German Shepherd’s Police Work

As early as 1901, the SV suggested to the police authorities that the German Shepherd breed might be considered for operational duties. The most obvious characteristic to exploit was the breeds guarding instinct, recognized from the way in which the original Shepherd dog’s had for centuries protected the flocks from intrusion and attack. With the demise of the wolf and lynx, at least in western and central Germany, the function of the Shepherd dogs changed more to tending rather than guarding the sheep, the main objective being to confine the flocks to pasture land and prevent it straying on to crops. Von Stephanitz was determined to keep alive the guarding instinct in the German Shepherd.

This intrinsic quality, which the Germans called “Kampftrieb” means not only the ability but also the willingness to protect. It should be noted at this juncture that the oft-used literal translation of Kampftrieb as ‘fighting instinct’ is injurious to the reputation of the breed, especially in these days of punitive anti-dog legislation. Such a translation gives a totally incorrect idea of the character of the dog.

The German Shepherd is not, and never has been bred to fight either dogs or people ! Efficiency trials were conducted in 1903, and the results were so satisfactory that police forces in many urban centers were persuaded to try out and eventually to adopt German Shepherd as an active part of the law-enforcement system. The government established a center for breeding and training police dogs as Grunheide near Berlin.
In the beginning, there was some reluctance on the part of the senior policemen regarding the use of German Shepherd dogs in detecting and investigation of crimes. This class of work demanded searching and tracking skills. However, it was soon discovered at Grunheide and other training centers which were being set up, that the German Shepherd had exceptional skills in the field of nose works. During the first decade of the century, dogs from these schools graduated in ever-increasing numbers to operational duties, firstly in the civilian and later in the military police. The fame of these German Shepherds in service, performing so efficiently in persuit of law- enforcement, soon spread to the other countries around the world. Foreign police observers and trainers came to Germany, especially to Grunheide, where they learned in first-hand how the German Shepherd could be trained to track down and apprehend suspects. The noble and alert appearance of the dog inspired confidence and respect; the mere presence of German Shepherd was in itself a deterrent factor recognized by the police in their ceaseless fight against crime in our society.

The guidelines laid down in the standard, when translated into living flesh, were to produce a dog of compact construction i.e. slightly longer than high, not too large, athletic in build, strong and supple, and constructed as to able to trot over long distances without fatigue. But above all, the German Shepherd must possess boundless loyalty, courage and tractability in order to function properly as the good citizen’s friend and protector. In this way, the foundations were laid for the police dog sections on an international scale which are today taken for granted as an integral part of the law-enforcement. 

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