Praised for their bravery on the battlefield, this highly intelligent dog breed is one of the nation's favourites. From the PetPeople magazine archive
Famous for working alongside the police, the German Shepherd is a highly sought-after pet, jumping onto the podium in third place behind Labradors and Yorkshire Terriers as one of the nation's favourite pooches. Also known as an Alsatian, this breed is a large, solidly built, handsome dog with a sharp intellect and loyal nature.
German Shepherds are regularly used as search and rescue dogs, in explosives detection or as 'scouts' in wartime, and the breed played an essential part in finding survivors of the 9/11 attacks in New York in 2001. A member of the pastoral or herding breeds, this large canine is easily trainable and obedient.
Not surprisingly, German Shepherds were first bred in Germany and were recognised as a specific breed in 1899. They gained worldwide acclaim after World War One when returning soldiers spoke highly of them in battle. A spate of German Shepherd TV stars such as Rin Tin Tin and Strongheart followed during this era, leading to a dramatic rise in popularity for the pooch.
Although its fortunes waxed and waned because of the two conflicts with Germany, this breed has become one of the world's most popular pet dogs.
Are they for you?
A strong-willed, active dog, the German Shepherd is not a pet for couch potatoes. These dogs require firm guidance, lots of exercise and an interest in training to keep them happy and well-mannered in social environments. They are very loving to their owners, but can be wary of strangers, so lots of socialisation as a puppy will help to create a calm adult dog. Bold, cheerful and eager to learn, German Shepherds flourish when homed with an owner with the same attributes. They need lots of attention and can destroy property if left unstimulated. It's best for this breed to have a good-sized garden to roam in. German Shepherds can be happy in flats as long as they have lots of walks outdoors, but some form of outside space is advisable.
German Shepherds can suffer from a variety of orthopaedic conditions such as Hip Dysplasia, along with arthritic and cartilaginous disorders, eye problems and skin conditions. Mention these problems to your vet and discuss them with reputable breeders before you buy a puppy to ensure that you choose the most healthy and well-bred one for you. German Shepherds, on average, tend to remain loyally at the sides of their masters until around 12 years of age.
Puppies are generally priced at around £600-700, but much of the cost of a German Shepherd will be felt after you take this adorable bundle of fur home. With such a large dog come large bills for its upkeep, and you'll find that food and vet bills become proportionally bigger, as this breed grows rapidly.
With the German Shepherd's high level of intelligence comes an ability to misbehave. An under-exercised or under-stimulated dog can damage belongings or furnishings if left for long periods inside the home. Aggression has also been noted in unsocialised German Shepherds, so it is always advisable to meet the parents of your potential puppy to gauge their temperaments.
The German Shepherd is a large dog with a strong, well proportioned frame. It has a long, pointed, solid muzzle ending in a black nose, pricked-up large ears, almond-shaped dark eyes and a long bushy tail.
A German Shepherd's coat is thick and glossy and can be either rough, long-rough or long-haired. Typically black and tan in colour, the coat can also be sable, blue, liver and white or all black. German Shepherds shed throughout the year so they need to be brushed daily. They should be bathed only rarely, otherwise the natural oils produced by their skin may become depleted, resulting in a dry coat.
Size and weight
Quite tall and statesmanly, the male German Shepherd can reach over 2ft (65cm) tall and weigh up to 40kg. The female tends to be finer-boned with a more feminine, narrow head. She weighs on average 5kg lighter than the male and is a few inches shorter.
Do you have anything to add to our portrait of this breed? Just comment below to let us know.
By Scott Miller, vet