Golden Shepherd

Pippa Elliott
Dr Pippa Elliott (BVMS MRCVS, University of Glasgow)
Photo of adult Golden Shepherd

The Golden Shepherd is a hybrid dog, the offspring of mating a Golden Retriever with a German Shepherd. For many, the attraction of a hybrid dog is ‘borrowing’ characteristics from either side of the family tree. If this works well, and the pups inherit the best of the parents’ traits, then the Golden Shepherd should be a prince among dogs.

In an ideal world, the Golden Shepherd would inherit the loving gentle nature of the Golden Retriever, spiced with the quickness and courage of the German Shepherd. Indeed, the Golden Shepherd could best be summed up as ‘loving but protective’. Oh, and these dogs shed… big time.

About & History

The trend towards hybrid dogs took off in the 1980s and 1990s. It’s intriguing to realise that even with social media and the Internet, there’s no one tangible dog that can truly claim to be the first ever Golden Shepherd. The parent breeds, however, are a different matter. Both have venerable histories.

The German Shepherd

As suggested by the name, the German Shepherd has Germanic origins. The aim was to create a breed from native dogs that was a consummate shepherd. Their work was to keep sheep together by quietly herding them (rather than barking or nipping their heels) and work by intelligence and stealth.

The creation of the German Shepherd was down to a character named Max Emil Frederick von Stephanitz. He oversaw the selective breeding of dogs with the desirable physical characteristics and temperament. Von Stephanitx exhibited the first German Shepherd in the 1880s and the breed society was established in 1899. The breed’s mix of intelligence, responsive to training, and size made them ideal as service dogs working alongside the army, police, and rescue organisations.

The Golden Retriever

The Golden Retriever, although a working dog, came from more sporting origins. It was a desire, in the 19th century, to create a dog with a soft mouth to retrieve waterfowl that led to the creation of the Golden Retriever.

The Golden Retriever has Scottish origins, but drew on a wide heritage, including the closely related St John’s Water Dog of Newfoundland and the Tweed Water Spaniel – both now extinct. The person credited with creating the Golden Retriever was Lord Tweedmouth. He selectively bred together yellow pups with the characteristics he desired, with other dogs (reputedly including a circus dog he took a fancy to) to bring about the breed we see today.


Golden Shepherd Large Photo

The Golden Shepherd is like an optical illusion, where some people see more Shepherd than Goldie and others vice versa. Both parent breeds are of a roughly similar size and body shape, with arguably their most distinguishing feature being their coat colour and pattern. The parent breeds are of similar sizes and proportions, with minor differences between the breadth of the skull and heaviness of the bone (the Golden Retriever being a sturdier chap than the German Shepherd).

Indeed, both breeds similarly have a double coat equipped to protect them from harsh weather. It is coat colour that is the greatest contrast. Whereas the German Shepherd is most commonly black and tan, the Golden Retriever is… ahem… golden.

Of course the pups can inherit characteristics from either parent, which can lead to chunky retriever like pups with a black and tan coat, or leaner more athletic dogs of a golden colour. Then, there are those ears. German Shepherds are naturally prick eared, whilst Golden Retrievers have drop. So again, the resulting pups’ ears will be anything but predictable. Happily, both breeds have long flagpole tails, adorned with feathering and so will the Golden Shepherd.

Character & Temperament

Golden Shepherds love company. This is great, but it also has a downside. They can become over dependent on the presence of their owner, which means they get stressed when left alone. Like two sides of the same coin, you can argue the Goldie’s steady temperament has a calming effect on the more highly-strung Shepherd. Alternatively, the protective nature of the Shepherd may make the Golden’s character slightly less predictable. All of which makes early socialisation very important for the puppies.

By exposing the puppy in a positive way to a wide range of sights, sounds and smells, you can build their confidence. This is crucial to avoid an anxious dog (taking after the German Shepherd) that may become aggressive as a means of keeping scary things away.

Another interesting trait is the protectiveness of the German Shepherd, which can add a spark to the normally laid back nature of the Golden. It’s still a distinct possibility that a Golden Shepherd may lick an intruder to death, but the addition of the guarding German Shepherd gene could make them formidable when threatened by a stranger.


Encourage, praise and reward are key to training a Golden Shepherd. These dogs are eminently trainable and at their best when working in partnership with an owner they trust. They adore the one-to-one attention training offers, and are eager to please a sympathetic trainer.

Reward-based training methods are essential. The German Shepherd side of their character can make them prone to anxiety, and overly harsh techniques could turn them snappy or aggressively defensive.


It is an unfortunate truth that both parent breeds are linked to more than their fair share of inheritable diseases. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security by talk of hybrid vigour. The latter only works when pedigrees are breed with mutts, and a good genetic shakedown results.

Sadly, given the laws of genetic inheritance, its plausible that pups inherit faulty genes from both sides of the family tree. Instead of the ultimate hope – a healthy hybrid – the heartbreaking result can be a dog that inherits double trouble. There’s no data specific to Golden Shepherd health; however, there is plenty of information about their parents’ problems.

Hip & Elbow Dysplasia

The word ‘dysplasia’ refers to a faulty development of the joints. When the hips or elbows are affected, this results in painful inflammation that causes the dog to limp. Over time, the inflammation causes bony remodelling within the joint, which causes yet more inflammation and soreness. The end result can be extremely painful joints that cause disability.

Mild cases can be managed with rest and anti-inflammatories. But the most severe cases need surgical intervention, such as total joint replacement procedures.

Degenerative Myelopathy

This inherited condition causes nerve death, first affecting the muscles to the back end. The first signs of a problem include dragging the back feet and a wobbly gait. The condition slowly gets worse over time, and can eventually lead to paralysis of the respiratory muscles. There is no treatment or cure.

Von Willebrand’s Disease

This is a blood clotting disorder. Affected dogs lack one of the clotting factors necessary to stop bleeding. This means even a small cut or injury has the potential to cause uncontrollable bleeding, which could be life threatening. Whilst there is no cure, a blood transfusion can be life-saving when sought promptly.

Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI)

EPI refers to the lack a certain digestive enzymes produced by the pancreas. The end result is a form of malnutrition and cow-pat like faeces. Affected dogs are often very skinny with poor coat condition, and constantly hungry. This condition can be controlled by the addition of pancreatic enzyme products to a low-fat diet. Therapy, however, is lifelong.

Allergic Skin Disease

An inherited predisposition to allergies leads to intense itchiness. This leads to excessive licking and scratching, which then damages the skin. Allergic skin disease cannot be cured, but can be controlled with the use of modern medications.


Sadly, both parent breeds have a predisposition to cancer, albeit of different sorts. For the German Shepherd, their Achilles heel is haemangiosarcoma, a serious cancer affecting blood vessels and vascular organs. Whereas for the Golden Retriever, it is mast cell tumours with their unpredictable nature and aggressive spread.

Exercise and Activity Levels

With both parents hailing from working breeds, it’s no surprise the result in an energetic fellow. These guys need plenty of exercise and adore being given a job to do. That job can be playing fetch or Frisbee or running an agility course, which provides valuable mental stimulation, as well as physical exercise.

A Golden Shepherd needs vigorous exercise for a minimum of one hour per day. Preferably this is off lead, so the dog gets a chance to sniff and explore. The wise owner embraces the dog’s need for exercise and thinks of entertaining things to do that they can both enjoy, such as hiking, jogging, agility, or Canicross.

Some words of warning. A Golden Shepherd that doesn’t get out and about will get bored and may develop antisocial habits, such as barking or destructiveness. In addition, they will put on weight, which is bad for their health.


Are you looking for an easy maintenance dog with a fuss-free coat? If you are, then the Golden Shepherd is NOT the dog for you. Both parent breeds are double-coated with a longer out layer and softer undercoat. This makes sense when you think of the breeds’ origins. Take the German Shepherd – the clue’s in the name! Originally a working, herding dog, they spent much of their time outdoors. This meant they needed a warm coat to protect them against freezing temperatures.

Likewise the Golden Retriever may look like a golden-furred fluff-fest, but bear in mind they shed that fur. Mix a dash of German Shepherd with a dollop of Golden Retriever and the result is a dog with a gold medal at shedding hair. These guys shed – a lot! Which means they need regular brushing – daily if possible. Overlook this duty and not only will the house be permanently covered in a veneer of dog hair, but their coat will become clogged, dull, and scruffy looking. But it’s not all bad news. The Golden Shepherd’s coat can be cared for at home, and doesn’t require clipping or parlour visits.

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