German Shepherd dogs:  How to improve the breed

by Dennis   Fisher.

huge gap exists today between breeders of Show German Shepherd Dogs and Working German shepherds. There is very little meeting ground between the two groups, who follow completely different paths.

The present situation should not be allowed to continue. It is important to find a way to bridge the gap between German Shepherd Dog Breeders, who concentrate on breeding show dogs and working dog enthusiasts, who focus on breeding dogs that perform well in working trials, regardless of their construction.


When the breed was originally founded by von Stephanitz, more than one hundred years ago in 1899, the declared and primary objective was to breed an animal that was not only physically appealing but also useful.

Von Stephanitz made it abundantly clear that the German Shepherd Dog was essentially a working dog. His comments with regard to breed shows made this quite clear. "The efficiency for work must count far more with the Shepherd Dog Breeder than the honors of the show ring ..."

The views of von Stephanitz have been so well publicized over the years, most serious breeders of German Shepherds, all over the world, are well aware of the original purpose for which the German Shepherd was bred.

It is an unfortunate fact however, that many breeders today, in their efforts to produce animals that will attain high honors in the show ring, choose to ignore this.

The reason for this is clear and understandable. In order to breed animals that will excel in the present-day highly competitive show ring, it is necessary for these breeders to use, almost exclusively, what are known as "show lines".

In order to breed an animal with the desired, angulation, shape and the spectacular ground-covering side gait necessary to achieve the highest honors, they concentrate on "show lines" and completely ignore "working bloodlines".

Many experienced, serious-minded breeders are aware that, by doing so, they often sacrifice a great deal, especially with regard to temperament.

It is an unfortunate fact that a number of animals that enjoy marked success in the show ring, do not have the bold, self-confident, fearless temperament and natural protective instinct that is such a desirable feature of the breed and an essential requirement of the working Shepherd.

The poor performance of many animals, in the "test of courage" at recent Sieger shows, even though they have SchhH 3 qualifications, is an indication that this qualification is not always a reliable indication of the animals courage and protective instinct.

It might appear from this criticism of "show breeders", that I consider the unsatisfactory situation that exists today is entirely their fault.

This is certainly not the case. There are many areas of improvement to which "working Dog Breeders" should also pay more attention. |In addition to faults of construction, one area, surprisingly enough, is that of temperament.

It is incorrect to assume that the temperaments of all top working dog winners are as satisfactory as the breeders would have you believe.

It is a well-known fact that some working dogs, that went on to win top honors, did so only after they changed hands. Their original owners and handlers were unable to control these animals because they were unmanageable. This is certainly not the type of temperament one should regard as ideal.

Because of the emphasis on dynamic, and at times frenetic, even frenzied and over-excitable behavior, that many working dog breeders insist on to gain maximum points, many dogs with "working dog bloodlines" have such extreme "prey drive" and "ball drive", this aspect of their temperament supersedes everything else.

"Working dog Breeders" often speak in glowing terms of the" tremendous drive" possessed by their dogs. Sometimes this is an euphemistic term for a highly-strung, over-excitable dog that would never fit comfortably into the normal home and some people might find very difficult indeed to manage.

"Prey drive" is of course extremely important in a working dog. But control and obedience are of far greater importance. In any event, there are known instances in which the working dog with a very highly developed "prey drive" instinct is so concerned with the "prey" that it loses all sense of discrimination in so far as protection is concerned.

Sometimes the animal is so conditioned to attack the "arm" of the "criminal" that it can only focus on this "prey object". If in a real life situation, a real criminal - not the "trained assailant" - were to discard the "arm", it is possible, in many instances, that the dog would be quite satisfied to attack this "prey object" and forget its real purpose.

Of course this is not always the case and it does depend, in many instances, on the correct training, but it is incorrect to assume because the dog is a trained "working dog" and has competed in working trials, it will necessarily be a completely reliable "protection dog".


There are some top winning working dogs from purely working lines with exceptionally sound temperaments. They work with willingness and eagerness to please their trainers,, enthusiasm and energy and are also excellent guard dogs with highly developed, natural protective instincts - a feature that sadly lacking in many top show specimens.

In addition to these fine qualities, many of these top working dogs are reasonably well constructed. When exhibited in the conformation "show class" at Sieger Shows, they acquit themselves quite well. Even though they are not awarded top honors, they still receive fairly high "V" gradings.

Obviously it is in the interest of breeders, who concentrate on purely "show lines", to seriously consider using these dogs in their breeding programs.

Similarly, there are quite a number of excellent "breed dogs", with exceptionally fine construction, coming from the best show lines, who also have remarkably sound, sensible temperaments and strong protective instincts.

Working dog breeders who have previously ignored "show lines" completely, would be well-advised to seriously consider using these excellent breed specimens.

What type of German Shepherd are most people looking for when they decide to invest in this highly popular breed? I sincerely believe my own special requirements are, in many ways, very similar to those of most others.

What I am looking for in a German Shepherd, is a strong, athletic, well-muscled, handsome animal of sound construction, that would not be completely overlooked in the show ring even though he or she might be awarded top honors.

I want a dog that is completely reliable and friendly with family members, babies and children, tolerant of strangers, not over-aggressive, but still a dependable protection dog, sufficiently discriminating to instinctively know the difference between a situation that may be potentially threatening to its owner and one that presents no danger.

If I am prepared to spend the time and effort to train this animal, I would also hope to compete with a fair degree of success in working dog competitions.

The dog must also possess a great degree of natural intelligence, be very easy to train because of it's willingness to please and show no sign of obstinacy. If the animal comes from a long-line of ancestors with similar genetic qualities - with authentic training qualification that validate this - this is far more likely to happen.

Is this too much to ask for? Definitely not. But in order for dogs of this type to be more readily available than they are at the moment, there must definitely be closer contact between "show breeder" and "working dog" breeders.

This is something that should be actively encouraged.