5 Things to Know About German Shepherd Dogs

Known for their excellent work ethic, GSDs also make great family dogs.

german shepherd dogs
This recognizable breed is loyal and courageous. Photo: Viv Lynch
AKC GroupAKC Group
50-90 lbs.
22-26 in.
Life ExpectancyLife Span
9-13 years

1. Key Characteristics of German Shepherd Dogs

The German Shepherd Dog, or GSD, is one of the most popular breeds in the United States.

This medium-sized dog is strong and muscular with dark, almond-shaped eyes and a bushy tail.

The variable coat can be double, plush or longhaired and comes in colors of black and tan, sable, black, blue, liver and white.

2. Where German Shepherd Dogs Come From

In 19th-century Germany, breeds of herding and farm dogs were crossed to create a new breed with a great work ethic and desirable companionship traits.

The parent club was formed in 1899 after the breed was exhibited in 1882 in Hanover. The first German Shepherd Dog, named Horan, was registered in April 1889. The American Kennel Club (AKC) recognized the breed in 1908.

german shepherd dogs
As even-tempered as they generally are, German Shepherd Dogs do commonly experience separation anxiety. Photo: mintchipdesigns

3. How Friendly Are German Shepherd Dogs?

GSDs are known for their ability to learn and retain training.

Their even disposition — a combination of loyalty, courage, intelligence, fearlessness and protective nature — comprises a range of qualities desired in a variety of fields.

German Shepherd dogs have an excellent sense of smell and can be patient, observant and decisive, qualities that make them superior service dogs.

An energetic breed, they need an outlet for their energy, and firm and consistent positive reinforcement helps keep them focused. They can be wary and apprehensive of strangers, but once friendship is granted, it’s given for life.

These dogs can experience separation anxiety, so don’t leave your GSD alone or crated for extended periods of time. If properly socialized, they’re good with other pets and children.

4. Is This the Right Dog for You?

Exercise Needs


HIGH: This active breed is looking for a job to do or a way to expel energy. Try daily walks, jogging and/or play to keep your GSD healthy and happy.

These dogs can do well in apartments as long as their exercise needs — a daily, consistent commitment — are met.

Grooming Needs


MEDIUM: In addition to trimming nails, cleaning ears and brushing the teeth, you should brush your GSD daily — these dogs are average shedders and shed more seasonally.

Their skin irritates easily, so don’t bathe your GSD too frequently.

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Health Problems


HIGH: Despite being a popular, active breed, the German Shepherd Dog has a substantial list of potential health problems, including:

To better understand myasthenia gravis and megaesophagus, read this article from someone who managed the conditions in her GSD.

More Stats About German Shepherd Dogs

Friendliness ★★★★☆
Ease of Training ★★★★★
Barking/Howling ★★★★☆
Shedding ★★★★★
Tolerate Being Alone ★★☆☆☆
Very Good With Kids ★★★★☆

Learn more about German Shepherd Dogs in this video:

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5. How to Adopt a German Shepherd Dog

You can often find German Shepherd Dogs in shelters and rescues. Start with our free adoptable dog search.

If you end up looking for a breeder, ask for health records of the parents and be wary of the major red flags of a puppy mill. (Considering the many possible health problems of GSDs, please don’t skip this step.)