The German Shepherd Dog (GSD, also known as an Alsatian), German Shepherd Dog is a breed of large-sized dog that originated in Germany. German Shepherds are a relatively new breed of dog, whose origins date to 1899. As part of the Herding group, the German Shepherd is a working dog developed originally for herding sheep. Because of their strength, intelligence and abilities in obedience training they are often employed in police and military roles, in forces around the world. Due to their loyal and protective nature, the German Shepherd is one of the most registered of breeds.
German Shepherds are a large-breed dog which generally are between 55 and 65 centimetres (22 and 26 in) at the withers and weigh between 22 and 40 kilograms (49 and 88 lb). The ideal height is 63 centimetres (25 in), according to Kennel Club standards. They have a domed forehead, a long square-cut muzzle and a black nose. 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 and reaches to the hock.
German Shepherds can be a variety of colours, the most common of which are the tan/black and red/black varieties. Both 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. This is because the white coat is more visible, making the dog a poor guard dog, and harder to see in conditions such as snow or when herding sheep.
German Shepherds sport a double coat. The outer coat, which is shed 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.
German Shepherds were bred specifically for their intelligence, a trait for which they are now renowned. They are considered to be the third most intelligent breed of dog, behind Border Collies and Poodles. In the book The Intelligence of Dogs, author Stanley Coren ranked the breed third for intelligence. 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. 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.
German Shepherds have a reputation for aggression and have been banned in some jurisdictions as a result. In the United States, German Shepherds are responsible for more random bitings than any other breed, and have a known tendency to attack smaller breeds of dogs. Reports have found that statistically German Shepherds are the breed third most likely to attack a person. Another report found that German Shepherds accounted for almost half of the dog bites that required medical attention. These claims have been refuted on the basis that German Shepherds represent a higher proportion of the population than other breeds. However, reports indicate that Shepherds are still over-represented when the statistics take into account the difference in population.
German Shepherds are highly active dogs, and described in breed standards as self-assured. The breed is marked by a willingness to learn and an eagerness to have a purpose. Shepherds have a loyal nature and bond well with people they know. However, they can become over-protective of their family and territory, especially if not socialized correctly. An aloof personality makes them approachable, but not inclined to become immediate friends with strangers. German Shepherds are highly intelligent and obedient and some people think they require a "firm hand", but more recent research into training methods has shown they respond as well, if not better, to reward based training methods.
Many common ailments of the German Shepherds are a result of the inbreeding required early in the breed's life. One such common issue is hip and elbow dysplasia which may lead to the dog experiencing pain in later life, and may cause arthritis. Due to the large and open nature of their ears, Shepherds are prone to ear infections. German Shepherds, like all large bodied dogs, are prone to bloat.
The average lifespan of a German Shepherd is 7 - 10 years, which is normal for a dog of their size. According to a study done by R.M. Clemmons, DVM PhD who is a Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery at the University of Florida, Degenerative Myelopathy, or DM is a neurological disease that occurs with enough regularity specifically in the breed to suggest the disease is one that is genetically predisposed in German Shepherd Dogs. Additionally, German Shepherd Dogs have a higher than normal incidence of Von Willebrand Disease, a common inherited bleeding disorder.