When I was growing up one of my favorite television shows was Lassie (the collie dog). Every week it came on and every week, I’d be sitting right in front of the teeny tiny television listening for her familiar bark and that cry that she did that always pulled at my heart strings. And forget about it when Disney would run their “tear inducing” movie Old Yeller”, I didn’t want to go to school for days. I was so depressed. Speaking of heart tugging movies (this one had a German Shepherd in it); I still get a lump in my throat when I think about the Charlton Heston movie, “Call of the wild.” I’m sad for the rest of the day!
The movie industry gave rise to the fame of the German Shepherd dog back as far as the early 1920’s. The most famous, well known German Shepherd “movie stars” was Rin Tin Tin and Strongheart. Some of their movies date all the way back to the early 1920’s. Both Rin Tin Tin and Strongheart are dogs in the Hollywood Hall of Fame. Strongheart was the star of five silent movies from 1921 – 1927. He was a very big boy weighing anywhere from 115 – 125 lbs., but could jump six feet off of the ground. During this time, he became the biggest grossing star in Hollywood. Rin Tin Tin became so famous that he received over 10,000 fan letters a week!
When researching for this article, I was shocked to see all the dog related movies. Many of them, I never heard of. Even more surprising was the number of movies that had a German Shepherd or something similar that looked like him as one of the co-stars of the film. I had planned on listing all of the movies that had German Shepherds in them, but after typing over 35 movies, I stopped to count how many were left. There were over 286 movies that showcased the German Shepherd! Because of space and time, I’m including the link if you want to look up the movies yourself. http://westminsterkc.tripod.com/video.htm
Many of these movies were made in the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s and show the love affair Hollywood had with the German Shepherd dog. Because many of these movies were made during times of war, people were looking for a hero and this breed fit that description very well. Hollywood used these dogs to appeal to the public’s mood at the time. A popularity explosion followed. People would see them in the movies rescuing a wounded soldier or read about them in the paper saving someone from a burning building. Hollywood certainly did its share to promote this devoted heroic dogs attributes.
I think the German Shepherd must have been used in so many movies because of the breeds high intelligence and how easy they are to train. People would go to the movies and see this breed in one movie after another. His popularity was on the rise. In 1920, there were 2, 135 registered German Shepherds in the country. Six years after Rin Tin Tine was introduced to the public, the registration for the breed was 21,596!
Sometimes trainers will get a dog from a shelter or go to a breeder when they are looking for that special puppy for a film. Sometimes they will even buy several puppies from a litter and use him for different scenes in the movie. So you may not be watching the same dog throughout the movie. I guess it’s similar to when they use doubles for people in the movies.
Some famous people who share their lives with a German Shepherd are: Shania Twain whose dog travels with her and has his own doggy door on her tour bus. Chuck Norris owned a white German Shepherd. Roy Rogers owned “Bullet.” Jack Lalanne owned a white Shepherd who he used to bring on his exercise shows back in the 50’s. Franklin D. Roosevelt had a German Shepherd when he moved into the White House. Rudolph Valentino the famous silent film star owned a German Shepherd.
I guess you could say that in some part, we have Hollywood to thank for the German Shepherds popularity after shining a light on this dog’s most wonderful attributes and contributions to the public. But like anything else that rises to fame too quickly, there are those who will rush to get the “popular thing of the moment” because they want a piece of the action. This is where the breed began to see indiscriminate breeding practices by those who were looking to make a quick buck! This gave rise to the “back yard” breeder and those who were looking to get rich quickly and the breed began to suffer with undesirable temperament and health problems. No good can ever come of anything that becomes so popular too quickly. There will always be those who look to make it quicker and cheaper. A quicker and cheaper bred German Shepherd can ruin the gene pool for years to come. The public notices and the reputation and decline of a breed suffer. The breed has always been in the top ten of popularity of all breeds. We can only hope and do our parts as conscientious breeders to produce the type of temperaments and health that this noble breed deserves…….as well as the public deserves!
My rating: Hollywood’s favorable promotion of the breed: (4), public's perception of the breed: (4), backyard breeders: (1)