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The German Shepherd Dog (or Alsatian) is a breed of dog. Because they are eager to please, they are easily trained in obedience and protection. German Shepherd Dogs are often used as working dogs in many capacities, including search and rescue (SAR) dogs, military dogs, police dogs, or guard dogs. They are also used as assistance dogs (particularly guide dogs), though not as much as Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers.


The German Shepherd Dog is a large, strong, handsome-looking dog. The fur is a double-coat
and can be either short or long haired. It varies in color, coming in many different shades, mostly
cream (tan) and brown, but also solid black or white. Dogs with coats that have tri-colored hair (black
and white with either brown or red) are called sable
or agouti. Different kennel clubs have different
standards for the breed according to size, weight,
coat color, and structure.

Common faults: There are several common
features that are disqualifying faults in show dogs: *Ears that never stand up completely; instead, the top 10 to 15 percent of the ear remains floppy.
* A small percentage of GSDs have a tail that stands vertically, exposing their anus.
* A muzzle that is not predominantly black is considered a disqualification only
in American show GSDs.

Lines: There are several types or lines of
GSD and the behavior, abilities, and appearance of each is quite different. The major lines are the international working line, the international show line, and the North American show line. Dogs from FCI (Fédération Cynologique Internationale)-recognized international working lines are bred primarily for traits involving their working ability rather than appearance, so their appearance can be somewhat varied. The
FCI-recognized international show lines differ in that emphasis is given more to the appearance of the dog when breeding, so they are very consistent in type or appearance.

The North American show lines have also been bred primarily for their looks, and have a markedly different appearance from the international dogs, featuring a noticeably sloped back and sharp angulation of the hock joints. There is a current debate over whether the American show lines still represent the original German Shepherd Dog, or whether the line has become distinct enough that it should be considered a separate breed. Critics of the American line argue that the working ability of these dogs has been lost, and that the angled back is detrimental to the health of the animal. Proponents of the line believe that the altered bone structure of their dogs represents an improvement to the herding ability of the animals.

Sizes and coats: Some groups or breeders have focused on variants or mutations of the breed that are not recognized by most kennel clubs as acceptable show GSDs but that might eventually become breeds on their own.

A white German Shepherd (or very light, but not albino) has also always occurred, but was designated a disqualifying fault in the AKC (American Kennel Club) in the late 1960s.

The white coat is considered a fault by International FCI breed standards in most parts of the world.The white coat, however, does not prevent the white-coated German Shepherd Dog from being registered in the AKC as a German Shepherd Dog. White Shepherds hold champion titles in the UKC (United Kennel Club). Now, some breeders selectively breed White Shepherds for their beautiful snowy white coats and physical stature, striving for a Shepherd that closely resembles the original dog; less angular than today's German Shepherd breed.

The so-called long-haired German Shepherd is considered a "fault" in the German Shepherd Dog breed according to American Kennel Club standards as well as the International (FCI) breed standard. The long hair gene is recessive. Dogs with this coat look somewhat like the Tervueren type of Belgian Shepherd Dog. Popular myth holds that long-haired GSDs ("fuzzies") are more affectionate, but there is little evidence for this. Long coats usually have no or little undercoat, thus they can be rather sensitive to extreme weather.

Some organizations recognize a deliberately bred, larger variation of the breed as the Shiloh Shepherd Dog or King Shepherd.

Well-bred GSDs have powerful jaws and strong teeth, can develop a strong sense of loyalty and obedience, and can be trained to attack and release on command. Poorly bred GSDs such as those from puppy mills can be fearful, overly aggressive, or both. GSDs are
often perceived as inherently dangerous, and are the target of Breed Specific Legislation in several countries. If a GSD is violent or aggressive, it is often due to the combination of poor breeding (bad nerves) and the owner's lack of control or training. GSDs are often used as guard, attack and police dogs, which further contributes to the perception of being a dangerous breed. However, many GSDs function perfectly well as search dogs and family pets, roles where aggressive
behavior is unsuitable.

© Photographer: Sally Wallis | Agency:

GSDs' sense of loyalty and emotional bond with their owners is almost impossible to overstate. Separation trauma is one reason they are now used less often in guide dog roles, since guide dogs are typically trained from puppyhood by one owner prior to final placement with their employer.

Temperament differences among lines: The different types or lines of GSD display differences not only in appearance but also in ability and temperament.

Dogs from working lines have very high energy, and have been bred to have a natural drive for protection, tracking, and obedience. They are bred primarily for consistent temperament, working drive, and intelligence. These dogs can be used as pets, but will be unhappy if not exercised daily or trained to do a job of some sort. German and Eastern European lines tend to be stockier, with shorter snouts and more muscular chests, and typify the working lines. North American lines have a tendency towards a longer croup, longer back, higher wither and temperament ideal for companionship. They do not require constant stimulation to keep them from becoming bored and possibly demonstrating destructive behaviors. These dogs can make excellent pets, provided that a responsible breeder has not sacrificed consistent temperament or health in the quest for popular standards for good looks.

Health: As is common in many large breeds, German Shepherds are prone to elbow and hip dysplasia. Other health problems sometimes occurring in the breed are von Willebrand's disease and skin allergies. German Shepherds are also prone to bloat. They have an average lifespan of twelve years.

Shepherding: The original purpose for the German Shepherd Dog was (not surprisingly) to herd sheep, cattle, or any other animal that might require the assistance of a shepherd. Even given the name "Shepherd", some people are surprised to hear that these dogs were bred for herding, as the GSD is more often found working as a guard dog, police dog, or companion pet than in the field working sheep.

The German Shepherd Dog does not have the "eye" that Border Collies or some other similar breeds have. They are trained to follow their instinct, which for the GSD is to "work the furrow", meaning that they will patrol a boundary all day and restrict the animals being herded from entering or leaving the designated area. It is this instinct that has made the breed superb guarding dogs, protecting their flock (or family).

A German Shepherd Dog's instincts to herd might manifest themselves by the dog closely watching or even nipping at members of its family as they go for walks. The dog might attempt to lead people to what it perceives is the correct location, even going so far as to gently take a hand in his teeth to lead the person. With some training, this can become a trick, sometimes known as "walk the human."

The breed was originated by Captain Max von Stephanitz in the late 19th century and early
20th century. His goal was to breed an all-purpose working dog. Von Stephanitz admired the
landrace herding dogs of his native German Empire, and believed they had the potential to
be all-purpose working dogs.

Additionally, he was aware of the declining need for herding dogs and believed that the working abilities of the breed would decline unless it was put to other uses. Von Stephanitz created the Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde, or SV, as the official governing body for the breed.

The SV then created the schutzhund trial as a breed test for the German Shepherd Dog, and prohibited the breeding of any dog which could not pass the trial. The schutzhund trial, along with the SV's conviction that "German Shepherd breeding is working dog breeding, or it is not German Shepherd breeding" led to a rapid development of the breed's abilities.

After World War I, British and American soldiers, impressed by the abilities of the dog, brought home examples to breed. The breed instantly became popular, both as a family pet and as a working dog. To this day, the German Shepherd Dog is considered one of the most, if not the most, intelligent and versatile breeds in existence.


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