The German Shepherd Dog's long and noble history began in the late 1800's with an idea for breeding strong, intelligent, highly trainable dogs for herding and guarding sheep. Not only breeding, but breeding true to form--to a standard. Until this point, any dog showing propensity for herding was used for that purpose. Therefore, many different breeds were in use, and there was a need to pinpoint abilities and pass them on genetically.
Rittmeister (Cavalry Captain) Max Emil Frederich von Stephanitz
|Universally accepted as the
"Father of the Breed"
--saw a dog in 1899 while attending a dog show in Karlsruhe, Germany; a herding dog which he felt had all the qualities he had been searching for: instinctive herding ability, high trainability, dignity, intelligence, strong build and quiet demeanor. This dog fit the motto von Stephanitz had coined for his new breed: "Utility and Intelligence", and he purchased the dog on the spot. That dog became Horand von Grafrath, the foundation dog of the German Shepherd breed, and given the designation SZ1, the very first German Shepherd Dog in the German Shepherd Dog Club, the SV. Von Stephanitz searched for bitches of Horand's type to breed with him, and being very picky, it was a hard search indeed. By carefully and selectively breeding and inbreeding, it was possible to create a line of dogs that bred true to form. Captain von Stephanitz, who had served with the Veterinary College in Berlin while in the military, used his extensive biological knowledge to help him in the science of breeding dogs.
|That same year (1899), von Stephanitz founded the Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde, or the SV (the Club for the German Shepherd Dog), became its first president, and wrote the first standard for the breed. He ruled the club as a military man would run his troops, appointing himself breeding master, judge, breed inspector and arbiter of all things German Shepherd. The foundation dog Horand von Grafrath would become the first entry in the S.V. Stud Book, in fact the first registered German Shepherd Dog.||
Horand von Grafrath SZ1
Hector von Schwaben
|Von Stephanitz felt the breed
should be founded on hereditary research and not
show wins, he therefore required that all
litters must be registered to provide the basis
for genetic recording. He advised breeders on
which dogs should be bred to which bitches, and
perhaps just as importantly, which combinations
should not be bred. He also decided which dogs
would not be used for stud at all, and sent all
this information to club members in the form of
newsletters. Von Stephanitz expected, and even
demanded compliance with the rules. He was never
interested in beauty alone, only as it pertained
to the dog's soundness and working ability. He
wanted the GSD bred for intelligence and
physical soundness suited for its work. An
excerpt from his written standard reads: "A
pleasing appearance is desirable, but it can NOT
put the dog's working ability into question."
Von Stephanitz obviously was more interested in
the brain, not the beauty of the breed.
|Captain von Stephanitz worked tirelessly to improve the breed, and to look for other ways the German Shepherd could be useful to mankind. Industrialization caused a decline in the necessity for sheep herding dogs, and he found that the intelligence of kenneled dogs declined. He therefore devised Obedience competitions to resolve this problem. After donating several dogs to policemen, their usefulness as Police Dogs was demonstrated. Various Trials, such as Herding, Training (for police), and special achievement in breeding were established. Interest in Breed Shows increased, as did membership in the SV. The Army finally recognized the usefulness of German Shepherd Dogs during the First World War. They served many functions: messengers, tracking the position of wounded soldiers, sentry and guard dogs, and patrol dogs signaling enemy presence. Other countries had discovered the GSD's many abilities, and used them extensively. Because of animosity in wartime toward anything German, England renamed the breed Alsatian. In some places that name is still used.||
Horand v Grafrath S.Z.1 (lying down) and Mari v Grafrath S.Z.2 the first two German Shepherd Dogs registered in Germany
|After World War I,
German Shepherd Dogs became famous and very
popular. Unethical breeders began to export
puppies to foreign markets, breeding without
thought to the best interest of the breed. Von
Stephanitz immediately instituted the Koerung,
or breed survey, a system whereby all dogs are
thoroughly examined, judged, and based on those
results are recommended for, or excluded from,
breeding privileges. Steady improvement of the
breed promptly re-commenced. The daring exploits
of dogs such as Rin-Tin-Tin and Strongheart on
movie screens across the United States created
immense demand for "German Police Dogs". Puppy
factories soon flourished, filling demand but
selling dogs with often questionable parentage,
malnourished, carelessly bred and possessing
innumerable physical and psychological defects.
Falsified pedigrees were not uncommon. These
breeders' only concern was the money to be made
on this popular breed. (Sadly, some of these
practices are still on-going today in many
As Nazism spread throughout Germany in the 1930's, it became more difficult for von Stephanitz to continue managing the SV due to interference from the many SV members who were Nazis. He gave up in 1935, and on April 22, 1936 , the 37th anniversary of the founding of the SV, von Stefanitz died.
The SV has continued to carry on the work of Captain von Stephanitz, breeding quality dogs and instituting new practices designed to improve the breed. One such program started in January 1971 was tattooing the right ear of every dog, and to have that number imprinted on the hip x-ray, insuring that no switches can be made. (**Note: the AKC in the United States has recently begun the same program, allowing either a tattoo, microchip or DNA Profile**)
In August 1968, Germany began their Hip Dysplasia Program, x-raying and recording thousands of dogs, rating their hip phenotype, and either allowing or disallowing breeding of that animal. All German Shepherd Dogs competing
Article submitted by Oli