“If you want to get a dog, you have to get a German Shepherd dog. They’re exquisitely raised to be professional at any task,” said Yasser Al-Maghrabi, vice-president of the German Shepherd Dog Club of Egypt (GSDCE).
Known for their strong and noble bearing and as one of the longest-living breeds of dog, German Shepherd dogs (GSDs) rank near the top ten worldwide in popularity. Not only are GSDs popular for their scenting ability, which equips them for detection jobs, but they also have the flexibility to perform any task they are assigned.
For example, one of their character traits is that of a good companion to individuals who need someone beside them for whatever reason.
“My GSD gives me joy when it welcomes me home after a long working day. It cheers me up even more than it does my children,” said 48-year-old Khaled Al-Ghamry, a Cairo dog owner.
Al-Ghamry has been raising dogs for 18 years. Throughout these years, he has been the owner of four types of dogs, including German Shepherds. His love for them has made it difficult to part with them, since for him dogs are like humans. They have their own characters and personalities regardless of their breed. They need care, love and huge responsibility from their owners.
Dog food is a serious issue as human food can be poisonous to dogs. Al-Ghamry prepares special food for his dogs to make sure they eat what is best for them.
“It’s a crime to abandon a dog in the streets,” Al-Ghamry said. “They will wonder what they have done to their owners to make them be thrown out like this. They may even die of depression and the agony of abandonment.”
Because of their character traits, GSDs are very popular in Egypt. The GSDCE has hosted events specifically for GSDs twice a year since 2015, including international ones. Although the club was established in 2007, competitions only started to take place eight years later.
“It took a long time to spread awareness about the club, which was established specifically for GSD lovers,” Ashraf Selim, secretary-general of the GSDCE, said.
A national competition was held in October, and an international one called the Sieger will be held in March 2022 in Egypt with international participants. The date of the competitions is decided by the German Shepherd Association in Germany.
“To join the competition, a dog should have special traits equipping it to pass various challenges,” Al-Maghrabi said. The dog should be fit and active in order to participate in competitions. It should breathe well and have undergone obedience training.
People owning GSDs are classified into two types: the owners who buy them and the breeders who produce them. Most of the participants in the competition this year are breeders, and almost half of the dogs have been bred locally.
For dog lovers, it is important that there are dog shows and competitions as they help to preserve the bloodlines of specific types of dogs. Judges evaluate the dogs’ bloodlines as well as their character traits.
“For children who suffer from autism, some GSDs with specific character traits are chosen for special training to accompany them,” Hussein Al-Amin, head of training at the GSDCE, said.
He explained that the dogs are trained to act calmly and not aggressively if an autistic child acts in an unpredictable way. For people who suffer from trauma, dogs with emotional character traits can make excellent pets. For the elderly who need companions, there are also dogs that can support and entertain them.
Regarding obedience training, the dogs are trained before the competition to understand any demands made of them in it. The principle of obedience training is that a dog should act in a friendly way if instructed by its owner. “Dogs can be a burden on their owners if they have not received the proper training,” Al-Amin said.
Before competition, the dogs should undergo training qualifying them to participate. They are assessed to decide whether they are eligible to enter, and if the answer is yes, they are trained for a whole month by a trainer. Assessment criteria used by the judges include tracking, obedience and protection.
“Through the commands in the competition, a dog’s behaviour and character are inspected to make sure it understands the lifestyle of its owner,” Al-Amin said. He added that a dog’s participation can also enable it to breed, as the competition is overseen from Germany.
The competitions do not have financial prizes, and the winning dogs receive medals according to the levels won. “The real benefit we get from participating is more moral than financial,” Galal Tolba, a breeder, said. “It is a hobby that we enjoy participating in.”
One of Tolba’s dogs has won the first level three times and the second level once in competition. He trains his dogs for months to compete, even though this may cost him financially.
Al-Maghrabi said that a dog’s participation can increase its value among breeders, also increasing the value of its offspring.
In comparison with competitions abroad, the only difference is the venue as everything is organised under the umbrella of the German Association in Germany. Having a GSD as a pet is increasing in popularity worldwide, and more and more dogs are entering competitions.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 16 December, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.