Breed of the Month: German Shepherd

German Shepherd Dog

Description: The German Shepherd is a strong, powerful, and agile large sized dog. It has large, erect ears that stand parallel when at attention and are pulled back during movement. The German Shepherd has medium sized dark eyes, a dark nose and a bushy tail. There are many different coat colors like black and tan, black and red, all black, and, although controversial, all white. The coat can have two different coat lengths medium and long. This dog has a domed head, a square, dark colored muzzle, with a body that is longer than it is tall.

History: In the late 1800’s breed standardization was taking place in Germany. The Phylax Society was formed to standardize breeds in Germany but three years after the society was formed, it collapsed due to internal conflicts concerning how dogs ought to be standardized. One of the ex-member Max von Stephanitz believed that dogs should be bred for working.

At a dog show in Karlsruhe, Germany in 1899, Max von Stephanitz was captivated by a medium sized golden and grey coated herding dog with wolf-like characteristics named Hektor Linksrhein. It possessed great agility, endurance, obedience, and herding ability. After Max von Stephanitz purchased the dog, he changed the dogs name to Horand von Grafrath, which became the first, as Stephanitz named it, Deutscher Shäferhund, or literally translated, the German Shepherd dog.

Max von Stephanitz held firmly to his ideals of dog breeding with intelligence, temperament, and agility being top priorities with aesthetics always being secondary. To sustain the characteristics desired by Stephanitz, much inbreeding occurred early on in the breed’s history, likely contributing to some of the health problems seen in this breed today.

The breed saw a rise in popularity after World War I when soldiers returning from war demanded to own the dogs they observed as an obedient and agile breed serving in various wartime roles from messengers to guard dogs. The movies Rin Tin Tin and Strongheart also popularized the German Shepherd.

At the conclusion of World War I, the UK Kennel Club believed the name German Shepherd would cause a decline in the popularity due to anti-German sentiment. The name of the breed was changed to Alsatian Wolf Dog until 1977 when the breeds name was returned to the original, “German Shepherd.”

Post World War II anti-German sentiment hindered the breed’s popularity for awhile but, later saw another rise in popularity in 1993 when they became the third most popular breed in America. By 2012, the German Shepherd ascended to the second most popular dog breed in America.

Size: Males: 24–26  inches at the withers, weighing 77–95 pounds. Females: 22–24 inches at the withers, weighing 55–77 pounds.

Temperament: German Shepherds are known for their intelligence and willingness to learn. These brave and loyal dogs are used by police and military forces around the globe to aid in search and rescue, sniffing out explosives and narcotics, and performing guard work. Other than law enforcement and military work, this breed is also commonly used to aide the blind and disabled.

As these dogs were bred to guard flocks of sheep, they possess a natural protective instinct which also makes them protective of their family pack. A German Shepherd needs a firm and confident pack leader, which is always a human. They can be wary of strangers and requires socialization at a young age. A German Shepherd wary of strangers and lacking a firm leader can be dangerous, so training is a must.

These dogs need physical and mental exercise on a daily basis as they need work to do to have a sense of purpose. A minimum hour walk or jog every day is required for mental and physical exercise.

Grooming: German Shepherds are heavy shedders and require frequent brushing. Regardless of how often a German Shepherd is brushed, many owners testify that fur does accumulate in the household. Bathe only when necessary as the coats will be stripped of their natural oils which can lead to skin irritation.

Health: Due to inbreeding early in the breeds history, the German Shepherd has many ailments. Bloat and hip and knee dysplasia are common in the German Shepherd.

The German Shepherd is susceptible to canine degenerative myelopathy. Myelin is a part of neurons which provides insulation and protection of the neuron. It is proposed that the immune systems attacks this protective insulation, damaging the neurons and connections from the spinal cord and nerves in the dogs limbs. This chronic and progressive disease typically has an onset in German Shepherds when the dog is around 7 years of age. A loss of coordination eventually progresses to paralysis. The disease is highly variable in its progression where a German Shepherd could be completely paralyzed in anywhere from three months to three years.

German Shepherds are also susceptible to Von Williebrand disease where blood doesn’t properly coagulate.

Lifespan: About 10 years.

Trivia: Famous German Shepherd dogs:

Trixie in the movie ‘Homeward Bound 2’, Jerry Lee in the movie ‘K-911’, Charlie of the animated movie ‘All Dogs Go to Heaven’, Joe in the movie ‘Escape to Wild Cat Canyon’, and Sam in the book and film ‘I Am Legend’.

The German Shepherd Etzel von Oeringen played Strongheart in several movies. Rin Tin Tin was brought to American during World War I and starred in several movies. Rin Tin Tin’s popularity sparked the appeal of German Shepherds as family pets in America.

John F. Kennedy owned a German Shepherd named Clipper. Franklin D. Roosevelt owned a German Shepherd named Major. Adolf Hitler owned a German Shepherd named Blondi.