Training the German Police Dog

This fascinating Dog World article from 1923 details the specific jobs and tasks of a German Shepherd Dog in training to be a police dog.

By Wallace Craig | June 26, 2012

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From the Archives of Dog World: Enjoy this all-access pass to dog history from the pages of the longest published dog magazine. This content remains in its original form and reflects the language and views of its time. Health and behavior information evolves and only the most current advice should be followed.

In Germany, German Shepherd Dogs are used in large numbers on the police force. They are trained to perform services of wonderful variety and difficulty. German Shepherd Dogs accompany the policemen on their rounds; search out persons hiding in dark places; defend any policemen in uniform; pursue criminals by sight and by scent; attack, seize and hold the criminals when ordered to do so; hold him at bay, and stand guard over him without biting him, provided he does not move. In raids, the dogs search for concealed persons. They search a battlefield for wounded men; search similarly for persons who haven’t fallen sick or faint, or for lost children; find lost articles; stand guard over articles left in their care; refuse food proffered by strangers who might entice them from duty or poison them. They rescue drowning persons by seizing them and towing them to shore. The police dog will carry a message from a patrolman to the station, and will return with an answer. Even this long list does not give a complete account of their accomplishments. As a rule no one dog performs all the services. Each is somewhat of a specialist: he may be a police or army or red-cross-dog or a messenger.

One marvels at such accomplishments. But when one learns how these dogs are trained, one knows not whether to marvel most at the learning power and admirable obedience of the dog, or at the patience and perseverance of the trainer. The dog does not understand all about what he is doing and why he should do it. He does not know that one person is drowning, another wounded, a third a criminal, and so on. He does not need to know these things. For the trainer with great ingenuity, has devised methods of teaching the dog to do just what is needed in each emergency, and to carry out complex acts in obedience to his master, who gives various commands for varying circumstances.

The best account of training of these dogs is given in a book by Konrad Most, Leitfaden due die Abrichtung des Hundes, which has recently appreared in a sixth edition. This work is such an excellent account of dog training that it ought to be translated into English. It is, I believe, the only book on the subject by a man conversant with the scientific study of animal behavior or animal psychology. The author, who has for many years had charge of the training of police dogs in Berlin, advocates a firm and forceful method of training. He points out that we must carefully distinguish between the training of dogs for pets or for mere pleasure, and the training of dogs for service. If the pet dog fails to perform his tricks on some occasion, no great harm is done. Therefore such dogs may be trained with as much leniency as the owner pleases.

But the service dog, whether for the police or for the army, must be absolutely reliable. The lives of the men depend upon it. Therefore the service dog must be given a training that knows no weakness. If he ever shows a tendency to rebel or to attach his trainer, that is the time especially when he must be taught absolutely that the man is his master.

Herr Most admits that the attainments of the police dog have been in some cases exaggerated. American magazines, as well as those of Europe, have published stories as to the feats of dog detectives which, in some cases, could not be true. The author is quite right in calling a halt on these exaggerations. It is best for the dog himself and for dog lovers who have the best interests of the cause at heart, that no false expectations should be aroused. The true and real accomplishments of the service dog are so wonderful and so valuable, that they can stand on their own merits.

Excerpted from Dog World magazine, June 1923, Vol. VIII, No. 6. For back issues of Dog World, click here.

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