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Basically a working dog, the German shepherd is an ideal choice for the person who is seriously interested in training his dog. In obedience trials, these dogs work superbly and their performance as guide dogs for the blind indicates their adaptability for training and their high intelligence. But the family whose children clamor for a "police dog" should consider carefully before buying a German shepherd.
Even skilled amateur dog handlers and some professionals find these dogs especially many of the imports from Germany- just too hot to handle. In Germany the breeders still train their shepherds for attack work and deliberately breed for dogs with a belligerent disposition rather than for the steady temperament that makes a good house pet. On the other hand, some domestic strains have been bred down to the point where they may cringe from strangers and snap from sheer timidity.
As dogs generally inherit the traits of their immediate parents, a German shepherd whose sire and dam are good-natured should be a safe bet for a family pet, and a reliable breeder will be familiar with the nature of his litters.
On the credit side, these dogs are highly protective to children and are sturdy enough to take the mauling that the dog in a family with young children must undergo. The shepherd's double coat makes him comfortable in any weather and he can take the transition from a heated house or apartment to stormy outdoor weather with no ill effects (one reason why he is so often chosen to be trained as a guide dog for the blind).
To a considerable extent, you can mold your German shepherd's behavior by the manner in which he is raised. Try to avoid playing any "games" that lead him to think aggressive behavior is desirable and give him enough varied human companionship as a puppy to make him feel that all people are his friends. The German shepherd is naturally aloof with persons outside his immediate human family circle, but he can be trained to accept other people.
If you want him trained as a watchdog, it might be worth the expense to have him trained by a professional who knows the breed. If your German shepherd turns out to be the vicious type it may still be possible to have him retrained by an expert; otherwise he can be a hazardous pet.
However, the fact that there are so many of these dogs that are highly satisfactory pets shows that fanciers of the breed may be justified in their plea that the many should not suffer for the sins of the few.