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German Shepherd Dog

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German Shepherd Dog
German Shepherd happy and panting after an agility run
German Shepherd happy and panting after an agility run
Alternative names
Country of origin
Common nicknames
Classification and breed standards
FCI: Group 1 Section 1 #166  
AKC: Herding  
ANKC: Group 5 (Working Dogs)  
CKC: Group 7 - Herding Dogs  
KC (UK): Pastoral  
NZKC: Working  
UKC: Herding Dog Breeds  
Not recognized by any major kennel club
This breed of dog is extinct

The German Shepherd Dog (known also as the Alsatian or Schäfer (hund) is an intelligent breed of dog. Because they are eager to please, they are easily trained in obedience and protection. German Shepherd Dogs are often used as working dogs in many capacities, including search and rescue (SAR), military, police or guard dogs. They are also used as assistance dogs / service dogs (such as guide dogs), though not as much as Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers.


The German Shepherd Dog is a large, strong, substantial-looking dog. The fur is a double-coat and can be either short or long haired. It varies in color, coming in many different shades, mostly cream (tan) and brown, but also solid black or white. Dogs with coats that have tricolored hair (that is, black and white and either brown or red) are called sable or agouti. Different kennel clubs have different standards for the breed according to size, weight, coat color and structure.

Common faults

Some GSDs have ears that never stand up completely; instead, the top 10 to 15 percent of the ear remains floppy. These are called "friendly-tipped" dogs. It is a disqualifying fault in show dogs.

A small percentage of GSDs have a tail that stands vertically, exposing their anus. This is also a disqualifying fault in show dogs.

Breed lines

There are several types or lines of GSD and the behavior, abilities, and appearance of each is quite different. The major lines are the international working line, the international show line, and the North American show line.

Black Sable (or gray) GSD, the original color and still common in working lines Black Sable (or gray) GSD, the original color and still common in working lines

Dogs from FCI-recognised international working lines are bred primarily for traits involving their working ability rather than appearance, so their appearance can be somewhat varied.

The FCI-recognised international show lines differ in that emphasis is given more to the appearance of the dog when breeding, so they are very consistent in type or appearance.

The North American show lines have also been bred primarily for their looks, but have a markedly different appearance from the international dogs, featuring a noticeably sloped back and sharp angulation of the hock joint. There is a current debate over whether the American show lines still represent the original German Shepherd Dog, or whether the line has become distinct enough that it should be considered a separate breed. Critics of the American line argue that the working ability of these dogs has been lost, and that the angled back is detrimental to the health of the animal. Proponents of the line believe that the altered bone structure of their dogs represents an improvement to the herding ability of the animals.

In the erstwhile GDR, the German Shepherds more closely adhered to the old prewar standard marked by straighter back, longer and denser coat and darker color. These dogs are now praised for breeding working dogs as they are less prone to hip dysplasia. Attempts to preserve this distinct line and raise it to the status of an officially recognized breed ("East German Shepherd Dog") are stalled.

Variant sizes and coats

Some groups or breeders have focused on variants or mutations of the breed that are not recognized by most kennel clubs as acceptable show GSDs but that might eventually become breeds on their own.

White coat

White German Shepherd Dog White German Shepherd Dog

A white (or very light), but not albino, version of the German Shepherd has also always occurred, but was designated a disqualifying fault in the AKC in the late 1960s; it is also considered a fault by German breed standards. This fault, however, does not prevent the white coated German Shepherd Dog from being registered in the AKC as a German Shepherd Dog. White Shepherds hold champion titles in the UKC (United Kennel Club).

Now, some breeders selectively breed White Shepherds for their beautiful snowy white coats and physical stature, striving for a Shepherd that closely resembles the original dog; less angular than today's German Shepherd breed. See the WGSDCA or American White Shepherd Association for more detail. However, the white German Shepherd has been recognised by some organisations under the name Berger Blanc Suisse (or White Shepherd Dog).

Long-haired coat 
The so-called "long-haired German Shepherd" is considered a "fault" in the German Shepherd Dog breed according to American Kennel Club standards. The long hair gene is recessive. Dogs with this coat look somewhat like the Tervueren type of Belgian Shepherd Dog. An example with pictures can be found here. Popular myth holds that long-haired GSDs ("fuzzies") are more affectionate, but there is little evidence for this.
Giant shepherd 
Some organizations recognize a deliberately bred, larger variation of the breed as the Shiloh Shepherd Dog or other names.


While attempting to play with a cat, a shepherd's teeth are displayed.

Well-bred GSDs have powerful jaws and strong teeth, can develop a strong sense of loyalty and obedience, and can be trained to attack and release on command. Poorly bred GSDs such as those from puppy mills can be fearful, overly aggressive, or both. The common misconception that GSDs (like Pit Bulls) are inherently violent is due most often to a combination of poor breeding (bad nerves) and the owner's lack of control/training. Also to blame is the constant media depiction of these dogs as guard or attack dogs, and dogs used by the police, although they are more often used as dogs to search for things, as opposed to dogs used for attack.

GSDs' sense of loyalty to, and emotional bond with, their owners is almost impossible to overstate. Separation trauma is one reason they have been used less in guide dog roles in recent years, since that program typically trains dogs from puppyhood under one owner prior to final placement.

GSDs can make loyal and obedient pets. GSDs can make loyal and obedient pets.

Temperament Differences Among Lines

The different types or lines of GSD display differences not only in appearance but also in ability and temperament.

Dogs from working lines have very high energy, and have been bred to have a natural drive for protection, tracking, and obedience. They are bred primarily for consistent temperament, working drive, and intelligence. These dogs can be used as pets, but will be unhappy if not exercised daily or trained to do a job of some sort. These dogs are more commonly seen in rescues in North America due to their high prey drive and owner's inability to control or train them.

German and Eastern European lines tend to be stockier, with shorter snouts and more muscular chests, and typify the working lines.

North American lines have a tendency towards a longer croup, longer back, higher wither and more stable temperament ideal for companionship. They do not require something to do constantly to keep them from becoming bored and without an outlet, destructive.

These dogs can make excellent pets, provided that an irresponsible breeder has not sacrificed consistent temperament or health in the quest for popular standards for good looks.


As is common in many large breeds, German Shepherds are prone to elbow and hip dysplasia. Other health problems sometimes occurring in the breed are von Willebrand's disease and skin allergies. German Shepherds are also prone to bloat. They have an average life span of ten to twelve years.


The breed was originated by Captain Max von Stephanitz in the late 1800s and early 1900s. His goal was to breed an all-purpose working dog. The first registered GSD was Horand v. Grafrath [1]. Von Stephanitz admired the landrace herding dogs of his native Germany, and believed they had the potential to be all-purpose working dogs. Additionally, he was aware of the declining need for herding dogs and believed that the working abilities of the breed would decline unless it was put to other uses. Von Stephanitz created the Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde [2], or SV as the official governing body for the breed. The SV then created the schutzhund trial as a breed test for the German Shepherd Dog, and prohibited the breeding of any dog which could not pass the trial. The schutzhund trial, along with the SV's conviction that "German Shepherd breeding is working dog breeding, or it is not German Shepherd breeding" led to a rapid development of the breed's abilities. After WWI, British and American soldiers, impressed by the abilities of the dog, brought home examples to breed. The breed instantly become popular, both as a family pet and as a working dog. To this day, the German Shepherd Dog is considered one of, if not the most intelligent and versatile breeds in existence.

GSDs commonly display high intelligence, which makes them ideal candidates for various working class positions. GSDs commonly display high intelligence, which makes them ideal candidates for various working class positions.

Working German Shepherd Dogs

German Shepherds often compete and excel in obedience trials and Schutzhund competitions. German Shepherds are also often trained as police dogs, due to their trainability, size and work drive.


The original purpose for the German Shepherd Dog, was (not surprisingly) to herd sheep, cattle or any other animal that may require the assistance of a shepherd. Even given the name "shepherd" some people are surprised to hear that these dogs were bred for herding, as the GSD is more often found working as a guard dog, police dog or companion pet than in the field working sheep.

The German Shepherd Dog does not have the "eye" as border collies or other similar breeds. They are trained to follow their instinct, which for the GSD is to "work the furrow", meaning that they will patrol a boundary all day and restrict the animals being herded from entering or leaving the designated area. It is this instinct that has made the breed superb guarding dogs, protecting their flock (or family) from harm.

A German Shepherd Dog's instincts to herd might manifest themselves by the dog closely watching or even nipping at members of its family as they go for walks. The dog might attempt to lead people to what it perceives is the correct location, even going so far as to gently take a hand in his teeth to lead the person.


Breed names

The proper English name for the breed is German Shepherd Dog (a literal translation from the German "Deutscher Schäferhund") but they are usually informally referred to as GSDs or simply German Shepherds. Alsatian is also commonly used in the United Kingdom and countries of the Commonwealth of Nations (the reason for the alternative name is historical: during World Wars I and II, Germany was out of favour in the UK and many German names were translated or anglicised. See more below under Breed Name History). In addition, the sobriquet police dog is used in many countries where the GSD is the predominant or exclusive breed used in the canine police force.

Breed Name History

The anti German sentiment which followed the First World War caused the British to re-name the breed as the Alsatian Wolf Dog. The breed began to spread world-wide after World War I, when a few dogs were taken to England. At that time, however, it was known as "Alsatian Shepherd", as it was inappropriate that the breed's name could be a reminder of the war against Germany. Only in 1930 did the British Kennel Club authorise the breed to be known again as German Shepherd.

Despite fads, poor breeding practices, malign-ment of character as "attack" dogs, and discrimination against anything German during the years of and following World War I, the breed has thrived. During the German phobia, English owners refused to give up the breed they had come to admire. They did compromise and change the name to Alsatian, which prevailed for nearly 40 years after all hostilities ended.

The term "Alsatian" is an incorrect name for the breed and was coined within the British Kennel Club as part of an attempt to divorce the breed from its German origins, due to historical enmity.

Famous Shepherds

  • Blondi, pet of Adolf Hitler
  • Bullet, the Wonder Dog - Roy Roger's dog
  • Charlie, from All Dogs Go to Heaven
  • Clipper, pet of John F. Kennedy
  • Major, pet of FDR
  • Rex (a.k.a Reginald von Ravenhorst) from Kommissar Rex
  • Rin Tin Tin
  • Strongheart
  • The Littlest Hobo
  • Ace the Bat-Hound

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