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10 Noble Facts About German Shepherds

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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.

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NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
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Animals
Watch the First-Ever Footage of a Baby Dumbo Octopus
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Dumbo octopuses are named for the elephant-ear-like fins they use to navigate the deep sea, but until recently, when and how they developed those floppy appendages were a mystery. Now, for the first time, researchers have caught a newborn Dumbo octopus on tape. As reported in the journal Current Biology, they discovered that the creatures are equipped with the fins from the moment they hatch.

Study co-author Tim Shank, a researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, spotted the octopus in 2005. During a research expedition in the North Atlantic, one of the remotely operated vehicles he was working with collected several coral branches with something strange attached to them. It looked like a bunch of sandy-colored golf balls at first, but then he realized it was an egg sac.

He and his fellow researchers eventually classified the hatchling that emerged as a member of the genus Grimpoteuthis. In other words, it was a Dumbo octopus, though they couldn't determine the exact species. But you wouldn't need a biology degree to spot its resemblance to Disney's famous elephant, as you can see in the video below.

The octopus hatched with a set of functional fins that allowed it to swim around and hunt right away, and an MRI scan revealed fully-developed internal organs and a complex nervous system. As the researchers wrote in their study, Dumbo octopuses enter the world as "competent juveniles" ready to jump straight into adult life.

Grimpoteuthis spends its life in the deep ocean, which makes it difficult to study. Scientists hope the newly-reported findings will make it easier to identify Grimpoteuthis eggs and hatchlings for future research.

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Joe Raedle, Getty Images
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Animals
10 Things You Might Not Know About Grizzly Bears
Joe Raedle, Getty Images
Joe Raedle, Getty Images

Ursus arctos horribilis is better known by the more casual term of grizzly bear. These massive, brown-haired predators have a reputation as one of nature’s most formidable killing machines. Standing up to 8 feet tall and weighing 800 pounds, these fierce mammals have captivated—and frightened—humans for centuries. Keep your distance and read up on these facts about their love for munching moths, eating smaller bears, and being polar-curious.

1. THEY’RE ACTUALLY PRETTY LIGHT EATERS.

Grizzlies—more accurately, North American brown bears—are strong enough to make a meal out of whatever they like, including moose, elk, and bison. Despite their reputation for having carnivorous appetites, their diet also consists of nuts, berries, fruits, and leaves. They’ll even eat mice. The gluttony doesn’t kick in until they begin to exhibit hyperphagia, preparing for winter hibernation by chomping down enough food to gain up to three pounds a day.

2. THEY USE “CPR” TO GET AT YOUR FOOD.

A grizzly bear eats fruit in Madrid, Spain
Dani Pozo, AFP/Getty Images

More than 700 grizzlies live in or near Yellowstone National Park, which forces officials to constantly monitor how park visitors and the bears can peacefully co-exist. Because bears rummaging in food containers can lead to unwanted encounters, the park’s Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center tests trash cans and coolers to see if they’re bear-resistant. (Nothing is truly bear-proof.) Often, a bear will use “CPR,” or jumping on a canister with its front legs, in order to make the lid pop off. Containers that can last at least 60 minutes before being opened can be advertised by their manufacturers as being appropriate for bear-inhabited environments.

3. THEY CAN CLIMB TREES.

It's a myth that grizzlies can't climb trees. Though their weight and long claws make climbing difficult [PDF], and they need support from evenly-spaced branches, grizzlies can travel vertically if they choose to.

4. THEY’LL EAT OTHER BEARS.

Two grizzly bears play in a pool at a zoo in France
Jean-Francois Monier, AFP/Getty Images

In addition to being omnivorous, grizzlies can also be classified as cannibals. They’ve been spotted eating the carcasses of black bears in Canada. Calling it a “bear-eat-bear world,” officials at Banff National Park in Alberta said the grizzlies are “opportunistic” and more than willing to devour black bears—sometimes just one-fifth their size—if the occasion calls for it. And it’s not just black bears: One study on bear eating habits published in 2017 recorded a 10-year-old male eating a 6-year-old female brown bear.

5. THEY LOVE MOTHS.

Although grizzlies enjoy eating many insects, moths are at the top of the menu. Researchers have observed that bears are willing to climb to alpine heights at Montana’s Glacier National Park in order to feast on the flying appetizers. Grizzlies will turn over rocks and spend up to 14 hours in a day devouring in excess of 40,000 moths.

6. A PAIR OF THEM ONCE LIVED ON WHITE HOUSE GROUNDS.

A grizzly bear appears at the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenseburg, Colorado
John Moore, Getty Images

In what would be considered an ill-advised decision, explorer Zebulon Pike decided to gift his friend President Thomas Jefferson with two grizzly cubs in 1807. Jefferson reluctantly accepted them and kept them in a cage near the north entrance to the White House, and later re-gifted the cubs to museum operator Charles Willson Peale. Sadly, one of them got shot after getting too aggressive with Peale’s family.

7. THEY CAN RUN FASTER THAN USAIN BOLT.

The bears we see in fiction or lazing about in the wild tend to look cumbersome and slow, as most anything weighing nearly a half-ton would. But in a land race, even Olympic champions would be on the losing end. Grizzlies can reportedly run 35 mph, and sustain speeds of up to 28 mph for two miles, faster than Usain Bolt’s 27.78 miles per hour stride (which he can only sustain for a few seconds).

8. THEY MATE WITH POLAR BEARS.

A grizzly bear is shown swimming at a pool in an Illinois zoo
Scott Olson, Getty Images

In parts of Alaska and Canada where grizzlies and polar bears converge, there are sometimes rare sightings of what observers call “grolar bears” or “pizzlies.” With large heads and light-colored fur, they’re a hybrid superbear birthed from some interspecies mating. Typically, it’s male grizzlies who roam into those territories, finding female polar bears to cozy up with. Researchers believe climate change is one reason the two are getting together.

9. THEY KNOW HOW TO COVER THEIR TRACKS.

When it comes to intellect, grizzlies may not get all the same publicity that birds and whales do, but they’re still pretty clever. The bears can remember hotspots for food even if it’s been 10 years since they last visited the area; some have been observed covering tracks or obscuring themselves with rocks and trees to avoid detection by hunters.

10. THEY’RE NOT OUT OF THE WOODS YET.

A grizzly bear and her cub walk in Yellowstone National Park
Karen Bleier, AFP/Getty Images

For 42 years, grizzlies at Yellowstone occupied the endangered species list. That ended in 2017, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared that a rise in numbers—from 150 in the 1970s to more than 700 today—meant that conservation efforts had been successful. But overall, the grizzly population is still struggling: Fewer than 2000 remain in the lower 48 states, down from 50,000 two centuries ago.

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