Finding The Right German Shepherd, by John Adrain
I don’t profess to be a writer or the authority on German Shepherd dogs. But I can share almost four decades of experience with my German Shepherds. Growing up in Ohio, one of my first experiences with dogs was with Golden Retrievers. They are fantastic loving dogs, and you’re more likely to be struck by lightning than bit by a Golden Retriever. However, if you want a dog to protect your family, they are pretty much worthless. They are more likely to roll over and piddle than protect you. We had a female, which is generally more protective than males, and that was the drill. There are also documented cases of carjackings where the Golden refused to get out of the car and went with the carjacker.
My first experience with German Shepherds was in the mid-1980s. My roommate who was a notorious swordsman in Southern California brought a puppy home one night. Since Ben (an alias) spent every free moment he had helping a woman with floor exercises, he had very little time for his dog Ranger.
The first time it rained, Ranger was whining outside. So, I let him in, to sleep in the hallway. Then during the night, I thought we were having an earthquake. At the time I was sleeping on a twin bed, yes that isn’t a typo twin. Immediately there was a real estate problem on the bed. I looked at him and he looked at me with: “what are you looking at?” He was only about six months old at this time.
From then on, I took him everywhere I could when Ben didn’t have him. He was a devoted and loyal friend. For about the last three years of Ranger’s life, I had him full time. By this time, I was living on the beach in the Ventura, California area. My neighbors would compete to watch him when I traveled. He loved to swim in the ocean every day. I had a waterproof military strobe light that I fastened to a small log for him to retrieve from the ocean at night when I got home. I had an older car just for traveling with him so I could keep my other car hair-free. On the beach, fleas are a problem, so I would bomb that car for fleas once a month.
It is difficult to write about him even this day. At 10 years of age, he developed hip and kidney problems. I had to put him down, which as many know is very difficult. But you don’t want any animal to suffer. I had about 15 sympathy cards from neighbors when they heard the news. He was from an American breeder and I think that partially accounted for his short life. German Shepherds have an average lifespan of 12 years. It would be very difficult to put into words all the wonderful experiences I had with Ranger. The more time you invest with them the better your experience will be. German Shepherds need lots of exercise and don’t like to be left alone. The very rare times I leave my dogs at home, they are always waiting by the door or sitting by the window waiting for me to come home.
My Next, From Slovakia
I did a lot of research before getting my next German Shepherd, named Giff. I found a trainer in Colorado that imported his dogs from Slovakia and the Czech Republic. This time I choose from three different dogs that were all trained. One of them seemed to gravitate towards me and I chose Giff. At the time my wife had a Dachshund named Stanley that had the personality of a commandant in a prison camp. Stanley wasn’t afraid of anything. When I got Giff we were in the process of moving from an apartment on Telegraph Hill San Francisco to a home in Spokane. I brought Giff in the apartment for the first time and seconds later Stanley was hanging from Giff’s neck. It didn’t faze Giff at all. For the next week, both dogs traveled with me back and forth from San Francisco to Spokane. They almost immediately became best friends.
On the second trip to Spokane, I had my 4×4 van parked at a pizza place, while I was eating dinner with a friend that was helping me. I had my Valentine radar detector on the visor with all the windows half down. I always park where I can watch the vehicle when I have animals. Someone decided that they wanted to grab my radar detector. I don’t believe that they even touched the radar detector. Giff wasn’t a barker so the thief had zero warning. He fell backward onto the pavement, and only his dry cleaner knew how frightened he was. At this time, I knew I had a completely different type of companion. I could have left a stack of hundred dollar bills on the dash and no one would have been able to make a withdrawal.
Giff was a great companion for years. The dogs learn very quickly your lifestyle and what’s “normal.” Giff was always on high alert. There is nothing like the devotion and loyalty of a German Shepherd dog. Giff had a following of friends all over the country. He went with me everywhere for 12 years. About the second week, he got anxious because I had to travel overseas. After I got home, we went out for dinner and left Giff at home. I guess he didn’t like it because when we got home there were pieces of our Italian sectional leather sofa all over the house. He chewed it to shreds down to the wood frame. I didn’t discipline him because you must catch them in the act, or they don’t understand. Discipline dogs at the collar — never hit them. You always want them to defend themselves.
Giff never chewed anything again except a bite suit. Giff had bite training and would attack on-command. He was trained in the Slovak language. You don’t need a lot of words to get a dog to do what you want. I took Giff to the 911 Healing Field flag ceremony in Utah when he was 12. The police had a K9 demonstration and after their demonstration, I asked the officer in the bite suit if an old man could give it a whirl. Giff brought the officer down on the first engagement in 1-2 seconds. The officer was in shock and asked again how old he was. These dogs have a relentless pursuit of pleasing and protecting you. There is no question that they would die for you. Their fierce protectiveness sometimes clouds their judgment — as in one incident with a porcupine.
I now have Giff’s son, Ruger, and his mother, Bella. Females are a lot more protective than males. Females also tend to be more affectionate. Males are calmer and more collected. Ruger is a lot like his father (except on steroids.) I prefer having two dogs because they are very effective as a team. With dogs, 1+1 doesn’t equal 2. It equals 10. They also keep each other company and play together. At the very least they are a formidable force. I feel very blessed to have my children and my German Shepherd dogs.
How to get a good dog
I prefer Eastern Bloc German Shepherd dogs because they tend to have fewer health issues. (Notably, dogs from many American breeders are famous for Hip Dysplasia, Elbow Dysplasia, and Cataracts.) An aside: It was illegal to own a German Shepherd dog in Slovakia up until 1999 unless you were military or police.
My advice, in a nutshell:
- Research the breeder/trainer.
- Talk to some of his clients and have them send pictures/videos.
- Go a pick your dog up yourself so you can meet the breeder and the dog.
- Have a breeder/trainer work on advanced techniques on protection with you, your family and your dog.
- It’s always better to have a selection.
- You don’t need papers or AKC to find a great dog.
- It’s possible to find a great German Shepherd at a shelter because people don’t understand the commitment.
- If you can afford it, then get a 2-to-3-year-old that is fully trained.
- You most likely don’t have the skill sets or time to train it.
- If you have a problem with the dog, then it is most likely you. The dog is only as good as the quality time you spend with it.