The German Shepherd is a large working dog that originated in, you guessed it, Germany. A low-maintenance breed, the German Shepherd is the 3rd most popular breed in Australia according to Australian Geographic.
The appearance of a German Shepherd is something of a lucky dip – its coat colour is not known until it sheds its puppy coat, but it is generally a mixture of black and gold. They’re famous for their bushy, thick tails, pointy ears and wolf-like appearance.
Healthy male German Shepherds generally weigh in at 30 – 40 kg and stand at 60 – 65 cm tall. Females are usually between 22 and 32 kg and stand at about 55 – 60 cm tall.
German Shepherds were bred for their intelligence, and are regarded as one of the smartest dog breeds. Their intelligence, obedience and trainability have led the German Shepherd to become one of the most adaptable and versatile dog breeds in the world and are often employed in military, search & rescue and police roles.
They are considered to be a very safe breed when trained well and socialised early & often, and for this reason they are a great family pet.
Their life span is usually around 10-14 years, but some have been known to reach the ripe old age of 20!
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German Shepherds are highly active dogs, eager to learn and intelligent. They love strenuous activity, and need to be taken for a walk or run at least once a day. They also love to chase and play catch, so playing with a ball or Frisbee can be a great activity for them. Keep in mind their exercise needs, because a lack of exercise or mental challenge can lead the dog to become restless and destructive.
The German Shepherd is curious and alert, but can become over-protective of its family and territory if not socialised from a young age. Its protective nature makes it the perfect police dog. It is a faithful, fearless and clever companion who loves to be close to their families, and it only bark when they feel it is necessary. It is willing to do anything to protect their loved ones, even to the point of giving its own lives. German Shepherds are great with children, but as they are large and boisterous they should not be left alone with young children and babies.
Like with most dog breeds, problems can arise when the owner allows the dog to believe he is the pack leader. Therefore it is essential for owners to assert their authority in a calm yet firm way – they will not listen to someone they deem to be weaker in mind than themselves. They must be trained from an early age by an assertive owner. Passive owners can lead to timid dogs, which can lead to the development guarding issues and biting others out of fear.
The American Kennel Club describes the German Shepherd as having “a distinct personality marked by direct and fearless, but not hostile, expression, self-confidence, and a certain aloofness that does not lend itself to immediate and indiscriminate friendships. The dog must be approachable, quietly standing its ground and showing confidence and willingness to meet overtures without itself making them.”
Many of the modern German Shepherd’s ailments are due to the breed’s early development via inbreeding.
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German Shepherds are a relatively new breed, created in the 1890s out of a need to standardise breeds, both in work ability and appearance. Max von Stephanitz, who believed dogs should be bred for working, admired the intelligence, strength and ability of the sheepdogs native to Germany but none, to him, were the perfect working dog.
In 1899 at a dog show, von Stephanitz encountered a selectively-bred dog named Hektor Linksrhein. Von Stephanitz saw this dog and was impressed by both its temperament and appearance and decided to purchase the dog. He renamed it Horand von Grafrath, declared it to be the first German Shepherd Dog, and it was the first dog to be added to the Society for the German Shepherd Dog’s breed register.
Horand became the basis of breeding programs, which used inbreeding to fix certain traits and which led to the development of the modern German Shepherd.
It’s interesting to note that after World War I, some believed the word “German” would harm the breed’s popularity. As a result, the breed was renamed by the UK Kennel club to “Alsatian Wolf Dog”, referring to the area of Alsace-Lorraine on the border of France and Germany. Many other international kennel clubs adopted the name, and eventually “wolf dog” was dropped from the name. “Alsatian” remained the official breed name until 1977, when dog enthusiasts campaigned to have the breed registered once again as “German Shepherd”.