It’s pretty common knowledge that German Shepherd dogs as a breed make great working dogs and are versatile – being able to be used for a range of working activities and applications.
A lot of why the German Shepherd makes such a good working K-9 or working dog is because of their breeding history which we outline below.
We’ve put together a list of 13 lines of work German Shepherds are used for and good at.
Read, and enjoy – let’s jump in!
13 Types Of Work German Shepherds Are Used For & Good At
What Makes A German Shepherd So Good And Versatile As A Working Dog?
German Shepherds were originally bred to be a working type dog – both physically and in terms of their mental traits and temperament.
Two of the original dogs that were used as foundation stock for the German Shepherd breed – the Wurttemberg Sheep Dog, and the Swabian Service Dog likely had a lot to do with who German Shepherds owe their working body structure and working ability/drive and versatility to.
Throughout the 1900’s, specific German Shepherd working lines like the East/DDR working lines, West German working lines and the Czech working lines also emerged, which reinforced the working pedigree of the breed.
A well bred suitable German Shepherd working dog will be a good working dog because of the following attributes:
They bond well with their owner/handler
They are obedient
The working lines are bred to have strong nerves, and a stable temperament – making them good for high risk and high tension activities
They are one of the most intelligent dog breeds and can perform difficult tasks
They are loyal
They are protective
They have a high working ability and drive
Some dogs have a higher prey drive, defence drive and may have an ability reach higher aggression levels than others
They are physically capable – athletic and strong, along with good stamina – able to attack/bite, apprehend, protect and focus or patrol for long period
1) German Shepherds As Police Dogs
We already wrote a short guide on why German Shepherds are used as police dogs.
In summary, the dark pigment working line German Shepherds usually make the best police dogs, but the show lines can be capable too if they have high working drives and a good temperament with strong nerves.
When working with their police handler, a German Shepherd will usually perform a range of activities like tracking, detection, protection, patrol, apprehension and search and rescue.
2) German Shepherds In The Military
War Dogs, or K9 Corps as they are sometimes referred, are used in many of the same applications in the military as they are in police work – but, are applied to military specific activities.
For example, they may be used as guard dogs or watch dogs, or for mine detection or wire laying.
There’s then the other tasks like immobilising targets, scouting, protecting important people and their handlers and being deployed in war zones where they may be parachuting into active war areas.
Back in WWII, German Shepherds were also used as messenger dogs to deliver information.
Military work is often hard and long hours – dogs with great stamina and strong nerves are required for military work.
3) Search and Rescue German Shepherds
Search and rescue is often shortened to SAR.
Search and rescue working activities usually includes wilderness tracking, natural disasters, mass casualty events, and in locating missing people.
Search and rescue GSDs use their scent and are trained in different types of situations like rubble search or water search for example, to detect human scents of different types (although dogs with good scent detection can be used for other applications like narcotics and bomb detection too).
They may do this by tracking or trailing or a combination of each scent detection techniques – with their nose to the ground or in the air.
One of the most famous K-9 German Shepherd search and rescue dogs was Appollo, who was used by the NYPD in the wake of the September 11 attacks on the World trade centre.
4) German Shepherds As Animal Actors In Entertainment
Due to their intelligence, trainability and obedience – German Shepherds have been used as animal actors in movies and tv shows.
5) German Shepherds In Detection (Drugs, Bombs, Arson, Human Remains)
Detection work can take many forms.
Search and rescue, cadaver searching, narcotics and drug detection, explosives detection, accelerant detection and mine detection dog are all examples of how German Shepherds are used for detection work.
They are suited for these lines of work because of their sense of smell/scent and their ability to work regardless of distractions.
To give you some perspective on how good German Shepherds are for scent detection, consider this information about the number of scent/smell receptors in a German Shepherds nose:
Humans have about 5 million scent receptors in their nose
The fox terrier has about 147 million scent receptors in their nose
German Shepherds have about 225 million receptors in their nose
One really interesting new and modern way German Shepherds are being used for scent detection is to detect breast cancer in poorer countries where patients may not have access to mammograms.
6) German Shepherds As K-9s In Personal & Private Protection
German Shepherds have it in their genes to be protective – they were bred as herding type dogs, and the Shepherd dogs they were bred from contained sheep and flock protection instincts.
In modern times, there are professional companies that breed and train German Shepherd protection K-9’s to protect people.
These K-9’s are usually used for either personal, family or estate (private land and building) protection.
Protection K-9’s that are trained to protect families in particular will appear civilised and loving like a normal dog in a family environment, but when they detect a threat they are trained to react according to their training – which might be to immobilise the threat.
7) German Shepherds As Guard Dog, Watch Dog, Patrol Dog & Security Dog
Slightly different to protection dogs.
Guard dogs, watch dogs and security dogs are often used by security contractors, businesses, wealthy people and law enforcement/military.
They often are stationed at, or patrol specific areas, buildings or events – both with and without handlers.
A watch dog will simply identify an intruder or breach and alert by barking – this could even be a family guard dog.
A security dog may bark, and also be trained to scare away or apprehend an intruder if required.
An example of German Shepherds being used as guard dogs when the East German/DDR German Shepherds patrolled the Berlin wall apprehending East Germans who tried to escape to West Germany.
8) German Shepherd Service Dogs
German Shepherds as service dogs might be used as seizure alert dogs and for mobility assistance for example.
Specifically they might help people with disabilities, such as visual impairment, hearing impairments, mental illnesses (such as veterans with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), seizure disorder, mobility impairment, and diabetes.
These dogs have to have extensive training, be patient, and are able to respond with by alerting those around them, be a calming presence or retrieve an item like say a phone or keys for a owner in the event of an emergency.
9) German Shepherd Airport Dogs
Although beagles and labradors might be preferred for scent based tasks in airports like drug and bomb/anti terrorist detection, German Shepherds are also used in airports.
They might be seen as a more versatile airport dog that can perform detection work, and also protection and security work like acting as a deterrent, crowd control, criminal apprehension and even wildlife control.
10) German Shepherd Therapy Dogs
A therapy dog will visit people who are incapacitated or prevented in some way from having freedom of movement.
These dogs provide cheer and entertainment for the elderly in retirement facilities, the ill and injured in hospitals, and so on.
The very act of training dogs can also act as a therapy for human handlers, as in a prisoner rehabilitation project.
They can even provide therapy for young children or stressed students!
11) German Shepherd Messenger Dog
As mentioned above, German Shepherds were used at one stage during WWII as a messenger dog to deliver information and messages.
12) German Shepherd Guide Dog
Labradors are the preferred choice of guide and seeing eye dogs due to their more friendly and placid temperament.
However, because of their intelligence and high level of trainability, German Shepherds are still used by the visually impaired to help them in day to day life.
13) German Shepherd Herding Dog & Flock Protection/Guarding
It’s not as common any more, but German Shepherds were once used more heavily as a herding dog for sheep and for flock protection (against other animals and threats)
These days, it’s more common for German Shepherds to participate in herding organised events.
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