CLOSE
Original image
istock

10 Noble Facts About German Shepherds

Original image
istock

Intelligent, agile, and spirited, the German Shepherd is the ultimate service dog. There’s a lot underneath that thick coat of fur you might not know. 

1. Germans standardized the breed (of course). 

In 1889, breeder Max von Stephanitz noticed a wolf-like dog with yellow and black markings at a dog show in western Germany. Impressed by the pooch’s intelligence and discipline, the breeder purchased the dog and changed its name from from Hektor Linksrhein to Horand von Grafrath. Von Stephanitz then started the German Shepherd Dog Club and set up guidelines for the breed’s standard. His motto for the breed was "utility and intelligence"; good looks came second.

2. They work like dogs.

As Germany became more industrialized, von Stephanitz realized that the need for his dogs might decline. To maintain their relevance, he worked with police and other service workers to secure a place for the dogs in the working force. Since they had been bred to be highly intelligent and athletic, they were easy to train and were tireless workers. Thanks to von Stephanitz’s help, the diligent canines found work as messengers and guards.

3. World War I brought German Shepherds out West.

During the war, Germans used the dogs for a number of purposes. Mercy dogs brought first aid to wounded soldiers after battle and would stay near mortally injured soldiers to keep them company as they passed away. Others delivered messages or worked as guard dogs.

Americans were so impressed with these pooches that they brought some home. The United States was captivated with the breed’s appearance, and they soon became wildly popular.

4. America loves them.

According to the American Kennel Club, German Shepherds were the second most popular dog breed in the country in 2014. The breed also ranked number one in major cities like Miami and Nashville.

5. They really are smart.

German Shepherds are known for their intelligence, and with good reason: They’re considered the third smartest breed of dog. To be placed in the top tier of intelligence, breeds must understand a new command after only five repetitions and follow the first command given to them 95 percent of the time.

6. The dogs went through a temporary name change.

After the World Wars, Americans and many Europeans were a little leery of anything German. As a result, a dog called a “German Shepherd” didn’t seem very appealing. To combat this bias, the American Kennel Club simply called them shepherd dogs, and the English called them Alsatian wolf dogs. That moniker was used until 1977, but it was used for so long in Europe that some people still refer to them as Alsatians to this day.

7. Some can be affected with dwarfism.

Although rare, some German Shepherds can have pituitary dwarfism, and as a result, the dogs are puppy-like forever, keeping their puppy fur and staying small in stature. While this condition makes them look like adorable teddy bears, it comes with a whole slew of health problems.

8. A play once featured six German Shepherds as actors.

In the mid-'80s, Dutch director Whim Schipper developed a play that starred six German Shepherds. The dogs were sent to drama lessons in Amsterdam and given treats as motivation to act. Called Going to the Dogs, the play featured a traditional family plot: The daughter brings home a new boyfriend, and love, jealousy, and parental worries come into play. Unsurprisingly, the play was a flop—even the theater’s manager left early. 

9. Rin Tin Tin was the breed’s biggest star.

Getty Images

Rin Tin Tin was a German Shepherd rescued from the WWI battlefield. His savior, an American soldier named Duncan Lee, trained the dog to work in silent films. The dog became a star whose draw was so enormous that Warner Bros. would release a Rin Tin Tin movie whenever it was having financial problems. 

It’s rumored that Rin Tin Tin was actually voted the best actor of the first Academy Awards in 1929. Susan Orlean, the author of Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend suggests that the dog was passed over for Emil Jannings simply because he was human. "In terms of popularity, Rin Tin Tin didn't have a peer," Orlean told The Guardian. "He was a huge star around the world. […] I can't imagine that Emil Jannings was opening films, but Rin Tin Tin certainly did."

10. The dogs have a solid hold on YouTube as well.

Besides the silver screen, you can also find the dogs on your computer screen: Searching "German Shepherd" on YouTube returned a little more than half a million results. Here’s a personal favorite of 14 German Shepherds frolicking with a little girl.

Original image
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.406E
arrow
Art
New Smithsonian Exhibit Explains Why Felines Were the Cat's Meow in Ancient Egypt
Original image
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.406E

From bi-coastal cat cafes to celebrity pets like Lil Bub, felines are currently enjoying a peak moment in popular culture. That’s part of the reason why curators at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery—which will re-open to visitors on Saturday, October 14, following a 3-month closure—decided to dedicate a new exhibition to ancient Egypt’s relationship with the animals.

Divine Felines: Cats of Ancient Egypt” looks at the cultural and religious importance of cats, which the Egyptians appreciated long before YouTube was a thing and #caturday was a hashtag. It's based on a traveling exhibition that began at the Brooklyn Museum in New York City. On view until January 15, 2018, it's one of several exhibits that will kick off the grand reopening of the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler galleries, the conjoined national museums of Asian and Middle Eastern Art.

The Freer has been closed since January 2016 for major renovations, and the Sackler since July 2016 for minor ones. The upgraded institutions will make their public debut on October 14, and be feted by a free two-day festival on the National Mall.

Featuring 80 artworks and relics, ranging from figurines of leonine deities to the tiny coffins of beloved pets, "Divine Felines" even has a cat mummy on loan from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. These objects span from the Middle Kingdom (2008 to 1630 BCE) to the Byzantine period (395 to 642 CE).

An ancient Egyptian metal weight shaped like a cat, dating back to 305 to 30 BCE, on view at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Weight in Form of a Cat, 305 to 30 BCE, Bronze, silver, lead
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 36.114

The term “cat” is used loosely, as the Egyptians celebrated domestic mousers and fearsome predators alike.

“The Egyptians were close observers of nature, so they were observing cat behaviors,” Antonietta Catanzariti, the exhibition's in-house curator, tells Mental Floss. “They noticed that cats and lions— in general, felines—have aggressive and protective aspects, so they associated those attributes to deities.”

The ancient Egyptians viewed their gods as humans, animals, or mixed forms. Several of these pantheon members were both associated with and depicted as cats, including Bastet, the goddess of motherhood, fertility, and protection; and Sakhmet, the goddess of war and—when appeased—healing. She typically has a lion head, but in some myths she appears as a pacified cat.

A limestone sculptor's model of a walking lion, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Sculptor's Model of a Walking Lion, ca. 664 to 630 BCE, limestone
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 33.190

While Bastet was a nurturer, Sakhmet—whose name means “The Powerful One”—could use her mighty force to either slay or safeguard humanity. These characterizations are typical of the ancient Egyptian worldview, which perceived the universe in dualistic terms. “There’s always a positive and a negative,” Catanzariti explains.

Contrary to popular belief, however, ancient Egyptians did not view cats themselves as gods. “The goddess Sakhmet does have the features as a lion, or in some cases as a cat, but that doesn’t mean that the Egyptians were worshipping cats or lions,” Catanzariti says. Instead, they were simply noting and admiring her feline traits. This practice, to an extent, also extended to royalty. Kings were associated with lions and other large cats, as they were the powerful protectors of ancient Egypt’s borders.

These myriad associations prompted Egyptians to adorn palaces, temples, protective amulets, ceremonial vessels, and accessories with cat images. Depending on their context, these renderings symbolized everything from protection and power to beauty and sexuality. A king’s throne might have a lion-shaped support, for example, whereas a woman’s cosmetics case might be emblazoned with a cat-headed female goddess of motherhood and fertility.

An ancient Egyptian figurine of a standing lion-headed goddess, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Figurine of a Standing Lion-Headed Goddess, 664 to 630 BCE, Faience
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.943E

While cats were linked with heavenly figures and kings, they were also popular domestic pets. Their ability to catch vermin made them an important addition to households, and owners loved and anthropomorphized their pets just like we do today.

Egyptians often named, or nicknamed, their children after animals; Miit (cat) was a popular moniker for girls. It's said that entire households shaved their eyebrows in mourning if a house cat died a natural death. Some also believe that cats received special legal protection. (Not all cats were this lucky, however, as some temples bred kittens specifically to offer their mummified forms to the gods.) If a favorite cat died, the Egyptians would bury them in special decorated coffins, containers, and boxes. King Tutankhamen, for example, had a stone sarcophagus constructed just for his pet feline.

An ancient Egyptian bronze cat head adorned with gold jewelry, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Cat's Head, 30 BCE. to third century CE, bronze, gold
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 36.114

“Divine Felines” breaks down these facts, and more, into five thematic sections, including “Cats and Kings"; “Cats and Gods”; “Cats and Death”; “Cats and Protection”; and “Dogs as Guardians and Hunters.” Yes, there’s also an exhibition section for dog lovers—“a small one,” Catanzariti laughs, that explains why canines were associated with figures like Anubis, the jackal-headed god of mummification and the afterlife.

Did the ancient Egyptians prefer cats to dogs? “I would say that both of them had different roles,” Catanzariti says, as dogs were valued as hunters, scavengers, and guards. “They were appreciated in different ways for their ability to protect or be useful for the Egyptian culture.” In this way, "Divine Felines" is targeted to ailurophiles and canophiliacs alike, even if it's packaged with pointed ears and whiskers.

An ancient Egyptian cat coffin, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Coffin for a Cat, 664 to 332 BCE, or later, Wood, gesso, paint, animal remains
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.1944Ea-b
arrow
Animals
Here's the First-Ever Video of Sand Cat Kittens Playing in the Wild

Sand cats are as elusive as they are adorable. Native to the isolated deserts of Asia and Africa, the nocturnal felines are adapted to desert life, and can go for long periods without water. They’re stealthy predators of venomous snakes and small rodents, and escape detection thanks to their pale sandy coats and furry paws, the latter of which make their tracks nearly invisible. These reasons, among others, are why sand kittens have never been captured on video—until now.

As The Independent reports, researchers from Panthera France, a wild cat conservation group, recently found and filmed three sand cat kittens in Morocco. Thought to be around two months old, they were hiding among vegetation as they waited for their mother to return.

Led by biologists Alexander Sliwa and Grégory Breton, the managing director of Panthera France, the researchers first embarked on their quest to locate and study the wild cat in 2013. Over the course of multiple expeditions, they encountered adults, but no offspring.

In April 2017, during their fifth expedition, Sliwa and Breton were heading back to camp at night when they spotted three pairs of gleaming eyes in the darkness. "They belonged to young sand cats, yellowish, small wild cats with broader faces and larger ears than domestic cats," Breton recounted on Panthera France's blog. Astonished, the scientists managed to record the kittens and identify and radio-collar their mother.

Experts think this is the first time that sand cat (Felis margarita) kittens have been documented in their African range. Until Sliwa and Breton locate even more baby cats for us to ogle, you can enjoy their video footage below.

[h/t The Independent]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios