Breed Spotlight: German Shepherds
Also commonly known as Alsatians, German Shepherds date back to the 1800s and originate from Germany (as the name implies!). They are part of the Pastoral (herding) breed group, originally bred to protect flocks from predators.
Despite their affectionate nature, German Shepherds can sadly be also perceived as aggressive and some people are known to cross the road to avoid them. With proper socialisation, and training in a good environment, they are loving and loyal and are a great asset to a family home.
If you are looking to introduce a German Shepherd dog into your home, read on to find out if this is the right breed for you!
History and Reputation
German Shepherds have a rich history of herding sheep and protecting flocks from predators, due to their intelligence, agility and ability to work independently. Max Von Stephanitz is credited with standardising the German Shepherd breed. He was known for selecting dogs with the best traits, including endurance, speed, strength and intelligence, to create a versatile working breed.
During World War I, this breed gained a reputation as “war dogs”. Because of the traits they possess, they made up a significant portion (25%) of the dogs used in the war, alongside Dobermans who made up the rest. They continued to be used as working dogs in various fields such as assistance dogs and are known for their roles within the police. They excel in tasks like tracking, search and rescue, narcotics and explosives detection due to their intelligence and trainability.
German Shepherds are sometimes wrongly perceived as aggressive due to their appearance and potential partly due to their role within the police. Their wolf-like features, large size and pointed ears can make them seen as intimidating to some. However, it’s important to note that behaviour is more a result of their training and socialisation rather than inherent aggression.
It’s important to note that only a small percentage of people (12% of Britain) have reported negative experiences with German Shepherds, mostly being stared at or barked at! In reality, they are known for their loyalty, protectiveness and gentle nature when properly trained and socialised, which is why many are used as assistance dogs such as Guide Dogs.
German Shepherds have a variety of characteristics and traits, which make them highly popular and versatile dogs. They are known for their strong bond with their families and are loyal and affectionate companions. When properly trained and socialised they are also excellent with children and can typically be quite protective of them due to their strong watchdog nature and protective instinct. Though they can form strong bonds, they can also be somewhat aloof, which means that friendships may take time to develop and they may not always be overly social with strangers.
When it comes to interactions with other dogs, they are usually okay with other dogs, but interactions may need supervision, especially with dogs of the same sex or those with dominant personalities.
German Shepherds are highly playful and enjoy engaging in activities and games. Due to their high energy levels, they require regular exercise and mental stimulation to stay happy and healthy. They are a very intelligent breed of dog (ranking at Number 2) which means they quickly grasp new commands and tasks. Partnering this with their eagerness to please and willingness to learn makes them highly trainable.
German Shepherds are well suited to a variety of roles, from family pets to working dogs within the police and search and rescue. However, like all dogs, they require proper training, socialisation and exercise to bring out their best qualities.
Training and Socialisation
Early training and socialisation are essential for all dogs to foster well-rounded and obedient pets. German Shepherds are eager to please, which can make training more manageable compared to some other breeds. Consistent and positive reinforcement-based training methods tend to work well with them. Continuing obedience training with this breed is recommended for well-mannered adults.
Lifestyle and Healthcare
German Shepherds were originally bred for work, and they thrive on being busy and when given tasks of mental challenges. If they are not mentally stimulated enough, they can find their own activities to get involved with… your favourite pair of shoes may not be safe!
They are a very active and athletic breed, thus lots of exercise is required for physical health and mental wellbeing. Just like mental stimulation, if they are not exercised enough this may lead to frustration and in turn, undesirable behaviours.
German Shepherds are considered to be a healthy breed with an average lifespan of 10-15 years, but just like all other breeds you must consider potential health concerns that they are prone to:
- Degenerative Myelopathy (DM): This affects the spinal cord which results in progressive deterioration of the hind leg limb strength, and can sometimes lead to paralysis.
- Hip Dysplasia: This genetic condition occurs when the ball and socket hip joints don’t fit together correctly, leading to symptoms such as limping, stiffness and a decreased level of activity.
- Elbow dysplasia is a result of the elbow not developing correctly during puppyhood. Signs of this include swollen elbows and limping so always consult your vet to check for this painful condition.
- Gastric dilatation and volvulus (bloating): This can be a fatal condition. During meals of exercise, the stomach can bloat and twist on itself and needs urgent medical attention. Look out for signs of retching, vomiting, swelling of the abdomen or excessive drooling and consult your vet immediately
It’s worth noting that it all starts with the breeder, and responsible and ethical breeders will screen for these common conditions to ensure their pups are as healthy as possible.
Coat and Grooming
There are a total of 11 colours and colour combinations of German Shepherds recognised by the Kennel Club with the most recognisable including black, black mixed with another colour, cream, tan, red or silver. They have a double coat which consists of a dense, harsh and close-lying outer coat and a softer undercoat.
They are known to shed quite a lot (so expect to find hair in your morning coffee!) and regular brushing is essential to manage this. Brushing them every few days helps remove loose hairs and prevents excessive shedding around the house. While they shed year-round, they tend to shed during seasonal changes, usually once or twice a year.
Despite their tendency to shed, German Shepherds do not require frequent grooming. Occasional baths are sufficient, typically when they become dirty (or decide to jump in a big puddle). Like all dogs, they need regular nail trimming to maintain their paw health.
How can Paws in Work help?
Our socialisation programme contributes to the early development of puppies, helping them grow into confident, sociable adult dogs, and helping reduce the likelihood of later displaying aggressive or anxious behaviours. Throughout this process, our trained and experienced staff closely monitor the puppies within a safe and controlled environment.
We continuously evaluate and enhance our socialisation programme to ensure that the pups we partner with derive the utmost benefit from their time with Paws in Work. While we cherish working with all dog breeds and hold no breed bias, we exclusively collaborate with ethical and reputable breeders who share our commitment to the wellbeing of puppies.
Get in touch today
We believe that early socialisation for German Shepherds is vital to ensure they have the best start to life possible and don’t show any aggression in the future. We are always looking for reputable breeders to add to our network for future socialisation.
Have you got a litter of German Shepherds you would like to socialise with Paws in Work? Get in touch today with our puppy welfare team to find out more!