All right, so we all think our dogs are the best in the world. I’m guilty as charged, that’s for sure. There is certainly something to be said for the German shepherd and his versatility however, something that sets him apart from other breeds.

The German shepherd is the proverbial “jack of all trades”. He is a police dog, he sniffs out drugs, bombs, people and now, even cancer. He is a partner on the street and in times of war and sickness. He marches proudly into the hospital and into battle. There is no agility course that he can’t conquer and no animal (or child) that he can’t herd. He can cuddle an infant, defend your home and take down a criminal on the run. To those who doubt his talents, he sticks up his snout and proclaims, “Anything you can do, I can do better.”

He is the German shepherd dog, intelligent, strong and loyal. But above all things, he is an individual, and he is not his breed. And not every individual is designed for the same type of work.

By nature, the shepherd is a working dog. And while my dad’s puggle may be content to sit on the couch and play “rapid snack” all day, most working dogs aren’t cut out to be the typical pampered pet. They need a job, but fortunately for them, their breed offers them plenty of options. It offers them options though, not us.

Like children, dogs don’t always become doctors or lawyers or even Schutzhund champions like we want them to be.

Take Smokey for example. He can’t sniff out a pound of hamburger meat that fell three feet from his toenails. As much as I would love to be involved in search and rescue, I think Smokey would be a dunce, and my pride isn’t about to set my little boy up for failure.

What Smokey can do, however, is jump and run. He is agile and quick and watching him motor across the lawn, leaping over holes and branches and the rear end to a 1965 Ford Falcon Joe is in the middle of restoring is simply breathtaking.

Shelby, on the other hand, would do just about anything to avoid jumping. She will step over it, run around it or shimmy under it. She is a puppy fit more for “cover” than “over”.

On the second day that we got her though, Shelby crouched down, focused, and systematically nipped and pounced until she had Smokey backed into a corner. Bewildered, he stared at her, as if he’d just realized a nine week old puppy had successfully herded him – a herding dog! One agile leap later, and he was back in the center of the room. Shelby, undeterred, turned around and began again.

Bingo! We had a sheep dog!

What my point is, is that you should get to know your dog. Let him or her tell you what he or she wants to do with the rest of his or her life. Don’t make that decision without consulting your best friend first.

K-9 Officers don’t just go to a breeder and take any pup because it is a German shepherd. They look, they watch, they study. The don’t want a therapy dog as a partner, they want someone who will take a bullet or bite the gun out of the guy’s hand, not a dog who will try to get the criminal to talk about his problems (that is for a German shepherd on another day, after the deadly weapons have been safely confiscated).

I have heard horror stories of cadaver dogs with the wrong temperament who shut down entirely after having to find too many dead bodies when all they want is to snuggle with some live ones. Likewise, a shepherd thrown into protection work who doesn’t have the right personality can become overly aggressive, dangerous even, just as easily as a high-strung dog pushed into therapy work could end up unintentionally harming the person he was there to cure.

So while those of us lucky enough to own these magnificent dogs think they are the best and that they can do anything, it’s important for us to realize their limitations, embrace them and set our babies up for success, not failure. After all, they are German shepherds – they have to be the best at something – it’s in their blood.