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Old 05-14-2011, 03:54 AM
desertdog desertdog is offline
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Default Questions about German Shepherds

Hi. I've been mostly a lurker on these forums, but seeing how breed savvy you guys are I decided to post some questions.

After playing around in dog sports with my own dogs just for fun, I'm ready to start looking for a dog I can be competitive with. I love dogs who are toy driven and energetic, and I have experience with herding and working breeds.

Agility is my main focus right now, but I've fallen in love with Schutzhund and would love to have a dog that could be sucessful in both -- so naturally I've been looking into German Shepherds. What I've heard/experienced about GSDs haven't been flattering: they're too slow and bulky to do well in agility, they overheat easily, they're not as handler orientated/affectionate as some of the softer breeds, etc.. However, some of the workingline GSDs I've seen on breeder websites and Youtube have impressed me and I'd like to get opinions from people who are experienced with them.

So, my questions are: can GSDs be competitive in agility? How well do they handle cold/heat? Are their owners the center of their world, are they independant, or somewhere inbetween? Most of the German Shepherds I have experience with are either BYB or show bred, and probably wouldn't even compare to well-bred dogs who are from Schutzhund lines.

Also, what breeders do you guys like/reccomend?

Thanks you!
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Old 05-14-2011, 05:05 AM
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Equinox Equinox is offline
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Originally Posted by desertdog View Post
So, my questions are: can GSDs be competitive in agility?
Absolutely! There are many German Shepherds excelling in competitive agility, some with their MACH title. While the breed is meant to be a medium sized breed (with some females weighing in around 50-60 lbs), my 85 lb GSD is still a quick and agile dog.

This dog has her MACH, MX, MXJ, XF, CGC,TC
Pedigree: 5 generation pedigree for Beretta vom Wildhaus

From the same breeder, Bria NA NAJ

Her littermate is also training in competitive agility and also owned by the first dog's owner/handler.

Their pedigree (Andy Maly Vah daughters): 5 generation pedigree for Gilliath vom Wildhaus

Another breeder with agility titled dogs



And another, her dog's agility career page

Mira's Agility Page

Originally Posted by desertdog View Post
How well do they handle cold/heat?
My German Shepherd does great in cold weather, but excessive heat does affect him. He is a mostly black (blanket back black/tan) dog with a double coat, as all GSDs have. My dog can still go for several miles in high temperatures, but at a slower pace. However, we do live in the Pacific Northwest, where it is cold and rainy 90% of the time, anything over 80 F is a heat wave!

On the other hand, my dog's breeder also trains his dogs in Nevada regularly, at his Schutzhund club, and the heat is not an issue. I also know that there are several well known breeders and kennels in hot and/or humid regions such as certain parts of Texas, California, Florida, etc. and their dogs handle the heat well, even while they are working/training.

Originally Posted by desertdog View Post
Are their owners the center of their world, are they independant, or somewhere inbetween?
In my experience, it depends on the dog and your definition of "independent" and someone being the center of a dog's world. For example, I have always described my GSD to have an "independent streak for the breed", in that he will wander away from me on occasion, rather than to stick to my side constantly. But he will always ensure that I am within sight and comes back quickly when called. He does not literally stick to me like velcro, but he is adamant about keeping an ear and eye out for me at all times, though satisfied to be watching me from a distance.

Am I the center of his world? I am the most important to him, but I know he does not worship the ground I walk on. He does not fawn on people, not even me. If by affection you mean a dog that will always snuggle up against you and lick your hand with proclamations of "I love you! I love you! Oh, how I love you!", that's not my dog. He does snuggle and wedge his head in my arms daily, but most of the time, it is conveyed in a more low-key subtleties.

Overall, he is a fairly handler oriented dog, though I have found the average GSD to be more so than he is. He is willing to please and easy to work with, but he cannot be pushed around by anyone unfairly. He does have a hard temperament when it comes to corrections (not that they are delivered to excess), and I have never known him to shut down, but he IS "slow" in that he is a thinking dog.

Originally Posted by desertdog View Post
Also, what breeders do you guys like/reccomend?
May I know where you are generally located? Considering that you mentioned your experience has been limited to poorly bred German Shepherds, and show bred German Shepherds, it would be best to meet the breeders and their dogs in person. You also said that you fell in love with Schutzhund - are you associated with a club or group currently? If not, that would be a good place to start. Find local Schutzhund clubs to visit, speak to people, meet the dogs, get a feel for what you want and what type of a dog and breeding you are looking for.
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Old 05-14-2011, 08:12 AM
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Laurelin Laurelin is offline
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I've seen GSDs trial quite a bit in agility and I've trained with them. I bet they could be competitive in it, but every agility GSD I've seen strikes me as VERY slow in general on a course. We have 3 in our class right now and they are very serious workers but there are issues that come with running a dog that big and there are reasons most top agility breeds are on the smaller end of the spectrum. In particular I've noticed them have issues with the dog walk and those type of obstacles. I've also noticed the breed in general just isn't as zippy (for lack of a better word) as the typical agility type breeds.

The highest jump class is dominated by some REALLY fast breeds too. If I were to look for an agility GSD though, I'd get a small working line bitch.

Mals and other belgians are in my opinion a lot more suited to agility. If I wanted a shcutzhund/agility dog I'd get a belgian.

But really it depends on what you want to do in agility. Are you looking to just have fun or are you wanting a dog that can go very far in the sport? For most people I suggest getting the breed you WANT versus one that does agility well. The dog will be a pet 99% of the time. If it's just a fun sport to you then I would go with a GSD if that's what you want. There are certainly GSDs trialing a lot (at least around here).

Now this GSD is impressive! YouTube - 2 yr old German Shepherd, "Tang" doing agility

Hank CA - (approx. 1 1/2 year old Spotty Dog)
Mia CGC - (6 1/2 year old Papillon)
Summer TG3 TIAD - (11 year old Papillon)

Last edited by Laurelin; 05-14-2011 at 08:39 AM.
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Old 05-14-2011, 01:05 PM
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Aleron Aleron is offline
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This is a topic of great interest to me, I suspect this post will end up being an essay on GSDs...

This was my GSD Jora running agility at 9 years old. She often was among the fastest dogs running in her, if not the fastest.
YouTube - Agility with Jora

Jora's mother was as driven and fast as she was. They were from predominantly German Showlines but Jora's mother's sire was a dog who was well liked by working people as well. Jora did everything fast and with tons of enthusiasm - agility, obedience, scentwork, tricks, playing. In my mind, she had a near perfect temperament for a GSD. With someone else, I have no doubt she could have been a top agility dog. She was limited only by the the fact that I got her when I was 17 and she was my first high drive dog.

All that said, GSDs often don't make a good showing in agility. Most I have seen over many years of involvement were fairly slow, even the ones who were highly titled in it. This could be blamed on many physical factors such as common traits or faults in the breed - heavy bone, oversize, long body, excessive rear angulation/length of rear leg bones, roach back, east/west front. While these may cause some individual difficulties with individual dogs (such as excessive angulation affecting jumping skills), it doesn't really explain the overall reason GSDs are slow. Jora was rather east/west in the front and a bit roachy, however she was compact and not oversized. I trained my oversized, over angulated American line male Doogie in agility too. While I doubt he would have gotten the speed Jora did, he was not at all slow and was very into it. My American line female Lexi who's structure and size couldn't be faulted other than being slightly long (she had the best general structure of the three GSDs I owned) was not very fast because she wasn't into it.

The biggest issues I see with GSDs in agility are issues of drive. Most GSDs I see in agility are not working in drive, they are simply following their owner's cues. This lack of drive could be due to the training, due to the dog's temperament or a combination of both. Most GSDs are pet bred and components of working temperament in them can vary quite a bit but usually pet bred GSDs are not high drive dogs. The same can be said for American show line GSDs because the focus with them is not selecting for working temperament. You can get American line GSDs with good drive but you can also get them with almost no drive and it isn't uncommon for there to be that vast of a difference within a litter. German showlines tend to fair a bit better because under the German system, even show dogs must get SchH titles. So you definitely tend to see drive mroe consistently in those lines. Working line GSDs tend to be the best bet for competitive SchH and sport dogs. I think part of why you don't see many GSDs excelling in agility is because you don't tend to see many working line GSDs in agility. Most people who have working line GSDs are involved in protection sports or actual work. Even though Jora was a German Showline, if I were to get another GSD it would be working lines because I feel I can more easily get the sort of temperament I like with them. And it would most likely be from this breeder because I have been consistently impressed with her dogs from her foundation bitch on:!/pages/Vo...s/296969018132

The training is another issue though that can't be overlooked. Good GSDs are above all else, extremely devoted to their owner and very biddable. I think even some drivey GSDs are often accidentally trained to work slowly because of how many people teach and practice agility. I started Jora in agility at 8 weeks old and from day one, trained her that speed was what this game was about. I didn't practice anything slow and didn't make her go back and repeat, repeat, repeat things until I got them right. I had her work for food and toys but it didn't take long before she wanted to work for the sake of working - agility was so much fun! Doogie didn't start until he was over 8 months and his training was sporadic because of pano but I usually had him work for toys and always encouraged speed. I will say most GSDs are easier to discourage from going fast than most BCs or some Mals. It has to do with what makes GSDs unique though

As for the rest of your questions, GSDs are extremely devoted dogs but most aren't overly "lovey". They greet their people enthusiastically, almost puppy like when they've been gone (even for a few minutes). They don't tend to be a cuddle on the couch sort of dog. More of a watch you from across the room and follow you around the house sort of dog. They tend to want to stick close to home when given a chance to run away and to keep their owners when walking in fields or woods. The softness/hardness/handler orientation thing depends on lines and individuals. Certainly something to ask breeders how the parents are in that sense. IMO GSDs are way more handler oriented than many breeds. BCs IME don't tend to be handler oriented as much as work oriented. Many will work equally well for anyone. For GSDs, working in very much relationship based. My Jora and Doogie were both fairly handler sensitive and very oriented towards me but not soft dogs at all. Lexi is very independent, not terribly handler oriented and not handler sensitive but I wouldn't call her a hard dog either. I always thought of her temperament as sort of Husky-like. GSDs are more serious and thoughtful than Belgians - Belgians can tend to get frustrated which gets in their way of thinking but that isn't so much of a problem for GSDs. The breed is really super smart and excellent problem solvers. Our whole kitchen is childproofed because of the GSDs figuring out how to open cupboard, pull out drawers and work the doorknob on the pantry.
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Old 05-14-2011, 03:38 PM
Xeph Xeph is offline
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they're too slow and bulky to do well in agility, they overheat easily, they're not as handler orientated/affectionate as some of the softer breeds
All of this, especially the bolded, gave me a good laugh.

I'm NOT laughing at you, so let me be clear about that! My big male, Strauss, is about as velcro and affectionate as they come in regards to me and my husband. Our little bitch, Mirada, is the same. Strauss is very much MY dog, and Mirada is very much my husband's dog.

YouTube - Packerland Agility Trial

Definitely not a slow dog. Please forgive all the knocked bars. It was our first trial, and the triumph was that he went EVERYWHERE I told him to go (you've no idea what a struggle that was). The point is to show that he is NOT slow, even though he IS large (27" 87 pounds).

Is he slow compared to a Border Collie? Of course. He weighs 50-60 pounds more than a BC and is 8-12" taller than one.

As for tolerating the heat, these are not dogs I'd want to WORK in 100+ degree weather, but they're just fine if #1 you acclimate them to their climate, and #2 you're doing a 30 second agility run with them. Keep them sprayed down (belly and groin) and they'll be ok.

They are EXCELLENT in cold weather. Back when I was in WI and we had a week of -40 temperatures, the dogs could only go out to potty. My brother's Labrador was very happy to come right back inside. Strauss, on the other hand, was not so inclined to comply. He was brought in for safety reasons, but would have stayed outside to play if I had let him.

Are their owners the center of their world, are they independant, or somewhere inbetween?
GSDs that do not focus strongly on their owners are, in my experience, atypical of the breed. Strauss and Mirada love Jon and I, but it is not equally. As I mentioned before, Strauss is MY dog (and everybody knows it) and Mirada is Jon's dog. You can see it simply by how the two of them interact with us. Both of them comply with either of our commands, but Strauss is more willing to do so for me, and Mirada is more willing to do so for Jon.

Also, what breeders do you guys like/reccomend?
Depends a lot on what you're looking for (there are some great show line breeders in both Euro and AmLines that have GREAT dogs for performance). I'm getting a puppy from Molly Graf of Eichenluft in July He'll be replacing Strauss as a service dog, but we will be performing in other venues as well.
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