Breed Profile: German Shepherd

German Shepherds are a versatile breed capable of many tasks and areas of work. They also make great family dogs.

GSDs are active and energetic dogs. By:
GSDs are active and energetic dogs. By: Giles Williams


German Shepherd, a.k.a. GSD



Physical Description

Commonly known as one of the most desirable breeds for police, military and guarding work, the GSD is also one of the most popular breeds in the United States. The 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, although they may also be sable, black, blue, liver and white.

The white German Shepherd is considered a separate breed and commonly referred to as an American white shepherd. The panda shepherd refers to a variation in a coat color consisting of white, black and tan despite none of its ancestors having a white coat.

The average height of the breed ranges between 22 and 26 inches with an average weight of 77 to 85 pounds. Life expectancy is around 12 to 14 years, although some GSDs can live longer.


As the name implies, the breed was developed in Germany in the 19th century. Breeds of herding and farm dogs were crossed to create the new breed with the same work ethic and companionship they possessed.

The parent club was formed in 1899 after the breed was exhibited in 1882 in Hanover. The first GSD named Horan was registered in April of 1889. The American Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1908.


GSDs are known as working dogs companion pets and competitors in the conformation ring. Their original instincts are in herding and protection, and because of these qualities they are excellent working dogs for the police and military. They are also excellent service dogs and participate in Schutzhund, tracking, obedience, agility, bomb and drug detection and detect underground mines and gas leaks.

The vast flexibility and speed of this breed is amazing. Whether flying around agility courses, taking down and holding suspects or sniffing for drugs and mines, the boundless energy, stamina and dedication of the GSD is hard to match. This video shows one of the best compilations of the capabilities of the GSD and is worth watching in its entirety:



GSDs are known and revered for their ability to learn and retain training, even for specialized purposes. Their even disposition, a combination of loyalty, courage, intelligence, fearlessness and protective nature, are qualities desired in a variety of fields.

The GSD has an excellent sense of smell and can be patient, observant and decisive, qualities that make them such excellent service dogs for people with disabilities.

The GSD breed is eager to learn, alert and ready for anything. They are energetic and need an outlet for their energy, and firm and consistent positive reinforcement helps to keep them focused. They can be wary and apprehensive of strangers, but once friendship is granted it is given for life.

GSDs can experience separation anxiety, and it is important not to leave them alone or crated for extended periods of time. They are good with other pets and children as long as they are properly socialized.

Exercise Needs

This active breed is looking for a job to do or a way to expel energy. Daily walks, jogging and/or play are recommended to keep them healthy and happy. The exercise your GSD gets is important if your dog does not work on a regular basis. This intelligent, active breed desires work and tasks, so these needs must be met through either jobs or exercise. They can do well in apartments as long as their exercise needs are met, which will be a daily, consistent commitment.

Grooming Requirements

In addition to trimming nails, cleaning ears and brushing the teeth, there are other grooming responsibilities for GSDs. Their skin irritates easily, so they should not be bathed too frequently. They are average shedders and can shed more seasonally, so daily brushing is recommended. If your GSD is a longhaired version, additional grooming may be necessary.

Common Health Problems

Despite being a popular, active dog breed, the GSD does have a substantial list of potential health problems. Every individual dog is different, so there is no guarantee your GSD will get any of the following conditions (but you should be aware of them):

  • Bloat
  • Hip dysplasia
  • Elbow dysplasia
  • Blood disorders
  • Epilepsy
  • Eczema
  • Von Willebrand’s disease (bleeding disorder)
  • Perianal fistulas
  • Keratitis (cornea inflammation)
  • Flea allergies
  • Tumors (spleen is common)
  • Degenerative myelopathy
  • Endocrine disorders
  • Digestive problems caused by myasthenia gravis (and megaesophagus)

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

Is the German Shepherd the Right Dog for You?

The GSD is an active, energetic, loyal and protective dog that will become integrated into your family. This is not a breed that can be ignored, left alone for long periods of time or crated excessively since they are susceptible to separation anxiety. They need exercise, tasks, consistent training and regular grooming. GSDs do well with children and other pets as long as they are properly socialized.

They can be protective and wary of strangers, but once accepted a GSD will be a friend for life. There are many health problems common for this breed, so veterinary care should be maintained on an ongoing basis. GSDs can live in apartments, but daily outings for exercise will be required. If these recommendations sound like ones you can fulfill, a German Shepherd might be the dog for you.

Adopt, Don’t Shop

GSDs are often found in shelters and rescues, and you can start looking for one with our adoptable dog search. If you end up looking for a breeder, be sure to ask for health records of the parents and be wary of the puppy mill red flags. Considering the many possible health problems of GSDs, this step should never be overlooked.

Additional Resources


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