German Shepherd | A Vet’s Absolute One-Page Breed Guide

Written by Dr. Marcelle Landestoy, DVM

German shepherd on the grass

How do you find out the most information you can about a popular and recognizable breed such as the German Shepherd Dog or GSD?

You must wade through the legends and myths to determine if the GSD is genuinely the right dog for your family.

Using my experience as a veterinary doctor, I’ve put together this one-page guide for German Shepherd owners. Read on to learn more about this impressive breed and what you can expect from living with these masive and friendly dogs. Here’s all the information you need to ensure a long-lasting friendship!

A few of the most pertinent questions are how to ensure they do not become dangerous, addressing various health concerns, and satisfying their energy, grooming, and emotional needs.

About the German Shepherd

German shepherd looking at the camera

German Shepherds are famous because they serve as effective guard dogs and get along well with children and other dogs in their households.

They are loyal and intelligent, often choosing one person with whom they bond most closely.

The Alsatian makes an ideal companion for many people from multiple walks of life.

The GSD is a medium-large dog of the herding group. Initially, a live barrier for sheep, German Shepherds quickly expanded into military and police efforts, seeing eye programs and guard duties.

Their success as the ultimate working dogs easily translated into excellent family friends and property guardians.

They have persisted as one of the most popular dogs, highly intelligent, trainable, and loyal.

The GSD has an attractive and alert appearance, its quality as a family companion is only marred by possible overprotectiveness and a few nagging health problems.

The remarkable history of the German Shepherd

Active development of the German Shepherd Dog breed began in 1894.

Unfortunately, the body in charge of finalizing a breed standard, the Phylax Society, could not agree on whether function or looks were more important.

It is a debate that persists in the GSD as of 2021.

Max Stephanitz, an ex-cavalryman who had served at the Veterinary School of Berlin, is responsible for the breed’s ultimate success.

He finalized the breed standard and formed the SV or Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde (German Shepherd Association) in 1899.

Stephanitz was fascinated with canine genetics and chose a show dog named Hektor Linksrhein as the ultimate working dog in character and physical attributes.

Stephanitz would change the dog’s name to Horand von Grafrath and begin an intense linebreeding program.

Horand was a medium-sized yellowish specimen who would forever stamp the GSD with his characteristic wolf-like appearance.

Stephanitz infused Horand, a Thuringian Shepherd, with herding dogs from two other major regions of Germany.

The Thuringian dogs, unlike Horand, for the most part, were indiscriminately aggressive and lacked the focus to be trainable working dogs.

Their high energy and powerful guardian instincts would experience modifications with the infusion of stamina and an even temper from the Württemberg line and working ethic and focus from the Swabian Service dogs.

The latter two branches also increased the German Shepherd’s size and improved the quality of its coat.

You may wonder what gave rise to the dog Stephanitz chose as the first GSD.

Generic shepherd dogs were prevalent across the plains of Germany.

Evidence exists that these dogs likely originated from ancestors in common with the Berger Picard and Italian Pastore Bergamasco.

German shepherd

The early Italian shepherds probably migrated across the Alps from Italy into Germany in the 1600s. The Picard is still the closest living relative of the GSD.

Shepherds also have a link with the Collie branch.

Despite their appearance and historical crossbreeding, German Shepherds retain a closer relationship with Collies and Australian Shepherds than Dutch and Belgian Shepherds.

The Dutch and Belgian Shepherds officially cut any ties with the GSD in 1898 and 1891, respectively.

Work with DNA and canine clades suggest there was not as much crossbreeding between the Shepherd types after the split as experts had assumed, perhaps because of sufficient geographic separation.

The GSD joined the AKC in 1908 along with the West Highland White Terrier and Doberman Pinscher.

However, the American German Shepherd Club did not form until 1913.

Interesting facts about this furry friend

  • First seeing-eye dogs were war veteran GSDs.
  • An American soldier named Lee Duncan rescued one of the most famous German Shepherds, Rin Tin Tin, from a French village warzone in 1918.
  • Captain Max von Stephanitz formulated a motto for the GSD: “Utility and Intelligence.”
  • The white color, disqualified by the Germans in the 1930s and later by the AKC, began with Horand von Grafrath’s grandsire on his dam’s side. Ironically, the intense inbreeding of Horand would ensure the persistence of white German Shepherds.

German Shepherd Characteristics

Stephanitz selected traits that would distinguish the GSD from wolves early to make the breed more marketable.

German Shepherds have an elongated profile with a pronounced stop and a slight dome shape to their foreheads.

They have large open and upright pointed ears, medium-sized almond-shaped eyes, and a long, somewhat square muzzle.

There are four primary types, all being approximately the same size with subtle variations in color shades and conformation.

Shepherds have a strong body that is significantly longer than tall at about a 10:8 ratio.

Working lines have a squarer build with 10:9 body length: height proportions.

GSDs have a recognizable efficient, effortless, and graceful ground-covering trot.

Show dogs can have flashy movements in the forelegs, but original sheepherders sought an efficient gait that their dogs could sustain all day.

German shepherd on a garden
  • American show line – Bold colors preferred with classic saddle pattern and black mask; Exaggerated angulation of the hind legs gives the type a characteristic sloping topline from shoulders to tail; Aim is a showy “flying trot” but sometimes sacrifices posterior end stability.
  • West German show line – Often a mahogany and black dog, again with a preference for bold colors; Also has a sloping topline, but the point of exaggeration is the pelvic angle allowing for a steep croup
  • West German working line – Most dogs in this line are sable; Conformation is more functional for working than show lines; Working dogs are often slightly smaller than show animals.
  • East German working line – DDR dogs; Thickest bone structure of the varieties and commonly dark in color; The type has become extremely rare, and fans seek to revive it.
  • Czech working line – Derivative of the DDR dogs and very similar; Smallest of the varieties and slowest to mature, often requiring intense socialization into their second year; High prey drive and intensity and commonly one-person dogs – Good guard dogs but may not be suitable as pets. 

The North American show line has always focused mostly on looks and is responsible for the US’s pet line.

Breeders have selected calmer dogs with less drive and friendlier dispositions.

West German show lines, despite some conformation exaggerations, still must be functional working dogs to breed.

Requirements include certified hips and elbows and achieving two of the three Shutzhunde specializations.

Both East and West German lines are among the most regulated of dog breeds.

As demand increases for the quality of German working dogs in the US, breeders of Czech and DDR lines are selecting for calmer temperaments and lower drives.

Eventually, it seems inevitable that working lines will split to produce dogs more suitable as pets and those still viable for the intense work of patrol, police, and military.


Black and tan became among the most common of colors for German Shepherds because show arenas preferred it.

The bolder the contrasting tones, the better judges like the dog.

West German lines often have red or mahogany in place of the tan of American show dogs.

Also traditional in GSD show and companion dogs are the saddle patterns.

Saddles are controlled by a gene whereby black recedes on the dog’s body to the characteristic stereotypical pattern across the back.

There are several other standard colors for the GSD and a few expressions of black and tan.

Black and Tan – Standard

German shepherd laid down

Black and tan is one of the more recessive colors but remains prevalent because of selection by show dog breeders.

A black facial mask is a dominant trait in the GSD.

  • Black and tan with classic saddle
  • Black and tan with a minimal saddle – Dog will be mostly tan
  • Black with tan points – Bicolor – Dog barely has any tan or red; Similar to a Doberman, brown shows up only at points near the eyes and on the toes and perhaps points on the chest
  • Black and tan with a blanket – Black extends beyond the saddle, obscuring it
  • Cream and tan – Probably muted pheomelanin (responsible for red or brown pigmentation); Black markings are typical, giving dogs beautiful contrast, but the AKC penalizes dilute colors

Sable – Standard

Sable is a dominant color pattern where hairs have bands of multiple colors.

The result is a dog with an unorganized pattern of browns, grays, and blacks.

  • Red sable – Most dominant gene but a rare color pattern in GSDs; Also known as agouti, dogs can show a lot of red or have strong bands of color
  • Wolf gray – Most sable GSDs look like they have colors similar to a badger

Solid Black – Standard

Black is recessive in German Shepherds. These dogs have no brown or white.

Liver – Penalized as Dilute

Liver dogs are brown or chocolate and have light-colored eyes, and the leather of their noses is light brown.

Liver is recessive and represents a suppression of the pigment eumelanin that would ordinarily produce black.

  • Solid liver – Amber eyes
  • Liver and tan
  • Liver bicolor – Liver dog with minimal brown or tan points
  • Isabella – Dilute liver; Dogs can look dusky blue or a pale reddish-brown; The color is lilac in other breeds

Blue – Penalized as Dilute

Blue is a dilute black, recessive in GSDs, and severely penalized in the show ring. Blue dogs have light-colored eyes that can be gray, blue, or amber.

  • Solid blue
  • Blue bicolor – Minimal brown points
  • Blue and tan – May have a saddle
  • Blue sable

Solid White – Disqualified in Conformation

White german shepherd

White is a disqualifying color for GSDs in conformation show rings, although it naturally occurs.

White Shepherd clubs put on shows apart from the AKC. You can register a White Shepherd as a purebred in the AKC and participate in many events.

A White Shepherd has a black nose, black lips, and dark eyes.

It is not albino and suffers no more health problems than a GSD of any other color.

Panda – Disqualified in Conformation

Panda GSDs are tricolor, usually black and tan, with substantial areas of white.

The pattern occurs as a result of a specific piebald gene known as KIT.

Pandas can register as purebred AKC dogs but cannot participate in AKC-recognized conformation shows.

Coat Types

German Shepherds can have one of four coat types. The vast majority have short- or medium-length fur and a substantial woolly undercoat.

Their outer fur is usually straight but can have a slight wave.

Hair is typically longer on the underside of the tail and backs of the upper hind legs.

Shorter-haired Shepherds can also have a ruff of thicker hair around the neck and longer fur on the back.

There are two variations of long-haired German Shepherds. Smoothies have a sparse undercoat.

They are rare as the lack of a dense double coat disqualifies them from conformation shows.

Rough-coated dogs have longer outer hairs and a standard undercoat. So-called “roughies” can compete against other GSDs, but their long fur is not preferable.

– How adaptable your furry friend is?

This breed readily learns various skills and adjusts well through decision-making on jobs.

However, the GSD is not the most adaptable kind of dog for family life.

+ Good for novice owners? – No

Woman with german shepherd

German Shepherds possess the herding dog common traits of pushiness.

Moreover, they are large dogs, and the breed is one of the few that can have problems with dominance aggression.

A GSD can be unmanageable for a beginner because she must respect you to take direction.

Without boundaries, she can exhibit exuberance with friends and excessive aggression with strangers.

She will readily take the reigns of control from an unsure handler.

+ Adapts well to apartment living? – No

Whether your German Shepherd can live in an apartment depends on several factors.

Because of their size and energy levels, an Alsatian is not ideal for a small studio apartment.

However, a roomy luxury condo can be just as suitable as a single-family home.

Regardless of the apartment’s square footage, your Shepherd will not adjust without plenty of physical exercises and mental stimulation.

Another consideration for moving your GSD into an apartment is, “What are the regulations?”

Some rental properties have size limitations, while others have breed restrictions.

Unfortunately, German Shepherds are increasingly common targets of breed-specific legislation and bans because of irresponsible ownership, poor breeding practices, neglect, and insufficient socialization.

Finally, raising an adolescent GSD in a confined space could present an insurmountable challenge, while a senior dog might do perfectly well.

+ Sensitivity level – High

Germand shepherd on the beach

Shepherds are very sensitive, as you can conclude from their exceptional intelligence and work ethic.

They are emotional and can become neurotic and stressed out with neglect, loud voices, physical punishment, and uncertainty or lack of decisiveness from you.

+ Tolerates being alone? – No

German Shepherds thrive on having work to perform or a puzzle to solve.

They are happiest when working alongside their owners.

If you leave them alone in your home for more than a few hours at a time, they will become destructive.

A GSD can cause tremendous damage from chewing, pacing, digging, and trying to escape its circumstances.

Many lonely and anxious individuals scale fences or bark and howl incessantly.

+ Tolerates cold weather? – Yes

A standard GSD has a plush, medium-length dual coat. Guard hairs of the outer coat are long relative to the fleece down of the underfur.

These outer hairs help keep wind and moisture from reaching your dog’s skin and lowering its core temperature.

A dense undercoat provides insulation and helps keep your pet dry as well as warm.

+ Tolerates hot weather? -Yes

The German Shepherd’s double coat is among the most effective for hot weather as well as cold.

The tightly-knit underfur helps circulate air between the two layers of hairs, keeping the skin cool.

Moreover, the outer coat’s relatively long guard hairs keep the sun’s rays away from your dog’s undercoat.

Despite their adaptations to the heat, you still cannot leave your Shepherd outside without shade and cooling devices when the temperature reaches the 90s degrees Fahrenheit or in humid conditions.

Germand shepherds playing

Do not exercise your dog or allow her to play unsupervised in extreme heat.

– Friendliness of the German Shepherd

The GSD is very friendly and loving with the people of his immediate family.

His inner circle typically includes any children who live in the household.

With extensive socialization, your dog will most probably show cool reserve with strangers after loudly and aggressively announcing their arrival.

Some GSDs will warm up to your friends with time. Many never become more than indifferent to nonfamily members. 

+ Affectionate with Family

A GSD is extremely affectionate with family members. A few members of the breed enjoy cuddling, but many do not.

German Shepherds often display affection through seeking out your presence, remaining by your side, and engaging in play.

They also show a willingness to protect you.

+ Kid-friendly

Most German Shepherds seem to like children that they know.

The breed can learn to play gently but may not have endless patience for the more extreme antics.

+ Friendly with other pets?

Alsatians can be trustworthy around other dogs and even cats with which they are familiar.

Early and frequent socialization with other animals ensures your Shepherd will grow familiar with them and learn to accept them.

German Shepherds often show interspecies protectiveness for livestock like sheep and goats.

They may show an instinct to herd even horses and llamas, but some may exhibit aggressive chasing.

The GSD has some dogfighting in its history and may show aggression towards other dogs, especially those of the same gender.

three dogs

+ Friendly towards strangers

GSDs are guard dogs incarnate. Pet dogs that originate from show lines may not have as strong of a guarding instinct, but Shepherds are not the most stranger-friendly dogs.

The AKC show circuit does not allow overt aggression or biting, but they expect aloofness and reserve from adult dogs.

Well-trained dogs are generally coolly polite when there is no threat.

Many GSDs have a healthy guarding instinct that can manifest as protectiveness during adolescence around five or six months of age.

– Health and grooming needs

Your GSD will have moderate grooming requirements. A few dogs struggle with significant health issues.

+ Amount of shedding

If you choose this breed, expect a large amount of year-round shedding.

On top of daily shedding, your GSD will “blow out” her undercoat twice a year.

In the fall and spring, your dog will assault you with copious clumps of woolly fur.

Also, she will look like she is molting with dead hair hanging in unsightly tufts throughout her coat.

The best remedies you have at your disposal are frequent brushing and bathing.

+ Drooling potential – low

German Shepherds do not drool much without reason. They have tight-fitting lips without hanging flews.

+ General Health

German Shepherds live 10 to 14 years. Unfortunately, they suffer a range of health problems, many of them genetic.

germand shepherd sleeping

The GSD is prone to joint ailments that plague herding breeds, such as hip and elbow dysplasia.

In 2020, the OFA measured over 20% of test subjects had abnormal hips and 19% bad elbows.

Both disorders involve growth abnormalities in the respective joints that cause incongruence and subsequent cartilage disruptions and pain.

GSD puppies also commonly suffer from an inflammatory process in the long bones, panosteitis.

Fortunately, it usually occurs during growth and resolves on its own.


GSDs frequently suffer from a common purebred dog disorder, hypothyroidism.

The thyroid gland does not produce enough hormones, leading to a slower metabolism and a dull coat.

Another common endocrine issue is diabetes which requires supplementation with insulin.

Since GSDs are a little overrepresented when it comes to pancreatitis, diabetes may be related to a recurrent flare-up of the pancreas. 


German Shepherds have sensitive digestive systems. They can suffer periodic or chronic sensitive stomach and food intolerance.

They can also suffer significant problems like exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, bloat, or Parvo.

  • EPI – Pancreas does not produce enough enzymes to digest food; Untreated dogs will starve
  • Parvovirus – GSD pups can have a weak immune system in the gut and be especially prone to the effects of vomiting, diarrhea, and dehydration from Parvovirus
  • Bloat or GDV – A possibility with any deep-chested dog, especially of large breeds

GSDs are the most common breed afflicted by degenerative myelopathy at over 14% incidence.

Germand shepherd running

DM is a progressive neurologic disorder that eventually leads to hind end paralysis. 


The most common eye issues of Shepherds are Pannus and late-onset cataracts.

Pannus involves scarring over the cornea and appears to have a link with ultraviolet rays.

+ Potential for weight gain – Low

Although German Shepherds do not have a propensity to become overweight, obesity is not impossible.

Most young Shepherds may even struggle to gain weight, appearing “ribby” and gangly in their first year.

Shepherds can struggle with a weight problem from thyroid issues or overfeeding.

Usually, behavioral issues will surface due to insufficient exercise well before dogs show excessive weight gain.

+ Easy to groom? – Moderately

You will want to use at least two different types of brushes to keep your Shepherd’s coat in tip-top shape.

Brushing enhances oil distribution, removes dirt, and decreases the effects of shedding by preemptively removing loose hairs.

It would be best if you brushed your dog two or three times a week.

The increased seasonal shedding as your pet prepares for winter and summer necessitates increased brushing frequency.

A pin brush has rubber-tipped bristles and is a great basic brush for cleaning the coat and ridding it of mild tangles.

The slicker brush is another essential tool but has wire bristles that reach deeper into longer fur.

You also need a de-shedding brush that is specifically to remove debris and loose fur from the undercoat.

Extra tools you may require are a de-matting comb, a polishing brush, and a soft brush for the face and lower legs.

German Shepherds are not particularly dirty, but you can bathe them frequently to help decrease shedding.

Germand shepherd running

Shepherds have sensitive skin, so if you bathe them more than every six to eight weeks, you may want to make use of shampoo-free rinses.

In this manner, you can decrease how often you use detergents that can dry out the skin.

You should practice oral care like examining your dog’s mouth and brushing her teeth at a young age.

Make a habit of brushing your dog’s teeth and checking her ears twice a week.

Adding these tasks to your brushing routine is convenient.

Do not forget to trim your pet’s nails every four to six weeks. Get your Shepherd used to you handling her feet and touching her ears.

+ Size

Males are 24 to 26 inches tall at the shoulder, while females are 22 to 24 inches in height.

The breed standard does not specify a weight, but most GSDs are between 55 and 95 pounds.

– Trainability

German Shepherds have high intelligence, focus, drive, and trainability.

+ Easy to train

If you are a self-assured person and comfortable around dogs, German Shepherds are willing to learn and follow your guidance.

True dominance aggression is rare in dogs, but you can see it in the GSD. Such dogs usually need professional intervention.

Most Shepherds are attentive and eager to learn with their unique ability to ignore distractions and their attentiveness.

The German Shepherd also possesses an impeccable work ethic.

The sport designed for the German Shepherd, Shutzhunde, calls for the breed to express joy in working.

However, poor human leadership will lay the groundwork for this strong-minded breed to dominate and take over.

Two german shepherds

+ Intelligence

A German Shepherd’s intelligence goes beyond her obedience. Stanley Cohen ranks working smarts at No.3 behind only the Border Collie and Poodle.

Perhaps one of the hallmarks of their intelligence is their remarkable versatility in their service to humans.

On top of their fame as military and police dogs, they also have excelled as movie stars.

+ Prey drive

The GSD’s prey drive has been modified into a strong herding drive. Shepherds are perimeter herders with a “loose” or “roaming” eye.

This simply means that compared to the Border Collie that controls sheep by staring them down, Shepherds manage their flocks by being able to assess an animal’s mood or intention with a glance.

Thus, Shepherds keep sheep and other livestock behind a preset barrier by trotting a line and running down would-be wanderers.

German Shepherds with a job do not tend to chase down small animals.

Undisciplined GSDs find the temptation to chase gown moving objects like skateboarders, cats, and cyclists irresistible.

+ Tendency to bark or howl

German Shepherds are vocal dogs. While they might not sing to you like a Siberian Husky, they communicate consistently.

Shepherds often bark during bite work which can lead to further training or can be an exercise in itself.

They may also bark exuberantly during play, especially with other dogs.

Most striking, however, is the type of guard dog a GSD is. Some dogs attack by stealth, but German Shepherds are designed to give plenty of warning by vocalization and posturing.

They attack as a last resort. German Shepherds may herd silently or vocalize with excitement depending on the individual.

+ Potential for mouthiness

German Shepherd breeders prided themselves on producing a herding dog that did not rely on nipping at the heels of its charges.

German shepherd

Therefore, German Shepherds are not mouthy in the same way as other herding breeds.

They do not usually resort to chomping at children’s calves.

However, Shepherds use their mouths to assert themselves over people.

They may take your hand to guide you or will simply grab you firmly to try to establish dominance.

Others will snap to take control, especially if they sense an unsure handler.

Most use their bodies also if they incline to be pushy. A well-mannered German Shepherd should not be mouthy.

– Physical needs

Plan on a high-maintenance dog with a GSD.

+ Intensity

German Shepherds are high-intensity dogs because of their keen minds, emotional needs, high energy, and working drive.

It is challenging to quantify canine intensity, but the Bay Area German Shepherd Rescue organization puts the breed into I’ve categories.

Most German Shepherds are in Level 2, manageable but a training challenge for most people because of heavy time demands.

The energy levels of a German Shepherd Dog befit a working breed and surpass what many people anticipate.

Puppies are in Level 4 based on over-exuberance, mouthiness, and the requirement for ongoing and firm training and socialization.

As you might expect, retired military dogs often do not ever make suitable pets.

+ Energy level

Even German Shepherds bred from companion lines have more energy than most other dog breeds.

Their ancestors had tremendous stamina, and inexperienced Shepherd owners are rarely prepared for the dog’s activity level.

+ Exercise needs

GSDs require two or more hours of exercise every day. A few pet-quality dogs may be able to get by with 90 minutes of activity a day.

Regardless, a quarter to half of the dedicated time should focus on high-intensity ventures such as hard running, romping, roughhousing, or hiking.

Dog jumping

You can also spend time walking your dog, but you should assign a good portion to train her.

Set aside time for training even if your GSD knows all the basics.

You should reinforce and teach new skills. This is where a mutually beneficial activity like agility or herding trials can be constructive.

Activities that serve to engage your dog and exercise him physically and mentally are numerous for German Shepherds.

  • Agility
  • Obedience
  • Ring – Belgian and French varieties: Similar to Shutzhunde with jumping substituting for tracking
  • Schutzhund – Tracking, obedience, and bite work/defense
  • Herding trials
  • Search and rescue
  • Tracking

GSDs can also function as guard dogs and in the military and police force.

Many such activities call for bomb detection or narcotics sniffing.

Bite work and guarding property can be fun for your dog and satisfying for you but require you to enlist a professional or have a lot of expertise.

You can quickly destroy the balance of appropriate aggression and threat perception in your Shepherd with training mistakes.

Between eight and twelve weeks of age are the formative years when socialization is of crucial importance.

Since you should limit your pet’s exercise while growth plates are closing, you can focus many of your activities on training and socializing your puppy with numerous people, situations, and other animals where practical.

Please consult with your veterinarian to coordinate a reasonable social schedule with her vaccine protocol.

+ Potential for Playfulness

Shepherd puppies are as playful as any other breed at a young age.

GSDs grow up quickly and take any job or activity seriously.

However, throughout their lives, they like playing with children and other dogs. 


The GSD should strike you as bold, self-assured, and steady.

Other personality traits are courage, loyalty, single-minded focus, and intelligence.

Well-socialized German Shepherds are good with other dogs and children once they become familiar with them.


Most Shepherds assume a protective role when it comes to young children in the household.

The more exposure your GSD has to kids when growing up, the more she will see kids as fun.

Shepherds enjoy playing with kids of all ages but especially older children over nine years old.

Some dogs are instinctively gentle around toddlers, but many are not.

You should supervise small children because of your dog’s size and potential exuberance.

A German Shepherd can easily topple kids or become too rough in play.

Other Pets

Your German Shepherd will most often get along with the other pets in his home.

However, even if you trust him, it is not advisable to expose him to small pets like mice and lizards that he may see as prey.

Puppies, especially, explore unfamiliar things with their mouths, but an adult may learn that pocket pets are off-limits as your property.

Also, use caution and do not leave your German Shepherd alone with cats or small dogs.

German shepherd on snow

Like with children, a Shepherd’s size and vitality can be detrimental to smaller pets.

Nevertheless, German Shepherds get along with other species across the spectrum seeing animals of the household as needing their protection.

Participating in herding trials will develop your dog’s protective instincts, and he can learn to herd sheep, goats, and even ducks and geese.

GSDs have an instinct to view strange dogs as threats from their early days of guarding flocks against wolves. Shepherds can develop friendships with other dogs over time.

You can enhance early acceptance with the exposure and conditioning of your dog as a puppy.

Your dog may never accept strange canids out of fear, territorial aggression, or inadequate socialization. Some GSDs have gender-specific dog aggression.


The GSD, which presents the picture of vigor and vitality, can suffer serious health problems.

  • Dysplasia – Hip and elbow
  • Clotting disorders – Hemophilia, von Willebrand’s
  • Pannus
  • Middle age-onset cataracts
  • Diabetes
  • Panosteitis – Bone inflammation in puppies
  • IVDD – Intervertebral disc disease from degenerative changes
  • Degenerative myelopathy
  • Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency – The pancreas does not produce enough enzymes to digest food, and without treatment, affected dog starves
  • Bloat – Stomach swells with excess gas and can flip to cause life-threatening electrolyte abnormalities; Plagues large deep-chested dogs
  • Epilepsy

Grooming and care

Like any dog, your GSD will need love, attention, food, grooming, training, and exercise.

As a herding breed, the German Shepherd has additional emotional and activity demands.

  • Grooming: Brush twice or more weekly; Brush daily during seasonal sheds
  • Feeding: High-quality food in two or more meals per day
  • Exercise: Training and mental plus physical activities
  • Attention: Long periods alone can lead to excessive barking, separation anxiety, and destructive behavior
  • Affection: The GSD loves to form meaningful bonds with family members

How to feed your German Shepherd

Whether you feed homemade or commercial food, your focus should be to provide an adequate animal-source protein as the top ingredient.

8 to 12 weeks1250 – 17503 – 4 cups3 – 4
12 to 16 weeks2300 – 30005 – 7 cups3
4 to 5 months2250 – 36005 – 8 cups3
6 to 7 months2600 – 39006 – 8.5 cups2 – 3
7 to 12 months2600 – 39006 – 8.5 cups2
Adult Normal1870 – 24004.5 – 7 cups2
Adult Active/Working2800 – 37006 – 9 cups2 – 3

The above table is a rough outline, and you should always consult your veterinarian for your dog’s specific energy needs relative to age, health, growth, and body condition.


  • German Shepherd Dog HQ: Are German Shepherds Good with Other Dogs?
  • BAY AREA GERMAN SHEPHERD RESCUE: German Shepherd Puppies (level 4)
  • VCA: Pannus in Dogs (Chronic Superficial Keratitis)
  • Breeds List: When do German Shepherds Become Protective?
  • Leerbug: Dealing with the Dominant Dog
  • American Kennel Club: Official Standard of the German Shepherd Dog
  • German Shepherd Watchdogs, LLC: Developing the German Shepherd Breed

See more dog breeds

Veterinary Hospital Director at UCE
Dr. Marcelle is a general veterinarian with a Small Animal Medicine Specialty | Director of the UCE School of Veterinary Medicine | Certified by the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society

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