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Welcome to the German Shepherd dog microsite. This page contains detailed information on the breed. From this point you can use the above tabs to navigate to the other German Shepherd pages.

- Kitt Killion

German Shepherd Breed Information

Alternative names- Deutscher Schaferhund, Schaferhund, Alsatian

Country of origin - Germany

Classification and breed standards FCI:|Group 1 Section 1 #166|Stds
AKC:|Herding|Stds
ANKC:|Group 5 (Working Dogs)|Stds
CKC:|Group 7 - Herding Dogs|Stds
KC (UK):|Pastoral|Stds
NZKC:|Working|Stds
UKC:|Herding Dog|Stds

The German Shepherd Dog, also known as the Alsatian (in France and the UK), Schafer (in other parts of Europe) and by the acronym GSD or simply German Shepherd, is a breed of dog originally bred for herding sheep. Today, based on 2006 American Kennel Club statistics, German Shepherd Dogs are the third most popular breed in the United States with 43,575 registrations. [1] They can also be found working as guide dogs for the blind, police work, guarding, search and rescue, therapy and in the military. Despite their suitability for such work, German Shepherds can also make loyal and loving pets inside the home. They enjoy being around people and other animals, although socialization is critical for young puppies in order to prevent aggressive and dangerous behavior as an adult. German Shepherds are well-suited to obedience, with advanced and prestigious titles available to test both the handler and dog in various schutzhund trials.

1. Quick Facts

German Shepherd Quick Facts

Weight: | 77-85 pounds (35-40kg.) |
Height: | 24-26 inches (60-65cm.) |
Coat: | Three varieties: rough-coated, long rough-coated, and long-haired
Activity level: | High
Learning rate: | Extraordinarily high
Temperament: | Direct, fearless, eager, alert, bold, cheerful, obedient, eager to learn, loyal, courageous, calmly confident, serious, protective
Guard dog ability: | Very high
Watch-dog ability: | Very high
Litter size: | ?
Life span: | ~13 years

2. Name

The proper English name for the breed is German Shepherd Dog (a literal translation from the German Deutscher Schaferhund) but they are usually informally referred to as GSDs or as "German Shepherds". In addition, the sobriquet police dog is used in many countries where the GSD is the predominant or exclusive breed used by the police force.

Anti-German sentiment was still high in the wake of World War I (1914 - 1918), and change of German-oriented names in the UK - including that of the Royal Family - were common at the time when a few dogs were taken to Britain and the United States. In 1919, the English Kennel Club gave the breed a separate register. Since it was feared that the name German Shepherd Dog could be an impediment, the name Alsatian wolf dog was introduced, from Alsace, a traditionally German-speaking French area on the west bank of the Rhine which had been annexed by the German Empire in 1870 but restored to France in 1918. The 'wolf dog' part was dropped shortly thereafter for fear of causing undue criticism of the breed. This name is still occasionally used in the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland and the Commonwealth. Only in 1977 did the British Kennel Club authorize the breed to be known again as the German Shepherd Dog [2] .

In the United States, the breed was originally known as the 'German sheep dog' by the AKC despite its breed club calling it the 'German shepherd dog.' Initial requests to change the name were denied. [3] Part of the problem with calling the dog 'sheep dog' is that in Germany there is a separate breed whose name translates as 'German sheep dog.' In the fall of 1917, the name was changed to 'Shepherd dog' due to WW1 anti-German sentiments. [4] The breed club also did this, calling themselves the Shepherd Dog Club of America. It wasn't until 1931 that 'German' was once again added back on and accepted by the AKC, finally giving the breed the proper translation of its German name. [5]

In Germany, northern and eastern Europe the breed is still most commonly known by the original name Schafer.

3. History

The German Shepherd breed was invented by "Captain Max" von Stephanitz in 1899. His first German Shepherd, named Horand von Grafrath, is the genetic basis for the German Shepherd as we know it today.

The German Shepherd was originally conceived as a sheep-herding dog, hence its name. Throughout the years, the specific working drives of tracking, obedience, and protection have been intentionally highlighted in the breed by selective breeding, making German Shepherds very well-suited for active working environments.

4. Characteristics

German Shepherds are highly intelligent and agile dogs, with a strong work drive. They are often deployed in various roles such as police, guarding, search and rescue, therapy, service-dog, and in the military applications.

German Shepherds are sparingly bred, by the efforts of a great few, for work function ("working line") as was originally intended by the breed inventor Max von Stephanitz. Most often they are bred to conform to breed appearance standards ("conformation line"). Though Max von Stephanitz distinctly stated, "Our shepherd dog is a service dog, and he must only be bred as a service dog. He must only be judged as a service dog. With service dogs, suitability ranks higher than beauty."

He is also quoted as saying, "The most striking features of the correctly bred German Shepherd are firmness of nerves, attentiveness, unshockability, tractability, watchfulness, reliability and incorruptibility together with courage, tenacity and hardness." Max particularly pleads to champions of the breed to, "Take this trouble for me: Make sure my shepherd dog remains a working dog, for I have struggled all my life long for that aim."

Conformation line dogs are bred to proper physical appearance primarily and minimal working instincts (herding, prey drive, etc.) They are specifically bred to conform to the published breed standards for appearance, and health. Because they are bred for Conformation line dogs are often found as pets, in breeder environments, and in competition. Due to the nature of the Conformation ring, traits are lost to the breed decreasing its truest character and taking the "GSD" further from its original purpose.

Working line German Shepherds are typically excluded from the show ring as most don't conform to the highest levels of the breed standard for physical appearance. These dogs are bred to have an enduring work drive, and unwavering obedience. Of critical importance is the dog's ability to distinguish what constitutes a threat and what does not constitute a threat. Dogs that cannot make that distinction are eliminated from police and military programs. Extremely well-suited for police and military work, these dogs are also suitable as pets for home environments, though for owners should be familiar with their dog's abilities and needs. Working line dogs are employed in many police departments and government organizations such as the ATF, the U.S. Marshals, and Customs.

4. 1. Physical appearance

Exact standards for the breed vary by country and organization, but the following criteria are generally part of the definition.

The German Shepherd Dog is a large and strong dog, typically between 75 and 110lbs, but have been known to reach 130lbs. The height for males is typically 24-26in.(60-65cm); for females it is 22-24in. (55-60cm). The fur is a double-coat (under coat and outer coat). While some organizations accept long-haired German Shepherds, short-haired dogs are typically (and historically) preferred.

There are many color variations. For conformation-line dogs, the most common ones are black-and-tan and black-and-red. Combinations containing very light hues such as cream are typically considered faulty. All-black is usually, but not always, accepted. A white German Shepherd is automatically disqualified from entering the show ring.

Working-line dogs are typically sable, black-and-tan or black-and-brown.

There are several different color-marking patterns. For conformation-line dogs, the "saddle" marking is probably the most well-known. This consists of a large black patch on the upper and mid back, extending partway down the dog's sides. The "sable" marking, which consists of one color with randomly-sized and -shaped patches or swaths of different-colored hair mixed in, is typical for working-line dogs. Some sable-pattern dogs have three colors in their coat; this is called agouti. The other popular marking is called "bi-color", and consists of a dog that is all one color (typically black) save for differently-colored paws and lower legs, and sometimes a swath on the belly.

German Shepherds are easily identifiable by their large head, ears which stand straight up, and sleek and low back end. They also have a distinctive gait, as well as other breed-specific features.

Disqualifications for conformation-line dogs include white nails, a nose which isn't all-black, a muzzle which isn't predominantly black, non-erect ears, and very light-toned eyes.

4. 2. Temperament

The breed has a personality marked by direct, fearless willingness to protect what it considers its "den" (i.e. house, car, and property in a home situation) and "pack" (i.e. human family in a home situation). It is poised, but when the occasion demands, eager and alert; both fit and willing to serve in its capacity as a companion, watchdog, guide dog for people who are blind, herding dog, or guardian, whichever the circumstances may demand.

Proper socialization as a puppy is one of the two key factors which determines what a dog's temperament will be as an adult. Genetics is the other. They go hand-in-hand; a dog with certain genetics cannot be trained to be stable and friendly, and by the same token the genetics most fit for training are meaningless if the dog is not well-socialized as a puppy. The "ideal" German Shepherd should be alert and fearless in defense of its den and pack, but loving and non-aggressive within the home environment.

4. 3. Health

As is common of many large breeds, German Shepherds are susceptible to elbow and hip dysplasia. So-called "ethical breeders" work very hard to breed these traits out of their dogs, so that the dog may enjoy a pain-free life and stay suited for work situations. These breeders typically require that their puppies' hips and elbows be x-rayed, and the x-rays approved and certified by the OFA when the puppy is fully-grown (age 2), in order for the puppy to be allowed to be bred.

Other health problems sometimes occurring in the breed are von Willebrand's disease, skin allergies and canine degenerative myelopathy. German Shepherds, like all large bodied dogs, are also prone to bloat. They have an average lifespan of 10-12 years.

5. Titling/competitions

There are many prestigious titles available for German Shepherds, covering everything from conformation to herding abilities. Schutzhund trials were invented for evaluation German Shepherds, and measure the dogs' abilities in the areas of protection, tracking, and obedience. Most world-class conformation dogs are titled to the 2nd or 3rd (which is the highest) level of Schutzhund before they're bred.

6. Breed lines

There are typically four recognized breed lines.

The American lines are recognized by AKC and the UKC, and they have a noticeably different appearance from the international conformation-line (German line) German Shepherds. The most obvious difference is the sloping back and "collapsed" hips, which is a disqualification for dogs in international competitions. This has led to the creation of the Shiloh Shepherd in the United States, which was originally a line of German shepherd whose breeder did not favor that feature in the American lines and wanted to preserve the way the breed originally looked. [6]

The Eastern European lines make up the majority of working-line dogs today. Czech dogs are often prized for working applications. These dogs are considerably more powerful in build and have a straight back.

In the former East Germany, German Shepherds adhere more closely to the old pre-war standard, marked by a straighter back, a longer and denser coat, and a darker color. There are current attempts to preserve this distinct line and raise it to the status of an officially recognized breed (East German Shepherd Dog). These are known as the DDR lines.

6. 1. Variant sizes and coats

Some groups or breeders have focused on variants of the breed that are not recognized by most kennel clubs as standard show German Shepherds. White Shepherds or Berger Blanc Suisse are recognized as a separate breed.

6. 1. 1. White coat

The recessive gene for white coat hair was fixed in the German Shepherd Dog breed DNA by the late 19th and early 20th century German breeding program that extensively used "color coated" dogs that carried a recessive gene for "white coats." The maternal grandfather of Horand von Grafrath, the first entry "SZ 1" in the SV Stud Book, was a white-coat German shepherding dog named Greif von Sparwasser. White was designated a disqualifying conformation fault by the SV (German Shepherd Club of Germany) in the 1933 and by the German Shepherd Dog Club of America (GSDCA) and the German Shepherd Dog Club of Canada (GSDCC)in the mid-1960's.

6. 1. 2. Long-haired coat

Dogs with the long-haired coat variation look somewhat like the Tervuren type of Belgian Shepherd Dog. The long hair gene is recessive. Popular myth holds that long-haired GSDs (sometimes called "fuzzies") are more affectionate, but there is little evidence for this beyond owner impressions. Long coats can come in two variations, both with an undercoat and without. Without the undercoat they have very little weather protection, but those longhairs with it fair as well as their shorthaired companions, just with longer hair on the outside.

Kennel club treatment of long-haired German Shepherds varies. It is considered a fault under American Kennel Club and FCI (Fédération Cynologique Internationale, i.e. International Canine Federation) standards. Under other standards, such as Germany [7] and the United Kingdom, [8] long-haired German Shepherds are actively bred, registered, and shown, and specialized long-haired breeders exist. There is also a variation known as 'long-stock-haired German Shephard'; stock hair isn't registered directly as a fault and such dogs are able to participate.

6. 1. 3. Giant shepherd & Shiloh Shepherd

The Shiloh Shepherd was bred by Tina M. Barber of Shiloh Shepherds Kennel; it resembles other German shepherd lines without a sloping back. Initially the breed's stock consisted only of German shepherds that did not have much of a sloping back, and as a result, it was only considered a distinct line of German shepherd for a time. However, the line was later infused with an Alaskan malamute to achieve the build desired by breeders.

The King Shepherd is a larger variation of the German Shepherd but is not accepted in the AKC ring. When shepherds are bred this large, their size prevents them from fitting the AKC's breed standard description of "Size, Proportion, Substance". [9] [10]

7. Scent-work

The German Shepherd dog 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, amongst others.

8. Appearances in films and on television

* Rin-Tin-Tin, a German Shepherd dog, was considered to be one of Hollywood's top stars during the 1920's and 30's. At the peak of his career, Rin-Tin-Tin received as many as 10,000 fan letters a week. [11]
* In a 1972 film version of Jack London's book, The Call of the Wild, which starred Charlton Heston.
* The Littlest Hobo was a live-action popular television series in the 1980's airing on CTV in Canada. It featured a German Shepherd that travelled from place to place, performing some good deed, and then moving on.
* Koton, a German Shepherd, stars as Jerry Lee, a police dog, in the 1989 movie K-9.
* From 1994 to 2005, the Austrian television show Kommissar Rex, (English Inspector Rex) featured a resourceful German Shepherd police dog.
* The manga Ginga Nagareboshi Gin and its sequel, Ginga Densetsu Weed have many German Shepherd characters, including the very popular black-and-white Shepherd, Jerome, and Gin's right-hand dog, John.
* In the 2000 film, The Cell, the antagonist of the film, a serial killer, owns an unusual, albino colored German Shepherd named Valentine, played by a dog named Tim.
* In the 2007 film, I Am Legend, a female German Shepherd named Abbey plays Sam (short for 'Samantha'), the companion of main character Robert Neville (played by Will Smith).


Copyright (c) 2008 Kitt Killion Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License".


Taken or modified, in whole or part, from Wikipedia.org