Table of Contents

Introduction (mc)

"The most striking features of the correctly bred German Shepherd are firmness of nerves, attentiveness, unshockability, tractability, watchfulness, reliability and incorruptibility together with courage, fighting tenacity and hardness."
- Max von Stephanitz, Father of the German Shepherd Dog

The German Shepherd Dog (GSD) is a versatile working-dog, capable of being trained to perform a wide variety of tasks. GSDs are family pets, police dogs, guide dogs, search and rescue dogs, bomb and drug detection dogs, sheep and cattle herders, hunting companions, guard dogs, obedience champions, avalanche dogs, assistance dogs, show dogs, and more.

Regardless of their particular role, GSDs are excellent companions provided they receive the attention, training, and exercise they need and feel useful. On the other hand, a neglected GSD will use those same wonderful traits to devise ways to amuse himself, much to the chagrin of his owner.

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Questions (all)

  • Do GSDs make good family pets?
    Yes! GSDs are naturally protective of their "pack". Young children should never be left unattended with a puppy, however, if the children learn to respect the puppy as a living being, the puppy will be a wonderful companion for the children as they all grow up together. Your dog's ranking in the "pack" should always be established as the bottom (Omega) member below humans.


    1. DO YOUR HOMEWORK: Prospective buyers should check pedigrees for OFA numbers prior to purchasing a dog. If an OFA number cannot be verified assume the dog to be dysplastic until proven otherwise.
    2. PRELIMINARY EVALUATIONS: Can be performed as early as 4-5 months of age and OFA evaluations are about 90% accurate when compared to follow-ups at 24 months of age.
    3. ANESTHEISA: Is not required by OFA but is recommended.
    4. HORMONAL EFFECT: Some female dogs show subluxation when radiographed around an estrus cycle which is not apparent when re-radiographed in anestrus. The OFA recommends radiographing 3-4 weeks before or after a heat period or 3-4 weeks after weaning a litter of pups.
    5. FILM COPIES: Due to optical archiving the OFA can no longer supply copies of films. If a copy is necessary ask your veterinarian to insert 2 films in the cassette prior to making the exposure. This will require about a 15% increase in the kVp to make an exact duplicate of the radiograph sent to OFA.
    This latest information comes from the pamphlet "Hip Registry".

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    Color and Heredity (vj/hs)

    When people think of GSDs, they think of the "saddleback" markings, however GSDs can be one solid color (all white is a conformation disqualification for showing) and sable. Sables are noted by multi-colored individual hairs, though they may be masked by dark or black guard hairs. Coloring patterns include: black & tan, black & red, black & cream, black, white (conformation disqualification), sable (various colorations), black & silver, liver (rare - conformation fault) and blue (rare - conformation fault). The liver color is the result of matched recessives in the black series. The blue color is the result of matched recessives in the dilution series. (hs)

    The following is a summary of color inheritance in the German Shepherd based on information from "The German Shepherd Dog: A Genetic History" and "Practical Genetics for Dog Breeders", both by Malcom Willis, required reading for any serious German Shepherd fan, especially for breeders. (vj)

    Color is controlled by several series of genes. Each series is worked through in the following:

    (x^y designates ^y as a superscript)

    The basic body color is controlled by the genes. The order of dominance is:
    a^y ... golden sable
    a^w ... grey sable
    a^s ... saddle marked black and tan
    a^t ... bicolor* black and tan
    a ..... black

    *bicolor is where the dog only has tan on the legs and face, not on the body

    The black gene a is recessive to the other colors. Blacks bred to blacks will only produce blacks. The sable colors are dominant over the other colors.

    This gene controls the black pigment formation.
    BB ... Black pigment including nose, eyerims and pads
    Bb ... Carrier for liver color
    bb ... Liver color - brown black colors, brown nose, eye rims and pads.
    Most GSDs are BB.

    White is recessive to all other colors. In order get a white coat color, both parents must carry the white gene (either be white themselves or be carriers.)
    C ............. Melanin is produced. (Standard GSD's colors have this)
    C^ch .......... Partial albinism - chinchilla (not seen)
    C^d ........... White coat with dark eyes and nose (not albino)
    a^yC^chC^ch ... Yellowish coat collar (proposed)

    Controls the intensity of the non-black coloration.
    INT .... Lightest tan (cream)
    int^m .. Intermediate tan (tan)
    int .... Darkest tan (red)
    The intensity of the color series determines whether dogs with color (i.e. not all-black or all-white recessives) will be black & cream, black & tan or black & red.

    Controls how intense the black pigment will be.
    D ... Dense pigment
    d ... blue dilution
    Bd ... Black pigment-blue dilution together begets a blue coat which looks as though it has a dusty or flour sheen.

    E^m .... Produces a black mask on the face
    E ...... Dark coat with no mask
    e^br ... Brindle (rare, will be seen as striping on the legs)
    e ...... Clear tan
    The ee combination affects only the coat and not the nose. The black fades to tan. In these dogs, the tail tip will be red, not black.

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    GSD Standards - AKC (2/11/1978) (hs) and British (cm) Comparisons

    NOTE (95/08/08): AKC has decided to challenge the copyright over the breed standards. Until this silliness and childish "Mine! Mine!" on the part of the AKC is over, the AKC breed standard for the GSD will not be printed in either the text or webbed version of the FAQ. There are many GSD books on the market that contain the standard, and a copy can be obtained from the GSD Club of America. Don't bother buying the AKC's book with all the standards if all you want is the GSD standard. -HS

    NOTE (96/02/14): AKC has come to their senses slightly and put up the GSD standard at http://www.akc.org/germshep.htm. Though this doesn't allow for an easy comparison, at least it's something. -HS

    The British Standard was adopted from several translations of the 1976 SV Standard. The version listed is the "Extended Version" which corresponds to the SV standard. The KC has since shortened it and has a copyright to their current version.


    1976 SV
    The immediate impression of the GSD is of a dog slightly long in comparison to its height, with a powerful and well muscled body. The relation between height and length and the position and symmetry of the limbs (angulation) is so interrelated as to enable a far reaching and enduring gait. The coat should be weather-proof. A beautiful appearance is desirable, but this is secondary to this usefulness as a working dog. Sexual characteristics must be well defined - i.e., the masculinity of the male and the femininity of the female must be unmistakable.

    True to type GSD gives an impression of innate strength, intelligence, and suppleness, with harmonious proportions and nothing either over done or lacking. His whole manner should make it perfectly clear that he is sound in mind and body, and has the physical and mental attributes to make him always ready for tireless action as a working dog. With an abundance of vitality he must be tractable enough to adapt himself to each situation and to carry out his work willingly and with enthusiasm. He must possess the courage and determination to defend himself, his master, or his master's possessions should the need arise. He must be observant, obedient, and a pleasant member of the household, quiet in his own environment, especially with children and other animals, and at ease with adults. Overall he should present a harmonious picture of innate nobility, alertness, and self-confidence.


    1976 SV
    The main characteristics of the GSD are: steadiness of nerves, attentiveness, loyalty, calm self-assurance, alertness and tractability, as well as courage with physical resilience and scenting ability. These characteristics are necessary for a versatile working dog. Nervousness, over-aggressiveness, and shyness are very serious faults.


    1976 SV
    The head should be proportional in size to the body without being coarse, too fine, or overlong. The overall appearance should be clean cut and fairly broad between the ears. Forehead should be only very slightly domed with little or no trace of center furrow. Cheeks should form a very softly rounded curve and should not protrude. Skull extends from the ears to the bridge of the nose tapering gradually and evenly, and blending without a too pronounced "stop" into a wedge shaped powerful muzzle. ( The skull is approximately 50% of the whole length of the head.) Both top and bottom jaws should be strong and well developed. The width of the skull should correspond approximately to the length. In males the width could be slightly greater and in females slightly less than the length. Muzzle should be strong with the lips firm, clean and closing tightly without any flews. The top of the muzzle is straight and almost parallel to the forehead. A muzzle which is too short, blunt, weak, pointed, overlong or lacking in strength is undesirable.


    1976 SV
    Of medium size, firm in texture, broad at the base, set high, they are carried erect (almost parallel and not pulled inward), they taper to a point and open toward the front. Tipped ears are faulty. Hanging ears are a very serious fault. During movement the ears may be folded back.


    1976 SV
    The eyes are medium sized, almond-shaped and not protruding. Dark brown eyes are preferred, but eyes of a lighter shade are acceptable provided that the expression is good and the general harmony of the head not destroyed. The expression should be lively, intelligent, and self-assured.


    1976 SV (MOUTH and TEETH)
    The jaws must be strongly developed and the teeth healthy, strong, and complete. There should be 42 teeth: 20 in the upper jaw, 6 incisors, 2 canines, 8 premolars, 4 molars; 22 in the lower jaw, 6 incisors, 2 canines, 8 premolars, and 6 molars. The GSD has a scissor bite - i.e., the incisors in the lower jaw are set behind the incisors in the upper jaw, and thus meet in a scissor grip in which part of the surface of the upper teeth meet and engage part of the surface of the lower teeth. (Full and correct dentition is required for a "V" rating. Double p1's are acceptable for a "V" rating so long as everything else is correct. A missing p1 or incisor results in an "SG" rating. A missing p2 results in a "G" rating. Missing incisors are quite rare.)


    1976 SV
    The neck should be fairly long, strong with well-developed muscles, free from throatiness (excessive folds of skin at the throat) and carried at a 45 degree angle to the horizontal; it is raised when excited and lowered at a fast trot.


    1976 SV
    The shoulder blade should be long, set obliquely (45 degrees) and laid flat to the body. The upper arm should be strong and well muscled and joined to the shoulder blade at a near right angle (90 degrees). The forelegs, from the pasterns to the elbows, should be straight viewed from any angle and the bones should be oval rather than round. The pasterns should be firm and supple and angulated at approximately 20-23 degrees (from the vertical). Elbows neither tucked in nor turned out. Length of the forelegs should exceed the depth of chest at a ratio of approximately 55% to 45%.


    1976 SV
    Should be rounded, toes well closed and arched. Pads should be well cushioned and durable. Nails short, strong, and dark in color. Dew claw sometimes found on the hind legs should be removed 2-3 days after birth.


    1976 SV (HEIGHT)
    The ideal height (measured to the highest point of the wither) is 57.5 cm for females and 62.5 cm for males 2.5 cm either above or below the norm is allowed. Any increase in this deviation detracts from the workability and breeding value of the animal.


    1976 SV
    The length of the body should exceed the height at the wither, the correct proportions being at 10 to 9 or 8.5. The length is measured from the point of the breast bone to the rear edge of the pelvis.

    Over or undersized dogs, stunted growth, high-legged dogs and overloaded fronts, too short overall appearance, too light or too heavy in build, steep set limbs or any other failure which detracts from the reach or endurance of the gait are faulty.


    1976 SV
    Chest should be deep (45-48% of the height at the shoulder) but not too broad. The brisket is long and well developed.


    1976 SV
    Ribs should be well formed and long, neither barrel-shaped nor too flat; correct rib cage allows free movement of the elbows when the dog is trotting. A too rounded rib cage will interfere and cause the elbows to be turned out. A too flat rib cage will lead to the drawing in of the elbows. The desired long ribbing gives a proportionately (relatively) short loin.


    1976 SV
    Belly is firm and only slightly drawn up. Loin broad, strong and well muscled.


    1976 SV
    Back is the area between the withers and the croup, straight, strongly developed and not too long. The overall length is not derived from a long back, but is achieved by the correct angle of a well laid shoulder, correct length of croup and hindquarters. The withers must be long, of good height and well defined. They should join the back in a smooth line without disrupting the flowing top line which should be slightly sloping from the front to the back. Weak, soft, and roached backs are undesirable. (A roach is a clearly defined elevation in the center of the back above a horizontal line drawn lengthwise at the base of the withers such that the spine arches.)

    Croup should be long and gently curving down to the tail (approximately 23 degrees) without disrupting the flowing topline. The illium and sacrum for the skeletal basis of the croup. Short, steep, or flat croups are undesirable.


    1976 SV
    Bushy haired, should reach at least to the hock joint, the ideal length being to the middle of the hock bones. The end is sometimes turned sideways with a slight hood; this is allowed but not desired. When at rest the tail should hang in a slight curve like a sabre. When moving it is raised and the curve increased, but ideally it should not be higher than the level of the back. A tail that is too short, rolled or curled, or generally carried badly or which is stumpy from birth is faulty.


    1976 SV
    (the leg referenced is the forward hind leg in the stacked position) The thighs should be broad and well muscled. The upper thigh bone (femur), viewed from the side should slope to the slightly longer lower thigh bone. The angulations should correspond to the front angulations without being over-angulated. The hock bone is strong and together with the stifle bone should form a firm hock joint. The hindquarters must be strong and well muscled to enable the effortless forward propulsion of the whole body. Any tendency toward over-angulation of the hindquarters reduces firmness and endurance.


    1976 SV
    The GSD is a trotting dog. His sequence of step therefore follows a diagonal pattern in that he always moves the foreleg and the opposite hind leg forward at the same time. To achieve this, his limbs must be in such balance to one another so that he can thrust the hind foot well forward to the midpoint of the body and have an equally long reach with the fore foot without any noticeable change in the back line. The correct proportion of the height to length and corresponding length of limbs will produce a ground covering stride that travels flat over the ground, giving the impression of effortless movement. With his head thrust forward and a slightly raised tail, a balanced and even trotter displays a flowing line running from the tips of his ears over the neck and back down to the tip of the tail. The gait should be supple, smooth, and long reaching, carrying the body with the minimum of up and down movement, entirely free from stiltiness.


    1976 SV
    (No corresponding item.)

    1976 SV
    Black or black saddle with tan, or gold to light grey markings. All black, all grey, or grey with lighter or brown markings (Sables). Small white marks on the chest or very pale color on the inside of the legs are permitted but not desirable. The nose in all cases must be black. Light markings on the chest and inside legs, as well as whitish nails, red tipped nails or wishy-washy faded color are defined as lacking in pigmentation. Blues, livers, albinos, whites, are to be rejected. The undercoat is, except in all-black dogs, usually grey or fawn in color. The color of the GSD is in itself not important and has no effect on the character of the dog or on its fitness for work and should be a secondary consideration for that reason. The final color of a young dog can only be ascertained when the outer coat has developed.


    1976 SV
    a) The normal (stock) coated GSD should carry a thick undercoat and the outer coat should be as dense as possible, made up of straight hard close lying hairs. The hair on the head and ears, front of the legs, paws and toes is short. On the neck it is longer and thicker, on some males forming a slight ruff. The hair grows longer on the back of the legs as far down as the pastern and the stifle, and forms fairly thick trousers on the hindquarters. There is no hard or fast rule for the length of the hair, but short mole-type coats are faulty.

    b) In the long-coated GSD (long stock coat) the hairs are longer, not always straight and definitely not lying close and flat to the body. They are distinctly longer inside and behind the ears, and on the back of the forelegs and usually at the loins, and form a moderate tufts in the ears and profuse feathering on the back of the legs. The trousers are long and thick. Tail is bushy with light feathering underneath. As this type of coat is not so weatherproof as the normal coat it is undesirable.

    c) In the long open-coated GSD the hair is appreciably longer the in the case of the type b and tends to form a parting along the back, the texture being somewhat silky. If present at all , undercoat is found only at the loins. Dogs with this type of coat are usually narrow chested, with narrow overlong muzzles. As the weather protection of the dog and his working ability are seriously diminished with this type of coat, it is undesirable.


    1976 SV (FAULTS)
    Any departure from the foregoing points should be considered a fault and the seriousness with which the fault should be regarded should be in exact proportion to its degree.

    1976 SV (NOTES)
    All male dogs must have both testicles fully descended into the scrotum.

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    Resources (all)


    * indicates highly recommended

    2)The Book of the German Shepherd Dog. Anna Katherine Nicholas. TFH Publications, Inc., Ltd., 1983. ISBN 0-87666-562-8.

    Dogwatching. Desmond Morris. Crown Publishers, 1987. ISBN 0-51756-519-6.

    The Essential German Shepherd Dog. Roy and Clarissa Allan. Ringpress Books, Ltd., 1994,1996. ISBN 0-948955-13-9.

    *The German Shepherd Dog: A Genetic History. Malcolm B. Willis Ph.D. Howell Book House, 1991. ISBN 0-87605-175-1.

    The Willis book is fabulous. It is quite technical, with a good deal of material on health problems particular to GSD's. Willis is opinionated, and pulls no punches when discussing how the breed has developed around the world. A very enjoyable book, and worth every penny. (lm)
    The German Shepherd Today. Winifred Strickland & James Moses. Howell Book House, 1988. ISBN 0-02-614990-7.

    *How to Be Your Dog's Best Friend. Monks of New Skete. Little, Brown and Co., 1978. ISBN 0-31660-491-7.

    The first of the Monks' two books on raising dogs. See note on "The Art of Raising a Puppy". (hs)
    (1) Pet Owner's Guide to the German Shepherd Dog. Dr. Malcom B. Willis, Howell Book House, 1993, ISBN 0-87605-978-7

    Schutzhund: Theory and Training Methods. Susan Barwig and Stewart Hilliard. Howell Book House, 1991. ISBN 0-87605-731-8

    *Schutzhund Obedience: Training in Drive with Gottfried Dildei. Sheila Booth. Podium Publications, 1992.

    (Available from Direct Book Services @ 1-800-776-2665 or from the publisher at Dept A, PO Box 171, Ridgefield, CT 06877.) This book is an excellent training guide using motivational methods and the dog's drives to teach basic obedience. (mc)
    The Total German Shepherd Dog. Fred L. Lanting. Alpine Publications, Inc. PO Box 7027, Loveland, CO. 1990. ISBN 0-931886-43-X.

    Tracking Dog, Theory and Methods. Glen Johnson.

    Training the German Shepherd Dog. John Cree. The Crowood Press. ISBN 1-85223-955-7.


    GSD Mailing Lists

    GSD-L Mailing list
    To get on the GSD-L email list for GSD fanciers, send mail to
    Eric Happy (ehappy@wwnet.com)
    with a message about your interests in GSDs. (The list has gone to an application system for additions due to some problems with users not understanding netiquette.) This list is a high volume list and can be chatty.

    There is a web page for GSD-L at http://www.gdconsulting.com.au/GSD/gsd-l.html

    If you have questions regarding the mailing list, contact:
    Gareth Davies (gareth@werple.com.au)
    or Eric above.

    Please don't contact me about GSD-L. I can only refer you to the information above.

    GSD-MOD Mailing List
    There is a semi-moderated GSD mailing list (very low traffic) at listserv@iupui.edu. The command: SUBSCRIBE GSD-MOD should be the first and only line of your mail message.

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    To go to the GSD page in Australia, open http://www.gdconsulting.com.au/GSD/

    German Shepherd Dog FAQ
    Holly gsd@cluebus.com
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