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The German shepherd staple is the ball on the rope.

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sagan all serious

Sagan being all serious in a sit-stay.

A lot of controversies exist about German shepherds. Opinions about them are often fixed and diametrically opposed to each other. I used to be of the camp that the dog had seen its better days.

Since I’ve gotten into the breed, I’ve discovered there are lots of good ones being bred, but the community is so divided about what a “good one” is.

When a breed has as many applications as this one, it’s going to diverge a bit in its talents, and the strains are going to vary. I’d argue there are 6.5 different strains of German shepherd, and if you like the traits of one strain, you might not like the types of another

6.5 strains are:

  1. West German working line
  2. West German showline
  3. East German working line
  4. Czech/Slovak working lines (from the former Czechoslovakia), which are usually just called Czech lines. However, a lot of these also come from Slovakia, and let’s not erase the Slovak people and their dogs from our discussion.
  5. American showline
  6. 5 Pet lines, including white, blue, and liver color-bred lines, which I think of as a subset of pet lines but are kind of a line of their own.

The first one of these I ever had was a Czech monster that could never be trusted around other dogs. For me, that’s the deal-breaker. You want to fight other dogs for no good reason, you get your walking papers. I don’t have time for a dog that does that. I live in a house with whippets, which are thin-skinned, short-haired, and have almost no body fat.  A German shepherd can put some nice holes in one of those, and not only that, we use whippets to condition our dogs.  The whippet gets a toy, and the German shepherds try to herd the whippet. If you use your teeth on a whippet, the whippet has permission to correct you, and the German shepherd that I want won’t use that correction as an excuse to off the long-legged speedster.

So this means that most of the bite-sport and protection lines of this dog I simply have no time for. Dog aggression in some of these lines are a feature and not a bug. For those of you who remember Anka, that’s why she left.

All the other dogs I have are American showlines or American showlines crossed with West German showlines, except for Sagan, who is a 100 percent SV conformation dog.

Sagan’s sire can do the full IPO 3 routine:

I like this type of West German showline.  It’s like you’ve taken the things I like about working lines and American show lines and sort of combined them. Sagan is as focused as the best West German working lines, but he’s got a nice off switch.

We are going to breed these dogs, and we’re doing what our mentors have been doing.  We are going to breed American showlines to West German showlines.  The really stable German dogs complement the temperaments of the really stable American ones. Our goals are not to breed dogs that necessarily have that “speed skater” body that does well at specialties. Our goals are to produce dogs with good bone, good minds, beautiful coats, and superb temperaments.

I like the movement on well-gaited and balanced American show lines. I like it more than the West German gait, which isn’t as ostentatious.  The American gait can lead to a hypertype, which is often called a “hockwalker,” and you can produce them if you breed for too much hypertype. The German dogs help correct this tendency, while also giving you good bone and coat and improving the tan pigment, which is really red in those lines. It is also a bit easier to avoid DM with the West German lines than American showlines, because the American lines I like are full of DM, but conscientious breeders are using dogs like Sagan to breed away from it.

Last night, I watched a video from Butch Cappel’s dog training channel on Youtube.  Cappel is breeding a working German shepherd that has no undercoat called the Western shepherd, which fits in better with the hot climate of Texas. I really enjoy his insights in dog training and the breed.

His main focus is on producing not a bite sport dog but a true protection dog that can be used to guard properties and personnel.  He and I have entirely different goats for a German shepherd, and that’s okay.  It’s a free country, and it’s a breed with lots of applications.

In this video, he has a discussion with a gentleman who has been breeding working line dogs, and I don’t know what it is, but every working line person wants to crap on American dogs. He also says that show people only care about the conformation of the dog, which is not at all been my experience with the show dogs in the breed. Yes, there is a lot of money in showing these dogs, but everyone wants to produce a dog that is a sound mover with a sound temperament. It’s just not that easy.

What he says about the sloping back causing hip dysplasia is wrong.  What causes hip dysplasia is the formation of the hip joint, not the turn of stifle, which produces the rear angulation that causes the back to slope. A well-bred and balanced American show dog has a lot of power in its read. Quest can jump way over my head from a sitting position. He has the rear angulation, and his hips have been OFA prelimmed as good. 

He also seems to have missed that a lot of East German dogs, at least when they were first brought over here, were hip dysplasia city. They bred these dogs to be really large and intimidating, but they weren’t paying attention to how the joints were forming.

Further, my dogs fit my criteria for temperament. Quest has a good, solid temperament. You can turn him out with other males. If you tell him to leave a bitch season alone, he won’t even look at her.

However, if he feels that we’re in danger, he does have the protective side.  A few weeks ago, I was walking him on-leash in the neighborhood, and a Labrador with a bad attitude started staring me down from her lawn. I have known this dog for years. She has a screw loose, but she’s a wuss.

Quest didn’t do a damned thing but stare back at her. When she approached with aggressive intent, Quest roared, broke his heel position, and got between me and the Labrador. I was honestly not expecting that. The Labrador wasn’t expecting it either, and he went back to her house.

If some criminal wanted to do something to one of us, I’m sure he’d do much the same thing, and honestly, that’s all I need for deterrent.

If you need a dog for actual protection work, don’t get an American dog. I won’t argue with you on that. If want a family dog and a stock dog, they are pretty good at both, though. They are not harder to train than the working lines, though they can be a little harder to housebreak.  An American dog often isn’t fully housebroken until its 8 or 9 months old, but the other lines tend to get it way faster.

However, there are working line dogs and there are “working line” dogs. Because there is so much hysteria about “sloping backs” over here, there is a bit of a marketing con going on in the US. People will buy working lines because they are true to Stephanitz’s vision and are straight-backed, and there are plenty of unscrupulous people breeding them, often with no testing for ability or health.

And that’s where you get your dogs with nightmare temperaments.  Not all of these dogs are super aggressive, but a lot of them have to be almost abused to have any kind of impulse control. They can’t stop screaming when they are excited, and the level of dog aggression they have rival that of an Akita or pit bull.

Yes, there are dog aggressive showlines, and I know of lots of working line GSD that are good with other dogs.  But the showlines are easier to teach impulse control.

Plus, I’ll be dead honest with you. I don’t care about protection sports or breeding police, military, or protection sports. I might consider doing some lower level stuff, but it’s not that interesting to me.

I am more interested in stockdog stuff and AKC obedience. So wouldn’t I be better off with a border collie?

No. I tried those, and I cannot form a good working relationship with one.  They are smart, but they way more into their work than they are into you. A German shepherd says, “What can I do for you today, beloved master?” A border collie says “Let me work, bald monkey! Can’t stop working! Can’t stop working! Don’t make me quit!”

I am also interested in producing a dog that fits into modern society and can be a great pet with the kids. The dog snobs of the world don’t much like this concept, which is why in some dog circles, you’re not a real dog person until you get your first KNPV Malinois.

I think there is a place for a German shepherd as an active pet. It’s one you can do things with. It will like your kids. It will roar bark when someone come sneaking around your property. It will play with your other dogs.

If you want a dog that is good for personal defense or want to do bite sports, absolutely get the dog that fits your needs. But make sure you get it from someone who knows what they are doing and not someone who is selling you dark sables with level backs.

And the same goes for any of these lines. Don’t get any showline dog unless you see the health testing on the parents or have an idea of what their temperaments are like. A lot of these American dogs are really afraid of things, and it’s one reason to do the outcross to the German showlines.  I’d rather not breed to a dog that is afraid of its own shadow, just because it’s a showline.

Anya, Quest’s late breeder and our dearest friend in the breed, once said, “Good dogs exist in all lines of this breed.”

I think we need to have this attitude rather than this attitude that give you permission to crap on other strains because they aren’t what you are looking for. I am impressed by really well-trained protection and bite sport dogs. I am also impressed by dogs that can do the full tending HGH test with a massive flock of sheep. And I am also impressed by the American dog that seems to float as it trots around the ring.

People need to relax a bit. Drop your insecurities. These dogs are awesome because they can bred and trained to fit what you need.

I don’t feel threatened by the existence of working line GSD. I don’t know why they feel so threatened by the existence of the show dogs. Indeed, much of our misunderstandings come from not asking and not listening, and it seems that so much of the subcultures around this breed is about not wanting to know anything about what the other people do or why they do it.

I suppose I liked eventually learning that the show dogs were not crippled freaks, and I have since come to embrace them.

It means that I had to eat a lot of crow.

It tastes better than you think.

***

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Brehm bulldog

Bulldogs of various types have been all the rage. In my immediate area, the most common dog for people to own is some sort of pit bull or American Staffordshire sort of dog, and it well-known that various offshoots of this basic type, called “bullies” are selling at very high prices. The French bulldog is currently the most registered dog in the United Kingdom’s Kennel Club, and the breed is wildly popular in the US as well.  The Sourmug bulldog, which is known as English bulldog or the bulldog, is also quite popular. Boxers, which are type of German bulldog, are also pretty common.

These dogs are popular as pets, but their origins are not well-understood.  Most people understand that bulldogs were used to fight bulls, but the origin of these dogs goes much deeper than late Medieval and early Modern British history.

The beginnings of the bulldog start with big game hunting.  Europe at the time of the Romans was far less densely populated than it is now. Lions roamed the Balkans and Greece.  Moose were found well into Central Europe, and brown bears were common throughout the continent.  Massive wild cattle called aurochs roamed freely, as did herds of European bison. Red deer were far more widespread than they are now.

Europeans used various sorts of dogs for hunting game. Dogs of the laika or elkhound were the aboriginal European hunting dog by the time of the Mesolithic, but the breeds began to diversify over time. Sighthounds became quite prized in much of Europe during the time of the Roman Empire, but it was the arrival of some dogs from the East that would revolutionize big game hunting.

The Alani or Alans were a Scythian people who wandered a vast region from Central Asia. They were skilled horsemen and hunters. They knew animal husbandry quite well, and they produced excellent horses and working dogs.

By the 1st Century AD, they were a major force in the Caspian Sea region. By the 2nd Century, they were in the Caucasus and were raiding the eastern parts of the Roman Empire. They also developed a complex relationship the Huns, a similar westward expanding nomadic pastoralist people from Central Asia.  In the 4th century, their relationship with Huns collapsed, and vast numbers of Alani migrated deep into the Roman Empire. Large numbers settled in Gaul, and with them, they brought their dogs.

The dogs they broad were relatively long-headed and powerful and very adept at gripping and holding dangerous game. The closest thing to these dogs that exists today that I can imagine is something like a Dogo Argentino, though some were more robust and more mastiff-like.  Some of these dogs might have been livestock guardians, while others were big game hunting catch dogs.

In the 5th century,  the Alani in Europe joined forces with a Germanic tribe called the Vandals, and the two peoples raided all over Europe. The Alani left behind some of their dogs, which were crossed with sighthounds, scenthounds, and perhaps livestock guardian dogs. The dogs became famous for their abilities in hunting boars and bears and for gripping aurochs and bison.

Over time, various regional European dogs with this Alaunt dog blood began to develop.  One of these was the Alaunt boucherie, which the English called the Alaunt butchers. It was this dog that became known for controlling half wild and fully feral cattle at butcher shops, and the skills with which these dogs worked the cattle eventually evolved into the wagering games of bull-baiting.

By the Medieval Period, the aurochs and bison had become rare, as had the brown bear.  In England, the boar was extirpated through much of the countryside, and the only real use for these dogs was in butcher shop working and holding recalcitrant cattle and swine.

It is here that we reach the beginning of what we call bulldogs. On the continent, the dogs were still used to hunt big game, while in England, they were used for a very particular purpose that had little to do with hunting. In some ways, the Alaunt dog working and holding the cattle must have reminded them of the days when the English hunted big game with these dogs.  This simple work then evolved into the spectacle of bullbaiting, which was almost certainly a re-enactment of the ancient aurochs hunt.

The Alaunt dog is probably not only the root-stock for the bulldogs. It is also a much more likely source for the mastiff breeds, and here, I’m sure that I’m going to sound quite controversial.

The classical history of the mastiff breeds is they derive from the dogs of the Molossians. This idea can be traced to Linnaeus, who classified the mastiff of England with the dog of the Molossian people.  Linnaeus was not a dog expert or historian by any means, but his classification became the accepted truth of the origins of mastiffs for centuries. Indeed, this idea is so pervasive, that the term “Molosser” is used to describe virtually every broad-headed mastiff-ish dog.

I do not use this term for two reasons. One is that it is based upon bad scholarship.  Col. David Hancock recounts that the Babylonians were hunting with large broad-mouthed dogs, as did the Persians. The Alani were of a people who spoke an Iranian language and were related to the Persians, which may have been where they obtained at least some of their dogs. Hancock contends that the Molossians had two dogs, a livestock guardian and a large boarhound. Hancock conjectures that this boarhound is the ancestor of the Great Dane, but most sources believe that the Great Dane came about through crossing mastiffs with the original Irish wolfhound. However, it is very possible that this sort of dog is the ancestor of the original large wolfhound that spread through Europe and may have indirectly led to the Great Dane. The livestock guardian of the Molossians did become celebrated in Roman times, but it seems that this breed is the ancestor of something more like the Maremma and other livestock guardians.

The second is that we have good DNA studies on dog breed phylogeny now. Bulldogs and European catch mastiff share a common ancestor, which means they form a clade.  The most recent one also disagrees with Hancock, placing the Great Dane as early offshoot of the bulldogs and catch mastiffs that is a sister breed with the Rhodesian ridgeback. So the Great Dane is also descended from the Alaunt dog, if we assume that the Alaunt dog is the ancestor of this bulldog and mastiff clade.

Further, all the various broad-headed dogs that are called “Molossers” are not related to each other. The Newfoundland dog is much more closely related to Labrador, golden, and flat-coated retrievers than to any catch mastiff or bulldog, and the Great Pyr, Kuvasz, and Komondor fit into another clade. The Great Pyr is not the sister breed to the Komondor and Kuvasz. Indeed, these dogs fit into a clade that includes the Pharaoh hound, the Afghan hound, and the saluki.

So if historical scholarship and genetics are pointing in the same direction, then the bulldogs and catch mastiffs derive from the dogs of the Alani.

I know that such an assumption needs more verification, but it seems pretty likely. All of these dogs clearly do derive from a common ancestor. Perhaps we will have better DNA studies soon that also include a molecular clock and samples from ancient and Medieval dogs that are of the mastiff or bulldog type, and this question can be fully answered.

However, for the purposes of this series, I will point to the Alaunt dog as the ancestor, and the dichotomy between the butcher dogs of England and catch dogs of the continent as the focal point for the next part of this series.

So this piece may not have reached the true bulldog yet, but we are almost there.

 

 

***

It has been a long time since I have writing a comprehensive breed history series, but I have decided that it is time for me to return to some subject matter that generated lot of readership and discussion in the past. This first part will be released free and published here on the blog, but Part 2 will be released as part of my Premium Membership program. Starting in August 2020, members will receive two exclusive blog posts that will not appear on the main page for at least six months. To get these exclusive blog posts, subscribe to the Premium Membership plan. It costs only $2 a month, and it helps produce quality content on this blog. All your information will be held in confidence through Stripe

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I just discovered this song, a meditation in the cranberry bogs of Pocahontas County, West Virginia.

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sagan soulful

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This is the most amazing dog I’ve ever worked with.

sagan down stayHe’s seven months old and already takes direction like an adult.

I’d like him to live to be 25. Is that possible?

 

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good boy

The May sun really brings out that German red coloration. He’s not as dark red as some of them are.

He has the perfect German shepherd temperament. Trainable, smart, very affectionate, and very stable.

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Made of Star Stuff

sagan made of star stuff

My birthday present this year is something wonderful.  A friend of mine from graduate school alerted me to a well-bred West German showline German shepherd that was available in Southern West Virginia.

We were looking for another male to add to our breeding program, and although I am fully aware of how closely related all German shepherds are to each other, we needed another line that was health-tested to mix into ours.

We have named him Sagan, WRF Made of Star Stuff for Darqueside, and his sire is Ajaks od Slankamena, a top winner in Serbia.

His mother was bred in Serbia and then imported while pregnant to West Virginia.  He was well-socialized and trained in West Virginia, because his owners, who run a boarding and training business, were going to keep him as one of their personal dogs.

Sagan stacked

He was initially named “Edward,” but I always wanted to give a German shepherd a science nerd name.  And since it was my turn to name the dog, this one became Sagan.

I have had him a few weeks, and I have to say this is the best dog I’ve ever had. He is biddable and smart. He is gentle and kind.  He loves kids.  He loves me. I know that he will eventually mature into something more serious and loyal, but right now he is the happy, goofy puppy who fears nothing.

The way he looks at me is the way a smart dog looks at person. He has become my office dog, and he lies by the door while I’m teaching my remote students. He knows that if I rise, the next thing will be a walk or a chance to play with the jolly ball.

He knows no evil. He knows only the joy of his lion paws tearing through the green grass.

I have never had one of this type before.  He is a sound moving dog, though not as flashy as our American dogs, but he possesses a profoundly good temperament. He is very similar to Quest, our 100 percent American male.

He is the best birthday present I have received in a long time, and he’s a very special dog.

I am absolutely certain that this is the breed of dog I was always supposed to have. I know there are lots of crappy German shepherds out there, but a good one is an awesome dog to have.

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