Breed Standard

Origin and History

The breed was actually created by the cross breeding of working sheep dogs from rural Germany by an ex cavalry officer called Max von Stephanitz whose aim was to create a working dog for herding which could trot for long periods.

A breed standard was drawn up and the first breed show took place in 1899 following which the GSD became firmly established across Germany. In 1906 the first dogs were exported to the USA

Since then, the breed has grown enormously in popularity and is now one of the most popular pedigree breeds in the UK as a pet as well as being the favourite working breed for many forces, especially the police. They are widely used for security purposes because of their strong protective instincts. The breed is now extremely popular throughout the world. It has excelled at more jobs than any other breed, including use as a war dog, sentry dog, tracker, herder, drug dog, and search-and-rescue dog, guide for the blind, to name a few. This breed requires plenty of room for exercise and activity; obedience training is also recommended.

Many people in the UK still call these dogs Alsatians which may partly be due to the fact that they when they were first bred, the Alsace region of France was part of Germany were these dogs were very popular. In part it may also be due to the first and second world wars that the name Alsatian stuck as the word 'German' had a negative connotation.

These dogs are highly intelligent and will show undying devotion to their master but they are dogs that need company and stimulation to be at their best. It is however, important to remember that this is a working breed and that they do have certain characteristics that some people might find difficult to live with. The German shepherd should be steady, loyal, self assured, courageous and willing and should not be nervous over aggressive or shy.


The German Shepherd Dog needs daily mental and physical challenges. It enjoys a good exercise session as well as learning session. It can live outside in temperate to cool climates, but it is family-oriented and does equally well as a house dog. Its coat needs brushing one or two times weekly. 

The characteristic expression of the German Shepherd Dog gives the impression of perpetual vigilance, fidelity, liveliness and watchfulness, alert to every sight and sound, with nothing escaping attention; fearless, but with decided suspiciousness of strangers - as opposed to the immediate friendliness of some breeds. The German Shepherd Dog possesses highly developed senses, mentally and temperamentally. He should be strongly individualistic and possess a high standard of intelligence. Three of the most outstanding traits are incorruptibility, discernment and ability to reason.
The general appearance of the German Shepherd Dog is a well-proportioned dog showing great suppleness of limb, neither massive nor heavy, but at the same time free from any suggestion of weediness. It must not approach the greyhound type. The body is rather long, strongly boned, with plenty of muscle, obviously capable of endurance and speed and of quick and sudden movement. The gait should be supple, smooth and long-reaching, carrying the body along with the minimum of up-and-down movement, entirely free from stiltiness.
Head and Skull:
The head is proportionate to the size of the body, long, lean and clean cut, broad at the back of the skull, but without coarseness, tapering to the nose with only a slight stop between the eyes. The skull is slightly domed and the top of the nose should be parallel to the forehead. The cheeks must not be full or in any way prominent and the whole head, when viewed from the top should be much in the form of a V, well filled in under the eyes. There should be plenty of substance in foreface, with a good depth from top to bottom. The muzzle is strong and long and, while tapering to the nose, it must not be carried to such an extreme as to give the appearance of being overshot. It must not show any weakness or be snipy or lippy. The lips must be tight fitting and clean. The nose must be black.
The eyes are almond-shaped as nearly as possible matching the surrounding coat but darker rather than lighter in shade and placed to look straight forward. They must not be in any way bulging or prominent, and must show a lively, alert and highly intelligent expression.
The ears should be of moderate size, but rather large than small, broad at the base and pointed at the tips, placed rather high on the skull and carried erect - all adding to the alert expression of the dog as a whole. (It should be noted, in case novice breeders may be misled, that in German Shepherd Dog puppies the ears often hang until the age of six months and sometimes longer, becoming erect with the replacement of the milk teeth).
The teeth should be sound and strong, gripping with a scissor-like action, the lower incisors just behind, but touching the upper.
The neck should be strong, fairly long with plenty of muscle, fitting gracefully into the body, joining the head without sharp angles and free from throatiness.
The shoulders should slope well back. The ideal being that a line drawn through the centre of the shoulder blade should form a right-angle with the humerus when the leg is perpendicular to the ground in stance. Upright shoulders are a major fault. They should show plenty of muscle, which is distinct from, and must not be confused with coarse or loaded bone, which is a fault. The shoulder bone should be clean. The forelegs should be perfectly straight viewed from the front, but the pasterns should show a slight angle with the forearm when regarded from the side, too great an angle denotes weakness and while carrying plenty of bone, it should be of good quality. Anything approaching the massive bone of the Newfoundland, for example, being a decided fault.
The body is muscular, the back is broadish and straight, strongly boned and well developed. The belly shows a waist without being tucked up. There should be a good depth of brisket or chest, the latter should not be too broad. The sides are flat compared to some breeds, and while the dog must not be barrel ribbed, it must not be so flat as to be actually slab-sided. The German Shepherd Dog should be quick in movement and speedy but not like a Greyhound in body.
The hindquarters should show breadth and strength, the loins being broad and strong, the rump rather long and sloping and the legs, when viewed from behind, must be quite straight, without any tendency to cow-hocks, or bow-hocks, which are both extremely serious faults. The stifles are well turned and the hocks strong and well let down. The ability to turn quickly is a necessary asset to the German Shepherd Dog, and this can only be if there is a good length of thigh bone and leg, and by the bending of the hock.
The feet should be round, the toes strong, slightly arched and held close together. The pads should be firm, the nails short and strong. Dewclaws are neither a fault nor a virtue, but should be removed from the hind legs at 4 to 5 days old, as they are liable to spoil the gait.
When at rest the tail should hang in a slight curve, and reach at least as far as the hock. During movement and excitement it will be raised, but in no circumstances should the tail be carried past a vertical line drawn through the root.
The German Shepherd Dog is bred in the two varieties - Stock Coat and Long Stock Coat, both with undercoat.
Stock Coat: The top coat should be as dense as possible, straight , harsh and close lying, It should be short on the head, including the inside of the ears, the front of the legs, and on the feet and toes, it is a little longer and heavily coated on the neck. The hair lengthend on the back of the legs to the pasterns or hock joint, and on the back of the thighs it forms moderate breeching.                                 

Long Stock Coat: The top coat should be long, soft and not close fitting, with feathering on the ears and legs, bushy breeches and bushy tail forming flags below. It should be short on the head including in the inside of the ears, the front side of the legs, on the feet and toes, it is longer and heavily coated on the neck, almost forming a mane. The hair lengthens on the back of the legs to the pasterns or hock joint, and on the back of the thighs it forms distinct breechin


Black with reddish tan, black/tan, black/gold to light grey markings. All black, grey(commonly known as sables) with dark shadings, black saddle and mask. Unobtrusive small white markings on chest as well as very light colour on insides of legs permissible but not desirable. The nose must be black in all colour types. Lacking mask, light to piercing eyes as well as light to whitish markings on chest and inner sides of the legs, light nails and red tip tail are to be rated as lacking in pigment. The undercoat is of a light grey toning. the colour white is not permitted.

 Weight and Size:
The ideal height (measured to the highest point of the shoulder) Dogs: 60.9 - 66 cm (24 - 26 in) Bitches: 55.8 - 60.9 cm (22 - 24 in) The proportion of length to height, may vary between 10: 9 and 10: 8.5.
A long, narrow Collie or Borzoi head. A pink or liver-coloured nose. Undershot or overshot mouth. Tail with curl or pronounced hook. The lack of heavy undercoat. 

Male animals should have two apparently normal testicles fully descended into the scrotum.