German Shepherd: Color, Lifespan, Characteristics & Facts

German shepherds are one of the most recognizable dog breeds in the world. For centuries, these dogs have been used as guard and tracking dogs in the military and police force, as service dogs for the blind and disabled, and as search and rescue dogs.

The German shepherd’s intelligence and athletic ability make them perfect for these high-intensity, high-stress roles.

But more recently, these shepherds have made their way into our homes and become common family pets. While their loyalty and obedient nature make them a great fit for some families, these dogs are prone to anxiety, are highly active, and need a lot of mental stimulation throughout the day.

Before you decide to bring home a purebred German shepherd, or even a shepherd mix, it’s important to understand this breed’s needs to assure it will be a good fit for your family.

Breed Overview

Other Names: German Shepherd Dog, GSD, Alsatian dog

Origin: Germany

Height: 22 – 26 inches

Weight: 66 – 88 lbs (male), 79 – 71 lbs (female)

Life Span: 9 – 13 years

Colors: Sable, black and tan, bicolor, black, liver and tan, liver, white, golden, panda/tricolor, muted black and tan, blue and tan, blue

1. Personality and Temperament

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German shepherds are high drive dogs that need a job to stay happy and keep them out of trouble. They are great jogging and hiking partners and are the perfect dog for sport dog competitions like agility, tracking, flyball, and herding.

Because of their energy levels, they are not well suited for apartment living unless you can provide a lot of enrichment through the use of mental stimulation toys, long walks, and trick training. They are much better suited to a home with a yard and love taking trips away from the house with the family.

Years of breeding for high-intensity work and guarding does mean these dogs are prone to developing anxiety issues and a fear of strangers. Keeping a GSD active and well socialized can help reduce the odds that they will develop any problem behaviors.

German shepherds can also be a bit aloof with strangers and tend to attach themselves strongly to one family member.

These dogs are best suited for active individuals and families who have the means and willingness to devote a lot of time and resources to training early on and continue to socialize their dog well into adulthood.

2. How to Care for the German Shepherd

Nutrition

The best diet for a German shepherd is one that contains a lot of protein and fat to support their high energy levels and keep genetic diseases at bay.

Whether you have a fluffy German shepherd or a short-haired German shepherd, their coat will also benefit from a high level of healthy fats and animal-sourced proteins.

While these dogs are not prone to weight gain, it is important to keep your shepherd trim to avoid putting extra stress on their hips and other joints. While the average lifespan of a German shepherd is more like that of giant breed dogs, it can be extended with proper nutrition.

Grooming

Most German shepherds have a short, thick double coat that requires frequent brushing, especially during the spring and fall shed. Long haired German shepherds also have a thick under coat in addition to their longer top coat and require more frequent care.

Typically, GSDs only need to be bathed periodically. Unless your dog spends a lot of time running on concrete, you will need to trim or dremel their nails frequently, about every six weeks.

Daily teeth brushing is important for all dogs and the giant German shepherd mouth especially deserves a lot of attention. Thorough brushing with water or special dog toothpaste every night should be enough to keep your GSD’s pearly whites healthy.

Exercise

Of all German shepherd traits, the most well known are their tenacity, focus, and ability to work for hours on end. So, as you can imagine, these dogs require a lot of exercise and activity.

Daily walks aren’t likely to be enough for younger dogs. Getting your adolescent German shepherd involved in agility trials or obedience classes is a great way to get their brain working while you tire them out physically.

Old German shepherd dogs won’t require as much exercise, but giving them mental enrichment toys and playing mentally challenging games with them is key to keeping anxiety at bay as they age.

Training

Intelligence is another well-known trait of this breed, but that doesn’t mean training them will be a snap. These dogs have high drive and a lot of energy and that can make keeping them focused on training difficult.

These stoic pups are well known for their use as police dogs and as guard dogs. They were originally bred as herding dogs, and that adaptability is no doubt one reason they land so high on this list. Germann shepherds learn quickly and demonstrate a unique ability to think critically in new situations without their handler’s help. Find out more about how to train a German Shepherd.

Since the average size of German shepherds is around 75lbs, make sure you start training early before your shepherd grows into a big, strong adult. Turning training sessions into an exciting challenge will help keep your GSD interested.

GSDs are prone to anxiety problems like separation anxiety. It is important to recognize any early signs of increased stress and address them before problematic behaviors develop.

If you want to learn more about working with separation anxiety in dogs and what tools may help ease anxiety, check out our article on the best dog crates for separation anxiety.

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3. Common Health Issues of the German Shepherd

Due to their unique physique and exaggerated hip angle, all types of German shepherds are prone to hip dysplasia as well as elbow dysplasia.

Because of their deep chest and large size, they are also especially prone to a fatal condition known as bloat. Bloat occurs when excess air is produced or trapped in the stomach, causing the abdominal organs to twist, which can lead to shock and even death.

Always allow your shepherd time to rest after they eat, limit their portions to avoid overeating, and never feed them from a raised bowl.

In addition to these common large breed dog health concerns, German shepherds are also at increased risk for:

  • Cataracts
  • Epilepsy
  • Diabetes
  • Degenerative disk disease
  • Hemophilia
  • Panosteitis
  • Cancer
  • Pancreatitis
  • Bladder stones
  • Thyroid issues

Before selecting your new German shepherd puppy, make sure you research the breeder and speak to other owners who have purchased puppies from prior litters. Responsible breeders will always allow you to meet the mother (and father if on site), see where the puppies are housed, and provide paperwork on the line’s history as well as the parent’s health records.

Doing your research before purchasing a puppy will help you avoid the heartbreak that can come with getting a dog with debilitating health problems that might greatly reduce that German shepherd’s life expectancy.

If your shepherd does end up with health problems, make sure to work with your vet to provide the best diet, supplements, and medication to help them thrive. Older dogs with arthritis or other joint issues will also benefit from physical therapy and swimming.

You may also consider buying a special bed for your aging GSD to help support their joints and encourage better rest. You can see our choices of the best orthopedic dog beds in this article.

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4. Children and Other Pets

Because they are so often used as police, military, and service animals, it’s easy to forget that German shepherds were originally bred to herd sheep. And like all herding breeds, these dogs have the potential to get nippy with and chase children and other pets.

Still, these dogs are loyal companions and can make great family dogs as long as they are exposed to children and babies when they are young.

German shepherds tend to do fine with cats and other pets assuming they are properly introduced and taught to remain relaxed around them and not chase them.

GSDs are typically well behaved with other dogs, but can have dominant personalities and may not get along with other dominant dogs. They can be especially reactive to dogs that they perceive as trespassing on their turf.

5. History of the German Shepherd

GSDs are the result of a very focused breeding effort to create the perfect working dog by a German man named Max von Stephanitz. The breed began with a single dog von Stephanitz purchased at a dog show after he was taken aback by the dog’s beauty and intelligence.

He bred that dog with only the best working and herding dogs he could find in Germany. He even introduced wolf blood into the line on multiple occasions, which may be where the common sable German shepherd coloring came from.

The result of this breeding program was a strong working dog with superior intelligence and drive.

The original GSDs were largely black and tan German shepherds and bicolor German shepherds. The German shepherd breed standard doesn’t outline strong requirements for color and today you can find black German shepherds, tan German shepherds, and even golden shepherds.

Most show shepherds are red German shepherds with well-defined black saddles. While very popular, the German shepherd white coloring is technically a disqualifier under AKC rules.

6. The Regular Expenses of Owning a German Shepherd

Full-blooded German shepherd puppies cost around $500, with blue German shepherds, silver German shepherds and yellow German shepherds costing more. The average cost of ownership is $1200-$1500/year.

7. German Shepherd Rescue Groups

You don’t have to buy a puppy to get a purebred GSD. There are a number of great German Shepherd rescues out there working to find young and old GSDs new homes

1 thought on “German Shepherd: Color, Lifespan, Characteristics & Facts”

  1. One of the most intelligent breeds if not the most intelligent, however, it would be quite tough to have them in apartments. Much better to raise them in the countryside where a huge yard is available and plenty of time to devote to them! A beautiful breed indeed!

    Thanks for sharing this great article!

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