We may be biased, but German Shepherds are a remarkable breed. Whether you’re looking for a service dog, police dog, herding dog, or a great family pet, a German Shepherd fits all the roles. Not only are they noble and strong dogs, but they are fiercely loyal, smart, and incredibly eager to learn. For any dedicated owner, the GSD temperament is what makes them so widely sought after.
German Shepherds are a medium to large sized dog, and considered one of the most versatile breeds in the world. They are known for their intelligence, loyalty, and obedience, which makes them among the world’s most popular dogs, ranking 2nd most registered breed in the United States.
This profile examines German Shepherd breed information, their temperament and personality, physical attributes, and history.
See the chart below for general German Shepherd facts.
German Shepherd Info Chart
intelligent, loyal, protective, obedient, calm, confident, willing to learn
good with children of all ages due to calm and patient nature. They should however be trained and have early socialization with children. Encourage kids to be well-behaved
aloof and reserved; takes time to warm up
9–12 years old
Use / Type
working, herding, service, family dog
Male: 66–88 Ib (30–30 kg)
Female: 49–71 Ib (22–32 kg)
Male: 24–26 in (60–65 cm)
Female: 22–24 in (55–60 cm)
Sable, Black, Grey, Black/Tan, Red/Black, and Black/Silver
Constant shedding, year round
Moderate–High: approx. 1 hour per day
Temperament & Personality
German Shepherd Personality Traits
Eager to Learn
German Shepherds have an innate sense of wanting to be part of the family, which means they will form close bonds. They are by instinct, extremely loyal and protective of the family and home, making them excellent guard dogs and loyal companions.
As mentioned, GSDs are very intelligent and eager to learn. Which means they need lots of stimulation in the form of activity, exercise, and training exercises. When GSDs are not stimulated or under-exercised, they become bored or frustrated. This leads to pent-up energy expressed in the form of less than ideal behavior like barking or chewing.
Early socialization and obedience training is something we stress in this article. The more you expose a young GSD to different dogs, people, sights and smells, the more you can prevent over-protective behavior and develop a well-rounded dog. As for obedience training, GSDs have an unmatched work ethic and are highly intelligent. The most effective way to bring out the best of their traits is with early and ongoing training.
Did you know there are two main categories of the German Shepherd breed-line? They are called the “working line” and “show line”– and they are quite different from each other! Before getting a GSD, make sure you check out our blog post so you know which one fits your lifestyle.
German Shepherds With Kids and Strangers
GSDs have a patient and calm nature, so they often can and do live happy family lives with children of all ages. They should however be extensively socialized with children in their early years, so they are familiar being around them. German Shepherds will be cautious around unfamiliar children, so any visiting children should definitely be well-behaved and advised to respect the space of the German Shepherd and its family members.
Around strangers, GSDs tend to appear aloof, perhaps uninterested and reserved. This does not mean GSDs will be aggressive towards strangers, but they will be protective of you. To prevent your GSD from being over-protective or aggressive, it is strongly encouraged that they are socialized and enter into obedience training at an early age. With frequent visitors, GSDs may not be initially super friendly, but they do warm up over time!
Are German Shepherds Aggressive?
German Shepherds are not naturally aggressive towards your strangers and guests. The Exception to this, is if your German Shepherd feels that someone is a threat, or they are harming one of its family members. At this point, your dog will turn from a sweet and happy dog, to a little demon. A well-trained GSD who has been socialized around others should know the difference between another family member and a criminal, which is why we stress the importance of this early training.
For example, if you are at the dog park, there may be dozens of people all around you, talking with you and petting your dog. There may however be one person who tries to speak with you, who of all people in the park, your GSD believes is a threat. At this point your GSD may stand directly in front of you, snarl at the person and become utterly terrifying. This is generally the cue to pack up and leave. Sometimes its best to trust their judgement.
German Shepherds present as strong, confident, and muscular looking dogs. Although they are longer in length than they are tall, they teeter right on the edge of medium to large sized dogs. They are usually recognized by their signature black and tan coat, however there many variations, including gray, all black, red/black, and black/silver.
German Shepherd Shedding | 3 Tips to Manage it Effortlessly
GSDs also have erect pointed ears that face forward and tend to move around like little triangle-shaped satellites. Puppies generally take up to 5 months for their ears to be fully pointed, so don’t worry if you find their ears mildly droopy! They’re still growing into their bodies and forming the cartilage for their ears. The most endearing part of these pointed ears is the signature head tilt!
German Shepherds you see most often are also known as “show line” German Shepherds. They have large heads with a strong jaw muscle and a long snout. Their head connects to massive shoulders with straight forelegs, and a long back that tends to slope into short powerful hind legs (this is more specific to the show line breed which you see most often). The hips and hind legs are generally closer to the ground, with long fluffy tails that often reach the ground while standing.
Like variations to the GSD coat, there are also variations to their body shape. The original working line German Shepherds were initially bred to have a straight, level back. Since then, many GSD enthusiasts have extensively bred a “show line” GSD which inversely, has a sloped back with hips and knees closer to the ground. This makes the hindquarters appear to be more angulated, as pictured below.
Extensive breeding from this show line with the sloped back is quite controversial, as German Shepherds are prone to back disorders and problems such as hip dysplasia, joint and cartilage distress, and osteoarthritis. These illnesses, which are more pronounced in the show line, are direct contributors to the shortened lifespan of this breed. While the diseases themselves will not be fatal, they cause major mobility issues that heavily affect their quality of their life. As a result, owners are led to euthanize their dogs to spare them from their pain and suffering. It should be noted that all GSDs, as larger dogs, tend to be prone to these illnesses, it’s especially pronounced in the show line.
There are a number of ways to increase the lifespan of your dog: through high-quality nutrition and supplements, avoiding intense training and stairs, and maintaining their weight. You may also consider taking time to find a reputable breeder– one who has an interest in maintaining the integrity of the breeding standard. A good question to ask a breeder is if they are using German dogs in their breeding program, rather than GSDs from an American line, which tend to have a more sloped back and shorter lifespan.
History of the German Shepherd
When discussing German Shepherd breed information, we can’t overlook the importance of understanding its origins. As the name suggests, GSDs were developed in Germany, when their primary role was working as a protection dog for flocks of sheep. At this time they weren’t considered a family pet or guard dog, but rather a farmer’s working dog.
Ex cavalry officer, Max von Stephanitz, is credited for developing the German Shepherd and the breed standard as we know it today. Von Stephanitz was experimenting with dog breeding at the time and was in hot pursuit of classic working dogs that could be bred to work in modern times (following the Industrial Revolution). While attending a dog show in 1899, he found and purchased a dog he believed embodied everything a dog should be. He renamed the dog to Horand von Grafrath, and subsequently founded the Society for German Shepherd dogs. Horand became the first official German Shepherd on the registry, and the genetic base for the modern Working Line German Shepherd.
During these early years, the Society grew in size and Horand was bred with the other members of the society with equally desirable traits. There were also multiple German Shepherd-Wolf pairings to get that distinct lupine look of the German Shepherd dog. All modern German Shepherd dogs can trace their genetics back to one of these litters!
In the first half of the 20th century, German Shepherds became a favored dog in Germany, heavily used in extermination camps and on their military campaigns throughout World War I and II. This negative association to Germany made the dogs quite unpopular for a short while. Luckily, after World War I, the breed was brought around the world where it quickly gained popularity due the breed’s incredible capabilities.
Fun Fact! GSDs have been featured in numerous books, movies and comics. Even Batman had a German Shepherd by his side in many of the 1955 to 1964 comics! His name was Ace, the BatHound.
As you have read through this article, you can probably see why the German Shepherd is such a versatile dog. Through early and ongoing training, the traits of strength, intelligence, and obedience make German Shepherds the ideal service dog for the handicapped, and also a very capable police dog for protection and guarding work. If you have the fortune of bringing home a German Shepherd, you will never question the loyalty of this best friend!