Buying a pet

German Shepherd: Breed info and health advice

Date updated: 17 11 2017

They’re handsome, strong and if there’s danger around the corner, they’ve always got your back. Time to take a closer look at the German Shepherd: the all-action hero of the dog world!

Fiercely loyal, German Shepherds have a natural protective instinct towards you and your family. But behind that tough exterior they have a curious nature and a sweet soul, and many work as therapy dogs as well as guard dog.

For big dogs it’s really important to source from a reputable breeder, to make sure your new buddy has a well-balanced temperament. These are healthy, athletic pups, which makes them an excellent workout buddy - and when they’re properly-socialised, the perfect family pet.


Average lifespan: 12-15 years

Weight: Males: 30-40 kg, Females: 22-32 kg.

Height: Males: 60 to 65 cm, Females: 55-60 cm.  

Colouring: Black & Tan, Black, Black & Silver, Red & Black, Sable, Grey.

Grooming requirements: low-maintenance, but regular brushing is a good idea to remove loose hair and keep that coat shiny.

Average purchase cost: £500-£750

Bet you didn’t know…

  • The German Shepherd is the world’s top police dog. Tough, smart, cool in a crisis, amazing at finding stuff: definitely the type of cop you want on the squad!
  • It’s also the breed most often decorated for bravery. Of the 32 dogs awarded the Dickin Medal (the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross), 11 have been German Shepherds. From rescuing civilians through to sniffing out hidden explosives, Sheps have shown amazing devotion to duty.
  • They started out as sheep dogs. Let’s face it; whether you’re a sheep, a predator or a criminal, you’re not going to mess with a German Shepherd.
  • German Shepherd or Alsatian? In WW1 Britain, anything that sounded “a bit too German” was in need of a rebrand. So, German Shepherds were renamed Alsatians. This stuck, but the official name (according to The UK Kennel Club) has now gone back to the original.
  • ake Gyllenhaal, Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Lopez, Miley Cyrus… just a handful of famous German Shepherd owners.

Great for…
German Shepherds have a high rank drive. In other words, they need to know their place - and given the chance, would quickly take on the role of alpha dog. It’s important that you have what it takes to show your buddy who’s the boss; so this isn’t the best breed option for first time dog owners.

They also have a strong prey drive, but with the right training, a Shep is smart enough to only chase the things you throw it! So these guys can get along well with other animals in the house - including cats. A German Shepherd can also make a great family pet. Because they need about an hour of exercise a day, they’re the perfect workout partner - if you can keep up!

Behaviour & training
By nature, German Shepherds can be wary of strangers. So if your buddy’s going to be part of the family, socialise him while he’s still a pup. Get all the family to hold him, feed him and play with him - and invite your friends round to make their introductions. Introducing other pups on your daily walks also helps prevent stranger anxiety.

German Shepherds can get stressed out when they’re left alone; often resulting in lots of furniture chewing and barking. But mostly, these guys are savvy enough to know that going away to work doesn’t mean you’ll be gone forever. Train your buddy to be alone by gradually increasing the length of time you’re out of the house. 

These guys love to learn new tricks. They thrive on it - and it doesn’t usually take long to nail the whole potty training thing. They take well to crate training, and will understand their timings and routine by about 16 weeks.

An hour’s walk each day and some off-the-leash running in a safe, enclosed outdoors space helps prevent restlessness and aggression.

Sheps are curious and boisterous at first - so make sure you puppy-proof your home and stash away anything you don’t want your new buddy to chew on or that might be dangerous.

With a German Shepherd around, get used to year-round shedding. Brushing two or three times a week helps keep on top of it. Other than that, these are pretty clean pooches - so one bath a month should be enough. Once a week, give your buddy’s ears a wash with a cotton ball and canine cleaner - and speak the vet if you spot any redness and discharge. Nails should be trimmed once a month.

While it’s bad news for your sofa, all that chewing helps to keep your buddy’s teeth healthy and strong. So give him regular dental chew toys, and brush his teeth every few days. For these strong, athletic and active pups, a good quality, high-protein, low-fat diet is a must. 


  • Common health issues to watch out for
    Gastric Dilation Volvulus (GDV). This is where the stomach gets overly bloated and twists around on itself. It’s more common in large, deep-chested breeds, including German Shepherds. Sometimes there are early warning signs, like trying to vomit but not producing anything. But in other cases, your buddy could into sudden shock with no warning. Emergency vet treatment is essential, and major abdominal surgery might be needed to get the stomach back to its proper position.
  • Joint disorders. Sheps can be prone to elbow and hip dysplasia, where the joints develop incorrectly - sometimes leading to degenerative joint disease. Vet management helps you and your dog deal with it.
  • Chronic Degenerative Radiculomyeopathy (CDRM). German Shepherds are especially prone to this. It causes slowly progressive hind leg weakness and paralysis. Although there’s no cure, a treatment protocol (exercise, vitamins and steroids) can slow down its effects.
  • Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI). With this, the pancreas stops producing sufficient pancreatic juices to digest food properly. The condition can be stabilised with a vet-monitored special diet.  
  • Foreign bodies. Over their lifetime, the typical German Shepherd will gulp down a few things they shouldn’t. Some can cause internal damage - meaning a trip to the vet.