“Mr. Vaughan, is your German Shepherd dangerous?” That question is usually one of the first two that I hear at every public demonstration that we do. Adults never ask that question. I desperately wish that a parent WOULD ask me that question. It’s almost always a 9 or 10 year old girl, who quickly follows up that question with “Can I pet him?”
My response to that little girl is nearly always the same. “No…My dog is not dangerous to you. Would you like to meet him?”
I will then give Hans his formal (and expected) command. “Hans! Gehen Sie Treffen. Sie ist mein Freund“. (Hans, Go Meet. She is my friend.) My exhaustively well-trained (READ THAT PHRASE AGAIN,PLEASE) two and a half year old German Shepherd enjoys 2 or 3 minutes of scratchies, tummy rubs, and kisses after which, he returns to my side and lays down to loud applause. But this display is one of the things that creates The Most Dangerous German Shepherd in the World. The immediate response from children, (and not a few adults) is, “I want a German Shepherd!” And that response is wonderful, as I don’t want children to fear my German Shepherd. I do then proceed with a lecture on properly meeting a dog, how to treat Service dogs, and how Not to get Bitten.
I usually move on with the program after that, putting the dogs thru a few more behaviors or scent puzzles, or even a couple of cute tricks. (Hans, whats on top of a house? – Woof! Always gets a laugh). Again, I desperately wish that a parent would ask me that question. My answer would be very different, but for good reason. I recently decided to include this warning at every one of our demonstrations, for the good of the breed.
I’ll pre-arrange for an adult to ask me if my German Shepherd is dangerous. My answer will be clear, and without hesitation.
“My German Shepherd has spent his entire life being trained, disciplined, and taught proper behavior with people of all ages and types. We work everyday to maintain that behavior, and it’s difficult work at times. And we still have a lifetime of training ahead of us. As his handler, I make sure that my mind-set is proper everyday, so that he will follow my lead without hesitation. No, my well-trained German Shepherd is not dangerous until I tell him to be dangerous.” (I’m not finished yet…)
“No, the Most Dangerous German Shepherd in the World is the one you saw photo’s of on Facebook, and then the breeders website. You read about the puppies from other owners, how wonderful they are, how much love they give. That dangerous little ball of love has brilliant blue eyes, floppy ears, a warm, pink belly, and is only 6 to 12 weeks old. This dog is roly-poly, luxuriously soft to the touch, and has a prediliction to cuddling into your neck. The smell of new German Shepherd Puppy is as intoxicating as Honeysuckle in the Summer. This is the German Shepherd you are likely to meet at a top-notch breeders kennel. You are going to fall head over heels in love, and you are going to thrill your children when you tell them to pick which one they want. I almost guarantee that the puppy will be wonderful at first. But then life will move back in. Work, school, soccer practice, church, more soccer, shopping, school activities, another Saturday of Travel League hockey…and, oh yeah, the puppy is left behind in a crate. Or in the house alone. Or at an expensive day-care. At some point, that beautiful little ball of blue-eyed fuzz, will become a tawny eyed, sofa-eating, carpet soiling, problem that you will see as an inconvenience at least. Developing into something worse without attention…
It may happen differently. You do integrate the puppy into your life successfully. He rides in the van to soccer games, you even take him to work occasionally at your dog-friendly office. As a puppy, he seems perfect. You just wish that you had more time to train him…he’s started lunging at people or other dogs, barking innappropriately, he runs away from you in the yard, he refuses to walk on his leash. “But Trainers are so expensive, and I can’t find one near my home anyway! Maybe this dog wasn’t a good idea…Maybe it would be better to re-home him. Or maybe the breeder will take him back…”
The word “re-home” , is no doubt, a construct of the 21st century, politically correct, throwaway society that we find ourselves in. We are all about instant gratification, complete satisfaction, and constant convenience. Dogs, especially large, working-type, high-drive dogs, offer all but three of those things left to their own devices. The phrase at once repels me, and then gives me some modicum of hope…In the old days, “Re-home ” would have been defined as “Get Rid of”. A little later, it would have meant, “Undo an error in my judgement”. Today, it means, “This dog doesn’t fit in my life, so it has to go where people will take care of it because I just don’t want the responsibility any longer.” Sometimes, but not always… If a dog can successfully be brought out of that situation and given what it needs, then “Re-Home” becomes something good…But, truth be told, It’s rarely that easy. Dog Rescue centers are packed to, and beyond capacity.
It was not my intention to write a piece that sounds accusatory, belittling, or angry. But it is my goal to help people understand that a German Shepherd is not for everybody. For that matter, a Dog is not for everybody. It behooves everybody to really think it thru before you take that little furball home. The responsibility, the expense, the necessity of time and involvement. Consider too, whether or not you have the mindset of a “Small Dog” owner. Do you want a lap dog that will sit for hours without moving? Think Basset hound. Do you want a dog that rides in your purse and poops pellets? Think Chihuahua. Do you want beauty without needing extreme exercise? Adopt a RETIRED Greyhound that has been sadly cast out because it no longer wins races. Do you want to not have to consider “What do we do with the dog while we… ?(fill in the blank). Get a Chia pet and have someone water it for you.
A German blessed Shepherd is decidedly not for everyone. When trained, given adequate exercise, discipline, effective Training, and yes, affection, the German Shepherd is everything wonderful you may have heard about from Facebook pages, websites, and owners. But a failing of those sites is this: You don’t read about the setbacks in training, the weeks and months of effort and sacrifice that goes into the making of a well-behaved dog. It’s Raining, cold, hard, reality up in here…but it’s for the best.
I am very fortunate to be friends with one of the finest breeders of German Shepherds in the known universe. She has taken back puppies from purchasers, and it breaks her heart. These are well-intentioned people, and she has an ability to read those who come to her looking for a German Shepherd puppy. Like the rest of us mortals, she’s not always right and she is saddened by the times when a puppy of hers is returned for “behavior issues”, that probably are caused by a lack of commitment, or good judgement. (Health issues are a very different matter. She stands by the health of her dogs). Those of us that work with dogs are saddened to see them cut off from their inherent abilities because the owner has no time for that kind of thing.
If this message prevents only One dog and One family from having this heart-breaking situation, I will consider it a rousing success. If some think the message harsh and unbending…Well, I can offer no apology for facts or forthright opinion.
If you and your family have made all the considerations, wieghed the responsibilities, and counted the costs, and still want a German Shepherd, you are in for a wonderful gift!! There is no finer companion or four-legged partner that can be found! If you determine that you just cannot take on the responsibility right now, try visiting an animal shelter near you, and play with the available dogs for a few moments!! That will fulfill something for both of you!