Breed breakdown: An in-depth look at the German shepherd
The vet’s office
By Dr. Beth Engelbert, DVM
Wildwood Animal Hospital and Clinic LLC
The German shepherd dog (GSD) has been the second most popular breed for several years, according to the American Kennel Club (AKC). The GSD was first recognized in the late 1880s as a powerful, intelligent sheep-herding dog.
The all-around athleticism and trainability led to other uses such as military or police work. GSDs were first used as “War Dogs” in World War I and started being used as guide dogs for the blind around this time as well.
The GSD is “a strong, agile, well-muscled animal, alert and full of life,” according to the written standard, and is “longer than tall, deep-bodied, and presents an outline of smooth curves rather than angles.” The classic GSD has a recognizable slant to the back and hind legs, which helps the powerful back legs propel the body. Many GSDs have a more typical stance yet still have plenty of power and drive.
Temperament is also an important characteristic. According to the standard, GSDs “are direct and fearless but not hostile” with “self-confidence and a certain aloofness.” GSDs should not be aggressive, though some police and working dogs may be trained to be so. They must not be timid or nervous or look “about or upward with anxious expression or showing nervous reactions. … Lack of confidence under any surroundings is not typical of good character.” This is true for puppies as well.
Like all breeds, the GSD is not without health concerns. Hip and elbow dysplasia are not uncommon. These growth abnormalities lead to painful, arthritic joints. GSDs are also prone to gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV), a deadly bloating and twisting of the stomach. Ask your veterinarian on how to help prevent GDV and what to watch for.
GSDs also have a few inherited conditions, including thyroiditis, an immune disorder leading to low thyroid hormone; heart diseases that may lead to sudden death; and degenerative myelopathy (DM). DM leads to a breakdown in the conductive fibers of the spinal cords, causing progressive paralysis.
As with getting any dog, a little research will go a long way. Meeting both parents — if possible — and asking questions about their history may give insight to what you may expect from your new dog. There are many health clearances that should be done with the parents, including hip and elbow radiographs, thyroid blood panels, and DNA testing for DM.
For more information on the German shepherd, go to the AKC or the German Shepherd Dog Club of America websites.
Wildwood Animal Hospital and Clinic LLC is located at 210 Airpark Road in Marshfield and online at wildwoodanimalhospital.net.