German Shepherd Dogs 101
German shepherd dogs (or GSDs) are known for being loyal, hardworking and courageous. They have so many admirable qualities, it’s not surprising they’re one of the most popular dog breeds around. Yes, this large breed may be dependable and obedient, but that doesn’t mean they don’t know how to have fun. People with German shepherds know what fantastic pets they make.
While most people could identify a German shepherd if they saw one, many of the breed’s commendable qualities, interesting facts and surprising details go unknown. Here’s a glimpse into what makes German shepherd dogs special and beloved.
There are two unofficial types of German shepherds.
One kind is the American, and the other is the German. The American type is more focused on looks rather than the abilities and traits of the German.
The American ones tend to be more dependent on their owners and will develop behavioral problems if they’re left alone for too long. In contrast, the German ones are obedient and take all orders seriously.
Captain Max von Stephanitz is known as the father of the German shepherd breed.
Captain von Stephanitz purchased his first shepherd dog at a dog show and named him Horand Von Grafath. He wanted a herding dog that’d be highly intelligent, work hard and be able to be a fast learner.
Captain von Stephanitz spent 35 years of his life working on perfecting the herding dog and experienced a great deal of satisfaction at the results.
German shepherds are given strong names.
The most popular German shepherd names change from year to year, but they still tend to be strong ones like Jax, Ace, Max, Bear, Chief, Luna, Blitz, Moose, Sadie or Nala.
It doesn’t take long, only four or five days, for a puppy German shepherd to learn their name by using a system of positive reinforcement and repetition.
German shepherds are police and military dogs.
German shepherds make excellent search and rescue dogs and were part of the search and rescue teams following 9/11. Apollo, the NYPD K-9, was one standout police dog who received the AKC Humane Fund for Canine Excellence.
Peter Davis and his handler arrived at the World Trade Center 15 minutes after the Twin Towers fell. Apollo was nearly killed from the fire and falling debris but managed to survive and continue working.
German shepherds are medium- to large-sized dogs.
The height of the male German Shepherd is between 24 to 26 inches, and it’s weight is 66 to 88 pounds. Females are slightly smaller at 22 to 24 inches and 49 to 71 pounds.
When getting a second dog, keep in mind that German shepherds get along best with dogs of a similar size, such as labradors, Great Danes, golden retrievers and other German shepherds.
German shepherds take the concept of loyalty seriously.
German shepherds can be somewhat aloof with strangers, but they’re big lovebugs when it comes to their owners or someone with whom they’ve spent some time.
Once someone has proven themselves to be a friend, not a foe, the German shepherd will be cautiously friendly.
German shepherds herd even without a flock.
Herding is in their DNA, and they’ll herd their family members if they don’t have any sheep.
It’s not unlikely for them to guide you using their nose on your back, leg or even your face to nudge you where they want you to go.
They make excellent watchdogs.
German shepherds instinctually take their place as family guardians. If they hear anything out of the ordinary within their territory, they’re going to alert their masters immediately.
Standing up to trouble and defending their owners is what these dogs do.
Panda shepherds are a rare breed of German shepherds.
The average German shepherd shows no white markings. However, a genetic mutation created a white-furred German shepherd.
They may look different, but they’re just as smart, loyal and hardworking as other German shepherds. Since their white coloring is considered a flaw, they cannot compete in dog shows.
German shepherds are super active.
These dogs are gifted physically and they enjoy moving their bodies.
Some of their favorite activities are playing on the beach, catching frisbees, chasing a ball, hiking with their person and even participating in organized dog sports.
Giving your GSD enough exercise is crucial.
If you’re looking forward to chilling out on the sofa with your German shepherd, you’re going to have to exercise them first. One of their basic needs is to get several hours of exercise every day so that they can burn off some of their extra energy.
If they don’t get a walk or a workout daily, they’ll engage in destructive behavior, bark excessively, gain weight or develop mental health problems.
German Shepherds love to work.
As much as German shepherds like to hang out, they also enjoy being working dogs. They’re not opposed to helping out around the house if that’s the only work available to them.
However, they often have real jobs such as herding, working in law enforcement or the military, and being service dogs.
German shepherds are extremely smart.
Out of all the dog breeds globally, German shepherds are considered one of the smartest dogs, behind poodles.
Make sure you play games that make them think and give them plenty of mentally stimulating toys to keep their brains exercised and sharp.
German shepherds look good.
Words often used to describe German Shepherds include, regal, handsome, magnificent or graceful.
They appear proud and tend to hold their heads up in a way that shows they’re confident. You get what you see with a German shepherd.
In England, German shepherds are called ‘Alsatians.’
Alsatians and German shepherds are the same breeds. During World War I, this name change was used to protect the breed from anti-German feelings.
The name was reverted back to German shepherd in 1977, but some people use the names interchangeably.
GSDs have floppy ears when they’re teething.
The teething stage for German shepherd puppies begins in their third month and ends between the seventh and eighth months. During this time, their ears can become limp.
Their floppy ears last at most for 20 weeks until the cartilage in their ears becomes firm enough to cause them to stand upright permanently.
German shepherds can live over 13 years with proper care.
When German shepherds get enough exercise, eat healthy foods in moderate proportions and receive regular veterinary care, they can live long, healthy lives.
Some inherited and genetic diseases to look out for, though, are exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (a degenerative disease of the pancreas,) degenerative myelopathy, von Willebrand disease (a bleeding disorder,) hip and elbow dysplasia, and bloat.
American soldiers introduced German shepherds to the United States.
After fighting in World War I, returning soldiers brought German shepherds back.
They’d seen the dogs on the battlefields helping wounded soldiers and working as sentries, messengers and ammunition carriers, and the soldiers were rightfully impressed.
The GSD’s bite is much worse than its bark.
The bite force of a German shepherd is estimated to be 238 PSI (pounds per square inch). They tend to do a bite and hold move, which can fracture bones, tear the skin and cause permanent injury or death.
As long as a German shepherd has been socialized from a young age and trained well, they shouldn’t attack without provocation.
The first guide dogs were German Shepherds.
The most famous guide dog was named Kiss, though it later changed to Buddy. Her owner, Morris Frank, brought her from Switzerland to the United States, where dogs were already being taught to help soldiers who had lost their eyesight in WWI.
Buddy was the first seeing-eye dog to come to the United States.
German shepherds come in several colors.
The 11 official colors of the German shepherd are black, black and cream, black and red, black and silver, bi-color, tan, white, brownish or liver, sable, gray and blue.
The founder of this breed has been attributed with saying, “No good dog is a bad color.”
German shepherds are fast.
They can run at a speed of 30 mph and always rate as one of the top 10 fastest dog breeds.
Rather than running at top speeds for long distances, these dogs are better at sprinting and covering short distances at rapid speeds.
They are great communicators.
German shepherds have a whole language of vocalizations, including barks, growls, whimpers, whines, sighs and yowls.
Besides sound, they communicate with their collection of body movements, including facial expressions; body, ear and eye positions; and how they hold and move their tail.
German shepherds follow their noses.
German shepherds can smell 10,000 to 100,000 times than humans.
They have millions of scent receptors, which explains why they’re so good at bomb and drug-sniffing, search and rescue.
Everybody loves this classic German shepherd move.
It’s easy to assume that when a German Shepherd tilts their head and has a quizzical expression on their face that they’re looking at you and questioning your behavior.
The truth is they’re not confused; they’re tilting their head to see and hear better.
German shepherds have their own sport.
One thing German Shepherd fans love to do is prove their dogs’ intelligence and versatility. A sport called Schutzhund, or “protection dog,” was created to show off the dog’s natural abilities through a series of challenges.
The categories in this contest are intelligence, willingness to work, closeness with their owner, bravery, trainability, perseverance and sense of smell.
German shepherds are easy to train.
Not only is it easy for German Shepherds to learn a new behavior, but they also adapt quickly. The best way to train them is to use positive reinforcement-based methods.
Some of the tricks you can teach a German Shepherd are playing dead, speaking, high five, beg, playing the piano, walking backward and doing an army crawl. Don’t forget to teach them how to take a bow when they’re finished showing off.
They have the nickname ‘German shedder.’
German Shepherd coats vary in length, but one thing that doesn’t change is that they’re double-coated and they shed a lot.
The overcoat has longer guard hairs, while the undercoat is softer and thicker. Plan on brushing them daily, or you’ll find their fur covering every surface in your house.
Rin Tin Tin was the most famous German shepherd actor.
Rin Tin Tin was rescued on the battlefield in France during WW1 and was discovered in a dog show.
He went on to have a fantastic film career, appearing in 27 films between 1922 and 1931 and earning a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
German shepherds are super popular on social media.
German shepherds have everything an Instagram star needs — they’re beautiful, talented and inspire amazing content.
Popular German shepherd accounts include Jade the Sable, Downtown Dutchie, Akela GSD, Chief GSD and Best Boy Benson, to name a few.
German shepherds can live up to 15 years.
German shepherds often live to the ripe old age of 12 or 13, and a few have made it even longer.
Large dog breeds tend to have shorter lifespans, so a 12-year average is impressive.
German shepherds have gone skydiving before.
In 2016, a dog named Arrow became the world's first "skydiving, anti-poaching dog."
Arrow, a German shepherd trained by handler Henry Holsthyzen, made his first jump at an air force base in South Africa. He was trained to scope out areas for firearms, illegal traps and poachers themselves.
Holsthyzen claims that Arrow was less nervous than he was.
German shepherd mixes are unbelievably cute.
Due to the numerous impressive qualities of the German shepherd breed, it has become a popular choice for "designer dog" mixed breeds.
Some of the most popular mixes include huskies, poodles and golden retrievers.
The German shepherd is the second-most frequently registered breed by the AKC.
The AKC, or American Kennel Club, is a registry of purebred dogs that aims to promote ethical breeding practices and continue the hobby of purebred dog keeping with integrity.
They keep track of all the purebred dogs produced, and the German shepherd came in second, right after the Labrador retriever.
German shepherds have been serving the U.S. since World War II
While the German shepherd was bred as a herding dog, its keen sense of smell and quick wit made it a prime candidate for military and police work.
The breed was used on the battlefield as early as World War I in some countries, and the U.S. continues using them in the field to this day.
They tilt their heads when they're listening to you, and it's super cute.
German shepherds often tilt their heads when they're focused on a sound, sometimes dropping one ear.
The sweet, goofy look gives them a certain, puppyish charm long after they've grown into their giant puppy paws.
German shepherds can even learn to detect coronavirus.
In 2021, a German veterinary clinic successfully trained German shepherds to detect COVID-19 in samples of human saliva with 94 percent accuracy.
Theoretically, they could tell if you've picked up the virus just by giving you a friendly sniff.
The breed's motto is 'utility and intelligence.'
At least, that's the motto the breed's founder chose. Von Stephanitz focused on producing a breed that was helpful and bright.
Looks came second, but we think they're pretty great in the looks department, too.
Six German shepherds once starred in a play.
In the 1980s, a Dutch theater director named Whim Schipper wrote a play starring six German shepherds.
The pups were sent to drama school in Amsterdam. Despite being paid in treats, the play didn't work out.
German shepherds are fiercely protective.
One of the top reasons dog owners choose German shepherds is because they'll defend their families fearlessly.
That's not to say that they're aggressive by nature, but it's important to socialize German shepherds from a young age and to train them thoroughly so they don't mistake the mailman for a threat.
Their chewing tendencies are annoying, but pretty funny to watch.
German shepherds love to chew. If they're not given plenty of toys to occupy their attention, your couch might be their next project.
Not so funny when it's an expensive fix, but it's impossible not to smile when you witness a delighted German shepherd puppy running around with a roll of shredded toilet paper.
More German shepherds have won the Award for Canine Excellence than any other breed.
The award is given out to the most heroic dogs every year, and German shepherds have won 13 different times.
One German shepherd saved a 7-year-old from a rattlesnake.
Haus, a 2-year-old German shepherd rescue, noticed a tragedy in the making and swooped in to save the day. When his 7-year-old owner, Molly, ran into a rattlesnake, he got in front of her and took three bites in the process.
Molly escaped unscathed, and Haus made a full recovery after nine vials of antivenin and a week in intensive care.
German shepherds are velcro dogs.
While they tend to be suspicious of strangers, having a German shepherd is like having a best friend who wants to go everywhere with you, from the park to the bathroom.
To avoid anxious behaviors, make sure to give your German shepherd oodles of love and attention, plus plenty of exercise.
German shepherd puppies are the absolute cutest.
Who could resist those eyes?