character / structure / type
John Ayotte 11/2001 rev 12/2002
Everything of importance about the German Shepherd Dog can be covered under three headings: Character, Structure and Type. In fact, a good argument can be made for type including both character and structure... so there may be only one heading.
The character of the German Shepherd Dog should always be discussed first. It is among the things that distinguish our dogs from other breeds. Character includes obedience, loyalty, heart, nerves, trainability, versatility, and many other characteristics. There are, in fact, so many aspects of character that we sometimes lose sight of the fact that it is the totality of these things that make a dog a German Shepherd, not any one of them. We must recognize all of these qualities in our dogs, and accept the fact that each one will not be present to the same degree or in the same form in every dog. That's ok, as long as they are present to a degree that satisfies us as breeders and owners, satisfies those that we choose to share our dogs with, and that these important characteristics are expressed in a manner that represents a quality German Shepherd.
The structure of the German Shepherd comes next in my mind, since so much of the appeal of the dog is based on its appearance, its proportions, its size, its athleticism, its movement, its strength, and its agility. All of these things are the result of its structure, the lengths of its bones, and their relative dimensions, its musculature and ligamentation. Once again, however, these traits can be expressed over a fairly wide range. German Shepherds can still be of quality, even if one is larger and one smaller, one has a long stride and one not quite so long, one has a deep chest and one not so deep. As with the elements of character, these physical attributes of structure can vary quite a bit while still acceptably following the blueprint for the ideal German Shepherd Dog as set forth in the Standard. Form follows function, and there are many functions that the German Shepherd is expected to be capable of. The form that is best for each of these functions is not exactly the same. It follows that the physical attributes of a quality German Shepherd can also show some variance. If these attributes are present to the degree that satisfies us as breeders and owners, satisfies those that we choose to share our dogs with, and they are expressed in a manner that represents a quality German Shepherd, we have reason to rejoice.
Finally, of course, there is the broader term, "type". Type includes all of the things mentioned under character and structure, plus much more. Nobility, secondary sex characteristics, pigmentation, ears, feet, substance, and even coat color play important roles in completing the equation of type that defines a dog as a quality German Shepherd. We may argue about the relative importance of each of these items. We may have preferences (the source of the concept of style that is often confused with type). In the end, however, there is a well-defined range of acceptable characteristics (mostly set forth in the Standard) that defines a German Shepherd Dog. If these characteristics are present to the degree that satisfies us as breeders and owners, satisfies those we choose to share our dogs with, and they are expressed in a manner that represents a quality German Shepherd, we again have reason to rejoice.
While much of this may seem obvious, the point that I wish to make is that within the range of acceptable character, structure, and type that constitutes a quality German Shepherd Dog, there is room for many different "styles" of dogs. Every dog is a combination of the elements of character, structure, and type expressed to some variable degree. It is our responsibility as fanciers of the breed to recognize this variability, and embrace it. The perfect assistance dog is not identical to the perfect military dog. The perfect companion dog is not identical to the perfect herding dog. However, within the definition of type for the breed we can easily have examples of the perfect agility, assistance, companion, detection, guide, herding, military, obedience, police, schutzhund, search & rescue, show, therapy, and tracking dogs. We need, within the breed, structural and temperamental traits that enable the dogs to do what we want them to do... covering a lot of ground efficiently as a tending style herding dog, making fast and wide outruns as a fetching style herding dog, or jumping through a window as a police dog. These dogs may not have exactly the same structure or character, but they are still recognizable as quality German Shepherd dogs.
Unfortunately, we often loose sight of this wonderful diversity and begin to think that all German Shepherds must conform to our personal interpretation of the Standard and the character, structure, and type that we want for our own activities. In so doing, we risk destroying the wonderful versatility and adaptability that is arguably the most important and unique thing about our chosen breed. We may argue about what is better, or right, but will seldom change anyone's mind. The Standard nicely defines the acceptable range of character, structure, and type for many activities, and it is only when we lose sight of the Standard that we stray from the quality German Shepherd.
Not all German Shepherds need to herd, not all German Shepherds have to do schutzhund, not all German Shepherds have to have wonderful animation and presence in the conformation ring, do obedience, or therapy work. No single dog has to do everything that the breed is capable of, as long as yours can do what you wantm it to do and others can do what their owners want them to.
German Shepherds should have good character, and there are many ways of measuring that.
German Shepherds should have good structure, and there are many ways of measuring that.
German Shepherds should have good type, and there are many ways of measuring that.
Celebrate the versatility of the breed. Wish others well in their endeavours with their dogs, even if it is not what you choose to do with yours. Encourage everyone with a German Shepherd to take advantage of the qualities that the dogs have to offer in whatever arena interests them. Doing these things will truly promote The Total German Shepherd Dog!