Although many breeds excel as working dogs, there is none more iconic than the German Shepherd. This is especially true when it comes to police work where GSDs have long been preferred not merely for their imposing size and stature but for providing a complete package, which includes a high level of intelligence and the perfect temperament.
This article will discuss why German Shepherds are used as police dogs historically and today.
History of German Shepherds in Law Enforcement
The history of the German Shepherd line began during the 1890s in Germany.
Their beginnings as a herding dog turned into worldwide fame and favor because they were prized for their ability to get the job done with practically no training at all. These dogs were naturally proficient in sheepherding and only needed slight direction to complete their tasks.
From there, breeders cultivated specific traits that further developed the GSD’s instincts, intelligence, obedience, and drive.
In 1901, the German Shepherd Association, known as the Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde (SV), developed the Schutzhund trials as a means to assess and control the German Shepherd breeding stock.
They wanted to make sure that only sires and dams that pass the Schutzhund’s strict standards were allowed to breed. By doing so, they safeguarded not only the pedigree but also the attributes that made these dogs superior.
German Shepherds were used widely as military dogs during the two World Wars. Their service to the military led to a number of different working applications, including as police dogs.
Today, they are considered the best choice for most types of police work because of all the careful selection and breeding done by the breed’s enthusiasts over the past century.
What Makes German Shepherds Good Police Dogs?
The rigors of k9 training and service require a robust body and the ideal temperament. There are many reasons why German Shepherds are used as police dogs, but they excel in this field mainly because of the following attributes:
1) Size and Athleticism
Undeniably, some breeds are larger than the GSD, while others are better athletes. But, the combination of the two attributes in the German Shepherd is perfect for police work.
For example, Whippets can run at much faster speeds and have higher endurance than GSDs. But, their bodies are too narrow for the physical requirements of K9s.
Even Great Danes are much larger than GSDs but don’t have the stamina for police work. German Shepherds happen to have a good mix of both size and athleticism.
The German Shepherd’s temperament is a good mix of behaviors and attitudes that are valued in police work. Possibly their biggest asset is their confidence.
When trained properly, GSDs can stand their ground no matter the situation unfolding in front of them. They remain alert and ready to respond, only when commanded and only how they’re taught to.
Additionally, well-trained German Shepherds tend to be approachable and even-tempered. They don’t show aggression unnecessarily or when unprovoked. They don’t make any trouble but are capable of facing them if needed.
German Shepherds are undeniably one of the most intelligent breeds in the world. But what really makes them ideal for training is their eagerness to please their handlers.
They have a natural drive for work and thrive when they are stimulated, both physically and mentally. Partnered with a well-trained handler, GSDs are quick to learn new things and perform consistently in any environment.
What Type of Police Work do German Shepherds Excel at?
K9s are typically trained first in obedience and protection before being subjected to more specialized training. German Shepherds tend to excel in three police specialties:
1) Attack & Apprehension
Attack dogs go beyond regular protection work. They are trained to attack either on command or if provoked.
The German Shepherd’s attributes are useful here because they learn how to assess a situation and correctly determine when an attack is necessary, even without the presence of their handler. They should also be able to stop as soon as their handler tells them to.
For apprehension, dogs are tasked to neutralize dangerous suspects by biting down until the suspect is restrained or no longer a threat. This type of work comes naturally to German Shepherds thanks to their herding heritage, physical strength, and intelligence.
2) Search & Rescue
Search & Rescue dogs are trained to find missing persons in various environments. They are most useful in mass casualties (plane crash, building collapse, etc.) and natural disasters (earthquakes, landslides, etc.).
However, they are also trained to track missing persons in all sorts of other situations. GSDs excel in this area of police work because they’re able to focus on their tasks with little thought to the environment they’re in.
3) Sniffing & Detection
Sniffing & Detection are those that help police find illegal items like drugs and explosives. Some are even able to sniff out money, which is useful for tracking illicit trade.
Cadaver dogs, which are trained to seek out bodies of the dead, also fall within this category. German Shepherds excel here, most notably because of their remarkable scenting abilities.
It is crucial to note that the criteria for dog selection in this line of work are stringent. Not all GSDs are made for police work, and the selection process starts early at around six weeks old.
Once selected, rigorous training begins. While not all German Shepherds are cut out for being a K9, the breed as a whole excels in this field.
The German Shepherd’s even temperament, as well as its high level of trainability, make it a perfect choice for police work. But, it is these same attributes that make them excel at almost anything they can be trained for, even being family companions.
Their success as a breed undoubtedly stems from their adaptability and willingness to serve at any capacity a circumstance demand, whether that be a protector, aggressor, assistant, or friend.