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History of German Shepherds

The development of the German Shepherd Dog breed is credited to Cavalry Captain Max Emil Friedrich von Stephanitz back in the 1890s. Stephanitz occupied himself by experimenting with dog breeding, intending to standardize the working shepherding dogs in Germany. In 1899, a shepherd dog named Hektor Linksrhein caught his attention at a dog show for it apparently possessed all the qualities he desired. He purchased the dog and changed its name to Horand von Grafath, the name now known as the first ever registered German Shepherd Dog in history, and the main breeding stud that basically founded the breed as it is known today.

To this day, the standards and requirements that Stephanitz set for the breed are recognized around the world and are still followed strictly in Germany. However, a different type of German Shepherd Dog has been developed over the years called the Show Line.  Show Line German Shepherds differ in many ways including size, structure, appearance, and temperament from the original Working Line German Shepherds that Stephanitz developed.

Physical Characteristics of a German Shepherd

The German Shepherd is considered as a large breed. According to the American Kennel Club, GSDs should be 22 to 26 inches tall and weigh 50 to 90 pounds when fully grown at 3 years old. They’re larger and heavier than the common Labrador Retriever which, when fully grown, are 21.5 to 24.5 inches tall and weigh 55 to 80 pounds.

While dogs don’t all grow at the same rate, the table below describes height and weight milestones by age that is typical of the breed.

AgeMale Female 
Weight (lbs.)Height (in.)Weight (lbs)Height (in.)
1 month5.5 – 94 – 64.5 – 83 – 6
2 months16 – 207 – 911 – 176 – 9
3 months22 – 309 – 1117 – 268 – 10
4 months35 – 4011 – 1431 – 3510 – 12
5 months40 – 4914 – 1635 – 4412 – 14
6 months49 – 5716 – 1844 – 4915 – 17
7 months57 – 6219 – 2049 – 5317 – 19
8 months62 – 6620 – 2253 – 5718 – 20
9 months64 – 7121 – 2355 – 6019 – 21
10 months66 – 7322 – 2457 – 6219 – 21
11 months66 – 7522 – 2460 – 6420 – 22
1 year71 – 7522 – 2460 – 6420 – 22
2 years71 – 8423 – 2562 – 6621 – 22
3 years79 – 8824 – 2666 – 7022 – 24

Note: The height is measured from the pads of their foot to their withers (the base of the neck) while standing.

The German Shepherd is a breed that has been maintained through very specific standards.  Based on these standards, meeting a specific length-to-height ratio is more important than meeting the typical height and weight milestones. Generally, GSDs are expected to have a length-to-height ratio of 10:8.5 where length is measured from the chest to the base of the tail and height is measured from the withers to the pad of the foot.

German Shepherd Coat Types

The German Shepherd typically has thick, soft fur covered by a coat that could range in length from short to long. While plenty of different coat types are accepted for the breed, the American Kennel Club sets ideal standards, especially for dogs meant for show. According to the organization, the ideal GSD would have a medium-length double coat where the outer coat is dense but straight and not shaggy. The neck should be covered by long, thick hair while the hair around the head, legs, and paws should be short.

In terms of coat color, the German Shepherd is most popular for its tan with black saddle combination but there are actually plenty of other accepted colorings for the breed. These include Black & Tan, Black & Red, Black & Cream, Black & Silver, Solid Black, Bi-Color (almost Solid Black but with some Tan or Red in some areas, typically the chest and legs), Sable, Dark Sable, and Black Sable.

Although comparatively rare, there are GSDs with other coloring including Gray, Liver, Light Blue, and Panda Pattern (with patches of white). These are accepted but typically considered undesirable by most kennel clubs. Colors that are considered unacceptable include Solid White, Solid Blue, Fawn, Solid Red, and Spotted Black & White. Note that the kennel clubs’ standards for color desirability are only based on assumptions regarding pureness of the line and are only important considerations for show lines. There is no evidence that the coloring has any connection to the dog’s health or temperament.

Types of German Shepherds

There are generally two types of German Shepherds: the Working Line and the Show Line. The most obvious difference between the two lies in their physical conformation but they also differ greatly in personality.

Working Line German Shepherd

The Working Line German Shepherd was developed and has been bred for their capacity to work and not specifically for their physical appearance. They are highly driven, incredibly energetic, and exceptionally confident dogs that have a high tolerance for pain. All of these traits allow them to perform remarkably not just for herding but also in police, military, and personal protection work.

Because a lot of attention has been placed in its physical capacity to work, Working Line German Shepherds are generally healthier than their Show Line counterparts. While this would also make them great family companions, they would require experienced and knowledgeable handlers to properly train and adapt their behaviors for the home.

There are generally three recognized Working Line types in the world: (1) the West German Working Line, (2) the East German Working Line, and (3) the Czech Working Line.

The West German Working Line continues to be bred following the original standards set by Stephanitz though the Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde, the first German Shepherd Dog association. They have stable tempers and excel both in the field and in the family home.

The East German Working Line (also known as the DDR Working Line) as well as the Czech Working Line are similar with their West German counterparts but are bred with a higher priority for athleticism and extraordinary work drive.

Show Line German Shepherd

The Show Line German Shepherd was developed specifically with the intention to refine the appearance of the breed. Their most obvious difference from the Working Line is that they have loftier, more angulated bodies and brighter colored coats.

While still considered as high-energy dogs, the Show Line German Shepherd has much lower energy levels that then Working Line counterparts. They also have a lower prey-drive, which makes them better suited for homelife.

There are two recognized Show Line types: (1) the American / Canadian Show Line and (2) the West German Show Line.

The American / Canadian Show Line is bred specifically for their physical appearance. While they have large bodies, their faces tend to be narrower. Their most recognizable feature is their particularly angulated rear.

The West German Show Line is similar, but their rear angulation is not as exaggerated. Further, the West German Show Line followed a hip and health certification system while the American / Canadian Line does not.

Temperament of German Shepherds

The German Shepherd personality is different between the Show Line and the Working Line. In general, though, they are intelligent and courageous dogs that are fiercely loyal.

Are German Shepherds good family dogs? Certainly! Are German Shepherds good with kids? Absolutely!

Having a well-behaved German Shepherd doesn’t just happen miraculously.  GSD owners must commit to train, socialize, and supervise their dog, because of their size and bold manner, this could potentially be very challenging.  However, once a GSD has bonded with their family and learned proper behavior, their owners could enjoy a loving and loyal dog that’s always eager to please.

German Shepherd Grooming

German Shepherds are relatively easy dogs to groom.  The one downside is their shedding.   German Shepherds blow their coats twice a year, in the spring and fall. During those times a year expect your GSD to shed more intensively, and you should brush your dog’s coat daily to get rid of the loose hair.  If it is not spring or fall season, a weekly grooming regimen is sufficient.  Other basic grooming needs include nail trimming, teeth brushing, and ear cleaning.

Click here to read about how often to bathe a German Shepherd.

German Shepherd Exercise Requirements

In general, it is recommended for adult German Shepherds to get 2 hours of exercise per day. Lack of exercise could lead to destructive or even aggressive behavior. Constant metal stimulation is also recommended to keep them from being bored.

German Shepherd Lifespan

According to the American Kennel Club, the average GSD life expectancy is from 7 to 10 years old.  This is shorter than other breeds belonging to the Herding group. For example, the life expectancy of the Australian Shepherd and the Border Collie is 12 to 15 years while the Belgian Malinois is 14 to 16 years.  Nevertheless, taking good care of your German Shepherd can help to extend their life expectancy.

Given proper care and attention, German Shepherds can be the most fulfilling companion dog.  Whether you choose a reputable breeder or adoption German Shepherds are known as one of the best breeds to own.  Just be sure to spend as much time learning about the breed and visiting with your new potential GSD as possible to observe compatibility prior to taking the plunge.

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