I’m pretty sure the first thing that comes to your mind whenever you hear the term “K-9 Unit” are German Shepherds. That’s not surprising as these dogs have become the famous police force’s renowned reliable partners over the years. And, yes, the younger me fell in love with them after watching several crime films featuring their talented bad-guy catching skills while growing up. But, then again, who doesn’t want a fluffy dog for a personal bodyguard, right?
So if you plan to adopt or buy a German Shepherd, you better get to know these furry pets first. And here we will give you an overview of them, from the breed’s history down to help health care tips so that you know what you’re getting into.
Table of Contents
History: German Shepherds Then and Now
The Father of German Shepherds
Contrary to what most people believe, the German Shepherd breed is a relatively new one and is not considered an ancient breed like Chow Chows, Shar Peis, and Salukis. As the name suggests, these dogs originally came from Germany and were first bred around the late 1800s when the country tried to standardize and preserve desirable dog breed traits. Since herding a large flock of sheep can be quite backbreaking, the German farmers decided to mix breeds and create the ultimate dog herding companion. This then led to the birth of the forefathers of the German Shepherds we now know today.
Their effectiveness as sheepherders thanks to their intelligence, powerful nose, and speed didn’t go unnoticed. During a dog show around 1899, an ex-cavalry captain in the name of Max Von Stephanitz took an interest in one of the dogs, which embodied all the qualities he had dreamt about for the perfect working dog.
The military man immediately bought the dog and named him Horand von Grafrath. Afterward, Horand was declared as the first-ever German Shepherd dog added to the Society of the German Shepherd Dog’s registry, which was founded by none other than Von Stephanitz himself. This eventually earned him the title of being the Father of German Shepherds in the history books.
At the end of the first World War, the breed’s popularity skyrocketed not only in the country but all over Europe. The soldiers, amazed by its capabilities and extreme loyalty, spread the word of the breed’s existence, which piqued Europeans’ interest. Furthermore, GSDs got more publicity thanks to “Rin Tin Tin” and “Strongheart,” the first-ever dog actors of its breed.
In 1919, the UK Kennel Club finally registered the first batch of German Shepherds consisting of fifty four dogs in total. This number increased dramatically over the years, and by the time 1926 rolled in, more than 8,000 dogs were already on their official registry.
What’s more, GSDs have not only crossed borders but also the seas during the early 1900s. “Queen of Switzerland” was the first-ever of the breed to be registered in the United States. Sadly, due to breeding difficulties and the onset of World War II, these dogs’ popularity declined. But due to their very desirable traits, German Shepherds once again rose to stardom in the country, and by 1993 it was reported to be the third most popular dog breed.
The General Description
The most common German Shepherds have the typical red & black or tan & black coat. And you can tell their breed from a mile away thanks to their distinct fur color. Furthermore, they are categorized as large dog breeds having an average size of 24-26 inches in height for males while 22-24 inches for females. When it comes to weight, males are also relatively heavier, with most weighing a hefty 30-40 kilograms; meanwhile, females are typically only 20-30 kilograms.
Typically, all German Shepherds have square-shaped nozzles that are black and a long neck. They have the usual dome shape head with big pointed ears that pull back when they are moving or sad. What’s more, they have these brown eyes that scream attentive and intelligent.
Like most furry dogs, GSDs also have a protective double coating. And the shorter, more dense outer layer is what you usually see scattered all over your bedsheets and rugs all year round. Furthermore, these breeds are also known for their long bushy tails, which generally reach down up to their hock.
For a more specific description and details, please refer to the American Kennel Club’s Official German Shepherd Dog standards here.
Due to genetics and mix breeding, there have been several variations of German Shepherds over the years. Some variations in sport include pure black coats, sable, pure white, mixed of black and white, liver, blue, and even silver shades. Sadly, only the sable and refined black variations were accepted by the various breeding communities’ standards.
Furthermore, variations of the breed’s typical black back blanket were also observed. While most only have the black shade at the top of their backs known as saddle-types, some black blankets extend down to the top of their legs. Some GSDs have longer and fluffier outer coats, unlike the typical short, dense coating. The breed variations include the following:
• White Shepherd – commonly found and recognized in the United States and Canada, but the United Kennel Club considers it a different dog breed.
• White Swiss Shepherd Dog – descended from the American White Shepherd and is commonly bred in Switzerland.
• King Shepherd – another United States bred variant of the original German Shepherd. • East-European Shepherd – a larger version of the original that were bred to survive the colder climates and is a Russian creation.
• Shiloh Shepherd – a United States descent, this variant is larger, has longer fur, and a longer back than the true German Shepherd.
Temperament and Intelligence
What makes German Shepherds such a well-loved dog breed is their advantageous personalities and relatively high intelligence. They are always interested in learning new things and are inquisitive dogs. Hence, they are effortless to train even at a young age and can easily pick up tricks and commands.
GSDs are also very aloof and are very wary of strangers. They also have an innate sense of loyalty and are overprotective of their owners. This makes them the perfect guard dog choice for your family and your home. However, they can be very aggressive towards guests and bite people, especially if they deem them dangerous. For that, expert dog trainers often remind families to allow their German Shepherds to socialize with other people and other dogs and tone down their aggressive side.
Besides their intelligence and loyalty, these dogs also have a very keen sense of smell and hearing. This is also why they are considered the best police dog, often trained for various police activities such as drug and bomb detection. They are also often used for search and rescue missions and are trained to chase after criminals and restrain them.
Health Requirements and Problems
Diet and Nutritional Needs
Like most large dog breeds, German Shepherds require a very high protein diet. They should at least get 22% protein in their daily meal allocation. And you can best provide it not through sacks of processed dog food but by giving them pure protein sources such as lean meat. Protein is responsible for several growth and development processes for dogs, including muscle and bone growth, energy, immune system development, and many others.
GSDs also need a healthy dose of fat, about 5 to 8%, in their diet. Fat is essential in keeping their skin healthy. It is also responsible for healthy fur growth, giving them a softer texture and allowing fast hair recovery after shedding. However, too much or too little fat content can be detrimental to your dogs, so ensure that you measure the amount you give them in their daily meal plan.
For carbohydrates, the amount will mostly depend on the age of your GSD. Typically, puppies require higher amounts of carbs in their diet, helping in their fast growth and development. As they grow older, though, it is advisable to gradually reduce their carb intake to avoid too much weight gain, leading to dog obesity.
Table 1. List of foods that German Shepherds can eat.
|Proteins||Pork, Beef, Chicken, Lamb, Venison, Duck, Salmon, Tuna, Mackerel, Eggs|
|Carrot, Lettuce, Green Beans, Cabbage, Broccoli, Eggplant, Potato, Sweet Potato, Squash, Peas, Spinach, Zucchini|
|Fruits||Banana, Apple, Mango, Melon, Orange, Pineapple, Berries, Watermelon, Peach, Pear, Coconut|
|Grains (only in very small proportions)||Rice, Wheat, Oats, Barley, Buckwheat, Rye, Millet|
|Nuts||Peanuts, Almonds, Hazelnuts, Cashews, Chestnuts|
Much like humans, dogs also need several specific vitamins and minerals to keep them healthy and fit. The water-soluble B vitamins (B1, B2, B6, & B12) and Vitamins C, K, A, D, and E, are needed in specific amounts. Minerals, including Calcium, Potassium. Magnesium, Phosphorous, and Iron, to name a few,
are also necessary for a German Shepherd’s growth and development. And although they can get these through their food, providing them with a vitamin and mineral supplement is a better bet to make sure that they get all of these in their system.
And last but not least is water. Large dog breeds, especially very active ones like German Shepherds, require huge amounts of water daily. Since a dog’s body comprises 60% water, needing to replenish it is essential. GSDs must always have access to clean potable water. High temperatures can often lead to dehydration, which results in various dog bodily stresses. So be sure to give them more water during the summer months.
For the specific nutritional breakdown and requirements, please refer to AAFCO’s Dog Food Nutrient profile here.
The amount and frequency of feeding your German Shepherds vary in age. Typically, 8 to 12-week old puppies are only given a wet diet, which comprises about 85% moisture content. This involves giving them small amounts of dry dog food or kibble that has been mashed with water. You can eventually give them an all solid diet once they are three months old. Typically, for puppies, a more frequent yet small amount of feeding method is done. And they can be fed four to five times a day.
For adult GSDs, a more diverse meal consisting of real meat and some vegetables, along with adult kibble, should be provided. Varying their meal plan for the week can help minimize dogs’ becoming picky eaters, which can often be a serious headache, especially when you don’t have that big of a budget for your dogs. Since their metabolism is generally slower once they reach adulthood, German Shepherds tend to eat smaller amounts in a day. This means you can cut back to just a once or twice a day feeding time for them.
For calculating the right food amount per GSD growth stage, please refer here.
German Shepherds are quite prone to several health issues if not taken care of properly. And here, I will briefly discuss the most common ones that are often exclusively or frequently observed in GSDs.
• Gastric Dilatation Volvulus
More commonly known as merely bloating, this is characterized by the inability to release gas from the body. And it usually happens when there is a sudden build-up of gas, water, or food somewhere in the dog’s digestive tract that has been blocked up, unable to flow correctly. If not treated or expelled, their stomachs can explode due to too much pressure, and this can lead to even more severe complications.
• Hip and Elbow Dysplasia
This health condition typically affects large breed dogs in general, like German Shepherds. And dysplasia is usually caused by genetics; however, some cases also point to improper care and feeding during the developmental stages of dogs as possible causes. A dog suffering from dysplasia will be lame or crippled with an unusual gait when walking since their joints’ ball, and socket will have suffered from malformation.
• Degenerative Myelopathy (DM)
Commonly present in German Shepherds, DM is an autoimmune neurological type of disease. And sadly, it affects the spinal cord of dogs. Weak nerve functions, which can often time lead to paralysis, are its typical effect on canines.
• Pancreatic Enzyme Insufficiency
This health condition is a disorder of the gastrointestinal tract of dogs and exclusively affects German Shepherds. If your dog is suffering severe diarrhea leading to extreme weight loss, he/she probably has this disorder. And as the name suggests, this condition occurs due to the dog’s inability to produce the right kind of enzymes needed for food digestion and nutrient absorption.
Also known as German Shepherd Dog Keratitis, Pannus is an eye condition that can often result in total blindness in more severe cases. You can observe a pinkish membrane slowly getting larger and larger across the cornea of the Pannus infected dog. Sadly, this disease is incurable and can only be controlled.
You can check out the complete list of German Shepherd health conditions here.
Care and Grooming Needs
Care and Exercise Tips
• Being large breed dogs when they grow up, GSDs require a fair amount of space to stretch and move around.
• Never confine them all the time in cages or kennels, or even keep them tied up. This can lead to aggressiveness and very destructive behavior overtime.
• Make sure to introduce them to other people besides yourself and your family, as well as other dogs. This can help build up their social skills, toning down their overprotective nature.
• You should dedicate a reasonable amount of time every day to train them with commands and teach them tricks. An hour or two is more than enough, as long as you satiate their eagerness to learn.
• German Shepherds coming from herding breeds are very active dogs. Allow them to run around and play daily can help expel all of their pent up energy. And you also have the option of taking them out for walks or jog around alongside them.
Like any other dog breed, German Shepherds require constant grooming, especially since they have long fur. And expect to clean them up more than occasionally as they do love to run around in the outdoors every day.
• You can only bathe them once or twice a month. Regularly bathing them can stress out their skin and cause their fur to become lackluster and dry.
• Clip out and file their nails every after their bathing session. However, you can skip this step as they grow older since their nails will naturally get filed on the ground.
• Due to their thick fur, brushing them daily is a must. This will help minimize their shedding overtime. Plus, it will save you some floor cleaning time as well.
• Make sure to prepare some treats during grooming time, as dogs can be quite a handful and are often irritated with grooming. Treats can help calm them down and be less difficult to handle.
• German Shepherds have deeply grooved ears, which require a more thorough cleaning at least once a week. You can use soft cotton buds to clean out all the wax and debris that have build-up on the crevices.
• Check their paws periodically for any signs of bruises or scratches to avoid infection.
Since German Shepherds are considered high-maintenance dogs, they are not advisable for newbie dog handlers. That’s because dogs such as GSDs have specific needs that only seasoned dog owners can easily do and provide. And pushing yourself to get one just because you want will only make your dog suffer in the end.
Furthermore, if you plan to get a German Shepherd, do take the time to research them first. As a dog owner myself, having a good idea of what’s right and wrong for my fur baby is a critical step towards a healthy and enjoyable relationship with them.