Oh man, there are so many things that make a GSD for me and that I would strive to produce but above all else the primary goals are as such:
Stability - I don't care how much working drive your dog has, if it's not stable that really narrows what you can do with the dog. Even as a "personal protection dog", how will it protect you if you cannot take it anywhere? Ability to read situations and react appropriately is very important to me. I want a dog who can go out and perform strong in protection, but be trustworthy when not working, even when in crowds. As well as possess a solid off-switch. But at the same time, I don't feel the German Shepherd should be a bubbly Lab-type, but rather handler focused and neutral to their surroundings, even aloof. That strong connection, reliability, and loyalty to the handler is really what makes the breed for me. It may seem unnecessary to some, but I also value a dog who is fond of children or at least recognizes their innocence. My current male was veeery minimally exposed to children as a puppy and is very territorial around our property. He will charge strange/suspicious people who get too close to the property, yet if a child walks by he will find his ball and "accidentally" drop it over the fence for them to retrieve. He has just always adored children. And of course, nerve strength is a huge factor within stability for me, the dog should not react inappropriately to novel stimulus. It's understandable if certain, high stress things may startle the dog, but they should be able to recover very quickly. The overall stability, I find really lends itself to their versatility.
Working Drives - As said before, balance is very important. I do not want a dog who is all prey, but neither do I want a dog who is all defense. My goal would be dogs who can bring good intensity, and switch between drives, along with a strong fight drive. Not only do I want a dog who will confidently confront the threat, but will only fight it harder when the fight is brought to them. And outside of the main drives, I also want dogs with a good work ethic, who will happily take on any task I put in front of them and ask me for more. Again lending itself to their versatility. Of course, a GSD is not complete without a good hunt drive as well, I like to see dogs who stick with the search, even when it gets hard or facing new obstacles.
Clarity/Mental Flexability - Ability to think, respond, and react appropriately when under stress is very very important. I've owned dogs that, once in drive, become unresponsive and it makes many tasks very difficult. They need to be able to think and respond to commands when in drive, even if that command is simply to calm/cap. And not just respond to commands, but a dog should not turn around and bite you if you try to pet/encourage them while in drive. Clarity of the target is also very important. And another aspect that I often find overlooked is mental flexibility or elasticity as I call it. It is something my current service dog brought to my attention after I had to retire my older dog who had poor nerve strength. But not only was he sensitive to many different things, he would only get worse with exposure. He could even be in situations he was comfortable with initially, but if it wasn't "home" and he was kept there for multiple days his mental state would quickly deteriorate to the point of not longer responding and being on edge constantly.(After working fairly regularly as an SD, he actually developed stomach ulcers from internalizing his stress). My current SD was thrown into a situation where he had to be exposed to something we found out he was afraid of (elevators, never got to expose him to them as I don't live in a big city), and he had to experience at least 12 times a day for 5 days as I took him to a training workshop/conference with multiple classes throughout the day, in a hotel. He had never been away from home for more than a day, yet by the end of the first day he was over his insecurities with the elevators and didn't care. It took maybe 3 exposures before he was fine. Versus my retired dog who took well over a year and lots of conditioning, with my current SD I simply let him experience it on his own. And every day he got better, his focus continued to improve, he never skipped a beat. Even on our final day. My previous dog would've been totally checked out mentally by day 2. (Sorry to ramble, but I find this to often be overlooked but also quite interesting).
Health - You can have the most amazing dog when it comes to every other aspect, but if that dog has crippling health issues... what good is it? You *need* a solid health foundation in your dogs.Of course hip and elbow dysplasia are the main concerns in the breed but DM is also a big concern. The testing as we know is not perfect but we should be doing everything we can as breeders to educate ourselves on DM and prevent it from rearing its head down the line. Beyond genetic health it's also important for breeders to understand how the environment we raise the litter in, the food they eat, and the weight they are kept at can affect their health down the road. We should be doing everything in our power to set them up for success.
Structure - I feel it is important to understand the breed standard. I know many people will try to blame it for the extremes we see in the breed today but if you actually sit down, read it, and take it in, you will find that it calls for a very structurally sound dog.(The extremes were created within those communities) So I feel it is important to follow as closely as we can (without compromising the above traits of course) to ensure that our dogs' bodies can keep up with their long work life. Again, if you dog has an awesome temperament it is cut short if the dogs' body breaks down on them prematurely. My favorite manifestation so far would have to be Linda Shaw's Illustrated Standard of the German Shepherd Dog.
Too long? My goal would be to produce highly versatile dogs who are stable in pretty much any situation you throw at them, with solid working ability and balance within their drives as well confidence in confronting threats. To produce dogs who have a clear minded, possess strong mental resilience, a solid off switch, health, and structurally sound. And of course, loyal to their handlers, reliable, and a please to work with.
Dakonic German Shepherds
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