(reprinted by permission from German Shepherd Facts)
“If any breed of dog is most deserving of the title Noble with Natural Beauty then that dog is the German Shepherd”
No one breed of dog is for everyone, but there is one breed that could be for just about anyone. It’s known for its beauty and its brains; its strength and its gentleness. It’s a helper to the disabled, a guardian of homes, a companion to children, a protector of livestock, and a partner in crime-fighting. There is little this dog cannot do, and almost nothing it’s not willing to try. It’s the multi-purpose, multi-tasking, ever-popular, hard-working German Shepherd Dog.
The development of today’s German Shepherd Dog, or GSD, began in 1899, when Rittmeister von Stephanitz discovered Hektor, a sheep-herding dog who seemed to be an outstanding example of the ancient herding breeds native to northern Germany. Renamed Horand von Grafrath, the dog became the first dog to be officially registered with the newly-formed Verein fur Deutsche Schaferhunde, the German Shepherd Dog Club of Germany, and was the foundation for all GSDs to follow. GSDs came to America soon after, and were recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1911.
GSDs have many qualities that make them well-suited to working with livestock: physical and mental endurance, agility, alertness, courage, and a great willingness to serve. GSDs still work on farms and ranches throughout the world, but these abilities, and others, make them prime candidates for other canine “jobs,” which they perform with equal dedication and skill.
The innate talents and abilities of German Shepherd Dogs are brought out in impressive form through Schutzhund training. “Schutzhund” is a German word meaning “protection dog.” Schutzhund-trained dogs are not attack dogs; they are trained to ward off dangerous situations, not provoke them. The most important quality of a Schutzhund dog is complete submission to its owner’s commands in any situation.
Schutzhund training has three parts: Tracking, Obedience, and Protection. The Tracking portion tests a dog’s trainability, ability to follow a scent, and mental and physical endurance. In the Obedience portion, dogs perform a variety of exercises such as heeling, sitting, retrieving, and remaining steady during distractions. The Protection portion tests the dog’s courage, strength, and agility by requiring the dog to find a hidden person and defend its owner against a decoy aggressor.
Schutzhund training and trials take place around the world. In some countries, proven working abilities are required for GSDs to attain their championships. Schutzhund dogs are excellent candidates for canine law enforcement and search and rescue work. Although Schutzhund training is for all breeds, GSDs particularly excel due to their intelligence, their bravery, and their desire to please their masters.
After World War I, a kennel in Pottsdam, Germany, began a program to train German Shepherd Dogs to assist veterans blinded in combat. The program was short-lived, but an American living in Switzerland, Dorothy Harrison Eustis, adopted the idea and began her own training program. Soon after, Buddy, a female German Shepherd Dog, became the first Seeing Eye dog in America. She was the help meet and companion of Morris Frank, who then established a guide dog school in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1929. Since that day, GSDs have been the “eyes” for thousands of people around the world.
The success of the guide dog program led to the training of GSDs–and other breeds–as service dogs to people with hearing impairment and other physical disabilities. The German Shepherd Dog is an ideal service dog due to its ready obedience to commands, its ability to ignore distractions, its protective instincts, and its unwavering loyalty to its owner.
German Shepherd Dogs have a long history of working with law enforcement officers. Their tasks are numerous: accompanying officers on patrol (and thereby deterring crime), pursuing criminals, recovering evidence, and detecting drugs, explosives, and other contraband. GSDs also serve as Search and Rescue dogs, and have been commended for their work in recovering victims of natural disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes, and of national tragedies such as the Oklahoma City bombing and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
Dogs working in law enforcement have to have excellent noses and physical stamina; they have to respond quickly to their handler’s orders while still using their own judgment. They must be relied upon to perform their duties without displaying aggression to children, other officers, or innocent persons in crowds. More importantly, they must possess the “heart” to consistently follow commands day after day, often in difficult, demanding environments. The GSD’s innate courage and mental acumen make him eminently capable for this type of work.
Although developed as a working dog, the German Shepherd Dog is lovely to look at. Some of its notable physical characteristics are its erect ears, its deep, dark eyes, its long saber tail (meaning that it hangs in a slight curve), and its rich color, most often black and red, black and tan, sable, or black. A quality GSD should be strong, agile, and well-muscled, and should appear to “glide” when in motion, as though its feet barely touch the ground.
German Shepherd Anatomy
The German Shepherd is essentially a trotting dog. Developed for herding the dog would work all day – almost always in a trot never tiring. Therefore strict adherence to the structural makeup is of utmost importance. Croup formation and shoulder angulation are just many of the features that serious dedicated breeders work for in their breeding stock.
With sound structural efficiencies for long, arduous work, the standard for the German Shepherd Dog calls for mental stability and a willingness to work. The dog should be approachable, quietly standing its ground, showing confidence and a willingness to meet overtures without itself necessarily making them. It should be generally calm, but eager and alert when the situation warrants. It should be fearless, but also good with children.
The German Shepherd Dog should not be timid or react nervously to unusual sounds or sights. A dog that is overly aggressive because of its overall fears of people and events can be extremely dangerous. These dogs should be eliminated from the gene pool as dogs that are not structurally sound.
Originally a herding dog, it seems the German Shepherd can be trained to do any job. Police, search and rescue, military, assistance, Guide work – it thrives on a life of service.
- Standardized in Germany in the 1890′s
- German Shepherds were bred for Herding
- German Shepherds are in the AKC Herding Group
- Fearless, devoted, intelligent
- Daily brushing
- Regular, vigorous excercise
- Adapts well to urban living
- Outstanding watchdog
- Life expectancy is around 13 years
- Males: 24-27 inches 85-100 pounds
- Females: 22-25 inches 55-75 pounds