German Shepherd Dogs – How to Improve the Breed

By Dennis Fisher 

The German Shepherd Dog, not so long ago, had a reputation of being a breed of dog, not only beautiful in appearance, but also an excellent guard dog with a very strong protective instinct.

Unfortunately many German Shepherd Dogs today, particularly top show winners, cannot live up to this reputation. They appear to have lost the natural, in-born, protective instinct that was once a highly regarded feature of the breed. Many German Shepherd Dog are of very little value as reliable guard dogs.

A German Shepherd Dog with a strong protective nature must not be confused with and over-aggressive animal. This type of temperament is frequently the result of timidity and nervousness, rather than bold, self-confidence.

german shephered

WHAT IS THE IDEAL TEMPERAMENT FOR A GERMAN SHEPHERD DOG?

Ideally, a German Shepherd Dog should be an extremely self-assured animal, a loyal companion, devoted to family members, excellent with children, approachable and tolerant of strangers, but with a natural ability to discriminate between friend and foe and an instinctive ability to immediately recognize danger when it appears.

With appropriate training a dog with this temperament can be easily trained to respond to dangers than threaten memembers of the family.

Years ago this was the type of behavior once could expect from most German Shepherd Dogs. Why has this changed?

One of the reasons for this is probably because many breeders of German Shepherd Dog, who concentrate on breeding dogs that will win at shows, are not paying sufficient attention to correct temperament.

There is no doubt that top German Shepherd Dog show winners today are more strikingly handsome animals than they have ever been. They are so uniform in appearance that judges, for the most part, are only able to separate them by paying attention to minor faults in construction.

Because gait and spectacular, ground-covering, side-movement is such an important factor in judging, breeders of German Shepherd Dogs concentrate on breeding dogs with dynamic, animated, energetic temperaments.

These are admirable qualities but not at the expense of other important features and certainly not by ignoring the protective instinct.

The controlling body for German shepherd Dogs in Germany, the S.V., has been aware for a long time there was need for improvement in temperament. For this reason a “test of courage” was introduced some years ago at the annual German championship – “Sieger” Show. Dogs in the open class are obliged to pass this test before being considered for high honors.

In this this “test of courage” all the dogs exhibited at the Show in the adult class are threatened, individually, with a stick by an “assailant”, suitably protected with a padded arm and protective clothing.

This form of temperament testing has also been introduced in most countries of the world where German Shepherd Dogs are bred and shown. As a result there is a definite improvement in the temperament of German Shepherd Dogs; but there is still room for a great deal of further improvement.

This “test of courage” is a positive step towards the improvement of the protective instinct of the German Shepherd Dog. It is the best test that has been devised so far, but it is by no means a completely reliable test.

There are times when a German Shepherd Dog, focuses on the padded arm of the “assailant”, which it regards as the “prey”, to such an extent that it loses interest in the real threat, which is the assailant.

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”, ignore the criminal and forget its real purpose.

It is also an unfortunate fact that in recent years, quite a large number of dogs entered in the annual “Sieger” Shows in Germany, failed to pass this “test of courage”. At the 2007 “Sieger” Show, there were no less than 47 whose performances in this “test of courage” was not of a very high standard.

Last year, in 2008, the figure was somewhat better as there were only 36 who failed. This does show some improvement. It is disappointing to note however, that many of these animals, who failed, came from the very best show winning bloodlines in Germany.

WHAT CAN BE DONE TO REMEDY THIS SITUATION?

It is clear that if there is to be an improvement in the natural, inborn protective instinct of the German Shepherd Dog, breeders must pay more attention to breeding from animals with strong temperaments. They should concentrate on animals that have performed particularly well in the test of courage at Sieger shows and make use of these bloodlines.

This has now been made very much easier by the introduction, for the first time in 2008, of a new feature in the “test of courage” at the annual Sieger show.

For the first time, the Judge made special mention at the 2008 Sieger” Show, of the sixteen German Shepherd Dogs that performed best in the test of courage – dogs who responded best to the threat presented by the “assailant” with most marked enthusiasm and strongest evidence of protective instinct.

A list of these sixteen “best performing dogs in the test of courage” has been published by the German S.V. German Shepherd Dog enthusiasts, keen to own a dog that possesses the very desirable characteristic of a strong protective instinct, would be well advised to make a careful note of this list and study the bloodlines.

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