The Regal German Shepherd Dog

German Shepherds are a quintessential “dog.”

For most of my childhood years my mother had tiny toy poodles. Although I liked those dogs, they were hers and I wanted more dog. So I satisfied my longings for a real dog by reading books about working dogs—German Shepherds in particular. Rin Tin Tin, Leader the Guide Dog, and other heroic dogs filled my imagination so much so that when I graduated, got a job and a car, and moved into my own place, the next thing I did was get my own German Shepherd.

Watachie was a rescue, about ten weeks old and full of parasites, fleas, and with a bad case of kennel cough. He was in rough shape, but he was mine and we overcame all of those issues. When he was four months old, we started training—and he graduated first in his obedience class. I was hooked, both on this dog and on the process of training him. We went on to obedience competitions where he excelled, tracking, search and rescue, and so much more. If I could figure out how to communicate with him to do something, he would do it.

German Shepherd Dog

©istockphoto/zevei-wenhui

Number Two Most Popular Breed

German Shepherds are, right now, the second most popular breed in the American Kennel Club. They’ve been second to Labrador Retrievers for years, and there is a reason for their popularity. These dogs are loyal to a fault, sometimes to the point of being one-person dogs. When a German Shepherd is your friend, you know it. He’s your shadow, your confidant, your protector. Heck, you won’t even be able to use the bathroom by yourself because as far as your dog is concerned, there should never be doors closed between you two.

German Shepherd Dog

©istockphoto/AIS60

Inseparable and Intelligent

The security a German Shepherd provides is wonderful, too. At one point when newly married, my husband, a Marine, was sent overseas. Having Watachie and our second German Shepherd at home with me gave my husband peace of mind when he had to leave and me a feeling of security as I stayed behind.

This breed is up for anything you wish to do also. Want to go camping? Hiking? Swimming at the beach? Go on a road trip? These dogs will do it all by your side. As we drove across country several times for the Marine Corps, the dogs obviously went with us. We stayed in hotels, used elevators and escalators, and walked here, there and everywhere. They swam in the Pacific ocean, the Atlantic, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Mississippi River. They camped in the Sierra Nevada mountains, the Rocky mountains, the Great Smokey mountains, and the Appalachians.

German Shepherd Dog

©istockphoto/Ksenia Raykova

Taking a Look at the Breed

Although many German Shepherds today are advertised as “large”, almost giant-sized dogs, they aren’t supposed to be that big. When they get too big, they tend to be clumsy or not able to work as well or as long. Instead, male German Shepherds should be 24 to 26 inches at the shoulder and between 65 and 90 pounds. They should look distinctly masculine. Females are smaller, not as bulky, and should be obviously feminine. They are 22 to 24 inches tall at the shoulder and 50 to 70 pounds.

The German Shepherd is longer than he is tall, and his back slopes from his shoulders to his hips. His legs are sturdy and his tail is long and plumed. When happy, his tail is carried higher; but when he’s relaxed, it’s hanging behind his back legs almost touching the ground.

The German Shepherd’s face is striking. The upright ears are a trademark of the breed, of course, but so are the eyes. The eyes are not overly large but are not small either. What seems to gain people’s attention most is his tendency to look people in the eyes. If you come to his house and he looks at you, he’s going to look you in the face, eye to eye—and that’s intimidating. Some people say they feel like they are being judged by the dog, which you probably are.

The traditional and most familiar color for a German Shepherd is with black around the muzzle, on the ears, and on the body, with tan or rust markings on the face, the legs, chest, and under the tail. These can vary with more or less black. One of mine was all black, no hairs of other colors—I’ll admit this is quite striking.

The coat is a double coat, meaning there is an outer coat and an undercoat. The outer coat is coarser and carries the coloring of the coat. The undercoat is usually all one color and is almost fluffy because it’s soft. If you’re thinking about adding a German Shepherd to your family, heed this warning: German Shepherds shed. They shed a lot and although they typically only shed heavily twice a year, they do shed significantly all year round. Regular brushing will keep some of the hair off your clothes and furniture, but even daily brushing won’t catch all of the shed coat. Invest in a good vacuum cleaner.

German Shepherd Dog

©istockphoto/bruev

He’s a Working Dog

In my dog training classes, one of the most common reasons for discontent with German Shepherd owners is because the owners didn’t understand exactly what a working dog is or needs. German Shepherds are, at heart, a working breed. They were not designed to be a pet. Although they will, once mature, relax in the living room with you while you read, they can’t do that all the time. A bored German Shepherd will destroy your house, your yard, and bark enough to annoy all of your neighbors.

All German Shepherds need obedience training. Not only will this help the two of you learn to work together, but it will also give his brain something to focus on. After basic obedience training, take a trick training class as well as a canine good citizen class. Train in some dog sports even if you have no desire to compete. Play some scenting games and hide and seek. Keep that wonderful brain of his busy.

Physical exercise is important, too. Use up his excess energy and keep his body strong.

You also need to spend time with your German Shepherd. As a working dog, he was bred to be a partner with his owner, to work alongside them. Spend time with him in the mornings before going to work, at lunchtime, and when you get home in the evening, make sure he’s allowed to be your shadow. Enjoy his company as much as he enjoys yours.

German Shepherd Dog

©istockphoto/Artsiom Malashenko

Meet the Author: Liz Palika, CDT, CABC

Liz Palika is a Certified Dog Trainer and Certified Animal Behavior Consultant as well as the founder and co-owner of Kindred Spirits Dog Training in northern San Diego county. Liz is also the founder of Love on a Leash therapy dogs; her dog, Bones, goes on visits on a regular basis. A prolific writer, Liz is also the author of more than 80 books. Many of her works have been nominated or won awards from a variety of organizations, including Dog Writers Association of America, San Diego Book Awards, the ASPCA, and others. Liz shares her home with three English Shepherds: Bones, Hero, and Seven, as well as one confident and bossy orange tabby cat, Kirk. To relax from work, or to take work on the road, Liz and her crew travel the West and PNW in their RV. If you see an RV on the road named "Travelin' Dogs", honk and say hi!

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