German Shepherd Dogs are among the most popular breeds in the world, consistently in the top five AKC breed rankings for most years these records have been kept.
It's not hard to understand why. German Shepherds, the result of one man's vision of canine perfection, were designed to be the ultimate in work ethic, courage, and physical prowess. With their large powerful bodies, thick double coats, and noble expressions, they're not hard on the eyes, either.
Max von Stephanitz, who played a major role in the development of the breed in the late 1890s, set his ideal as a no-nonsense worker—smart and strong enough to learn any job, and always eager to do it.
"Utility," he said, "is the true criterion of beauty."
The dog has so many exemplary traits that it's hard to put a finger on just one. "The list," one author wrote, "could fill many books."
Here are just some of the reasons why the breed has captured the hearts, minds, and imaginations of generation after generation of dog lovers:
1. Their star power lit up silent screens.
Most everyone knows the story of the GSD puppy who was rescued from a bombed-out kennel in France during World War I and rose to Hollywood stardom in the 1920s. But Rin Tin Tin wasn't the first GSD to become a movie star. He was preceded by a retired police dog, Strongheart.
The on-screen heroics of these two superb dogs were the first glimpse of this incredible breed for most Americans. Handsome as any movie star, Rin Tin Tin and Strongheart had other qualities, like courage, athleticism, and brains, that made them irresistible—the kind of rugged heartthrobs who could do their own stunts. They catapulted the breed to the top of the popularity charts, and people are still writing books about Rin Tin Tin to this day.
2. But their appeal remains strong in the YouTube era.
A lot has changed in culture and media since Rin Tin Tin's heyday, but one thing has stayed the same. Cameras love a GSD. Want proof? This 40-second video of a puppy named Dunder went viral—with nearly 10 million views—and all the dog had to do was sit in the same spot and look at the camera, 365 times.
3. Service dogs? A GSD started it all.
"I knew she was going to be my declaration of independence," said Morris Frank, describing the first Seeing Eye Dog, Buddy, a female GSD, in the 1920s. Frank also knew right away she was a kind of pioneer. Buddy's success in guiding Frank gave birth to the service-dog movement. Today dogs offer the "divine gift of freedom," as Frank called it, to people with all kinds of disabilities. And it all started with a smart pointy-eared girl named Buddy.
4. Heroism is their hobby.
Pet GSDs, with no special training, have been known to take bullets for their owners, dash through the wilderness to get help, and plunge into raging waters to drag drowning children to safety. Recently, a dog named Haus threw himself in front of a rattlesnake that was about to strike Molly, his 7-year-old owner. Veterinarians at Blue Pearl Veterinary Partners in Tampa estimated that he was bitten three times and they were not sure there was anything they could do to keep him alive. But the brave dog pulled through, living on to protect his beloved Molly.
5. Like to show off? The GSD is the perfect partner.
Back flips, yoga poses, balancing on a human shoulders—these are puppy play for a GSD. In fact, one managed to learn 100 tricks by her first birthday. With proper training, there's very little a GSD can't, or won't, do.
6. They'll help you reach incredible goals, like world heavyweight champion.
Their work ethic appeals to people with high goals and great discipline. Consider, for example, prizefighter George Foreman. The two-time world heavyweight champion and Olympic gold medalist first saw the breed while he was a child watching Rin Tin Tin on television, and he vowed to one day have a dog like that. Later, a GSD was became his training partner.
"I had to take these long runs and jogs. After awhile I'd see the dog would be the only one hanging out with me. The dog became my training partner," he said in an interview on "In Depth with Graham Bensinger." "Dogs have always been my close companions, because no one else can get along with me." Also, as he reached superhuman levels of fitness, his German Shepherds were the only ones who could keep up with him.
7. Work is their reason to live.
Ask any GSD owner what sets the breed apart and most will give you one answer: work ethic. They need jobs, challenging ones, to thrive. They are like those treasured employees, the ones who always volunteer, always hit deadlines, and always gives you the highest quality you can imagine. Their energy level has been described as "volcanic," with generations of ancestors whose were used to working all day, herding and guarding livestock in all kinds of weather. That's why these dogs are favored for all the toughest jobs, from herding, to apprehending criminals, to searching smoking rubble for disaster survivors.
8. Their most important job is … YOU!
Strong protective instincts are a hallmark of the breed. Their people are sacred and they'll do whatever it takes to keep them safe. It's important that these dogs have proper socialization and training, starting when they are puppies, to make sure that they grow up comfortable around strangers and don't see threats where none exists. In fact, in the early 1900s, a sport was developed to test this trait in GSDs, known by its German name, Schutzhund. In English, that means "Protection Dog."
9. And, what about those ears?
GSDs are among the most beautiful breeds, with a variety of colors and coat types. The powerful body, dark muzzle, intelligent eyes, and a head that should appear, according to the breed standard, "noble, cleanly chiseled, strong without coarseness" come together into a lovely package.
And then, of course, there are those ears, large, pointed, and standing up and parallel to each other, the very image of a creature always ready for action. But not always. Where ears are concerned, German Shepherds offer people the best of all worlds. As puppies, their ears are floppy down, giving them a brief moment of goofiness before they grow up into their serious, important adult roles.
To learn more about the German Shepherd Dog, visit the German Shepherd Dog Club of America.
If you think this breed is right for you, check out the AKC Marketplace for German Shepherd Dog puppies.