Dog Stories, Prose & Poetry
The Shepherd's Child, as the German Shepherd Dog was often known, was full of insatiable curiosity and therein begins this insightful tale of how the GSD evolved...
PARABLE ON EVOLUTION OF THE AMERICAN GSD
by Fred Lanting, All-Breed Judge and devotee of Rudyard Kipling in America
(from an address on the German Shepherd Dog given to the Australian GSD Judges Meeting, 1991)
In the High and Far-Off Times the German Shepherd Dog, Oh Best Beloved, did not suffer from today's extremes and weaknesses. He had a firm and solid stance, firm and mobile ears, firm and shiny teeth, and firm and work-worthy feet. And especially, the Shepherd's Child, as he was often known, was full of insatiable curiosity, and that means he asked ever so many questions. He was very interested in learning how to become a show dog, although he knew very little about it in the beginning.
And he lived in America, and he filled all America with his insatiable curiosities. He asked his tall aunt, the Afghan Hound, why her tail curled just so, and his tall aunt the Afghan spanked him with her long, hard paw. He asked his tall uncle, the Harlequin Dane, what made his skin so spotty, and his tall uncle the Dane spanked him with his hard, hard paw. And still he was full of insatiable curiosity! He asked his broad aunt the Alaskan Malamute and his cousin the slim Siberian Husky why the Husky's eyes were sometimes blue but the magnificent Malamute only had dark brown eyes, and the Husky spanked him with his slim but husky paw while the Malamute held him in a hammer lock. (That's a wrestler's hold, my young and younger listeners.) But that didn't stop his questions. When the Shepherd Dog's Child was turned loose, he ran to his cousin, the distinguished Doberman discarded his aloofness just long enough to slap the child with his long, hard muzzle. For this, Oh Best Beloved, was America, and the Doberman had neither tail nor long ears for spanking naughty or terribly inquisitive Shepherd pups.
And still the Shepherd's Child was full of insatiable curiosity! He asked questions about everything that he heard, or saw, or felt, or smelt, or touched, and all his uncles and aunts and other relatives spanked him. And still he was full of insatiable curiosity!
One fine morning in the middle of the Precession of the Equinoxes, this insatiable Shepherd's Child asked a fine new question that he had never asked before. He asked, "What is it like to be a Showdog, and how can I become one?" Then everybody said, "Hush!" in a loud and dreadful tone, and they spanked him immediately and directly, without stopping, for a long time. For they had learned, Oh Best Beloved, that a Showdog's life is fraught with danger and can be filled with disappointments amid the occasional fun and rewards.
By and by, when that was finished, he came upon Kolokolo Bird sitting in the middle of a wait-a-bit thorn bush, and he said, "My father has spanked me, and my mother has spanked me; all my aunts and uncles and most of my cousins have spanked me for my insatiable curiosity, and still I want to know what the Showdog life is all about. Then Kolokolo Bird said, with a mournful cry, "Go to the banks of the great gray-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever trees, and find out from the Crocodile." Now, the Shepherd's Child had never heard of a Crocodile, but if that was the only way to find out, he determined to do what the wise bird who knows all answers suggested.
That very next morning, when there was nothing left of the Equinoxes, because the Precession had preceded according to precedent, this insatiable Shepherd's Child took a hundred little mostly-liver-flavored biscuits (the little square thin kind), and five good-size cow-knuckle bones (the round jointed kind with marrow in the ends), and seventeen rawhide chewies (the yellowish brown crackly tough kind), and said to all his dear families, "Good-bye. I am going to the great gray-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever trees, to find out what the Showdog's life is like." And they all spanked him once more for luck, though he asked them most politely to stop.
Then he went away, a little warm, but not at all astonished, munching on his liver-and-chicken-flavored snacks and wondering what the Crocodile liked for snacks and bigger meals. He went from Washing Town to Kimberley, and from Kimberley to Cattle Country, and from Cattle Country he went east by north, eating snacks and chewing chewies all the time, till at last he came to the banks of the great, gray-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever trees, precisely as Kolokolo Bird had said.
Now you must remember and understand, Oh Best Beloved, that till that very week, and day, and hour, and minute, this insatiable Shepherd's Child had never seen a Crocodile, and did not know what one was like, just as he had never seen a dog show nor knew what one of those was like. It was all his insatiable curiosity. He did know, however, that the American Crocodile had the self-proclaimed reputation for knowing all about the Showdog life for the Shepherd Dog breed.
The first thing that he found was a Bi-Colored Python Rock Snake curled around a rock. “Scuse me," said the Shepherd's Child most politely, "but have you seen such a thing as a Crocodile in these promiscuous parts?" "Have I sssseen a Crocodile?" hissed the Bi-Colored Python Rock Snake in a voice of dreadful scorn. "What will you assssk me nexsssst?" "Scuse me," said the Shepherd's Child, as he shifted his sack of snacks to the other shoulder, "but could you kindly tell me what he has for dinner?" Then the Bi-Colored Python Rock Snake uncoiled himself very quickly from the rock, and spanked the Shepherd's child with his scalesome, flailsome tail. "That is odd," said the Shepherd's Child, "because my father and my mother, and my uncles and my aunts, and many of my cousins have all spanked me for my insatiable curiosity --- and I suppose this is the same thing."
So he said good-bye very politely to the Bi-Colored Python Rock Snake, and helped to coil him up on the rock again, and went on, a little warm but not at all astonished, gnawing on knuckle bones and dropping some of the bone chips because he knew he'd get a little sick if he tried to keep them all in his stomach.
He continued till he trod upon what he thought was a log of wood at the very edge of the great, gray-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever trees. But it was really the Crocodile, Oh Best Beloved, and the Crocodile winked one eye --- like this!
"Scuse me," said the Shepherd's Child most politely, "but do you happen to have seen a Crocodile in these promiscuous parts?" Then the Crocodile winked the other eye, and lifted half his tail out of the mud; and the Shepherd's Child stepped back most politely, because he did not want to be spanked again. "Come hither, Little One," said the Crocodile. "Why do you ask such things?"
"I'm sorry," said the Shepherd's Child most politely, "but my father has spanked me and my mother has spanked me, not to mention my tall aunt and uncle and my broad aunt and my cousins, and others in my dear families who can kick so hard, and also including the Bi-Colored Python Rock Snake with the scalesome, flailsome tail, just up the bank, who spanks harder than any of them; and so, if it's quite all the same to you, I don't want to be spanked any more." "Come hither, Little One," said the Crocodile, "for I am the Crocodile", and he wept crocodile tears to show it was quite true. Then the Shepherd's Child grew all breathless, and panted, and kneeled down on the bank and said, "You are the very person I have been looking for all these long days. Will you please tell me all that you know about the Showdog life? And while you're at it, would you tell me what you have for dinner? You see, I come from a working family, and have heard that the Showdog life is an exciting and wonderful existence, and I am full of insatiable curiosity." "Come hither, Little One," said the Crocodile, "and I'll whisper things to you."
Then the Shepherd's Child put his head down close to the Crocodile's musky, tusky mouth, and the Crocodile caught him by his little broad nose, which up to that very week, day, hour, and minute, had been no longer than a small boot, though much more useful. "I think", said the Crocodile, and he said it between his teeth, like this, --- "I think today I will remodel this Shepherd's Child, beginning with his nose, and make him fancier, flashier, fleet of foot, and frail of frame, flaky in the brain, long as a train, and as functional and funny as some modern art." (Now you know it is impossible for me to talk like that, for I cannot pronounce anything with an "f" in it while I am talking through my teeth, but I must tell you, Oh Best Beloved, that the American Crocodile is able to talk out of both sides of his mouth at once.
At this, the Shepherd's Child was much annoyed, and he said, speaking without the use of his nose, like this: "Led go! You are hurtig bee!" Then the Bi-Colored Python Rock Snake scuffled down from the bank and said, "My young friend, if you do not now, immediately and insssstantly, pull asssss hard asssss ever you can, it issss my opinion that your new acquaintancsssse in the large-patterned leather ulsssster" (and by this he meant the Crocodile) "will jerk you into yonder limpid sssstream before you can ssssay Jack Robinsssson." (This is the way Bi-Colored Python Rock Snakes always talk, slowly and mysteriously.)
Then the Shepherd's Child sat back on his little haunches, and pulled, and pulled, and pulled, and pulled, and his nose began to stretch. And the Crocodile floundered into the water, making it all creamy and foamy with great sweeps of his tail, and he pulled, and pulled, and pulled, and pulled.
The young Shepherd Dog slipped on the slimy, slippery river bank and the Crocodile readjusted his grip so that he now had the dog by the entire head. But now the Shepherd's Child's head was no longer quite so broad, for it had been pinched so that it looked more delicate, like one of his sisters back home, and a little like a Borzoi with a stop. His lower jaw had been squeezed so tightly that the bottom incisors had gone out of line and some premolars had fallen out.
"Never you mind," said the Crocodile, "you look just beautiful, and I, who am the expert, should know. Trust me." And the Shepherd Child's ears were stretching in the Crocodile's grip, till they looked like ears of a mule, and till their tips met and their bases weakened. And the Shepherd's Child felt the strength leave his once-mobile but now soft and floppy ears. "Never you mind," grinned the Crocodile between his jagged, snaggled teeth. "I am the expert and I know what I am doing. Trust me." At this the Shepherd Dog slipped and the great reptilian creature made another lunge and caught the Shepherd's Child by the whole front end. The Shepherd's Child dug in with his back legs and pulled and pulled and pulled, and his forequarters straightened up and his body kept on stretching; and the Crocodile threshed his tail like an oar, and he pulled and pulled and pulled, and at each pull the Shepherd's Child's leg bones and torso grew longer and longer, and it hurt him horribly!
Once again the Shepherd Child lost his footing on the frothy muddy bank, and once again the Crocodile tried to readjust his grip. But this time the dog had tumbled tail over teapot, so the great grinning jaws of the Crocodile fixed firmly on the child's hind parts. Which is to say, Oh Best Beloved, his once-strong rear legs which were now bent too much, and his once-strong hocks which were now a meter behind his thighs, and his decently-respectably-sloped croup was now much too steep. His loin became terribly long, and his stifle and lower thigharea even longer.
Then the Bi-colored Python Rock Snake came down from the bank and knotted himself in a double cove hitch 'round the Shepherd's Child's front and shoulder, and said, "Rassssh and inexsssperiencsssed traveller, we will now sssserioussssly devote oursssselvessss to a little high tenssssion, becausssse if we do not, it issss my impressssion that yonder sssself-propelling man-of-war with the armor-plated upper deck" (and by this, Oh Best Beloved, he meant the Crocodile), "will permanently visssstiate your future career." (This is the way all Bi-Colored Python Rock Snakes always talk, carefully and colorfully.) So he pulled, and the Shepherd's Child pulled, and the Crocodile pulled; but the Shepherd's Child and the Bi-Colored Python Rock Snake pulled hardest, until the young dog's shoulder blades were nearly up to his ears. Of course I mean to say the Shepherd's Child's new floppy ears, as everyone knows that snakes have no ears. But don't ask me how a snake can hear in order to carry on a conversation.
At last, with all this pulling, the Crocodile let go of the Shepherd's Child with a plop that you could hear all the way up and down the Limpopo. Then the Shepherd's Child sat down most hard and suddenly; but first he was careful to say "Thank you" to the Bi-Colored Python Rock Snake. And next he was kind to his poor pulled nose, which he wrapped all up in cool banana leaves, and to his legs and weakened pasterns all of which he soaked in the river.
"What are you doing that for?" said the Bi-Colored Python Rock Snake. " 'Scuse me," said the Shepherd's Child, “but my body is badly out of shape and I feel quite fearful, and I am waiting for all my pulled parts to shrink back the way they were. For my soft floppy ears and soft floppy feet to firm, for my shoulder blade to lay back again, for my loin to contract, and my rear legs (which are so far behind me now) to return to normal. And I am waiting for my confidence to return.” "Then you will have to wait a rather long time," said the Bi-Colored Python Rock Snake facetiously and sarcastically. "Ssssome people do not know what is good for them."
The Shepherd's Child sat there for three days beneath the bottly tree with its twisty roots and its eight leaves. This is one of the types of fever trees that grow in those parts. He was waiting for his body to shrink back to normal, having completely missed the snake's meaning which was that the change was permanent and he should accept his new look. And besides, wishing for it only made him squint. But the dog's body did not grow back the way it had been before the American Crocodile had remodeled it.
If you journey to the land of the Limpopo and listen to the learned Crocodiles who have distorted the German Shepherd Dog breed, Oh Best Beloved, you can see and understand that the Crocodile has pulled its members out into a really fancy (though useless), exotic and exciting caricature, the same as most Shepherd Dogs in America have today.
At the end of the third day the Shepherd's Child gave up and got up to go home. Before he knew what he was doing, he wobbled like a mechanical eggbeater. He marveled at the looseness in his hocks, but the Bi-Colored Python Rock Snake exclaimed, "Advantage number one! You could not have done that before, and now with a little practissssce you can become the firsssst canine capable of crocheting. Repeat after me: 'knit one, purl two'."
But the Shepherd's Child did not much like the way he moved now, nor how when he stood still, one metatarsus was frequently flat on the ground. "I look like a sitting kangaroo," he complained to no one in particular. He tried trotting faster but found that he often stepped so high in front it reminded him of the way the goose (who was no relation to him) stepped so high along the pathways at home. "I do not like this, either," he said. "I feel so unworkable and weak." But the Bi-Colored Python Rock Snake simply hissed, "You'll get ussssed to it, and you'll be known at home assss a real Showdog. Bessssidessss, it'ssss advantage number two: you'll sssstand apart, or sssshould I ssssay crouch apart and move apart, from the working crowd. Jusssst think: a life of leisure and a truly disssstinct look!"
The snake had helped him out of the Crocodile's jaws, so the Shepherd's Child did not stop to think that his long slithery acquaintance might be mistaken. The Shepherd's Child was thirsty from all that great exertion, but by now he was far enough from the river bank that the only moisture was deep in the trumpet-shaped bell of the Quillaquilla blossoms which ordinarily gave up their nectar only to hummingbirds and butterflies. So he stuck his long needle nose into the center of the blooms and drank.
"Advantage number three!" spake the snake, who had just now caught up with him. "You could not have done that before, with your bigger, broader head." And he told the Shepherd's Child the same foretelling, somewhat, that the Crocodile had told him, which was that the Shepherd's Child would have an exciting career as a Showdog, and that he would be very happy, but he would never learn what the Crocodile has for dinner. To the Shepherd's Child, the voice of the Bi-Colored Python Rock Snake sounded curiously like that of the Crocodile, but he was concentrating so hard to hear, that the thought of the snake and the Crocodile being reptilian relatives completely slipped his now-weakened mind.
" 'Scuse me," said the Shepherd's Child, "but I am confused and do not like this at all." With this, he started off again with long yet inefficient stride. "Wait," panted the Bi-Colored Python Rock Snake. " I cannot keep up with you nor accompany you the resssst of your way, sssso allow me to whissssper some wissssdom in your ear before you go." "Thank you," said the very polite Shepherd's Child, and he listened carefully to the final two, all-important words which the Bi-Colored Python Rock Snake put into his wonderful weak new ears. (And which words I shall reveal to you, Oh Best Beloved, at the end of this parable, more than three quarters of which has come true already, and it appears the rest may follow.)
So the Shepherd's Child went home across America, frisking and whisking his ears and weak pasterns and all the new features he had received from the Showdog-creating Crocodile. He felt a little better after hearing what the Bi-Colored Python Rock Snake told him in parting, though also a little lost. One dark evening he came back to all his dear families, and he lifted up his head very high above his shoulders and said, "How do you do?" They were very glad to see him, and immediately said he should be spanked for his insatiable curiosity. "Pooh," said the Shepherd's Child. "I don't think you peoples know anything about chasing and catching, much less spanking; but I do, and I'll show you." Then he sped away in a big circle so fast that he made two of his dear cousins fall over from dizziness. Oh, knickers!" said they, "where did you learn that trick and what have you done to your pasterns and hocks and head and waist and everything else?" "I got new ones from the Crocodile on the banks of the great gray-green, greasy Limpopo River," said the Shepherd's Child. "I asked him all sorts of questions such as what he usually had for dinner (but I never found out that) and how to become a Showdog, and he gave me this new, classy design, this new look, to keep. "It looks very ugly," grouched his hairy uncle the Belgian Sheepdog. "It does," said the Shepherd's Child vainly and vaporously, "but it's very eye-catching, don't you think?"
And he turned toward the quiet Kolokolo Bird as he asked that somewhat hopeful, somewhat prideful question. The wise bird hopped around the Shepherd's Child first in one direction, then in the other, cocking his head in amazement at the new appearance. "Well," he chirped and chuckled at last, "it certainly is different from all the German Shepherd Dogs in the rest of the world! But," he added, "as long as you keep to the American show ring, almost no one there will know the difference, and so what do you care if no one in the other countries would recognize you? You will certainly win praise and ribbons here."
The Shepherd Child's brothers and sisters heard this, and since Kolokolo Bird knows all, including most of the future, they all went off one by one in a hurry to the banks of the great, gray-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever trees, to borrow new bodies and brains from the American Crocodile.
When they came back no-one spanked anyone anymore, but rather preened and postured in exaggerated style. Hardly anybody tried to do any work anymore. Ever since that day, many of the American Shepherd Dogs you will ever see, besides many of those that you won't, have forms precisely like that of the made-over and insatiable American Shepherd's Child. But there was one thing that I, Oh Best Beloved, as an insatiably curious child myself, simply had to know: what were the two last wise words whispered in the sloppy floppy ears of the Shepherd's Child by the Bi-Colored Python Rock Snake? I asked Kolokolo Bird, since Kolokolo Bird knows all, and he had asked the Shepherd's Child to whisper it to him when he was hopping around that new spectacle.
The last two truthful-sounding words spoken before the Bi-Colored Python Rock Snake took leave of the new American Shepherd Dog beneath the fever trees set about the Limpopo River, after assuring him of success as a Showdog, "Trusssst me!"
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footnote: Fred was born the year Kipling died and feels a special connection with him. Fred is the author of The Total German Shepherd Dog, the definitive book on Hip Dysplasia and conducts international seminars on structure, movement, and breed type.