The German Shepherd Dog (GSD) is perhaps best known as the strong, courageous and obedient guide dog for the disabled and service dog of police K-9 and search-and-rescue units, valued for its tenacity, intelligence, loyalty and focus. GSDs are often sought as guard dogs and protectors. However, while they are first and foremost a herding breed, GSDs can make outstanding, loving family companions. German Shepherds have a rather distinct personality marked by a direct and fearless expression, obvious self-confidence and reluctance to develop indiscriminate friendships. They tend to be indifferent to strangers and can be aloof; however, once they befriend you, their devotion is life-long.
German Shepherds can be as energetic as they are large, although they should be of even disposition and unflappable, with a restrained, composed and confident temperament. They should be patient, attentive, faithful and determined. They can be bold but should not be unnecessarily aggressive. They do not require an enormous amount of daily exercise, but they certainly are not the ideal breed for apartment dwellers or people who live alone and work long hours. They tend to bond well with children and enjoy participating in family activities like hiking, swimming, picnicking, running and the like. Farmers are often partial to German Shepherds because of their great intelligence, solid herding skills and seemingly endless energy. Regular walks will suit most GSDs just fine; many also enjoy off-leash romps in secure dog parks. They are particularly well suited to obedience training.
To combat boredom, mental exercise is excellent for the GSD. They are extremely intelligent and, like many other breeds, enjoy working with their owners. German Shepherds thrive in advanced obedience work and on agility courses. They also can thrive with regular games of fetch with a stick, ball or Frisbee.
German Shepherds can be trained to do almost any task set before them. They are smart, bold, alert, and single-minded when necessary and eager to please their people. They are powerful but still agile. While highly trainable, they should be socialized and trained young in life. This requires a firm, consistent and kind handler. German Shepherds frequently project dominance if they feel that they can get away with it, which is unacceptable in a companion animal living in a world filled with dogs, cats, children and other distractions.
GSDs are protective by nature, which is why they make excellent guard dogs and police dogs. Once a GSD bonds with its family, it may become protective of them when approached by strangers or by friends. This protectiveness may be appropriate or inappropriate, depending upon the situation, and the dog may not always be able to discriminate between those situations. It is important to train GSDs to recognize welcome and unwelcome guests. They may bark as strangers or familiar friends approach your home, but proper socialization and training from an early age will help this very intelligent and proud breed to become well-integrated into a normal social routine. Neither aggression nor timidity should be tolerated. Reputable breeders and trainers generally agree that aggressive tendencies or excessive shyness in GSDs usually are a product of poor breeding, poor training, or both. Potential GSD owners should explore their dog's background and commit to an appropriate socialization and training protocol before making a life-long commitment to the dog.
A German Shepherd Dog can provide years of loyal companionship and faithful service. Because of their size, trainability, self-confidence and poise, proper training and socializing is very important. People without the time or dedication to commit to really working with their German Shepherd should perhaps select a different breed. Those who are willing to devote the time and energy to train their GSD properly will find their investment returned tenfold in a well-adjusted, loyal family companion.