The German Shepherd Dog- Breed Standard

Planned breeding of the German Shepherd dog started in 1899. The German Shepherd dog breed was created using the different types of sheepdogs existent at that time in Central and Southern Germany as the basis for the breed, with the intention of developing a high performance dog.

In order to achieve this objective the German Shepherd dog breed Standard was established. The breed standard describes the German Shepherd dog’s physical structure, psychological characteristics and temperament. The standard was edited in accordance to what was established officially by the Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde (SV) and based on what was proposed by A. Meyer and von Stephanitz. It was originally developed in the first meeting of the members of the society in Frankfurt-Main, on September 20th 1899 and in the coming years it experienced some modifications.

General Appearance and Character

The German Shepherd dog is a strong, deep-bodied, medium sized dog, slightly longer than tall, the bones are dry and the structure firm. The characteristics of the German Shepherd are strongly marked and the masculinity of the male and femininity of the female must be evident.

With the hair pressed down, the height at the withers is measured by stick along the vertical as it follows the line of the elbow from the withers to the ground. The ideal height at the withers is 62.5 cm (24.6 in) for males and 57.5 cm (22.6 in) for females; 2.5 cm (1 in) either above or below the ideal are permissible. Exceeding the maximum as well as not meeting the minimum decreases the working and breeding value of the dog.

In general, the German Shepherd dog must offer the observer a picture of rugged strength, intelligence and agility. When in motion it must carry itself with ease and subtleness, but at the same time displaying great stamina.

Although very energetic, the German Shepherd dog must also be obedient, easily trainable, cooperative, and must adapt to every situation and work willingly and joyfully. It must be well balanced and undisturbed (except in irritating or stimulating circumstances) and must have a strong fighting drive and strength of character. The German Shepherd dog must show courage and hardness in defending its handler and its property. It must be a fully attentive, obedient and a pleasant household companion. The GSD should be kind to children and other animals, and composed in his contact with people. All in all, it must give a harmonious picture of natural nobility and self-confidence.


The head is shaped like a wedge and should be proportional to the size of the body and not coarse, over refined or overstretched. The general appearance should be dry with moderate breadth between the ears (in length approximately 40% of the height at the withers). The width of the forehead is close in size to the length. When viewed from the front or the side it’s only slightly arched. It should not have a center crease or only a slightly defined one. When viewed from above, the skull narrows gradually and evenly from the ears to the tip of the nose, with a gradual slope rather than a sharply defined stop and into a wedge-shaped muzzle. The upper and lower jaws must be strongly developed. The bridge of the nose must be straight and runs almost parallel to the forehead. The muzzle is strong and black in color, the lips dark, firm, dry and should close tightly.


Dentition must be strong, healthy, and complete (42 teeth, 20 in the upper jaw and 22 in the lower jaw). The German Shepherd dog has a scissors bite, which means the incisors of the upper jaw cover the incisors of the lower jaw in close contact.

An undershot or overshot bite is a fault, as well as large gaps between the teeth. A level bite (when the incisors close on a straight line) is also a fault. The jaws must be strongly developed so that the teeth may be deeply rooted.


The eyes are of medium size, almond shaped, somewhat slanting and never protruding. The color of the eyes should blend with the color of the coat and always be as dark as possible. They should have self-confident, lively and intelligent expression; defiant when in the presence of a stranger.


The ears are of medium size, upright, wide at the base and set high. They narrow to a point and are carried facing forward and vertically. Tipped, cropped and hanging ears are a fault. The ears of puppies and young dogs sometimes drop or pull toward each other and this can last until they’re six months of age and sometimes longer. During motion or at rest, many dogs draw their ears back; which is not considered a fault.


The neck should be strong with well-developed muscles and without looseness of the skin. The neck is carried at an angle of about 45 degrees to the horizontal. It is carried higher when excited and lower when trotting.


The length of the body should exceed the height at the withers by about 10 to 17%. Dogs whose length is too short, appear to be square or are too tall are undesirable. The back is straight and strongly developed, but not too long between the withers and the croup. The top-line should run uninterrupted from the base of the neck, over the withers and a slightly slanted back towards the croup which is slightly slanted too. The withers must be long and pretty high, sloping slightly from front to rear, well defined against the back into which it gently blends without breaking the top-line. The croup is long and slightly angled (approximately 23 degrees to the horizontal) and must reach the base of the tail with no interruptions of the top-line. The rib cage extends far back so that the loins are relatively short. The loins must be wide, strong and well muscled. The chest is deep (approximately 45 to 48% of the height at the withers) but not too wide. The under chest should be pronounced and as long as possible. The ribs should be well formed and long, neither barrel shaped nor too flat. The abdomen should be moderately tucked up.


The tail is bushy and has slightly longer hairs on its lower area. It should at least reach the hock joint but not extend beyond the middle of the metatarsus. At rest the tail is carried in a gentle curve. Sometimes the tail forms a hook to one side at its end, which is undesirable. When the dog is excited or in motion, the tail is curved more and carried higher, but should never be raised past the vertical.


The forearm when viewed from all sides must be straight and when viewed from the front absolutely parallel. The bones of the upper arm and forearm must be the same length and firmly attached to the body by well-developed muscles. The angle between the shoulder blade and the arm must be approximately 90 degrees, which is ideal, but can be up to 110 degrees. The elbows must not be turned in nor turned out, neither when the dog is at rest or moving. They shouldn’t be too close or too far from the chest either. The length of the metacarpus is approximately one third of the forearm and the angle between the two is approximately 20 to 22 degrees. The length of the leg bones should exceed the depth of the chest (approximately 55%).

Front Feet

The feet are relatively round, firm, tightly formed and arched. The pads are hard, but not chapped. The nails are strong and of a dark color.


The hindquarters must be powerful and well muscled to be capable of carrying the body effortlessly forward during motion. The thighs must be broad and well muscled. Viewed from the back the hindquarters must be parallel to each other. The upper thigh bone should be slightly shorter than the lower thigh bone and form an angle of approximately 120 degrees. The hock is strong and firm. The metacarpus is situated under de hock and is perpendicular to it.

Hind Feet

The feet are relatively round, firm, tightly formed and arched. The pads are hard, but not chapped. The nails are strong and of a dark color. Dewclaws sometimes appear on the hind legs and should be removed within the first few days of birth.


There are three coat varieties within the German Shepherd dog breed, but the only correct coat is the medium smooth one.

I- The Medium Smooth Coated German Shepherd Dog

The outer coat should be as thick as possible. Individual hairs are straight, coarse and lie flat against the body. The coat must be short on the head, the ears, the front of the legs, the feet and the toes, but it should be thicker and longer on the neck. Hair grows a little longer on the back of the front legs and hind legs, down to the pastern and the hock joint. The length of the hair varies, and because of this, there are many intermediate forms. A coat that is too short is faulty.

II- The Long Smooth Coated German Shepherd Dog

Individual hairs are longer. They are not always straight and they lie close to the body. The coat is substantially longer inside and behind the ears, on the back of the forearm and sometimes in the loin area. Sometimes there will be tufts in the ears and feathering from the elbow to the pastern. The breeching along the thigh is long and thick. The tail is bushy and has a slight feathering underneath. This long smooth coat is not as weatherproof as the medium smooth coat, consequently it is undesirable. In some cases, when there is enough undercoat, it may be passed for breeding as long as the breed regulations of the country allow it.

Long smooth coated German Shepherd dogs frequently have a narrow chest and a narrow overstretched muzzle.

III- The Long Coated German Shepherd Dog

This coat is considerably longer than that of the long smooth coated GSD. It is typically very soft and forms a parting along the back. There will commonly be an undercoat in the region of the loins or there will none at all. Long coats have weakened weatherproofing and utility and therefore are undesirable.

Angulation and Movement

The German Shepherd dog is a trotter. His gait displays a diagonal movement, which means that the hind foot and the forefoot on opposite sides move simultaneously. Therefore, the limbs must be similarly proportioned to one another. This way, as the action of the rear carries through to the middle of the body, it is matched by an equally far reaching forehand and causes no fundamental change in the top line. The correct proportion of height to length and corresponding length of the leg bones results in a gait that is low to the ground and conveys an impression of effortless progression. With his head thrust forward and a slightly raised tail, a balanced and even trotter will have a top line that exhibits moderate curves from the tip of the ears, over the neck and levels back through the tip of the tail.

The height to length ratio and the placement and structure of the limbs (angulation) are very balanced and give the dog that a far reaching, effortless trot. Overangulation of the rear quarters diminishes soundness and endurance.

A pleasing appearance is desired as long as the working ability of the dog is not called into question.

Temperament, Character and Abilities

A purebred German Shepherd dog has some outstanding characteristics, such as; self-confidence, sound nerves, alertness, watchfulness, trainability, loyalty, incorruptibility, fighting drive, courage and hardness. These characteristics make him suitable to be a superior working dog in general, as well as a multi-purpose track and search dog, herding dog, guard and protection dog and the ultimate companion.


There are many color options in the German Shepherd dog breed. It may have a black saddle with regular markings in red, brown, tan or light gray. It may be dark sable, black, uniform gray or have light or brown markings. Small white markings on the chest or a very light color on the insides of the legs are accepted, but not desired. The nose must be black with all coat colors. Dogs with little or no masks, yellow or strikingly light eyes, light markings on the chest and insides of the legs, white nails, a red tip on the tail or washed out weak colors are considered lacking in pigment. The undercoat or base hair is always light gray or fawn, with the exception of black dogs. The final color of a puppy is only determined when the outer coat completely develops.


Faults include anything that decreases the dog’s working versatility or stamina, especially the absence of sexual characteristics, or temperament traits inconsistent with the German Shepherd dog such as; shyness, apathy, lack of vitality, unwillingness to work, weak nerves, or over excitability. A soft or flabby constitution, or a lack of substance; over and under sized dogs; dogs with stunted growth; high-legged dogs; dogs with an overloaded fore chest; disproportionately short dogs, dogs that are too refined or with an inferior build; a soft back; a placement of the limbs which is too steep and anything that decreases the reach and endurance of gait; fading pigmentation; blue dogs, albinos and white German Shepherds; monorchids, cryptorchids, or dogs with testicles that are too small; a muzzle that is too short, blunt, weak, pointed, narrow or lacks strength; an over or undershot bite, or any other faults of dentition, especially weak or worn teeth; a coat that is too soft, too short, or too long; a lack of undercoat; hanging ears, a permanently faulty ear carriage, or cropped ears; a ringed tail, curled tail, docked tail, naturally short tail, or generally faulty tail set.

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