German Shepherd (aka Alsatian)

BREED PROFILE – German Shepherd, aka Alsatian

Although this breed is just over a century old, they have already reached a superstar status with movie characters like Rin Tin Tin and Strongheart. More recently, they have become well-known as the primary breed of law enforcement, search-and-rescue, and narcotic and bomb sniffing dogs assisting in keeping our country safe. Considered one of the most intelligent breeds by many, German Shepherds serve families as pets and the disabled as service animals just as well as they serve law enforcement organizations.

Breed History

German Shepherds first earned the respect of the United States military during World War I by serving their handlers in the German army with unwavering loyalty and intelligence. After the war, soldiers brought this breed home with them where they served as working animals for many years. Their loyalty to and protectiveness of their owners earned them jobs with police officers who were able to train the dogs to help apprehend criminals. Today they are used to sniff for narcotics, bombs, and people, provide companionship and help to the disabled, serve as guard animals, and are competitors in agility, obedience, and other competitions.

The German Shepherd is also known as the Alsatian. The difference between these names comes down to much the same difference between “champagne” and “sparkling wine”...its all about the location of origin. The name “German Shepherd” refers to the German origin of the breed, while “Alsatian” refers to the breed's origins specifically from the Alsace-Lorraine region along the French/German border.

Physical Description

The most common colors for German Shepherds are black and tan, sable, or completely black. Blue, liver, and white dogs are found occasionally but are considered “defects” in the standard German Shepherd breed. The American White Shepherd, with its pure white color and black nose, is now considered a separate breed by some. German Shepherds will usually reach 75 to 95 pounds when full-grown and have a strong, well-muscled body covered in a double coat. The undercoat will shed heavily, especially in Spring. Other than regular combing to remove the shedding hair before it covers your home, very little grooming is required of this breed. An occasional bath is all that is needed to keep their coats healthy and groomed.


Many new owners purchase a German Shepherd as a guard dog for their home and in doing so, choose or try to “create” the most aggressive animal possible. This approach usually has the opposite effect. German Shepherds naturally bond to one or two people but can be taught to love entire families with positive reinforcement. When you bring your new German Shepherd home, make sure it is getting plenty of exercise and is being socialized early. Without proper socialization, it is likely to become overprotective.

Health and Care Considerations

German Shepherds are unfortunately genetically disposed to hip and elbow dysplasia, but the good news is there are things you can do to prolong your dog’s health! Adding glucosamine and omega fat acids build up the cartilage between the joints, leaving your dog pain free longer. If you are getting a puppy, setting them up on a Large Breed Puppy food can also make a huge difference later on in your dog’s life. Exercise can also help curb these developmental diseases and obesity, as well as getting rid of extra energy that could lead to chewing or destructiveness out of boredom. It is also a good idea to begin obedience training early. German Shepherds get very large and at that size, can be hard to handle. Teaching them to obey a few basic commands can pay off later and teaching a dog new tricks and commands can be a very rewarding experience. If you'd like your German Shepherd to be a good guard dog, it would also be a good idea to find an instructor qualified to teach obedience classes specifically for protective animals. Contact a police department with a K-9 unit in your area for good recommendations.

German Shepherds can be friends, companions, protectors, helpers, and competitors. They are energetic, loyal, hardworking, intelligent, and devoted. They are not overaggressive monsters that will rip apart everything that moves or docile animals that are content to lie around the house. If you'd like a smart, stimulating animal that wants a challenge and purpose in life, join in the noble history of the German Shepherd.