German Shepherd: Like No Other

The German Shepherd (Deutscher Schäferhund in German) is a breed of large-sized working dog that originated in Germany. The breed’s officially recognized name is German Shepherd Dog in the English language, sometimes abbreviated as “GSD”, and was also formerly known as the Alsatian and Alsatian Wolf Dog in Britain.

The German Shepherd is a relatively new breed of dog, with their origin dating to 1899. As part of the Herding Group, German Shepherds are working dogs developed originally for herding sheep.

Since that time, however, because of their strength, intelligence, trainability and obedience, German Shepherds around the world are often the preferred breed for many types of work, including assistance, search-and-rescue, police and military roles, and even acting.

Amazing infographic on what the German Shepherd breed exists for.
Amazing infographic on what the German Shepherd breed exists for.

The German Shepherd is the second-most popular breed of dog in the United States and fourth-most popular in the United Kingdom.

Intelligence

German Shepherds were bred specifically for their intelligence, a trait for which they are now famous. In the book The Intelligence of Dogs, author Stanley Coren ranked the breed third for intelligence, behind Border Collies and Poodles.

He found that they had the ability to learn simple tasks after only five repetitions and obeyed the first command given 95% of the time. Coupled with their strength, this trait makes the breed desirable as police, guard and search and rescue dogs, as they are able to quickly learn various tasks and interpret instructions better than other large breeds.

Temperament

German Shepherds are highly active dogs and described in breed standards as self-assured. The breed is marked by a willingness to learn and an eagerness to have a purpose. They are curious, which makes them excellent guard dogs and suitable for search missions. They can become over-protective of their family and territory, especially if not socialized correctly. They are not inclined to become immediate friends with strangers. German Shepherds are highly intelligent and obedient.

Controversy

The Kennel Club, in the United Kingdom, is involved in a dispute with German Shepherd breed clubs about the issue of soundness in the show-strain breed. The show-strains have been bred with an extremely sloping topline (back) that causes poor gait in the hind legs. Working-pedigree lines, such as those in common use as service dogs, generally retain the traditional straight back of the breed.

GSD's original topline from decades ago compared to early 2000's rather sloppy topline.
GSD’s original topline from decades ago compared to early 2000’s rather sloppy topline.

The debate was catalyzed when the issue was raised in the BBC documentary, Pedigree Dogs Exposed, which said that critics of the breed describe it as “half dog, half frog”. An orthopedic vet remarked on footage of dogs in a show ring that they were “not normal”.

The Kennel Club’s position is that “this issue of soundness is not a simple difference of opinion, it is the fundamental issue of the breed’s essential conformation and movement.” The Kennel Club has decided to retrain judges to penalize dogs suffering these problems.

It is also insisting on more testing for hemophilia and hip dysplasia, other common problems with the breed.