The German Shepherd

March 2012 Dolly Frazer

The German Shepherd, compared to many other dog breeds, has existed for a short period of time and is derived from herding and farm dogs. It was 1889 when Captain von Stephanitz began to standardise the breed when he found a medium sized yellow and grey dog with wolf-like features at a dog show in Karlsruhe, Germany. This dog became the first registered German Shepherd. Von Stephanitz went on to found the Verein für Deutsche Sch·ferhunde (German Shepherd Dog Club) and created the standard of the breed as president.

German Shepherds was imported to America and was exhibited in show in 1907 for the first time and won its first championship in 1913. It was also in this year that the German Shepherd Dog Club of America was founded by Benjamin Throop and Anne Tracy. As industrialism took over in Germany, the fears of the breed decreasing were realised and the breed started developing in tracking, obedience and protection work.

The name of the German Shepherd was changed in England and America when the first world war was entered against Germany. The American Kennel Club changed the name to the Shepherd Dog and England completely changed the name to Alsatian. The names were changed back in the 1970s.

The stature of the German Shepherd is large and strong. The fur is double-coated and can be short or long. The colour varies with cream/tan and brown being most common as well as solid black, white or tricolour (black and white with either brown or red). The body’s topline should run from the neck with a slight slope as it goes along the back. The tail should run on from the topline with a gentle curve and is bushy. The chest should be moderately broad and well defined with good muscle.

The German Shepherd head is a wedge shape with a strong upper and lower jaw. The bridge of the nose is straight with a dark muzzle. The nose is black. The ears must be erect in the same upright direction. “Floppy” ears where the top of the ear falls forward is a fault in the breed. The teeth of a German Shepherd should be a correct scissor bite where the top teeth just come over the bottom.

A German Shepherd’s temperament has been over exaggerated for many years and there were many problems with the breed in relation with temperament. These dogs were shown to be fear biters meaning they were timid dogs and when scared they would attack people out of fear. The German Shepherd Dog League has mostly eliminated this fear biters from the breed and the temperament of a German Shepherd is generally good. The dog is loyal, protective and intelligent. They are loving and will do anything for the people they love. The breed adores and protects its family and is good for active families with older children. Due to its boisterous personality the German Shepherd should not be alone with small children.

Due to the double coat of a German Shepherd (which is an outer coat with a thick undercoat) the dog will shed its hair heavily and blow or drop its undercoat completely twice a year. Without regular grooming there is a risk of the undercoat matting and my personal experience with matted coats as a groomer’s assistant means only more work that could be prevented.

A German Shepherd with a matted coat can result in hotspots, bald spots, rashes and other skin problems. To prevent this, the coat must be brushed daily with a slicker brush with will grab onto any loose hairs and will pull the knots from the undercoat. A coat or shedding rake can help with thicker coats. Brushing daily will also reduce the amount of hair left on the floor or furniture. Despite their shedding, German Shepherds only need to be bathed every month or so.

As with all dogs, German Shepherds have genetic problems. Hip Dysplasia and Elbow Dysplasia are two common problems that persist mainly through genetics. Problems with hips come from breeding the dog so the back slopes and ill fitting hips are caused. This also occurs due to the breed being larger and heavy boned. Elbow Dysplasia comes from arthritic changes in the dog. Haemophilia A is also a genetic problem stemming from one dog, Canto vd Wienerau in Germany. This is the failure of the blood to clot after an accident or knock. Of course many schemes such as x-rays and regular testing have helped reduce these genetic problems.

The German Shepherd is a popular breed in the show ring. They are among the top five most popular breeds according to the American Kennel Club and was number one with breed registration in the 1920s. It is popular for its trait of intelligence and is the third most intelligent breed after Border Collies and Poodles. They are popular with police, guards and search and rescue due to being agile and of course intelligent.

In the media, German Shepherds have been featured in a wide range of films and television shows such as The Littlest Hobo, The Beast Must Die, K-9, I Am Legend and a white German Shepherd named Bolt had its own animated film. Strongheart the German Shepherd was one of the earliest dog film stars followed by Rin Tin Tin who is said to be one of the most famous German Shepherds. Inspector Rex is a television show about an intelligent German Shepherd. Batman’s dog, Ace the Bathound was featured in Batman comics from 1955 to 1964 and briefly between 1964 and 2007.

That’s the German Shepherd in a nutshell.