The German Shepherd is one of the most iconic dog breeds. Strong, tough, loyal, smart, and immediately identifiable because of their unique coats, patterns, and features, there are breeders and pet owners alike who swear by the German Shepherd. However, there's more to these animals than meets the eye.
Being a smart breed is a fairly common brag when it comes dogs, but German Shepherds are particularly smart even among truly clever breeds. When more than 200 judges from the American Kennel Club rated 100 different dog breeds on their intelligence, the German shepherd came in third. These dogs are easy to train, and they pick up lessons quickly, which might explain why so many of them show up in professions like law enforcement. According to scientists, German shepherds are at least as smart as a 2-3 year old in terms of understanding language, and they can learn at least as much math as a 4-5 year old.
While World Way I taught us many things, like that traditional horse cavalry was most of the way out the door on the battlefield, it also made the German shepherd famous among the allies. Used by the German army for a variety of tasks, soldiers who fought against the Kaiser were impressed by the loyalty, tenacity, and intelligence of Germany's most common military dog. That admiration is one reason the German shepherd became an extremely common dog in the United Kingdom, and it likely contributed to the dog becoming as popular as it has in the United States. In an ironic twist, though, the same war that made the dog so popular made the "German" part of the name quite unpopular. As such, the German shepherd was called the Alsatian wolf hound in parts of the UK, and in other countries.
German Shepherds have acquired a reputation as dangerous, aggressive dogs over the years. However, organizations like the American Veterinary Medical Association have refuted these baseless claims over and over again. While German shepherds are often used by the police and the military, the traits these organizations are looking for are intelligence, obedience, stamina, and strength; not aggression. Police and military dog units want dogs that are easy to train, and dogs which will follow their orders in dangerous situations.
Dangerous, aggressive, and difficult to control dogs would be passed over as recruits who don't have the right stuff for those jobs. German shepherds, properly trained and socialized, tend to be friendly, and aside from being nervous around new people entering their territory, they make ideal family dogs.
When the breed was being standardized by Max von Stephanitz, the first goal was to find and breed ideal dogs. The first dog in this experiment was named Horand. The second generation was also bred carefully, which led to the birth of Beowulf, named for the hero of Norse mythology. The Beowulf wrestled trolls with his bare hands, and fought a dragon at an age when most of us are considering going into an old person's home. Beowulf is, in many cases, the ancestor to which most modern shepherds trace their lineage to.
If you've ever seen a German Shepherd puppy, your first reaction was probably to try and take it home with you. People love dogs, and friendly, loyal, smart dogs will always be popular. However, in America, the German shepherd is the second most popular breed among owners. It comes it right behind the labrador.
While you might think that Hollywood's walk of fame is only for stars of the two-legged variety, there are at least two German Shepherds on that sidewalk of stars. The older of the two stars is Strongheart, who was one of the earliest German Shepherds in film. Rin Tin Tin, widely considered one of the most famous German shepherds to ever appear onscreen, is also on the walk of fame. While there have been other great canine actors since then, no other shepherds have joined these two, much less surpassed them.
In the long and strange tradition of superheroes getting dogs, Batman once acquired a German shepherd. Ace the Bat-Hound was the character's name, and just like his master he was a costumed crime fighter. Ace was most popular as a character between 1954 and 1964, when silver age tropes like superheroes who bring their pets on adventures with them were seen as endearing instead of strange or goofy. From 1964 to 2007 Ace's appearances became more sporadic, and these days the caped crusader tends to fly solo, or with the help of his two-legged sidekicks. Still, there are comics out there where Batman fought villains like the Joker with the aid of a German Shepherd. Dog bites are serious business, and the bigger the dog, the more we respect its teeth. However, German shepherds are capable of biting with 238 pounds of force. To put that in perspective, a human's bite delivers about 86 pounds of force, which means the shepherd's bite is nearly three times more powerful!
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