All about the German Shepherd, defender of the flocks and the ultimate all-round worker

  • Horse & Hound is supported by its audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn commission on some of the items you choose to buy. Learn more
  • The German Shepherd is one of the canine population’s most superb working dogs, excelling originally as a herder and guardian of sheep – hence the name – and latterly in the military and police.

    Canine intelligence is arguably an arbitrary value to measure, but as far as instinct, adaptability and working obedience are concerned, the German Shepherd ranks very highly. According to canine researcher Stanley Coren who wrote The Intelligence of Dogs, the breed is the third most intelligent breed of all, behind only the Border Collie and poodle. They are certainly trainable, being popular in assisting the army and police, but also on security patrols, search and rescue missions, as service dogs, agility experts and in other competitive sports.

    German Shepherds originated in Germany around the turn of the 19th century. Their role working alongside shepherds meant that their traits such as intelligence, speed, strength, loyalty and sense of smell were highly rated – which amounts to a fantastic all-round working dog. They’ve had a few names in the course of the breed’s development, such as Alsatian Wolf dog, but their characteristics essentially remain the same. A highly active, intelligent and trainable dog with a willingness to learn and a sense of purpose.

    While staunchly loyal to their family, they have a reputation for being aloof with strangers and highly protective. They will be put their life on the line for the sake of their loved ones! With such a strong spirit, they should be well trained and socialised from a young age. Their natural trainability should make this a rewarding process.

    German shepherd dog head

    The German Shepherd comes in a variety of colours, such as this dark sable

    German Shepherd: fact file

    Kennel Club breed group: pastoral

    Size: large

    Daily exercise: more than two hours per day

    Coat: short or long; shedding

    Colours: bi-colour, black, black/gold, black/tan, dark sable, gold sable, grey, grey sable or sable

    Lifespan: more than 10 years

    Bark: yes. They were originally bred to guard flocks of sheep, and can be quite vocal and territorial about their own patch.

    Distinctive features: erect and alert ears. This is a well-balanced, muscular dog with a lively expression and a bushy, sabre-shaped tail.

    Temperament: loyal, confident, courageous. Aloof with strangers.

    Things to consider: the German Shepherd is a large dog, and will therefore be most comfortable sleeping in one of the best dog beds designed specifically for large breeds.

    When they are young, consider feeding them a food designed for large breed puppies as they have different nutritional requirements to smaller dogs.

    Training: start their training early to ensure they grow into an adaptable and well-mannered adult dog. This breeds loves to work, to learn and obey commands. They bond strongly with their handlers, and consistent, positive training – use training treats for encouragement – should result in an extraordinarily biddable and loyal companion.

    German Shepherd Dog Training
    This book is the first of three volumes that guide you through training your German Shepherd throughout their lifetime.

    View Deal

    Complete Guide To German Shepherds
    Using interviews with 12 top German Shepherd breeders, this book has created an in-depth look at what it really takes to successfully live with, raise, and train a German Shepherd.

    View Deal

    Horse & Hound magazine, out every Thursday, is packed with all the latest news and reports, as well as interviews, specials, nostalgia, vet and training advice. Find how you can enjoy the magazine delivered to your door every week, plus options to upgrade your subscription to access our online service that brings you breaking news and reports as well as other benefits.

    You may like...