German Shepherd – Breed Profile

The German Shepherd is a large breed of dog, well known for their intelligence and trainability. To find out more about the breed, and if it is a good fit for your family, read on below.

German Shepherd Abbey, on a recent visit to our Shadwell surgery.

German Shepherd


German Shepherds are easily recognised by their distinctive face, with its long muzzle and pricked up ears. Most people also recognise them by their black and tan colouring, though they can be found with other, rarer colours. These less common colours include sable, pure black and pure white. They have a dual layered coat, with a dense outer coat over a thick under coat. Although most commonly short haired, longer haired examples do exist. They are a large breed, with females weighing 22-32kg and males 30-40kg. An exaggerated sloping of the back has caused controversy after being seen in show German Shepherds. This has resulted in dogs with spinal and hind leg issues. Consequently, the Kennel Club has retrained judges to penalise dogs that show these symptoms.


German Shepherds are an intelligent and curious breed. Bred as sheep-dogs (hence the name), they are very trainable. This has led to their widespread use as working dogs, most commonly in fields such as law enforcement. They are also occasionally used as guide dogs. Due to their strength and size, attending training classes at a young age is highly recommended. With proper training, German Shepherds can be fantastic family dogs but can become overly protective of their family and territory if not properly socialised at a young age. If you are looking to have other pets alongside a German Shepherd, early socialisation is very important. German Shepherds require plenty of mental and physical stimulation, so are best suited to a lifestyle that gives them plenty to do.


Life expectancy for German Shepherds is around 10-14 years. Due to the breeding practices used in the early development of the breed, they are prone to a number of health problems. As with many large breed dogs, hip dysplasia is common, with higher than normal rates of elbow dysplasia also noted. The breed has higher than normal instances of degenerative myelopathy, which is a spinal disease that typically leads to a loss of back leg function. As with other deep chested dogs, they are prone to gastric dilatation-volvulus (bloat), so you should avoid exercising your Shepherd straight after eating. They are also known to present with Von Willebrand disease more commonly than other breeds.


The German Shepherd is not a breed with a particularly long history. Sheep herding in northeast Europe was primarily practised using the ‘continental shepherd dog’ prior to 1899. However, this was a fairly blanket term for a wide variety of dogs. The Max von Stephanitz established the German Shepherd in order to develop a consistent working shepherd dog. This new breed would adhere to a set of standards that he saw as ideal for the purpose of the breed. On visiting a dog show in 1899, von Stephanitz came across a dog named Hektor Linksrhein (later renamed Horand), who he saw as perfect for his new breed. Horand then became the basis for the German Shepherd we know today. In order to maintain the characteristics of the breed, inbreeding was frequently used during its establishment.

Famous Examples

There are a number of famous German Shepherd dogs in popular culture. Two separate dogs, Strongheart and Rin Tin Tin (who became a film star after being rescued from a WWI war zone) have stars on the Hollywood walk of fame. Ace the Bat-Hound, from the Batman comics, was a German Shepherd, as was Max the Bionic Dog, who was a character from the 1970’s TV series, The Bionic Woman. The first seeing eye dog was also a German Shepherd, named Buddy.

The German Shepherd in the attached photo is Abbey. She recently visited us at our Shadwell surgery for a primary vaccination course. She then came back for some familiarisation visits, to make her future vet visits as easy as possible.

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