Is a dog more known and loved worldwide than a German shepherd? As their name suggests, they’re herders at heart, beginning their journey as a breed in the German countryside.
Within a century, it’s incredible what these dogs have accomplished and continue to do around the world in support of humanity, whether it’s their role as a service, patrol, or military dog, their ability to perform on and off stage, or their capacity to bring an insurmountable joy to families worldwide with their vibrant personalities and, at times, scary brainiac intelligence.
That said, there is so much to uncover about this brainy and popular breed—let’s dig into 10 German shepherd fun facts.
#1 The Brainiacs of the Bunch
Our first German Shepherd fact is all about smarts. It’s no secret that the German shepherd dog breed is super smart. You may even wonder if your dog is sometimes brighter than you if you’re an owner. It’s okay. We’ve been there too! If it makes you feel any better, German Shepherds rank among the brightest canine minds. They rank third, right after the Border Collie and Poodle. This high level of intelligence allows a German Shepherd to work as a police dog or guide dog.
But what does that mean?
According to Dr. Stanely Coren, canine intelligence is broken down into three categories:1
- Working Intelligence – This relates to how obedient a specific breed is based on the number of repetitions required to learn a new trick. The quicker it learns, the higher it places within this intelligence category.
- Adaptive Intelligence – This refers to your dog’s social awareness and ability to solve problems independently.
- Instinctive Intelligence – For most people, companionship is our pup’s purpose. But most dogs were initially bred with specific roles and tasks in mind. For example, a German shepherd is a herder. As a result, most German shepherds can perform basic herding tasks without training, making them great candidates as service dogs.
#2 Herders at Heart
This working dog’s bloodlines can be traced back to the sheepdogs that herded livestock in Germany’s pastures over 100 years ago. Whether protecting the herd or keeping it together, the sheep dog’s strength, speed, and incredible work ethic made them the ideal candidate for Max von Stephanitz to develop his dog breed, which we know today as the German shepherd dog.2
With that said, these are not dogs that will happily lounge on the couch all day or be satisfied in an apartment or house without adequate outdoor space. These dogs like and need mental and physical stimulation to keep them content.
German shepherds rank among some of the fastest canines in the world and can reach speeds of up to 30 miles per hour.3 They’re also incredibly loyal and courageous. Plus, they still maintain their ancestral traits of protecting the herd, which makes them great guardians.
It’s no wonder that German shepherds are frequently used by the military and police, especially in operations that require extensive training and bravery.
#3 The Dogs of War
During WW1, the German military used the breed for various roles on and off the battlefield. Their duties ranged from sentry to messenger to ammunition carrier. The Germans also realized how helpful these dogs were at guiding wounded and blinded soldiers off the battlefield to seek medical care.
The breed’s unique ability to guide, especially the blind soldiers, became the precursor for developing the world’s first seeing-eye dogs.4
Soon after WW1, the breed caught the world’s attention and quickly spread beyond Germany’s border. By WW2, German shepherds were used by the United States and the Nazi’s military for various support roles.
Even today, German Shepherds are still being used by the United States military in Iraq and Afghanistan, specializing in various tasks, including narcotics and explosive detection.
#4 A Breed With Two Names
It’s not uncommon for someone to wonder if there’s a difference between the Alsatian wolf dog and the German Shepherd. They pretty much look identical, and despite whatever debates there may be, it comes down to a war-driven hate the British had for all things German during the world wars.
Both sides knew the advantages of employing the breed for war operations. The breed’s intelligence, agility, and strength were a great asset to both sides. Still, the British and Irish couldn’t bear to call them German, so instead, they started calling them Alsatian wolf dogs. The name comes from the Alsace-Lorraine region, which borders France and Germany.5
Believe it or not, the name stuck for more than thirty years after WW2 until breeders came together and campaigned to restore the breed’s original name to the German shepherd dog.
#5 American and European Breeds: How Are They Different?
As much as the British and Irish would have liked to separate the breed by calling it a different name, the German shepherd is, after all, a German shepherd. That said, there are actual differences between the American and European German shepherds.6
The main differences between the breeds are:
American German shepherds are commonly larger than European German shepherds by several inches in height and up to 30–40 pounds. Nevertheless, European German shepherds typically have a greater muscle mass.
American German shepherds are prone to having more health issues. For example, American German shepherds have a much more slanted back and are more susceptible to hip dysplasia.
Europe also has much stricter breeding and training policies than the U.S., which ultimately creates healthier dogs and reduces the risk of genetic diseases. Learn more about Common German Shepherd Health Issues and How Big Do Golden Retrievers Get.
In Europe, the German shepherd is still primarily a working dog. It may not be herding sheep in Bavaria, but it’s bred and trained to become a police or patrol dog.
In the United States, we also use German shepherds in our police and military forces. Still, they’re primarily bred to be part of a loving American family.
Pricing will always depend on various things, especially color. Still, on average, an American German shepherd will cost between $800–$2,000, whereas a European German shepherd can cost upwards of $5,000.
#6 Those German Shepherds Sure Are a Motley Crew
Did you think German shepherds only come in black and tan? Well, if so, you got another thing coming.
According to the American Kennel Club, there are 11 official breed colors.7 Some of the most common include:
- Black and tan
- Black and silver
- Black and red
- Pure white
- Black and cream, a.k.a panda
- Solid black
With the rarest colors being:
Do German Shepherds shed? Yes and, by that, we mean a lot. So much so that they’re also affectionately known as “German Shedders”.
#7 The Hollywood Stars
Another interesting fact about them is that they’re natural stars! Speaking of a motley crew, or Motley Crue for that matter, just like the Los Angeles rock band, two German Shepherds also have stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Yes, you’ve guessed it––Rin Tin Tin and Strongheart.
Only three dogs have been honored on Hollywood Boulevard, and two are German Shepherds!
Rin Tin Tin is crime fighting at its finest, and Strongheart, a.k.a. Etzel Von Oeringen, was a hero on and off the screen. Before his Hollywood career, he served in WWI with the German Red Cross.8
#8 Schutzhund: A Dog Sport Created Around the German Shepherd
The German word Schutzhund translates to “protection dog.” But it’s also a sport created in Germany during the early 20th century to evaluate breeding standards for the German shepherd dog.9
Today, it has grown from a breed suitability test to an international sport where handlers and dogs compete in three main areas:
Dogs of all breeds can now compete in this sport that was once explicitly designed for the German Shepherd. But not just any dog can compete. No, each potential participant must pass a preliminary temperament test called Begleithundprüfung.
Huh? Yeah, we’ll just call it the BH test for short.
Passing the BH test alone says a lot about the temperament and obedience of a dog. Then again, the Germans have set some high standards, but if it weren’t for those demanding tests, we wouldn’t have one of the world’s most popular breeds, the German shepherd dog.
Dankeschön, Max von Stephanitz. Prost to you and all of your hard work!
#9 Airborne Canines, You Say!
In addition to their wartime service and skills, German shepherds, alongside Belgian Malinois dogs, are jumping out of planes and helicopters with their handlers to combat illegal poaching in South Africa.
Some dogs have been training for years and begin as early as six months old. And some of these elite K9 teams rappel and skydive into remote and hostile territories as a part of their mission.10
Their personalized combat equipment includes goggles, earmuffs, and custom harnesses.
#10 One of the Most Popular Dog Breeds in America…Obviously
According to the American Kennel Club, German shepherds now rank number 4 among the most popular breeds in America. But after all, we’ve learned, is it really a surprise?
What other breed has gone from herding sheep in the German countryside to fighting in wars worldwide, helping people with disabilities, jumping from planes, and even earning two Hollywood stars?
Yeah, German shepherds are in a class of their own.
BARK Post: Giving You the Best and Latest Canine News, Toys, and Treats
Honestly, the list could go on. But we had to stop somewhere. Plus, if you’ve made it this far, you truly are a dog-lover, meaning we should be friends.
But before we grab a cup of coffee or stop at the nearest watering hole, have you heard about our BarkBoxes? They come with customizable toys and treats, mailed monthly, with no fuss, no hassle, and guaranteed to keep your pup on the up and up.
And if you’re lucky enough to have a German shepherd of your own, we have breed-specific chow formulated by nutritionists to give your dog everything it needs to stay at the front of the pack. Shop our expertly formulated German shepherd food and get 25% off with code 25FOOD, plus free shipping!
But wait, before we go, how does an Alsatian wolf dog say hello?
- Psychology Today. Canine intelligence–Breed Does Matter. https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/canine-corner/200907/canine-intelligence-breed-does-matter
- GSDCA. Herding. https://www.gsdcouncilaustralia.org/working-gsd/herding/
- Highland K9. 15 of The Fastest Dog Breeds In The World. https://highlandcanine.com/the-fastest-dog-breeds-in-the-world/
- MWDTSA. German Shepherd Dogs in the Military. https://www.mwdtsa.org/german-shepherd-dogs-military-brief-historical-overview/
- Difference Between. Difference Between Alsatian and German Shepherd. http://www.differencebetween.net/science/nature/difference-between-alsatian-and-german-shepherd/
- Anything German Shepherd. American vs. European German Shepherds. https://www.anythinggermanshepherd.com/difference-between-american-and-european-german-shepherd/
- AKC. German Shepherd Dog. https://www.akc.org/dog-breeds/german-shepherd-dog/
- Los Angeles Times. Hollywood Walk of Fame. https://www.latimes.com/archives/blogs/la-unleashed/story/2010-03-09/hollywood-walk-of-fame-honors-lassie-rin-tin-tin-strongheart-but-not-asta-a-travesty-we-say
- Ruffdog. What is Schutzhund. https://ruffdogsports.com/pages/what-is-schutzhund
- Metro. Dogs are being trained to parachute out of planes to fight crimes. https://metro.co.uk/2016/10/15/dogs-are-being-trained-to-parachute-out-of-planes-to-fight-crime-6193526/