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The German Shepherd (a.k.a the Alsatian) is a large working dog that originated in, you guessed it, Germany. A low-maintenance breed, the German Shepherd consistently features in the top 10 lists of most popular dog breeds in Australia. They are considered to be a very safe breed when well trained and socialised from a young age, and for this reason they are a great family pet.
German Shepherds were bred for their intelligence, and are regarded as one of the smartest dog breeds. Their intelligence, obedience and trainability have resulted in the German Shepherd being one of the most adaptable and versatile dog breeds in the world and they are often employed in military, search & rescue and police roles.
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.
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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The German Shepherd is eager to learn and intelligent, curious and alert. It is a faithful, fearless and loyal companion who loves to be close to its family and only barks when it feel it’s necessary. It is willing to do anything to protect its loved ones, even to the point of giving its own life.
German Shepherds are highly active dogs. 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 is a great activity for them. Keep in mind their high need for physical and mental exercise, because a lack of activity or mental challenges can lead to them becoming restless and destructive.
Problems can arise when the owner allows the German Shepherd to believe he is the pack leader. Therefore, it is essential for owners to assert their authority in a calm yet firm way – this breed will not listen to someone they deem to be weaker of 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 of guarding issues and biting others out of fear.
German Shepherds are great with children, but as they are large and boisterous they should not be left alone with young children and babies. They can become over-protective of their family and territory if not socialised from a young age. Their protective nature makes this breed the perfect police dog.
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 that was developed in the 1890s out of a need to standardise breeds, both in terms of 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, he felt, was the perfect working dog.
In 1899 at a dog show, von Stephanitz encountered a selectively-bred dog named Hektor Linksrhein. Von Stephanitz 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 became the first dog to be added to the Society for the German Shepherd Dog’s breed register.
Horand became the standard for breeding programs, which used inbreeding to establish certain traits in the breed and which resulted in the development of the modern German Shepherd.
Interestingly, 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 as the “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”.