The Complete Guide to: German Shepherds
German Shepherds are the kind of dog that will certainly keep you on your toes. Energetic and loyal, they require a lot of input and interaction from their owners to keep them stimulated. If that sounds like your kind of challenge, then read on to find out more about this popular breed.
Bred originally as herding dogs in Germany, the aptly-named German Shepherd is a relatively new breed of dog. The man behind the dog we know today was Captain Max von Stephanitz, who saw an opportunity. Although herding dogs were by no means a new thing to German farmers, there was no distinctive breed that had been bred specifically for the job. Von Stephanitz set out to change this, and by the turn of the twentieth century, the German Shepherd became widely recognised.
Using British dog breeding techniques, and crossing different German herding dogs, the captain created a strong, large, athletic and intelligent dog. From the 1900s onwards, the German Shepherd grew in popularity across the globe. Here in the UK, they were commonly called the Alsatian. As herding dogs declined in popularity, the German Shepherd - sometimes referred to simply as GSD - found new employment in the police and military.
Their notoriety doesn’t end there, though. They’ve also featured in films and acted as messenger dogs during World War I. They even embraced some controversy post World War II due to German prejudices in the UK and other allied countries. Disputes around the GSD still rage today, particularly over the differences between the Alsatian and the German Shepherd.
Muscular, and longer than they are tall, German Shepherds were once commonly referred to as Alsatian Wolf Dogs in the UK, and it’s easy to see why. With their athletic build, long noses and intelligent eyes, they have that keen, wolfish look about them.
Their coats are medium-length, wiry with a thick undercoat, and are designed to withstand colder, wetter climates. Colours for the GSD vary hugely, but typically you’ll find combinations ofcolours which include Black, Black and Tan, Black and Gold, Sable among pups. The idea behind these colours is that it enables the dogs to easily blend in with a herd.
Standing at around 22-24 inches tall, and weighing between 34 to 43 kilos, they are substantial dogs. This, along with their proud stature and deep, expressive eyes are what draw most GSD lovers to the breed.
The word ‘active’ is often used to describe a German Shepherd's temperament, and any experienced GSD owner will tell you that this is about as accurate as you can get. Due to their origins, they need a lot of exercise. At least two hours a day, in fact. Their intelligence and problem-solving nature demand a mix of both running off the lead and playing games, too. It’s worth noting that they can be noisy companions, so expect some barking.As long as you socialise your German Shepherd with other pets at an early age, they usually coexist happily, but they can throw their weight around if bad manners set in. To manage this, be prepared to give your German Shepherd plenty of attention. As far as dog breeds go, this might all be starting to sound like a lot of work, but the best thing about this breed is that they are so keen to learn and bond with their owners. Love and trust are two things you can expect in abundance with the right training.
- Socialisation – perhaps more than other breeds, German Shepherds put people at the centre of their world. That means they are loyal but can also be‘on guard’ if they think you’re threatened. From an early age, get them used to other animals and people of all ages, and always supervise them with young children.
- Basic obedience – start with basic obedience commands at home from an early age, and invest in getting to a good puppy class to help your German Shepherd socialise with other dogs and people. Positive, rewards-based training systems will help to reinforce good behaviour.
- Limit alone time – this is the rule of thumb for any dog, but because of the strong bond German Shepherds form with their family, alone time needs to be kept to an absolute minimum. Integrating your dog into the daily routine of a busy household will help, as well as ensuring your dog has been properly taught how to be left alone. It’s important to build up the time your dog is left alone very gradually, starting with just a minute or so at a time. This will help to avoid separation issues developing in the future. Crate training from puppyhood will also help give them security when they need it.
- Keep busy and consistent – consistency is key to reinforcing any training techniques. Make sure everyone in your household knows what you’re working on, and how you’re rewarding your dog. Keeping the routine consistent and busy will help your dog to feel part of the family and reduce the risk of boredom and stress.