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German Shepherd Dog Breed Standard

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American Kennel Club Herding Group

German Shepherd Dog Breed Standard

Approved Feb. 11, 1978

Reformatted July 11, 1994


History:  Derived from the old breeds of herding and farm dogs, and associated for centuries with man as servant and companion, the German Shepherd Dog has been subject to intensive development. Sponsored by the Verein fur Deutsche Schaferhunde, the parent club of the breed founded in 1899 in Germany, the cult of the Shepherd spread rapidly from about 1914 onward in many parts of the world. Interest in the breed has been fostered by specialty clubs in many lands as it has been in the United States by the German Shepherd Dog Club of America.

     Considering first the more important side of the dog, its character, the Shepherd is distinguished for loyalty, courage, and the ability to assimilate and retain training for a number of special services. He should be of equable disposition, poised, unexcitable, and with well-controlled nerves. For his typical work as a herding sheepdog, he must not be gun-shy and must have courage to protect his flock from attacks, either animal or human. For his work as a police dog, a development which followed upon his natural aptitude for training, he must have this courage and in addition must be able to make use of the excellent nose which he usually possesses. In his work as a leader of the blind, the Shepherd must and does exhibit a high order of intelligence and discrimination involving the qualities of observation, patience, faithful watchfulness, and even, to a certain degree, the exercise of judgment.

     These qualities, which have endeared the German Shepherd Dog to a wide public in practically every country of the globe, are those of the companion, protector, and friend. The German Shepherd is not a pugnacious brawler, but a bold and punishing fighter if need be. In his relation to man he does not give affection lightly; he has plenty of dignity and some suspicion of strangers, but his friendship, once given, is given for life.

     On the physical side, the German Shepherd Dog has been developed to a point of almost ideal fitness for the work he is called upon to do. He is a dog of middle size with enough weight to be effective as herder or patrolman, but not enough to be cumbersome or unwieldy.

     The impression of the dog as a whole is one of ruggedness combined with nobility, of power combined with agility. There should be a sense of balance, forequarters and hindquarters compensating each other in their development. The outline should be smooth and flowing, and the topline of the dog, from the ear to the tip of the full tail, a single sweeping succession of unbroken curves. The German Shepherd Dog is a natural dog, unchanged for any whim of the show ring.


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 harmonious development of the forequarter and hindquarter. The dog is longer than tall, deep-bodied, and presents 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 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 which 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 8½. The length is measured from the point of the prosternum or breastbone to the rear edge 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 keen, intelligent and composed. Eyes of medium size, almond shaped, set a little obliquely and not protruding. The 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 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 forehead is only moderately arched, and the skull slopes into the long, wedge-shaped muzzle without abrupt stop. The muzzle is long and strong, and its topline is parallel to the topline of the skull. Nose black. A dog with a nose that is not predominantly black must be disqualified. The lips are firmly fitted. Jaws are strongly developed. Teeth --42 in number--20 upper and 22 lower--are strongly developed and meet in a scissors 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 to be 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 or 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.


Body - The whole structure of the body gives an impression of depth and solidity without bulkiness.  Chest - Commencing at the prosternum, 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 ahead of the shoulder in profile. Ribs 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. Abdomen firmly held and not paunchy. The bottom line is only moderately tucked up in the loin.  Loin Viewed from the top - broad and strong. Undue length between the last rib and the thigh, when viewed from the side, is undesirable. Croup long and gradually sloping.  Tail - bushy, with the last vertebra extended at least to the hock joint. It 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 faulty only to the extent that it mars 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, viewed 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. Dewclaws 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, viewed from the side, is broad, with both 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 dewclaws, if any, should be removed from the hind legs. Feet as in front.


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. General Impression-- The gait 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 long stride of both hind legs and forelegs. At a trot the dog covers still more ground with even longer stride, and moves powerfully but easily, with coordination and balance so that 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 ideal movement of this kind, there must be good muscular development and ligamentation. The hindquarters deliver, through the back, a powerful forward thrust which 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 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 topline 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

United Kennel Club Herding Group

German Shepherd Dog Breed Standard

Recognized in 1924

Revised Mar. 1, 1998


History:  The German Shepherd Dog is a relatively young breed, developed almost single-handedly in the first half of the twentieth century by a German cavalry officer, Max von Stephanitz, president of the Verein fár Deutsche Schaferhunde S.V. Using a variety of German sheepdogs as his foundation stock, von Stephanitz developed a distinctive breed in a very short period of time, due in large part to the authoritarian practices of the German dog fancy at that time. Von Stephanitz emphasized utility and intelligence in his breeding program, enabling the German Shepherd Dog to switch easily from herding duties to other fields of work, particularly military and police work. The breed was just gaining notice in the United States when World War I broke out. All things German were shunned and popularity slumped. After the war, however, movie star Rin-Tin-Tin stimulated interest in the breed again. The striking good looks of this breed, combined with its remarkable intelligence and loyalty, have made it a favorite working and companion dog.


General Appearance

The German Shepherd Dog is a medium-sized, well-balanced, muscular dog, slightly longer than tall, with a medium length coat, erect ears, and a low-set natural tail that normally reaches to the hock and is carried in a slight curve like a saber. The outline of the German Shepherd Dog is made up of smooth curves rather than angles.

     The head is in proportion to the size of the body, strong without appearing coarse or fine. Gender differences are readily apparent. The German Shepherd Dog should be evaluated as an all-around working dog, and exaggerations or faults should be penalized in proportion to how much they interfere with the dog's ability to work.



The German Shepherd Dog is confident and fearless, willing to be approached yet aloof with strangers. When working, the German Shepherd is alert and eager, adapting well to new tasks. Lack of confidence is a serious defect in the character of a German Shepherd. The structure of this breed was designed for efficient locomotion, particularly at the trot, so poor movement is another serious fault.



The head is proportional to the size of the dog and cleanly chiseled. Males should appear masculine without coarseness and females feminine without being overly fine. The skull and muzzle are of equal length, parallel to one another, and joined at a very slight stop. There is little or no median furrow.



The skull is broad and only very slightly domed. In males, the skull is slightly wider than it is long; in females, the skull is slightly narrower.

     Viewed from the front, the skull tapers evenly from the ears toward the muzzle.

     The cheeks are just slightly rounded but do not protrude.



     The muzzle is long and wedge-shaped, with strong, well-developed jaws. In profile, the bridge of the muzzle is straight and parallel to the topline of the skull.


Lips are tight and darkly pigmented.

     Faults: Muzzle too short, blunt, weak, pointed, or overlong.



The German Shepherd Dog has a complete set of evenly spaced, white teeth meeting in a scissors bite.

     Faults: Overshot or level mouth; missing first premolars.

    Serious fault: Missing teeth other than first premolars.

    Disqualification: Undershot; wry mouth.



The nose is always black.

     Disqualification: Nose not predominantly black.



The eyes are as dark as possible, of medium size, almond-shaped, and set slightly obliquely. Expression is alert, calm, and intelligent. Eye rims are dark.

     Fault: Protruding eyes.



Ears are erect, moderately pointed, of medium size, broad at the base, and set high. Ear leather is firm. When the dog is alert, the center lines of the ears, viewed from the front, are perpendicular to the ground and parallel to each other.

     Disqualifications: Cropped ears; drop or tipped ears.



The neck is relatively long but strong and muscular. The skin is tight. The German Shepherd Dog normally carries the head just a little higher than the shoulders, particularly when moving.



The shoulder blades are long, well muscled, well laid back, and laid flat to the body.

     The upper arms, also long and well muscled, join the shoulder blade at nearly a right angle. A straight line drawn from the withers to the ground should pass just behind the back of the foreleg.



From the pasterns to the elbows, the forelegs are straight and strong with oval-shaped bones.

     The pasterns are strong and supple, sloping at about 25 degrees.

     The elbows are neither close to the body nor out, but are set on a plane parallel to the body. The length of the forelegs should be just slightly more than half the height of the dog, measured at the withers.



A properly proportioned German Shepherd Dog is longer (measured from prosternum to point of buttocks) than tall (measured from the withers to the ground) in a ratio of 10 to 9. The length is derived from proper construction of forequarters and hindquarters and not from length of back. The line of the back slopes downward from the withers into a straight, strongly developed, and relatively short back. Ribs are long and and extend well back, resulting in a short, broad loin. The croup is long and sloping.

     Viewed from the front, the chest is deep and well-filled.

     From the side, the forechest extends in front of the forelegs and the brisket down to the elbows. Tuck up is moderate.

     Faults: Barrel ribs; ribs too flat; long loin.



     Viewed from the side, the hindquarters are broad and muscular. The angulation of the hindquarters is in balance with the angulation of the forequarters.

     The rear pastern is short and strong. Powerful hindquarters are necessary to enable the effortless movement that is an essential feature of this breed.


Feet - The feet are round and tight, with toes well arched.


Pads are thick and hard.


Nails are strong and dark.


Front dewclaws may be removed but are normally left intact.


Rear dewclaws, if any, are removed.



The tail is set on low in a natural extension of the sloping croup. The tail extends at least to the hock joint. When the dog is relaxed, the tail hangs in a slight curve, like a saber. When the dog is excited or moving, the tail may be raised and the curve accentuated but the tail is never carried above a vertical line extending from its base. The coat on the tail stands outward, giving the tail a bushy appearance.

    Faults: A slight hook in the tail to the extent it mars the dog's general appearance.

    Serious faults: Tail too short; ankylosis.

    Disqualification: Docked tail.



The German Shepherd Dog is double coated. The outer coat lies close to the body and is dense and straight with harsh texture. A slight wave is acceptable in a particularly harsh coat. The undercoat is short, dense, and fine-textured. The coat on the body is of medium length but not so long as to detract from the dog's ability to withstand bad weather conditions. The coat is shorter on the head (including the inside of the ear) the legs, and the feet. The coat on the neck is longer and thicker, forming a slight ruff, particularly on some males. The hair on the back of the legs is longer and thicker, forming trousers on the hindquarters, and extending to the pasterns in front and the hock joint behind.

    Serious faults: Short, mole type coat; long coat that stands away from the body; soft coat; absence of undercoat.



The German Shepherd Dog comes in many colors and white. In evaluating colored dogs, strong, deep colors are preferred. Nose, lips, and eyerims must have dark pigment, regardless of coat color. Color faults are minor in comparison to defects of type and structure.

    Serious faults: Pale, washed-out colors; blue; liver.

    Disqualification: Albinism.


Height and Weight

Desirable height at maturity for males is 24 to 26 inches; for females, 22 to 24 inches.



Correct gait is an essential feature of the German Shepherd Dog. When trotting, it moves with along, efficient stride that is driven by a powerful forward thrust from the hindquarters. The rear leg, moving forward, swings under the foreleg and touches down in front of the point where the forefoot left an imprint. \The result of this “overreaching” is that one rear leg passes outside its corresponding front leg and the other passes inside its corresponding front leg. This is a breed characteristic and should not be penalized as long as the body is straight in relationship to the direction of movement. As the rear leg moves backward, the body is propelled forward. The front and rear feet remain close to the ground throughout. When trotting, the back remains firm and level. As the speed of the trot increases, there is a tendency to single track. Correct movement must be evaluated from front and rear as well as the side.

     Serious Faults: Any fault that effects correct movement is a serious fault.


Unilateral or bilateral cryptorchid

Viciousness or extreme shyness>

Undershot. Wry mouth

Cropped ears. Drop or tipped ears

Docked tail




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