What Were German Shepherds Originally Bred For? Jobs, History, and Roles

Written by Susan Olayode
Updated: October 16, 2022
Image Credit iStock.com/Lurin
Share this post on:

German Shepherds are large, athletic, muscular dogs that exhibit a high level of intelligence, loyalty, courage, and energy. They are the second most popular dog in America because of their remarkable characteristics. German Shepherds are versatile as they excel at almost anything they are trained to do. They are usually trained to guide, assist, and rescue, but they also make great companion dogs.

Not only are German Shepherds quite active, but they can also become mischievous and high-strung if not given ample amounts of exercise and attention daily. Therefore, they must have socialization and obedience training at an early stage to prevent over-guarding and aggressive behavior.

German Shepherds are also known as Alsatians, German Shepherd Dogs or GSDs.

15,997 People Couldn't Ace This Quiz

Think You Can?

The Different Types of German Shepherd Crossbreeds

Common German Shepherd crossbreeds include:

  • Alaskan Shepherd: Alaskan Shepherds are independent dogs that blend together two hefty breeds: the Alaskan Malamute and the German Shepherd.
  • Beagle Shepherd: Beagle Shepherd is a strong and muscular dog which is a crossbreed of a Beagle and a German Shepherd.
  • Bernese Shepherd: Bernese Shepherd is a big, powerful and affectionate cross breed between the Bernese Mountain dog and a German Shepherd.
  • Chow Shepherd: The Chow Shepherd is a mixed breed dog between the Chow Chow and the German Shepherd dog.
  • Corman Shepherd: Corman is a loyal crossbreed between the Corgi and the German Shepherd dog.
  • Gerberian Shepsky: A Shepsky is an energetic mixed breed dog, and crossbreed between the German Shepherd and Siberian Husky dog breeds.
  • German Sheppit: German Sheppit dogs are crossbreeds between a German Shepherd and a Pit Bull with highly protective instincts. 
  • Golden Shepherd: This is a mixed breed of the Golden Retriever and German Shepherd. Golden Shepherds are also called Golden German Shepherd.
  • Saint Shepherd: The Saint Shepherd is a crossbreed between the Saint Bernard dog and a German Shepherd.
  • Shepkita: The Shepkita is a crossbreed dog between the Akita and the German Shepherd. Shepkita dogs are usually very loyal and strong.
  • Shepweiler: The Shepweiler is a large dog which is a combination of the German Shepherd and the Rottweiler.
  • Shollie: Shollie is a mixed breed dog is a cross between the German Shepherd dog and Border Collie dog breeds.

Fun Fact

German Shepherds have a great sense of smell, better than many other dog breeds, which is one reason they are often used by the police and military.

Scariest Dogs
German Shepherds are excellent family dogs and are good with children when they’re socialized and trained properly as puppies.

BIGANDT.COM/Shutterstock.com

Owning a German Shepherd: Pros and Cons

Before obtaining a German Shepherd, you should be aware of the following:

PROSCONS
Trainability level is high
German Shepherds are easy to train and they learn more quickly than other dogs. They are known to follow instructions obediently.
Shedding 
German Shepherds shed a lot, so regular brushing and/or grooming is needed.
Hero dog
German Shepherds may be referred to as the “superhero” among other dogs. They have protective instincts and, as a result, they are mostly used in the military, law enforcement, and as assistance dogs.
Prone to medical conditions
Before owning a German Shepherd, it is usually recommended to conduct medical tests on the dog. This is because German Shepherds are prone to various medical conditions such as bloating, hip dysplasia, and arthritis. 
Have a high level of energy
German Shepherds thrive on companionship and being active. You will never be bored around your German Shepherd!
They require a lot of commitment
Since German Shepherds thrive on companionship, they may become frustrated or anxious when they are left alone or not given ample attention. As a result, they may begin to bark and chew.

The Best Dog Food for German Shepherds

When looking for the best dog food for a German Shepherd, it is important to consider your dog’s age.

German Shepherd puppies have a higher tendency to develop hip dysplasia if they are fed foods that contain a high calcium content. Also, it is important to note that the puppies should not be fed adult dog food until they reach 12 to 24 months of age.

Best for Puppies
Royal Canin Breed Health Nutrition German Shepherd Puppy
  • Designed for growing GSD puppies
  • Improves digestive issues and helps with overall development
  • Contains essential minerals like calcium and phosphorus
  • Easy to absorb
Check Chewy Check Amazon

It is also important to avoid dog foods with potentially harmful additives such as artificial colors and flavors. This is important to avoid for any dog breed. German Shepherds are prone to allergies and sensitivities, so it is especially important to be extra conscious of what you are feeding your GSD.

Dog foods that include probiotics can help to improve your dog’s digestive system’s function and the overall absorption of nutrients.

According to our research, Royal Canin Breed Health Nutrition German Shepherd is one of the best dog foods on the market. This dog food is rich in fiber and supports muscle and joint health. It boosts the immune system and it is formulated specifically for German Shepherds.

Overall Best
Royal Canin Breed Health Nutrition German Shepherd
  • Rich in fiber
  • Supports muscle and joint health
  • Boosts immunity and muscle and brain growth
  • Especially formulated for German Shepherds
Check Chewy Check Amazon

Size and Weight

German Shepherds weigh an average of 65 to 90 pounds for males, and 50 to 70 pounds for females. They have an average height of 22 to 26 inches. 

HeightInches
(Male)24-26 inches
(Female)22-24 inches
WeightPounds
Weight (Male)65-90 pounds
Weight (Female)50-70 pounds

Common Health Issues

Like most purebred dogs, German Shepherds are prone to certain health conditions. Of course, not all German Shepherds get these health conditions during their lifetime. Hip dysplasia is a heritable condition that exists with or without clinical signs. It affects the ball and socket joint in the dog’s hips and can affect its motion and movement. Hip dysplasia can be prevented at an early stage by screening breeding dogs for the disease. However, a remediating approach would be to engage in surgical hip replacement.

Another potential health issue is osteoarthritis,an inflammation of the joint, commonly the limbs and lower spine, caused by a deterioration of cartilage. The cartilage cushion breaks down thereby causing pain, decreased range of motion and bone spur and it should be noted that osteoarthritis is caused by wear and tear on the joints. It usually occurs as a result of injuries such as ligament damage, or broken bones and even hip dysplasia. Healthy feeding habit and weight management techniques are quite effective in minimizing the risks of osteoarthritis in GSDs.

German Shepherds may also experience gastric dilation-volvulus, commonly referred to as “bloat.” Bloat is a life-threatening condition that occurs when the stomach becomes swollen with gas or air.  In most cases, overfeeding, a disorganized feeding routine, and exercising too soon after a meal, are known to be causes of bloat in GSDs. The dog becomes constipated and is unable to vomit or get rid of the excess air in their stomach, and the pumping of blood to the heart and other organs is hampered resulting in systemic shock.

Bloat can be effectively treated with surgery. However, preventative measures can be taken such as managing the dog’s eating rate and anxiety, and not breeding dogs that have a hereditary condition of bloating.

In addition, some GSDs suffer from both contact allergies and food allergies. Symptoms may include scratching, licking at paws, or rubbing faces. Bathing your GSD regularly with pet-friendly shampoos will help to minimize allergies in your dog.

In summary, the common health issues associated with German Shepherds are:

  • Hip dysplasia
  • Gastric dilation-volvulus (“bloat”)
  • Arthritis 
  • Allergies

Temperament

German Shepherds are known to be loyal, protective, and fast learners. Their temperament and personalities make them a great choice for active homes. They are intelligent, obedient, watchful, confident and courageous. Because they catch on really fast, they are very good as assistant, emotional support, and rescue dogs.

However, German Shepherds require more socialization than other dogs. If they are not given the right amount of attention, they may become defiant and start to express their dissatisfaction.

How to Take Care of German Shepherds

In taking care of German Shepherds, it is important to consider certain aspects of maintenance and grooming, training, and exercise.

Maintenance and Grooming

German Shepherds have a thick, dense coat and they shed quite a lot. You should brush your GSD several times a week to control shedding and give it an occasional bath.

Training

Since German Shepherds are versatile and trainable, they catch on very fast. Training should begin in their early years. They thrive on socialization, so enrolling them in a puppy school is advisable. Also, because they have a strong bite force, it is important to teach them as puppies not to bite. 

Exercise 

German Shepherds have a high energy level, and they need a minimum of two to three hours of exercise every day, focusing on physical and mental activity. Engage them with walks, sports, and other form of exercise to strengthen bonds and help them expend their energy. For mental exercise, you can feed them in creative ways or hide treats in puzzles for them to find.

German Shepherds and Children

German Shepherds are good with kids. However, it is important that they have early social interactions with children. It is also necessary to ensure that children are taught appropriate ways to engage with your GSD, to respect the dog’s natural boundaries and avoid invading their space.

Famous German Shepherds

The world’s most famous German Shepherd was Rin-Tin-Tin. This GSD was found by owner, Corporal Lee Duncan, during World War I, in a small French village. The dog’s remarkable intelligence made him very popular and landed him roles in a number of movies. The dog is considered to have greatly contributed to the success of the Warner Brothers Film Company.

Dogs Similar to German Shepherds

The dogs that are similar to German Shepherds in size and personality are:

  • Australian Shepherds are also loyal and intelligent, like a German Shepherd. 
  • Collies are roughly the same size as German Shepherds, but they have a longer lifespan.
  • Old English Sheepdogs are intelligent and highly adaptable like German Shepherds, but they do not require as much exercise.

Conclusion

While German Shepherds may seem a bit too high maintenance due to their high energy levels, they are still known as one of the best dog breeds in the world. While they are often used by police and the military due to their acute sense of smell and exceptional intelligence, they are also great family dogs and are wonderful with children, as well. Just remember that it’s always best to teach your big dog how to be loyal and hospitable, while they are still puppies.

Up Next:

Ready to discover the top 10 cutest dog breeds in the entire world?

How about the fastest dogs, the largest dogs and those that are -- quite frankly -- just the kindest dogs on the planet? Each day, AZ Animals sends out lists just like this to our thousands of email subscribers. And the best part? It's FREE. Join today by entering your email below.

What's the right dog for you?

Dogs are our best friends but which breed is your perfect match?

X-Small
Small
Medium
Large
Xtra-Large

If you have kids or existing dogs select:

Kids
Other Dogs

Should they be Hypoallergenic?

Yes
No
How important is health?
Which dog groups do you like?
How much exercise should your dog require?
What climate?
How much seperation anxiety?
How much yappiness/barking?

How much energy should they have?

The lower energy the better.
I want a cuddle buddy!
About average energy.
I want a dog that I have to chase after constantly!
All energy levels are great -- I just love dogs!
How much should they shed?
How trainable/obedient does the dog need to be?
How intelligent does the dog need to be?
How much chewing will allow?
german shepherd laying on bail of hay
German Shepherds are smart, loyal, affectionate dogs that have a strong protective streak.
iStock.com/Lurin
Share this post on:

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

How much do German Shepherds cost to own?

The cost of owning a German Shepherd may be about $85 per month (considering the rate of meal supplies and dog care), totaling at least $12,000 throughout the course of their entire lives.

Are German Shepherds good with kids?

Yes. German Shepherds are good with kids. However, it is important that they are introduced to children when they are still puppies. German Shepherds need lots of socialization, and it is best to do this while they are still young, so their naturally protective side doesn’t dominate their personality and make interactions with humans more difficult down the road.

How long does a German Shepherd live?

The average life expectancy for a German Shepherd dog is between 10 to 13 years.

Popular names for German Shepherds

Popular names for German Shepherds include:

  • Max
  • Frankie
  • Nala
  • Rocky
  • Luna

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
  1. , Available here: https://www.akc.org/dog-breeds/german-shepherd-dog/
  2. , Available here: https://a-z-animals.com/animals/german-shepherd/
  3. , Available here: https://be.chewy.com/dog-breed/german-shepherd/
  4. , Available here: https://www.petmd.com/dog/breeds/c_dg_german_shepherd
  5. , Available here: https://dogtime.com/dog-breeds/german-shepherd-dog#/slide/1
  6. , Available here: https://www.petfinder.com/dog-breeds/german-shepherd/
  7. , Available here: https://worldofdogz.com/costs-of-owning-a-german-shepherd/