This edited article about the Alsation dog originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 720 published on 1 November 1975.
Probably the most easily recognisable dog of all is the Alsatian or German Shepherd dog. It is the national dog of Germany and the most popular breed of dog in the world.
The way the breed got its British name is interesting. During World War I in this country, anti-German feeling was intense. Anything remotely connected with Germany was suspect, even a dog! Hence the change of name from German Shepherd Dog to Alsatian (a native of Alsace) because it sounded less Teutonic.
The breed was created by one man, German cavalry officer Rittmeister von Stephanitz, who also bred sheepdogs. In 1899 he bought a dog which greatly appealed to him. It had all the qualities he admired, a handsome head, obvious intelligence and the look (plus ability) of a sheepdog. From this dog, all true Alsatians are descended.
They are happiest when they are working and Alsatians are preferred by every police force in the world to any other breed. The formidable combination of a policeman and his dog has been proved to be a strong deterrent to would-be criminals.
Very few British Alsatians now work at their old natural “trade”, herding sheep, but they act as first-class guide dogs for blind people and as rescue dogs in times of peace and war.
One famous member of the breed “Irma” was responsible (with another dog) for finding 233 human casualties and recovering 21 of them still alive, buried in rubble during the blitz on London during World War II. For this feat she was awarded the Dickin Medal, the dog’s equivalent to the highest award given to humans in wartime – the Victoria Cross.
Perhaps the most celebrated Alsatian of all time was “Rin-Tin-Tin”, the first great canine film star. He was literally born under fire, in the trenches during the First World War, and was taken back to the U.S.A. as a puppy by an American soldier. His movies were staggeringly successful and attracted thousands of his fans to his breed.
Alsatians often have mixed-coloured coats of black, fawn, white and grey. They are under 26 inches (approx. 660 mm.) tall, with a bushy tail hanging in a gentle curve. They appear to glide, not walk, along, using a kind of “floating” action.
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