It’s not easy to earn worldwide respect and admiration, yet one canine breed has accomplished just that.
Renowned for intelligence, physical prowess, and functionality, the German shepherd has developed into one of the most popular breeds across the globe, surpassed in popularity by only the Labrador retriever in the United States. This fact comes as little surprise to most German shepherd owners, who’ve witnessed this breed embody some of the most desirable traits any human or dog can offer, including loyalty and heroism.
The German shepherd first achieved international prominence following World War I, when soldiers returned home raving about the intelligence this breed displayed while serving as military messengers and rescue dogs. Since then, this breed has been both purposeful and beloved while occupying roles ranging from police and military service to household protection and devoted companionship.
Here are six reasons we adore German shepherds:
1. Noble Look
Sporting a domed forehead, long muzzle, erect ears, and bushy tail, German shepherds exude a handsome yet dignified appearance. They often come across as stately and self-confident. Moreover, the breed’s appearance offers tremendous diversity, as German shepherds have a variety of color combinations (black/tan, black/red, black/gray, etc.) and coat lengths ranging from short to long.
2. Remarkable Intelligence
German shepherds were bred specifically for intelligence, and the end result does not disappoint. Among the smartest of all canine breeds, German shepherds tend to be easily trainable, learning basic tasks with few repetitions and obeying commands with impressive regularity. In fact, German shepherds were ranked the third most intelligent breed by American Kennel Club judges. Their intelligence level explains their high degree of functionality (more on this later), as well as their success within the entertainment industry. Rin-Tin-Tin – a German shepherd who lived from 1918 to 1932 – remains one of the most notable canine movie stars of all-time, having appeared in 27 Hollywood films.
3. Unparalleled Functionality
It’s safe to say German shepherds like to have a purpose in life. Originally bred in Germany as sheep herders, they demonstrated the versatility necessary to transition into many other occupations. Today the German shepherd’s combination of intelligence and strength makes him the preferred breed for many lines of work: military and police service, search-and-rescue missions, assistance for disabled individuals, and household protection.
This courageous breed deserves to be commended for the many heroic feats these canines have contributed through service to society. German shepherds have been responsible for loyal military service during times of war, for alerting deaf people when the doorbell has rung, and for locating missing children. Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, German shepherds were utilized for search-and-rescue attempts amidst the rubble of the fallen World Trade Center.
5. Family Appeal
Under the right circumstances, German shepherds can make excellent household pets. In addition to being intelligent and trainable, this breed tends to be highly sociable and fairly energetic in nature. They serve as proud companions once loyalty develops. Perhaps the ideal guard dog, ever-devoted German shepherds often become protective of their beloved family members, as they’re not particularly fond of strangers. Their medium-to-large size (50 to 90 pounds) means they can provide adequate family protection without proving cumbersome around the house.
6. Physical Prowess
An impressive physical specimen, the German shepherd boasts an extremely muscular physique. This breed is like the LeBron James of the canine family, possessing a rare blend of strength and agility. The German shepherd’s strong frame becomes raised during times of excitement and lowered when the canine is moving at a quick pace. They can reach top speed quickly, yet round corners with ease. Because of their physical attributes, German shepherds are well-suited for athletic competitions like agility trials and obstacle courses.
I have a new German Shepherd puppy. This whirling dervish is named Trinket. She was the runt in her litter but you’d never know by the size of her paws. She keeps me on my trainer toes because she is brilliant, feisty and easily bored. She’s not my first German Shepherd, nor will she be my last. I am nuts about this breed.
Every year when annual “most popular breed” reports arrive, I keep hoping my favorite breed — the German Shepherd — will finally be announced as the No. 1 breed in the country. They keep getting beat out by Labradors and Golden Retrievers as America’s favorite dog. Every year I check these listings and my beloved German Shepherd never lands in the No. 1 spot.
I only want my favorite breed to be No. 1 so that others publicly acknowledge what I know about these dogs: They are phenomenal! I don’t really want them to be as popular as they are because so often when a breed becomes that big, their health goes down the drain as opportunistic breeders start breeding the popular dogs for a lousy buck. That part of being a popular dog truly sucks.
I have started thinking lately about why German Shepherds are so loved. This breed came from herding stock in Germany, hence the “shepherd” part of their name. Herding breeds are nearly always put near the top of the list when it comes to which dogs are the most intelligent. I like a smart dog. I am particularly found of herding dogs because they are among the few we allow to have some sort of original thought process as they work. A herding dog must make split second decisions, and since they are eye level with the sheep and the handler is not, a good sheepherder is invaluable to the working shepherd. Usually the dog’s intuitive decisions are faster and better than the human’s. The dogs do for us what we cannot do for ourselves, and they do it far better than we ever good.
The German Shepherd is a good-looking dog. They look a bit like a wolf, and perhaps that ancient bond our ancestors likely developed with people-friendly wolves speaks to us still. Their appearance in my opinion has suffered the past few decades, when breeders fell in love with that sloped back hip appearance. I hate that look and like many other aficionados of this breed feel that their hips and thus their health have suffered from breeders going for that famous slope.
Shepherds can have serious health concerns. I’ve shared my life with many of these dogs and only one of them lived until 13 years old, and he was a rare Shiloh Shepherd. I mourned so many shepherds dying so young that for a decade I shifted over to Border Collies. I once again have a gorgeous German Shepherd puppy in my life, and now my life feels complete again.
German Shepherds are quite possibly the most versatile dog there is. You see them as police dogs, war dogs, search and rescue dogs, therapy dogs, obedience competition dogs, sport dogs and on and on. It would seem that whatever a human can think up for a dog to do, a German Shepherd can do it — just one more reason for their popularity.
For me, German Shepherds have always been my soul dogs. They both represent and speak to my soul somehow. Is it their eyes and they way they look deep into a person’s inner self that makes them seem so soulful? Is it that they seem to know exactly what their human is feeling and how to help when you are sad or upset, as well as how to share in your joy when you are really happy? Perhaps it is that every shepherd I have shared my life with walks right next to me of their own free will, constantly checking in with me by looking right into my eyes. Perhaps what they truly shepherd are our souls?
All of these things and more make German Shepherds famously popular. Even saying all that I have about this great breed, they are not for every person on the planet. For one thing, their big brains mean you need to keep them mentally stimulated. This is not a dog who will sleep all day and night and leave your couch, shoes, walls, and whatever unmolested if you have not satisfied his mental genius each day. They are supremely built athletes (except for those sloping hips) and you must ensure they get daily exercise. Please do not bring a German Shepherd into your life and home unless you truly can commit to daily brain and physical work. Shall I repeat that? These dog are a lot of work, so if you are a lazy owner or hate to work hard on behalf of a dog, skip this breed.
Sometimes people get German Shepherds for macho reasons. They think they look tough or menacing or God knows what with a German Shepherd dog at the end of the leash. People who have this dog for this reason have little understanding of the true nature of this breed. Underneath all that they can do, there is nearly always a sensitive dog soul in there who loves his human so deeply that he is willing to die for us in the line of duty — especially when the shepherd sees his duty as protecting us. We humans owe this breed more and have to finally step up and stop the everyday abuse from owners and trainers who insist that this sturdy German dog needs a “heavy hand” in training.
All of my shepherds are clicker trained, even my super brave, incredibly feisty working-stock, long-coated German Shepherd puppy. She has that powerful canine brain coupled with a desire to please me, and we get along famously in our training sessions. My only real problem in training is keeping her from boredom.
As you can tell, I love this breed. I wish more people could look deeply at this magnificent creature and see that while they are tough, physically strong and brilliant, they are still vulnerable and have feelings inside just as we do. They give us so very much of themselves, so lets give them back a little of us and do right both in breeding and training these loyal, beautiful dogs.
Diana Ruth Davidson, Chief Pet Officer and Managing Nanny, Westside Dog Nanny
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