When Max von Stephanitz combined several herding breeds in the late 1800s to develop the German Shepherd, he envisioned a loyal, highly trainable dog "of incorruptible character and great working ability." He wanted his new breed to "Do right and fear no one."
His vision was realized with a dog that was also strong, obedient, protective, and extremely intelligent. In fact, German Shepherds are so trainable and intelligent that they are employed by more police forces and military units around the world than any other breed.
Three traits of a perfect service dog
In some countries, only German Shepherds are allowed to serve as police dogs because they possess traits that make them best for the job.
- Strength: They are big, powerful dogs with plenty of stamina. This is important when German Shepherds are searching fields or forests for hours looking for missing people or chasing down dangerous suspects on the run.
- Intelligence: German Shepherds are alert dogs. They know how to recognize danger and react to orders. There have even been fascinating K-9 stories of German Shepherds allegedly using human-like reasoning and judgment in emergency situations.
- Trainability: They are easily trained and, once trained, will follow precise commands. This is vital in dealing with crime suspects. Police dogs must be able to detain individuals without severely harming them. They also must be able to follow their handler's directions and stay focused even when a situation becomes chaotic, loud (e.g. gunshots or screaming), or when lethal weapons are present.
The K-9 Corps in action
Police dogs are trained to help law enforcement officials with specific tasks. In general, they perform these three distinct duties.
- Public order enforcement: This specialized duty includes catching and holding criminals who are trying to flee the scene of a crime. Highly trained K-9 dogs are able to detain individuals without severely harming them.
- Search and rescue: Also called tracking work, dogs in this unit use their sensitive noses to locate suspects and find missing persons or objects (like discarded evidence or weapons). Some specially trained cadaver dogs can detect buried and decomposing bodies, and even locate bodies lying under water.
- Illicit substance detection: Tracking down drugs, bombs, and other explosive material is extremely dangerous work performed courageously by German Shepherds.
K-9 police handlers consider their German Shepherd service dogs to be true partners. In fact, in many jurisdictions killing or injuring a K-9 companion is considered a felony, and a police dog killed while on duty often receives a full police burial.