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(picture of Heather & her Military working dog "Benny", taken before the war started)

The following e-mail is an update reply to the "Tirbute To War Dogs" link.

Hello, my name is Heather Cooper, I am a K-9 handler for the U.S. Air Force. I read your page about the military working dogs and I would like to share some updates with you. The military has come along ways in recognizing the amazing duties the Military dogs do. Many of the dogs are now receiving retirement ceremonies, funeral ceremonies when they pass on, they receive letters of appreciation, commendation letters and so forth. I do wish they would be honored with medals like they once were and I hope that happens one day.

The biggest change that has happened is that the dogs are now allowed to be adopted out if they do not make the grade upon training and when they retire. If the dog retires at it's base then the handler has first option in adopting the animal without it having to be transported back to Lackland. If the dog is a "trainer" at Lackland for students and is retired then it is also put up for adoption by either handlers, civilian officers or the public. This is a giant milestone the military has overcome and I think it should be commended. I say this to you just because I noticed that you still say on your website that the dogs are euthanized when they can no longer work, and thankfully this is no longer practiced. Thank you for your time and thank you for taking the time to recognize these amazing animals.


The following is an email from a customer regarding scout dogs:

Hi Cathy,

Thought I'd mention to you how great your website is!  I've gathered a great deal of information that will be extremely useful in raising the pup.

I also thank you for your recognition of war dogs and support of the troops.  As I may have mentioned, I retired from the Army after 24 years of service.  I spent most all of my military time flying helicopters and perhaps the defining part of my career was the year I served as a medevac (medical evacuation) pilot in 1967-1968.  I noticed after reading the scout dogs/handlers killed in action during those years was extraordinarily high.  Of interest, our company had a triage ranking for casualties because sometimes we didn't have enough helicopters or pilots to fly all missions, so we had to prioritize.  You might be interested to know that our priorities were as follows:
1.American GI's & Scout Dogs
2.Coalition forces; ie South Vietnamese, Koreans, Australians and mercenaries
3.Vietnamese civilians

If we had several missions, one for a scout dog only and any of the rest of the triage priorities, we went for the dog.  That's how important they were to us.

One of the sad tales of our departure from Vietnam was the desertion of our dogs.  I'm not sure that they could have integrated back into society, but their service and valor deserved a better end in my opinion.

I shudder to think how often it was that we had to evacuate dogs.  And, of course, when a dog needed evacuation, the handler was sure to go because they were such an integral team.  I quickly developed tremendous respect for the great things scout dogs did.

Dave Pearsall

Support our Troops! www.troopsupportusa.com/ 

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Cathy's must have books to read:

The Total German Shepherd by Fred Lanting

The German Shepherd Today by Strickland & Moses

Cesar's Way by Cesar Millan

Canine Good Citizen by Jack & Wendy Volhard

Natural Health for Dogs & Cats by Pitcairn & Pitcairn

Dog Bible by Kristin Mehus-Roe

Monks of New Skete books


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German Shepherd

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German Shepherd
Other namesGerman Shepherd, Alsatian (UK and some other Commonwealth countries)
Country of originGermany
WeightMale30–40 kg (66–88 lb)[1][2][3]
Female23–33 kg (51–73 lb)[1][2][3]
HeightMale60–65 cm (24–26 in)[1][2][3]
Female55–60 cm (22–24 in)[1][2][3]
CoatDouble coat: Stock (Short/Medium) or Long Stock
ColourTan with Black Saddle, All Black, Golden Sable, Grey Sable, Bicolour, White
Litter size5–10
Life span9–13 years[4]
Dog (Canis lupus familiaris)

The German Shepherd Dog, commonly referred to as the German Shepherd or simply the Shepherd[5]; frequently written in abbreviated form as the GSD; and sometimes known as the Alsatian (a former breed-name used by The Kennel Club of the UK and other clubs around the world), is a relatively new breed of dog that originated in the 1890s in Germany where it has been known since its founding as the deutsche Schäferhund (German pronunciation: [ˈdɔɪ̯ʧə ˈʃɛːfɐˌhʊnt]) which translates directly as the German Shepherd Dog. Under the guidance of the Society for German Shepherd Dogs (Verein für deutsche Schäferhunde, abbreviated as SV), founded in 1899, and its President until 1935, Max von Stephanitz, the breed consolidated its primary characteristics, and, following World War I, became one of the most popular breeds around the world. The breed was developed from shepherding dogs, and is classified in most Breed Standards under Herding Group, Pastoral Group, Working Group, etc. However, because of the German Shepherd's strength, courage, intelligence and trainability, it has often been the preferred breed for many types of work including guide-dogs, personal-protection, search-and-rescue, police, military, and acting.[6] Over the years, the breed has been criticised and, at times, fallen from favour because of issues related to temperament, health and physical structure. Nevertheless, in 2012, German Shepherds were the second-most popular dog in the United States[7] and fourth-most popular in the United Kingdom.[8]




Pollux and Flock, Very Early German Shepherd Dogs

Prior to the middle of the 19th century in Europe, sheepdogs had been bred primarily to preserve, from generation to generation, traits that assisted in their job of herding sheep, protecting flocks from predators, and keeping sheep off cultivated fields ("tending"). Breeding was usually practiced within local communities where herdsmen and shepherds selected dogs on the basis of the dogs' abilities, resulting in sheepdogs that were generally capable of performing their tasks, but that differed significantly, both in appearance and general character, from one locality to another. In the second half of the 19th century, as Germany became increasingly industrialised and urbanised, the pure-breeding and exhibiting of dogs became a popular pastime. In April 1879, the Delegate Commission (Delegierten-Commission für das deutsche Hundestammbuch), was established to oversee the formation of Breed Standards and to maintain a register of pure-bred dogs in Germany.[9] There soon developed a quest to identify and standardise a German Shepherd Dog breed.

In December 1891, Rittmeister (Riding Master) Riechelmann of Dunau in Hannover, and Graf (Count) von Hahn, formerly of Wildungen, founded the first breeders' club for the German Shepherd Dog, the Phylax Society (Phylax Spezial Klub für deutsche Schäferhunde und Spitze) based in Berlin.[10] "Phylax" means "Guard" (from Ancient Greek), and the original intentions of the Society were for the improvement of the breed as a working dog. However, those intentions were suppressed by the "preponderating influence" of those with a one-sided emphasis on the purely fancy-dog breeds, and the Society disbanded after only three years as a result of private disagreement.[11]

Fritz von Schwenningen, a son of Pollux

A notable member of the Phylax Society was the painter, illustrator and author, Herr Ludwig Beckmann, whose second Volume of his book, "Geschichte und Beschreibung der Rassen des hundes" ("History and Description of the Breeds of Dogs"), includes a Breed Standard (Rassezeichen) for the German Shepherd Dog that was first published by the Delegate Commission in July 1890.[12] Beckmann described the great variation of Germany's shepherd dogs as "a Labyrinth", a solution to which he believed could only be found in distinguishing between three different breeds of German shepherd dogs according to hair-type: rough-haired; smooth- or stock-haired; and long-haired. He noted that at the Hannover Fair in 1893, as in 1894 in Dortmund, almost only the stock-haired breed was represented. Likewise, at the Berlin Agricultural Exhibition in 1894, the stock-haired dogs prevailed by far. According to Beckmann, the rough- or pointy-haired dogs were at home in western Germany on the Lower Rhine and in the Bergisch, while the long-haired or shaggy dogs were especially purebred in the neighbourhood of Braunschweig in north central Germany.[13] In Beckmann's view, a major obstacle to the pure-breeding of German shepherd dogs was that most of the dogs were in the possession of professional shepherds whose interest was very little in the pure cultivation of their dogs, but only in the dogs' fitness for use. Similarly, the shepherds were little interested in taking their dogs out of work to travel to exhibitions. However, Beckmann believed the Phylax Society made positive progress through its association with agricultural societies, and he urged the approval of additional prizes at dog shows.[14]

Ultimately, two types of dog were pivotal in the development of a uniform German Shepherd Dog breed: the so-called Thuringian shepherd dog from central and northern Germany; and the so-called Wurtemberg shepherd dog from southern Germany. Shepherd dogs from the centre and north had a lighter build, erect ears and a tendency to curl their tails. The shepherd dogs of the south and the mountains had a generally larger build, usually slightly-curved hanging tails, and often folded ears. For shepherd-dog breeders in Germany at the end of the 19th century, what "the crowd" prized most was a dog of wolf-like appearance with erect ears, a hanging tail and the wolf-grey colour. The Thuringian shepherd dog frequently had the prized appearance, and, as a working dog, was full of vigour, but in the hands of whole-sale breeders, it often deteriorated into "intolerable impudence and untamable wildness", much to the detriment of the breed. On the other hand, the Wurtemberg shepherd dog was more relaxed with a reliably better tail-carriage. In turn, the breeders of Wurtemberg recognised the desires of the north, and began to introduce shepherd dogs with the wolf-like appearance through the crossing between dogs from the north and the south of Germany, fostering and consolidating the good points on both sides and eliminating faults, and, more often than not, the Wurtemberg dogs had seen service. Thus, for the German Shepherd Dog breed, the "Egg of Columbus" was laid.[15]

Hektor von Schwaben, Sieger in 1900 and 1901

Rittmeister Max von Stephanitz (30 December 1864 – 22 April 1936) was a great admirer of the intelligence, strength and ability of Germany's native shepherd dogs. In April 1899, von Stephanitz attended a dog show in Karlsruhe where he showed[a] a dog who was named Hektor Linksrhein (but known as Horand von Grafrath).[16][17] Von Stephanitz said, "Horand embodied for the fancy-dog enthusiasts of that time the fulfilment of their fondest dreams". (Emphasis added.)[18][19] Immediately after the Karlsruhe show, von Stephanitz and his colleague, Arthur Meyer, founded the Society for German Shepherd Dogs (Verein für deutsche Schäferhunde, abbreviated as SV) based originally in Stuttgart where Meyer lived.[20] In September 1899, the Society drew up a Breed Standard for the German Shepherd Dog. At the instigation of Meyer, the Society also established a formal Breed Register or Studbook (Zuchtbuch für Deutsche Schäferhunde, abbreviated as SZ), to record not only the details of noteworthy German Shepherds, but the "names of all existing shepherd dogs" to make the Studbook as complete as possible.[21] Hektor Linksrhein (Horand von Grafrath) was the first dog entered in the Studbook. In 1901, following the death of Meyer, the Society moved its headquarters to Munich, near to the home of von Stephanitz, "Grafrath".

Hektor Linksrhein was bred by Herr Sparwasser of the Sparwasser Kennels in Frankfurt, and passed through several hands, including Herr Eiselen of the Krone Kennels in Wurtemberg, before being purchased by von Stephanitz who called him Horand von Grafrath. Von Stephanitz proclaimed that Horand was the "guiding star" of the new German Shepherd Dog breed, but admitted that this accomplishment was attained in the hands of previous owners.[18] It was not merely Horand's physical attributes - size, build, coat and colour, with erect ears and a relaxed hanging tail - that impressed. Von Stephanitz said, "His character corresponded to his exterior qualities; marvellous in his obedient fidelity to his master; and above all else, the straightforward nature of a gentleman with a boundless and irrepressible zest for living." Most importantly, "Horand handed on these wonderful characteristics of the high breed to his immediate descendants."[22]

Roland von Starkenburg, Sieger in 1906 and 1907

Horand sired 140 registered progeny,[23] the most famous being Hektor von Schwaben who was whelped from a Wurtemberg working (shepherding) bitch, Mores-Plieningen, and who became the German Shepherd Dog Champion (Sieger) in 1900 and 1901. Hektor sired 141 registered progeny,[24] and was inbred with other offspring of Horand including Thekla I von der Krone who was whelped from another Wurtemberg working bitch, Madame von der Krone die Ӓltere. The union between Hektor and his half-sister, Thekla, produced the well-known son, Beowulf (formerly named Beowulf-Sonnenberg and Wolf) and an important but less-known son, Pilot. Beowulf sired 107 litters and 304 progeny[24] (or 280 progeny registered in his lifetime.[25])

Another dog that made a significant contribution to the foundation of the breed was Roland von Starkenburg who was the Sieger in 1906 and 1907. Roland had as his two grandfathers, the Horand-son, Hektor, and the Horand-grandson, Beowulf. An all-black, Roland was extremely popular - the first super-star of the breed - and sired the phenomenal amount of 973 registered progeny.[24]

The early inbreeding was deemed necessary in order to fix the traits being sought in the breed.[26] However, von Stephanitz warned that inbreeding could also strengthen and consolidate undesirable characteristics in addition to the desirable, and he advised that "Exact knowledge, careful selection and suitable keeping of the breeding couple, an acute observation, and, if necessary, extermination of the results of such breeding are the sine qua non for successful inbreeding. If all these are carefully observed, it will not lead to overbreeding and degeneration, but to success."[27] To provide essential knowledge to breeders, the Society carefully maintained the comprehensive Studbook, and later, the Breed Survey Reports. It is believed the Society accomplished most of its goals due to von Stephanitz's strong, uncompromising leadership and he is therefore credited with being the creator of the German Shepherd Dog breed.[23]

Von Stephanitz firmly believed that the future of the German shepherd dog lay in the retention of its excellent working-dog characteristics. In the early 1920s he saw that the mental capacity of the breed on a broad basis had reached a high level, but the ideal powerful, well-knit and well-proprtioned working-dog's body had not yet been transmitted to the whole breed. For the future development of the breed, he urged breeders to seek out dogs that would improve the exterior features while retaining the mental talents. To that aim, he said, "The dogs that are bred by our shepherds are indeed a fountain of rejuvenation for our breed, from which it must satisfy its needs again and again in order to remain vigorous."[28]

Concerning the alleged wolf crosses[edit]

Wolfsnest Kennel Advertisement, including Wölfi vom Wolfsnest (centre)

In his book, "The Alsatian Wolf-Dog", Mr George Horowitz implicates three early German Shepherds in crossings with wolves: Phylax von Eulau I, Mores-Plieningen and Wölfi vom Wolfnest (formerly Zuleika-Saar).[29]

Horowitz says that the famous author, Herr Richard Strebel, witnessed Phylax von Eulau I provoke the furore of a pack of Borzoi dogs (known for their wolf-hunting skills) at a dog show in Dresden. "Did they smell wolf's blood? Chi lo sa? [Who knows?]"[30]

Mores-Plieningen was the great-granddam of the dog, Hektor von Wohlen that was owned and bred by Monsieur Otto Rahm of Switzerland. Rahm had the skull of Hektor investigated by the Swiss scientist, Professor Studer, who, in conclusion, suspected that "there was a mixture of wolf's blood in at least one generation". Rahm confirmed the presumption by informing Studer that Mores-Plieningen was the product of a cross between a wolf and a German Shepherd Dog. The cross had been mentioned in the Swiss canine journal, "Centralblatt fur Jagd- und Hundliebhaber", 16 January 1903. Studer says that in the same journal of 30 January 1903, von Stephanitz corrected the information by stating that the great grandsire of Mores-Plieningen had been a cross between a she-wolf and a German Shepherd in about 1881.[31]

Horowitz says that Zamba-Saar, the granddam of the mother of Wölfi vom Wolfnest was a she-wolf, and that Strebel used Wölfi to illustrate the hybrids of wolves. In a letter to a concerned Australian, J. Schäller of the Fachschaft für deutsche Schäferhunde says "The bitch, Wölfi vom Wolfnest (the mother of Wanda-Saar) pretended to descend from a shepherd dog and a she-wolf, is registered with the S. Z. under No. 65... As regards the cross breeding bitch, Wölfi appearing as dam with registration No. 69 to 74, it has to be considered that the dogs in question have never been used for breeding, and these lines died away."[32]


Von Stephanitz identified a large type of German shepherd dog with shaggy hair (Zotthaariger) that was known as an "Altdeutscher" ("Old German") shepherd dog.[33] This type of dog was included in the Breed Standard for the German Shepherd Dog until after 1930 but was rare. Non-standardized shepherd dogs of German origin also came to be known as "Altdeutsche Schäferhunde". Later, the long-stock-haired variant of the German Shepherd Dog breed (with smooth rather than shaggy hair), which had been excluded from show-rings for a period, also came to be known as "Altdeutsche Schäferhunde", so the shaggy-haired and non-standardized dogs became part of a group called "Altdeutsche Hütehunde" ("Old German Herding Dogs").

Initially, a direct translation of the German breed-name was adopted for use by most breed clubs and national dog registries. European countries such as Switzerland and Austria formed the first breed clubs outside Germany. In France, a breed club, Club Français du Chien de Berger Allemand (French Club for the German Shepherd Dog), was established in 1910.[34] In the United States, the German Shepherd Dog Club of America was established in 1913, although the breed was originally named by the American Kennel Club as the "German Sheepdog".[35]

However, toward the end of World War I, it was believed in many countries that the inclusion of the word "German" could harm the breed's popularity due to the anti-German sentiment of the era. During the War, the French club changed its name to the Club du Chien de Berger d’Alsace (Club for the Alsatian Shepherd Dog)[36] - "d'Alsace" ("Alsatian") after the French-German border area of Alsace-Lorraine which at the time was part of Germany. In 1918, the American Kennel Club changed the breed's name to the "Shepherd Dog" and the American breed club did likewise.[37] In 1919, the first German Shepherd breed club in the UK was established as the Alsatian Wolf-Dog Club, and the breed was officially recognised and named by The Kennel Club (UK) as the "Alsatian Wolf-Dog". The word "Alsatian" was also adopted in preference to the word "German" by other breed and kennel clubs during and after World War I.

In 1922, the leading German Shepherd breed club in Alsace-Lorraine (which had become part of France), the Club Alsacien et Lorrain du Chien de Berger Allemand, gave official notice that it was in favour of the re-adoption of the breed's former name of "deutscher Schäferhund" (or "Chien de Berger Allemand"; "German Shepherd Dog").[38] The view was shared by others, and many European clubs reinstated the original breed-name. The American Kennel Club restored the word "German" to the breed-name in about 1931.

In the UK, the appendage "Wolf-Dog" was believed to be just as damaging as the word "German" because of the implication of a close relationship with the wolf.[39] "Wolf Dog" was eliminated from the name of the main breed club in about 1925-6 following the amalgamation of the Alsatian Wolf-Dog Club and the newer Alsatian League into the Alsatian League and Club of Great Britain, and the breed became known as the "Alsatian". In 1936, acknowledging the predominant breed-name used around the world, The Kennel Club (UK) added to the name such that it became the "Alsatian (German Shepherd Dog)". That name remained for four decades until 1977 when the order of the name was reversed to "German Shepherd Dog (Alsatian)". The word "Alsatian" appeared in parentheses until it was removed in 2010.[40]

Because of its significant role in police forces, a popular unofficial name for the breed has been the "Police Dog". When the American Kennel Club required a change of name from "German Sheepdog" during World War I, the German Shepherd Dog Club of America proposed the name "Police Dog" (among other names), but it was rejected in favour of the name "Shepherd Dog".[37] An early book about the breed in general was published in the United States in 1924 under the title, "The Police Dog: A Study Of The German Shepherd Dog (or Alsatian)".[41]


German Shepherds: female (left) and male (right)
German Shepherd at an agility competition

German Shepherds were exported from Germany prior to World War I (1914-18) and breed clubs were formed in Europe and abroad. The first German Shepherd registered with the American Kennel Club was Queen of Switzerland in 1908.[42] However, it was toward the end of the war that the German Shepherd first gained widespread international recognition when returning soldiers spoke highly of the breed especially after witnessing the dogs' exploits during the campaign. When the The Kennel Club (UK) first accepted registrations for the breed in 1919, fifty-four dogs were registered. By 1926 this number had grown to over 8,000.[43] During the 1920s and later, the animal actors, Rin Tin Tin and Strongheart contributed to the breed's world-wide popularity.

However, in the late 1920s and 1930s, puppy factories flourished to meet the demand, glutting the American market with poor quality German Shepherds (or "German Police Dogs" as they were often called), resulting in a down-turn in the popularity of the breed in the United States.[42] Similarly, in the UK, from being the most popular breed in 1926-7, registrations tumbled almost as dramatically as they had risen. "Temperament, in particular, left much to be desired."[44] The end of World War II (1939-45) saw the breed's popularity revitalised.

In the late 1920s in Australia, articles concerning the potential threat of Alsatian Wolf-dogs to livestock were published in magazines and newspapers.[45] The breed became very unpopular with bodies representing pastoralists, especially the Graziers' Federal Council, and, in August 1928, the Australian Government announced that the importation of Alsatian Dogs would be prohibited.[46] However, the decision was delayed pending the outcome of an inquiry. Eventually, on 17 May 1929, the Australian Government prohibited the importation of Alsatian Dogs for five years.[47] The ban was made permanent on 7 June 1934.[48] The separate governments of the States of Australia were left to decide the fate of existing German Shepherds. Many breed clubs and registries continued to support the breed. The federal ban was not lifted until 29 November 1972.[49]

The German Shepherd's trainability and physical prowess saw a rapid rise in the breed's profile as it quickly become the most commonly used dog in military and police forces. The attributes of the breed are also very well suited to athletic competition, and German Shepherds are very common competitors in dog sports such as agility trials, tracking, and schutzhund (the latter of which was devised for the German Shepherd). The suitability of the breed for such sports has added to its popularity.

As time progressed, the popularity of the breed increased and by 1993 it had become the third most popular breed in the United States. The German Shepherd Dog is typically among the most popular breed in dog registries around the world.

Modern Breed[edit]

Modern German Shepherds bred for show usually have an extremely sloping topline
2-year-old black German Shepherd

The modern German Shepherd is criticized by some for straying away from the original ideology for the breed. The early Breed Standard stated, "Nature such as excellent characteristics of vigilance, loyalty, incorruptibility and courage - make the pure-bred German Shepherd Dog in an excellent manner, suitable for watch- and companion-dog (Schutzhund). Pleasing appearance is desirable, but the working ability of the dog must not be called into question."[50]


In 2009, The Kennel Club (UK) became involved in a dispute with German Shepherd breed clubs about the breed's lack of soundness of the hindquarters, particularly the hocks. The Kennel Club's position is that "this issue of soundness is not a simple difference of opinion, it is the fundamental issue of the breed’s essential conformation and movement."[51] (The debate appears to have been sparked when issues about the conformation and health of show dogs were raised in the BBC documentary, Pedigree Dogs Exposed which was aired in 2008.[52] The documentary said that critics of the German Shepherd described it as "half dog, half frog" referring to its sloping top-line and weak hindquarters. An orthopedic vet remarked about footage of dogs in a show ring, that they were "not normal".)

The Kennel Club decided to retrain judges to penalize dogs suffering these problems.[53] It also insisted on more testing for hemophilia and hip dysplasia, other common problems with the breed.

The issues remained ongoing, and The Kennel Club suspended the awarding of Challenge Certificates (CCs) to German Shepherds in 2012.


Close-up of a German Shepherd's face showing the long muzzle, black nose and brown, medium-sized eyes
A Long-Stock-Coat German Shepherd puppy. At 14-weeks of age, ears are not completely erect

German Shepherds are large sized dogs. The breed standard height at the withers is 60–65 cm (24–26 in) for males and 55–60 cm (22–24 in) for females. The weight standard is 30–40 kilograms (66–88 lb) for males and 22–32 kilograms (49–71 lb) for females. The forehead of a German Shepherd is only slightly arched when seen from the front and side, and tapers gradually, without a pronounced stop, to a long wedge-shaped powerful muzzle. The jaws are strong, with a scissor-like bite. The eyes are medium-sized and brown with a lively, intelligent and self-assured look. The ears are large and stand erect, open at the front and parallel, but they often are pulled back during movement. They have a long neck, which is raised when excited and lowered when moving at a fast pace. The tail is bushy on the underside, and forms a slightly curved sabre-shape reaching to the hock when at rest.[1][2][3]

German Shepherds have a variety of colors, the most common of which are tan/black and red/black. Most color varieties have black masks and black body markings which can range from a classic "saddle" to an over-all "blanket." Rarer colour variations include the sable, all-black, all-white, liver and blue varieties. The all-black and sable varieties are acceptable according to most standards; however, the blue and liver are considered to be serious faults and the all-white is grounds for instant disqualification in some standards.[2]

German Shepherds sport a double coat. The outer coat, which sheds all year round, is close and dense with a thick undercoat. The coat is accepted in two variants; medium and long. The long-hair gene is recessive, making the long-hair variety rarer. Treatment of the long-hair variation differs across standards; they are accepted under the German and UK Kennel Clubs but are considered a fault in the American Kennel Club.[2][3]


A German Shepherd with a baby

German Shepherds are highly active dogs and described in breed standards as self-assured.[2] The breed is marked by a willingness to learn and an eagerness to have a purpose. They are curious which makes them excellent guard dogs and suitable for search missions. They can become over-protective of their family and territory, especially if not socialized correctly. They are not inclined to become immediate friends with strangers.[54]


In the book The Intelligence of Dogs, author Stanley Coren ranked the breed third for intelligence, behind Border Collies and Poodles.[6][55] He found that they had the ability to learn simple tasks after only five repetitions and obeyed the first command given 95% of the time.[6] Coupled with their strength, this trait makes the breed desirable as police, guard and search and rescue dogs, as they are able to quickly learn various tasks and interpret instructions better than other large breeds.[56]

Aggression and Biting[edit]

Well-trained and socialized German Shepherds have a reputation as being very safe. However, in the United States, one 1996 source suggests that German Shepherds are responsible for more reported bitings than any other breed and suggests a tendency to attack smaller breeds of dogs.[57] An Australian report from 1999 provides statistics showing that German Shepherds are the third breed most likely to attack a person in some Australian locales.[58]

According to the National Geographic Channel television show Dangerous Encounters, the bite of a German Shepherd has a force of over 238 pounds-force (1,060 N) (compared with that of a Rottweiler, over 265–328 pounds-force (1,180–1,460 N), a Pit bull, 235 pounds-force (1,050 N), of a Labrador Retriever, approximately 230 pounds-force (1,000 N), or a human, of approximately 86 pounds-force (380 N)).[59]


According to a survey in the UK covering periods from 2007 to 2011, the median life span of German Shepherds is 10.95 years.[4] Over four years from 1 January 1993 to 31 December 1996, the average age at death (or euthanasia) for a group of 284 German Shepherds among a population of Military Working Dogs (MWD) in the United States was 10.18 years.[60] For the group of German Shepherd MWDs, the main causes of death or reasons for euthanasia were degenerative joint disease of the appendicular skeleton, usually of the hip joint (58 dogs or 20.4%); neurologic disease of the spinal cord or cauda equina which included the diseases degenerative myelopathy and lumbosacral spondylopathy (55 dogs or 19.4%); "geriatric", defined as a decline in performance or quality of life but without substantial gross or histologic lesions associated with a single anatomic system (43 dogs or 15.1%); neoplasia (36 dogs or 12.7%); and gastric dilatation-volvulus, commonly called bloat (29 dogs or 10.2%).[60] For the first three causes of death (or reasons for euthanasia), the average age at death was higher than the group's overall average.

Canine Hip Dysplasia (HD) is an inherited developmental disease which leads to a malformation of the ball-and-socket joint of the hip. HD may cause pain and lameness primarily through the development of secondary osteoarthrosis (OA; also referred to as osteoarthritis and degenerative joint disease). Environmental factors such as nutrition, exercise and climate may influence the progression of pain and lameness in dogs with HD. The prevalence of HD in the population of German Shepherds is difficult to determine because entries into most databases and registries that contain HD information are voluntary in nature. Many dogs are unofficially assessed or pre-screened, and those with poor preliminary assessments are less likely to be formally submitted and entered in the databases. It is widely understood that the databases are biased toward dogs with good hips.[61][62] The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) found that 19.0% of all German Shepherds evaluated for HD by the OFA from 1974 to 2013 were affected. The breed ranked 40th in terms of the percentage of individuals within the breed affected by HD (highest percentage ranked first).[63]

Elbow Dysplasia (ED) is an inherited developmental disease which leads to a malformation of the elbow joint, and may cause pain and lameness primarily through the development of secondary osteoarthrosis (or osteoarthritis). Clinical signs of ED, such as pain, lameness or awkward gait in the forelimbs are usually detected in young dogs between four and eighteen months of age. However, the International Elbow Working Group (IEWG) refers to that group as the "tip of the iceberg" because many cases of ED are subclinical (showing no immediate signs) yet still capable of passing the disease on to offspring.[64][65] ED is regarded as a broad term encompassing four distinct abnormalities which may occur singly or in combination with one another: joint incongruity (JI), fragmented medial coronoid process (FCP), osteochondrosis or osteochondritis of the medial humeral condyle (OCD) and ununited anconeal process (UAP). Cases of UAP have been reported more often in the German Shepherd than in other breeds.[66] However, within the breed, FCP was found to be the most frequent primary lesion in a study of radiographs supplied by the Society for German Shepherd Dogs (SV), although, some studies found UAP to be the most prevalent primary lesion of the elbow joint in clinically affected dogs.[67] The anconeal process forms part of the hinge-joint at the back of the elbow, and UAP more often leads to lameness and further clinical signs than other forms of ED.[67] As with HD, many dogs are unofficially assessed or pre-screened for ED before being formally submitted for evaluation and entered into databases containing ED information, and those databases are regarded as biased toward dogs with good elbows. The OFA found that 18.9% of all German Shepherds evaluated for ED by the OFA from 1990 (when the OFA's ED database was established[68]) to 2013 were affected. The breed ranked 14th in terms of the percentage of individuals within the breed affected by ED (highest percentage ranked first).[69]

Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV), commonly called bloat in dogs, involves both the swelling (or distention; dilation) and the twisting (or torsion; volvulus) of the stomach. GDV is a cause of death in German Shepherds.

Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI), a degenerative disease of the pancreas. It is estimated that 1% of the UK GSD population suffers from this disease. "Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency". Retrieved 20 March 2014.  Treatment is usually in the form of pancreatic supliments being given with food.

Epilepsy is known in the German Shepherd breed, and certain individual dogs are known to have passed the heritable form of the disease (idiopathic epilepsy) onto descendants.

Haemophilia is also known in the German Shepherd breed. It is a failure of the blood to clot normally.

Degenerative Myelopathy (DM), also known as Chronic Degenerative Radiculomyelopathy (CDRM), is a neurological disease characterised by an increasing loss of co-ordination and mobility (ataxia) in the hind region. The disease is seen almost exclusively in the German Shepherd. A test is available to screen for a mutated gene that has been seen in dogs with DM.

German Shepherds have a higher than normal incidence of Von Willebrand Disease (VWD), a common inherited bleeding disorder.[70]

A study conducted by the University of Zurich found that 45% of the police working dogs were affected by degenerative spinal stenosis, although the sample studied was small.[71]

Breed-Health Improvement Schemes[edit]

Many countries have implemented schemes for testing German Shepherds for Hip Dysplasia and Elbow Dysplasia and classifying the individual dogs on the basis of the results.

Use as Working Dogs[edit]

A German night-watchman from 1950 with his German Shepherd
Urban Search and Rescue Task Force dog works to uncover survivors at the site of the collapsed World Trade Center after the September 11, 2001 attacks

German Shepherds are a popular selection for use as working dogs. They are especially well known for their police work, being used for tracking criminals, patrolling troubled areas and detection and holding of suspects. Additionally thousands of German Shepherds have been used by the military. Usually trained for scout duty, they are used to warn soldiers to the presence of enemies or of booby traps or other hazards.[72] German Shepherds have also been trained by military groups to parachute from aircraft[73] or as anti-tank weapons . They were used in World War II as messenger dogs, rescue dogs and personal guard dogs. A number of these dogs were taken home by foreign servicemen, who were impressed by their intelligence.[26]

The German Shepherd is one of the most widely used breeds in a wide variety of scent-work roles. These include search and rescue, cadaver searching, narcotics detection, explosives detection, accelerant detection and mine detection dog, among others. They are suited for these lines of work because of their keen sense of smell and their ability to work regardless of distractions.[72]

At one time the German Shepherd was the breed chosen almost exclusively to be used as a guide dog for the visually impaired. When formal guide dog training began in Switzerland in the 1920s under the leadership of Dorothy Eustis, all of the dogs trained were German Shepherd females.[74] An experiment in temperament testing of a group of Labrador Retrievers and German Shepherds showed that the Retrievers scored higher on average in emotional stability and ability to recover promptly from frightening situations, cooperative behavior and friendliness; while the German Shepherds were superior in aggression and defensive behavior. These results suggested that Labrador Retreivers were more suited to guide dog work while German Shepherds were more suited to police work.[75] Currently, Labradors and Golden Retrievers are more widely used for this work, although there are still German Shepherds being trained. In 2013, about 15% of the dogs trained by Guide Dogs of America are German Shepherds, while the remainder are Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers.[76] The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association in the United Kingdom states that crosses between Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers make the best guide dogs, although they also train some German Shepherds, as well as some other breeds.[77] Guide Dogs for the Blind in the United States trains only Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers and crosses between these breeds.[78] Guide Dogs Queensland in Australia also trains only Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers.[79]

German Shepherds are still used for herding and tending sheep grazing in meadows next to gardens and crop fields. They are expected to patrol the boundaries to keep sheep from trespassing and damaging the crops. In Germany and other places these skills are tested in utility dog trials also known as HGH (Herdengebrauchshund) herding utility dog trials.[80]

In Popular Culture[edit]

Strongheart, one of the earliest canine stars

German Shepherds have been featured in a wide range of media. Strongheart the German Shepherd was one of the earliest canine film stars starting in 1921 and was followed in 1922 by Rin Tin Tin, who is considered the most famous German Shepherd. Both have stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.[81]

German Shepherds were used in the popular Canadian series The Littlest Hobo.

Batman's dog Ace the Bat-Hound appeared in the Batman comic books, initially in 1955,[82] through 1964.[83] Between 1964 and 2007, his appearances were sporadic.

A German Shepherd called Inspector Rex, is the star of an Austrian-Italian Police procedural drama program where Rex assists the Vienna Kriminalpolizei homicide unit. The program has been shown in over 180 countries and has won many awards.[84]

See Also[edit]


  1. Jump up ^ Accounts differ as to whether von Stephanitz showed, or, was shown, the dog at the Karlsruhe Show. Some sources, mostly in German, state that von Stephanitz had purchased the dog on 15 January 1898, well before the Karlsruhe Show. Others, mainly in French, state that he purchased the dog on 3 April 1899 in Frankfurt (or, according to others, Hannover). There is no doubt that the Karlsruhe Exhibition was held on 15 to 17 April 1899.


  1. ^ Jump up to: a b c d e "FCI-Standard N°166, GERMAN SHEPHERD DOG (Deutscher Schäferhund)". Fédération Cynologique Internationale. 23 December 2010. Retrieved 2 February 2014. 
  2. ^ Jump up to: a b c d e f g h "German Shepherd Dog Breed Standard". American Kennel Club. 11 February 1978 (Approved). Retrieved 2 February 2014. 
  3. ^ Jump up to: a b c d e f "German Shepherd Dog Breed Standard". The Kennel Club (UK). September 2012. Retrieved 2 February 2014. 
  4. ^ Jump up to: a b O'Neill et al., (2012). "Longevity of UK Dog Breeds". Royal Veterinary College, University of London. Retrieved 18 January 2013. 
  5. Jump up ^ "German Shepherd Dog - Description". The Kennel Club (UK). Retrieved 25 February 2014. 
  6. ^ Jump up to: a b c Coren, Stanley (March 1995). The Intelligence of Dogs: A Guide To The Thoughts, Emotions, And Inner Lives Of Our Canine Companions. New York: Bantam Books. p. 134. ISBN 0-553-37452-4. 
  7. Jump up ^ "AKC Dog Registration Statistics". American Kennel Club. Retrieved 7 February 2014. 
  8. Jump up ^ "Top Twenty Breeds In Registration Order For The Years 2011 And 2012". The Kennel Club (UK). Retrieved 7 February 2014. 
  9. Jump up ^ "Delegierten-Commission". Retrieved 4 March 2014. 
  10. Jump up ^ de Bylandt (1897) cited in Scanziani, Piero (1988). The Encyclopedia of American Dogs. Bonanza Books. p. 120. ISBN 0517439409. "In a work written in 1897 De Bylandt again makes a reference to a club called the Phylax Spezial Klub fur Deutsche Shaferhunde und Spitze. The chairman was M. Reichelmann and the secretary E. Hartmann, and the address was listed as Friesenstrasse 13, Berlin (annual subscription 10 marks)." 
  11. Jump up ^ von Stephanitz, Max (1923). The German Shepherd Dog in Word and Picture (English, Revised from the Original German Work, 1 ed.). Germany: Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde. pp. 132–3. 
  12. Jump up ^ Beckmann, Ludwig (1894-5). Geschichte und Beschreibung der Rassen des hundes. Volume 2 (in German). Germany: Braunschweig, Druck und Verlag von Friedrich Bieweg und Sohn. pp. 101–2. Archived from the original on 30 June 2010. Retrieved 28 February 2014. 
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  20. Jump up ^ von Stephanitz, Max (1909). Der deutsche Schäferhund in Wort und Bild; I. Teil (in German) (IX ed.). München: Verein für deutsche Schäferhunde. p. 3. "Seine Anregung fand allseitigen Beifall. Die Karlsruher Ausstellung am 15. — 17. April 1899 gab den Anstoss zu einem an die Schäferhundfreunde gerichteten gemeinsamen Aufruf des leider zu früh verstorbenen, verdienstvollen Kynologen Arthur Meyer-Stuttgart und des Verfassers. So wurde am 22. April 1899 der „Verein für deutsche Schäferhunde“‚ der „S. V.“‚ der damals mit dem Sitz in Stuttgart, gegründet." 
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  83. Jump up ^ Ace the Bat-Hound appearances at the Grand Comics Database
  84. Jump up ^ Beta Film GmbH's REX Website

Further Reading[edit]

External Links[edit]

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