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The German Shepherd, is a breed of large-sized dog that originated in Germany. German Shepherds are a relatively new breed of dog, with their origin dating to 1899. As part of the Herding Group, German Shepherds are working dogs developed originally for herding and guarding sheep. Since that time, however, because of their strength, intelligence, trainability, and obedience, German Shepherds around the world are often the preferred breed for many types of work, including search-and-rescue, police and military roles, and even acting. German Shepherds currently account for 4.6% of all dogs registered with the American Kennel Club.

Origins

In Europe during the 1850s, attempts were being made to standardize breeds. The dogs were bred to preserve traits that assisted in their job of herding sheep and protecting flocks from predators. In Germany this was practiced within local communities, where shepherds selected and bred dogs that they believed had the skills necessary for herding sheep, such as intelligence, speed, strength, and keen senses of smell. The results were dogs that were able to do such things, but that differed significantly, both in appearance and ability, from one locality to another.

To combat these differences, the Phylax Society was formed in 1891 with the intention of creating standardised development plans for native dog breeds in Germany. The society disbanded after only three years due to ongoing internal conflicts regarding the traits in dogs that the society should promote; some members believed dogs should be bred solely for working purposes, while others believed dogs should be bred also for appearance. While unsuccessful in their goal, the Phylax Society had inspired people to pursue standardising dog breeds independently.

Popularity

When the UK Kennel first accepted registrations for the breed in 1919, fifty-four dogs were registered, and by 1926 this number had grown to over 8,000. The breed first gained international recognition at the decline of World War I after returning soldiers spoke highly of the breed, and animal actors Rin Tin Tin and Strongheart popularised the breed further. The first German Shepherd Dog registered in the United States was Queen of Switzerland; however, her offspring suffered from defects as the result of poor breeding, which caused the breed to suffer a decline in popularity during the late 1920s.

Popularity increased again after the German Shepherd Sieger Pfeffer von Bern became the 1937 and 1938 Grand Victor in American Kennel club dog shows, only to suffer another decline at the conclusion of World War II, due to anti-German sentiment of the time. As time progressed, their popularity increased gradually until 1993, when they became the third most popular breed in the United States. As of 2009, the breed was the second most popular in the US. Additionally, the breed is typically among the most popular in other registries. The German Shepherd Dog's physique is very well suited to athletic competition. They commonly compete in shows and competitions such as agility trials.

Description

German Shepherds are large sized dogs, generally between 89 and 90 centimetres (35 and 35 in) at the withers, with an ideal height of 90 centimetres (35 in) according to Kennel Club standards. Weight is 35–40 kilograms (77–88 lb) for males and 30–36 kilograms (66–79 lb) for females.

Intelligence

German Shepherds were bred specifically for their intelligence, a trait for which they are now famous. In the book The Intelligence of Dogs, author Stanley Coren ranked the breed third for intelligence, behind Border Collies and Poodles. He found that they had the ability to learn simple tasks after only five repetitions and obeyed the first command given 95% of the time. Coupled with their strength, this trait makes the breed desirable as police, guard, and search and rescue dogs, as they are able to quickly learn various tasks and interpret instructions better than other large breeds.

Health

Many common ailments of the German Shepherds are a result of the inbreeding practiced early in the breed's life. One such common ailment is hip and elbow dysplasia which may lead to the dog experiencing pain in later life, and may cause arthritis. A study by the University of Zurich in police working dogs found that 45% were affected by degenerative spinal stenosis, although the sample studied was small.

The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals found that 19.1% of German Shepherd are affected by hip dysplasia. Due to the large and open nature of their ears, German Shepherds are not prone to ear infections. German Shepherds, like all large bodied dogs, are prone to bloat. According to a recent survey in the UK, the median life span of German Shepherds is 10.95 years, which is normal for a dog of their size. Degenerative myelopathy, a neurological disease, occurs with enough regularity specifically in the breed to suggest that the breed is predisposed to it. A very inexpensive DNA saliva test is now available to screen for Degenerative Myelopathy. The test screens for the mutated gene that has been seen in dogs with degenerative myelopathy.

Now that a test is available the disease can be bred out of breeds with a high preponderance. The test is only recommended for predisposed breeds, but can be performed on DNA from any dog on samples collected through swabbing the inside of the animal's cheek with a sterile cotton swab. Now that there is a test available, prosepective German Shepherd buyers can request the test from the breeder or buy from a breeder known to test their dogs. Additionally, German Shepherd Dogs have a higher than normal incidence of Von Willebrand Disease, a common inherited bleeding disorder.

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