By Marsha Brandsdorfer

German shepherds on stamps would be a fun topic to collect. The breed did not exist until Max Emil Friedrich von Stephanitz, a German dog breeder took a shepherd-like dog he named Horand and bred it with other dogs to try and develop a dog that he would call his “grand design,” which would be loyal, a good worker, smart and athletic. His German shepherd was acknowledged in 1908, by the American Kennel Club as a breed. The dogs were recognized as a service to the German military. The United States did not use dogs until much later.  In the military, the German shepherds would be used as messengers, carrying notes, and saddlebags of medical supplies. Once fighting ended on a battlefield, dogs could sniff a field searching for survivors. Some dogs cleared rats out of dirt trenches used in battlefields.

Lee Duncan was a young man from California who joined the United States Army in 1917. In September 1918, Duncan was strolling in a field in Eastern France, when he found a building that looked as if it had been used as a kennel by the Germans. In the back of this building, he found a female German shepherd and her litter of five puppies. After struggling with the protective mother, he finally took her and her puppies out to his truck and drove them back to the base. He gave away the mother and three of the puppies.

Keeping a male and female for himself, he named the puppies Rin Tin Tin and Nanette after a pair of popular French dolls at that time which were made of yarn or silk and considered good luck charms.

Several years after the war, Duncan signed a contract with Warner Bros. and ended up staying with the studio for eight years. It was here that Rin Tin Tin became a movie star in silent films. Rin Tin Tin’s physical feats were amazing and he also seemed like a good actor.

After Pearl Harbor, the U.S. military asked the public to donate their dogs to be trained and sent to Europe and the Pacific for use in WWII. Duncan was invited to help train donated dogs and help with public relations. The German shepherd was designated the “official dog breed” for the United States Army, and Rin Tin Tin was used as an example of the ideal American dog for wartime. Rin Tin Tin‘s popularity continued after the war, and his descendants have been enjoyed in movie and television programs throughout the world. Rin Tin Tin today remains immortal through multiple collectibles that can be found, particularly on eBay.

In general, a well-trained German shepherd can be used as a service dog for the blind, to aid the police, and be enjoyed by families as a pet.

My research source for this article was the 2011 book, Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend by Susan Orlean.