Ten Things You Didn’t Know About German Shepherds They’re intelligent, fiercely loyal and often used as guide or police dogs — but how much do you really know about the breed also known as GSDs? And what do they have in common with hamburgers?
What’s in a name
A German shepherd is a Deutscher Schäferhund in German; pastor alemán in Spanish; německý ovčák in Czech; Duitse herder in Dutch; saksa lambakoer in Estonian; pastore tedesco in Italian; berger allemande in French, and so on. Every single one is literally the words for “German” and “shepherd” in the native language. This even extends to some non-western languages. In Japanese, the breed name is a phonetic version of the English words, “jāmanshepādo.”
If you remember how to capitalize German shepherd, then you’ll remember how to capitalize any breed name. The simple rule is that when a breed name includes a proper noun or is derived from one, then that word is capitalized, but the rest of the breed name isn’t. So Chihuahua is capitalized while terrier is not, since the former dog was named for a state in Mexico, while the latter name comes from the French word for ground. Some breeds, like German shepherds, Labrador retrievers, and Wheaton terriers have both capitalized and non-capitalized words. Others, like the golden retriever, are only lowercase.
While often not included with their more commonly colored black and tan relatives, white German shepherds do exist, although they are bred to be more sensitive and gentle than regular German shepherds, so are not often used for the same kinds of work. Nonetheless, this color is not allowed in the AKC conformation ring.
Live span and longevity
Because of their size, German shepherds tend toward the shorter side of canine lifespan, averaging 10 to 12 years. While there are various claims online of GSDs living to twenty or more years, none of them have been documented sufficiently to prove such longevity.
Origin of German shepherds as a recognized breed
Horand von Grafrath may sound like a Star Wars villain, but he’s actually a hero. Born on January 1, 1895, he is recognized as the first German shepherd and the genetic origin of the entire breed, although his grandsons, Heinz von Starkenburg, Beowolf, and Pilot, were the ones who really got the whole breed rolling. This means that the breed is of relatively recent origin. It was not recognized by the American Kennel Club until 1908; the UK Kennel Club waited another eleven years.
In service of others
The first ever Seeing Eye Dog was a German shepherd named Buddy. While the breed had already been trained to guide blind veterans of the First World War, it wasn’t until a blind American named Morris Frank contacted the author of a Saturday Evening Post article about them that the concept was imported to America for civilians. The Seeing Eye was incorporated in 1929, and they have been providing their own dogs for the blind ever since. Fun fact: “Seeing Eye Dog” is not a generic term, and can only be used to describe dogs actually trained by the organization. “Guide dog for the blind” is the term for all other such dogs.
Schutzhund or “protection dog” training was specifically created for the breed, although it’s not limited to German shepherds. The original intention was to test the suitability of a particular dog for training by weeding out the untrainable or unstable. The test involves three parts: tracking, obedience and protection.
On the Silverscreen
While you’ve probably heard of Rin Tin Tin, he was not the first German shepherd movie star. That honor goes to a Polish-born member of the breed, Strongheart, who received his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on February 8th, 1960, in front of the Capitol Records Building at 1724 Vine Street. Sadly, he died in 1929 at the age of almost 12 due to burns suffered by stumbling into a hot light while filming. During his career, his trainer kept a plaque over his bed with a quote that could come right out of Cesar’s teachings: “Ask the very beasts, and they will teach you,” (Job 12:7).
Popularity contest runner up
According to the American Kennel Club, the German shepherd is the second most popular dog in America, losing out to the Labrador retriever. However, the breed does come in just ahead of the golden retriever.
Fun Fact: Hamburgers and Freedom Fries
Finally, what does a German shepherd have in common with a hamburger? Well, like hamburger suddenly being called Salisbury steak because of anti-German sentiment during and after World War I, German shepherds were briefly known as Alsatians, taking their name from an area long disputed between Germany and France. German-Americans from the area pulled the same trick and “became” Franco-American until the hatred died down. In modern times, French fries briefly became “freedom fries” for equally specious reasons.
Do you or have you had German shepherds, and what has your experience been? And what other breeds would you like to know ten things about? Let us know in the comments! And don’t miss our previous installments on Chihuahuas and pugs.