Long before Rin Tin Tin came on the scene, German Shepherds were prized for their bravery and heroism. In fact, their use in the military has helped save thousands of lives.
Captain Max Emil Frederick von Stephanitz, a man who played a key role in the creation of the breed, first promoted the German Shepherd as a police and military dog. At first, the military wasn't very receptive to this idea. However, once von Stephanitz proved how skilled the breed was at helping the police apprehend criminals, they adopted a few. The dogs were so successful in their missions, they were chosen to accompany German troops into World War I combat as messengers, sentries, and guards.
On the front lines in World War II
Shortly after WWI, stories of the German Shepherd's bravery spread throughout Europe and North America. Because of that reputation, they were recruited by the U.S. military during WWII, and trained for sentry, scout, messenger, and mine detection duty as part of the "Dogs For Defense" program. As the war ended, the military worked hard to return the dogs to the United States and reunite them with their civilian owners to live out the rest of their lives.
Saving lives in Vietnam
At the beginning of the Vietnam War, dogs served as sentries to guard U.S. and South Vietnamese installations. As the war escalated, American soldiers came to rely upon German Shepherds to combat the guerilla warfare fought by the Viet Cong. The dogs were trained to protect their troops and handlers by detecting enemy personnel, booby traps, mines, tunnels, and weapon caches. Records indicate that at least 4,000 dogs served in the Vietnam War, and were responsible for saving at least 10,000 Americans from death or injury.
Special Operations in the Middle East
More recently, German Shepherds have been used in Afghanistan, where they've been taught to jump from aircraft at 25,000 feet while strapped to members of special forces assault teams. With tiny cameras fixed to their heads, the dogs are sent in before their human partners to hunt for Taliban or insurgent hideouts. The cameras beam live images back to the troops as the dogs penetrate behind enemy lines and warn of ambushes.
As any German Shepherd lover will tell you, of all the valuable jobs this breed has excelled at throughout history, arguably its most important one is that of devoted family pet.