picture, you would find that Colonel Stepaniz writes about crossing the wolf into the lines. He writes about the amount of wolf blood he wanted to have in the breed. It shows the original Siegerin(that he picked as Siegerin) and the caption has her name and that she was half wolf. Modern translations have omitted this information.
    Just because a breed is 'recent' does not mean that the wolf cannot be closer in them. The Alaskin Husky and the Czechoslovakian wolfdog(much younger than the GSD) and others are proof of that.

  • 03/12/2013 04:56pm

    Thanks for your comment, Donna. It is gratifying to have readers who are so well informed and who take the time to share their knowledge with us. We will be adding information to the German Shepherd's breed history that we found based on your input.

  • 01/21/2015 05:33pm

    Im pretty sure a man didnt conceive a dog

  • My Medusa
    06/17/2014 09:06pm

    My baby girl is purebred GS and will be 5 next month she just seen the doctor for the first time in her life. He did not believe my girl would be 5 yrs old in a month and told me she was between 1.5 yrs and 2 yrs because she is in perfect health eyes, ears, teeth, hips, bloodwork, everything points to her being a puppy still except for the fact I got her 1 month before my 1st granddaughter was born... Madison will be 5 in October which means Doo is 5 in July lol He also told me if I keep caring for her as I have been she could be with me for the next 15 yrs or so... I started giving her Zukes Hip Action as a puppy and I think that has helped with her joints they are amazing treats for dogs and even my 17 yr old pit loved them and they kept him active until he had given up on life... I believe that if you treat and care for your animal as you would yourself you will be together for a very long time.

  • 06/17/2014 09:08pm

    Srry I forgot to say why she went to doctor.. She had lumps on her that had me very worried about cancer turns out she has to stop bugging my 14 yr old cat lol they are claw marks from my Fluffy 4lb cat

  • 02/25/2017 10:02pm

    You named your dog Medusa? .......When is the last time you checked your Greek myths? Of course, if you know well who the actual Medusa is, and are cock-o-hoop about it, carry on.

  • Bear
    09/24/2014 12:33am

    Bear has been my partner, pal, traveling companion, service dog (unofficially) and friend his whole life except while being weened from his mother and is now going on 8 yrs old in Nov 2014. Other than regular shots and having a spot checked (non benign) he has been a picture of health until a week ago when he started having cesuras and a stomach virus.

    Like a previous poster comments, he has always been mistaken on his age to be much younger... but now... since these recent situations... he is looking a little more worn too me. Still very playful and friendly to everyone and all other dogs...a puppy at heart.

    Bear has traveled from Mn to Ala to Fl to La to Ark, Colo, (rockies and grand canyon) and back home last year (Sept-2013 - May-2014) with me and most of the friends we acquired were from people who liked and were impressed with his demeanor. He likes to stand on hind legs with paws on my shoulders as he looks at the camera over my shoulders... He'll sit in a regular kitchen chair and eat out of spoon or fork and lately took his pic as he got on the riding lawn mower with paws on the steering wheel as if he was driving it.

    Besides acquiring the admiration and doing a few cute things... he is devoted to my happiness even in times of peril... and will find ways to brighten my day no matter what. We are "best friends"

  • 'German' vs 'American'
    12/20/2014 06:45am

    Please also note that there are true German bloodlines and then there are American bloodlines. The difference between the two is astounding!
    Keeping health at the top of the list, good quality, large breed puppy kibble is optimal for a minimum of 18 months, to ensure proper growth plate (long bones) and calcium formation (joints). My shepherd is of German bloodline and is just now starting on adult kibble, he is 21 months old. His radiographs look perfect, meaning his joints, spine and bones are in optimal health.
    I highly recommend waiting until the dogs are 6 months old before spay/neuter, as this is a great time to check for early signs of hip dysphasia.

  • 06/08/2015 12:27pm

    I am a bit confused on this issue, I have been told by GSD breeders not to feed my puppies puppy food at all because it causes them to grow too fast and you are saying the opposite, I want to do the very best for my babies and am just looking for some insight, thank you in advance for your thoughts.

  • Temperament info
    12/30/2014 01:27am

    Often used as working dogs, [url=http://dogbreedinfo.us/german-shepherd-dog-.html]German Shepherds[/url] are courageous, keen, alert and fearless. Cheerful, obedient and eager to learn. Tranquil, confident, serious and clever. GSDs are extremely faithful, and brave. They will not think twice about giving their lives for their human pack. They have a high learning ability. German Shepherds love to be close to their families, but can be wary of strangers. This breed needs his people and should not be left isolated for long periods of time. They only bark when they feel it is necessary. Often used as police dogs, the German Shepherd has a very str... [url=http://dogbreedinfo.us/german-shepherd-dog-.html]details here [/url]http://dogbreedinfo.us/german-shepherd-dog-.html

  • need stud
    05/14/2015 12:53am

    I will need a stud for my German Shepherd. I live in Covington Ga.

  • 11/01/2015 08:12pm

    have you found a stud yet. I am in Ky. and I have a beautiful black and tan male that has just turned 1 this month. I have not tried him yet. but let me know if you are interested

  • Diet & Appetite
    02/26/2016 08:41am

    Need Advise.

    I'm feeding my GSD right now with puppy dog food for 3 months now in hoping that it would gain weight but up to now, it hasn't. Even with vitamins, its still hasn't gain weight. I feed it 1 cup twice a day.

    Much need advises will be appreciated. Thanks


German Pinscher

The German Pinscher is a medium-sized, short-coated dog. An excellent watchdog and companion, it combines...


German Shorthaired Pointer

The German Shorthaired Pointer is an all-purpose hunting dog, with great scenting power and intelligence....

Related Breeds

Belgian Malinois

The Malinois is a compact breed that is popular with police and military personnel.


The Collie is an intelligent herding dog that loves people and the outdoors.


The Beauceron was bred in France as a herding dog that is able to work long hours.