Many people that own German shepherds know them only as the wonderful family pets they love. They don't often think of them as working dogs. However, they have been used as working dogs ever since the German shepherd breed was developed in Germany in the 1800s. Back then they were appreciated as an animal that, it seemed, could see, hear, smell, and run better than any human being. Their name shep-HERD came about because of their work as herding dogs. That herding quality they still carry with them today makes them such loyal and excellent watchdogs and family pets.
German shepherds are very intelligent dogs that are easy to train, and they remember what they've been taught. They love having something to do and sometimes seem to know what is expected of them.
The German shepherd got its start when a man named Max von Stephanitz saw and purchased a herding dog in Germany that impressed him. The dog named Horand v Grafeth impressed everyone that saw him, and he was soon used in many breeding programs by breeders that wanted a dog just like him. Max knew that in addition to the excellent herding ability, the world would need a dog that could do much more. At this time, inbreeding was very high, so Max used this to generate the best qualities in one fine dog. This became the start of the German shepherd dog, which at the start of the 19th century, became the number one dog around the world.
Max turned this great dog into more than just a herding dog. His intent, which was successful, was to breed a dog the government could use. During World War I, the German shepherd was used as a messenger dog, rescue dog, sentry dog, and personal guard dog. After the war, many German shepherds went home with soldiers and the breed expanded even more. Today the German shepherd is bred as a working dog exclusively by many breeders. Their purpose and dedication has been invaluable to many.
Many German Shepherds are trained in Schutzhund, which involves training in obedience, tracking and protection. In Germany, in fact, before dogs can be bred together they both must pass the Schutzhund tests. This is a means of assuring that only the finest working German shepherds are mated. When they breed their German shepherds, it is to produce more German shepherds with excellent work qualities, unlike some breeders that breed with the sole intent of getting a beautiful dog that can do them proud in the show ring.
Today the German shepherd is used as a working dog for many police officers, as well as acting as their personal guard dogs. They live with the officer to further the bond between the two. In addition to being search and rescue dogs and looking for missing persons, they are also given the task of searching and retrieving illegal substances such as drugs in schools and public airports. Their use as seeing eye dogs for the blind or therapy dogs for disabled persons has also been invaluable. It is only due to their intelligence, courage, loyalty, and temperament that their owners are able to train this wonderful animal to do so much.