The German Shepherd Dog is one of the most versatile creatures on earth. There’s not much these strong, agile, fearless dogs can’t do. Ancestors of today’s German Shepherds earned their keep by tending enormous flocks of sheep, as many as 1,000 of them. The AKC has assigned them to the Herding Group, a reflection of the breed’s original purpose.
For this work, GSDs had to be:
- alert, so they could notice and apprehend a stray lamb;
- strong, able to hold their own against animals two or more times their size;
- courageous, because these dogs were all that stood between the flock and wolves, bears, and even human predators, and
- posses remarkable endurance, the ability to trot all day.
The same traits that made them invaluable on the farm have contributed to their importance in modern life. Today, you see GSDs wherever dogs and humans get together to work and play. They are a favorite of law enforcement and the military, and are legendary as search-and-rescue and protection dogs. On the flip side, they also excel where sensitivity to human moods is needed. They are brilliant therapy dogs and played a pivotal role in kicking off the service-dog movement in the United States, as the first Seeing Eye dogs. They also make strong showings in the conformation ring.
“Couch potato” is probably the only job that doesn’t suit them. GSDs are high-energy and have active minds. They need challenging work, physical and mental, and solid socialization and training. To be happy, they also need to learn new skills and be engaged with their people throughout their lives.
What does that mean to you and your new GSD puppy? It means that if you are interested in getting involved in AKC sports, you couldn’t find a better partner. Here are five competitive activities where the GSD can shine.
As members of the Herding Group, German Shepherds are eligible for herding tests and trials leading to titles and championships. It’s thrilling to see dogs perform tasks they were born to do. The one big downside to this sport is access. Herding aficionados often have to drive for hours to find a farm and flock for training and competition. Some solve the problem by buying farms and getting their own livestock. That’s how addictive the sport can be.
Their intelligence and work ethic make GSDs ideal partners for obedience and rally, in which a team executes a series of increasingly difficult exercises, including heeling, scent recognition, retrieving, as well as following basic commands, such as sit and stay.
German Shepherds have a unique flowing gait. Their movement should be, according to the breed standard, “outreaching, elastic, seemingly without effort, smooth and rhythmic.” Add in their strength, precision, and desire to follow instructions and you have a winning combination for agility. Watching one of these dogs navigate an obstacle course is truly breathtaking.
Tracking is a sport based how well a dog follows his powerful nose to discern and follow specific scents. It is the foundation of search-and-rescue work. In a tracking trial, dogs are judged on how well they follow a track that has been set down by a judge. Tracking events are held in both rural and urban areas.
Another sport developed as a direct reflection of the GSD’s work is Schutzhund (which translates from German as “protection dog”). It gauges a dog’s ability to perform in the disciplines needed in police and military work—tracking, obedience, and protection. The tests are designed to demonstrate the dog’s courage and willingness to protect a handler, while also exhibiting an extreme levels of self control. The AKC recognizes titles awarded by the German Shepherd Dog Club of America.