The German Shepherd Dog, also known as the Alsatian, the Alsatian Hound, the Alsatian Shepherd, the Alsatian Wolfdog, the Berger Allemand, the Deutscher Schäferhund and simply the GSD, is one of the most popular and widely recognized of all canine breeds, famous for its bravery and loyalty as characterized in the TV series "Rin Tin Tin" and the movie "Strongheart." Their original function was to move and control sheep. The German Shepherd was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1908 as a member of its Herding Group.
The mature male German Shepherd ideally stands between 24 and 26 inches at the highest point of the shoulder; females should be between 22 and 24 inches in height. They typically weigh between 50 and 90 pounds, with bitches usually being smaller and lighter than males. Their dense double coat should be brushed regularly to help control shedding but should not be trimmed. Strong, rich coat colors are highly preferred in this breed. Washed-out colors and blues or livers are serious faults, and white is a disqualification in most breed clubs, including the American Kennel Club.
The German Shepherd was developed in Germany in the late 1800s, originally to manage large flocks of sheep. The forerunners of the GSD resulted from crosses of native dogs in northern and central Germany. The German Shepherd's role was to move along the edges of the flock and usher stray sheep back into the fold – not by barking or heel-nipping, which could panic the sheep, but instead by silent, steady and stealthy movements. The modern German Shepherd apparently was first exhibited at a show in Hanover, Germany, in 1882. Founded in 1899, the German Shepherd Dog Club of Germany (the Verein fur Deutsche Schaferhunde) was the original parent club for the breed. The German Shepherd's popularity grew rapidly in Germany and spread worldwide throughout the 1900s. There reportedly were more than 40,000 GSDs "enlisted" in the German Army during World War I. They were able assistants to the Army and the Royal Air Force during World War II. The German Shepherd Dog Club of America was founded in 1913.
Until 1915, there were three distinct coat types: smoothhaired, longhaired and wirehaired. The wirehaired variety has since disappeared. Longhaired GSDs are still born occasionally but are not accepted in the American show ring. Today's dogs are preferred to have a medium-length, smooth coat.
German Shepherds were developed to be working dogs. As herding dogs, they are stable, courageous and protective. They have been used for police work, military work, narcotics detection and search-and-rescue, requiring those same qualities along with bravery, loyalty and keen scenting skills. They are excellent guide dogs for the disabled, due to their high intelligence, watchfulness and good judgment. They are used as therapy dogs, home guardians, show dogs and faithful companions. German Shepherds are among the most trainable of all dog breeds.
The original GSD was squarer and more temperamentally stable than today's streamlined, thinner-boned and arguably more "spooky-shy" animal. Show breeders in the 20th century exaggerated the rear angulation of the breed and its downward-sloping back. Controversy continues to rage about the benefit or detriment of these conformational changes, so much so that some fanciers are breeding for a "reconstructed" version of the GSD in attempt to return it to its original structure and temperament. That dog is now called the Shiloh Shepherd, named after the Shiloh Kennels in New York which initially developed the new breed.
The average life expectancy of the German Shepherd is between 10 and 13 years. Breed health concerns may include allergies, aortic stenosis, bloat, cataracts, cherry eye, Cushing's disease, degenerative myelopathy, discospondylitis,hip dysplasia, epilepsy, exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, footpad disorders, folliculitis/furunculosis/cellulitis, glycogen storage disease, hemangiosarcoma, hypothyroidism, immune-mediated thrombocytopenia, mitral dysplasia, myasthenia gravis, nasal cavity tumors, panosteitis, persistent right aortic arch, pituitary dwarfism and tricuspid dysplasia.
The German Shepherd Dog (GSD) is perhaps best known as the strong, courageous and obedient guide dog for the disabled and service dog of police K-9 and search-and-rescue units, valued for its tenacity, intelligence, loyalty and focus. GSDs are often sought as guard dogs and protectors. However, while they are first and foremost a working breed, GSDs can make outstanding, loving family companions. German Shepherds have a rather distinct personality marked by a direct and fearless expression, obvious self-confidence and reluctance to develop indiscriminate friendships. They tend to be indifferent to strangers and can be aloof; however, once they befriend you, their devotion is life-long.
German Shepherds can be as energetic as they are large, although they should be of even disposition and unflappable, with a restrained, composed and confident temperament. They should be patient, attentive, faithful and determined. They can be bold but should not be unnecessarily aggressive. They do not require an enormous amount of daily exercise, but they certainly are not the ideal breed for apartment dwellers or people who live alone and work long hours. They tend to bond well with children and enjoy participating in family activities like hiking, swimming, picnicking, running and the like. Farmers are often partial to German Shepherds because of their great intelligence, solid herding skills and seemingly endless energy. Regular walks will suit most GSDs just fine; many also enjoy off-leash romps in secure dog parks. They are particularly well suited to obedience training.
To combat boredom, mental exercise is excellent for the GSD. They are extremely intelligent and, like many other breeds, enjoy working with their owners. German Shepherds thrive in advanced obedience work and on agility courses. They also can thrive with regular games of fetch with a stick, ball or Frisbee.
German Shepherds can be trained to do almost any task set before them. They are smart, bold, alert, and single-minded when necessary and eager to please their people. They are powerful but still agile. While highly trainable, they should be socialized and trained young in life. This requires a firm, consistent and kind handler. German Shepherds frequently project dominance if they feel that they can get away with it, which is unacceptable in a companion animal living in a world filled with dogs, cats, children and other distractions.
GSDs are protective by nature, which is why they make excellent guard and police dogs. Once a GSD bonds with its family, it may become protective of them when approached by strangers or by friends. This protectiveness may be appropriate or inappropriate, depending upon the situation, and the dog may not always be able to discriminate between those situations. It is important to train GSDs to recognize welcome and unwelcome guests. They may bark as strangers or familiar friends approach your home, but proper socialization and training from an early age will help this very intelligent and proud breed to become well-integrated into a normal social routine. Neither aggression nor timidity should be tolerated. Reputable breeders and trainers generally agree that aggressive tendencies or excessive shyness in GSDs usually are a product of poor breeding, poor training, or both. Potential GSD owners should explore their dog's background and commit to an appropriate training and socialization protocol before making a life-long commitment to the dog.
A German Shepherd Dog can provide years of loyal companionship and faithful service. Because of their size, trainability, self-confidence and poise, proper training and socializing is very important. People without the time or dedication to commit to really working with their German Shepherd should perhaps select a different breed. Those who are willing to devote the time and energy to train their GSD properly will find their investment returned tenfold in a well-adjusted, loyal family companion.
The first impression of a good German Shepherd Dog is that of a strong, agile, well muscled animal, alert and full of life. It is well balanced, with harmonious development of the forequarter and hindquarter. The dog is longer than tall, deep-bodied, and presents an outline of smooth curves rather than angles. It looks substantial and not spindly, giving the impression, both at rest and in motion, of muscular fitness and nimbleness without any look of clumsiness or soft living. The ideal dog is stamped with a look of quality and nobility--difficult to define, but unmistakable when present. Secondary sex characteristics are strongly marked, and every animal gives a definite impression of masculinity or femininity, according to its sex.
The breed has a distinct personality marked by direct and fearless, but not hostile, expression, self-confidence and a certain aloofness that does not lend itself to immediate and indiscriminate friendships. The dog must be approachable, quietly standing its ground and showing confidence and willingness to meet overtures without itself making them. It is poised, but when the occasion demands, eager and alert; both fit and willing to serve in its capacity as companion, watchdog, blind leader, herding dog, or guardian, whichever the circumstances may demand. The dog must not be timid, shrinking behind its master or handler; it should not be nervous, looking about or upward with anxious expression or showing nervous reactions, such as tucking of tail, to strange sounds or sights. Lack of confidence under any surroundings is not typical of good character. Any of the above deficiencies in character which indicate shyness must be penalized as very serious faults and any dog exhibiting pronounced indications of these must be excused from the ring. It must be possible for the judge to observe the teeth and to determine that both testicles are descended. Any dog that attempts to bite the judge must be disqualified. The ideal dog is a working animal with an incorruptible character combined with body and gait suitable for the arduous work that constitutes its primary purpose.
Size, Proportion, Substance
The desired height for males at the top of the highest point of the shoulder blade is 24 to 26 inches; and for bitches, 22 to 24 inches.
The German Shepherd Dog is longer than tall, with the most desirable proportion as 10 to 8½. The length is measured from the point of the prosternum or breastbone to the rear edge of the pelvis, the ischial tuberosity. The desirable long proportion is not derived from a long back, but from overall length with relation to height, which is achieved by length of forequarter and length of withers and hindquarter, viewed from the side.
The head is noble, cleanly chiseled, strong without coarseness, but above all not fine, and in proportion to the body. The head of the male is distinctly masculine, and that of the bitch distinctly feminine.
The expression keen, intelligent and composed. Eyes of medium size, almond shaped, set a little obliquely and not protruding. The color is as dark as possible. Ears are moderately pointed, in proportion to the skull, open toward the front, and carried erect when at attention, the ideal carriage being one in which the center lines of the ears, viewed from the front, are parallel to each other and perpendicular to the ground. A dog with cropped or hanging ears must be disqualified.
Seen from the front the forehead is only moderately arched, and the skull slopes into the long, wedge-shaped muzzle without abrupt stop. The muzzle is long and strong, and its topline is parallel to the topline of the skull. Nose black. A dog with a nose that is not predominantly black must be disqualified. The lips are firmly fitted. Jaws are strongly developed. Teeth --42 in number--20 upper and 22 lower--are strongly developed and meet in a scissors bite in which part of the inner surface of the upper incisors meet and engage part of the outer surface of the lower incisors. An overshot jaw or a level bite is undesirable. An undershot jaw is a disqualifying fault. Complete dentition is to be preferred. Any missing teeth other than first premolars is a serious fault.
Neck, Topline, Body
The neck is strong and muscular, clean-cut and relatively long, proportionate in size to the head and without loose folds of skin. When the dog is at attention or excited, the head is raised and the neck carried high; otherwise typical carriage of the head is forward rather than up and but little higher than the top of the shoulders, particularly in motion.
Topline-- The withers are higher than and sloping into the level back. The back is straight, very strongly developed without sag or roach, and relatively short.
The whole structure of the body gives an impression of depth and solidity without bulkiness.
Chest--Commencing at the prosternum, it is well filled and carried well down between the legs. It is deep and capacious, never shallow, with ample room for lungs and heart, carried well forward, with the prosternum showing ahead of the shoulder in profile. Ribs well sprung and long, neither barrel-shaped nor too flat, and carried down to a sternum which reaches to the elbows. Correct ribbing allows the elbows to move back freely when the dog is at a trot. Too round causes interference and throws the elbows out; too flat or short causes pinched elbows. Ribbing is carried well back so that the loin is relatively short. Abdomen firmly held and not paunchy. The bottom line is only moderately tucked up in the loin.
Loin Viewed from the top, broad and strong. Undue length between the last rib and the thigh, when viewed from the side, is undesirable. Croup long and gradually sloping.
Tail bushy, with the last vertebra extended at least to the hock joint. It is set smoothly into the croup and low rather than high. At rest, the tail hangs in a slight curve like a saber. A slight hook- sometimes carried to one side-is faulty only to the extent that it mars general appearance. When the dog is excited or in motion, the curve is accentuated and the tail raised, but it should never be curled forward beyond a vertical line. Tails too short, or with clumpy ends due to ankylosis, are serious faults. A dog with a docked tail must be disqualified.
The shoulder blades are long and obliquely angled, laid on flat and not placed forward. The upper arm joins the shoulder blade at about a right angle. Both the upper arm and the shoulder blade are well muscled. The forelegs, viewed from all sides, are straight and the bone oval rather than round. The pasterns are strong and springy and angulated at approximately a 25-degree angle from the vertical. Dewclaws on the forelegs may be removed, but are normally left on. The feet are short, compact with toes well arched, pads thick and firm, nails short and dark.
The whole assembly of the thigh, viewed from the side, is broad, with both upper and lower thigh well muscled, forming as nearly as possible a right angle. The upper thigh bone parallels the shoulder blade while the lower thigh bone parallels the upper arm. The metatarsus (the unit between the hock joint and the foot) is short, strong and tightly articulated. The dewclaws, if any, should be removed from the hind legs. Feet as in front.
The ideal dog has a double coat of medium length. The outer coat should be as dense as possible, hair straight, harsh and lying close to the body. A slightly wavy outer coat, often of wiry texture, is permissible. The head, including the inner ear and foreface, and the legs and paws are covered with short hair, and the neck with longer and thicker hair. The rear of the forelegs and hind legs has somewhat longer hair extending to the pastern and hock, respectively. Faults in coat include soft, silky, too long outer coat, woolly, curly, and open coat.
The German Shepherd Dog varies in color, and most colors are permissible. Strong rich colors are preferred. Pale, washed-out colors and blues or livers are serious faults. A white dog must be disqualified.
A German Shepherd Dog is a trotting dog, and its structure has been developed to meet the requirements of its work. General Impression-- The gait is outreaching, elastic, seemingly without effort, smooth and rhythmic, covering the maximum amount of ground with the minimum number of steps. At a walk it covers a great deal of ground, with long stride of both hind legs and forelegs. At a trot the dog covers still more ground with even longer stride, and moves powerfully but easily, with coordination and balance so that the gait appears to be the steady motion of a well-lubricated machine. The feet travel close to the ground on both forward reach and backward push. In order to achieve ideal movement of this kind, there must be good muscular development and ligamentation. The hindquarters deliver, through the back, a powerful forward thrust which slightly lifts the whole animal and drives the body forward. Reaching far under, and passing the imprint left by the front foot, the hind foot takes hold of the ground; then hock, stifle and upper thigh come into play and sweep back, the stroke of the hind leg finishing with the foot still close to the ground in a smooth follow-through. The overreach of the hindquarter usually necessitates one hind foot passing outside and the other hind foot passing inside the track of the forefeet, and such action is not faulty unless the locomotion is crabwise with the dog's body sideways out of the normal straight line.
Transmission The typical smooth, flowing gait is maintained with great strength and firmness of back. The whole effort of the hindquarter is transmitted to the forequarter through the loin, back and withers. At full trot, the back must remain firm and level without sway, roll, whip or roach. Unlevel topline with withers lower than the hip is a fault. To compensate for the forward motion imparted by the hindquarters, the shoulder should open to its full extent. The forelegs should reach out close to the ground in a long stride in harmony with that of the hindquarters. The dog does not track on widely separated parallel lines, but brings the feet inward toward the middle line of the body when trotting, in order to maintain balance. The feet track closely but do not strike or cross over. Viewed from the front, the front legs function from the shoulder joint to the pad in a straight line. Viewed from the rear, the hind legs function from the hip joint to the pad in a straight line. Faults of gait, whether from front, rear or side, are to be considered very serious faults.
Cropped or hanging ears.
Dogs with noses not predominantly black.
Any dog that attempts to bite the judge.
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Sources: American Kennel Club