German Shepherds: A Breed Prespective

German Shepherds: A Breed Perspective.

Understanding German Shepherds: A Guide for Future Owners

Understanding the German Shepherd breed (GSD for short) involves appreciating its history, traits, and health considerations. Recognising the distinctions between show and working lines will help GSD owners make informed decisions to achieve a fulfilling and healthy life for their loyal companions.


Historical Roots:

The German Shepherd Dog has a long history that dates back to the 1800s, when they were mainly used as sheep herding dogs on family-owned farms in Germany. In 1899, the Society for the German Shepherd Dog (SV) was established in Augsburg, Germany, as the founding organisation responsible for the preservation of this working breed. The SV established a breed standard outlining the ideal characteristics that purebred German Shepherds should possess.

In World War II, GSDs demonstrated their versatility by serving on the front lines, which led to their reputation as popular working dogs worldwide in the 1900s.


Breed Characteristics:

The German Shepherd breed standard states that these dogs should be medium-sized, well-muscled, balanced, self-assured, good-natured, attentive, and eager to please. They come in two coat types: long and short coat and are seen in a variety of colours including Black and Tan, Solid Black, and Sable. Male dogs should range from 30 – 40kg and females from 22kg – 32kg.


Modern Lifestyle:

Today, GSDs are more commonly found lounging on a couch than herding sheep. However, beneath their calm exterior lies the heart of a hardworking farmer turned soldier. They have a strong work ethic ingrained in them. As working dogs, they require both mental and physical exercise to maintain their well-being. If they don’t get enough exercise, they may find activities to keep themselves busy, such as moving household furniture around or digging holes in the backyard.


Choosing the Right Dog for Your Family:

The ideal GSD should be calm and self-confident. During the first visit with a new dog, look for a dog that either approaches with friendly curiosity or shows aloof indifference. A nervous, overly excitable, or aggressive dog should be avoided. Remember, the way the dog behaves in that first meeting, is the same way that dog will behave around strangers in future (visiting guests to your home, vets etc). Also take into consideration the energy levels of a dog: knowing the amount of time you can spend exercising and training the dog every day, will help guide your choice. Different types of GSDs have different amounts of energy, as discussed later.


Achieving Balance:

To help your GSD achieve a content “lounge lizard” state, daily exercise and formal training, are crucial. Environmental enrichment and competitive sports like nose work, agility, tracking, and IGP* are wonderful outlets for their innate desire to have a job to do.


Traits and Temperament:

German Shepherd Dogs are often described as big lap dogs and enjoy being a part of everyday family life and activities. GSDs are also naturally inclined to be protective of their territory, care for their owners and possessions, and thrive when given tasks that demonstrate their intelligence, emotional sensitivity, and loyalty.


Common Health Concerns:

It’s essential to be aware of common health conditions in GSDs, including musculoskeletal disorders (Hip and Elbow dysplasia, Degenerative Myelopathy, and Lumbosacral Disease), ear infections, and gastrointestinal issues. When choosing a German Shepherd for your family, prioritise breeders who conduct health screenings of their breeding dogs including x-rays and DNA testing. Understanding the common conditions which might arise when owning a German Shepherd, will help you prepare if an injury or illness may arise during your dog’s lifetime. Being prepared may also include having pet insurance protection to assist with the financial outlay for veterinarian expenses.


Show vs. Working Lines: Is There a Difference

Besides the various working roles the breed can be found in, there is also a demand for dogs to fill the roles of conformation show winners and family pets. Due to this demand, two sub-types have emerged: the show type and the working type.


  • Show Type: These dogs have been selectively bred to exhibit their physical appearance and structure in the conformation show ring, and usually display the traditional black and tan colouration. The show type is often more consistent in size and shape than the working type with lower energy levels and less territorial behaviour. A problem that can be seen with the show type, is an overly sloped back, which is caused by selectively breeding dogs with longer hind legs and increased angles at the leg joints. Longer hind legs give the dog a longer stride and creates the picture of the effortless, flowing running style favoured in the conformation show competitions. This practice has inadvertently created dogs with legs that are too long or angled to comfortably support their hind ends, causing the appearance of a dipping or sloping back.


  • Working Type: These dogs are specifically bred for working roles such as military or police work, or competitive sports. They come in a wider range of sizes and body shapes, than the show type, and are often characterised by black or sable colouring. This type often has higher energy levels and may display stronger territorial or guarding behaviours.


To protect your trusty canine companion with dog insurance and to ensure your puppy or adult dog is covered in case of accidents, illness or injuries, please visit our Dog Insurance page here or call us on  1300 731 324.


Written by Samantha Hendricks – Breed enthusiast – Vice President of Working German Shepherd Dog Club of Australasia (WGSDA) and Co-owner of Haveloc German Shepherds (est.1984)


For more information on the breed, and the topics discussed, follow the links below.
The digital home of the Society for the German Shepherd (SV). More information on the history and foundations of the breed, as well as current breed-related topics, can be found here.
A link to the full, international breed standard, which forms the blueprint for all pedigree GSDs born today.
The home of Pedigree Dogs in Australia. This link gives more information on the various competitive sports available for dog owners to enjoy in Australia.
The Working German Shepherd and Dogsport Clubs of Australasia, is a national organisation that supports the preservation of the working abilities of the German Shepherd breed in Australia and New Zealand, through IGP competition.

*IGP – International Gebrauchshund Prufung = International Working/practical Dog Test)