The Versatile and Adaptable German Shepherd

By Linda Cole

During WWI, Lee Duncan was a U.S. army corporal stationed in France. On September 15, 1918, he was on patrol when he spotted a dog kennel heavily damaged from a recent bombing raid. Convincing his battalion to change course so they could check out the kennel, Duncan was surprised to discover five newborn puppies and their mom still alive. The pups and mother were rescued and taken back to camp, but only one puppy survived. We know him as Rin Tin Tin, a movie legend who showed the versatile, adaptable and loyal character of the German Shepherd dog.

The German Shepherd is a fairly new breed that was developed mostly during the 1900s. The breed originated in Germany as a top notch herding dog. German breeder Captain Max von Stephanitz wanted a herding dog that was capable and intelligent, with a good work ethic. In 1899, he mixed early versions of shepherd dogs to come up with the Deutsche Schaferhunde, the German Shepherd dog. Standard for the breed was written in 1901. The first dog in the United States was imported in 1907 and shown in the open class at Newcastle and Philadelphia dog shows.

The dog that von Stephanitz developed turned out to be not only smart and adaptable, but had many talents that were discovered during WWI. The Germans put the GSD to work as a war dog. Allied forces took notice of these versatile dogs used by the Germans, and were equally impressed with the breed. German Shepherds were used as Red Cross dogs, supply carriers, guard dogs, tracking dogs, sentinels and messengers.

During WWII, the GSD was used extensively by the Allied and Axis forces to do a variety of jobs on the battlefield. The war was difficult, however, on the German Shepherd breed, as well as other breeds in the war torn countries. A lack of food meant many dogs in Germany were lost to starvation or simply put down, and the number of dogs in Germany were very low after the war.

In 1927, Morris Frank was a 20 year old blind college student at Vanderbilt University. Because of his disability, he was forced to be dependent on others to help him get around, and he wasn’t happy about it. His father read him an article about a woman in Switzerland who had been training German Shepherds as guide dogs. Frank went to Switzerland and began training with a dog named Buddy. When he returned home to the U.S., he and Buddy astounded everyone when the pair navigated safely across a busy New York intersection. Buddy, a German Shepherd, is considered the first seeing eye dog.

The German Shepherd dog is a favorite of the military and police because of the breeds’ strong work ethic. They are alert, brave, loyal, always ready to learn, confident, intelligent, clever, energetic, serious and fearless when necessary. The dog is happiest being treated as a member of the family and wants to be with people, not tied up outside or left alone in the backyard. A GSD is not a breed for everyone and you definitely have to be the dog’s leader. As long as he is properly socialized and well trained, the GSD is a great family pet and good with kids. However, no dog should ever be left unsupervised around children, especially young kids, no matter how friendly he is.

German Shepherds are happiest doing a job and qualified to do pretty much anything, from herding to helping to save soldiers’ lives on and off the battlefield. This breed is used as guard dogs, alarm dogs, to detect mines, as messengers, to patrol, as a sentinel, avalanche rescue, bomb sniffing, search and rescue, narcotics detection, and service, hearing, guide, seizure and therapy dogs. They excel at confirmation dog shows, agility, flyball, tracking, Schutzhund, obedience training and disc dog.

If you’re looking for a great companion for your family, check out shelters and German Shepherd rescue organizations. If you go to a breeder, do your homework to make sure you are dealing with a legitimate and responsible breeder. The German Shepherd sits at the number two spot of most popular dogs in the United States.

Top photo by duskandsummer
Middle photo by Arctic Warrior
Bottom photo by Kristine Gunter

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