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Revealed: Why German Shepherds Are Used As Police Dogs

Why Are German Shepherds Used As Police Dogs

What comes to mind when you think of police dogs?

Hmm. Probably German Shepherds?

You can see them everywhere.

May it be in airports. As well as in films.

But why are they chosen for this specific role?

Continue reading to learn:

  • When they joined the police.
  • What makes German Shepherds an ideal police dog.
  • The answers to “Why do police use German Shepherds instead of Rottweilers or Pitbulls?”
  • And a lot more…

Why are German Shepherds used as police dogs?

German Shepherds are used as police dogs because of their high intelligence. They’re also loyal, even-tempered, committed, strong, and have good stamina. Plus, they’re fit for many police work. Such as patrolling, restraining people, tracking, detecting scents, and doing searches and rescues. 

In short, they’re ‘all-rounders.’ Or ones who do well in various jobs. In comparison to other canines.

There are many things to discuss. But let’s talk about their intelligence first.

#1: Excellent learning ability

Did you know that they’re the 3rd smartest among all dog breeds?

They’re next to Border Collies (1st) and Poodles (2nd), Stanley Coren says. A psychologist and author of ‘The Intelligence of Dogs.’

According to him, German Shepherds are easy to train. Plus, they’re eager to learn too.

They pick up things faster than other dogs. And they could even learn a simple task after only 5 repetitions.

But another benefit of this trait is its cost-effectiveness.

Training police dogs isn’t easy. And it can be quite expensive as well. So it’s best to have canines who learn things as fast as possible.

#2: Good temper

Next, a well-trained German Shepherd isn’t impulsive.

“What does it mean?”

It means that they can remain calm during most situations. And they won’t do anything unless their handler says so.

“How about aggression?”

It isn’t their nature either. This is why they’re also used in search and rescue.

As well as in sniffing bombs and drugs. Or other tasks where they need to interact with strangers.

Being laid back is actually a good thing for them. And it’s one of the requirements of a police dog. 

Because due to this, handlers can easily ‘shape’ them to do a certain job.

#3: Unwavering loyalty

German Shepherds Are Used As Police Dogs Due To Loyalty

German Shepherds are also very loyal.

Once they bond with someone, it’s going to be a strong one. And it also doesn’t take too long before they develop it.

So if ever they need to defend their handlers…

They’ll do anything to protect them. Making them brave and reliable buddies.

Learn more: 17 Reasons Why German Shepherds Are Good Family Dogs

#4: Strength and endurance

Other things that make German Shepherds perfect as police dogs are their:

  • Size.
  • Agility.
  • Stamina.
  • Strength.

According to PDSA, their average weight is 77 to 95 lbs (35 to 43 kg).

They’re not too light like Greyhounds who have thin bodies. And not too big as giant breeds who have lower stamina.

So they have the right amount of body mass to restrain a criminal. But light enough for police officers to handle them with ease.

They’re also highly active and need at least 2 hours of daily exercise. And it’s believed that they can run up to 32 mph (52 kph).

Well, talk about stamina!

Wanna know more cool trivia about German Shepherds?

Read these next: 101 German Shepherd Facts And Myths (#9 Is Weird And Fun) & How far can German Shepherds run?

#5: Commitment

Last but not least, they’re diligent dogs. 

They can handle lots of training. As well as repetitive tasks. Plus, they’re also determined to finish any assigned jobs no matter what.

This is because they’re enthusiastic when it comes to working. And they get easily bored. 

Because well, they’re working dogs. So they’ll appreciate having a job rather than doing nothing at all.

It’s also the reason why they’re ideal cop dogs.


Their work isn’t easy, to begin with. It’ll take a lot of courage and spirit to be one.

So having a canine who does the job well. But also enjoying at the same time is a good point.

How did German Shepherds become police dogs?

German Shepherds became police dogs in 1910. Stephanitz, the founder of the breed, showed what they can do in the German police. After many trials, the dogs were found to excel in the tasks. So they were added to military and police units. And in 1920, a training school for police dogs was built. 

Let me share with you a brief history.

As their name says…

German ShepHERDS were first used as herding dogs.

Their ancestors were bred to control cattle and sheep. And this is why they’re highly:

  • Active.
  • Athletic.
  • Intelligent.

“But how did they ‘change careers’?”

First, lands were slowly turned into cities. So the need for shepherd dogs was reduced.

However, their discovery was also a factor in this.

AKC says that the founder of German Shepherds was a cavalry officer. His name is Max von Stephanitz.

During his duty in the countryside, he saw how fast and clever they are. And became fond of herding Fidos.

So he attended a dog show. And there he found and bought ‘Horand’.

“Who is it?”

He’s the first registered German Shepherd in history.

From then on, he developed the breed we know today. Loyal, reliable, and even-tempered.

Because for him…

The dog’s function is more important than appearance. So he focused mainly on their inner traits. Like obedience and intelligence.

With this in mind, he knew that they’re fit to be police dogs. So he continued on promoting them as good working canines.

Fast-forward to the start of World War I

In 1914, the German military brought German Shepherds into the battlefield.

They acted as messengers. As well as carriers of bullets in the first world war.

Because of this, many were amazed by their skills.

This includes the English and Americans. Which then led to the spread of the breed across the world.

But due to the conflict…

Americans removed the word German in the name. And simply changed it into a ‘Shepherd dog.’

While England used the name, ‘Alsatian’ instead. As well as other countries. 

The official start of police dog training

Police Dog Training

In 1920, the Germans built a training school for police dogs. With German Shepherds as their main breed of choice.

It was located in Greenheide, Germany. And in there, canines were taught to:

  • Track.
  • Search.
  • Do basic obedience training.

Trivia time!

Have you heard about the dog named ‘Rin Tin Tin’?

He’s a German Shepherd pup who was rescued by an American soldier in WWI. And he became one of the reasons for the breed’s popularity.

Plus, he also saved Warner Bros from bankruptcy.


He first starred in a film made by the studio called ‘The Man from Hell’s River’  in 1922. Then afterward, he created 2 more box office hits.

From a military dog to a movie star? Well, is there something this breed couldn’t do?

Are German Shepherds the only police dogs?

German Shepherds aren’t the only police dogs. Belgian Malinois and Dutch Shepherds are also used. And it’s due to their intelligence, alertness, trainability, and stamina. While Retrievers, Beagles, Bloodhounds, and English Springer Spaniels are sniffing dogs. And also used in search-and-rescues.

Apart from these, there are other canines that are used as cop dogs all over the world. 

But, they’re less common. Such as:

  • Boxers.
  • Rottweilers.
  • Bull Terriers.
  • Cane Corsos.
  • Border Collies.
  • Airedale Terriers.
  • Giant Schnauzers.
  • Standard Poodles.
  • Doberman Pinschers.

What percentage of police dogs are German Shepherds?

The percentage of German Shepherds who are police dogs is 49% out of 63 canines. This is from the UK in 2018. While in 2019, a study in New Zealand shows that there are 95% out of 158 dogs. 

People also ask:

Why do police use German Shepherds and not Pitbulls?

Police use German Shepherds and not Pitbulls because German Shepherds can control themselves more. They’re also wary of strangers. And they also have greater stamina, agility, and breeding. 

What makes German Shepherds a more ideal choice?

Let’s talk about the reasons one by one.

#1: Extreme friendliness

Did you know that, unlike their scary image…

Pitbulls are actually friendly even to unfamiliar people?

This is if they’re socialized well at an early age.

A study shows that they’re less aggressive than tiny Chihuahuas.

The research had more than 4,000 respondents. And based on aggressiveness…

They were even ranked lower than Miniature Schnauzers. Who are known to be well-mannered and obedient pups.

This is a nice trait.

But, their friendliness can be a disadvantage as a police dog. Especially when they need to defend someone from others.

“How about German Shepherds?”

They’re different. This is because they don’t trust strangers fast.

But, they can be friendly when trained. And if their handler says so. Plus, they could also attack if needed.

Making them a more ideal police companion.

You might also like: Chihuahua Bite Force PSI: 5 Facts, Statistics & Fatalities

#2: Lower stamina

Pitbulls are athletic too.

But, they’re only good running buddies for short distances. As they can only run up to 2 to 3 mi (3.2 to 4.8 km).

While German Shepherds could run longer distances (32 mi or 52 km). And do it with ease.

#3: ‘Bite and shake’

Have you seen Leonard? The first Pitbull cop dog in Ohio?

Although it isn’t common, Pitbulls are also used by some police units. 

But, they’re mostly trained in tracking and sniffing tasks. Such as detecting illegal drugs, bombs, and bodies. 

“Why’s that?”

They’re not for attacking and restraining people. Because there’s a possibility that they may cause serious injuries.

Pitbulls have a bite force of 235 psi. While German Shepherds have 238 psi.

The difference isn’t much. But, their bite style might be different.

Pitbulls may ‘bite and shake.’ And not release whatever it is in their mouth in command.

This trait isn’t only observed in them. As it can be done by other canines too.

However, it’s a common cause for their bite incidents. This is why they’re one of the most feared breeds.

“But what makes them aggressive?”

Like other dogs, it may be caused by:

  • Abuse.
  • Neglect.
  • Past trauma.
  • Poor training.
  • Health issues.
  • Lack of socialization.

#4: Consistency of breeding

“Can every pup in a litter be trained as a police dog?”

It could be. But usually, the chances are low.

They’ll still be carefully selected. As it still depends on their performance. As well as their temperament.

But for Pitbulls, breeding for this specific purpose needs consistency. Plus, generations of thorough and controlled ones.

So in this case, German Shepherds have higher chances.


Because they were bred to do this type of work from the start. So they only need less training compared to other dogs.

#5: Stigma

I’ve explained earlier why there’s so much fear about Pitbulls. And it might also be the reason why they’re not ‘preferred’ as police companions.

This can be connected to insurance as well.

Because every cop dog has it. And it’s in case they cause harm or damage to private or public property.

Due to their bite incidents, Pitbulls have higher rates than others.

Why do police use German Shepherds instead of Rottweilers?

Police use German Shepherds instead of Rottweilers because of their agility. They’re lighter and can be handled with ease. Plus, they also have weaker bite force and good control of their strength.

#1: Heavier body weight

Adult Rottweilers typically weigh 80 to 135 lbs (37 to 61 kg). While German Shepherds are only 77 to 95 lbs (35 to 43 kg).

So Rotties are heavier. And police officers may have trouble handling a big canine out in the field.

Because of this, a leaner but not too thin dog is preferred. And German Shepherds are a perfect fit in that category.

#2: Lesser agility

Because of their heavier weight, Rotties’ agility is also reduced.

Although they’re still good at it…

German Shepherds can move more swiftly. And with greater ease.

Also, like Pitbulls, they have lower stamina as well. So they could only run short distances.

#3: Stronger bite force

Rottweilers also have bigger heads. As well as wider jaws.

Research reveals that the larger the skull is, the greater the bite force is.

And this is true. Because they have a bite force of 328 psi.

Which is higher than German Shepherds who only have a record of 238 psi.

However, are stronger jaws ideal for police dogs?

The answer is no.

It’s because they might need to apprehend people. And they need to do it in a way that’ll not cause serious injury or damage to property.


Both breeds aren’t aggressive in nature. And they’re also both wary of strangers. Which makes them great candidates for a cop dog.

Plus, they have an excellent sense of smell too.

Did you know?

There was no Rottweiler police dog in Scotland. Until a pooch named ‘Mac’ came in.

He was found in the streets. And within his 6 years of service, he hunted down a total of 206 criminals. As well as tracked 31 missing people.

Kudos to Mac! And other mighty cop dogs out there.

Interesting fact: Rottweilers are one of the first police dogs in the mid 19th century. Although they’re not as popular as other canines now, they’re still used in other countries. Such as Australia, France, and Belgium.

Why do police use German Shepherds instead of Dobermans? 

Police use German Shepherds instead of Dobermans due to their obedience. They can endure harsh weather as well. And when it comes to bonding with a handler, they’re also quicker to form one. 

Both breeds are:

  • Loyal.
  • Smart.
  • Fearless.
  • Born with good stamina.

These are all in the requirements of a police dog. But, there are things that German Shepherds can do better.

What are these?

I’ll discuss each of them.

#1: Thin single coat

First off, Doberman Pinschers have thin fur.

So they don’t do well in extremely low temperatures. And harsh weather.

This can be hard. Especially during patrols and rescue.

But unlike them, German Shepherds have double coats.

They have an outer layer of fur called a ‘guard coat.’ And its purpose is to protect them from water and dirt.

#2: Issues with obedience

Dobermans are also known for their cleverness.

In fact, Coren, the expert I mentioned earlier, ranked them 5th in intelligence. (Quick recap: German Shepherds are 3rd.)


This good trait can also be a weakness.

“But why’s that?”

It’s because they’re prone to thinking and acting on their own.

One study proves this.

Researchers say that they’re excellent in tracking. But, they usually have an unstable temper.

Training them to grab a certain body part was also found to be difficult. As well as asking them to attack in command or not.

So for example, both of them were asked to go to a place…

German Shepherds will do what was asked. And they’ll perform the exact thing they do during training.


Dobermans may tend to find a safer or easier route.

So they’ll act based on their own intuition. Not on what their handler says.

And this makes them unpredictable as police dogs. So obeying orders might be difficult at times.

#3: Strong bond


These breeds are kind of similar when it comes to this.

They’re both loyal. And will often form a strong bond with one person. So they’ll be a reliable furry friend.


Dobermans may find it harder to bond with a new handler.

Because of this, they might have anxiety. And take a longer time to adjust.

But once they connect with someone, they can do well as German Shepherds.

Trivia: Did you know that both breeds were heroes during the Battle of Guam in WWII? A Doberman named ‘Kurt’ died bravely by running ahead. And warning the soldiers of incoming enemies.