German shepherd

The German shepherd is a popular dog breed in the UK, with a long history as working dogs. They’re generally described as intelligent and having a love of learning, which has earned them a valued role as guide dogs. Like any dog, with the right attention, training and exercise, they also make wonderful family companions.

On this page

Did you know? The first four British guide dogs were German shepherds - Folly, Flash, Meta, and Judy. Today, around 3% of our working guide dogs are German shepherds.

What are German shepherds known for?

German shepherds are commonly described as being loyal, courageous and athletic. They’re known for their intelligence and love of being active which means they generally enjoy training and having a job to do, hence their aptitude as guide dogs.


While each and every dog is unique, it’s the personality of the German shepherd that has earned them a place as treasured working dogs and family companions. The breed often forms a powerful bond with their owners and thrive in a family who will be around most of the day. Our guide dogs should never be left alone for more than four hours every 24 hours.

The German shepherd has a reputation for trainability. They’re known to enjoy being mentally stimulated, which helps them learn many different behaviours, making them perfect guide dogs. They’re likely to have a strong work ethic and powerful bond with their humans, which is also beneficial in training.

Physical traits

The German shepherd has a well-muscled build, typically with a weather-resistant black and tan, black, bi-colour, or sable coloured coat. Most German shepherds will grow quickly up until around 18-months-old, but they can continue to grow and mature until about two to three years.

At Guide Dogs we selectively breed our dogs for their health and temperament, which is why you’ll see our German shepherds tend to have minimally sloping backs as this is better for their health, mobility and welfare. Thanks to their height, they often make a good match as guide dogs for taller people!

Caring for your German shepherd

A dog's health isn't just the outcome of their breeding, but their lifestyle too. Dogs rely on their owners for the right diet and exercise to help them keep as healthy as possible. Vaccination, boosters, vet health checks, as well as physical checks at home also help look after a dog's health.


The German shepherds background as herding and guard dogs can make the breed prone to barking and chasing, so they often need plenty of early socialisation and training to avoid these behaviours becoming a problem.


As a generally energetic, loyal, and large breed, consistent training is essential to raising them as a good family pet. They’re known to form strong bonds with their owners, so are best suited to people who don't spend much of the day away from home. Like all dogs, they must also be supervised around young children.

Enrich your dog’s life with Good Dog!; our pet dog training and welfare subscription for dogs of all ages.


German shepherds can be described as active dogs who need plenty of exercise, generally two hours a day as adults. Meeting their exercise needs helps them stay fit and healthy and helps limit some less desirable behaviours like chewing and barking.

Physical exercise can include walks on and off the lead, training and active play. It’s best to mix different activities and spread their exercise across the day, for example, with two moderate walks instead of a very long one. Some German shepherds especially enjoy agility, working trials and other canine sports.

Like all dogs, German shepherds also need mental exercise and stimulation. They’re known to love spending time with their humans, so games and reward-based training sessions with lots of attention and enrichment activities will help them thrive.


German shepherds can have a medium-length, double coat with an outer coat that's coarse with a soft undercoat. Some German shepherds have long coats which require much more attention. It’s a good idea to groom German shepherds every day to remove loose hair. Brushing prevents the dead hair from building up and matting. If you have a long-coated German shepherd, then they may benefit from professional grooming. Teeth should be regularly brushed, and nails should be trimmed monthly unless worn down through daily activity. Vets can advise about whether a dog’s nails need trimming.

Common health conditions

German shepherds can be more at risk of some health conditions. At Guide Dogs, we use extensive health screening, such as genetic screening and hip and elbow scoring, to ensure we breed the healthiest and happiest dogs possible. Anyone considering welcoming a German shepherd into their family should ask about health screening information before choosing their dog.

Did you know we use a range of breeds as guide dogs? Get to know our other guide dog breeds, including Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers and crossbreeds.

You may also be interested in...

Shop with Guide Dogs and support people with sight loss, with 100% of profits going to the charity.

Find out more about how you can provide a loving home to one of our dogs, who’ve either retired, or aren’t suited to a guiding role.

Read advice from our dog health and wellbeing experts on how to look after your dog at every stage of their life.

Join us for a behind-the-scenes experience, and find out where our guide dogs begin their journey.