As opposed to a Yugoslavian mountain hound or a Beauceron, most people can readily get a mental image of what a German shepherd looks like. From Rin Tin Tin and Strongheart to a plethora of spots in television and movie shows, the German shepherd has long been a fixture in American popular culture. They are often used as police dogs, search and rescue dogs, guide dogs for the blind, therapy dogs for the sick and elderly, and even to herd sheep.
Although its appearance resembles a wolf, it is not related to a wolf, and the breed is fairly recently developed. The breed resulted from a conscious effort in Germany in the 1800s to produce an ideal shepherd dog that would be capable of herding as well as guarding a flock. A concentrated effort was put into developing the breed, mostly through the formation of the Verein fur Deutsche Scharferhunde SV in 1899, an organization that was specifically devoted to breeding the German shepherd dog.
Breeders were seeking to develop not only a dog for herding, but also a breed that could excel at tasks requiring intelligence, courage, and athleticism. As a result, the German shepherd has proven itself time and again as an exceptional police dog, and as an intelligent and fearless guardian and companion. During World War I, they were used regularly as war sentries and guard dogs. At about that time, the breed's name was officially changed from German sheepdog to German shepherd dog, and Great Britain changed the name to Alsatian wolf dog. Both changes were attempts to separate the breed in the public's mind from its German roots, since Germany was unpopular at that time due to the war.
For many years, the German shepherd was the most popular dog in America. Although it has been replaced in the top spot by the Golden Retriever, it is still quite popular, and is one of the most versatile dog breeds ever developed. German shepherds are one of the most intelligent dog breeds, and are self-confident and fearless. They are alert and usually not afraid of things, which makes them good watchdogs and guard dogs. They are intent on their mission, whatever it is, and they are faithful and devoted. They are usually aloof and suspicious around strangers, and are protective of their home and family. They like to get to know people slowly, waiting until they know they can trust them. Because of their intelligence, German shepherds need daily mental and physical challenges. They enjoy exercise as well as learning sessions and training. Although they can live outside in almost any climate, they are very family-oriented and people pleasers, so they do well as house dogs.
No matter what you're looking for in a dog, the German shepherd can provide it. Hard work, protection, obedience, and companionship are the hallmarks of this noble breed, and make it the perfect addition to any family.