March 30, 2012
The Americanization of the German Shepherd: Changing Needs, Changing Breeds
When you think of a police dog or military dog, the first thing that pops into your mind is most likely a German shepherd. German shepherds (also known as Alsatians) have become synonymous with canines in law enforcement, and for good reason. They are loyal, determined, hard-working, confident, and near-fearless dogs who are happiest when they have a job to do. Their innate need to protect their people, coupled with their strong senses of smell and vision and excellent endurance and athleticism make the German shepherd one of the most well-suited breeds for a career in law enforcement, military, or guard work.
In fact, everything about the German shepherd connotes a noble, trustworthy, incorruptible companion and protector. From the regal, chiseled head and muzzle to the broad shoulders and strongly-muscled legs, to the dignity of its posture, the German shepherd dog simply demands respect.
However, many of the traits that have always been considered the hallmarks of the breed are beginning to disappear as breeders try to produce new lines that would be better show dogs and pets than working dogs. The physicality, musculature, and skeletal structure of the dog has changed, with the angles of the face being more rounded, the frame being larger, and the back developing a severe slope, which has been linked to serious health problems. In addition, the working drive and determination is being bred out, to make them better family pets.
American German shepherds are typically less alert and attentive, and less serious in nature; they are a more refined, gentler, softer breed that is generally not nearly as suited to police, military, and service work as its European counterpart. The fact is, as the dogs are cross-bred in an attempt to introduce these new characteristics, the dogs are becoming less and less themselves, so to speak.
The concern with this is, if this American line continues unchecked and without standards, will the days of the German shepherd as America’s premier working dog be numbered? Hopefully not, as experts are beginning to look at the American line of shepherds and the European line as two distinct breeds, and hopefully official distinction and breed recognition is not too far off in coming. With breed recognition comes regulations, standards, and guidelines that must be followed to uphold the breed’s integrity and preserve its health and best interests. This may be the American German shepherd’s best hope for a bright, happy, healthy future.
Photo captions and credits:
Top: German shepherd, European line. Photo by Erika Steer via Flickr. Image is cropped.
Bottom: German shepherd, American line. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.