Breeding Racism: The Imperial Battlefields of the “German” Shepherd Dog

In: Society & Animals


During the first half of the twentieth century, the Shepherd Dog came to be strongly identified with Imperial and Nazi Germany, as well as with many other masters in the colonial world. Through its transnational diffusion after World War I, the breed became a pervasive symbol of imperial aggression and racist exploitation. The 1930s Japanese empire subtly Japanized the dogs who became an icon of the Imperial Army. How could a cultural construct so closely associated with Germany come to represent many different colonial regimes? Using Imperial Japan as a case study, this paper argues that this symbolic pliability is a derivative of the high functionality, wide adaptation, and conspicuous nature of the Shepherd Dog as protector, deterrent, and enforcer of social control. As a visible intermediary in hierarchal relationships between different human groups, the Shepherd Dog became a powerful metaphor of Nazi and colonial memories throughout much of the world.

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