History of The Breed



In Germany, as in France, the United Kingdom, Holland, and others, the growth of large industrialized cities meant that predators were declining quickly and also that there was a greater awareness of the excellence of the shepherding dogs of different areas. The establishment of dogs of fixed type was now at hand although there were still great variations to be found from one area to another. Breeders would meet and discuss the relative merits and shortcomings of certain dogs, and it followed that dogs of high merit were much in demand as breeders tried to fix into their stock the sterling qualities seen in dogs from other areas. It came to pass that in Germany, in 1891, a group of enthusiasts formed the Phylax Society with the aim of fostering and standardizing native German breeds. The society was short-lived and in 1894 it was disbanded, but it had sown the seeds from which the German Shepherd was to emerge.

At this time Capt. Max von Stephanitz appears in the breed’s history and indeed it is this man who is acclaimed as the father of the breed. Von Stephanitz had long admired the qualities of intelligence, strength, and ability found in many   native sheepdog breeds but had yet to see one which embodied all of his ideals. Chance was to play its part, and  while visiting a show with a friend in 1899, he saw a dog that impressed him greatly to all accounts so much that then and there he purchased the dog and promptly formed a society, the Verein fur deutsche Schaferhunde or SV as it is called. This was a milestone in the breed’s history and marked the beginning of a new era for it. From this date the German Shepherd as a specific breed had arrived.The dog was called Hektor Linksrhein but was later named Horand v Grafeth by Von Stephanitz, who used the animal as the basis on which much future development would be made. Horand was greatly admired by many breeders who were quick to use him in their breeding programs. Not surprisingly, he became the dog that best exemplified the goals of early breeders.Horand’s most celebrated son was Hektor v Shwaben, who in turn sired Heinz v Starkenburg and the litter brothers Beowolf and Pilot.

Each of these dogs in turn sired many progeny and became pillars in the development of the German Shepherd. Von Stephanitz was a cavalry captain and was ideally suited to impose his strong will over the SV of which he was president. In this capacity and with uncompromising dedication he directed the breeding programs. The dogs of Thuringia, Frankonia, and Wurttemburg were all used, each area providing dogs which had special merits of tail and ear carriage, size, color, and temperament.

The degree of inbreeding was necessarily high at this time, for although it carried risks of incorporating faults, it likewise enabled the breeders to fix permanently those qualities which today are such features of the breed. Von Stephanitz believed above all else that the German Shepherd should be bred for utility and intelligence and this was to become his motto. It was this adaptability that was later to make the dog the world’s greatest all-rounder.With the oncoming of the twentieth century, and having seen the SV develop into the largest single breed club in the world, Von Stephanitz was turning his attention to the long-term future. He was able to foresee that in a growing industrialized nation the role of the pastoral shepherd dog would decline and the breed must be able to adapt to other work if it were to continue as a functional animal.

It seemed that the very qualities that made the German Shepherd such an exceptional sheepdog could well be put to good use by government departments. This was the thinking of Von Stephanitz and this was to be his next campaign. As always, he achieved this and during World War I was seen as messenger dog, rescue dog, sentry dog, and personal guard dog. Servicemen from the USA, UK, and the Commonwealth would see first hand the dog’s bravery, intelligence, and steadfastness, and many stories were taken back home. Not surprisingly, a number of dogs were acquired by servicemen and transported home with them.

In 1919, when the English Kennel Club gave the breed a separate register, some 54 animals were included, but by 1926 the ranks had swelled to 8,058, such was the unprecedented success of the dog. At the end of the War it was thought that the breed would not flourish were the word German to appear in its name and it was therefore decided to call the breed the Alsatian Wolf Dog after the German-French border area of Alsace-Lorraine. The “Wolf Dog” tag was later to be dropped—again as it was felt that this would prejudice the breed. Thus we had for many years the misnomer of the breed brought about by national hostilities. In 1977, following numerous campaigns by breeders the name of the breed was changed back to the German Shepherd Dog by which it is known in the USA, Australia, and most other countries.

With the breed arriving in Britain mainly on the strength of its reputation as a war dog, its sterling qualities as a sheepdog were largely overlooked. At that time Britain already had a string of quality working sheepdogs such as Collies, Corgis, and Old English Sheepdogs. Therefore, the pattern of development of the German Shepherd in the USA, UK, and Australia was to be dictated by its adaptability. The Seeing Eye dogs in the USA and Britain were predominantly German Shepherds and only later did the Labrador challenge this position.

At the outbreak of World War II, the trained dogs of the Allied Forces were seen wherever the troops traveled, spreading the breed’s popularity like a blanket around the world.Since World War II German Shepherd has gone from strength to strength and is now one of the world’s most popular breeds. This is as it should be, for while task for task other breeds may surpass it, no other single breed has been able to master such a wide range of skills as the German Shepherd Dog.The German Shepherd is large enough to tackle a man and win a contest, yet agile enough to cope with a flock of sheep. He may not be able to outrun a Greyhound but he can show an amazing turn of speed, and having developed from natural working strains, he can maintain a steady canter far longer than most other breeds.

It can be seen from the foregoing that our modern German Shepherd is a king among dogs, noble of head, athletic in body. Here is a dog developed to be functional, the epitome of dedicated and carefully planned breeding.The problems that have confronted the post-war breeders have in their own way been as great as those confronting the early pioneers.Most early German Shepherds were predominantly working dogs and it was therefore not difficult to ensure that working qualities were maintained and that the breed’s natural intelligence was put to practical use. Once established it was difficult to retain qualities, let alone improve on the breed, yet this breeders strived to do. For this reason working trials were introduced in addition to obedience trials where qualifications such as C.D. (Companion Dog), T.D. (Tracking Dog), P.D. (Police Dog), and U.D. (Utility Dog) could be earned. Between the two World Wars many clubs came into being which rendered great service to the breed. In addition to the many shows and meetings they hold, they have acted as public relations offices to defend the breed against periodic maligning from the public. The German Shepherd has throughout its history had to contend with condemnations from the press. The great fluctuations in registration figures over the years serve to illustrate this and the very popularity of the breed has itself been the cause of much trouble.  

Rapid popularity has meant that at times many undesirable breeders have appeared on the scene with the sole object of making money. In this situation mediocre dogs are bred from in almost factory style thus perpetuating faults. The sheer numbers of dogs meant that sooner or later disaster would happen. The wrong people obtain the wrong dogs and ultimately someone gets hurt.