German Shepherd Dog: Breed profile

A lovely german shepherd playing a field
(Image credit: Getty)

German Shepherds are intelligent medium-to-large sized working dogs. As well as being popular pets, they have found a strong place in the hearts of many professionals. Their ability to learn quickly and respond well to training is coupled with strength and loyalty. But since they love to play and are highly energetic and active, they do need care and attention: these are dogs that really don't like to be left alone.

Once known as Alsatians, the dogs were originally used in Germany to herd and guard sheep. They were also bred for use in the German military, and they served in the trenches during the First World War, where they were able to assist wounded soldiers, carry supplies, and detect enemy movements. Returning soldiers were full of praise for the dog, and they became popular across Europe. Rin Tin Tin was rescued from the battlefield, and became a Hollywood star.

Quick stats

Life expectancy: 9 to 13 years
Average weight: 65-90lbs/30-40kg  Female: 50-70lbs/20-30kg
About the same as: a nine-year-old child
Exercise level: High (2 hours per day)

How much exercise does a German Shepherd need?

German Shepherds are no couch potatoes; quite the opposite, in fact. As well as a daily walk, these highly active dogs need lots of stimulation both physically and mentally throughout the day, otherwise they will seek alternative ways of ridding themselves of their excess energy and boredom – often by chewing on your furniture and barking. Simple games involving a frisbee a ball or a selection of the best dog toys will engage both their athletic bodies and intelligent minds. If you have a fenced yard, it would be a good idea to let a German Shepherd roam free. Given their insatiable demand for exercise, however, it's also necessary to try and keep them on the go inside the house, with regular instructions to fetch and carry alongside ongoing obedience training. The only times owners can relax a little is when the dogs are puppies (the rule is generally five minutes of exercise for every month of age) or heading into old age.

Suitable for: Energetic people living in large homes who want a loyal companion.
Not suitable for: Anyone with a busy job who likes to maintain a hair-free home.
Temperament: Active, self-assured, protective, intelligent, aloof.
Shedding: Heavy

Are German Shepherds easy to train?

Consider the roles German Shepherds play. Originally bred to herd sheep, they are used by the police to chase criminals, and by rescuers to find missing people. They will assist people with disabilities, detect drugs and even act (check out the movies I Am Legend and K-9 to see some great stars in action). As such, the answer is a big fat yes. German Shepherds can be trained to do anything and, luckily, this breed of dog is one of the easiest to house-train. They learn and react quickly and, because they are eager to please their owners,  respond well to ongoing obedience training. Indeed, by teaching them early (and rewarding them with treats, praise or a toy), German Shepherds will soon become comfortable around new people and situations – socializing them is crucial. With consistency and reinforcement of your commands, it won't be long before you have a well-behaved companion.

What is a German Shepherd's temperament like?

There is no doubting a German Shepherd's intelligence, but with that comes a high level of confidence and a good amount of aloofness. Since these dogs tend to be loyal and protective, they are generally wary of strangers. That makes them a perfect watchdog, but their suspicious and reserved nature can make them feel unfriendly towards guests. Even so, with training, they make great, loyal family pets, and if you introduce them to other animals and children early they'll get along extremely well. Those bred in the US tend to be more calm.

How much does a German Shepherd cost?

A German Shepherd puppy can cost anywhere between $1,500 and $4,500 (less in general than in the UK, where they'll sell for £1,000 to £3,000). You're then looking at about $85 (£105) per month, taking into account vaccines, neutering, food, vet bills, pet insurance, the usual equipment and accessories, and potential dog sitting, dog walking and boarding costs. Given the life expectancy of a German Shepherd, it represents a significant financial commitment.

A boy feeding his german shepherd

(Image credit: Getty)

What do German Shepherds eat?

It's crucial that a German Shepherd dog doesn't pile on the pounds, so don't give them a single big bowl of food each day. They have a big appetite and they'll simply wolf it down, in which case it is better to feed them twice a day and keep them healthy with a balanced, high-quality diet that is low on calories. Generally aim for between 1,740 to 2,100 calories a day depending on the age, health, and activity levels of the dog. And be aware that these are muscular dogs that need high-quality nutrition and the best dog food you can find.

A German Shepherd's diet should include between 18% and 22% of protein found in whole meat, and they should also consume between 5% and 8% fat (the younger the dog, the more protein and fat they should have). It's also totally fine to feed a German Shepherd with dry or wet food (or a mix), and we'd recommend food by Royal Canin, which has a specific range for German Shepherds.

Royal Canin German Shepherd Adult Breed Specific Dry Dog Food

Royal Canin German Shepherd Adult Breed Specific Dry Dog Food
Royal Canin German Shepherd Adult dry dog food is designed to meet the nutritional needs of purebred German Shepherds aged 15 months and older, and has an exclusive kibble shape designed specifically for a German Shepherd’s long, strong muzzle to encourage chewing.

Grooming info

Amount Of Shedding: High
Easy To Groom: Yes
General Health: Good
Potential For Weight Gain: Low

Do German Shepherds shed a lot?

The simple answer? Yes. And that's why they're often called the German Shedder. The dog's undercoat, is soft but it has a dense outer coat of wiry medium-length hair that sheds throughout the year. More than that, there are two big annual shedding events, so hair will get in places that you never believed hair could go. Aside from a the best vacuum cleaner for pet hair (we'd recommend the cats and dogs models by Miele), you'd be looking to brush the dog a few times a week to remove any loose hairs. 

Thankfully, bathing is only needed if the dog becomes very dirty, but generally the shedding means a German Shepherd remains clean and, as a bonus, it won't smell bad either. Trim the dog's nails once a month, brush its teeth, and keep its ears clean, and you'll find that grooming isn't too much of a chore.

Miele Compact C1 Pure Suction Powerline Canister Vacuum, Lotus White

Miele Compact C1 Pure Suction Powerline Canister Vacuum, Lotus White
A high-quality canister vacuum cleaner that is powerful, easy to store, beautifully built, and has plenty of functionality. It certainly has what it takes to tackle a German Shepherd in full shedding mode too!

German Shepherd health problems

Unfortunately, German Shepherds, like many large breeds, are prone to a painful hereditary skeletal condition called hip dysplasia. This happens when the head of the thigh bone doesn't fit properly into the hip socket, causing it to grind, and it may result in the dog needing surgery in the most severe cases. German Shepherds can also suffer an incurable chronic spinal cord condition called degenerative myelopathy, which leaves the dog unable to walk, and shortens its life. 

Responsible breeders will be aware of these, and they'll do all they can to ensure health conditions are not inherited. You should also be aware of bloat – or Gastric Dilation-Volvulus (GDV) which occurs when the dog's stomach fills with gas or food, dilates, and rotates. It requires urgent surgery, and can be fatal even with treatment.

Should I get a German Shepherd Dog?

It depends on how much time and energy you have to invest in such an active and energetic breed. If your house is empty for much of the day then you should look elsewhere. Likewise, if you have other pets, they may not respond too well to them if they haven't been raised together. German Shepherds shed hair everywhere, adding to the commitment. And yet if you love to exercise and want a dog that will reward your attention with unwavering loyalty, there are few better breeds. If you want an easy-going, obedient and responsive dog that will be great with your family while safeguarding them and your property, again, you will find German Shepherds to be the perfect pet. Your time and effort will be richly rewarded.

David Crookes

David Crookes has been a journalist for more than 20 years and he has written for a host of magazines, newspapers, websites and books including World of Animals, BBC Earth, Dogs and Canines, Gadget and The Independent. Born in England, he lives in a household with two cats but he’s also keenly interested in the differences between the huge number of dog breeds — in fact, you can read many of his breed guides here on PetsRadar. With a lifelong passion for technology, too, he’s always on the lookout for useful devices that will allow people to spend more time with their pets.