The German Shepherd was developed in Germany in the late 1800s, originally to manage large flocks of sheep. The forerunners of the GSD resulted from crosses of native dogs in northern and central Germany. The German Shepherd’s role was to move along the edges of the flock and usher stray sheep back into the fold – not by barking or heel-nipping, which could panic the sheep, but instead by silent, steady and stealthy movements. The modern German Shepherd apparently was first exhibited at a show in Hanover, Germany, in 1882. Founded in 1899, the German Shepherd Dog Club of Germany (the Verein fur Deutsche Schaferhunde) was the original parent club for the breed. The German Shepherd’s popularity grew rapidly in Germany and spread worldwide throughout the 1900s. There reportedly were more than 40,000 GSDs “enlisted” in the German Army during World War I. They were able assistants to the Army and the Royal Air Force during World War II. The German Shepherd Dog Club of America was founded in 1913.
Until 1915, there were three distinct coat types: smoothhaired, longhaired and wirehaired. The wirehaired variety has since disappeared. Longhaired GSDs are still born occasionally but are not accepted in the American show ring. Today’s dogs are preferred to have a medium-length, smooth coat.
German Shepherds were developed to be working dogs. As herding dogs, they are stable, courageous and protective. They have been used for police work, military work, narcotics detection and search-and-rescue, requiring those same qualities along with bravery, loyalty and keen scenting skills. They are excellent guide dogs for the disabled, due to their high intelligence, watchfulness and good judgment. They are used as therapy dogs, home guardians, show dogs and faithful companions. German Shepherds are among the most trainable of all dog breeds.
The original GSD was squarer and more temperamentally stable than today’s streamlined, thinner-boned and arguably more “spooky-shy” animal. Show breeders in the 20th century exaggerated the rear angulation of the breed and its downward-sloping back. Controversy continues to rage about the benefit or detriment of these conformational changes, so much so that some fanciers are breeding for a “reconstructed” version of the GSD in attempt to return it to its original structure and temperament. That dog is now called the Shiloh Shepherd, named after the Shiloh Kennels in New York which initially developed the new breed.
The average life expectancy of the German Shepherd is between 10 and 13 years. Breed health concerns may include allergies, aortic stenosis, bloat, cataracts, cherry eye, Cushing’s disease, degenerative myelopathy, discospondylitis,hip dysplasia, epilepsy, exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, footpad disorders, folliculitis/furunculosis/cellulitis, glycogen storage disease, hemangiosarcoma, hypothyroidism, immune-mediated thrombocytopenia, mitral dysplasia, myasthenia gravis, nasal cavity tumors, panosteitis, persistent right aortic arch, pituitary dwarfism and tricuspid dysplasia.