GERMAN SHEPHERDS are "too soft" to be effective police dogs, according to one police force, who are replacing the traditional UK police dog with the heavier – and allegedly ‘harder’ – Rottweiler.
Despite being recognised for decades as the quintessential guard dog, the GSD is facing competition from the Rottweiler in a growing number of UK police forces. The West Midlands police already have five Rottweilers in service and other forces are said to be considering using the breed on active service.
Inspector Stuart Holder, from the West Midlands force's Balsall Common dog training school, said German Shepherd breeders were concentrating more on the family pet market and show dogs, leading to a lack of dogs that have the attributes suitable for police work.
The force already has its own breeding programme for GSDs because of the national shortage of police dogs.
"Some German shepherds are now too nervous," said Inspector Holder. "We need brave dogs and Rottweilers are perfectly capable of doing the job and looking the part. We are now using Rottweilers to act as a supplementary breed."
Inspector Holder’s comments were backed up by Richard Ellis, a police dog trainer at South Yorkshire police, who said his force was also looking at using Rottweilers. "When you have a Rottweiler curling its lips looking at you, it's a pretty menacing sight. You would be inclined to drop your weapon. Rottweilers bite hard and we have to teach them how to be selective."
GSDs first came to the attention of the British authorities during the First World War, when they were used extensively by the German military on the western front. During World War Two, the Nazi invaders collected German Shepherds from many countries to breed the most effective guard dogs to control the civilian population and those in prison camps.
The Austrian army and police forces – use Rottweilers and have their own breeding programme to turn out dogs that are suitable for the duties required of them.
The Association of Chief Police Officers said there were still a good number of German Shepherds being used and there were no plans to replace the breed.
Malcolm Willis, chairman of the German Shepherd Dog Breed Council of the UK, said the police had tried out other breeds but none had been as reliable as the GSD.
"German shepherds are bright, they're big enough and they are the sort of dog that everybody knows," he said. "If I had one in my yard, it would be a brave man who would come over the gate."
He added: "The police have tried Rottweilers, and Dobermanns before and they have ended up back with the German Shepherd. They are simply the best and every police force in the world uses them."
Top Rottweiler judge and breeder Pauline Hammond told OUR DOGS that some of the reporting of the story in the national press left a lot to be desired. "I just feel that some of the publicity involved does the breed no good at all," she said. "Newspapers always use awful photographs of Rottweilers snarling and looking aggressive and it’s a bad image. It’s not that in the right hands and with proper training they wouldn’t make good police dogs – I am convinced they would.
"It a shame that the breed is so often misrepresented and I take exception to that. They gained tremendous popularity in the late 1980s and early 1990s and were extensively bred, but I think that the fact that there have been so few attack incidents involving Rottweilers is a testament to the breeds and show how good and well trained they can be."
Rottweiler breeder and Working Trials Judge Alan Wood from Manchester has bred two Rottweilers that were taken on as police dogs, although sadly, one died has since died.
"Generally I’ve found the Rottweilers in the UK are more show types and don’t have as much drive as they’d need to be police dogs," said Alan. "This is the charge levelled at the GSDs, but I think there are more good Shepherds out there suitable as police dogs than Rotts.
Basically, you need good bloodlines and there’s simply not enough of the right type of dogs to manage that – it won’t happen. I’ve bred Rotts for sixteen years and I’ve only just bred one male that I consider to be the essential Rottweiler type in all that time.
"I’d like to see more Rotts used as police dogs and I certainly think a criminal would think twice about taking a Rottweiler on."