Weird but true:
German Shepherds are so loyal that they will take a bullet for you (fact #91).
They can run up to 32 miles (52 kilometers) per hour (fact #20).
And there are a lot more mindblowing facts about this amazing dog breed.
In this article you’ll discover 101 fun German Shepherd facts and myths.
Let’s dive right in…
91 German Shepherd facts
#1: Their origin
Their name being a giveaway, German Shepherds originated from Germany in 1899.
#2: Herding group
German Shepherds belong to the herding group.
The herding group consists of animals that control movements of other animals.
The American Kennel Club (AKC) officially recognized the German Shepherd Dog in 1908.
#4: The father of the German Shepherd breed
You could say that Max von Stephanitz was the father of the German Shepherd breed.
Von Stephanitz saw an athletic and intelligent dog at a dog show. He was so impressed that he bought it right away for 200 deutschemark.
This dog, Horand, would become the first German Shepherd.
#5: Original breed name
Max von Stephanitz called this breed Deutscher Schäferhund.
Its literal meaning in English is ‘German Shepherd Dog.’
#6: The German Shepherd Dog Club
Von Stephanitz founded the first German Shepherd Dog Club in 1899. In German, it’s Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde. Sometimes it’s referred to by its abbreviation, SV.
Horand was the first German Shepherd registered to the club.
Von Stephanitz also purchased Horand’s brother, Luchs.
In the years to come, he would inbred the offspring of Horand and Luchs.
#8: ‘Utility and intelligence’
These words came to be the motto for German Shepherds.
Von Stephanitz had put emphasis on utility and intelligence. Looks only came second.
#9: The rarest coat colors are considered ‘defective’
The liver color is the rarest color of German Shepherds.
But in dog shows, livers, blues and pale and washed-out colors are considered faults.
Judges prefer strong rich colors for this breed.
#10: The pioneers
Von Stephanitz’s breeding program centered on Horand. He was bred with other dogs having desirable traits.
Horand’s most notable offspring was Hektor von Schwaben, which then produced Beowulf.
These were the pioneer German Shepherds.
#11: Vital statistics: males vs. females
A male German Shepherd is taller than females, reaching between 24-26 inches (61-66cm). Females grow between 22-24 inches (56-61cm).
Males are also heavier, weighing 65-90 pounds (29-41 kilograms). Females can weigh between 50-70 pounds (23-32 kilograms).
#12: Variety of coat colors
Black and tan are this breed’s traditional colors. But coat colors vary more than you think.
The AKC recognizes 11 colors for German Shepherds:
- Black & red.
- Black & tan.
- Black & silver.
- Black & cream.
#13: Their fur consists of two coats
A double coat has:
German Shepherds are among dog breeds with a double coat.
- An undercoat that is soft and dense.
- A top coat of longer hair (also known as guard hairs).
#14: Too light, too heavy
A puppy weighs a mere 500 grams (1.1 pound) at birth.
As an adult, they can weigh between 23-41 kilograms (50-90 pounds).
#15: The ‘weird-looking’ hind legs
The AKC has set the standard for German Shepherds’ hindquarters. It says:
‘The whole assembly of the thigh, viewed from the side, is broad, with both upper and lower thigh well muscled, forming as nearly as possible a right angle.’
So the German Shepherds in dog shows are bred to conform to that standard.
#16: The curved back
Apparently, the extreme angulation of the dog’s back was spearheaded by several ‘breed authorities.’ They promoted this look at the dog shows.
And since these dogs won the shows, other breeders copied the look.
#17: They trot, and not run, when herding
As herding dogs, German Shepherds trot a lot.
They can trot 27 – 29 kilometers per hour (kph) (17 – 18 miles per hour).
#18: Some German Shepherds are hock walkers
Some German Shepherds in dog shows are hock walkers.
Their hind quarters are over-angulated. As a result, one leg forms a 90-degree angle when it’s extended to the back.
Conversely, the other leg’s hock is shorter and may touch the ground.
As a result, they stand, run and walk on their hocks.
#19: The ‘half-dog, half-frog’ controversy
In 2016, a 3-year-old German Shepherd named Tori won the Best in Breed title at Crufts.
Public outcry poured from animal lovers, the Kennel Club and RSPCA.
The complaints targeted the dog’s sloping back and sagging rear end. In fact, dogs fitting this description were called ‘half-dog, half-frog.’
#20: German Shepherds can run fast
Their top speed is 32 miles per hour (52 kilometers per hour).
#21: German Shepherds have one of the strongest dog bites
Bite strength is measured in ‘pounds per square inch’ (psi).
German Shepherds have a bite strength of 238 psi.
#22: The German Shepherd head-tilt
Why do German Shepherds do this adorable head-tilting?
The AKC identified several factors:
- Positive reinforcement.
- Head tilting helps German Shepherds to hear and see better.
#23: German Shepherds have big ears
Did you know that their ears are floppy while they’re teething? The cartilage in their ear is still soft at this point.
The ears take on their adult form when they reach 8 months.
#24: German Shepherds are notorious for shedding
German Shepherds are heavy shedders.
Not only do they shed all year round. They blow their coat in the spring and fall.
It’s because they are transitioning from winter coat to summer coat.
#25: German Shepherds can live up to 18 years
AKC’s life expectancy for German Shepherds is between 7-10 years.
However, this study showed that the median estimate for German Shepherds is 11 years. Interestingly, the oldest German Shepherd in this study is 18 years old.
#26: German Shepherds are very popular
They rank 2nd among popular breeds of dogs, according to AKC. They have been on that spot since 2014, just behind Labrador Retrievers.
In the United Kingdom alone, there were 10,364 registered German Shepherds in 2010. However, it dwindled to 6,837 registered dogs in 2019.
#27: They became popular after World War 1
During the war, German Shepherds worked alongside humans as:
- Mercy dogs.
- Guard dogs.
- Attack dogs.
- Hospice dogs.
- Messenger dogs.
The soldiers were impressed by these working dogs that some brought a dog home. Others shared tales about this awesome breed of dogs.
This contributed to the growing popularity of German Shepherds.
#28: German Shepherds in existence
According to SV’s updated website, there are more than 2,000,000 registered German Shepherds.
That number grows by 15,000 every year.
#29: Litter size
A female German Shepherd’s litter can consist of 1 to 15 pups. The average number of litter is 8.
#30: German Shepherds are the 3rd most trainable dog breed
That’s according to AKC.
The criteria used to measure a dog’s intelligence are:
- They must follow a command under 5 repetitions.
- They must follow the command 95% of the time or better.
#31: German Shepherds are extremely loyal
Their high trainability, intelligence and obedience all come together to produce a loyal dog.
#32: German Shepherds have their own sport
German Shepherd was the only breed that has a sport made specifically for them.
Schutzhund (protection dog) was a suitability test for their ability to work as a shepherd.
#33: Pituitary dwarfism
It’s when they look like a puppy their whole life, in appearance and size.
They may look cute to you. But this is actually a disease. And it comes with a host of other medical problems.
#34: The cost of raising a German Shepherd
A puppy can cost around $500 (£390).
You’ll need around $14,000 (£10,945) as a lifetime cost for your German Shepherd.
#35: Horand von Grafrath
Before he was Horand von Grafrath, he was first Hektor Linksrhein.
Hektor was the dog that caught the eye of Max Von Stephanitz at a dog show. After purchasing the dog, Von Stephanitz decided to change the name.
Horand von Grafrath was the first German Shepherd to be registered into SV’s stud book.
#36: White is out
In dog shows, a white German Shepherd will automatically be disqualified.
Judges consider white and other washed-out colors as flaws.
#37: The renaming of German Shepherds
Following World War 1 and 2, the Americans and the British were wary of anything German.
This prompted the British to call German Shepherds as ‘Alsatian’ instead. In the US, the AKC renamed the breed as ‘Shepherd Dog.’
It was only in 1977 that the name was reverted back to German Shepherd.
#38: A club for ‘sweet 13’
Is your German Shepherd a senior? You may want them to join The Thirteen Club.
This club is for German Shepherds aged 12 years and above.
#39: Countries restricting/banning German Shepherds
Several countries have put restrictions on German Shepherds. This was based on the belief that German Shepherds are dangerous.
The countries that put restrictions on owning a German Shepherd include:
- USA (Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan).
#40: German Shepherds in the Nazi era
The military of the Nazi Germany used German Shepherds to scare people.
#41: German Shepherds can run far
German Shepherds can reach 8 to 32 kilometers (5 to 20 miles). The key is consistent training and endurance.
#42: German Shepherds are sniffing machines
German Shepherds can smell drugs in layers of boxes 100 meters away.
In addition, they can smell 71 out of 100 cancerous breath cells.
And if that didn’t impress you, how about this:
German Shepherds are better in the sniffing department than Dachshunds.
As you know, Dachshunds are scent hounds. But German Shepherds still come out superior.
#43: German Shepherds’ scent receptors compared to humans’
A German Shepherd’s scent membrane is as big as a sheet of paper.
A human’s scent membrane, comparatively, is as small as a postage stamp.
That’s because humans only have 5,000,000 scent receptors. That’s a paltry number compared to German Shepherds’ 225,000,000 scent receptors.
#44: German Shepherds in the Industrial Age
The use of German Shepherds as herding dogs declined. But Max Von Stephanitz used his connections to good use:
He convinced police departments and army officers to use German Shepherds in their ranks.
#45: Hero dogs of 9/11
German Shepherds were a big part of the rescue efforts following the 9/11 attacks. They served as rescue dogs and guide dogs in the disaster zones.
- The first search and rescue dog to arrive on ground zero.
- He was almost killed by flames and debris while working.
- He was awarded the Dickin Medal, the equivalent of Victoria Cross (a very prestigious award).
- He found the last survivor, who was trapped for 27 hours.
#46: Fastest dog to weave 60 poles
Here is an old video of Guinness World Record holder Zinzan:
Zinzan held the record for the fastest 60-pole weaving at 12.14 seconds. This was in 2006.
#47: First plane crash caused by a dog
A German Shepherd caused the Grand Canyon Air Piper 32-300 to crash in 1976. The dog was unrestrained and messed with flight controls.
Fatalities included one passenger and one crew.
#48: The loudest dog barker
It was Daz, a white German Shepherd aptly named after the washing powder.
His bark was measured at 108 decibels. He held this record until 2012.
#49: The richest dog
Gunther III inherited £43 million from his owner, German countess Karlotta Liebenstein.
After Gunther III’s death, he passed on his wealth to his son, Gunther IV. Under Gunther IV, the money ballooned to some £180 million.
#50: German Shepherd with most awards received
Mystic held the record for the most number of awards at competitions. She owned more than 270 awards.
#51: The first German Shepherd to reach America
Mira von Offingen was the first German Shepherd to set paw on American soil.
Unfortunately, she was not registered with AKC and would return to Germany.
The second German Shepherd to reach the US was another female, Queen von Switserland. She was the first German Shepherd registered with AKC.
#52: First skydiving dog
The Guinness World Records recognizes Arrow, a German Shepherd, as the first skydiving anti-poaching dog.
He and his owner made the leap from 6,000 feet in September 2016 in South Africa.
#53: Strongheart the German Shepherd actor
Strongheart was a canine actor with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He had 6 movies under his name.
#54: Rin Tin Tin’s legacy
Rin Tin Tin rose from the ashes of war-torn France. He was the most famous German Shepherd actor in the 1920s.
So famous that he received 10,000 fan letters a week.
#55: First Seeing Eye Dog
Here’s Buddy, the first Seeing Eye Dog in the 1920s:
According to Frank Morris, who was partnered with Buddy:
‘She was the pioneer of the guard dog movement in the United States for the blind men and women…’
#56: The highest wall climb by a dog
A German Shepherd held the Guinness record for the highest wall climb by a dog.
Three-year-old Duke climbed a 3.58-meter wall in November 1986.
#57: Celebrity-owned German Shepherds
German Shepherds also found their way into the hearts of celebrities.
Some of them are:
- Tom Hanks.
- Ben Affleck.
- Jake Gyllenhaal.
- Jennifer Aniston.
- Reese Witherspoon.
#58: FDR’s German Shepherd
Franklin D. Roosevelt has a German Shepherd named Major.
Major had his own share of troubles while at the White House. Perhaps the most outrageous was this:
He ripped the seat off the pants of British Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald.
#59: ‘The Mortgage Lifter’
Warner Brothers Pictures owed a lot to their movie sensation, Rin Tin Tin.
The company was struggling financially during this time. But Rin Tin Tin’s movies were always a financial success.
#60: Parting with Warner Brothers Pictures
Rin Tin Tin made 23 films for Warner Brothers Pictures.
However, Warner terminated its contract with Rin Tin Tin. The reason? The era of the talking pictures began.
#61: German Shepherds have a pheromones detector
It’s called the Jacobson’s organ. It helps German Shepherds, and dogs in general, to detect pheromones.
They use it to send messages to each other, such as their readiness for mating.
You can find this organ near the bottom of the dog’s nasal passage.
#62: One of the best sniffers
AKC ranks German Shepherds 4th among dogs with the best sense of smell.
#63: Mental abilities
Dogs, including German Shepherds, have mental abilities similar to a 2-2.5-year old child.
#64: The working dog
German Shepherds could be useful in the following fields:
- Therapy dogs.
- Herding animals.
- Chasing criminals.
- Serving in the military.
- Sniffing illegal substances.
- Guide for the visually impaired.
- Search and rescue operation.
#65: German Shepherds excel in drug detection
This experiment pitted German Shepherds against Labrador Retrievers, Terriers and English Cocker Spaniels.
The results showed that German Shepherds were the superior in the detection work.
#66: ‘Going to the Dogs’
‘Going to the Dogs’ was a play that featured 6 German Shepherds.
These canine actors even took drama lessons. They were given lots of treats to motivate them to act.
#67: Rin Tin Tin was rumored to be the best actor
Rin Tin Tin should have won the Oscars for Best Actor in 1929. That was what the lore says.
This award went to silent film actor Emil Jennings.
#68: George Foreman and his German Shepherds
George Foreman was a professional boxer who lost to Muhammad Ali in 1974.
He relayed how he got on the wrong foot with the people of Zaire. During a visit, he brought a German Shepherd with him.
The people became wary as this was the same breed that Belgians used to oppress them.
#69: Rin Tin Tin helped popularize the breed in the US
Before Rin Tin Tin came along, the AKC registered more than 2,000 ‘Shepherd dogs.’
But following his popularity, the AKC registered more than 21,000 ‘Shepherd dogs.’
#70: Coronavirus-sniffing dogs
German Shepherds were deployed for a new job: coronavirus-sniffing.
This was a trial program in Finland, launched September 2020.
#71: The popularity led to puppy mills
Being very popular has upped the demand for German Shepherds. As a result, many backyard breeders popped up.
Their main goal was to make as much money as they can. They were not after producing puppies that are of sound temperament and body.
#72: Prone to health problems
German Shepherds are a risky breed regarding long-term health. They could be afflicted with hip and elbow dysplasia, cancer and skin problems.
One factor was the heavy inbreeding during the early years of their creation.
#73: Rumor had it
A German Shepherd won the Best in Show at the 2017 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.
The dog’s name was Lockenhaus’ Rumor Has It V Kenlyn, Rumor for short. Her name came from Adele’s song ‘Rumor Has It.’
She was the first German Shepherd to win since 1987.
#74: German Shepherds and parachutes
German Shepherds can parachute with a handler out of an aircraft. They had been trained to do this as early as World War 1 and 2.
#75: Acting with Will Smith
In the movie ‘I Am Legend,’ Will Smith’s character owns a female German Shepherd named Sam.
In real life, Sam was Abbey. She would be 15 years old today.
#76: All things hair
There are short, medium and long-haired German Shepherds.
The short-haired ones have hairs an inch long. But a typical German Shepherd has hair longer than 2 inches.
#77: Alsatian origin
For a time, the British called German Shepherds ‘Alsatians.’
This was derived from the French town Alsace-Lorraine. France gave this town to Germany in 1871 following the Franco-German war.
#78: A relatively new breed
The German Shepherd breed was created in 1899. This breed had been in existence for 121 years.
That’s relatively new compared to other breeds such as the Beagles, Border Collies and Bloodhounds.
#79: Crate training is essential
You can use crate training to give your dog a place where they can be calm.
In addition, crate training prevents your dog from having separation anxiety.
#80: German Shepherds’ temperament
German Shepherds are highly trainable.
They require a lot of attention. But they will return it a thousand fold with their incredible loyalty.
#81: German Shepherds’ personality
This breed is highly intelligent and active. They need a lot of physical and mental exercises to learn.
They are also highly adaptable to situations.
#82: German Shepherds are one-man dogs
German Shepherds can get attached to their handler or owner.
This was due to their breeding. They were bred to work alongside a farmer or shepherd, which they look up to for guidance.
#83: German Shepherds are longer than they are tall
German Shepherds’ average height is between 22 – 26 inches (56-66 cm). But their length is between 36 – 42.5 inches (91-108 cm).
Heroic acts by German Shepherds…
You’ll never find a shortage of heroic acts by German Shepherds. Here are just some of them:
Haus’ 7-year-old owner was almost bitten by a rattlesnake. But the dog jumped in front and took the bites.
The doctors said he was bitten 3 times.
#85: Filax of Lewanno
Filax of Lewanno was a canine hero of World War 1.
He brought more than 50 wounded soldiers to safety during the war. For that, he was awarded in 1917 at Westminster.
A German Shepherd named Luks saved his owner, Josip Broz Tito. The dog jumped on his owner to cover him when a bomb fell nearby.
Tito was the commander of Yugoslav partisans. He would later become the Yugoslavia President.
In 2013, four-year-old Milena from Argentina wandered into the house next door. Nobody noticed her except the German Shepherd, Sasha.
Milena jumped into the swimming pool of the neighbor. Sasha jumped into the pool and kept the little girl afloat. Then the dog dragged the girl out of the pool.
This is a video of Buddy, a German Shepherd that led a police officer to the fire.
Ben, Buddy’s owner, had asked the dog to find help after his workshop caught fire.
A police officer saw Buddy on the road, and something told him to follow Buddy.
The dog led him to the fire, and Buddy’s heroic act saved his owner Ben.
Debbie Zeisler, who had seizures, adopted the unwanted German Shepherd Bear.
One day, Debbie had seizures and fell unconscious. Bear sought help from the neighborhood, but nobody was around.
Fortunately, an animal control officer spotted Bear and came to help.
Bear was awarded the 30th National Hero Dog.
The FBI agent Ape is another heroic German Shepherd.
The FBI had cornered the gunman Kurt Myers in a bar. Ape wore a camera so that other agents could see what was going on inside.
However, Ape got shot. But the police were able to nab the gunman.
The FBI and the police honored Ape for his bravery and service.
German Shepherd Noah was in the car with her owner and her kids.
Suddenly, armed groups arrived shooting at each other. One attacker came close to the car.
Noah jumped in front and took the bullet that could have killed the wife or one of the kids.
Noah was still able to run after the escaping attacker, but he died from his injury.
There are also myths surrounding German Shepherds…
10 German Shepherd myths
#1: Alsatian and German Shepherds are different breeds
This is not the case.
Britain used the name ‘Alsatians’ because they were wary of Germany during World War 1 and 2.
#2: German Shepherds are aggressive
Only if they were not trained properly.
A properly socialized and trained German Shepherd can be good family dogs.
#3: German Shepherds are not good with kids
The belief probably came from the negative portrayal of German Shepherds as a scary dog.
Another factor is the size of an adult German Shepherd. They can easily knock down a tiny child.
#4: German Shepherds are not good with other dogs
This is simply not true.
A lot of German Shepherds make great friends with other dogs. Here’s proof:
As you see, German Shepherds make great friends with other animals such as chicken.
#5: German Shepherds bite
The misconception comes from a misunderstanding of this breed.
The myth comes from German Shepherds being used in aggressive jobs.
As proven by AKC, German Shepherds account for less than 2 percent of reported dog bites.
#6: Female German Shepherds are not dominant
There is no guarantee that a female German Shepherd will turn out submissive.
There could be dominant females and relaxed males. It depends on the dog.
#7: A big yard is enough for a German Shepherd to run for exercise
Adult German Shepherds need at least 2 hours of physical exercise. And this is not restricted to free running in the yard.
You can walk, hike and swim with your dog.
#8: A German Shepherd can’t live in an apartment
On the contrary, a German Shepherd can be happy living in an apartment.
Provided that you give them their needs. Physical exercises and mental stimulation in particular.
#9: A German Shepherd puppy can do strenuous exercises
No, certainly not.
The right age to engage in heavier exercises is 15 months or older. By this time they have stopped growing and their bones and muscles are developed.
#10: Shaving will make German Shepherds cooler in the summer
Here are just a few things that happen when you shave them:
- Inability to repel snow, mud and dirt.