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The German Shepherd Dog


The German Shepherd Dog

Breed Standard

The following is the official breed standard as accepted by the American Kennel Club (AKC) for the German Shepherd Dog.

General Appearance: The first impression of a good German Shepherd Dog is that of a strong, agile, well-muscled animal, alert and full of life.  It is well-balanced, with a harmonious development of the forequarter and hindquarter. The dog is longer than tall, deep-bodied, and present an outline of smooth curves, rather than angles.  It looks substantial and not spindly, giving the impression, both at rest and in motion, of muscular fitness and nimbleness without any look of clumsiness or soft living. The ideal dog is stamped with a look of quality and nobility–difficult to define, but unmistakable when present.  Secondary sex characteristics are strongly marked, and every animal gives a definite impression of masculinity or femininity, according to its sex.

Temperament: The breed has a distinct personality marked by a direct and fearless, but not hostile, expression; self-confidence and a certain aloofness that does not lend itself to immediate and indiscriminate friendships.  The dog must be approachable, quietly standing its ground and showing confidence and willingness to meet overtures without itself making them.  It is poised, but when the occasion demands, eager and alert; both fit and willing to serve in its capacity as companion, watchdog, blind leader, herding dog, or guardian, whichever the circumstances may demand. The dog must not be timid, shrinking behind its master or handler. It should not be nervous, looking about or upward with anxious expression or showing nervous reactions, such as tucking of tail, to strange sounds or sights. Lack of confidence under any surroundings is not typical of good character. Any of the above deficiencies in character that indicate shyness must be penalized as very serious faults and any dog exhibiting pronounced indications of these must be excused from the ring. It must be possible for the judge to observe the teeth and to determine that both testicles are descended. Any dog that attempts to bite the judge must be disqualified. The ideal dog is a working animal with an incorruptible character combined with body and gait suitable for the arduous work that constitutes its primary purpose.

Size, proportion, substance: The desired height for males at the top of the highest point of the shoulder blade is 24 to 26 inches; and for bitches, 22 to 24 inches. The German Shepherd Dog is longer than tall, with the most desirable proportion as 10 to 8 1/2. The length is measured from the point of the prosternum, or breastbone, to the rear of the pelvis, the ischial tuberosity. The desirable long proportion is not derived from a long back, but from overall length with relation to height, which is achieved by length of forequarter and length of withers and hindquarter viewed from the side.

Head: The head is noble, cleanly chiseled, strong without coarseness, but above all, not fine, and in proportion to the body. The head of the male is distinctly masculine, and that of the bitch, distinctly feminine. The expression is keen, intelligent, and composed. They eyes are of medium size, almond shaped, set a little obliquely and not protruding. The eye color is as dark as possible. Ears are moderately pointed, in proportion to the skull, open toward the front and carried erect when at attention. The ideal carriage of the ears is being one in which the center lines of the ears, viewed from the front, are parallel to each other and perpendicular to the ground. A dog with cropped or hanging ears must be disqualified. Seen from the front, the front of the forehead is only moderately arched, and the skull slopes into the long, wedge-shaped muzzle without an abrupt stop.  The muzzle is long and strong, and its topline is parallel to the topline of the skull.  The nose is black. A dog with a nose that is not predominantly black must be disqualified. The lips are firmly fitted. Jaws are strongly developed.  Teeth are 42 in number: 20 upper and 22 lower teeth; and are strongly developed and meet in a scissor bite, in which part of the inner surface of the upper incisors meet and engage part of the outer surface of the lower incisors. An overshot jaw or a level bite is undesirable. An undershot jaw is a disqualifying fault. Complete dentition is preferred. Any missing teeth other than first premolars is a serious fault.

Neck: The neck is strong and muscular, clean-cut, and relatively long, proportionate in size to the head and without loose folds of skin. When the dog is at attention of excited, the head is raised and the neck carried high. Otherwise, typical carriage of the head is forward, rather than up, and but little higher than the top of the shoulders, particularly in motion.

Topline: The withers are higher than and sloping into the level back. The back is straight, very strongly developed, without sag or roach, and relatively short. The whole structure of the body gives an impression of depth and solidity without bulkiness.

Chest, body, tail: Commencing at the prosternum (breastbone), it is well-filled and carried well down between the legs. It is deep and capacious, never shallow, with ample room for lungs and heart, carried well forward, with the prosternum showing head of the shoulders in profile.  Ribs are well sprung and long, neither barrel-shaped nor too flat, ,and carried down to a sternum which reaches to the elbows. Correct ribbing allows the elbows to move back freely when the dog is at a trot.  Too round causes interference and throws the elbows out; too flat or short causes pinched elbows. Ribbing is carried well back so that the loin is relatively short. The abdomen is firmly held and not paunchy. The bottom line is only moderately tucked up into the loin.  The loin, viewed from the top, is broad and strong. Undue length between the last rib and the thigh, when viewed from the side, is undesirable.  The croup should be long and gradually sloping, the tail bushy, with the last vertebra extended at least to the hock joint. The tail is set smoothly into the croup and low, rather than high. At rest, the tail hangs in a slight curve like a saber.  A slight hook, sometimes carried to one side, is a fault only to the extent that it mars the dog’s general appearance. When the dog is excited or in motion, the curve is accentuated and the tail raised, but it should never be curled forward beyond a vertical line. Tails too short or with clumpy ends due to ankylosis are serious faults. A dog with a docked tail must be disqualified.

Forequarters: The shoulder blades are long and obliquely angled, laid on flat and not placed forward. The upper arm joins the shoulder blade at about a right angle. Both the upper arm and the shoulder blade are well-muscled. The forelegs, view from all sides, are straight and the bone oval rather than round. The pasterns are strong and springy and angulated at approximately a 25-degree angle from the vertical. Dew claws on the forelegs may be removed but are normally left on. The feet are short, compact with toes well-arched, pads thick and firm, nails short and dark.

Hindquarters: The whole assembly of the thigh, view from the side, is broad, with upper and lower thigh well-muscled, forming as nearly as possible a right angle. The upper thigh bone parallels the shoulder blade, while the lower thigh bone parallels the upper arm. The metatarsus (the unit between the hock joint and the foot) is short, strong, and tightly articulated. The dew claws, if any, should be removed from the hind legs.  Feet should be as the front feet.

Coat: The ideal dog has a double coat of medium length. The outer coat should be as dense as possible, hair straight, harsh, and lying close to the body. A slightly wavy outer coat, often of wiry texture, is permissible. The head, including the inner ear and foreface, and the legs and paws are covered with short hair, and the neck with longer and thicker hair. The rear of the forelegs and hind legs has somewhat longer hair extending to the pastern and hock, respectively. Faults in coat  include soft, silky, too long outer coat, woolly, curly, and open coat.

Color: The German Shepherd Dog varies in color, and most colors are permissible. Strong, rich colors are preferred. Pale, washed-out colors, and blues or livers are serious faults. A white dog must be disqualified.

Gait: A German Shepherd Dog is a trotting dog and its structure has been developed to meet the requirements of its work. The general impression of the gait is that it is outreaching, elastic, seemingly without effort, smooth and rhythmic, covering the maximum amount of ground with the minimum number of steps. At a walk, it covers a great deal of ground with a long stride of both the hind and forelegs. At a trot, the dog covers still more ground with an even longer stride, and moves powerfully but easily, with coordination and balance so the gait appears to be the steady motion of a well-lubricated machine. The feet travel close to the ground on both forward reach and backward push. In order to achieve the ideal movement of this kind, there must be good muscular development and ligamentation. The hindquarters deliver, through the back, a powerful forward thrust that slightly lifts the whole animal and drives the body forward. Reaching far under and passing the imprint left by the front foot, the hind foot takes hold of the ground. Then the hock, stifle, and upper thigh come into play and sweep back, the stroke of the hind leg finishing with the foot still close to the ground in a smooth follow-through. The overreach of the hindquarter usually necessitates one hind foot passing outside and the other hind foot passing inside the track of the forefeet, and such action is not faulty unless the locomotion is crabwise, with the dog’s body sideways out of the normal straight line.

Transmission: The typical smooth, flowing gait is maintained with great strength and firmness of back. The whole effort of the hindquarter is transmitted to the forequarter through the loin, back, and withers. At full trot, the back must remain firm and level without sway, roll, whip, or roach. Unlevel toplines with withers lower than the hip is a fault. To compensate for the forward motion imparted by the hindquarters, the shoulder should open to its full extent. The forelegs should reach out close to the ground in a long stride in harmony with that of the hindquarters. The dog does not track on widely separated parallel lines, but brings the feet inward toward the middle line of the body when trotting, in order to maintain balance. The feet track closely but do not strike or cross over. Viewed from the front, the front legs function from the shoulder joint to the pad in a straight line. Viewed from the rear, the hind legs function from the hip joint to the pad in a straight line. Faults of gait, whether from front, rear, or side, are to be considered very serious faults.


Cropped or hanging ears

Dogs with noses not predominantly black

Undershot jaw

Docked tail

White dogs

Any dog that attempts to bite the judge