By now the lean, chiseled body of Rin Tin Tin is engraved in most people’s minds. A faithful companion, best friend, and super sleuth alongside his partners, Rin Tin Tin brought the emblematic German Shepherd Dog into our lives and living rooms throughout the years, gaining popularity for this intelligent dog breed that waned only when anything related to Germany was taboo following the World War I and II. The German Shepherd Dog has gone through many changes throughout the more than 100 years it has been in existence, most notably the recent trend toward straight-back shepherds. Which begs the question: what was the German Shepherd Dog bred for those many decades ago?
In 1889, a medium-size yellow and black dog caught the eye of Capt. Max von Stephanitz due to this particular dog's herding tendencies, intelligence, and especially its ability to take direction quickly and efficiently, with minimal to no training. Von Stephanitz found beauty and attractiveness within the German Shepherd Dog to be a secondary trait, as opposed to all the working and mental traits, which he deemed most important. Hoping to create a perfect working dog, von Stephanitz valued mental stability, intelligence, and temperament above aesthetics. The German Shepherd Dog was bred extremely specifically with regard to the exact function of every element of the dog, from gait to attitude.
During World War I, the German army made use of the breed as a war dog. American soldiers brought many of these dogs back with them from Germany, reinvigorating the breed in the U.S. While the German Shepherd Dog was considered a great police and war dog, loyal, somber, and fast, the rise of Rin Tin Tin in TV shows and movies brought about the theme of a “boy and his dog” for many Americans — a motif that has followed dogs in the movies and in real life, as any dog owner can attest.
Following the war, many German Shepherds were beginning to be trained as seeing eye dogs for blinded veterans in the United States and Europe, furthering the German Shepherd Dog's utility as a breed. However once World War II began, the German Shepherd Dog had to go back to work for both the Allied and Axis forces alike, who employed them as mine detectors and guard dogs.
Prior to World War II, there was a more distinct separation between the American and German lines of German Shepherd Dogs; however, due to the war, many German lines died. As the two bloodlines were crossed, the resulting dogs displayed the lines and signature looks of the modern day German Shepherd Dog. The dog slowly developed into a more distinct and beautiful breed, with many specific virtues, such as intelligence, versatility and self-confidence. Over the years, the German Shepherd Dog has performed with the military and police doing bomb and drug detection, K-9 partner work, and messenger work. In addition to police and military work, the intelligence and calmness of the German Shepherd Dog has allowed the breed to be trained as seeing eye dogs, medical assistance dogs, and therapy dogs. Stephanitz wanted to create a breed that would be utilitarian and intelligent while also being fiercely loyal, all traits that are well-known to anyone lucky enough to own these amazing dogs.