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German Shepherd

Our guide to the breed

My ideal owner | Exercise | Temperament | Health | Appearance | Cost | History

Key facts

Height: 58cm – 63cm

Weight: 34 – 43kg

Life Expectancy: 12 – 13 years

Exercise Needs: High

About German Shepherds

Hey there! I’m a German Shepherd. You might recognise me as being a police dog, but I also serve in the military, herd livestock, act as a therapy dog and make a wonderful family pet. I’ve got loads of energy and I’m pretty intense as well – so my owner needs to be able to give me all the exercise I need each day and manage my behaviour carefully. With good socialisation, plenty of exercise and training, I’ll make a great companion and family dog.

My ideal owner

I make a wonderful companion for all sorts of people, but there’s a few qualities that will mean we have a pawfect partnership. I’m a big dog so I need space to run around at home. Talking of running, I’ve got buckets of energy, so I’m looking for owners who can keep up with my daily exercise needs. My people will also need to ensure I’m not left alone for long periods of time, because I’ll miss you too much! Finally, my owners need to make sure they’re committed to my training and socialisation, especially whilst I’m young.

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Active lifestyle

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Constant companionship

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A home with a garden

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Committed to training

Temperament

There’s all sorts of personalities amongst German Shepherds – some of us are friendly, whilst others are more shy, some of us are independent whilst others are reliant. It all comes down to our experiences, especially in our early years.

We have a tendency to be somewhat aloof with strangers, but amongst our families we are big playful pups. We’ve got a strong work ethic, so we love having a job – just be aware that if you let us get bored we will make our own jobs, like scaring off those pesky strangers who keep arriving at the house!

Health

Unfortunately us German Shepherds have been at the centre of much controversy as a result of poor breeding practices. Because we’ve been bred to look a certain way we have inherited a range of health issues. It’s really important that if you are buying a puppy you make sure that the breeder you choose carries out all recommended testing on both parents and puppies, as well as selecting against exaggerated features.

There are a number of hereditary conditions that we are prone to. The riskiest conditions are outlined below.

What is hip dysplasia?

Hip dysplasia is an inherited condition affecting many different dog breeds, including German Shepherds. It’s described as a genetic malformation and occurs when a dog’s thigh bone doesn’t fit into a hip socket.

In mild cases hip dysplasia can cause inflammation, eventually leading to arthritis. In the most severe cases, a dog could lose all use of their rear legs.

How is it diagnosed?

Hip dysplasia cannot be evaluated by a vet until a dog is two years of age. Even then, the dog will need x rays to determine whether they have inherited the condition. If you buy a German Shepherd puppy, check that the breeder has had both parents tested, which should reduce the risk of the condition.

What are the treatments for hip dysplasia?

The only absolute treatment for hip dysplasia is a total hip replacement. This would usually only be used in the most serious of cases. Otherwise, vets may recommend a range of treatments to give relief, including physiotherapy, hydrotherapy, weight management, painkillers, supplements and brace supports.

*This information should not be considered to be veterinary advice. Please always consult your vet if you have any concerns about your dog’s health.

What is elbow dysplasia?

Elbow dysplasia is an inherited condition that commonly affects medium to large breeds. It causes a dog’s elbows to develop abnormally, causing pain and leading to swelling, instability and eventually, arthritis.

How is it diagnosed?

A vet will be able to diagnose elbow dysplasia based on some physical and behavioural signs, including:

  • Limping or stiffness, particularly after exercise
  • Front paws pointing outwards or elbows held at a strange angle
  • Swollen elbows
  • Less enthusiasm for exercise or play
  • X ray showing abnormalities in the elbow

What are the treatments for elbow dysplasia?

There are a variety of treatments for elbow dysplasia that your vet may recommend, based on the severity of the issue. These include painkillers, rest, or surgery in the most severe cases.

Symptoms are usually worse if your dog is overweight. Additionally, elbow dysplasia can limit their levels of activity. As a result, your vet will usually recommend a controlled weight and exercise plan to ensure your dog stays slim whilst being conscious of their reduced mobility. This can include using an activity tracker to monitor your dog, feeding a calorie-controlled diet, and physical therapies, such as hydrotherapy.

*This information should not be considered to be veterinary advice. Please always consult your vet if you have any concerns about your dog’s health.

What is canine degenerative myelopathy (CDM)?

CDM is a condition affecting the spinal cord that causes gradual paralysis of your dog’s hind legs. German Shepherds are at a particular risk of this disease, with dogs showing symptoms at around 8-9 years old.

Whilst it is generally not painful, it does have a significant impact on your dog’s quality of life.

How is it diagnosed?

The symptoms of CDM are similar to and often mistaken for arthritis initially. If you have a German Shepherd approaching 8 years old, you should watch out for:

  • Weak hind legs
  • Mobility issues, including difficulty climbing steps, getting in the car or walking long distances
  • Dragging back feet or legs
  • Scuffed claws from dragging
  • Incontinence
  • Collapsed back legs

You should contact your vet as soon as you see early symptoms.

What are the treatments for CDM?

Unfortunately, there are no recognised treatments for CDM. 

Your vet will be able to recommend the best steps to take to make your dog comfortable and maintain the best quality of life possible. This may include choosing appropriate bedding and boots for their back feet to prevent damage.

If your dog develops incontinence as a result of CDM, your vet may request regular urine samples to watch for urine infections that will become more prevalent.

Genetic testing is available for CDM. If you are buying a puppy you should ensure both parents have been tested for and are clear of the disease.

*This information should not be considered to be veterinary advice. Please always consult your vet if you have any concerns about your dog’s health.

What is anal furunculosis?

Anal furunculosis is a condition that causes abcesses or ulcers to appear around your dog’s bottom. This can be very painful for them, especially when defecating, sitting or even wagging their tail. 

How is it diagnosed?

Anal furunculosis is often missed by owners to being with, and it’s not uncommon for your vet to discover the disease during a routine check-up. 

However, if your dog is showing any symptoms listed below, it’s essential you visit your vet immediately.

  • Straining to defecate
  • Blood streaked faeces
  • Licking their bottom excessively
  • Reluctance to sit
  • Reluctance to let you near their anal region
  • Personality changes

Your vet will be able to confirm the diagnosis and advice on treatment.

What are the treatments for anal furunculosis?

This condition is not yet fully understood, and accepted treatments vary in their effectiveness.

Your vet may recommend:

  • Clipping the hair around the area to improve ventilation
  • Careful bathing of the area
  • Surgery to remove infected tissue
  • Cryotherapy to reduce the infection and remove infected tissue
  • Medical treatment to temporarily improve mild cases

*This information should not be considered to be veterinary advice. Please always consult your vet if you have any concerns about your dog’s health.

What is epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a condition that causes regular seizures. These seizures may be triggered by the environment – for example, loud noises, flashing lights or high stress or excitement.

How is epilepsy diagnosed?

Dogs will usually start to display symptoms of epilepsy around 2 or 3 years old, but it can occur in dogs of any age.

Make sure you can recognise a fit and apply appropriate first aid. Seek advice from your vet immediately if your dog suffers from one.

What are the treatments for epilepsy?

There is no cure for epilepsy. However, your vet can prescribe medication to help manage epilepsy and allow your dog to live an otherwise healthy and happy life

*This information should not be considered to be veterinary advice. Please always consult your vet if you have any concerns about your dog’s health.

What is pituitary dwarfism?

Pituitary dwarfism is a condition caused by the lack of growth hormone produced by the pituitary gland. In German Shepherds this is often inherited, but it can be triggered by infections, tumours or cysts as well.

Because the pituitary gland does not produce enough growth hormone, your puppy will have severely stunted growth. 

Many German Shepherds with the condition will not live past the age of four and will have a generally poor quality of life.

How is it diagnosed?

The main symptoms that your puppy has pituitary dwarfism are related to their size and rate of growth. They are usually considerably smaller than their littermates and fail to grow at the expected rate. The lack of growth will be apparent to novice owners by 2 to 3 months of age and can be identified much earlier by a vet or experienced breeder.

Your vet will be able to confirm the diagnosis using genetic testing and/or testing for a deficiency of the growth hormones.

What are the treatments for pituitary dwarfism?

Treatment for pituitary dwarfism depends on the cause of the disorder, with varying levels of success. Some treatments will need to be administered for the rest of your dog’s life.

  • Porcine (pig) growth hormone to replace your dog’s missing growth hormone
  • Steroids to stimulate the production of growth hormones
  • Thyroid hormones
  • Surgery to remove tumours or cysts that are affecting the thyroid.

*This information should not be considered to be veterinary advice. Please always consult your vet if you have any concerns about your dog’s health.

What is haemophilia?

Haemophilia A and B are inherited disorders that prevent blood from clotting. This causes wounds to bleed excessively. This can mean that your dog loses more blood than they should when they have a cut or bruise. Additionally, dogs with haemophilia may bleed spontaneously, including into their joints or muscles, which can cause lameness. Under some circumstances, dogs may bleed into their chest cavity or abdomen, which can lead to death.

How are dogs diagnosed with haemophilia?

If your dog bleeds excessively or spontaneously, you should visit a vet immediately. They will be able to run blood tests to check whether your dog has haemophilia. 

What are the treatments for haemophilia?

There are no treatments for haemophilia A and B in dogs. If your dog needs surgery, or has trauma causing internal or external bleeding, they may need blood transfusions.

Dogs with haemophilia should never be bred to prevent passing the disease on.

*This information should not be considered to be veterinary advice. Please always consult your vet if you have any concerns about your dog’s health.

Exercise needs

High

I’ve got plenty of energy thanks to my roots as a shepherding dog. When I get enough exercise I’m generally calmer, easier to train and socialise. Daily walkies for at least 90 minutes are a must, along with plenty of playtime. You’ll find it hard to tire me out!

Get your dog’s tailored exercise goal by downloading the free PitPat app

Appearance

I’m a highly recognisable breed, in part thanks to my reputation as the dog of choice for canine unit in the police and military. I’m a large breed, with powerful muscle and stature. I’m unfortunately known for my exaggerated sloping back legs – but this is now changing thanks to efforts by responsible breeders to bring them back to more normal and comfortable position.

I have a resilient double coat, perfect for spending the days outdoors working. This does however mean that I shed throughout the year, with blow outs on a twice-yearly basis. My coat can be short, medium, or long, with longer coats requiring much more maintenance. On the whole, you can keep me looking great with a daily brush and baths when I’ve gotten especially muddy or rolled in something smelly. Longer coated dogs might benefit from occasional visits to the groomers, especially in summer, but I should never be shaved.

When it comes to colours there’s are some variations. You’ll most commonly see us as tan or gold dogs with a black saddle, but we can also be solid black or grey.

Colours

Tan and Black

Gold and Black

Sable

Black

Grey

Bicolour

Grooming needs

Daily brushing

Bath when necessary

Hypoallergenic?

No. I shed my coat year-round.

Costs

One off costs

£2292

This includes the average cost of a puppy, and all the gear they will need, like their collar, bed and grooming tools.

Ongoing costs

£33 per week | £143 per month | £1716 per year

This includes your ongoing costs such as insurance, food, toys, and standard veterinary care, but not dog sitting, training or veterinary costs not covered by insurance.

History

As our name suggests, us German Shepherds originated in Germany to herd livestock. In the early 19th century, herding dogs across Europe weren’t organised into distinct breeds like they are now. In the 1850s, this began to change. Across Germany local communities started developing their own breeds.

In 1899, Max von Stephanitz, a former student of the Berlin Veterinary College, purchased a dog that he believed represented the ideal working dog – intelligent, loyal, and physically adept. This dog became the first to be registered as a German Shepherd under the newly created Society for German Shepherd Dogs and went on to sire many pups.

Since then we have been exported around the world and lived all kinds of lives – as military and police dogs, stars of the big screen and of course, as treasured family companions.

German shepherd

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