Meet the Shiloh Shepherd: A Larger, Gentler Version of the German Shepherd

Shiloh Shepherd
Shiloh Shepherds are larger, gentler versions of German Shepherd Dogs and make for good apartment dogs. Photography by iStock.

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Shiloh Shepherds were developed in New York by Tina Barber in the 1970s and registered as a breed in the 1990s. Barber wanted a larger, gentler version of the German Shepherd Dog. Today, the outgoing Shiloh is still so new, the breed isn’t recognized by a major kennel club. But to passers-by, the Shiloh certainly stands out. He’s notably larger than the GSD, and his generally plush coat makes him look even bigger. Shiloh owners get used to being asked “What breed is that?” or “How much does he weigh?”

The Shiloh heritage

Shiloh Shepherd
Shiloh Shepherd courtesy iStock.

Documentation of the crosses used in the breed’s development is limited and confusing. GSDs were likely crossed with Alaskan Malamutes and Old German Shepherd dogs (Altdeutsche Shaferhunde). Regardless of the crosses, the main foundation of the Shiloh is the GSD. Strong, smart, and motivated, the GSD was developed specifically to work: guarding, protecting, and shepherding. Intending to breed specifically for intelligence and utility, Captain Max von Stephanitz developed the GSD in late 19th century Germany.

Movies starring the gallant Shepherd Rin-Tin-Tin added to the breed’s stellar reputation in the states. Today, the Shepherd continues to stand out in military and police work, tracking, personal protection, search and rescue work, herding, guiding, and as a loyal family dog.

Sharing your heart with a Shiloh

In general, Shilohs are softer in temperament than GSDs and not used for serious protection work. Shilohs can excel in assistive service, obedience, herding, therapy work, and search and rescue. Bred mainly as companions, Shilohs have loyal and outgoing personalities. They’re typically patient with children and tolerate other animals, including even the occasional new-coming
dog. They have moderate exercise needs in general: Mainly, they thrive on inclusive activities and companionship.

Despite their size, Shilohs can adapt to yard-less homes if walked and exercised daily. They’re loving family dogs but only match up to folks who can adapt their lifestyle to the breed’s size. At 100 or so pounds, a Shiloh easily fills up a house. He also sheds, and he certainly doesn’t fit in a compact car for vacations!

Shiloh basics

  • Life span: 10 to 13 years
  • Weight: About 80 to 130 pounds
  • How tall? Averaging 26 to 31 inches at the shoulders Coat: The smooth or double coat and the plush coat Grooming: The smooth coat is lower maintenance. The plush coat, however, may shed less.
  • Colors: Dual colored in black with tan, golden tan, red- dish tan, silver, or sable. Solids in golden, silver, red, dark brown, dark gray, or black sable.
  • Breeders? There are differences in opinion between the founding club and later established clubs on breed development and breed particulars. Be prepared to spend extensive time researching breeders that align with your expectations.

Shilohs at work in search and rescue

Misha Marshall and Gandalf. (Photo courtesy Misha Marshall)
Misha Marshall and Gandalf. (Photo courtesy Misha Marshall)

Misha Marshall has a farm in upstate South Carolina with eight horses and five dogs, including one GSD, 10-year-old Arwen, and two Shiloh Shepherds, 11-year-old Gandalf and 7-year-old Rainey. “I chose Shilohs for search and rescue because I wanted dogs with drive for work but also a laid-back personality for chilling on the farm,” Misha said.

In her South Carolina Search and Rescue Dog Association, about half of the dogs are GSDs. “My GSD, Arwen, is from working lines and spends much of the day looking for employment. But unlike police dogs, for example, SAR dogs spend long periods without a job.”

In her search for an SAR dog, Misha essentially hoped for the intelligence of a GSD but with less intensity. The Shiloh’s gentleness and social nature with other people and dogs also appealed to her.  “As I began working with Gandalf, I soon learned he’d simply ignore loose dogs, even when they came run- ning up,” Misha said.

Unleashed dogs are a common problem on searches. “Having a dog with the size and confidence to deter strange dogs, but not to engage with them, was an asset. Gandalf, intent on his mission, once completely ignored a mixed breed pulling violently on his rope to reach him as we passed.”

Some fellow team members were initially skeptical about Misha working a Shiloh in SAR. After all, it’s a new, relatively unknown breed. But Gandalf, trained as a trailing (works on leash) dog, soon proved his worth. In 2007, early in his career, he contributed to the rescue of a Boy Scout lost in the woods.

Not only in the field but in educational settings, Gandalf collects accolades. “Gandalf starred in many SAR demonstrations in elementary schools,” Misha said. “He’s a gentle giant and happily let hundreds of children handle him.” Now retired from SAR work, Gandalf loves accompanying Misha on her morning horse chores.

Misha’s second Shiloh, Rainey, adores SAR for more than just the treats at the end of the search. The work also satisfies her people-loving spirit.  “SAR dogs are usually either toy or food driven as their paycheck at the end of a day’s work,” Misha explained. “Shilohs are typically food driven in contrast to the more commonly toy-driven GSD.”

But for the social Rainey, finding a new friend also counts as a big-time reward!

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