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September 01, 2005

Breed Profile: German Shepherd

By: Mark Edmund

When Ron Labinski and his wife built their first home in New Berlin in 1965, they knew they might want a different type of pet.

“We needed a dog – something other than a beagle,” Labinski said. Then, New Berlin could have been considered somewhere in the middle of the sticks – away from crowded subdivisions and the populated suburbia that dominates this southern Waukesha County community today.

Maybe a dog with a little more girth. A dog with a bit louder bark. One that stands up – and stands out – for people to take notice – in many different ways.

Sure, protection and security was a factor when they considered – and ultimately welcomed – a German Shepherd to become a part of the growing Labinski family. But they also wanted a loyal, intelligent, “people” dog that could look out for its new pack and its new home.

“German Shepherds are great family dogs. They can get very attached to the owner and its family. They can be very protective – without being overly aggressive,” said Labinski, the president of German Shepherd Dog Club of Wisconsin. “They know their turf.”

Case in point. Whenever a deer meanders on the Labinski property to snack on some rosebushes, their German Shepherd has this sense to know that “something’s gotta get off of my yard,” Labinski said.

When Labinski’s children were growing up, the family’s German Shepherd created its own spot in the family’s huge sandbox – an ideal vantage point to pay great attention to the scores of neighborhood children playing and racing around the lawns and houses throughout the subdivision – keeping tabs on everything and everyone.

“Is there any other kid of dog?” an incredulous Jo Aschauer asked jokingly. Aschauer has owned, bred, shown and trained German Shepherds since the early 1970s and has been involved in the German Shepherd Rescue Alliance of Wisconsin for the last eight years, helping to coordinate rescue efforts in Milwaukee and southeastern Wisconsin.

“I’ve never had any other kid of dog. They respond well, they’re very intelligent. Everyone has their own preferences. My preference is German Shepherds,” said Aschauer, who knows what she likes. Period.

The German Shepherd Rescue Alliance of Wisconsin (www.gsraw.com), based in Madison, was incorporated in 2001. The alliance is operated strictly by volunteers — some 35 people — and “provides rescue, support, and placement of unwanted or displaced German Shepherd Dogs regardless of age, size, sex and health” surrendered to humane societies or directly to the group. Volunteers try to match up German Shepherds to individuals and families looking for a companion.

Not only is the German Shepherd breed known for its loyalty and intelligence, but also its hard —working nature with a strong drive to please its handler or companion. “They’re constantly looking for something to do,” Labinski said. Many German Shepherds could be considered the equivalent “Type A” personalities in people, he figured.

“German Shepherds are extremely alert – and constantly thinking,” said Labinski, comparing the “Type A” German Shepherds with “Type B” Golden Retrievers or Labradors.

Extremely intelligent. No wonder the breed has easily lent itself for working in many professions: guardians, blind leaders, rescuers, police companions, herders. Working breed — no doubt. But sometimes considered difficult to train because they sometimes think ahead and think too much, he said.

“They (German Shepherds) are very versatile, a good working breed, easy to live with, and low maintenance,” Aschauer said.

German Shepherds are classified as “medium” dogs – but don’t tell that to those that top out close to 100 pounds. They’re usually longer than they are tall – growing to be 26 inches high. They are sturdy,
muscular animals, with strong features such as a finely chiseled head and arched forehead. German Shepherds wear medium —length, dense coats. Colors vary, but many are dark, rich colors.

The loyalty a German Shepherd exhibits to its human companions appears to be a two —way street. Labinski explained how members of the German Shepherd Dog Club of Wisconsin (www.gsdcw.com) are particularly loyal to their canines – some members have been with the club for 30, 40, even 50 years.”

The club in which Labinski serves as president has been in existence since 1947, “to further interest in the breed as well as to develop a systematic training program.” Today, its arguably one of the premier
dog clubs — inside and outside of Wisconsin. The club even has its own grounds — 5 and 1/2 acres of land and clubhouse and facilities at W224 S6950 Guthrie Road in the town of Vernon.

“The people who preceded us had much foresight,” Labinski said.

Today, the group is 200 members strong and hosts a number of training events and competitions attended by German Shepherds and owners throughout the Midwest and the United States.

This bond that forms between the breed and the humans pays off for both sides — in so many ways. Labinski spoke of a club member who was going through a difficult period in her life, with a traumatic loss that left the woman in an extreme state of grief.

“German Shepherds can be very perceptive and read human emotions very well,” he said. “She (the club member) was weeping for more than a week and the dog wouldn’t leave her feet or her side – at all. She would lie down – and the dog couldn’t get close enough to her. If she was on the couch, the dog would stay close to her side – always.”

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