Vae Victus

Classical Musings on a Modern World - Politics, Military Analysis, Dog Training, and More

Location: Chicago, IL

I am a consultant from chicago where I live with my wife, our dog, and two cats

Monday, August 22, 2005

Monday wasn't the usual Monday for us. I woke up relatively early and because I am not on a project this week was able to work at home. Over lunch I picked up our 2 year old German Shepherd who had been with his trainer over the weekend while we travelled. Fortunately, because he'd been playing non-stop for the past 48 hours, they gave him a very thorough bath before letting me take him home.

To introduce our Shepherd, Jacque, I need to describe briefly the different types of German Shepherds that there are in the modern world. Most people think of German Shepherd and they either make the connection to Rin Tin Tin or a German Shepherd that they knew when they were young. Unfortunately, it is no longer that simple.

At the broadest level the two categories are the German Shepherds (or GSD's) that come from Germany and follow the German breeding standards and those that have been bred for the American show ring and do NOT follow the German breeding standards.

Some time ago, the breeders who showed their dogs in the AKC ring decided that they knew better than the creaters of the breed and began to breed their dogs to produce an extremely smooth looking "flying side gait" so that when the dog was gaiting in the ring it looked almost as if it was flying. Unfortunately, this quest for one trait above the many other traits that a GSD is supposed to have led to these dogs looking radically different than their counterparts around the world, and perhaps more significantly led to them having very extreme differences in temperment and working ability. Dogs from these lines tend to have very thin long faces, can be tall, but with extremely deep chests, and look almost as if they are on an angle, their rear quarters are low to the ground due to the extreme angulation they have been bred to have. Some people have termed these dogs "ho ck-walkers" because their rear hocks almost hit the ground when running.

Unfortunately, these physical characteristics (and at time some extreme inbreeding) led to dogs that were no longer healthy and were not capable of being the type of dog the GSD was supposed to be - an all around WORKING dog capable of performing a number of useful tasks without a great deal of extra care and fuss. Indeed, the temperment issues of these dogs is the biggest issues. At one point, when Jacque was 1.5 years old we took him to the vet for his annual checkup. The vet was shocked because most of the GSD's she saw were attempting to hide when she came in to the room to see them.

The dogs bred under the German rules undergo a number of different tests prior to breeding. First is a standardized hip test to ensure they are free from Hip displasia - a cruel disease that has plagued the German Shepherd breed and a good number of other large dog breeds. The Germans have instituted a system to not only capture the hip score of the dog in question, but they also assign a number to that dog based on their pedigree - and later on how well the dogs progeny scores on the hip exams.

The second hurdle the GSD has to defeat is a working test. The original working test was actually doing the work. Shepherds knew which dogs could do the work and the ones that performed were the ones that were bred. However, a herding test was developed as well to test the ability of the dog to work in competitions. A dog that passes this test earns the HGH title. Additionally, as GSD's became dogs that worked in the military and in police departments a second test, the Schutzhund test, was developed. This test scores the dogs ability to do a complex obedience exercise, track a person's footsteps across a field to find an object, and finally to perform a protection exercise against a man with a bite sleeve. Note that the goal of this was NOT to produce dogs that were agressive or out of control, instead the goal was a dog with strong character and intelligence who could perform under stress.

Dogs who are bred under the German style breeding program come in many varieties and from all over the world - and often look quite different from what people expect a GSD to look like. As a quick example, there are West German working lines, West German showlines, Herding lines, East German lines, Czech lines and other smaller categories(check out for more pedigrees than you'd ever care to see), but more on that in a later. Suffice it to say that Jacque is mostly West German Show Lines with some herding lines as well.

He's been everything I expected and more, and the past 2 years have been a learning experience for both of us. He turned 2 years old in April and was recently weighed at just under 85 lbs. I consider him to be a true credit to the German breeding program. He is stable and clear headed enough to live in a crowded city, in our apartment, and to socialize with strangers and children. Yet, is also protective and can do the work that a German shepherd should be able to do. We are currently training him to get a Brevet title in French Ring (sort of the French equivalent of Schutzhund) before training him for his Schutzhund title. We may also dabble in showing him at German style conformation events, but need to find a mentor who can thoroughly evaluate whether or not we should put in the time. Either way, he is an incredible companion for my wife and I. He makes me feel much more comfortable about leaving her alone when I am away for work or business. Our little joke is that when she is walking him, he is her "Politeness enforcer"


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