Please meet Pedi Matthies. Pedi recently turned passion into business, launching HundeNerd, an online-platform cum -shop targeting dog lovers all over Germany. And trust me… there are many. Thinking about that, I wonder if the ‘standard password-question’ “What was the name of your first dog?” is asked internationally, or only in Germany… I’ll try to find out. But let’s see what Pedi can tell us about ‘the German’ and his/her dog(s):
“When asked, what is typical about the way the Germans treat their dogs, my dog-friends-network became enraged. First about the phrase „typical German“ and then about how dogs are treated correctly.
So, firstly, to clear one thing up: those lists explaining typical German behavior to foreigners, expats and tourists are really idiotic, even though we laugh about them. What else are you going to do when confronted with these lists, pinpointing embarrassing behavior that some of us have? And yes, there still are people who wear socks in sandals and yes, that is funny. But when it comes to dogs, the Germans have even less humor than usual, which, as you know from those types of lists, is not a lot. Particularly when it comes to dogs.
Dogs are important to us. A recent study by Dr. Renate Ohr of the University of Göttingen states that there are almost seven million dogs living in Germany as of 2014. These dogs make for 4,6 billions Euro turnover in the pet industry, generating up 100.000 employment opportunities. And even if, according to the same study, Great Britain, Poland, France and Italy have more dogs living there than in Germany and spend more money on dogs and other pets, for Germans the dog is a strong social factor. Dogs have the power to mediate between the social classes and help facilitate communication, be it as a reading dog in schools or in personal therapy use. Most importantly however, dogs are simply good for the german soul.
With the end of the Middle Ages, and the loosening grip of Christian dog(!)matism, dogs were not seen as evil wild animals anymore. Used by nobility to assist in hunting, the species gained respect. Noble women in England even held dogs for pleasure – perhaps thus being the inventors of „the love for animals“ (Wipperman & Berentzen, 1998). The German nobility emulated this dog trend one after another and ultimately even the proletariat kept working dogs to pull carts, to herd or to defend and warn.
In the 18th century canid breeds gain ground and varieties such as the whippet, pug, spitz and poodle become popular. The most famous of which, perhaps is Dr. Faustus´poodle. In 1848 the privilege to keep hunting dogs was opened to the populace. Now all citizens were allowed to keep dogs of all breeds.
Of course, Otto Fürst von Bismarck must be mentioned in an article about the Germans and their dogs, him being the one who, without further ado, changed the name of his preferred race, from Danish Dane to German Dane the Dog of the Empire! Talk about your typical German – he attributed the characteristics of obedience, respect for authority, courage and loyalty to his dogs and to his people.
In the year 1899, the German Shepherd society was founded and experienced a rapid rise in popularity. A strong and orderly hierarchy was one of the main features of this society. Maybe this appealed to different classes of German culture. German ideology drove this society and the dogs were bred to reflect the characteristics of courage, endurance, diligence and obedience. Furthermore Max von Stephanitz, the founder of the society and Hitler shared their concepts of racial hygiene and the love for their Aryan Ur-hund. Needless to say, the dogs were widely used in both wars and even for propaganda purposes – „Blondi“, Hitler´s German Shepherd bitch made him appear compassionate and human. The Nazis sought „Hundesport“ (dog sport) to become folk sports.
After World War II, the dogs healed the German souls and gave much-needed love and solace. In 1948 the DSV (German Shepherd society) was re-founded and again the unfortunate dogs aided to satisfy their owners wants for authoritative control.
The times moved on and the economic miracle (Wirtschaftswunder) of Germany brought forth the white Poodle with purple collar. Dogs in Germany become as heterogeneous as the human population and their functions now range from fashion accessories to vicious guard dogs.
This heterogeneity is reflected in the laws concerning dog keeping, since every state, has their own regulations. The obligation to keep dogs on a leash for example, varies from city to city and even from season to season. Many rural areas require the dog to be on a leash in spring, when wild animals are in breeding season. If you aspire to be a dog owner in Germany, best ask your local authorities for details!
Even though there are many ways to keep a dog – from family dog, to hunting dog, therapy dog and even sports partner – one thing all German dog owners can agree on, is that they love their canine friends and they do not take their job as dog carer lightly. Dogs are the smallest common denominator, across all parts of german society. Dog owners do talk to each other, exchanging a few words when meeting. However the individual “How To’s” of dog keeping are passionately and stiffly disagreed on and not infrequent cause for argument!
Unfortunately some hunting dogs are still kept in kennels, but most dogs are treated as family members. Many German dog owners are a bit overzealous regarding this and they call themselves „Mamma“ and „Pappa“ in relationship to their dog. As you can imagine, this type of dog owner humanizes their dog in a way that is not healthy for it. Treating a dog as if it were human is not species appropriate.
„Species appropriate“ is the key fashionable word for many contemporary German dog professionals, researchers, chronologists. Serious efforts are being made – worldwide thankfully – to truly understand, what it really means, to keep a dog according to the needs of its species. Taking the dog on walks and keeping it in the house together with its substitute pack is what most German dog owners can agree on. Also, taking care to supply good quality food, as well as „doing something“ with their dogs, are some truly German ways of canine handling.
The care, the Germans lavish on their dogs is reciprocal and, as is most often the case, the dog benefits its human more than the other way around. As Wipperman and Berentzen (1998, p.106) state in their comprehensive book:
„While being with the dog, man recovers from what he calls civilization and simultaneously understands himself.“