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Breed Guide: German Shepherd Dog

By Stacy Painter
September 20, 2022 • 6 min. read
german shepherd dog standing in the woods

Reviewed for accuracy on August 3, 2022 by Cathy Barnette, DVM

Introduction to German Shepherds

Known for being smart, confident, and brave dogs, the German shepherd is an excellent working dog that frequently assists police departments and rescue organizations. These large dogs are loyal, strong, and able to learn and excel at many different tasks. Yet German shepherds also make wonderful home companions and can herd animals around farms too. They are among the most highly recognized and popular dog breeds in America today, and chances are that you already know someone who has a German shepherd or see them being walked around your neighborhood or running around in dog parks.

If you are interested in purchasing or adopting a German shepherd, here’s what you need to know about these dogs and how to take the best care of their health.

Size of German Shepherds

When they are fully grown, male German shepherds are about 24 to 26 inches tall and weigh between 65 and 90 pounds. Female German shepherds are slightly smaller at 22 to 24 inches tall and between 50 and 70 pounds.

These dogs’ growth typically slows down by about one year of age; however, many German shepherds will continue growing a bit longer until they are closer to two years old. Females are usually fully grown by this time, but males may continue to healthily gain a few more pounds until the age of 2.5 years. This is a longer growth period than many other breeds of dogs.

Here’s how big you can expect your German shepherd to get throughout the early months of his or her life:

Weight Chart3 months6 months9 months12 months
Male German Shepherds22-30 pounds49-57 pounds64-71 pounds71-71 pounds
Female German Shepherds17-26 pounds44-49 pounds55-60 pounds60-64 pounds

Characteristics of German Shepherds

German shepherds are protective of the people they care about. These dogs have a strong worth ethic and have assisted police, military groups, and people who are blind and disabled for many years throughout history.

german shepherd puppy in the grass

They make good family dogs for families that can devote enough time to their exercise and training. German shepherds do best with active families that get outside a lot, rather than “couch potato” families that like to lounge around all day. They also require a family that is willing and able to invest time in their training.

As you get to know a German shepherd’s personality, here’s what you can expect based on his or her breed characteristics.

Breed CharacteristicLevel (High, Medium, Low)
Affectionate with PeopleMedium
Good with KidsMedium
Good with PetsMedium
Need for ExerciseHigh
Energy LevelHigh
Intelligence LevelHigh
Able to Be TrainedHigh
Amount of BarkingHigh
Amount of SheddingHigh

History of German Shepherds

As their name suggests, German shepherds originated from Germany and were originally bred to be herding dogs for sheep. Captain Max von Stephanitz, a Germany calvary officer, wished to breed the ideal herder and crossed different strains from the northern and central districts of Germany to create what is today’s modern German shepherd dog. This captain co-founded the first German shepherd club to promote and refine the breed. The breed emerged as one with distinct and desirable characteristics, such as agility, intelligence, speed, stealth, and a sense of authority.

These dogs rose in popularity in the U.S. in the early 1900s and were featured characters in movies, such as Rin-Tin-Tin. The American Kennel Club began recognizing German shepherds as a breed in 1908. Their popularity declined due to anti-German sentiments during and after World Wars I and II, but the dogs are now loved again all around the world and are the preferred breed for military, police, and guide operations.

German Shepherd Standard Information

German shepherds are a pure breed of dog and have a very distinctive appearance. These dogs have alert and kind expressions with their almond-shaped eyes and are often a mix of black and tan colors. The dogs are longer than they are tall and have smooth curves and a muscular fitness. These dogs look noble and unmistakable, but unlike many other dog breeds, there are distinct masculine and feminine characteristics between the two genders.

Here is an overview of the breed standard information for German shepherds:

Head:

  • Noble, chiseled, and strong head
  • Keen, intelligent, and composed expression
  • Medium-size, almond-shaped eyes
  • Moderately pointed ears
  • Long and strong muzzle

Neck, Topline, Body:

  • Strong and muscular neck
  • Forward (rather than up) carriage of head
  • Withers higher than and sloping into level back

Forequarters:

  • Shoulder blades long and obliquely angled
  • Upper arm and shoulder blades well-muscled
  • Pasterns strong, stringy, and angulated
  • Dewclaws may be removed but usually left on

Hindquarters:

  • Thigh broad and well-muscled
  • Metatarsus short, strong, and tightly articulated
  • Dewclaws, if any, should be removed

Coat:

  • Double coat of medium length
  • Outer coat as dense as possible with straight hair
  • Slightly wavy outer coat is permissible

Color:

  • Most colors are permissible
  • Strong and rich colors are preferable

Gait:

  • Trotting dog
  • Gait is outreaching, elastic, smooth, and rhythmic
  • Flowing gait maintained with back strength and firmness

Caring for German Shepherds

Spending time with a German shepherd is lots of fun and very rewarding as a pet parent. These dogs will reward you with unwavering love and loyalty, but they do require a significant amount of exercise, grooming, and training.

One thing to note is that German shepherds love to be around people and shouldn’t be left alone for long periods of time. These are high-energy dogs that need to run and play, otherwise they could become bored and put that pent-up energy to work by doing something destructive, such as chewing or digging.

Here are some general tips for taking the best care of a German shepherd:

Best Living Environments:

  • Larger homes with fenced yards
  • Apartments possibly okay as long as dogs get ample outdoor time
  • Often do well with kids and other pets

Type of Exercise:

german shepherd on agility course
  • Hiking on trails
  • Going on runs with people
  • Exercising off-leash at dog parks
  • Running around a fenced-in yard

Mental Enrichment:

  • Socializing with other dogs at dog parks
  • Don’t leave alone all day long
  • Agility training competitions
  • Durable chew toys that can withstand the powerful jaw

Training Strategies:

  • Prone to separation anxiety
  • Can be destructive if not trained well
  • Train to use guarding tendencies for positive purposes
  • Can be trained to be a watch dog
  • Train to do a duty and take pride in that

Grooming Tips:

  • Brush coat every few days
  • Very likely to shed
  • Bathe about once a month
  • Keep nails trimmed unless naturally worn down by outdoor activity

Common Health Problems of German Shepherds

Compared to many other breeds of dogs, German shepherds have a shorter lifespan – only about seven to 10 years on average. But you can take the best care of your dog’s health by being mindful of common health problems that affect German shepherds and by getting pet health insurance for your dog to help cover the vet bills.

These are some of the most common health issues that arise with German shepherds:

  • Hip and elbow dysplasia
  • Digestion problems, such as bloat
  • Eczema
  • Flea allergies
  • Keratitis (inflammation of the cornea)
  • Blood disorders
  • Von Willebrand’s disease

Diet and Nutrition for German Shepherds

German shepherds do best when fed two meals per day that consist of up to two cups of dry dog food per meal. Since these dogs are prone to stomach torsion and bloat, do not give your dog just one big daily meal or allow the dog to eat meals too quickly. Try using a “slow feed bowl” or “puzzle feeder” to encourage your German shepherd to eat meals more slowly and digest better.

German shepherds that are overweight may have a shortened lifespan, so ask your vet about the appropriate portions to feed your dog on a daily basis. Recommended dog foods for German shepherds include Royal Canin German Shepherd food, Purina ProPlan, and Hill’s Science Diet.

Four dogs of breed a German shepherd in a profile attentively look afar

Where to Adopt or Purchase German Shepherds

If you are looking for a purebred German shepherd, a good place to start is the German Shepherd Dog Club of America. This organization’s website offers resources for choosing a responsible breeder and lists breeder/puppy classified ads.

People interested in adopting a German shepherd may be interested to learn about German Shepherd Rescue & Adoptions, which is based in Raleigh, North Carolina and supports the Carolinas and Virginia. Depending on where you live and are looking to make an adoption, other options to consider are the Washington German Shepherd Rescue, All Shepherd Rescue, and Imminent Danger German Shepherd Rescue.

Related Breeds

If you have fallen in love with the German shepherd breed of dogs, you might want to learn about other similar and related breeds that share common characteristics with the German shepherd. Here are some other breeds to consider before adopting or purchasing a German shepherd:

  • Belgian malinois
  • Belgian sheepdog
  • Belgian tervuren
  • King shepherd
  • Shiloh shepherd
  • Dutch shepherd
  • Bohemian shepherd

Pet Insurance for German Shepherds

With regular vet checkups, at-home care, good nutrition, and plenty of exercise, German shepherds can live wonderful lives with their family members. But because of the various health issues that affect these dogs and their high activity level that makes them prone to accidents, it’s also a smart idea to get pet insurance for your German shepherd.

Healthy Paws offers German shepherd pet insurance that covers new accidents and illnesses, genetic and hereditary conditions, breed-specific conditions, emergency care, cancer, and more. More than 570,000 pets have been enrolled in our pet insurance plan, giving pet parents peace of mind that they will always be able to get the necessary veterinary care their furry friends need without stressing out about costs. You can use any licensed vet that you trust to provide medical care submit the bill to us for reimbursement.

Request your German shepherd pet insurance quote today.

Stacy Painter profile
By Stacy Painter

Stacy has always been an animal lover and has worked in the pet industry and pet insurance specifically for over a decade. As a writer since early childhood, content writing for Healthy Paws pet insurance was a natural career path to combine her two passions. She currently lives in Florida with her boyfriend and Taiwanese rescue dog, Kaya.

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