German Shepherds are one of the most popular breeds of dog in the world. Dog lovers adore the loyal nature of this breed as it makes them fantastic pets. Their tough physique and high intelligence also make them ideal for a variety of work roles. People from across the globe are keen to have a German Shepherd as their family pet as they are considered a handsome breed of dog and are available in both short and long-haired variations. While most people are aware of what a German Shepherd dog is and what is physical attributes are, there are many interesting facts relating to these dogs of which people are often unaware. Here are 20 cool facts that you probably didn’t know about German Shepherds.
1. They Were First Bred by Max von Stephanitz
Although they are now one of the most popular breeds in the world, German Shepherd Dogs are a relatively new breed of dog. In fact, the first German Shepherd was not born until 1889 and was bred by a man called Max von Stephanitz, who is known as the father of German Shepherd Dogs. He bred dogs for shepherding and saw a wolf-like dog in yellow and gray that grabbed his attention. He then began to standardize a breed of shepherd dogs that are now known as the German Shepherd Dog. The dog that Max von Stephanitz had seen at a dog show was called Horand von Grafath and he became the first registered German Shepherd Dog. Modern German Shepherd Dogs are often criticized as people consider them to have strayed away from Max von Stephanitz’s ideology of the breed. He believed that this breed should be bred primarily for working and that any defects should be eliminated quickly during the breeding process.
2. They Go by Many Names
This breed of dog is most commonly referred to as the German Shepherd, although it is one of the few breeds whose official name includes the word dog as its official name is the German Shepherd Dog. The word dog is included in the name to distinguish the canines from humans who work as shepherds in Germany. However, this is not the only name by which it is called. In Germany, the country of its origin, the dog is called a Deutscher Shaferhund. In England and Ireland, the dog is often referred to as an Alsatian. Another name by which it is sometimes known is as the Berger Allemand. As the breed is so popular in the United States, Americans began talking about removing the German part of the name from 1914 onwards. The American Kennel Club did remove the German part in 1917 and it was then known as the Shepherd Dog. However, in 1930, members of the club voted to change the name back to its original version.
3. The First Dog to Aid the Blind Was a German Shepherd
Dogs are commonly used as an aid for people with a visual impairment. People who are blind or have limited vision use a guide dog as a means of managing their daily lives. The dogs help to guide them around their homes and also in external environments. Although there are many different breeds of dogs used for this task, it is a canine role most associated with Labradors and Retrievers. However, the first guide dog for the visually impaired was actually a German Shepherd Dog. ‘The Seeing Eye’ was founded in 1929 by Mrs. Harrison Eustis. The purpose of this foundation was to train dogs to guide the blind. The first dogs they trained were German Shepherd Dogs. Morris Frank was a blind man who had read about men who were blinded during World War I and he came across information about the dogs being trained in Switzerland. He contacted Mrs. Eustis about having one of these dogs himself. The reason that German Shepherds are now used to a lesser extent in work as a guide dog is that the traits of the breed were compared to those of Labradors and Retrievers. The tests showed that the disposition of the latter two breeds of dog were better suited to this variety of work while German Shepherd Dogs were better-suited to working as police dogs.
4. A Sport Was Invented Specifically for German Shepherds
Dogs are used in many sports, although not many breeds of dogs can claim that a sport has been created in their honor. However, this is just one of the claims to fame of the German Shepherd Dog. This sport was called Schutzhund and there is even a club called the United Schutzhund Clubs of America. According to this club, the sport was designed to test the natural abilities of a German Shepherd Dog and to identify dogs that were untrainable or unstable. The sport was first developed in Germany in the early 1900s. Now, there are many other breeds of dog that compete in this sport, despite it being designed specifically for German Shepherd Dogs. However, the sport involves such demanding testing that very few breeds have the capability to participate. Some of the traits tested by this sport include the desire to work, intelligence, courage, the bond with the dog handler, trainability, sense of smell, perseverance, and protective instinct.
5. They Are the Second Most Popular Dog in the United States
There are millions of dog lovers living in the United States and each dog owner has their own personal favorite breed of dog. The German Shepherd Dog is the second most popular breed of dog in the United States. The main reason for this is probably that this is such a diverse animal. They are popular family pets and work in a variety of capacities, such as performing dogs, guard dogs, show dogs, and dogs that serve the police or the military. As they are kept as both pets and working dogs, this accounts for the high numbers of these animals that live in the United States.
6. Filax of Lewanno Was a War Hero
As already mentioned, German Shepherd Dogs played a significant role in World War I and individual dog made their own contribution. One of the dogs that made the largest of contributions was Filax of Lewanno. In 1917, this dog was honored at Westminster as he had brought 54 soldiers back to safety during his service throughout World War I. This meant that Filax of Lewanno had made one of the most significant canine war efforts.
7. German Shepherd Dogs Were Used in World War I and World War 2
Throughout their history, German Shepherds have been used in a variety of working capacities. However, one of their most interesting roles was aiding the armed forces during World War I. They were used by both the Germans and the allied forces. German Shepherd Dogs had a variety of roles and were even taught how to parachute from aircraft. The services provided by the German Shepherd Dogs throughout the war helped to increase their popularity in the United States. Those serving in the military were impressed by what these animals could do and returned with one of the dogs when the war was over. As the use of this breed of dog was so successful, they were used again throughout World War II. They were used to warn soldiers of traps or hazards, to deliver messages, as personal guard dogs, and as rescue dogs.
8. Strongheart Was One of the Earliest German Shepherd Dogs to Star in the Movies
German Shepherd Dogs have played starring roles in many Hollywood movies. One of the first German Shepherds to reach the heights of fame was called Strongheart. He first appeared on screen in 1921. His registered name was Etzel von Oeringen and he was bred by a private breeder in Germany in 1917. Director Laurence Timble could see the dog’s potential for films and persuaded screenwriter Jane Murfin to buy him. He was given the stage name of Strongheart. He appeared in four films written by Jane Murfin. His film debut was in the 1921 outdoor adventure film ‘The Silent Call’. He then appeared in ‘Brawn of the North’ in 1921’, ‘The Love Master in 1924’, and ‘White Fang’ in 1925.
9. Rin Tin Tin is One of the Most Famous German Shepherds Dogs of All-Time
Another dog to hit the silver screen was Rin Tin Tin and he became, arguably, the most famous German Shepherd of all-time. He is also famous for being the first rescue dog in the United States as he was rescued by an American soldier from the battlefields of World War 1. Despite being a breed that originates in Germany, Rin Tin Tin was not German at all. In fact, he was bred and rescued in France. His name is also French as he was named after a French puppet. He was the first dog to win the Legacy Award in 2011 from the American Humane Association and he is one of the few non-humans that can boast of having a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He appeared in 27 films between 1922 and 1931.
10. There is a Club for Senior German Shepherd Dogs
German Shepherd Dog puppies are adorable and adult dogs often serve a purpose as a working dog. However, most people do not think about these canines during their later years. They are not completely forgotten because they have their own club called ‘The Thirteen Club’. This is a club within the German Shepherd Club of America and is for German Shepherd Dogs that are aged twelve or over.
11. The German Shepherd Enjoys Worldwide Popularity
It is not just in the United States where this breed of dog is popular as it is also one of the most popular breeds in many other countries across the globe. Germany is an obvious place where this breed is popular and there are over 250,000 purebred German Shepherd Dogs registered in this country. It is estimated that there are 15,0000 German Shepherd puppies born in Germany every year. In the United Kingdom, they are the seventh most popular breed of dog registered with The Kennel Club. People who breed or train these dogs are called fanciers and there are registered German Shepherd Dog fanciers registered in 78 countries form across the globe. The breed is so popular internationally that there is a World Union of German Shepherd Dog Clubs.
12. There Are Eleven Recognized Colors of German Shepherd Dogs
The color most associated with the German Shepherd Dog breed is tan and black. People also often know that they come in either white or black varieties. However, there are actually eleven colors of German Shepherd Dog that are recognized by the American Kennel Club. These include the three color variations already mentioned and liver, sable, black and cream, black and red, black and silver, bi-color, gray, and blue. Some of these color variations are extremely common while others are rare. Further to these recognized color variations, there is an unusual coloring of German Shepherd that is known as ‘Panda Shepherds’. While some people prefer a dog with an unusual coloring as it makes their pet unique, the unusual variations are not considered a good thing in terms of dog showing. Liver and blue variations are considered to be serious faults. At All Breed and Specialty Events, bringing a white German Shepherd would be grounds for instant disqualification.
13. Only One German Shepherd Has Won the Best in Show Title at The Westminster Dog Show
The German Shepherd Dog has many traits that make it perfect for showing in dog shows. Its athletic abilities make it a quick competitor on the agility sections of the competition, its intelligence means that it learns quickly how to succeed in many aspects of competitions, and its handsome appearance means that it should theoretically do well against many other breeds. However, despite all these attributes, it there is only once occasion where a German Shepherd Dog has won the prestigious title of Best in Show at The Westminster Dog Show. This was in 1987 when a dog called Ch. Covy Tucker Hill’s Manhattan won the title. He is the only dog from the herding group to ever win and he was owned by Jane Firestone and Shirlee Braunstein.
14. German Shepherds Are the Third Most Intelligent Breed in the World
One trait for which German Shepherd Dogs are well-known is their intelligence. In fact, according to scientists and dog experts, this breed is the third most intelligent breed of dog. This ranking was given by Stanley Coren in the book ‘The Intelligence of Dogs’. The TWO Breeds that are considered more intelligent than a German Shepherd Dog are Border Collies and Poodles. According to Coren, a German Shepherd Dog will usually learn a simple task after only five repetitions. Also, 95% of the time they will obey the first command they are given. It is this intelligence that has made them so popular as working dogs.
15. They Are Classified as a Large Dog Breed
Dogs are categorized in accordance with their size. German Shepherd Dogs are classified as a large dog breed. Although each dog is different, and size will often depend on genetics, the average adult male dog will grow to a height of around 24 to 26 inches, while an adult female is usually between 22 and 24 inches tall. A healthy adult male dog will usually weigh in the region of 66 to 88 pounds, while a female will weigh between 49 and 71 pounds. Other interesting statistics are that they have a life span of between nine and 13 years and the litter size is usually between four and nine pups.
16. German Shepherds are Commonly Used as Police Dogs
Although they began their lives working on farms herding sheep, German Shepherds have taken on many other roles. One of the best-known of these roles is working as police dogs. Their agility, strength, good sense of smell, and intelligence are just some of the traits of a German Shepherd Dog that make them the ideal breed to work in roles within the police force. Just some of the roles they undertake in the police force are tracking criminals, search and rescue missions, detecting explosives, searching for drugs, and cadaver searching.
17. They Have Many Other Working Roles in the Modern Day
Although they are now most commonly associated with working roles within the police force, German Shepherd Dogs have many other working roles. Originally, they were used for herding sheep and this is a role they continue to have to this day. They are also used as guard dogs as a form of security for business, personal, or military premises. As they are easy to train, German Shepherd Dogs are sometimes used in displays and performances. Although Labradors and retrievers are now more commonly used as guide dogs, this is a role still undertaken by some German Shepherd Dogs.
18. German Shepherds Are Predisposed to Degenerative Myelopathy
Another condition to which German Shepherds are prone is degenerative myelopathy. This is a neurological disease that any breed can develop but is particularly common amongst German Shepherd Dogs as they are genetically predisposed to developing this condition. It is possible to screen for this condition using an inexpensive DNA test that uses the saliva of the dog. Research also means that it is possible to breed out the genetic predisposition of this condition in dogs. Before buying a German Shepherd Dog, some buyers will request that the breeder has this test conducted before agreeing to buy the dog. Other diseases that are common amongst German Shepherd Dogs are Von Willebrand disease and exocrine pancreatic insufficiency. The former is a common inherited bleeding disorder while the latter is a degenerative disease of the pancreas.
19. Orthopaedic Conditions Are Common in German Shepherd Dogs
Like most breeds, there are certain health conditions that are common amongst German Shepherds. With this particular breed, one of the most common problems is developing orthopaedic conditions. This is most likely due to inbreeding when the breed was first developed. One of the most common problems is hip and elbow dysplasia and this can lead to arthritis in later life. Another issue is spinal stenosis. The University of Zurich conducted a study of German Shepherd Dogs working as police dogs and found that up to 45% of them developed this condition. Due to their genetic makeup, German Shepherd Dogs are also prone to osteoarthritis and Cauda equina syndrome. Each of these conditions can cause pain and disability for the dogs in later life. An important aspect of prevention and treatment is to ensure that a German Shepherd has enough calcium in their diet. In fact, a healthy and balanced that provides all the necessary nutrients a dog needs can play a significant role in reducing the likelihood of a dog developing one of these conditions.
20. Many Breeds Originate from German Shepherd Dogs
Due to the popularity and many attributes of German Shepherd Dogs, they have been used to create several more breeds. The Czechoslovakian Vlcak was created using four Carpathian wolves and 48 German Shepherd Dogs. The King Shepherd originates from the German Shepherd Dog but is not recognized by any of the major kennel clubs. Similarly, the Shiloh Shepherd is not recognized by the major kennel clubs, but it originates from German Shepherd Dogs. The White Swiss Shepherd Dog is also known as the Berger Blanc Suisse and this is a breed that is recognized by the FCI. It is a breed that originates from the white-coated German Shepherd Dogs. Finally, the East-European Shepherd is a breed that is based on the German Shepherd. It was developed in the USSR for the purposes of guiding, guarding and serving the military. It differs from the German Shepherd Dog as it is large and has a straighter topline. This breed also has an additional coat layer that is perfect for coping in Siberian and Arctic conditions.