History and Origin
Prior to the late 1800s, sheep herding dogs were randomly bred, and only those that worked well were selected. As the 20th century approached, a strict breeding program was undertaken in Germany to develop the current randomly bred shepherd dog into a more uniform herding dog with versatility and intelligence. The newly developed German shepherd breed progressed and gained in popularity until the early 1900s. When World War I broke out in 1914, all things German became taboo; even German language courses were dropped from school curriculums.
The fate of the German shepherd dog was in doubt. In order to save the breed, the American Kennel Club, which had registered the breed in 1912, temporarily changed the name to the shepherd dog. After the war, however, the original name was reinstated. In Britain, the name was changed to the Alsatian, although the German shepherd dog name was finally reinstated in 1979.
In the 1950s and 60s, Americans became interested in the German shepherd dog, and large numbers were imported. A syndicated television show and a number of movies starring Rin Tin Tin, a descendent of the canine movie star from the 1920s helped spur the renewed interest.
Over the years, German shepherds have become useful as guide dogs for the blind, deaf and other handicapped individuals because of their intelligence, trainability, well-rounded temperament, as well as their ability to get along well with people. The military and police force employ the breed for scent-discrimination to track criminals, drugs, weapons, bombs, and to find people buried in debris of earthquakes or other disasters.
Appearance and Size
The German shepherd dog is medium to large size with erect pointed ears, a long body, and a weather resistant coat. A thick stiff outer coat covered by a softer inner one makes the German shepherd readily able to withstand extreme climates. The most popular colors are black and tan or a mixture with a dark saddle. White shepherds are not acceptable colors for showing but are becoming popular pets.
The German shepherd dog is typically 22 to 26 inches from the ground to the top of the shoulder. The normal adult weight is 75 to 90 pounds.
The German shepherd dog is very intelligent, easy to train, powerful and elegant. Though not overly affectionate, shepherds are loyal and faithful. The breed is renowned as a police dog and is often used in search and rescue missions. The German shepherd is also a popular companion dog, family member, assistance dog and guard dog.
Home and Family Relations
Due to their tolerant nature, German shepherds are excellent pets for children and are natural protectors. With proper training, the shepherd is an effective and imposing guard dog.
Training should begin early in life. Untrained shepherds have a tendency to be difficult to handle and control. Since shepherds are intelligent and eager to learn, they can be trained to do a variety of tasks. They perform well in sentry duty, police work, tracking, obedience, search and rescue as well as assistance dogs for the disabled. Originally trained as a herder, the breed is still used in this capacity in some areas.
Common Diseases and Disorders
Even though the German shepherd dog is a strong muscular breed, they may be prone to a variety of ailments.
In addition, German shepherds have a higher incidence of allergies, ear infections and malignant cancer such as hemangiosarcoma and Lymphoma.
The average life span for a German shepherd dog is 10 to 13 years.