The German shepherd dog is perhaps one of the world’s most recognised dog breeds. Although technically herders, they have proven themselves to be exceptionally intelligent and versatile, working courageously in police and military service and as devoted assistance dogs and family companions, excelling in everything they are trained to do.

  • Height: up to 54 cm (at the shoulder).
  • Temperament: highly intelligent, hardworking, loyal, reserved, protective family pet.
  • Maintenance: medium to high.
  • Lifespan: 10 to 14 years


The German shepherd dog originated in Germany, but the exact history of the breed is hard to establish. The “wolf-like dog of the country around the Rhine” was noted by Roman historian Tacitus around 2000 years ago, but the German shepherd is usually dated to the 1890s and credited largely to Max von Stephanitz who owned the founding male, reputed to have a recent wolf cross in his parentage.

Originally bred to herd sheep, German shepherds were given a new role as military dogs during World War I, serving as messenger, supply carrier, rescuer, guard, sentry, and Red Cross dogs. After the war, they were taken home by soldiers returning to the United Kingdom and United States, where the association with Germany was initially dropped by renaming the breed Alsatian wolf dog and simply shepherd dog.

The intelligence and trainability of the breed soon led to it becoming synonymous with ‘police dog’, excelling in a variety of working roles, and rapidly growing in popularity as a loyal and faithful companion.


Size and Appearance

The large pricked ears and clean-cut tapering head mean that even at rest these dogs look alert and primed to spring into action. The North American-bred German shepherds have a definite sloping stance with hind quarters low to the ground, quite distinct from the more level in appearance European lines.

The most common coat colour is black and tan, but other patterns include black and cream, black and silver, black and red, sable, grey, blue, liver, black, and white, although blue, liver, and white colourings are not accepted in certain show classes.


The German shepherd can be described as intelligent, courageous, obedient, loyal, alert, watchful, and confident, but they are also aloof, reserved dogs that tend not to make friends instantly with everyone they meet. With their owners and family, they are easy-going, friendly, and extremely loyal characters, and very protective when threatened, making them exceptional guard dogs.

The protective, loving nature of the breed make it a good choice for families with children, or any individuals able to provide regular exercise and suitable companionship. They can adapt to life in a city apartment or out in the country living a ranch or farm life, but they need to live indoors as part of the family and are not suited to life in an outdoor doghouse.

As with many herding breeds, German shepherds are barkers. They need daily physical and mental exercise, and if they are left alone for extended periods or become bored, barking can become an issue, along with other unwanted behaviours such as chewing.



Originally bred for herding, German shepherds are highly intelligent and trainable, but they need regular exercise and training to satisfy their high-energy needs. They don’t do well if left alone for long periods and separation anxiety can lead to barking and chewing. The natural tendency to bark can mean that the command for “quiet” needs to be taught early in obedience training.    

The German shepherd is an action-dog that can be trained to work in a wide variety of roles, including being a hearing dog for the deaf, a sniffer dog for the police, and a search and rescue dog following earthquakes or avalanches. On top of this, they can be great family dogs when they are given plenty of opportunities to socialize with children early in their training.


Overall, German shepherds are a healthy breed, but they can be prone to joint issues and digestive disorders. Conditions that may affect the breed include:

Interesting German Shepherd Facts

  • ● The ears of German shepherd puppies always hang down by the sides of their face. Gradually, the ears become erect, but not necessarily at the same time.
  • ● Shiloh shepherd dogs and white Swiss shepherd dogs are offshoots of the German shepherd breed.
  • ● The panda German shepherd, occurring in just one bloodline, is coloured black, tan, and white.
  • ● A German shepherd puppy taken home by Corporal Lee Duncan after World War I became famous in the US as Rin Tin Tin, starring in dozens of Hollywood movies.
  • ● The breed motto at the founding of the German Shepherd Dog Club was ‘Utility and Intelligence’.
  • ● Rin Tin Tin and Strongheart, another German shepherd, both have stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.