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Norwich Bulletin - 1/24/2010

The German Shepherd

My favorite dog of all time was my wonderful German Shepherd Jennifer. Jenny could understand every word I said and she would do anything I asked her to do without hesitation. She went to work for me everyday at the restaurant where I bartended and she was a favorite at my parents’ Vermont Inn. I still miss her to this day. And so if there is any dog that I consider deserving of the title noble – any dog that I consider the perfect combination of friend and protector; it is the German Shepherd.

This breed looks at you with such an intelligent look, you know that you are dealing with a very smart canine. Jennifer had the most expressive eyes; full of love and affection. And she was so elegant and glamorous, and yet very muscular and strong. A dog worthy of the reputation of being capable of protecting those who care for him. A naturally wary dog with strangers, once he knows his family is good with the visitors, he will happily become a friend.

My first experience with obedience trials was with Jenny – she was quick to learn and no matter how long in between our workouts were, she never forgot anything. When this breed learns, I would venture to say they learn for life. The breed began in the late 1800’s and was one of the first developed breeds to work with herding sheep. In the early times of dog and human bonding, dogs were needed in many different capacities. There were hunting dogs, protection dogs, dogs of burden and those that tended to the sheep and cattle.

Size, coat, and color of sheepdogs varied greatly, vastly depending on where the dogs lived. Cold weather dictated a dog with a longer, thicker coat, as warmer climates would require a more short coated dog. And areas where there were wolves, bear and birds of prey needed larger and more powerful dogs than those more populated areas.

In Germany, many of the cities were becoming industrialized which meant the predators in that area were much less. And even though there were many different types of shepherding dogs, there was a greater awareness of the needs of the various areas and the types of dogs needed. There were now breeders who were developing dogs of high merit and these canines were in high demand.

As more and more breeders became aware of the need of these highly skilled dogs, there began a standardizing of native German breeds. This was the beginning of the German Shepherd breed as we know it today.

The father of the German Shepherd breed is said to be Captain Max Con Stephanitz. He was an admirer of the qualities found in the native sheepdog breeds, but he wanted one that would have all of what he considered the ideal qualities. Looking for Intelligence, Strength, Ability and Beauty, he came across a dog at a show in 1899 and promptly purchased the dog that would be his foundation sire. This was the beginning of the “Deutsche Schaferhunde,” – and the German Shepherd as a specific breed was born.

The dog was named Horand v Grafeth and he was greatly admired by many breeders who used them in their programs. The dogs that were born from Horand were the rock foundation of the breed. One of the things that became important to Von Stephanitz was the future of the breed. He knew that the breed would need to be able to adapt to other types of work as the nation became more industrialized and less pastoral.

The German Shepherd today is an active breed that thrives on work and is capable of doing pretty much any type of work. He loves human companionship and is responsive to his owner’s frame of mine, whether it be happy or sad. He is able to adapt to whatever his owner’s needs are at the time. He is playful and puppyish and at the same time can be a very intimidating adversary when protecting his own. When a German Shepherd owns you, everything that is yours, is in his special care. Remember that this dog needs to be a member of your family. And he needs to work.

All the qualities that make the German Shepherd an excellent sheep dog, also make him an excellent police, army, and/or guard dog. And for those who are just looking for a great pet, you can enjoy obedience trials or agility with your dog. Take long walks, play ball or Frisbee – your German Shepherd will do anything you want him too and if you do it with him, he will be the happiest of pets.

No other breed has been able to master the wide range of skills as the German Shepherd has. I have to say that this breed is an aristocrat among dogs. However, with that said, as the Shepherd grew in popularity, there have been undesirable breeders whose sole purpose has been to make money.

And so there have been mediocre dogs bred with some health concerns, especially with hip dysplasia. As in any breed, please only buy your puppy from a reputable breeder. Stay away from pet stores and breeders who cannot show you health records or sire and dam. Spend time with your puppy at the kennel and check out the personality and the friendliness of the adult dogs in the kennel. While German Shepherds can be wary of strangers, they should not be afraid or threatening.

My only fault with this breed is that Jennifer was so perfect I could never bring myself to get another Shepherd after I lost her. And as much as I have loved the dogs that have followed her, none have touched my heart as she did. If you have the time to spend with a dog and are looking for an awesome companion, I heartily recommend the German Shepherd.

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