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What Characteristics are German Shepherd Dogs Known For?

German Shepherds are popular for police tasks due to their strength and intelligence.
German Shepherds are ideal for owners who like long walks.
German shepherds originated in Germany during the late 19th century.
German Shepherds are often employed to sniff for illegal drugs and explosives.
German shepherds were bred for herding sheep.
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  • Originally Written By: Diana Bocco
  • Revised By: Phil Riddel
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 01 October 2014
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German Shepherds are athletic, energetic animals that can be a good choice of pet for people prepared to invest the time and effort involved in training and looking after them. They are very popular dogs because of their personalities; among their positive qualities are intelligence, protectiveness, and loyalty. Without the correct care and training, however, they may be anxious, destructive, and aggressive toward strangers, other pets or even family members. German Shepherds are “high maintenance” pets that require a lot of attention, affection, exercise, and play, as well as good training to ensure acceptable behavior. If looked after correctly, they make excellent pets that form strong and lasting bonds with their owners.

The breed originated in Germany in the late 19th century. They were bred originally as working dogs, particularly for herding flocks of sheep and defending them from attack. This developed qualities of courage, protectiveness, and responsiveness to training. These attributes have led to the breed’s popularity throughout the world. As of 2012, according to the American Kennel Club, German Shepherds are one of the breeds that have remained steadily popular over the last three decades, currently ranking second in popularity behind Labrador Retrievers.

Physical Attributes

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German Shepherds are large dogs that have a well-balanced, muscular appearance and give an impression of strength and agility. They have large, pointed, erect ears, bushy tails, and strong jaws with a powerful bite. The facial expression is normally one of confidence and alertness. In motion, the dogs have a long stride that enables them to cover a lot of ground very quickly. The breed is most commonly black and tan colored, but they come in a variety of colors and combinations, including all black.

Personality

Dogs of this breed are very dedicated, extremely loyal to their owners, and completely fearless when it comes to protecting their loved ones. They do not readily befriend strangers, but make lifelong friends for their owners. In turn, these dogs have strong emotional needs and constantly seek human attention. They normally form very strong bonds with family members and practically demand to be included in everyday activities. The dogs are also very playful and easily bored; they need to have plenty of time devoted to activities and games.

Care and Training

German Shepherds are a good choice for people who like to go for long walks and don't mind the heavy exercise requirements. Ideally, they should live in a home with a large garden or yard; however, some apartment-dwelling owners report that their pets are quite happy and well behaved. The crucial factor seems to be plenty of exercise.

Due to their protective personalities, these dogs also require extensive socializing to avoid aggression towards strangers and excessive barking. They also need to learn early on how to deal with children and other animals. While they make excellent family pets, these lively and active dogs have a natural tendency to nip at everything that moves, so it is important that they learn their limits early on. Spaying or neutering the dog usually makes a big difference, and owners are encouraged to do so as early as possible.

Behavioral Problems

If trained well and socialized from an early age, these dogs make fun-loving, but obedient and well-behaved pets that are unlikely to cause any issues. Without the correct care and training, however, serious behavioral problems may result. They may see strangers as a threat to their family, resulting in barking, snarling, and even biting. Another possible problem is their behavior toward other animals. Instinctively, they tend to chase other, smaller creatures and appropriate training is required to ensure that they are not a menace to neighbors’ pets.

German Shepherds should not be left on their own for long periods, as they quickly become bored and may experience separation anxiety. This can result in destructive behavior: the dog may chew furniture and other objects, and, due to their strength, they may do considerable damage. Barking and howling may also cause problems for neighbors.

Purebred dogs are bred to respond well to training and to learn quickly; however, dogs of doubtful origin may not respond as expected. For this reason, most experts do not recommended that people buy a dog from a "backyard" breeder. Instead, prospective owners should contact the local kennel club or its equivalent. Alternatively, animal shelters may be able to provide a mature dog with the required credentials.

Police Dogs

In many countries, German Shepherds are used by police forces in a variety of roles. They are favored because of their strength, their intelligence, and the fact that they can be easily trained to perform various tasks, including being taught to immobilize criminal suspects without causing injury. Like all dogs, they have an excellent sense of smell and are often used to sniff out illegal drugs and explosives. They are also used as search and rescue dogs and to locate people or bodies in cases where someone has gone missing.

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anon954836
Post 20

I have a 10 year old white German shepherd. He is incredibly loyal and protective of us as his family. When out, he is normally the friendliest dog you have ever met, and loves a good tickle on the ears from those we pass.

However, the last few weeks, he has become very grumpy. He barks at the neighbour's dog and doesn't seem to like the attention of strangers.

Is this just his age? He is perfectly fine in the house and his behaviour is normal in all other respects,

anon926649
Post 19

I have two GSDs. Rocky is a year old and Sheba is 8 months old. I love these dogs like no tomorrow. Rocky is the smartest dog I have ever seen. He’s smart, he listens and he's very protective, meaning anyone who walks by the house gets barked at, and he's ready to attack as trained. I want that, because I live in a neighborhood where people have been robbing other houses lately. But I can't tell you how perfect Rocky is. Wow. He makes you want to just hug him all day. He’s protective when he needs to be. I love it and when a little baby stranger comes into the house, he knows to be nice and to treat it gentle. He just sits by the newborn and makes sure everyone is being nice to the baby and being gentle.

Now for the girl. Wow. I love Sheba a lot, but I really can't take her sometimes. She can be really mean to Rocky. Even though Rocky is a very, very big GSD, he still won't hurt Sheba. Sheba is very selfish, I have to say. I do everything for her that I do for Rocky. I treat them both the same. If not, I give Sheba more love to try to get her to be nice.

If I go outside, who's there? Sheba and she stands in the way where Rocky can't come lick me and say hi. She won't let him. She will get in front of him and bark at him and she will not stop until he lays off.

Now if I walk to Rocky because he can't come to me at that time because of Sheba, Sheba will do something to distract Rocky away from me, because this time it's me going to him and she knows better than to bark at me. So what she does out of nowhere is run really, really fast to the back to the garage to get Rocky to play chase with her. I grab Rocky when she does that because I now know what Sheba is doing, and it works. She gets Rocky to chase her and then she comes back before Rocky can and jumps on me and then barks at Rocky to stay away.

Now it makes me so mad because I love Rocky and she is like kind of trying to ruin that. And let me tell you, if I'm out there hugging Rocky she will try to bite at him, like little nips and I yell at her but at that time she locks her brain to one thing and that is keeping Rocky away. It's weird because most of the day they are getting along, but once I go outside, they are fighting.

If I take Rocky inside and leave Sheba outside just to get five minutes with Rocky to say hi without her trying to bite him, if I leave her outside by herself, you start to see what a little baby she really is. She doesn't bark at anyone she likes. She hides until Rocky gets back out there, because when Rocky is out there she will snap at strangers and bark at them but only if Rocky is around. What's that about?

Please help out here. I really don't know how to deal with this. I'm starting to hold back from going outside, even though I give Sheba more love. Still, it's not easy with her.

anon349710
Post 18

I have a 4 year old female. Laika is an amazing shepherd. She is great with children, with friends, and with my wife. She absolutely hates being left alone and gets antsy. Meaning, if I leave her in the yard on a leash, she will run in circles and jump frantically as if she were in some kind of frenzied mindset.

Although some good old physical exercise will do the job, mental exercise is what brings her back. She is also very fast on her paws in the house, and there is nothing that seems to work. he will prance around the house following me or someone in a hyper way. Help.

anon343865
Post 17

My shepherd is two now. He knows basic commands: Sit, Down, Heel. However, I have a hard time getting him to come to me. He is very intelligent. For example, if he's tired of playing fetch, he'll just hide the ball. Game over.

He's very loyal and protective in a subtle way. He shows hardly any aggression toward anyone or any other animals. He whines and acts like he wants their attention for "Play". Once, a friend and I were walking with our dogs. We came upon a house with several large dogs that ran toward us aggressively.

I told Zeke to "come on, they're not interested in being our friends". We walked a little bit and when I turned around to check on Zeke, he had hung back to make sure these dogs didn't follow us.

anon329947
Post 16

I have a 10 month old male German shepherd and he seeks constant attention and just wants to be with me and do what I'm doing.

The other day, I was digging up old roots in the back yard, and he started digging with his paws where I was digging. If he hears me grab my car keys, he sprints to the car and when I open the door, he jumps in. I feel bad whenever I have to leave him because he has this look on his face that's like he just can't comprehend why he can't come with me. Such a beautiful breed!

anon329581
Post 15

I love, love, love my German Shepherd puppy. I got him when he was seven weeks old. He is now almost 13 weeks. He caught up fast with the potty training, but now he's into the biting stage; which I understand all puppies go through. He has plenty of toys, but lately when I tell him not to bite, he barks at me. When I reach for him to put him in his crate (like a time-out) he runs or goes limp on me like a little kid. Then he tries to bite me more.

Yesterday, he actually made me bleed from scratching and biting me so hard, and on top of that he peed right in front of me! It was almost like he was saying "in your face, lady" then he ran because he knew what he did. Is it normal for him to act like that? He's starting training next week. I seriously believe he's a spoiled little thing because he definitely love him and consider him part of the family, but I don't want him to become a horrible dog.

anon326165
Post 14

@Anon237582: Your dog quite clearly suffers from separation anxiety, which manifests itself in her destroying things. It's the only way she can cope. Don't be angry with her.

My daughter tried Cesar Milan's tip of taking her dog for a 45 minute walk before work, to allow the dog to become calm and centered. It works!

Feed her, take her for a walk, then ask her to go in her basket. You can leave one of your old T-shirts in her basket too. "Dog proof" your house as much as you can by locking things away and unplugging electrical goods. My 18-month old GSD used to jump on all the beds, leaving muddy paw prints as soon as we left the house. As he can open doors very easily (he looks almost smug when he does it), we fitted locks on the bedroom doors so that he is kept out.

A GSD can be your very best friend. Mine certainly is, and I wouldn't change a thing about him.

anon307393
Post 13

My german shepherd will be six years old in Janauary and has once again decided to chew on my pillows and picture frames. I love him dearly and he is my partner but enough is enough. He knows what he is doing is wrong because when I come home, he runs to hide from me. What do I do?

anon298648
Post 12

I have a 10 year old alsatian and he is a total jerk and has been his whole life. He is insanely jealous of anyone who comes near me. He hates my girlfriend to the extent that when she is in the room he will get on my lap and give her an evil eye, and if she ever tells him off he will remember and pee and poo everywhere like 12 hours later!

Strangely, he is excellent with children. He hates the postman with a passion and i do love him. I honestly do believe that if he had a facebook account his personal statement would say in a relationship with me!

anon295016
Post 11

I have a year and half old German Shepherd. She is from Germany and bred for protection. I had her in an apartment for the first eight months that I had her. She did great. She loves to play, and is full of energy.

However, when she is inside she is pretty mellow and lazy. I have started to have separation anxiety problems with her after moving in with roommates. If you have a German Shepherd and plan on having roommates, make sure to have a talk about using the same methods of training. They will get jealous and bored. She started chewing my things, which she had never done before. I'm not sure exactly why, but am seriously thinking about professional training before she gets too much older!

anon292651
Post 10

We have a six month old German Shepherd puppy in an apartment in Seoul, South Korea. We brought him home at eight weeks old. We live on the 22nd floor of a 50-story tower. It's high population density, but there are parks nearby.

Potty training was a bit of a chore but otherwise he is no problem in an apartment. He is used to elevators and escalators, bright lights, a variety of noises and all sorts of people approaching and petting him. The environment provided, to us, the ideal environment for early socialisation. He crosses crowded pedestrian crosswalks at rush hour with no problem.

We walk him four times a day for a total of about three hours. In the past four months, he's chewed a shoe and one chair leg.

I don't see a problem with apartments if the dog is given proper exercise. I think we have bonded more because of the daily walking, whereas home dwellers are apt to simply open the back door and let the dog out.

anon237582
Post 8

My wife and I have a 14 month old female shepherd. She has been spayed already. My wife had a nine year old shepherd when we were married five years ago. She was the greatest dog I had ever been around. She died about two years ago.

I knew my wife wanted another shepherd so after two years, I bought one this past December. My wife was thrilled.

At three months old, the pup decided I was her owner, not my wife. This has caused a lot of friction, but my wife has finally accepted it. For the next nine months, this was the most wonderful dog I had ever had in my life. She was totally devoted, obedient, calm, intelligent and followed me everywhere.

Anyway, about two months ago (at age 10 months), she started to gradually change. She began to get very stubborn, would not stay, when at eight months she would lie down in the front yard when I was working and not move for two hours. Now she can’t sit and stay at all if I leave the room. She cannot stand to have me out of her sight. If I go to the bathroom and shut the door, she lies down against the door outside in the hallway. Every time I go to a different room in the house, she follows. My wife says she is obsessed with me.

The most disturbing behavior started at about 8-9 months old and has continued to escalate. She has become destructive to the point that she has ruined hundreds of dollars worth of household items, e.g., extension cords, shoes, Christmas decorations, vacuum cleaner, etc. At first, we wrote this off as just normal puppy stage chewing, but now after four months of it, we can see it is escalating and we know this is destructive behavior, and most likely due to her being alone while we are at work, which bores her.

I make it a point to exercise her daily as her favorite activity in the world is playing frisbee. I thought this would be enough to curb her high energy but this has not helped either. I love this dog dearly and have every intention of learning about her from other shepherd owners so we can help her be more happy and contented. Any help other owners have would be much appreciated. Sincerely, frustrated.

anon152242
Post 7

I have a rescue German Shepherd 2 1/2 yrs old. I was expecting to go long walks and have a very active dog but she likes to walk but a mile is enough as she turns to go home.

She was a very aggressive dog and went for everyone.

I was her last hope. I will say she was a challenge and it took a few battles with her to establish myself with her. How did I do it?, just lots of love, patience and firm commands in playtime activities, a load of touching. Tummy rubs eventually came.

Why was she so aggressive? simple: anxiety. She had to learn to trust me and know I was the boss but always remained fair.

Her only problem now is separation anxiety I am working on this and she is getting better.

This dog was going to be put down and it was our fault. We all need to learn to read our dogs.

I have a wonderful friend who has many friends who she adores and they adore her. She is so loyal and so affectionate and loves her cuddles as much as I do even when I am nearly suffocated with her fluffy massive body.

German Shepherds are great dogs but need a good experienced owner who understands their needs.

anon145612
Post 6

Shepherds do fine in an apartment as I lived in an apartment with one. Good training is important. Mine ran in a park and went for walks. She was a good dog and quiet. I own another one now and live in a house now but they are fine in an apartment.

Shepherds are great!

anon128392
Post 5

I totally disagree with your opinion that the German Shepherd is not a good choice for an apartment dweller. They are excellent apartment dogs as long as they are exercised daily for an hour or so.

Every dog I've ever owned has been a purebred Shepherd, and never have I owned one that "nips at everything that moves" -- never.

A German Shepherd dog is only as good as his/her handler/trainer wants them to be. Take the dog everywhere with you, treat it like a member of the family, and you will have a true friend until his/her last living second. I would own no other breed. Why mess with the best?

anon126528
Post 4

I have a four year old shepherd and I agree completely. He's not neutered, and I wish I would've done it earlier. He's a great dog, we live with a cat and they get along like brother and sister. They bicker constantly although he would never hurt the cat but they have a very interesting relationship.

He is a nipper, but thank God I had him trained early. I would highly recommend having them professionally trained. My dog is hi-prey and it was extremely beneficial.

anon122489
Post 2

good information man. keep it up.

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