History of the German Shepherd Dog

One of the most popular dogs in the world, the German Shepherd Dog has been bred into an intelligent and able animal who serves in a variety of ways.

German Shepherd Dog ancestors are the old herding and farm dogs of Germany dating back as early as the Bronze age. It is likely these dogs had some wolf in them. Braend and Anderson (1987) found “The commonest phenotype in the wolf Ar Q occurred frequently in the dog (Braend and Anderson, 1987). On the other hand, Ar E and ArE D found in wolves were rare in dogs but ArE D occurred commonly in GSDs – evidence, perhaps, of a common ancestry!” (Willis) By the late 19th century in Germany there existed various types of working sheepdogs which could be grouped under the heading German Sheepdog.

The following are some pictures of types of early shepherd dogs.

Smooth
Smooth Piebald
Swabian Type
Swabian Long Coat
Long Coat
Rough Coat
White
Black Brindle

According to Von Stephanitz, the dogs from the Thuringia and Frankonia regions were generally wiry and coarse, small and stocky with the prized qualities of erect ears and wolf grey colors.

Smooth Thuringian
Smooth Thuringian

In contrast the region of Wurttemberg’s dogs were generally larger, heavier boned, had better movement as well as superior tail carriage.

Smooth Wurttenberg
Smooth Wurttenberg
“…the crucial point was arrived at in the crossing between the North and South German dogs; in the fostering and consolidation of the good points on both sides and in the elimination of the defects.” (Von Stephanitz)

Here are pictures of some of the founding dogs of the German Shepherd Dog breed:

Horand 8th edition
Horand Red Book
Beowulf
Hektor von Schwben
Elsa von Schwaben
Mira

On the 16th of December 1891 the Phylax Society was formed with the aim to develop the German Shepherd Dog. It disbanded in 1894. Its legacy was the increased interest in the German Shepherd as a developing breed and led to the formation of the Verein fur deutsche Schaferhunde ,SV, On April 22nd 1899. The SV was dominated by Max Von Stephanitz, as president he selected the Siegers and made major decisions.

He also wrote the so-called bible of the breed “The German Shepherd Dog in Word and Picture”, the first edition written about 1918. In 1932 he completely revised and enlarged the book publishing the 8th edition. “He certainly was a disciplinarian and he was certainly opinionated … Nevertheless it was his personal qualities which had helped to foster the Society’s rapid progress. In 1899 the SV had 31 members and by 1912 there were 3500….What we must not do is believe that all his ideas are valid today….we must sift the wheat from the chaff not only in what Von Stephanitz had to say but in what has been done since by those who followed him as president of the SV.” (Willis)

All the SV presidents from Stephanitz to the SV presidents of present day have expressed their opinions of what the German Shepherd Dog breed standard should be. Throughout the years they have added to or changed the previous opinions of past SV presidents. Breeders of German Shepherd Dogs should do their own research as well as breed to the Standard to develop the qualities of the total German Shepherd Dog. “The aim of breeding is to produce even more perfect specimens by careful selection and mating of our available parent stock.” (Von Stephanitz)

Importation of German Shepherd Dogs to America started very early as evidenced by the kennel ads in the first English translation of Von Stephanitz’s book from 1925. One ad states their dogs as 1919 and 1920 German champions and the same dogs as 1922 American champions.

Americans have continued to import German Shepherd Dogs from Germany and from many other countries, such as Czechoslovakia, Japan, England, to list a few. Many of these imported dogs have been exceptional. The discriminating breeder carefully researches and will obtain the best Import they can find. However not every Import is a good one and the buyers of these dogs can become disillusioned. It should be noted that Americans have put out as good or better dogs than they can obtain from any other country. America has also been exporting German Shepherd Dogs all over the world for years. This was done without the strict regulations that are applied by the SV. In the past both German and American breeders have had their share of problems with the breed, but overall to date we are seeing better and better dogs. Dedicated American breeders have the freedom to pursue the avenues needed for the betterment of the breed. Both hobbyist and professional may choose to breed for a specific purpose such as sport, show, or working ability. In order to maintain the nobility of the German Shepherd Dog that we all treasure, the priority should be for every breeder to aim for the total well balanced dog. At Steel Cross Shepherds we strive to uphold the integrity of the breed.

Breeders of German Shepherd Dogs should do their own research, and use the standard as their guide to develop the qualities of the total German Shepherd Dog.

Valour
Valour


RESOURCES:
1) THE GERMAN SHEPHERD IN WORD AND PICTURE, V. STEPHANITZ, GERMANY,1925
2) THE GERMAN SHEPHERD DOG 8TH REVISED AND ENLARGED EDITION, CAPT. V. STEPHANITZ
3) THE GERMAN SHEPHERD DOG, A GENETIC HISTORY, MALCOLM B. WILLIS PH. D.
NOTE: ALL BLACK AND WHITE PHOTOS ON THIS HISTORY PAGE ARE FROM RESOURCES 1 AND 2. THE COLOUR PHOTOS ARE THE SOLE PROPERTY OF STEEL CROSS SHEPHERDS.