Once an icon, bad breeding has earned the German Shepherd a reputation for being sickly and dimwitted. In Germany, police have replaced them with the more aggressive Malinois. But one American breeder is trying to bring classic German Shepherds back.
Even though Wayne Curry lives in the American hinterlands, he has managed to acquire a respectable German vocabulary over time. He knows the German commands Fuß! (heel), Sitz! (sit) and Aus! (drop it).
Curry loves Germany. He has a Porsche and a BMW in his garage. But most of all, he loves the German Shepherd.
He owns a large piece of land in the small town of Rochester, Washington, a one-and-a-half-hour drive from Seattle. The property was once a Christmas tree farm, but now Curry raises and trains German Shepherds there.
He left the evergreen trees standing, and now all of his kennels are designed so that each dog has his own Christmas tree to run around. The Germanophile calls his camp "Kraftwerk K9." K9 stands for "canine."
His company signs feature the black silhouette of a German Shepherd's head. "I like Germans," he says. "They're my peers. They're competetive. They go to win."
Next to the Labrador Retriever, the German Shepherd is the second-most popular dog breed in the United States. And Curry is the most successful German Shepherd breeder in the country. He has devoted the last 20 years of his life to German Shepherds. He once raised Rottweilers, but it was a long time ago. "They don't stand a chance against the German Shepherd. They take off when they've had enough," he says.
And what about the Doberman, the Pit Bull Terrier and the Great Dane? "Not a chance!" he says.
The latest copies of Schäferhund Magazin (German Shepherd Magazine) from Germany are on a table in his office. Has Curry heard that there is a passionate debate underway in Germany at the moment over the decline of the breed? And has he heard that German police forces now prefer to work with the Belgian Shepherd, or Malinois?
"Excuse me?" Curry asks, with an icy look in his eyes. He composes himself, and then launches into an angry tirade. "Even in Germany they call (the Malinois) a throwaway dog. The German Shepherd can concentrate, but the Malinois can't. And that's time and time again. I wouldn't let a Malinois near my family." And then he adds: "I think it's an ugly dog."
Nowadays, one has to travel far and wide to find such an ardent supporter of the German Shepherd. Unlike Curry, German breeders are divided over the question of what exactly makes a good German Shepherd.
Purists want to see the breed standard returned to its original form. In 1898, the cavalry captain Max von Stephanitz chose Horand von Grafrath as the first stud dog, and in doing so established the most well-known of all dog breeds. For a long time, Horand's descendants strongly resembled their progenitor. The body was relatively slim and wiry, and the back was straight as an arrow.
These animals had all the virtues that helped to make the German Shepherd an icon. Police officers in democratic countries and dictatorships alike have always valued the breed, because of its stamina, reliability and extraordinary courage.
The classic German Shepherd became a dubious symbol under the Nazis. For a time, Adolf Hitler had three of his own. He even had an obstacle course built for his beloved dogs at the Wolf's Lair complex in present-day Poland. The Führer's favorite was a dog named "Blondi."