German Shepherds: The World's Most Versatile Dog Breed
German Shepherds are hugely popular in the US. They were the fourth-most popular breed registered with the American Kennel Club in 2021.
German Shepherds were originally developed by Captain Max von Stephanitz, a German cavalry officer on a mission to breed the ideal herding dog. He crossed various breed strains from the central and northern districts of Germany and wound up with the German Shepherd breed as we know it today. The breed was first recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1908.
Intelligent, fast, and easy to train, German Shepherds did indeed become phenomenal sheepherders. But now they’re so much more. Friendly around children, protective of the homestead, and eager to serve in myriad roles ranging from police work to guiding the visually impaired, German Shepherds have an enduring (and earned!) reputation for being great family pets, stalwart guardians, and reliable workers.
German Shepherd colors, shapes, and sizes
When most people think of German Shepherds, they’re likely picturing a black-and-tan coat—the breed’s most common coloring. But German Shepherds come in a variety of other colors. In addition to black and tan, there's:
Black and Red
Black & Cream
Black and Silver
Other rare German Shepherd colors also exist, including Panda, Albino, and Isabella—a highly unusual pale liver color. Isabella German Shepherds have noses ranging from light brown to pink and light blue or hazel eyes.
German Shepherds are considered medium-sized dogs. Adult females are about 22–24 inches tall, while males are about 24-26 inches tall. Adult females weigh anywhere from 50 to 70 pounds, while males are about 65 to 90 pounds.
German Shepherd Grooming
German Shepherds are fairly easy to groom for most of the year. Brush them briefly once every few days, and that should be enough to keep stray hairs from cluttering your home and covering your furniture.
However, German Shepherds do tend to have two periods every year (usually in the spring and fall) when their shedding is more extensive. During these periods, German Shepherds lose their undercoats. You’ll have to brush them more often and more comprehensively at these times.
German Shepherds should only be bathed every 3–4 months. Bathing them more than a few times a year can be harmful, removing healthy oils from their coat that would otherwise protect their undercoat and skin. You might consider timing their baths to coincide with their heavy shedding periods, as bathing helps minimize the amount of dead hair left around your home.
You should also trim their nails once per month unless they’ve already been worn down by walking and playing.
German Shepherd Temperament and Characteristics
German Shepherds are primarily popular because of their friendly and loyal temperament. They’re wonderful family pets, affectionate with children, adults, and other pets (including smaller pets). They’re also protective, but generally not in a way that lends itself to excessive barking or other aggressive behavior.
This is just a generalization, of course. Every dog is an individual, and training is key. For one thing, dogs always need proper socialization training.
Fortunately, German Shepherds have a well-earned reputation for being highly intelligent and easy to train.
If there’s any negative mark on the breed’s report card, they’re not always instantaneously affectionate with people or pets outside their own family. As the American Kennel Club’s breed standard puts it: German Shepherds possess a “certain aloofness that does not lend itself to immediate and indiscriminate friendships.” Despite this aloofness, they don’t tend to be hostile.
German Shepherds are protective of their homes and families and make tremendous watchdogs. They have a reputation for fearlessness and for always standing their ground. At the same time, they’re not jumpy and don’t tend to overreact to situations.
Professional and service training
Though technically a member of the herding group rather than the working group, German Shepherds are extraordinary workers that can be trained to perform many tasks. They’re commonly trained as police dogs, in part because of their intelligence and in part because of their extraordinary sense of smell. (German Shepherds commonly aid in search-and-rescue efforts, and they’re adept at sniffing out drugs or bombs.)
German Shepherds are also commonly used as therapy dogs and service dogs. A female German Shepherd named Buddy was the first seeing-eye dog to gain widespread attention in the US, helping to popularize the use of service animals all across the country in the late 1920s.
Exercise needs for German Shepherds
German Shepherds are medium-to-large-sized dogs who are extremely active and full of energy. If you’re looking for a companion dog to lounge lazily around the house with you, you likely won't get this from a German Shepherd—at least not until after you've given them ample exercise.
That means taking them to the dog park, taking them on long walks, or finding some other way to let them work out their energy. Many experts say that German Shepherds require at least two hours of exercise per day, and they’re likely to become stressed and develop undesirable behaviors if they don’t get this much.
If you cannot provide a dog with frequent and vigorous exercise, this may not be the breed for you.
How much does dog insurance cost for German Shepherds?
German Shepherds are extremely popular pets, and for good reason. They were one of ManyPets’ most insured breeds in 2022.
German Shepherds cost more to insure than mixed-breed dogs, so it's not surprising that their policies cost more than average. Policies for mixed-breed dogs tend to be a little less expensive since mixed-breed dogs tend to suffer from fewer health conditions. However, German Shepherds actually cost less to insure than many purebred dogs. They're a fairly healthy breed.
(Keep in mind that these are just averages based on data from all customer premiums.) Your pet's age and location will heavily affect your monthly price, and your pet's premium may differ from the average. Learn more about insuring your Shepherd.
German Shepherd Health Conditions
Compared to many other purebred dogs, German Shepherds are quite healthy. There are some common health conditions to look out for, though.
Hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia commonly afflict German Shepherds. Dysplasia is when the ball and socket don't develop or fit together properly; instead of sliding smoothly like they're supposed to, they rub and grind. The joint then starts to deteriorate and ultimately becomes less functional. A responsible German Shepherd breeder will conduct hip and elbow evaluations and make sure any dogs suffering from these conditions are not bred. In 2022, ManyPets received German Shepherd claims for hip/elbow dysplasia that ran as high as about $630. This may sound like a lot, but it’s actually somewhat low. In many cases, owners will manage hip dysplasia with nothing more than pain medication — but the price can be much higher if surgery is necessary. In fact, surgeries for dysplasia often cost $3,500 or more — and that’s per hip or elbow.
Gastric dilatation-volvulus — commonly known as bloat — is another common condition in German Shepherds. Bloat involves a dangerous abdomen swelling and is often associated with excessive or rapid eating. (German Shepherds like to eat with gusto and may not always know how to pace themselves. So make sure you don’t feed them too much or subject them to irregular feeding schedules.)
Bloat can be an exceedingly expensive condition to treat. A non-emergency surgery (that is if you catch the condition early) can cost as little as $400. But in a severe case, bloat-related surgery often costs over $1,500 — and sometimes as much as $6,000 or more.
Cruciate ligament conditions are also common in German Shepherds. The cruciate ligament is the ligament that connects the front of the tibia (the bone below the knee) with the back of the femur (the bone above the knee). These conditions aren’t cheap to treat. In 2022, ManyPets received German Shepherd claims for cruciate ligament conditions that ran as high as about $420. But that actually doesn’t tell the whole story. A cruciate ligament surgery in dogs can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000, depending on the severity of the condition.
Just remember: It’s a good idea to purchase dog insurance when your German Shepherd is still young. That way, you're far less likely to encounter any pre-existing condition exclusions, and your dog will still be covered if these conditions develop later in their life.
Keeping your German Shepherd healthy
You should always make sure your pet gets the best possible treatment if they’re sick or injured, but it’s even better to keep them healthy to begin with. And there are several steps you can take to maintain your German Shepherd’s good health.
Again, you’ll need to ensure they get plenty of vigorous exercise and stimulating play. German Shepherds need at least two hours of exercise daily, and low-energy walks may not cut it. This is certainly a time commitment. But if you don't give your German Shepherd enough exercise, you’ll likely be rewarded with problematic behaviors such as household destruction, indoor potty habits, or even excessive barking and aggression.
German Shepherds also thrive on routine, so try to give them exercise at the same times every day.
You’ll also need to pay close attention to your German Shepherd’s diet and make sure they stay at a healthy weight. German Shepherds are a hungry breed, and they’ll eat too much if you let them.
Obese German Shepherds are significantly more likely to develop costly conditions like hip/elbow dysplasia and cruciate ligament disease or rupture. Poor (or irregular) eating habits can also lead to bloat, which is life-threatening. According to the American Kennel Club’s breed standard, German Shepherds should “look substantial and not spindly, giving the impression, both at rest and in motion, of muscular fitness and nimbleness.”
Also, be sure not to overwork your German Shepherd too early in their life. German Shepherds physically develop more slowly than some other dogs. If you work them too hard or give them too much heavy exercise before the age of two, joint problems might arise later on.
You’ll also need to be careful in the warmer months. Because German Shepherds have two coats—and because of their darker coloring—they're prone to heat stroke in higher temperatures. So make sure they stay hydrated, get a lot of shade, and don’t exert themselves too much on hotter days.
As with any breed, you’ll want to make sure your German Shepherd receives regularly scheduled veterinary check-ups. Your vet may want to pay especially close attention to your dog’s hips, knees, and elbows, especially as they get older.
German Shepherd popularity
Frequently asked questions about German Shepherds
How much exercise does a German Shepherd need?
Quite a lot! Many experts believe that German Shepherds need as much as 2 hours of robust exercise per day. If you don't have the time or energy for this, German Shepherds may not be the right breed for you.
Are German Shepherds dangerous?
They shouldn't be! German Shepherds actually have a reputation for being quite calm and well-behaved (though not always eager to make friends with strangers). Of course, any dog can become ill-tempered with the wrong training or treatment. So just make sure to properly train your German Shepherd, especially when it comes to socialization.