One of the most easily recognized breeds throughout the world, German shepherd dogs have packed plenty of accomplishments, while garnering a storied reputation, into a very short history.
The modern German shepherd dog (GSD) dates to 1899 and descends from that country’s herding and guarding dogs. Through a strict breeding program grounded in working ability, the standardized GSD developed quickly; and while it continued to be used for herding and guarding sheep, the breed’s outstanding characteristics suited it for a wide array of working roles.
German shepherd dogs serve in military and police roles to track and detain criminals, as patrol and personal guard dogs and in scent detection – everything from tracking and narcotics work to mine, explosive and accelerant discovery. GSDs are also used in search and rescue operations and as guide dogs for the blind.
The GSD’s diversity of use stems from their inherent working abilities that include intelligence, courage, trainability, strength, a sensitive nose, obedience and loyalty. In fact, in the book The Intelligence of Dogs, author and psychologist Stanley Coren ranks GSDs as the third-most intelligent dog (behind the border collie and poodle).
German shepherds are intelligent and hard-working dogs who need daily stimulation and physical exercise. Giving them a job, even if it’s performing obedience work, will go a long way to keeping them happy and stable. Because they’ve been bred for herding and guarding sheep, as well as for police and military work, German shepherds can be protective of their family and aloof with strangers. They are powerful dogs, but can also make great family pets if chosen from proper lines, are socialized well and receive training and exercise.
With their good looks, intelligence, strong work ethic and desire to please, GSD’s have been popular in the U.S. since their earliest introduction. However, it wasn’t just their attributes that made the dogs popular, movies contributed greatly, too. Strongheart and Rin Tin Tin were two of the earliest canine stars – appearing in 1921 and 1922, respectively. When pop culture intersected with a solidly bred dog, families throughout the country clamored for German shepherds as pets. Indeed, they’re usually found atop the AKC’s most registered breeds, taking the second spot behind the Labrador retriever in 2012.
Like many dogs that attain popularity, the GSD suffers from a line split – those dogs bred for working traits and those bred mainly for looks and the conformation ring. Unlike other working breeds that become popular and then split, the GSD has been plagued by the two warring worlds since the first attempt at standardizing the breed. In fact, it led to the collapse of the Phylax Society, which first sought to create a standard looking and performing German shepherd dog.
While conformation and working lines often have differing structure – a contentious topic within the breed – they are both prone to several other health issues. Hip and elbow dysplasia are two common issues that parents should be evaluated for prior to breeding, and at Paw Print Genetics, we recommend screening for as many known inherited mutations as possible. We offer screening for nine known German shepherd dog issues: anhidrotic ectodermal dysplasia, hemophilia A, hyperuricosuria, leukocyte adhesion deficiency type III, mucopolysaccharidosis VII (Group B), Renal cystadenocarcinoma and nodular dermatofibrosis.
In addition to the show ring, owners of German shepherd dogs can compete in herding and guarding trials, schutzhund and agility trials, among other things.