The German Shepherd is a breed of dog, which is also known in the U. K as an Alsatian, part of the Herding group the German Shepherd is a working dog as well as a companion dog. As the name suggests the breed originated in Germany, it’s a relatively modern breed with records only going back as far as 1899. Thanks to their strength, intelligence and obedience the German Shepherd are often the proffered breed for many types of work, including disability assistance, search and rescue, police and military roles.
In the 1800s, the most common dog used across North West Europe to herd sheep and protect homes was the so called Continental Shepherd dog, these dogs all looked very similar at the time. In 1890 the three breeds (the Belgian shepherd, the Netherlands shepherd and the German shepherd) went their separate ways.
With the rise of large industrialized cities in Germany the predator population declined leaving the use for sheepdogs unnecessary, but it was soon realised that with their versatility and intelligence they were well suited to other jobs. Max von Stephanitz an ex cavalry captain and former student at the Berlin Vetinary College firmly believed dogs should be bred for working. While attending a dog show in 1899 von Spephanitz was shown a dog called Hektor Linksrhein, Hektor was the result of a few generations of selective breeding and he completely fulfilled what von Stephanitz believed a working dog should be.
Von Stephanitz was so taken aback with the strength, intelligence, loyalty and beauty of Hector Linksrhein that he immediately purchased him. After purchasing the dog he changed it’s name to Horand von Grafrath and he founded the Verein fur Deutsche Schaferhunde (Society for the German Shepherd dog), Horand was declared to be the first German Shepherd dog and was the first dog added to the breed register.
German Shepherds are medium to large sized dogs, the breeds average height at the withers is 55 – 65cm, the breed is longer than it is tall by between 8 and 10cm. A healthy German Shepherd will weigh between 28 and 35kg on average, but can weigh up to 40kg, anything over this is considered to be overweight. The expected lifespan of the German Shepherd is 9 to 13 years.
Specifically bred for it’s intelligence, a trait for which it is famous, the German Shepherd ranked third behind only the Collie dog and the Poodle. In his book ‘The intelligence of dogs’ author Stanley Coren stated that they had the ability to learn simple tasks after only five attempts and they obeyed the first command given 95% of the time.
German Shepherds have a double coat which is dense and close with a thick undercoat, the coat comes in two variants, medium and long. The long hair gene is recessive making the long haired variety rarer, treatment of the long haired variety differs across standards. In the U. K the long haired is accepted but is not allowed to compete with the standard coated dogs, while in the U. S they can compete but it is considered to be a fault.
Most German Shepherds are either tan and black or red and black, rarer colours include pure black, sable, liver, blue, pure white and panda varieties. While all black and sable are accepted by most standards, blue and liver are considered serious faults and the all white is grounds for instant disqualification.
The German Shepherd is the second most registered breed by the American Kennel club and the seventh most registered in the U.K.