Monday, December 20, 2010


What does the average person in America think a German Shepherd Dog looks like? Now clearly I’m not talking about a breeder or a show person. I’m talking about “John Doe” that lives down the street from you. How would he describe the German Shepherd Dog? What would he say he looks like? What would he say about the disposition of this breed of dog? Are we the breeders representing the German Shepherd Dog the way most people think of them? Or have we designed a dog that most people wouldn’t identify as the “average” German Shepherd?

If “John Doe” came to a dog show or if he looked up kennels on the internet, I dare say he would be faced with many different types of German Shepherd Dogs being represented. Just take a look on Facebook at all the breeders and the pictures of their dogs on there. I have never seen such a variety of German Shepherds in one place.

What does the general public think a German Shepherd Dog looks like? I bet if you asked them, a majority of them would probably describe a black and silver or black and light tan dog to you. They would probably describe an ordinary looking dog with a protective type of personality.

I was disappointed the other night when I was watching “The Dog Whisperer” and a poll was taken asking the general public which dogs were the most aggressive breed. I knew that the Pit Bull would be the first dog people would name. However, the German Shepherd was rated as being the most aggressive right under them and then followed by the Rottweiler! It doesn’t look like our breed has such a great reputation! I’d rather them be listed as a protection breed for their family and loved ones rather than an aggressive breed. It really is two different things, in my opinion.

If a person “Googled” the words German Shepherd in the search window, thousands of breeder’s names and kennels would come up. Now if you went on those web sites, many times you would see a dog that looks different from other people’s dogs on their websites. Oh sure you’d see the same noble looking head with his ears standing up straight on his head that most people would associate with this breed. But many times this is where the similarity would end. You’d see many different colors of the German Shepherd Dog’s coat. You’d see short coats and you’d see long coats. You’d see average sized dogs and monster bone sized dogs. You’d see American style German Shepherds and you’d see German style German Shepherds. You’d see light pigment. You’d see deep, dark Mahoney red pigment. They’d be straight backs and there would be roach back dogs. You’d see short backs and long backs. Some would stand straight and look boxy and others would be slopping with their rears close to the ground. This could all be very confusing to "John Doe" for he wouldn't know what the standard for our breed is. All he would know is that they all looked so different.

When one talks about one of “those” designer breeds, are we too not designers of our breed the German Shepherd Dog? If you were to look at the first picture of a German Shepherd when this breed first became recognized and look at it now, you would think that it is a different breed. So indeed, we as breeders have designed the German Shepherd Dog and how it looks today! We changed the whole look to the dog. In many ways for the better, I believe. But we have designed him to look a certain way and not the original way at all. I wonder what the breed will look like in another twenty years or so. Should we be changing the looks of the breed so much? We have a standard, but I see very few dogs look like what the standard calls for. Because a breeder is a designer of sorts, he will have bred for a certain style of dogs. Many kennels have generations of their lines in their breeding program and one only has to look at their dogs to know that this is from their kennel.

Are we all heading in the same direction with the same goal to breed the best representative of the German Shepherd that we can? Or are we all doing our own thing and designing a dog that doesn’t really fit to the standard at all? Take a look at the dogs on some people’s websites or on Facebook. Have we created a designer dog or do they look like the standard set for our breed? You decide!

My rating: Breeding to the standard: (4)


  1. I am one of your most avid readers because I really like your perspective. Every time I read your blog I come away a little more educated.
    The polls I have read indicate little dogs bite more and are more aggressive. Anyone who has been around GSD's know they are not naturally aggressive. They are mostly made that way by stupid people and it gives the GSD a bad rep..
    Every time they have a GSD up for adoption on Pet Line on TV and the commentator says and "its not even aggressive" it drives me nuts. The dog is made aggressive or neurotic by ignorant people.
    In processing applicants to adopt a GSD it is amazing how little they really know about the breed or how unrealistic their demands can be. Most don't know the difference between a shelter and a rescue. Many would be better off buying Robo dog or a goldfish. A main objective in approving an application is to make sure the adopter is more intelligent than the GSD. Regretfully that is not often the case.
    The GSD may have a poor reputation but it comes from ignorance and downright stupidity.
    People have total and unrealistic expectations of the GSD and don't understand the breed. In those cases it is the GSD that does the training with patience and persistence. That is why it is important to make sure the adopter is more intelligent than the dog. That is not often the case but some people can fool you for a while....

  2. I hear you is always about the people who own a dog. The same dog in someone else hands can be totally different!

  3. What do we mean by "designer dog" but a new breed in the making, developed by crossing existing breeds? The GSD was a "designer dog" in that it was consciously developed from various stock in relatively recent times. It is not an ancient and primitive breed. That's true of many modern breeds recognized by AKC. In that sense, once a new breed is firmly established as a true breed, consistently and accurately reproducing itself, it ceases to be a designer dog.

    One reason GSDs and Rotties are rated as aggressive breeds is because they are popular and therefore well known to the public. Not so many people know about Filas and Cane Corsos and other large, seriously tough breeds. (The Brazilian standard for Filas advises judges not to touch the dog in the ring. Imagine the reaction if that were true for GSDs!) Before Rotties got popular, people talked about how aggressive Dobermans were. Dobies were popular with the military and police forces then, which influences opinions. You don't hear so much about how aggressive Dobies supposedly are now because they aren't in fashion and are not on the public's mind. People still think of GSDs as police and military dogs, which of course they sometimes are, and the breed remains popular, so it's going to get attention.

    Sure, the people who own the dog obviously are part of the story. But only part. A large part is what GSDs are expected to be today vs what any working-type herding or working breed needs to be to do the job. GSDs with true working temperaments are tough dogs, and most Americans cannot tell the difference between a tough, protective dog and an aggressive dog. A high-drive working GSD can challenge their owner on occasion. That can be scary if you aren't used to it and don't know what to do. Most Americans lack the experience and strength of personality to handle that and will simply brand such dogs "aggressive" because they don't know the difference. And even the average AKC show-lines GSD has a more protective attitude than a lot of breeds, although in general they are much softer than the working-lines GSDs. If they don't have that protectiveness, they're not real GSDs, they are Golden Retrievers in a GSD suit.

    On the other hand, many AKC-type GSDs make easier pets because they're softer than the classic GSDs of old. I understand why breeders go that route. If you want your large herding or working breed to be popular in the USA, you might have to sacrifice a good bit of what made it a great herding or working breed to start with. The GSD is certainly not the only dog that has changed in response to AKC show preferences for pretty over functional. Ask a sheep rancher with Border Collies about the AKC version and you'll get an earful.

  4. Thanks Steve for your very informative response on this subject!

  5. Anyone who has been around GSD's know they are not naturally aggressive. <--
    I have to disagree with the above comment. GSDs are and should possess natural aggression. That aggression is part of what makes a GSD a GSD. What makes it the great utilitarian and man stopping dog it was supposed to be.

    I do think that this breed has become a designer breed, which is most unfortunate. It has become a breed that everybody chooses to mold to their whims, instead of what it was meant to be.

    The Shepherd should be proud, noble, fearless, and hold itself with great dignity and honor. It should be able to hit the streets during the day, and take down the most vile offenders that walk this earth, and at the end of the day, it should curl up on the couch with its master, and quietly watch the children as they play in the living room.

    I feel a great disservice has been done in breeding out the natural aggression (and nerve) the breed should have in order to make them the ultimate house pet.

    I currently have a bitch that I consider soft and working line people would consider pathetic. She is not spooky or shy, but she cannot handle pressure and crumbles if physically corrected during formal training. I find this temperament to be faulty, and much too common.

    Sacrificing the essence of this breed for popularity, well....sad is an understatement.

  6. Hi: I see you are responding to something someone wrote about my article as I know that I did not write the first sentence of your response. That said, I must say I do not agree with you when you say that the GSD should be aggressive. This would mean that the dog is aggressive even when he's not provoked. It would mean that he would be a dog that you couldn't trust because he would always be aggressive, provoked or not. I prefer to say the German Shepherd is fearless just as the standard says, but not hostile. I do however, agree with you about some breeders breeding a softer tempered dog that crumbles at the slightest reprimand. I bred/owned a dog that would lay her life down for me, but I always had to watch her if she thought someone was getting too close to me. I had her temperament tested by a trainer who purposely provoked her and came aggressively towards her. I was holding on her leash. She hit the end of it meaning to do damage. When the trainer backed off and acted "normal", he walked over to her and tapped her on the head and said: "Now that's a great mind!" Thanks so much for your feedback!