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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.

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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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Animals
How Bats Protect Rare Books at This Portuguese Library
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Visit the Joanina Library at the University of Coimbra in Portugal at night and you might think the building has a bat problem. It's true that common pipistrelle bats live there, occupying the space behind the bookshelves by day and swooping beneath the arched ceilings and in and out of windows once the sun goes down, but they're not a problem. As Smithsonian reports, the bats play a vital role in preserving the institution's manuscripts, so librarians are in no hurry to get rid of them.

The bats that live in the library don't damage the books and, because they're nocturnal, they usually don't bother the human guests. The much bigger danger to the collection is the insect population. Many bug species are known to gnaw on paper, which could be disastrous for the library's rare items that date from before the 19th century. The bats act as a natural form of pest control: At night, they feast on the insects that would otherwise feast on library books.

The Joanina Library is famous for being one of the most architecturally stunning libraries on earth. It was constructed before 1725, but when exactly the bats arrived is unknown. Librarians can say for sure they've been flapping around the halls since at least the 1800s.

Though bats have no reason to go after the materials, there is one threat they pose to the interior: falling feces. Librarians protect against this by covering their 18th-century tables with fabric made from animal skin at night and cleaning the floors of guano every morning.

[h/t Smithsonian]

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Animals
Honey Bees Can Understand the Concept of Zero
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The concept of zero—less than one, nothing, nada—is deceptively complex. The first placeholder zero dates back to around 300 BCE, and the notion didn’t make its way to Western Europe until the 12th century. It takes children until preschool to wrap their brains around the concept. But scientists in Australia recently discovered a new animal capable of understanding zero: the honey bee. According to Vox, a new study finds that the insects can be taught the concept of nothing.

A few other animals can understand zero, according to current research. Dolphins, parrots, and monkeys can all understand the difference between something and nothing, but honey bees are the first insects proven to be able to do it.

The new study, published in the journal Science, finds that honey bees can rank quantities based on “greater than” and “less than,” and can understand that nothing is less than one.

Left: A photo of a bee choosing between images with black dots on them. Right: an illustration of a bee choosing the image with fewer dots
© Scarlett Howard & Aurore Avarguès-Weber

The researchers trained bees to identify images in the lab that showed the fewest number of elements (in this case, dots). If they chose the image with the fewest circles from a set, they received sweetened water, whereas if they chose another image, they received bitter quinine.

Once the insects got that concept down, the researchers introduced another challenge: The bees had to choose between a blank image and one with dots on it. More than 60 percent of the time, the insects were successfully able to extrapolate that if they needed to choose the fewest dots between an image with a few dots and an image with no dots at all, no dots was the correct answer. They could grasp the concept that nothing can still be a numerical quantity.

It’s not entirely surprising that bees are capable of such feats of intelligence. We already know that they can count, teach each other skills, communicate via the “waggle dance,” and think abstractly. This is just more evidence that bees are strikingly intelligent creatures, despite the fact that their insect brains look nothing like our own.

Considering how far apart bees and primates are on the evolutionary tree, and how different their brains are from ours—they have fewer than 1 million neurons, while we have about 86 billion—this finding raises a lot of new questions about the neural basis of understanding numbers, and will no doubt lead to further research on how the brain processes concepts like zero.

[h/t Vox]

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