Posts Tagged ‘German shepherds banned in Australia’

Alsatian wolf dog

Australia is a place that has good reason to worry about invasive species. Invasive species have run amok across that continent and have done so even before European colonization.

It always makes me cringe when I hear a German shepherd dog referred to as an “Alsatian” or an “Alsatian wolfdog.”.   Yes, there is debate as to how much wolf is in this breed or if there is any wolf blood in them at all.  The only people who call them by this name live in parts of the former British Empire, which once shed blood by the millions against the German Empire in a truly senseless war.  However, the Germans did create this breed, but the jingoism of the times has led to that Alsatian name becoming fully fixed in some sectors of the English-speaking world.

And this led to a particular problem in Australia. Australia lived by sheep grazing. Anything that got in the way of sheep grazing.  In the early part of the twentieth century, Australia was quite concerned about the importation of the German shepherd into that country under the assumption that it was a high content wolf dog that would go feral and breed with dingoes. Adding that blood to the dingo would make them even more murderous on sheep, and major livestock interests pushed the Australian government into banning the importation of the breed. The state of Western Australia went even further with its Alsatian Dog Act of 1929, which require all dogs of the breed that had already been imported to be sterilized.

Robert Kaleski, Polish-Australian who wrote at length about dogs in that country in his Australian Barkers and Biters, had a definite bias against the breed. He believed the dogs were derived from German zoo wolves that were crossed with dogs. Kaleski’s parents were both from Poland, and they probably possessed a strong anti-German bias that was passed onto their son, which obviously may have tainted his views on them.  In his text, Kaleski was adamant that these dogs were wolfdogs, and they would be dangerous if allowed to mate with dingoes in the Australian bush.

We can debate about how much wolf is in a German shepherd, but one thing we cannot debate is what a German shepherd is primarily.  The German shepherd is a sheepdog, a sheepdog that was later re-fashioned into a military and police dog. But the dogs still possess strong herding instincts, and many are capable of managing stock.

Kaleski was a major chronicle of the Australian herding dog, including what became the kelpie and the Australian cattle dog. His knowledge of the practical uses of dogs was formidable.

But his erudition on dog origins left a lot to be desire. He was certain that dogs and red foxes could hybridize. He even devoted a whole section of his book to such nonsense, including a photo of a supposed dog-fox cross that looks a lot more like a border collie crossed with a terrier than anything else.  He was certain that dingoes and foxes were crossing in the wild in Australia, and that the dingo-fox was going to be a major agricultural threat as well.

Australia has since allowed the German shepherd in, and I’m absolutely certain that German shepherds have bred with dingoes in the wild. Dingoes are not unicorn creatures that maintain blood purity in the wild. They are feral primitive dogs that will cross with less feral and less primitive dogs whenever they meet them. “Pure” dingoes are almost nonexistent. I don’t think we can say that the scare-mongering lived up to reality. Dingoes and dingo-cross dogs do kill sheep, but nature has a way of selecting out those that would approach the German shepherd in size. Larger dogs require more red meat to survive in the wild, so it would be harder for them to thrive in a land mostly devoid of large prey.

And yes, classifying the dingo and how to handle dingo-domestic dog introgression are controversial topics, but even with our more nuanced understanding of taxonomy, it is difficult to see that importing the German shepherd into Australia led to massive pressures on the sheep industry.

Also, notice that the main concern of Kaleski and the various government entities of Australia was agricultural. They were not at all bothered by what such creatures might do to kangaroos or to other native animals. After all, he was writing at a time when settlers of Tasmania were wiping out the thylacine, an animal that was truly unique to the continent. I guarantee you that the idea of possibly setting up a conservation population of wild thylacines on Australia’s mainland would have as much an anathema to these people as the importation of the German shepherd.

Kaleski was living in a society that was running sheep in the British way. Once the Enclosure had cleared the land of most human inhabitants and the last wolves were finally killed off, sheep were left to graze in nearly wild conditions in parts of the British Isles. Some sheep became “hefted” to the land. The migrated over the mountains and moorland, possessing ancestral knowledge of where to go through the grazing year in much the same way wild sheep roam their mountain territories.

Australian sheep grazers did the same thing. It’s just when they did it, they had to deal with dingoes and thylacines.  They massacred the predators and built huge fences to hold them back.

However, if Kaleski had more knowledge of how Germans used sheepdogs, he would not have been as biased against the breed. German sheep grazers grazed on concessions that often lacked fences. The dogs moved the sheep and kept them in these grazing concessions. The sheep were tame, and the dogs used their large size and wolfy physiques to control the stock.

He may not have seen a use for such a dog in Australia, but he could have seen that it was a very useful herding dog in Europe and would not have joined in the fury that led to the German shepherd ban.

That Alsatian wolf-dog name has not served the breed well, and in the case of Australia, it almost led to its very extirpation from that country.



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