Wednesday, December 9, 2009


So I’m talking with a breeder friend of mine last night. After the pleasantries of “How was your Thanksgiving? How’s the grand kids doing and how’s the hubby,” we settled into what dog people do best… about dogs! Now my friend owns both American and German bred dogs so is very familiar with the traits of both of these dogs. We got to talking about the purpose of the German Shepherd Dog. I mean what was he really bred for? We weren’t talking about the dog bred for the conformation ring. We were talking about the mind of the dog, the capabilities of the dog and his service to man. We got onto the subject of the German Shepherd Dog as a herding dog because I had said that I remember when I first got into the breed, they were in the working group according to the AKC. I wanted to know why they got put into the herding group. She asked me; just how many German Shepherds do you know that are herding sheep? How many people do you know that own sheep? I don’t know anyone that has sheep I told her.

I know one thing, I see more people training their dogs to herd sheep now then when I first started in the breed. Perhaps these are people who do own their own sheep or other grazing animals.

So as I always do, I started doing some investigation on this subject. I found a great group where people were discussing this very topic about the German Shepherd dog used for herding. So I thought I’d share some of their ideas and look forward to hearing from others on this subject as well.

Although the German Shepherd did herd sheep in Germany, when their country became industrialized, the breed was used for other working tasks. More people moved from the country to the cities. This is when the breed began being used as a protection dog. This is when they started to use this breed for the military and police work. We all know the great service that they do for the blind. They are wonderful search and rescue dogs. It’s not unusual to see the German Shepherd used as a therapy dog in hospitals. It’s as if this breed could talk, you might hear him say, “Tell me what it is you want me to do and I’ll do it!”

From my research it seems that some farmers prefer to use the Border Collie rather than the German Shepherd for herding. It seems that breed excels in this task. I read a comment by someone saying that the German Shepherd is another example of a breed that is not being used for the purpose that it was intended.

Someone said that the German Shepherd are natural drovers, meaning that they push and not fetch stock. I can understand that statement as I have a alpha bitch that loves to push her sister by nipping at her ankles to make her get into the crate or dog house when she wants her to! But that’s a whole other story!

When comparing herding dogs, it seems that the different breeds who do this well, are different types of herders. It seems that the Border Collie and Aussies is an up close and personal herder, whereas the German Shepherd is more of an open range type of herding dog. To tell you the truth, I don’t know the difference between these different types of styles of herding dogs. Perhaps those who are reading this can fill the rest of us in.

Because the German Shepherd is such a versatile breed, he can do most anything that is asked of him. Because of these attributes, many times his sheep herding roots have taken a back seat to other things that he’s capable of doing.

Time and time again, I read how important the dog’s instinct drive needs to be to herd sheep. It would seem that not all dogs have this instinct to have the sheep herding ability. Along with the instinct drive, the dog needs to have courage and strong nerves. The German Shepherd must know how to do boundary patrol or flock containment. These dogs are selected for their high prey drive (attraction to the sheep). They have a very positive energy flow and seem to love what they do.

Some feel that the herding dog should also include protection work because one of the tasks years ago for what this breed was bred to do is to protect the shepherd and his flock from thieves.

I read that someone said that the German Shepherd is a dog who can do it all, but is a master of none. What they meant was that this breed is not just known for his ability to do one thing. He can do so many different things and do them all well. With this thought in mind, I wish the AKC would have kept this breed in the Working Group.....he's not just a herding dog. He's that and so much more.

When I read about all the great things that this breed is capable of, I know that I’ve failed miserably with my own dogs. I’ve concentrated on their beauty and movement, but haven’t done too much to educate their minds and bring out their natural talents. I’ve missed the opportunities that this highly intelligent breed can perform. I know that the German Shepherd is the happiest when he’s doing something. He really does enjoy obedience and performance work. It’s in his genes. He truly does enjoy being with his master so training can be fun and very rewarding for this dog. I’ve enjoyed looking at my dogs over the years, but I forgot that they are more than a pretty face. It’s what’s inside this dog that needs to be brought out to truly appreciate what this wonderful breed is really about. I’ve only enjoyed half of a dog. I’ve never fully known what it’s like to live with the “looks and brains” of a German Shepherd. I remember how much fun it was all those years ago taking my first German Shepherd to obedience classes. I must have got lost along the way.

My rating: herding dog training: (4), obedience titles: (4)

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