Thanks to the forward thinking of Captain von Stephanitz, the founder of the modern German Shepherd Dog breed, these dogs are synonymous with police work around the world. This is certainly not an accident as the intelligence, strength, stamina and overall stable temperament of the breed is perfect for the very intensive types of activities that police dogs have to face every day.
In most modern police forces the GSD plays several roles. There are those dogs that are specially trained as police officers, working in conjunction with their human counterparts. These dogs go through significant training to learn both high levels of obedience as well as to test their overall temperament. Dogs that are highly aggressive or timid are weeded out of the programs very early, and only the most dependable and stable dogs that show intelligence and strong athletic skills will be assigned to dog handlers within the various police forces. Even then these dogs and the handlers will continue to train together to become outstanding teams that have strong rapport and a great ability to work with each other.
Other German Shepherd Dogs in police or military training will go on to become trained protection and guard dogs. These dogs will learn the commands and techniques of detaining and pinning down individuals, holding them until human officers arrive. These dogs may be used to guard individuals such as dignitaries, foreign leaders or others, plus they may also be used to guard and patrol specific locations. These locations can include military or police property or even private residences.
Finally there will also be police and military dogs that are trained in specific types of detection. These are dogs that naturally excel at scent discrimination as well as obedience, problem solving and independent thinking. Often these dogs are used by bomb detection and location squads, drug squads and on the borders and in airports. Dogs that are used in public areas such as customs at the airport or at border patrol locations have to be steadfast and courageous but also non-aggressive unless commanded to hold or restrain someone until the human officers can arrive.
In virtually all police departments around the world a police dog is considered an officer, and will be assigned a rank and often promoted based on years of service. They receive awards for outstanding service and for special duty, plus they are considered a valued part of the police department. In most countries harming or killing a police dog is considered to be the same as harming or killing a human officer and can result in life sentences for some criminals.
Separate but also included within some police departments are German Shepherd Dogs that are specially trained for search and rescue operations. Like the drug and bomb detection dogs these animals have naturally outstanding scent abilities combined with tracking and problem solving abilities. Dogs within this group can be trained to locate police suspects, individuals trapped in natural disasters or to look for victims or other individuals within large buildings or outdoor areas.
Search and rescue dogs may also be trained as cadaver dogs, which is a very specialized type of training. These dogs are trained to alert on the scent of decay that is caused when a body decomposes. Often these dogs are instrumental in finding victims of homicides or suicides, even years after the body was originally placed in the hidden location. Cadaver dogs are often used at suspected crime scenes or to determine if human remains are present within a large area that would be otherwise impossible to successfully search without the use of dogs.
Besides these types of jobs, there are also German Shepherd dogs that have been trained to do amazing things. Some GSD are trained to sniff out gas leaks, even with buried underground lines, saving companies and cities millions of dollars in digging up entire city blocks to locate a specific area that has a leak. Other dogs are trained to sniff out specific types of chemicals or even specific types of vegetables or produce that may be smuggled into the country through the mail or through packages.
Guide dogs and assistance dogs are often of the German Shepherd Dog breed. Their loyalty combined with their steadfast and calm demeanor makes them ideal for these highly visible types of jobs. The German Shepherd Dog is also considered a great companion dog for individuals that need assistance, making a very good all round combination. Unlike Golden Retrievers, Labradoodles and even the Labrador Retriever, GSDs tend to be more protective and may present a more dominant type of personality, perfect for an individual that needs assistance that is living on his or her own.
Home owners may also train their pet German Shepherd Dogs to be outstanding watch dogs and guard dogs. It is not recommended that owners attempt guard dog training without the advice and support of a professional guard dog trainer, since it is essential to teach control and not aggression in the dog. Negative training methods should never be used to teach the GSD any type of aggressive behavior as it can lead to significant behavior problems over time. Protection dogs, specially trained to protect an individual, are popular both for private individuals and those that are public figures. The GSD is a natural at this as well, however temperament testing before training is essential.
Training for all types of dog careers that GSDs may find themselves in begins early in the dog's life. Most training programs start working with dogs at about the six month mark with regards to actual training. Prior to that they are intensively socialized, trained in basic and advanced obedience and desensitized to a wide variety of common experiences. This is one step in weeding out any dogs that may not have the exact temperament or qualities needed to be a police dog, assistance dog or a search and rescue dog. After the basics are completed, more intensive training and work occurs. Dogs that find a career typically work until they are no longer able, many retiring to live with their handlers or other loving families that are waiting to adopt these outstanding canines.