The German shepherd is consistently one of America’s favorite dog breeds, and its loyalty, gentleness, and devotion leave little question why. If you are looking for a well-rounded family dog that will confidently keep your brood safe, the German shepherd may be the breed for you. These dogs are sharply intelligent, which has led to their use as military, police, and service dogs.

Physical characteristics of the German shepherd

A regal-looking dog breed, German shepherds have a smooth, graceful build and a leanly muscled, long body. Their head is proportional to their body, and their ears are medium-sized, pointed, and stand erect and alert.

German shepherds have a thick, medium-length, double coat that is longer around the neck and on the back leg surfaces. The base color is brown, with black accents over the back, top surface of the tail, and on the face.

Personality and temperament of the German shepherd

German shepherds are intelligent, confident, and undyingly loyal to their family or trainer. They are generally easy to train, and quickly pick up new concepts and commands. Their quick intellect makes them a perfect choice for use as police, military, and service dogs. As family pets, they can easily be trained to obey basic commands, or to participate in sporting events, such as agility trials.

German shepherds are often fiercely protective of their family and home, and can be wary of strangers. Many families choose this breed as guard dogs, and feel safe with them stationed as a lookout. Their protectiveness can make them intimidating to house guests, however, and they must be trained as puppies to accept new people and situations without apprehension. Their large size and exuberance can scare small children, but they are typically gentle dogs once they mature to adulthood.

Common health concerns for the German shepherd

The owners of German shepherds should be aware of the following health conditions:

Canine hip dysplasia (CHD)

CHD is a genetic disease that causes abnormal hip joint development and eventual degeneration, arthritis, and lameness.

Gastric dilation volvulus (GDV)

If a large amount of gas accumulates in the stomach, it can distend, twist, and obstruct the entrance and exit. GDV is a life-threatening emergency that requires immediate surgery to decompress and return the stomach to its normal position. Deep-chested dog breeds, including German shepherds, have a high risk of GDV development.

Perianal fistulas

German shepherds can develop chronically draining tracts in the tissue surrounding their anus that cause severe pain and discomfort. Perianal fistulas can be difficult to resolve, and often recur.


Young German shepherds can develop this painful leg bone condition that causes inflammation, fever, and decreased appetite. Although panosteitis is self-limiting and resolves in several days to months, affected dogs can become quite painful and lame while the condition runs its course.

Hypertrophic osteodystrophy (HOD)

Similar to panosteitis, HOD causes leg bone inflammation, pain, and fever in young German shepherds. Affected dogs experience multi-leg lameness.

Chronic superficial keratitis (pannus)

Sunlight exposure can cause a progressive invasion of blood vessels and scar tissue over the eye’s cornea, causing eventual blindness. Pannus can occur in any dog breed, but is most common in German shepherds.

Other health concerns include:

  • Bone and joint problems
  • Back problems
  • Epilepsy
  • Heart disease
  • Cancer
  • Allergies
  • Anal gland problems
  • Degenerative myelopathy

Caring for the German shepherd

German shepherds have a glossy topcoat overlying a thick undercoat that requires frequent brushing. They shed small amounts of hair consistently, but shed more heavily in the spring and fall as the seasons change and they prepare for temperature extremes. They need to be brushed twice weekly for most of the year, and daily while they are blowing their coat. German shepherds also need monthly baths, ear cleanings, and nail trims. They typically have healthy teeth if they are maintained by daily brushing and regular professional veterinary dental cleanings.

German shepherds can become bored and destructive if they are not provided with daily exercise and mental stimulation. They are energetic dogs who love to run and play, and a daily jog or game of fetch will keep them from becoming bored. German shepherds are always up for an adventure, and enjoy accompanying their families on hikes, camping trips, or trips to the lake.

The German shepherd is the perfect dog for you if:

  • You want a well-rounded family dog you can take on hikes and camping trips
  • You want a partner for your daily run
  • You are willing to provide obedience training
  • You have a backyard for exercise
  • You are willing to brush your dog often and don’t mind a pet who sheds