Everything You Need to Know About the German Shepherd Dog Breed
It is rightly said that German Shepherd isn’t a breed; it’s a lifestyle. Known for their unmatched loyalty and dedication, they are also the third most intelligent dog breed according to Stanley Coren’s book, The Intelligence of Dogs. German Shepherd’s are so versatile and adaptable that can do absolutely anything if trained to. Right from being of assistance to the handicapped, to police and military services, drug detection and of course faithful companionship.
Even one of the earliest canine movie stars, Strongheart and Rin Tin Tin, were German Shepherd Dogs. Rin Tin Tin was rescued from the World War 1 battlefield by an Amercian Soldier, Lee Duncan. Lee trained Rinty (as he would call him) and he got work in silent films. The dawgie was an immediate box-office hit and went on to star in 27 Hollywood films.
What’s so German about the GSDs?
In the 1800s, the most common dogs who used to herd the sheep were known as “Continental Shepherd Dog” or simply, “Shepherd Dogs.” Approximately 50 years down the line, as tension started to build in Germany, shepherds and farmers wanted to isolate useful characteristics among dogs, especially working dogs.
The 1850s were the beginning of standardization of dog breeds. This is exactly when the German Shepherd Dogs were selected as the best breed among other hounds and beasts. Intelligence, speed, and strength were recognized as ‘desirable’ traits, and these dogs were found to master these. However, within thirty years, these attempts faded significantly as the predator population started declining, rendering shepherd dogs useless in general.
Despite this failed attempt, German Shepherds remained the headline for years to come. Acing across all the desirable traits, everyone took to notice the intelligence of this furry creature. Among these was Max Von Stephanitz, who was an ex-cavalryman and had served in one of the societies which had earlier wanted to standardize dogs. Max was soon introduced to a German Shepherd Dog named Hektor Linksrhein. Von was so impressed by Hektor’s agility, strength and smartness, that he got him home and renamed him to Horand. But he didn’t stop at that! He then founded the Society for the German Shepherd Dog in 1899 and registered Horand as the first German Shepherd Dog.
The breed was named Deutscher Schäferhund by Max Von Stephanitz, literally translating to ‘German Shepherd Dog’. The name was kept fairly simple, indicating what this breed does. Interestingly enough, since Germany and UK were on different sides during World War 1, the UK ‘hated’ everything ‘German’. So much so, that they invented a new name for this sweet variety; Alsatian Wolf Dog, named after the French territory of Alsace bordering the UK.
Alsatian and the German Shephards are literally the same dog breed, called differently because the UK didn’t want to call them ‘German’.
The Personality of a German Shepherd Dog
German Shephards are one of the most versatile dog breeds. They are also highly trainable. This is what makes them the first choice for anyone looking for a working dog.
GSDs are smart and intelligent
A well trained German Shepherd can do anything. They can lead the specially-abled, serve as police dogs and work as excellent watchdogs. Since their bodies are used to watching livestock and making sure that nobody in the pack goes missing, they are extremely vigilant.
GSDs are a little reserved
When it comes to their nature, German Shepherds are inherently shy. Most German Shepherd parents concur that these dogs take a little time initially to make friends, but once they do, they would literally give their everything for them. It is due to their reserved nature that they tend to be a little more disciplined as compared to other breeds. This makes training them easier. In fact, India has recruited many German Shepherds into their surveillance and investigation teams. Their presence in CISF’s Delhi Metro Unit is an example of how well trusted this breed is.
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German Shephard Dogs shed a lot!
German Shepherds are also called ‘German Shedders’, and for the right reasons. They shed throughout the year and a little more during the shedding season. They are blessed with a double coat, which was originally meant to protect them from the cold, while they worked in ranches. Since they are slowly adapting to warmer climates, shedding is their body’s way of acclimatizing to that change. Shedding can be kept in check by daily brushing, which helps keep the dead hair out and by feeding a biologically-appropriate and balanced diet.
ALSO READ: 6 Dog Breeds That Shed The Most
They need a LOT of exercise
These dogs were meant for a life of work. Their bodies have evolved over the years to help them be consistently on their feet. This is the reason why German Shepherds have a lot of energy, which they need to spend doing something constructive. A minimum of 60-90 minutes of exercise is recommended for your German Shepherd Dog. To make walks and jogs more fun, you can try a game of frisbee with your German dawgie. A tired dog is a happy dog, so don’t shy away from making your baby chase that ball. And we bet he’ll love it!
If your pooch doesn’t spend his energy on exercise, be sure that he will take to barking or chewing to release it. To avoid your house from being brought down, and your couch being torn to tatters, it is advisable that you take your German Shepherd Dog out for a walk every day.
They can suffer from separation anxiety
Always been on the run, these dogs are used to being around people. Therefore, they go through a bout of separation anxiety every time they are left alone. When it comes to a German Shepherd, you might want to take into account their reserved nature, to begin with. If they are kept on a leash, they might inculcate a rebellious attitude, which makes training very hard. It has been observed in a lot of cases that keeping your German Shepherd indoors with you, and taking them out for exercise is a great way to keep separation anxiety at bay. It is also advisable to not leave your German Shepherd alone for longer periods of time. And let’s face it, why would you want to?
Common Medical Problems with German Shepherd Dogs
Even though GSDs are a fairly healthy dog breed, here are some common medical issues that could trouble your German Shephard Dog. It’s not necessary that your darling GSD will suffer with one of these. But an information about the health risks means you can catch their signs early and potentially save your baby from a lot of pain & agony in the long run.
- Hip Dysplasia
This is a genetic condition in which the thigh bone doesn’t fit exactly into the pelvis. It can exist on both sides of the body and can be extremely painful for your German Shepherd. More than often, Hip Dysplasia has caused dogs to walk with a limp, in the very first months of their puppyhood. However, in another significant number of cases, no clinical signs are visible, which makes it very hard to detect. Since this condition is genetic, there’s sadly not much that can be done about it once your puppy is fully grown. A lot of vets recommend corrective surgery as early as possible, otherwise, it has a chance of progressing into arthritis as your dawgie matures.
- Elbow Dysplasia
Another hereditary condition, Elbow Dysplasias happen because the three bones that make up your dawgie’s elbow grow at different rates. This can put your pooch through extreme pain and can cause joint laxity. Most vets recommend pain medication and corrective surgeries. It should be noted that the earlier this gets caught, the better chances your pet has at having a painless recovery.
Also known as Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus, this disease is most common among deep-chested breeds like German Shepherds. If the dawgie is fed a large meal, or drinks water very rapidly after eating, or exercises after such a meal, the excessive air inside his belly is caged. The dog is unable to relieve himself of such a distended stomach. Belching or vomiting is the way out of this. Under such a condition, even the blood flow to the heart can stop. The blood pressure drops immediately. If you notice your GSD has a distended abdomen, or is salivating in excess, or belching without throwing up, rush to the vet immediately.
- Degenerative Myelopathy
It is a very serious condition where the spinal cord of your GSD degenerates to the point that they are unable to identify and use their hind legs. In a lot of cases, the dog may not be able to walk at all. It has been found in some cases, that this condition could be related to deficiency of Vitamin E and B12. However, according to most researches, the only way to put your pet out of this pain, sadly, is by putting them to sleep.
- Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency
In this disease, the pancreatic cells that produce digestive enzymes get destroyed. As a result of this, the dog may not be able to digest anything, throws up often, loses appetite and weight. Luckily, pancreatic enzymes are available as supplements and can be added to your pet’s diet to compensate for the deficiency. Once your pet has received the medication, the chances of full recovery are great!
Caused due to a deficiency of thyroxine, the symptoms of this disease include weight loss, excessive salivating and shedding. If you notice these symptoms, it is recommended that you visit the doctor. Fairly treatable with the administration of thyroid medication, the prognosis of your German Shepherd Dog is great!
- Canine Cancer
While all pure bred dogs are at a risk of canine cancer, German Shephards are genetically predispositioned to a variety of cancers. This means that they are at a larger risk of developing these cancers compared to other dog breeds. Hemangiosarcoma and Osteosarcoma are two such cancers. Hemangiosarcoma, a malignant cancer of the circulatory system and Osteosarcoma, commonly known as bone cancer – both occur more frequently in German Shephards than other dog breeds.
ALSO READ: Everything About Canine Cancer
How to take care of your German Shepherd Dog
To take good care of your German Shepherd, it is advisable that you take care of the three pillars on which your pet’s health depends: Nutrition, Exercise, and Grooming. We may want to pamper our pooches from time to time, but it is highly recommended that these three things must never be ignored!
Good food is at the heart of nutrition. In a world blaring with too much information, it is advisable to stick to the basics. Dawgies have developed from wolves, who used to chase their preys, hunt them down, and eat them raw. Their bodies have evolved in a way that allows them to digest meat with the greatest ease. Hence, it is important to note that an all-vegetarian diet may not be in the best interest of your pooch’s health. Further, a balanced diet needs to have everything – proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, and other micronutrients. Your German Shepherd’s body needs proteins to help him grow, carbohydrates to give him the energy to play and be the cute pooch he is and vitamins and minerals to aid all the other systems in doing their work. A lot of studies show that it’s not only the food that matters but also its source. Leftover food scraps & meat byproducts are often sold to consumers in pretty packaging as pet foods. Obviously, these are not ideal for your pet.
It is advisable that your pet gets the best of the very best! Since German Shepherds encounter dysplasias, extreme care needs to be taken while they’re still puppies. Adding calcium to their diets through natural sources like eggs and bones is a good idea. Fish is another great source of calcium. On the other hand, fruits rich in vitamins & minerals can also benefit your dawgie. As German Shepherds are also prone to degenerative myelopathy, adding fruits and vegetables to their diet which are rich in Vitamin E and B12 is highly recommended. Some of the dawgie-safe fruits are papaya, muskmelon, and watermelon.
In order to help your dog, you must be able to notice what they’re trying to tell you. Once you know about the symptoms of a particular disease, it may help you in identifying a problem, and knowing when to take a call. If you’re aware of what your pet is eating, identifying the root of your pooch’s health issues becomes easier. A healthy dog, is indeed, a happy dog!
For working dogs such as the German Shepherds, it is recommended that exercise form a major part of their schedule. This is because their bodies have been built for long working hours and mentally simulating situations. These dawgies were made for the ranch life, which required them to be on their toes, always on the lookout for missing cattle. They have thus, been blessed with bountiful energy. And since their environment is not the same anymore, they need to find an alternative way to spend all that energy. This is why it is advisable that German Shepherds get at least 60-90 minutes of daily exercise. And this exercise need not be the same every day. You can try different fetching games with your pooch, as they LOVE these. Most German Shepherd parents have often talked about how a bored and idle German Shepherd can unleash wrath, and it’s best to avoid that through a strict exercise regime.
German ‘Shedders’ need grooming from time to time. Since these munchkins shed a lot, it is important to get the dead and decaying hair out from their coat, otherwise it may lead to itching and is not generally hygienic. Their coats must be brushed at least once a day to keep shedding under control. Most doctors advise that dawgie coat and ears be periodically examined for chances of an infection, especially during monsoon.
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Do you have a German Shepherd? Tell us about him/her in the comments below!
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