German Shepherds are among the most popular and smartest dog breeds in the United States – and for good reason. Not only are they extremely intelligent, but they make both excellent work and family dogs. They are versatile enough to be both protective and extremely loyal. They can be ferocious while working as police K9s, helping to capture criminals. And yet, a working GSD will come home to play with children in their family, instinctively sensing when and how to act in each situation.

The history of the German Shepherd breed goes back to 1889 at a dog show in Germany. Even then, the dog that became the first GSD, displayed the grace, power, endurance and strength that are still integral to the breed. The first German Shepherd was named Horand Von Grafrath (renamed from is original name, Hektor Linksrhein). Back then, the beauty of the dog was secondary to traits such as intelligence and the ability to be a good working dog or servant for its owners.

While the founder of the breed, Captain Max von Stephanitz, did not place a high emphasis on appearance, today’s German Shepherds are considered among the best looking dogs in the world. In addition to their innately intelligent eyes, their bodies are distinguished by muscular front legs and shoulders, thick thighs and well proportioned legs topped by strong chests. The thickness of the coat can vary greatly, including rough or long rough-coated as well as long-haired. Coat color is often mixed, including black, tan and sable mixtures.

There are also completely black German Shepherds, always a stunning sight. Some coat colors are considered faulty, according to the German Shepherd breed standard. These include blue, white and liver colors, although White German Shepherds are now considered a separate breed (the American White Shepherd).

If you are considering adding a German Shepherd to your family, you need to be aware of the dog’s needs as well as the ideal home or work environment. They grow very quickly so a small pup can turn out to be a large dog in a relatively short time. They can live to be between 10 and 13 years old, so owners need to be committed to a dog that will be a part of the family for a decade or more. It is not ideal to leave a GSD alone for a long period of time as they love to be close to their owners, whether at work or home. Be very careful about putting this breed in an apartment, as it may be forbidden by the landlord and can result in an increase in insurance rates.

Because they consider their families to be part of their pack, they have a strong protective instinct. This means they can be suspicious of strangers. While this makes them excellent for protection and as watch dogs, obedience training is vital to make sure your dog can be controlled when necessary. Proper training of the breed depends on positive reinforcement. They are very sensitive to improper training and angry words or other methods can have negative results. Respect the dog’s innate intelligence and desire to please and realize that the German Shepherd can be sensitive to other methods.

When buying a German Shepherd, always avoid puppy mills. Make sure the breeder has a solid reputation among lovers of the breed. Buying from puppy mills or backyard breeders can result in dogs which have been traumatized, are shy and prone to fear biting. Pet stores are also undesirable when choosing where to buy this breed. However, shelters and rescue groups may have quality dogs which need good homes and they may be able to match you to the right German Shepherd for you.

The popularity of the breed seems to be increasing year by year, especially after a GSD was named Best in Show at Westminster. Their winning personalities seem to charm those who see them. If you want a loyal, loving and versatile dog, a German Shepherd could be the ideal choice.