The welcome decline of the German shepherd

The stately dog isn't the popular superstar it once was, and that's a good thing, says Susan Orlean in The New York Times

German Shepherds, seen here with Italian police
(Image credit: Vittoriano Rastelli/CORBIS)

In August, ironic news hit the dog world: The German state of North Rhine-Westphalia would no longer be using German shepherds as police dogs, instead relying on the sturdier, more aggressive Belgium Malinois. Indeed, the German shepherd is a dog that's had its day, says Susan Orlean in The New York Times. And thank goodness. The breed's popularity exploded after World War I, when an American soldier rescued a puppy from French battlefields. Named Rin Tin Tin, the charismatic dog learned some tricks and was promptly discovered by Hollywood — becoming a mega movie star. But the breed's iconic status brought dire consequences. American breeders carelessly produced puppies to keep up with demand, resulting in "an alarming rate of hip and eye problems." Recently, writes Orlean, demand for the breed has plummeted: And that's actually "the best thing that can happen." Here, an excerpt:

People are especially crazy — and often illogical and emotional — when it comes to dogs. And it's not just German shepherds, either. You can always tell when 101 Dalmatians has just been rereleased, or a funny talking Chihuahua is featured in a national advertising campaign; suddenly, every dog park is overrun with Dalmatians or Chihuahuas.

Sometimes these dogs have owners who have come to realize they were more in love with the dog when it was an image on screen than as a real, live member of the household. Or, in the case with German shepherds, they love them so much that they want to produce more of them, without much idea of how to do that well.

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Bad breeding is bad for everyone, and in recent years the American Kennel Club, among other organizations, has done its best to discourage it, and to encourage adoption from shelters, which have, unfortunately, an oversupply of abandoned purebred dogs. It's been a success, but it will never completely override our very human tendency to want those things — and animals — that have the shine of popularity.

Read the entire article in The New York Times.

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