"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."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.
- Max von Stephanitz, Father of the German Shepherd Dog
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.
Go to Table of Contents
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.
GSDs are natural herding dogs. Your GSD will try to "herd" you and your family. Often they will "follow ahead", walking in front of you and looking back to make sure you're going where you should. Although the GSD is not used as frequently for herding in present time, there are many breed lines still known for their herding. The breed is naturally loyal, intelligent and protective (which makes it good for police work). The GSD has an excellent nose, making it good for tracking and search and rescue work. They are calm and have a steady temperament when well-bred which is why they have been used as "Seeing Eye" dogs. A GSD thrives on regular exercise, mental stimulation and a well-balanced diet.
These traits make a GSD an absolute pleasure to own when well-trained, but in the hands of a novice, unconcerned, uncommitted owner, their intelligence and drive can become difficult to manage.
Breeding plays an important role in the temperament of GSDs, so selecting a reputable breeder concerned with both physical health and the personality of their puppies is of utmost importance. Different bloodlines exhibit traits differently, so question breeders about the strong and weak traits of their bloodlines. See the question on German versus American bloodlines about specific general differences.
Obviously, many factors affect the selection of the puppy, including the personality and lifestyle of the prospective owner. Avoid puppies that appear too shy or nervous. Puppies at an age where they can be sent home with their new owners should be inquisitive and curious. GSD pups generally lengthen along the back and loin rather than get shorter. Look for balance in angulation, especially in the hind quarters as an imbalanced pup may never grow into the correct angulation. Meet both sire and dam if possible since character is very important. The puppies' parents should be OFA certified (preferably "Good" or "Excellent") (US dogs), OVC certified (Canadian dogs) or certified "a-normal" (German dogs). Make sure you see the parents' certifications. Hip problems can be devastating.
The OFA is the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals. When potential breeding stock reaches the age of 2, the breeder should have a set of x-rays taken and submit them to the OFA for certification. OFA will return a certification (Excellent, Good, or Fair) along with a certification number for the dog. (Dysplastic dogs will not be given a certification number.) (German certification is done over 1 year of age.) For information on German certifications, see the section on German Pedigrees, Working Titles and Certifications. More information on OFA can be found in the health and medical FAQs in rec.pets.dogs.info. Statistics regarding the GSD and OFA information can be found in the section on OFA Information and Statistics. Watch as the puppies move about. If you are inexperienced with GSDs, do not pick the "bully" of the litter. Watch the puppies interact with each other in the litter as well as with you and your family members. Watch the puppies you are considering interact with you without the rest of the litter present. Look for a friendly puppy who is not afraid, but also allows you to handle it without a lot of struggle. Bloodlines will make a difference in the working drive of the dog. German lines tend to be more dominant than American lines as discussed a few questions down.
Ask to look through the puppy's pedigree. Look for obedience titles, conformation titles, hip certifications and make sure that common ancestors are at least 3 generations back. If you don't understand something, ask the breeder! Most of all, select a puppy that feels comfortable with your family. Reputable breeders will also make suggestions to insure their puppies go to happy, well-chosen homes.
You can also ask if the puppies have been temperament tested and look at the results. "The Art of Raising a Puppy" by the Monks of New Skete (see Bibliography) details temperament testing and puppy selection.
Elbow certifications as well as hip certifications are becoming more common. As with hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia can only be diagnosed by radiograph.
Also check out the breeding information found at http://www.cluebus.com/holly/breeder.html about specific questions to ask (and to be asked).
NO! Hip dysplasia is considered to be polygenic. That means that it's caused by a combination of genes that may not show up in any litter previously. No matter the certifications in the pedigree it is possible that your puppy could be predisposed to hip dysplasia. That's why preliminary hip x-rays after 6 months are a good idea. Treatments (both surgical and drug) can be done early to alleviate problems down the line. If in doubt, find an orthopedic specialist. Be wary of a breeder that says their puppies will definitely not have hip problems.
But, a responsible breeder will guarantee their puppies for life. The guarantee may vary. Some breeders will require you to return the puppy for a replacement; some will refund all or part of your money; some will not require you to return the puppy, but still offer a replacement or refund. Do not be dismayed at a requirement for a return of a puppy. A puppy may be in severe pain and an owner may not be emotionally prepared to put a puppy down who really should be put down. A responsible breeder will want what's best for the puppy/dog.
This is an age-old question and almost strictly a matter of preference. Some people will say that males are more "location" protective while females are more "pack" protective. Males are generally more territorial, so unless training steps are consistent, marking could be a problem. (Neutering may help alleviate this problem. Any dog not intended for a breeding program should be neutered or spayed. Besides eliminating the possibility of unwanted puppies and reducing some undesireable behaviors, it's considerably healthier for your dog since it eliminates or severely reduces the chance of testicular or mammary cancers. Breeding should *never* be taken lightly.)
Puppies are weaned from their mothers by about 6 weeks of age, but the period following weaning is very important in terms of learning "pack" behavior. Although 8 weeks is old enough and a common age for leaving the litter, 10 weeks is probably optimum for a GSD. However, better to take the puppy at 8 weeks if the rest of the litter have already gone to their homes. Puppies up to 12 weeks old should pose no additional concerns. After 12 weeks old, make sure the breeder has taken special care to socialize the puppy (puppies) with other dogs and people.
The full adult size of your GSD will depend in large part on the genetic background of its parents. The AKC Standard states that adult males should range between 24-26" at the shoulder blade, females from 22-24". Males within the standard may weigh anywhere from 65-90 lbs. depending on their bloodlines. Females may weigh anywhere from 55-80 lbs. (Again, much depends on the genetics and bloodlines. The above are only a rough idea.) Although your pup will reach close to adult height by 10-18 months, s/he will continue to fill out until up to 3 years old.
Be wary of breeders who emphasize "oversize", "huge", "big-boned" breeding stock or puppies. Bigger is not better in German Shepherds. The German Shepherd is not built to have a skeletal and muscular structure of an oversize breed. An inch or so out of standard may be acceptable providing the general line is not consistently out of standard. A responsible breeder will offset an oversize dog by breeding with a line that is a bit smaller in order to maintain the standards as closely as possible.
Socializing refers to exposing your puppy to a variety of experiences, including meeting lots of people of various ages, races, sizes and both sexes as well as teaching them how to acceptably interact with other dogs. Puppy kindergarten classes provide an excellent opportunity for socialization in a controlled environment.
Socializing is important because it helps strengthen your dog's confidence and reduces the chance that your dog will become shy or fearful. Fearful dogs can become fear aggressive or fear biters.
Although some puppies' ears stand as early as 8-10 weeks, don't be concerned if your pup's ears don't stand until 6-7 months (especially pups with large ears) after teething. Some pups ears never stand. This is known as a "soft ear". Sometimes taping is successful. "Soft ears" are a genetic trait, and dogs with soft ears should not be bred even if taping is successful. It is a disqualification in showing. Some GSDs ears stand but wiggle at the tips when the dogs run. This is known as "friendly ears". Friendly ears are not a disqualification but are not a desirable trait.
One method of "taping" ears is to take a pink foam roller and attach it with eyelash glue to the inside of the ear (the pinna). Do not block the ear canal. Taping may take up to 2 months. But again, be cautious about considering breeding a dog whose ears have had to be taped.
Other than the normal precautions of immunizations (see the new puppy FAQ at http://www.k9web.com/dog-faqs/new-puppy.html#health), beware of a fast-growing puppy. There are studies that show a correlation between fast growth and hip dysplasia (if your pup is predisposed to HD). You may want to switch your puppy over to adult food if it seems to be growing very quickly (see also Your New GSD at Home).
Don't pet your puppy's ears backwards before they stand. Although people often do this by nature, it can damage the cartilege in your pup's ears which can affect the ear carriage.
When your puppy is about 6 months old, have preliminary x-rays done of your puppy's hips. If your pup shows signs of dysplasia, there are treatment alternatives available to younger dogs that are not available if the dog is older and has arthritic changes. If detected early, there are things you can do for your dog to give it a happy, healthy life even with dysplasia. If your pup shows mild signs, consider having another set of x-rays taken after your dog turns 2. Orthopedic changes (both positive and negative) can take place up to this time.
Under NO circumstances should a dog with any sign of hip dysplasia be bred. Breeding stock should be certified with the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals before breeding. OFA will certify dogs over 2 years of age. You are strongly urged to not buy a puppy from a breeder who does not have OFA certificates on their breeding stock. Do not accept a breeder who says "Oh, my vet checked them and they're fine." There are many subtleties in dysplasia that a vet not trained in orthopedics may miss. You can look up a dog in the OFA database a http://220.127.116.11/ofa/index2.htm to insure that the dam and sire in question truly are OFAd.
Do take your puppy to puppy kindergarten and obedience training classes and do your homework for these classes. Behaviors that are cute in a 15 pound puppy can be dangerous in a 75 pound adult. Socialize your puppy with people (especially children) and other dogs frequently (after your puppy has completed its immunization series sometime after 16 weeks old).
Your puppy may go through a period known as "adolescent shyness" when it reaches 4-5 months of age. This period can last until the pup is 12-18 months old. Socializing your puppy from an early age will help minimize this shyness. Expose your puppy to a variety of experiences, but do so gently. You don't want to traumatize your puppy.
Be careful of heavy physical exertion directly before and after eating, especially if your GSD is a "gulper". GSDs (and many other breeds) can suffer from bloat. If your dog's abdomen becomes distended and rigid and it can not seem to belch or pass gas, gastric torsion may be the problem. (The stomach twists.) This is an immediate health concern and you should contact your vet or an emergency clinic.
Individual puppies and bloodlines will vary. You probably are best off discussing your puppy's growth and needs with both your vet and your breeder. Many breeders and dog food manufacturers advise switching to a high quality adult food at four to six months of age. As long as you are feeding a high quality food, this has no ill effect on the puppy and is probably a good idea. Check out the content of the food closely. A puppy or dog with average activity should have about 26% protein and 15-18% fat. Look for some kind of meat to be the first ingredient, not a grain product. Don't overlook feed stores as a good place to buy dog food. Often prices are less than at pet supply stores. (Please don't patronize pet stores that sell puppies. Pet stores are in the business of making money, not breeding responsibly.)
Offhand, if your puppy is growing very quickly, you might want to ask your vet about switching to adult food even as early as 12 weeks. Studies have shown that puppies growing quickly may exacerbate a prediliction to hip dysplasia. Otherwise, you can consider switching any time after 10-18 months depending on the dog.
Dry food is fine. You don't need to supplement with canned food. It's expensive and doesn't provide anything a good dry food doesn't. If your puppy doesn't want to eat the dry food, you can moisten it slightly with warm water. (This may also reduce the risk of bloat.
Free-feeding versus scheduled feeding is another area in which people disagree violently. Some breeds don't lend themselves well to free feeding. German Shepherds, depending on the individual dog, are often excellent at being free-fed without worry of over-eating or becoming fat. (But you do need to keep an eye on your puppy's/dog's weight. You should be able to feel the ribs under the skin fairly easily.)
However, during housebreaking, it's usually a good idea to keep a modified free-feed for a puppy so you can anticipate when they will need to go out to potty. (Usually this is about 15-30 minutes after eating, but it can be an amazing 4 hours or more with some puppies.) Feed the puppy as much as it will eat before leaving the bowl 3 times a day up until the puppy is moderately well housebroken (4-5 months old). If you will be gone for long hours, you may want to consider only leaving a small amount in the bowl in the mornings after that time, but giving free access to food until about an hour before bedtime until the puppy is completely reliable. After that, the dog will have learned the family schedule better and adjust its eating schedule accordingly. (Be aware, however, that there will be times with every dog, no matter what kind of feeding schedule, where the dog will need to go out during the night to potty, or, if you're a late sleeper/worker, at least by the time it's light out.)
Should you choose to schedule feed (and there's nothing wrong with this), it's still better to feed at least a small amount of food before leaving for the day. Often a dog that's hungry will vomit up yellow bile. A small meal in the morning should keep this from happening, but shouldn't cause the dog undue distress from needing to relieve itself during the day. You can feed the dog its main portion of food in the evening when you're home to walk it. For a German Shepherd with an average activity level, 1 cup of food in the morning followed by 3 cups in the evening should be about right, but keep an eye on your dog's weight and adjust the food accordingly.
Approximately the same rules apply to water. It won't do a puppy any harm to have its water source removed about an hour before bedtime and not have access to water until the morning. Fresh water should be available with every meal. Once the dog is housebroken, free access to water unless you will be gone for an extrodinarily long period of time should not be a problem.
See the next section on bloat.
Bloat (otherwise known as "gastric torsion") can be a problem with any deep-chested breed like German Shepherds. The stomach twists so nothing can pass through the esophagus to the stomach or through the stomach to the intestions, causing gas to build up. This is an immediate health concern where the dog should be taken to the vet or emergency clinic. Signs of bloat include a distended rigid abdomen, indications of vomiting with no results and inability to belch or pass gas.
High activity directly before or after eating can exacerbate bloating. Keeping the dog quiet at least one hour before and after eating can help reduce the chances of bloat. Pre-moistening the dog's food with water can also reduce the chances, however, without the teeth-cleaning help of crunching food, you will want to take especially good care of your dog's teeth by weekly tooth-brushing and hard biscuits to help remove tartar. (Be sure to include any treats you give in the balance of food intake. Too many treats may cause your dog to gain weight, and treats only may not give the dog the nutrition it needs.) Smaller meals can also reduce the risk of bloat if you do not free-feed. (Free-fed dogs just need to have their activity level watched, but do not usually eat enough at any one sitting to cause problems. Bloat is more of a problem with a dog that "gulps" its food which a free-fed dog won't usually do. Don't leave pre-moistened food down for a free-fed dog too long as it can breed bacteria. Instead, leave them smaller portions, but refill more frequently.)
Most lines of GSDs will live to between 10-13 years of age. 11-12 years is probably a very reasonable expectation. A GSD becomes "middle-aged" between 5-7 years old, and is generally considered "geriatric" at about 10. Their food intake and exercise and nutrition needs may change over this period of time. They may begin to develop stiffness in their joints (much like people do as they get older). Healthy teeth are important as bacteria from decaying teeth can affect the health of the dog.
Both and neither. There are some fairly distinct general differences between the two lines, and there are some breeders trying to breed for "the best of both worlds" by crossing American lines with German. The best thing you can do is determine what you want from your German Shepherd Dog and want to do with him/her, and find a line and breeder that breeds for those traits in a responsible manner.
German Shepherds from American lines are typically longer and leaner than GSDs from German lines. Often GSDs from American bloodlines are taller as well.
American GSD lines tend to have sharp angulation in the hind quarters, more so than any other breed. This angulation allows them to move seemingly without touching the ground. American lines tend to be bred for elegance and nobility. A well-bred GSD from American lines is calm, discriminating and intelligent: never fearful. They are often less active and less dominant than their German counterparts which can make them better pets for the potential owner looking solely for a good companion, especially novice owners.
To the negative side of GSDs from American lines, many lines lack working ability or drive. If you're interested in any kind of work or sport activity with your dog, look for a breeder who tests working aptitude in their breeding stock. (Aptitude can be tested separately from actually taking the dog to trials and competing in events.) The AKC does not require breeding dogs be able to work or have any titles.
Bad examples of German Shepherd type may appear spindly and unbalanced when they move. Such poor movers can have trouble with jumps and tight turns required in various sports. Some GSDs of this type are nervous and spooky.
German line GSDs are generally stockier than their American counterparts and more moderate in both structure and movement without the severe angulation found in American lines. They may not appear as graceful and dignified but instead have an air of muscular agility. German lines typically produce high-energy, high-intensity dogs.
German breeding stock is required to pass minimum standards for both conformation and working ability, so dogs from German lines rarely lacking intelligence. However, the dogs from some bloodlines pass working tests by being aggressive and "sharp" without discrimination which does not lead them to be good working dogs.
A poor-quality German-line German Shepherd may be too heavily built for real agility and/or may have a temperament that isn't suitable for any but the most experienced owner. Dominant aggression is more likely to be found in these lines than fear aggression. Some breeders breed for size and aggression rather than a well-rounded, well-tempered dog.
Hip certification in Germany follows different rules and guidelines than that of the OFA. Dogs are x-rayed at one year of age rather than two years, and hips are rated "A-normal", "fast normal" or "noch zugelassen". Hips rated NZ may not pass OFA certification.
Good examples of either German or American lines should be highly intelligent, trainable and extremely loyal to their families. All German Shepherds, regardless of their ancestry, should be bred for good health and stable temperaments.
Both German and American lines have their passionate advocates, but the decision of what bloodlines to purchase is ultimately a matter of taste, need and expectations.
You will find fans of the American lines who will tell you that all German dogs are ugly and brutally aggressive, and some lovers of German lines would have you believe that American dogs are unsound, stupid, and cowardly. Both of these extremes are exaggerated: Healthy, mentally sound dogs can be found in either bloodline. The most important thing is to find a good breeder whom you trust and whose breeding stock (both the chosen sire and dam) fits your lifestyle, regardless of style or registry.
If you are interested in showing your dog in the AKC conformation ring with the intention of getting a championship, you are probably better off looking at American lines. It will be difficult if not impossible to win with a German Shepherd from German lines. American (AKC) GSDs from responsible breeders are bred with an eye to what the AKC breed standard demands and what AKC conformation judges reward. A German line GSD may be beautiful but still won't be right for the AKC show ring.
If you are more interested in competing in Schutzhund, training for protection work, herding, or other working discipline, you may be better getting a GSD from German lines. There are American dogs who have the courage and drive, but their ancestors may not have competed for the last 6 or 8 generations. All of the German dog's ancestors have been selected for working ability, so you have a greater chance of finding a suitable puppy without having to test litter after litter. Also, since a breeder of German lines is more likely to be involved in working disciplines, you will know someone who can mentor you.
Given the above generalizations, choose the type more suitable to your needs, lifestyle and abilities. If you do your "homework" in researching breeders to find someone who is responsibly selecting and testing their breeding stock to produce healthy, well-tempered German Shepherds, you are far more likely to end up with a puppy who fits your expectations more comfortably. Be totally open and honest with your breeder in your desires so s/he can help you select the right puppy for you. Any GSD physically and mentally capable of the work should be able to be trained and compete successfully in obedience, agility, tracking, herding and other disciplines, and any well-bred GSD should make an excellent companion.
Yes. The GSD is a "double-coated" dog with an undercoat and guard hairs. The guard hairs will be shed all year. The undercoat is "blown" twice a year.
"The correct GSD coat is relatively short with an obvious undercoat. As such it is quite waterproof. Some dogs are born with long coats which usually, though not always, are devoid of undercoat. Such coats are less useful and more difficult to groom, but many pet owners seem to like the long-coated version. Thus there is not strong selection against it, though very few breeders would deliberately breed from long-coated stock. The normal coat is dominant to the long version, so there are three kinds of dog: normal, normal but carrying the long coat gene, and long. About 10% of the pups are born long-coated." (1)This being said, if you don't intend to show your dog in conformation, there's no reason to avoid the long-coated GSD. Long-coated GSDs can and do compete in obedience and other working disciplines. You should be aware, however, that the longer coat does require more attention when grooming.
Yes and no to both. Most GSDs are eager and willing to learn and enjoy training sessions (don't overdo with a young pup - they just don't have the attention span). If you start young and teach your puppy its order in your "pack", problems with training will be minimized. However, GSDs tend to have more dominant personalities than some breeds and can be stubborn, so some care in training is recommended. Classes are extremely beneficial. A GSD that thinks it's the Alpha member of the pack can be a big handful.
Don't panic. You probably *do* want to take your pup into a vet certified in orthopedic problems and reading x-rays just to make sure you can eliminate hip and elbow dysplasia from the cause of the problem. (Of course, that's true of all GSD puppies since early diagnosis/treatment of dysplasia is important to your puppy's healthy life even if you don't plan on breeding.) But... most likely the vet will confirm that your pup has panosteitis, an inflammation of the long bones in the legs of adolescent pups. It's fairly common in GSDs. It's also known as "long bone disease", "shifting leg lameness" and "growing pains". "Pano" can be detected and diagnosed by x-ray.
Onset can be from 5-12 months (occasionally later) and last until 18 months or more. Though it is uncomfortable for the puppy, it almost always grows out of it. The lameness need not be limited to one leg. Pano is generally considered to be a polygenic trait with limited heretibility (1).
A GSD that carries its tail naturally higher than its body is said to have a "gay tail". Many Northern breeds such as Samoyeds are bred to carry their tails high. It is a fault in GSDs.
In the 1950s, GSDs became the most popular dog in the AKC registry. As a result, many breedings were made without regard to pedigree history and inbreeding caused many personality problems. Reputable breeders will usually not allow inbreeding at least 3 generations back in the puppy's pedigree.
Inbreeding and linebreeding can be beneficial in a breeding program if a breeder practices them carefully. Desireable traits can be strengthened, but undesireable traits and faults may be brought forth as well. If you notice inbreeding or linebreeding in the pedigree, question the breeder as to why and what the perceived advantages were. Breeders practicing these breedings should be able to give reasonably educated answers as to why.
The GSD was bred and developed as a herding dog. A pure white coat is not readily visible on snowy hillsides and sheep seem to respond better to colored dogs. As a guard dog, white is too visible. Also, top breeders have bred against a white color for a lengthy amount of time, so the gene pool of white GSDs is very limited and inbreeding can be a problem.
An average size litter for a GSD is seven to eight puppies.
There is no difference. After each of the World Wars, anything German fell out of popular favor. To avoid the use of the word German, "Alsatian" (from the Alsace-Lorraine area) was used. In some countries, GSDs are still known as Alsations. The name in Germany is Deustche Schaferhund which means "German Shepherd Dog". The word "Dog" is part of the name.
The name in Germany is Deustche Schaferhund which means "German Shepherd Dog". The word "Dog" is actually part of the breed's name unlike other breeds.
Schutzhund is German for "protection dog", but it also refers to a training discipline and dog sport involving 3 phases; obedience, tracking and protection. It is supposed to be a fun experience for both the dog and the handler. If it isn't for one or the other, don't consider it. Find another activity. Schutzhund is not the be all and end all of training. See the section on Schutzhund (often notated as SchH) for more information. (Also, as of this writing, a Schutzhund FAQ is being worked on by some of the subscribers to the GSD-L mailing list. See the Resources for information on GSD-L.)
Yes. You can get a packet of information on GSDs, information about the United States national club and information on a local club (if applicable) can be had by writing to the German Shepherd Dog Club of America (address in Resources below). You may be able to find out if there's a club in your country from this organization as well.
You can also contact the United Schutzhund Club of America (USA) (address in Resources below) to get information on GSDs in general, about Schutzhund, about conformation shows and Schutzhund trials, the Breed Registry and to find a Schutzhund club near you.
Canadians can contact the German Shepherd Dog Club of Canada.
Yes! See the Resources section below.If you have other questions you feel should be answered in this FAQ, please write to email@example.com (but note that sometimes responses take a while due to time constraints)
Go to Table of Contents
You should seek out a reputable breeder when looking for a GSD pup because of the health concerns noted above as well as problems in temperament brought out in ill-bred GSDs. Poorly-bred GSDs can also be aggressive, fearful, or shy-sharp (a fearful dog that becomes aggressive when frightened). It is for these reasons that a reputable breeder is more likely to have sound pups, guarantee their health, help you select the puppy most suited to your lifestyle and goals, and be able to guide you as the pup grows. Review the information on breeding at Breeding Your Dog FAQ at http://www.k9web.com/dog-faqs/breeding.html to learn the kinds of things a responsible breeder will do.
There are numerous resources to finding a reputable breeder. You can contact the GSD Club of America (address in the Resources section), your local GSD Club, United Schutzhund Club of America, GSD Club of Canada, local obedience schools or even by attending dogs shows and talking to people. (Note: Wait until the dog and handler have competed to approach them. Nerves and focus may interfere with your impression of both the dog and breeder otherwise and distractions before competing are unfair to the handler.)
Don't overlook the possibility that a GSD is waiting to be adopted from a local shelter or rescue organization. There may also be sound GSDs that need homes because of changing family circumstances. When adopting a GSD from one of these sources, find out as much as you can about the dog's habits and any commands he understands. Taking the time to learn about the dog up front greatly improve the chance of making a good match between owner and dog, and with a dog that has already been displaced, it's important to find a match that will last a lifetime. Remember, though, that a GSD that has already been part of a family may take up to a few months to adjust completely to his new family and bond to his new humans. In return, you may find a dog who is already housebroken and at least partly trained to help smooth the transition into your home. You can find if there is a rescue organization in your area by contacting the national rescue chair whose address is located in the Resources section of this FAQ.
Go to Table of Contents
Commit yourself (and your family) to training your puppy. Use the resources of formal class training beginning from about 12 weeks of age with a puppy kindergarten class for socialization and early training. Move on to more formally structured classes when the pup is six months old. Do your homework. Being intelligent and motivated, an untrained or ill-trained GSD can prove to be an unacceptable family member. Work on subordination and relaxation exercises every day.
Be wary of asking too much physically from a young GSD pup, such as jumping, long runs, etc. While your pup is growing, you can damage the growth plates or exacerbate a tendency to hip dysplasia. Your puppy should be 12-18 months old before any heavy physical demands are placed on it.
By 10 weeks of age, your GSD puppy will weigh somewhere around 13-20 pounds (depending on sex and bloodlines). A GSD will continue to fill out until 24-36 months old, but should reach close to full adult height by 12 months.
Your new GSD puppy will require a great deal of attention and socialization. Between 4-12 months, GSDs can be prone to "adolescent shyness". If the dog is well-socialized during prior to this point, you can minimize many of the worries that are associated with a shy dog. Puppy Kindergarten and obedience classes are highly recommended for all dogs, but especially for larger breeds such as the GSD. Expose your puppy to as many different experiences as possible, but do not allow your puppy to be traumatized.
Although it is very tempting to pet your GSD puppies ears backwards away from the nose, it is preferable to not do so until the musculature in the ear is fully developed and the ear standing erect. Be content with scratching the ear at the base where it meets the skull. Your puppy will probably find this very enjoyable anyway.
And don't forget how important puppy immunizations are!
Go to Table of Contents
The GSD is a fairly recent breed in the breeding history of dogs, having been developed almost entirely in the 1900s. In the late 1880s-early 1890s the first GSD Club, called the Phylax Society, was formed in Germany. The club survived for only a short time. On April 3, 1899, Max von Stephanitz and Artur Meyer attended one of the earliest dog shows for all breeds ever held in Germany. On that day, von Stephanitz purchased a herding dog he observed at the show, and he and Meyer decided to form the Verein fur Deutsche Schaferhunde, S.V. Von Stephanitz was named the organization's first president and remained so until his death in 1936. The dog he purchased that day, Horand von Grafrath (previously Hektor Linksrhein) was designated S.Z.1, the first GSD to be registered with the Verein. The Verein became a driving force in the canine world and the largest specialty club with 50,000 members and over 600 affiliated clubs.
The Verein started to keep a stud book immediately (marked by an S.Z. number) and began to circulate a semi-monthly newsletter. It held annual "Sieger" shows at which one dog and bitch were selected as Sieger and Siegerin. The Verein and von Stephanitz held a tight rein on GSD breeding throughout Germany, holding jurisdiction on which dogs and bitches could be used for breeding, which could be bred to one another, the number of puppies that could be kept and raised from each litter and age limitations on breeding stock. The von Stephanitz motto "utility and intelligence" was key.
Though herding was the GSDs original purpose, von Stephanitz recognized the importance of expanding the breed's usefulness in other directions and persuaded the government (amid some amusement) to use the GSD in police and military work. GSDs went on to become the first dogs used as Guide Dogs for the blind.
The GSD lost popularity in the United States during each of the World Wars, but recovered directly after, mostly attributed to soldiers returning from Europe with GSDs. Rin Tin Tin was actually a dog that was brought to America after World War I by a soldier named Larry Baker. In Germany, the dog was used as a military dog during each of the wars.
The first German Shepherd registered with the AKC was Queen of Switzerland, registered in 1908.
Go to Table of Contents
In Germany, there is much more emphasis on the working abilities of the GSD, in keeping with Max von Stephanitz's vision of developing a dog with "a highly developed sense of smell, enormous courage, intrepidness, agility and, despite its aggressiveness, great obedience."
Before the turn of the century, there were many informal training contests in Europe. Max von Stephanitz formalized the competitions under the auspices of the SV - Verein fur Deutsche Schaferhunde (GSD Club of Germany) and included tests of performance in tracking, obedience, and protection. These tests are what we know today as Schutzhund. (See the section on Schutzhund for more information.)
Unlike the AKC which simply registers all dogs born of AKC registered parents, for a litter in Germany to be officially registered both its parents must have working titles and at least a "G" (Good) conformation rating. The SV will register litters from parents it doesn't consider "suitable for breeding" if the above requirements are met. For an adult dog to compete in conformation shows or be recommended for breeding, it must first have a working title (@). (Most have Schutzhund titles.) The exception to this is that an adult dog may compete once in a lifetime in the non-titled adult dog class. Adolescents and puppies do not need working titles to compete in conformation.
(@) The work done to achieve the titles must include tracking, obedience and protection, and must be accepted by the VDH (Verein fur Deutsche Hundeswessen). These include SchH and IPO. PH, DH, DPO and German Narcotics and Bomb dogs are accepted, but the dog is a real working dog or must actually have done the work for a year. Tending style herding (for which the dogs were originally bred) is also accepted (HGH) is also included, though it does not have a tracking segment. It does have a protection segment. The dog must perform a courage test. No AKC titles are accepted as they do not include a courage test. The SV standard calls for the desire to protect. French Ring is not accepted by the VDH.
For an adult GSD to compete in the annual Sieger show (the premier German show), the dog must be free of hip dysplasia (*) and have earned a Schutzhund I, II, or III title. The dogs are first judged in two categories: conformation and courage; those that pass move on to compete for the Sieger (dog) and Siegerin (bitch) titles. The dogs are judged by physical characteristics, temperament, and movement, and their pedigrees are examined.
(*) Dogs are x-rayed at one year of age and are given certifications of "a-normal", "fast-normal" or "noch-zugelassen", designating "normal", "nearly normal" and "mild hip dysplasia, still permissable to breed". (This lowest certification is generally not seen in show and breeding dogs.) Although there are no verifiable statistics, it is generally accepted that "a-normal" dogs will OFA at "Good" or better, "fast-normal" will generally, but not always OFA, and "noch-zugelassen" dogs will OFA only occasionally.
German pedigrees have an "a-stamp" (literally a stamp) in the lowest right corner of the pedigree and the actual hip rating for that individual is hand-written on that stamp, so it is easy to verify the actual hip rating of the dog whose pedigree you have in front of you. Unfortunately, all the other ancestors only have the anonymous designation of an "a" ZUERKANNT, which only indicates that the ancestor was x-rayed and falls within the SV standard of "acceptable for breeding". It does not, therefore, indicate what the specific hip rating of the ancestor is/was, either normal, fast-normal or noch-zugelassen. Unfortunately, many people seem to think the "a" ZUERKANNT designation implies a hip rating of normal when in truth, it may signify any of the levels.
Dogs are also rated and must achieve an G (good), SG (very good), V (excellent), or VA (excellent select) rating to be breed, as well as hip certification and a working degree.
Go to Table of Contents
Schutzhund is a German dog sport. It translates into "protection dog".
The purpose of Schutzhund training is to assess and mold the dog's natural abilities to track, protect, and teach the dog control through obedience. It has been considered by some to be a test for breeding in that during the training the degree to which the dog possesses these working abilities becomes apparent. There are three degrees of Schutzhund training: SchH1 or novice; SchH2 or intermediate; and SchH3 or advanced.
To be eligible to do Schutzhund training, it is essential that the dog have a sound temperament. It cannot be shy, sharp shy, vicious, or have poor nerves (that is easily rattled). A responsible trainer will never train a dog with poor temperament in Schutzhund. It is also important that the trainer know when to back down and when to admit ignorance in order to keep from ruining a dog.
Good socialization during puppyhood is critical. Poorly socialized dogs will have problems getting started and will require more ground work.
The tracking is very similar to the AKC TD and TDX, except the dog is penalized for quartering (that is sniffing from side to side down the track). This phase of training can be started when the dog is about five months old.
The obedience portion is very similar to that of the AKC CDX work except it is done on a large field as opposed to a small ring. This is for SchH1. For SchH2 and 3 obedience, the dog has to scale a 6 foot tall slanted wall to retrieve a dumbell in addition to the SchH1 exercises. The dog is expected to do the work with greater precision at the more advanced levels. This portion of the training is usually started in earnest at about 12 months of age. Basic puppy training is always a good idea.
The protection phase consists of developing the dog's natural protective instincts, and teaches it control in full drive through obedience exercises. The protection phase is best started no earlier than 15 months of age. The dog needs to have developed emotionally as well as physically and mentally.
Schutzhund training is very time consuming and requires a committment from the owner. The length of time it takes to attain a SchH1 title will depend upon the dog's abilities and the time committment made by the owner. This can range from three months under ideal conditions (two times tracking/wk; four times/wk of obedience; four times/wk of protection) to three years if the training is sporadic or of poor quality.
There is a difference between Schutzhund Training and a Schutzhund Trial. When done properly the training is a good test of the dog. A strong dog doesn't always do well at trials because they can be a bit obstinate during the obedience phase. A dog that scores well may not be a good dog.
In Germany, the two largest Schutzhund organizations are the SV (GSD Dog Club) and the DVG (German Alliance for Utility Dog Sports). In 1975, the first Schutzhund organization in the US, United Schutzhund Club of America (USA), was formed. Soon after, an American branch of the DVG formed. The USA's address and phone numbers are in the Resources section. (Breeding requirements for the United Schutzhund Clubs of America include a minimum of an "a" stamp and BH (German Companion Dog).
Go to Table of Contents
Due to the breed's versatility, the GSD has become a very popular pet. This is a mixed blessing. While many people truly enjoy the pleasure a well-bred and well-trained GSD adds to their lives, others have been attracted to the breed primarily to make money. A well-bred GSD is a remarkable dog, but a GSD from a disreputable breeder, accidental breeding, or someone trying to recoup their initial investment, can be a nightmare. Without careful consideration of genetic, temperament, and physical characteristics, the resulting litter can be plagued with serious health and temperament problems.
Health disorders (some genetic) seen in GSDs (some are explained in more detail below):
Key: d = dominant r = recessive p = polygenic % = may not always be genetic ^ = suspected genetic ? = unknown
achalasia (r) dilated esophagus; vomiting begins at weaning ankylosis (?) fusing of vertebrae in tail (or spine) reducing range of motion aubaortic stenosis (?) bilateral cataract (d) opague lens form in both eyes, usually after 2 years calcium gout (^) calcium gout, lumps in skin caused by calcium deposits (calcinosis circumscripta) cerebellar hypoplasia (^) abnormal gait and loss of control starting at 12 weeks chronic pancreatitis (^) lack of enzymes that digest fat and protein; chronic weight loss cleft lip and palate (%) nonclosure of bones of upper jaw and roof of mouth corneal dermoid cyst (^) congenital cyst on eye surface cryptorchidism (^) undescended testicle(s) cystinuria (r) high cystine in urine; prone to stone formation (males only) degenerative myelopathy (?) spinal degeneration in older dogs (Chronic Degenerative Radiculomyleopathy - CDRM) diabetes mellitus (r) onset of insulin deficiency at 2-6 months distichiasis (^) extra row of eyelashes irritate eye ectasia (r) optic nerve/retina abnormalities (aka "Collie eye") elbow dysplasia (d) progressive developmental deformity of elbow joints, symptomless to crippling (see ununited anchoneal process) may be polygenic eosinophilic colitis (^) chronic bouts of diarrhea eosinophilic myositis (?) acute, relapsing inflammation of the muscles epilepsy (r) recurrent seizures onset between 1-3 years old hemophelia a (r) (factor VIII deficiency) slowed blood clotting, hemorrhages hip dysplasia (p) progressive developmental deformity of hip joints, symptomless to crippling intervertebral disc disease (^) slipped disc, pain, weakness to paralysis of limbs malabsorption syndrome (^) inability to absorb digested food leads to starvation nictitating membrane eversion (r) third eyelid rolls back; treated surgically osteochondritis dessicans (^) growth disorder of shoulder cartilage; pain, lameness (OCD) pannus (^) vessels, skin and pigment migrate over eye surface, leading to blindness panosteitis (^) acute shifting lameness of growing dogs, deep bone pain, self-limiting patent ductus arteriosus (p) aortal development defect in fetus, loud heart murmur, exercise intolerant perianal fistuala (^) open draining tracts around anus peripheral vestibular disease (?) defect of the middle ear causing puppies to circle pituitary dwarfism (^) normally proportioned dwarf, mentally retarded, usually fatal renal cortical hypoplasia (^) degeneration of both kidneys, beginning at about 1 year retinal atrophy (^) (generalized) PRA retina degenerates causing first night blindness then total blindness right aortic arch (p) abnormal artery constricts esophagus, vomiting soft ears (r) weak ear musculature spondylosis deformans (^) spinal arthritis ununited anchoneal process (d) elbow dysplasia; pain and limp in front legs von Willebrand's disease (d) bleeding disorder
Elbow Dysplasia Elbow dysplasia is characterized by an onset of severe lameness at between 4 and 6 months of age. It almost always affects only one of the elbows but occasionally will affect both. There are three different types of elbow dysplasia: UAP (ununited anconeal process), FCP (fractured coronoid process), and OCD (osteochondrosis). OCD more resembles arthritis in the elbow that may or may not be brought on by trauma or looseness of ligamentation at the elbow. Final diagnosis can only be made by radiograph. OFA now certifies elbows as well as hips. (See OFA Information and Statistics)
Hip Dysplasia The hip joint is not constructed properly, usually with a shallow acetabulum. Dysplastic dogs can vary from minor problems to severe dislocation of the hips. This condition is generally considered to be inherited. Breeding stock should be OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals) certified (look for an OFA number) or given an "A" certificate if from Germany. (Canada OVC) Current statistics indicate that over 20% of x-rays sent in for OFA certification fail. (See OFA Information and Statistics.)
There is recent information on HD from Cornell's Animal Health Newsletter that specifically discusses the latest HD info (as of March, 1994). Although I have chosen to not include it here (due to length), HD is a prevalent problem and big issue in GSD breeding. The more you read about HD, the better. -hs
NOTE: Although these disorders are found in GSDs, they are not necessarily found only in GSDs, nor are they necessarily common. Though this list may seem a bit intimidating, a good look into any breed will reveal a substantial list of health problems that may be common to that breed. This list shouldn't scare you away from GSDs, rather, it should encourage you to find a reputable breeder who is aware of/knowledgeable about these conditions and does their best to keep their breeding program free of these problems.
The OFA's home page and database (interactive queries) is at http://18.104.22.168/ofa/index2.htm
This section is Copyright (c) 1995 by Robin Nuttall and may not be posted, printed or reproduced in any medium without explicit written permission of the author. Robin may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
German Shepherd Dog: 46,089 tested 2.8% tested excellent 20.8% tested dysplastic GSD whelped 1972-80: 2.5% tested excellent 20.7% tested dysplastic GSD whelped 1991-92: 4.1% tested excellent 16.8% tested dysplasticGSDs reduced the frequency of HD by 10-20% between 1974 and 1995. Only 4 breeds increased the frequency of HD: Afgan hound, Flat-coated Retriever, Kerry Blue Terrier and Komondor.
OFA's Recommended Breeding Principals
GSD: Females: 2940 tested 18.2% dysplastic... 68.7% Grade I 22.0% Grade II 9.3% Grade III Males: 2156 tested 23.9% dysplastic... 67.2% Grade I 20.9% Grade II 11.8% Grade IIIGrade I: minimal bone change on the aconeal process
Normal (receive OFA certification numbers) Excellent Good Fair Borderline (recommend repeat study in 6-8 months) Dysplastic Mild Moderate Severe
Numbers are interpreted as follows: BBBxxxPmmS-T
Given the example number EPT100G24M-T, it would represent:
EPT - A Pointer 100 - The 100th Pointer to be evaluated G - Evaluated as Good 24 - 24 months old at the time of evaluation M - Male T - Tattooed
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
* 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.
To get on the GSD-L email list for GSD fanciers, send mail to
Eric Happy (email@example.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 (firstname.lastname@example.org)
or Eric above.
Please don't contact me about GSD-L. I can only refer you to the information above.
There is a semi-moderated GSD mailing list (very low traffic) at email@example.com. The command: SUBSCRIBE GSD-MOD should be the first and only line of your mail message.
To see pictures of Winter and Yuno (GSDs) and Chloe (Chow-ador-atian), open http://www.cluebus.com/holly/dogpics.html.
To go to Holly's home page, open
To go to the GSD page in Australia, open http://www.gdconsulting.com.au/GSD/