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Breed of the Week: German Shepherd

Welcome to today’s short-form podcast, with another addition to the breed of the week. I’m your host, Nicole Forto, and this week, we are talking all about my breed of choice, the German Shepherd. Personally, I have loved, owned, assisted in breeding, and trained so many shepherds it’s hard to even count. With that being said they are not a breed for everyone but they are a wonderful breed with the right people. German Shepherds are known and recognized often in their police or military work and referred to in Britain as an Alsatian (al-say-shun) or Alsatian Wolf Dog. 

In the early 1890s, these dogs were utilized for herding sheep and sought after for their intelligence, loyalty, speed, strength, and great sense of smell. This, of course, bred dogs of a very wide variety with different appearances and physical strengths. In 1891 the Phylax (fee-lax) Society was founded to standardize native breeds in Germany. The society quickly disbanded, having disagreements on whether appearance or work ethic mattered more in the breeding standards. The Phylax Society still inspired people to pursue a standard for breeds across Germany. 

As Germany became more industrialized the use and need for dogs that protected livestock became less necessary. This did not discourage people from seeking German Shepherd’s to have qualities that could be utilized in different work. In 1899, Max Von Stephanitz, an ex military captain and former student at the Berlin College of Veterinary Medicine, was attending a dog show where he fell in love with a dog named Hektor. Hektor displayed strength, intelligence, and beauty in his markings. Hektor was a product of a few generations of very selective and specific breeding and was exactly what Von Stephanitz was searching for as a standard. Von Stephanitz was so enamored by Hektor that he moved as quickly as he could in buying him for himself. After purchasing Hektor, Stephanitz declared him the first of his breed and created the Society for German Shepherd Dogs. 

By 1923 the Society for German Shepherd Dogs had over fifty thousand members and five hundred branches within all of Germany. Stephanitz set out a robust, uncompromising standard for the breed and had Hektor sire eighty-four puppies that then ended up producing pups of their own, ending with a dog named Beowulf, who is said to be the genetic link to all German Shepherd Dogs. In the first half of the twentieth century the breed was strongly associated and connected to Imperial Nazi Germany. Adolf Hitler owned a German Shepherd in 1921, prior to his rise to power and while he was still living in poverty. Following his rise to power and reign Hitler owned several shepherds and sadly utilized them in his warfare and genocide. By the end of World War II, German Shepherd were associated with propaganda used by Hitler to make him look like an animal lover. Not known to many, but when Hitler was preparing for his eventual suicide, he tested out cyanide capsules, strength on his own dog Blondi at the time, killing the dog almost instantly. 

In the late 1920s and into the 1930’s German Shepherd were already popular and becoming even more so across the United States. They were often associated as a dangerous breed used by gangsters and bootleggers. The breed was deemed so dangerous and aggressive that in 1929 Australia banned the import of the breed. They even had a potential bill to sterilize all German Shepherd Dogs in Southern Australia to prevent any more breeding but was never passed through legislation. Today German Shepherd’s are still lumped often onto “dangerous breed” lists but are more known for their work within military and first responder positions. 

The American Kennel Club recognized the German Shepherd Dog as a breed in 1908. Setting the standard as a strong, agile, and alert dog. German Shepherd’s are longer than they are tall, built with strong muscles, standing tall and erect. The ideal is for them to be substantial in weight and muscle mass, not lanky by any means. They are recognized for their bodies’ smooth curves with no sharp angles. German Shepherd’s range from twenty-two to twenty-six inches in height from paw to shoulder. The most desired height to length ratio is the length of their body being about one and a half inches longer than that of height. Meaning if your dog is twenty-four inches tall their length should be close to twenty-five and a half inches. Despite popular belief the length is not desired from the spine itself but the whole body, as in how long the snout is, its pelvis and even tail go into all consideration in a judging ring. Their withers sit higher than their back but only a small downward angle is looked for. An over-exaggerated slope is not desired. 

German Shepherd’s come in a variety of recognizable colors such as; saddle black and tan, sable, solid black, and bi color (predominant black top and tan legs). The tan coloring can have a red tint to it but any solid white shepherds are frowned upon and do not qualify in show ring settings. They have a double coat typically of medium length unless it is a long haired shepherd. A soft and thick undercoat with a wiry top coat is acceptable. 

Early socialization is imperative with German Shepherds, they can develop anxiety easily with a lack of exposure and the same for reactivity as they are already an aloof type of breed that bonds closer with their human companions then other dogs. Often it is the case they connect wholeheartedly with one person in the household and put up with the others. They are an adaptable and highly intelligent dog that thrives from any kind of training even if it’s simple basic obedience. They are ranked second place in dogs most likely to bark and alert to unseen dangers in their home environments. 

While historically used as herding dogs to tend flocks of sheep and livestock today, they are used in all kinds of training and jobs. Classified in the herding dog group, German Shepherds are utilized in police work in areas of tracking, patrolling, and catching and holding suspects. In military work they are used to scout areas, alert to incoming dangers, and as bomb sniffing dogs. They can be seen parachuting out of helicopters with their handlers and as personal protection dogs for high ranking officers. German Shepherd’s are also highly used in first responders scenarios the most popular being search and rescue. They are used in a wide range of scent work activities such as finding cadavers, narcotics, explosives, mines, people, and more. 

German Shepherd’s are used as service dogs and guide dogs for the blind. They can be therapy dogs as well but require breeding for a softer friendlier temperament for this work. They are not used in guide dog work as often anymore. In 2013 about fifteen percent of guide dogs working and registered with Guide Dogs of America were German Shepherds. German Shepherd’s are seen all over movies and glorified often. This is not to say they aren’t an amazing breed but remember in the beginning I said they are not for everyone. That is because they can be high strung, need more exercise and activity than the average person can provide and truly do require an investment into their training and life to maintain a well rounded dog. If you are going to get a German Shepherd be prepared for how intelligent and strong these animals are! For Dog Works Radio we hope you are enjoying these deep dives into dog breeds, if you’re dying for us to cover your favorite breed or a breed you’ve never heard of let us know! I’m Nicole and I’ll catch you guys in the next episode.


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