The Intelligent, Brave German Shepherd – Is It The Right Breed For You?

Apr 18, 2020

Guide to Owning A German Shepherd 

Cristen Carlson with Dr. Jim Carlson

German Shepherds are an iconic dog breed that is intertwined in everything from American film history to the many mixed breed canines adopted every day across the country.  This medium to large dog is beloved for its courage and obedience skills. If you’ve lived with a German Shepherd, it’s possible you know that these dogs can almost read your mind.  “This dog is very intuitive and intelligent. With their beautiful coat and loyal, protective qualities, the German Shepherd can make a wonderful companion dog for the right household,” said Jim D. Carlson, DVM CVA CVTP, Owner and Holistic Veterinarian at Riverside Animal Clinic & Holistic Center located in Chicago’s northwest suburbs.

America’s Long Fascination with German Shepherds

Superstar Rin Tin Tin acted in 27 movies

The German Shepherd caught the eye and fascination of many in the 1930s with Rin Tin Tin, the gorgeous shepherd who starred in 27 Hollywood films.  There was also a white German Shepherd, White Shadow, who appeared on a television series in the 1950s. These two dogs created a love for this alert, intelligent breed in America. The German Shepherd breed also shot to fame for its epic battle photos from the front lines of World War I and World War II.

The popular 1950s television show inspired a love for the breed’s unusual coloring

But how did this brave dog breed come to be?  This link from shows there are different types of German Shepherds and their history isn’t all the same In fact, as the article by Emily Green points out, and they all had specific purposes.

Is the German Shepherd a Good Family Dog?

Reader submitted photo of baby Josh with Murray, the original pillow pet and perfect family dog by Teresa Tures Berry

German Shepherds are bred and trained more often as police dogs than any other dog in the world. However, it doesn’t mean they aren’t fantastic house dogs.  Their quick nature and compassionate temperament can make these dogs fit into a family very well.    

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Photo by Altino Dantas on Unsplash

They are also a fun dog to train with exceptional obedience skills and a fast capacity to pick up new tricks and training techniques.  While other breeds might be considered “smarter” such as the Border Collie in the number one spot on the smart breeds list, the German Shepherd takes training beyond people pleasing and into a different realm.  The quick witted, strong and natural athlete learns any discipline from swimming to agility to drug sniffing or protection.

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Photo by Anna Dudkova on Unsplash

German Shepherd Appearance and Physical Characteristics

While the traditional shepherd is black and tan, German Shepherds do come in an array of colors and hair coat textures. has some great photos of beautiful shepherds bred in stunning coat colors from blue to white.  It’s interesting to note that the German Shepherd also can come in different coat lengths.  The standard dog of this breed is short to medium coated with a heavy undercoat. But some are bred with long hair about 4-6” in length with furry ears. Their body size is usually around 70 pounds but the range is wide and some dogs are very large weighing in at over 100 pounds.  

Reader submitted photo of our 91 pound friend Ramsey by Christine Ditzler

Are German Shepherds Dangerous?

There is a certain protectiveness in the nature of some German Shepherds that can be a concern for pet owners and their neighbors.  Similar to other breeds with a reputation for being aggressive, raising a dog right may contribute to a more successful outcome. “These dogs are particularly intelligent and intuitive. When you have those primal instincts in an animal, it’s important to have an owner that’s willing to commit to lifetime learning with their dog,” said Dr. Carlson.  He suggests obedience training, working daily to learn new things and plenty of exercise to help the German Shepherd get out extra energy that will keep them healthy.

This serious guy protects a horse farm near Chicago. Photo credit: Blythe Graver

“German Shepherds do have a primal gut and can develop diarrhea and gastric upset quickly when they become stressed.  It’s important to have predictable outlets for their energy every day and to stay on schedule with activities and training,” said. Dr. Carlson

Another consideration is the bite force of a German Shepherd which is 238 PSI, the second strongest bite force in dog breeds.  This is a serious bite strength, making the German Shepherd a great police and protection dog in the right hands. With that information, it may be a good time to think a bit about whether a dog that strong is right for your home, lifestyle and level of involvement.  “This isn’t a dog you can let run around the back yard then come in the house for the evening. This dog should have an active engaged owner for the best outcome,” said. Dr. Carlson. “The German Shepherd is a dog that needs a purpose in life and is too smart to sit around.”

Photo by @eternalseconds on

German Shepherd Health Issues

German Shepherd dogs, like many large dogs, may suffer hip dysplasia.  It’s a good idea to find a dog that is well bred and has parents who have passed Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) certification. This certification verifies the parent is free of any genetic hip defect. It isn’t a lifelong guarantee that your pet won’t experience a problem but it is a safe measure to take when buying a new puppy.

German Shepherds may also suffer elbow dysplasia. Again, if you are buying from a breeder, be sure you see both parents of your new puppy and the breeder can present you with all certifications on the sire and dam.  

Other issues for shepherds include:  pancreatitis, gastric bloat, thyroid and skin diseases.

Adopting A German Shepherd

Reader submitted photo of GSD mix Indie enjoying farm life with friends Bacardi and Tucker. Photo credit: Nancy Henningfield

There are many rescue organizations across the country that focus on finding homes for homeless German Shepherds.   You may be lucky enough to find one at your local rescue as well. There are many dogs with the lines of a German Shepherd that might work for you, so stay open to mixed breed dogs.

For more breed information and lists of breeders specific to the German Shepherd world, check out the German Shepherd Dog Club of America.  This is a great reference for lovers of this brave, strong breed. 

Additionally, the American Kennel Club has a list of breeders in their referral search tool.  Always ask for references when purchasing a puppy, plus all papers, a health guarantee and health certifications of the parents.  Be sure to remember to book an appointment with a veterinarian immediately.

Veterinary Care for German Shepherds

Most adoption centers and breeders will ask your pet be examined by your own veterinarian within a certain time frame.  Usually, this will range from 2-3 days after purchase or the acquisition of your new pet. Your veterinarian should check the pet’s hips, stifle joints, elbows and do a thorough exam of the skin & coat, mouth, ears, abdomen and lymph nodes.  Don’t forget to pick up heartworm prevention and flea and tick prevention while you’re there!

We hope you enjoy your new German Shepherd.  If you get a chance, be sure to post a photo in the comments or send a pic to Dr. Carlson at

The author with her beloved German Shepherds Ivan and Huggie in 1985.
Photo by Bob Hawkins, Newton, Iowa

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