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The German Shepherd Dog (GSD, also known as an Alsatian), ( ) is a breed of large-sized dog that originated in Germanymarker. German Shepherds are a relatively new breed of dog, whose origins date to 1899. As part of the Herding group, the German Shepherd is a working dog developed originally for herding sheep. Because of their strength, intelligence and abilities in obedience training they are often employed as police dogs and war dogs, around the world. Due to their loyal and protective nature, the German Shepherd is one of the most popular breeds.

History

Origins

In Europe during the 1800s, attempts were being made to standardize breeds. The dogs were bred to preserve traits that assisted in their job of herding sheep and protecting flocks from predators. In Germany this was practiced within local communities, where shepherds selected and bred dogs that they believed had traits necessary for herding sheep, such as intelligence, strength, and keen senses of smell. The results were dogs that were able to perform admirably in their task, but that differed significantly, both in appearance and ability, from one locality to another.

To combat these differences, the Phylax Society was formed in 1891 with the intention of creating standardised dog breeds in Germany. The society disbanded after only three years due to an ongoing, internal conflict regarding the traits that the society should promote; some members believed dogs should be bred solely for working purposes, while others believed dogs should be bred also for appearance. While unsuccessful in their goal, the Phylax Society had inspired people to pursue standardising dog breeds independently.

Max von Stephanitz, an ex-cavalry captain and former student of the Berlin Veterinary College, was one such ex-member. He believed strongly that dogs should be bred for working.In 1899, Von Stephanitz was attending a dog show when he was shown a dog named Hektor Linksrhein. Hektor was the product of many generations of selective breeding and completely fulfilled what Von Stephanitz believed a working dog should be. He was pleased with the strength of the dog and was so taken by the animal's intelligence and loyalty, that he purchased it immediately. After purchasing the dog he changed its name to Horand von Grafrath and Von Stephanitz founded the Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde (Society for the German Shepherd Dog). Horand was declared to be the first German Shepherd Dog and was the first dog added to the society's breed register.

Horand became the centre-point of the society's breeding programs and was bred with dogs belonging to other society members that displayed desirable traits. Although fathering many pups, Horand's most successful was Hektor von Schwaben. Hektor was inbred with another of Horand's offspring and produced Beowulf, who later fathered a total of eighty-four pups, mostly through being inbred with Hektor's other offspring. Beowulf's progeny also were inbred and it is from these pups that all German Shepherds draw a genetic link. It is believed the society accomplished its goal mostly due to Von Stephanitz's strong, uncompromising leadership and he is therefore credited with being the creator of the German Shepherd Dog.

Popularity

When the UK Kennel Club first accepted registrations for the breed in 1919, fifty-four dogs were registered, and by 1926 this number had grown to over 8,000. The breed first gained international recognition at the decline of World War I after returning soldiers spoke highly of the breed, and animal actors Rin Tin Tin and Strongheart popularised the breed further. The first German Shepherd Dog registered in the United States was Queen of Switzerland; however, her offspring suffered from defects as the result of poor breeding, which caused the breed to suffer a decline in popularity during the late 1920s. Popularity increased again after the German Shepherd Sieger Pfeffer von Bern became the 1937 and 1938 Grand Victor in American Kennel club dog shows, only to suffer another decline at the conclusion of World War II, due to anti-German sentiment of the time. As time progressed, their popularity increased gradually until 1993, when they became the third most popular breed in the United States, a position the breed still holds. Additionally, the breed is typically among the most popular in other registries.

Name

The breed was named Deutscher Schäferhund by Von Stephanitz, literally translating to "German Shepherd Dog". The breed was so named due its original purpose of assisting shepherds in herding and protecting sheep. At the time, all other herding dogs in Germany were referred to by this name; they thus became known as Altdeutsche Schäferhunde or Old German Shepherd Dogs. Shepherds were first exported to Britain in 1908, and the UK Kennel Club began to recognise the breed in 1919.

The direct translation of the name was adopted for use in the official breed registry; however, at the conclusion of World War I, it was believed that the inclusion of the word "German" would harm the breed's popularity, due to the anti-German sentiment of the era. The breed was officially renamed by the UK Kennel Club to "Alsatian Wolf Dog" which was also adopted by many other international kennel clubs. Eventually, the appendage "wolf dog" was dropped. The name Alsatian remained for five decades, until 1977, when successful campaigns by dog enthusiasts pressured the British kennel clubs to allow the breed to be registered again as German Shepherd Dogs.

Modern breed

The modern German Shepherd is criticised for straying away from von Stephanitz's original ideology for the breed: that German Shepherds should be bred primarily as working dogs, and that breeding should be strictly controlled to eliminate defects quickly. Critics believe that careless breeding has promoted disease and other defects. Under the breeding programs overseen by von Stephanitz, defects were quickly bred out; however, in modern times without regulation on breeding, genetic problems such as colour-paling, hip dysplasia, monorchidism, weakness of temperament, and missing teeth are common, as well as bent or folded ears which never fully turn up when reaching adulthood.

Description

A close-up of a German Shepherd's face showing the long muzzle, black nose and brown, medium-sized eyes


German Shepherds are a large-breed dog which generally are between at the withers and weigh between . The ideal height is , according to Kennel Club standards. They have a domed forehead, a long square-cut muzzle and a black nose. The jaws are strong, with a scissor-like bite. The eyes are medium-sized and brown with a lively, intelligent, and self-assured look. The ears are large and stand erect, open at the front and parallel, but they often are pulled back during movement. They have a long neck, which is raised when excited and lowered when moving at a fast pace. The tail is bushy and reaches to the hock.

A solid black German Shepherd
German Shepherds can be a variety of colours, the most common of which are the tan/black and red/black varieties. Both varieties have black masks and black body markings which can range from a classic "saddle" to an over-all "blanket." Rarer colour variations include the sable, all-black, all-white, liver, and blue varieties. The all-black and sable varieties are acceptable according to most standards; however, the blue and liver are considered to be serious faults and the all-white is grounds for instant disqualification in some standards. This is because the white coat is more visible, making the dog a poor guard dog, and harder to see in conditions such as snow or when herding sheep.

German Shepherds sport a double coat. The outer coat, which is shed all year round, is close and dense with a thick undercoat. The coat is accepted in two variants; medium and long. The long-hair gene is recessive, making the long-hair variety rarer. Treatment of the long-hair variation differs across standards; they are accepted under the German and UK Kennel Clubs but are considered a fault in the American Kennel Club.

Intelligence

German Shepherds were bred specifically for their intelligence, a trait for which they are now renowned. They are considered to be the third most intelligent breed of dog, behind Border Collies and Poodles. In the book The Intelligence of Dogs, author Stanley Coren ranked the breed third for intelligence. 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.

Aggression

German Shepherds have a reputation for aggression and have been banned in some jurisdictions as a result. In the United States, German Shepherds are responsible for more random bitings than any other breed, and have a known tendency to attack smaller breeds of dogs. Reports have found that statistically German Shepherds are the breed third most likely to attack a person. Another report found that German Shepherds accounted for almost half of the dog bites that required medical attention. These claims have been disputed on the basis that German Shepherds represent a higher proportion of the population than other breeds. However, reports indicate that Shepherds are still over-represented when the statistics take into account the difference in population.

Temperament

German Shepherds bond well with children they are familiar with
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. Shepherds have a loyal nature and bond well with people they know. However, they can become over-protective of their family and territory, especially if not socialized correctly. An aloof personality makes them approachable, but not inclined to become immediate friends with strangers. German Shepherds are highly intelligent and obedient and some people think they require a "firm hand", but more recent research into training methods has shown they respond as well, if not better, to reward based training methods.

Health

A German Shepherd Dog at an agility competition.
Many common ailments of the German Shepherds are a result of the inbreeding required early in the breed's life. One such common issue is hip and elbow dysplasia which may lead to the dog experiencing pain in later life, and may cause arthritis. Due to the large and open nature of their ears, Shepherds are prone to ear infections. German Shepherds, like all large bodied dogs, are prone to bloat.

The average lifespan of a German Shepherd is 7 - 10 years, which is normal for a dog of their size. According to a study done by R.M. Clemmons, DVM PhD who is a Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery at the University of Florida, Degenerative Myelopathy, or DM is a neurological disease that occurs with enough regularity specifically in the breed to suggest the disease is one that is genetically predisposed in German Shepherd Dogs.
 Additionally, German Shepherd Dogs have a higher than normal incidence of Von Willebrand Disease, a common inherited bleeding disorder.


Use as working dogs



German Shepherds are a very popular selection for use as working dogs. They are especially well known for their police work, being used for tracking criminals, patrolling troubled areas, and detection and holding of suspects. Additionally thousands of German Shepherds have been used by the military. Usually trained for scout duty, they are used to warn soldiers to the presence of enemies or of booby traps or other hazards. German Shepherds have been trained by military groups to parachute from aircraft.

The German Shepherd Dog is one of the most widely-used breeds in a wide variety of scent-work roles. These include search and rescue, cadaver searching, narcotics detection, explosives detection, accelerant detection, and mine detection dog, amongst others. They are suited for these lines of work because of their keen sense of smell and their ability to work regardless of distractions.

At one time the German Shepherd Dog was the breed chosen almost exclusively to be used as a guide dog for the visually impaired. In recent years, Labrador and Golden Retrievers have been more widely used for this work, although there are still German Shepherds being trained. A versatile breed, they excel in this field due to their strong sense of duty, their mental abilities, their fearlessness, and their attachment to their owner.

In popular culture

German Shepherds have been featured in a wide range of media. Strongheart the German Shepherd was one of the earliest canine film stars and was followed by Rin Tin Tin, who is now acclaimed as being the most famous German Shepherd. Both are credited with stars on the Hollywood Walk of Famemarker.

German Shepherds have also played central parts in a number of recent films, including K-9 (which featured a real police-dog, Koton), The Hills Have Eyes and I am Legend. Blondi, Adolf Hitler's German Shepherd, has been featured in a number of documentaries and films about the dictator, such as Downfall. The Austrian police drama series Inspector Rex centres around a highly intelligent German Shepherd.

Batman's dog Ace the Bat-Hound appeared in the Batman comic books, initially in 1955, through 1964. Between 1964 and 1977, his appearances were sporadic.

Notes

a. Named after the German-French border, Alsace-Lorrainemarker.

b. The first standard of the German Shepherd Dog Society, written by von Stephanitz said "A pleasing appearance is desirable, but it can not put the dog's working ability into question ... German Shepherd breeding is working dog breeding, or it is not German Shepherd breeding"


References



Citations

  1. Coren, p.134
  2. Rice, p.8
  3. Rice, p.11
  4. Stevens, p.11
  5. Willis, p.5
  6. Palika p.25
  7. Palika p.22
  8. Rice p.12
  9. Conan, p.43
  10. von Stephanitz, p.12
  11. Dogwise: The Natural way to Train your Dog (1992), John Fisher, Souvenir Press Ltd. ISBN 0-285-63114-4
  12. Willis, p.31
  13. Strickland, p.17-28
  14. Choron, p.40
  15. Palika, p.22


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