Sunday, 3 April 2011

Pushing ahead.

Pic of Moss and Renton sitting together

A colleague of mine asked me at work last week(after she watched the documentary) "Why did you want a German Shepherd and not a Labrador?" A good question and surprisingly not something I can recall anyone else asking. So far I've had two Labradors, two cross Lab Retrievers and Renton will be my second German Shepherd. For me, the best guide dogs breeds I have worked with has been  the Cross Lab. Retrievers and my first  Shepherd. (You read more about Tim on my articles page) It is very early days with Renton to include him  in the top three, but already he is proving himself to be a very good guider. 

However, there can be issues with German Shepherds that you just will not get with a Labrador. Shepherds  don't transfer well from the trainer to the new handler as they are so loyal and can be very sensitive, [surprising for such
a large dog.] They also have some German Shepherd instincts that have to be worked on for example: chasing, territorial, rounding-up  and exuberant protection of their handler.
So taking all of that into account, why a Shepherd? well, in my view they are fantastic guide dogs once they settle down.  There is a bit of pain at the beginning, but after about a year that goes, so patience and understanding is essential.  Their drive means that they always find the way  and with such definite conviction that you are in no doubt that they will find it. It could be a doorway, pelican crossing, a set of stairs or a train. As someone who is totally blind like me, it  gives me real confidence in where I  am and where I am going. 

They are also very intelligent and this can cause some confusion at first, as they like to use their initiative, plan ahead find a better route.   A Labrador, on the other hand will wait until they are up against an obstacle before they decide which way to go, but a Shepherd is reading the road much further ahead constantly re-assessing the situation. 
Another thing that they do, which I love, is their confidence to create space on busy pavements, not being afraid to use their physicality to ease people out the way. 
Renton will very gently lean against other pedestrians and slowly push them aside if they are blocking our path. It is done so subtly, I'm not even aware that he's doing it. Last week when I was getting on the train at Glasgow Central Station, someone tried to jump in front of me to get on the train. However, they didn't reckon on Renton. He  just stepped forward, leaned on them to push them back and then blocked the door way, whilst at the same time putting his two front paws on the train, giving me space and time to get on. 
Pic. of the said "two paws"

 How fantastic is that!

The commuter was left standing on the platform wondering what had happened  If you have a Shepherd you can’t get shoved about by the discourteous members of the general public. 
Pic. of Rentons' big paw the same size as Ians hand

So, to answer  my colleagues question, these are some of the reasons why I’ve got a German Shepherd.


  1. That's really interesting!
    I'm very interested in the characteristics of different breeds. I think I'd be too small to ever get a shepherd though!

    Well done on your documentary. I haven't seen it yet, and can't watch it on the I player in Ireland. If you ever can put a copy of it online, or even an mp3 that would be brilliant.
    I'm only noticing that you got rid of the visual verification thing, which is why I never commented before.

  2. Hi Ian, thank you for such an interesting and honest blog. My close friend has a German Shepherd guide dog. Like you, she has found him to be fiercely loyal, intelligent, and (at times) stubborn! She also finds him to be an excellent bodyguard, and cannot imagine having any other breed guide her. Very sadly, he has just been diagnosed with cancer, and the outlook is not good. He is her first guide dog, so this is hitting her particularly hard.
    As there is currently a countrywide shortage of German Shepherds, she may have to have a different breed, something she's dreading. How easy is it to manage the transition between two different breeds? Is there any advice you can give to help her get through this difficult time? Many thanks.

  3. Its not particularly difficult going between breeds as the guide dog trainers are usually good at explaining the different characteristics of the different breeds and their psychology. Here in the UK there are quite a few cross lab shepherds in the system and by all accounts this has been really successful, getting the best from both worlds, the drive of the Shepherd and the socialbilty of the Labrador. I'm sorry to hear about your friends Shepherd becoming ill, my first shepherd also died young and it does take time to get over. Its best she doesn't wait too long before she gets a replacement.

  4. That's quite funny about how Renton leans on people to push them out of the way. :-)

    I love Shepherds. We've stopped using them at my Guide Dog school in America because of their low pass rate. Oddly enough, the most Shepherds were dropped not for aggression and seperation anxiety but for hip dysplasia. That's one of the real drawbacks of Shepherds and Goldens; they get hip and elbow dysplasia more than labs do. But I so want to raise a Shepherd.

  5. Now then, this is also interesting I knew that Shepherds also had problems with their joints but not worse than Labs - I suppose each breed has issues - Renton worked fantastically yesterday I have to say

  6. Thank you for your reply Ian, I really appreciate it, and have passed on your advice. Take care :)