German Shepherd Dog Breed an Overview

German Shepherd Dog also known as an Alsatian is a large sized dog breed having developed in Germany in the 19th century by Max Von Stephanitz. This breed of dogs was made for the purpose of herding and guarding of sheep. Since this breed is strong, brainy and also obedient, it is used in police and military services all around the world. It is also popular as the first breed which was used to guide blind people. Presently German shepherd is one of the most famous dogs worldwide due to its affectionate and protective nature. 

Dog shows were becoming increasingly popular during this time, and fanciers were keen to exhibit there breeds. One fncier, Max Riechelmann, had some success with this 'German Sheepdog' called Phylax von Eulau. However, when Phylax competed against working dogs, there were very noticeable differences. This led to fears that the new breed would be contaminated almost before it was properly established, and the true working ability would be lost.

Father of The Breed:

The so-called 'Father of the Breed', Max Emil Fredrick von Stephanitz, a cavalry officer, came to the rescue, and it was through his endeavors that the German Shepherd Dog was developed on pure working lines. In 1899, Captain Max von Stephanitz set up a breed club whose aims included the protection of the German Shepherd as a breed. Within a short period of time, a distinct type had developed. This was the result of von Stephanitz's strict control over the breeding of dogs. The club, with von Stephanitz as its president, passed a series of regulations regarding the development of the breed which included:

  • ·                     The minimum age at which a bitch could be bred from.
  • ·                     A Maximum age for stud dogs.
  • ·                     Dogs that should not be bred from.
  • ·                     Sires and dams who should be mated togethe.
  • ·                     The number of puppies that should be raised from each litter.

          In 1899, the same year in which the Verein was founded, von Stephanitz bought Horand von Graforth, a tall powerful animal, who became the first registered dog with the Club, and the first 'Official' German Shepherd in the world.

Horand von Graforth:   

Stephanitz saw Horand as the ideal German Shepherd, writing: "...He was large.... with powerful bones, beautiful lines and a nobly-formed head; clean and sineway in build, the whole dog was one livewire."  

As well as Horand's physical traits, von Stephanitz also detailed his character - and what a character!

"His character corresponded to to his exterior qualities: marvelous in his obedient faithfulness to his master; and above all, the straightforward nature of gentleman with boundless and irrepressible zest for living. Although untrained in his puppy hood, nevertheless obedient to the slightest nod when at his master's side; but when left to himself the maddest rascal, the wildest ruffian and an incorrigible promoter of strife. Never idle, always on the go; well disposed to harmless people but no cringer, crazy about children, with a full capacity for loving."

The first breed Standard, written by Stephanitz, was based on Horand. It is very detailed, as you would expect of a man who was pursuing his own vision of the ideal Shepherd. The Standard includes measurements and angle degrees, leaving little to personal interpretation or misinterpretation.

Von Stephanitz also judged at the breed's annual dog show, the Sieger, where the best dog and bitch (Sieger and Siegerin) were selected. This ensured that the type outlined by von Stephanitz in the Standard was firmly established over a number of years.

Rise and Fall:

As president of Verein, now the largest breed club in the world, von Stephanitz had not only created a particular type of dog, but also worked to make it the popular breed that it is today. He was quick to see the potential of the breed for police work. Although his early approaches to the police were laughed off, he preserved and eventually the dogs were tried. The rest, as they say, is history; today, the German Shepherd is used extensively in many areas of police work across the world.

The outbreak of First World War dealt a severe blow to the breed in Britain and America, where a few dogs had been imported. Hostile feelings towards all things German meant it was very unfashionable and unpatriotic not only to listen to Wagner and to eat sauerkraut, but also to own a German breed of dog. The American Kennel Club changed the name of the German Sheepdog to Shepherd Dog, and the Dechshund was rechristened the Badger Dog. No one was fooled by a simple name change, though, and anti-German sentiment was so strong that the breed declined in popularity - even in the UK, where the breed was called the Alsatian Wolfdog.

However, when soldiers returned home after the war, they told stories of the wonderful dogs they had seen that had shown so much courage and intelligence.

Rin Tin Tin:

Lee Duncan, was one such soldier. The American came back with more than just tales of the fantastic German dogs he saw - he actually brought one back!

After training Rinty, Lee launched the dog's film career, as one of the most famous dogs in film history - Rin Tin Tin. The Dog's adventures were incredibly popular and earned him many fans, and,  as a result, every home wanted their own heroic Rin Tin Tin.

The breed's profile and popularity grew. Sadly, unscrupulous breeders seized the opportunity to exploit the growing demand for Shepherd puppies, and flooded the market with dogs of questionable temperament. By the end of the 1920's, the breed had a reputation for being aggressive and unpredictable. Fortunately, a committed band of the breed enthusiasts, on both sides of the Atlantic, continued to strive for the ideal Shepherd, importing quality dogs to redress the balance.

In 1931, the American Kennel Club restored 'German' to the breed name after the anti-German feelings from the First World War had abated; so it was in the US that the breed became known as the German Shepherd Dog for the first time.

In 1924, the UK Kennel Club dropped the "Wolfdog", that had been nothing to endear the breed to the public, but it was not untill 1936, the same year that von Stephanitz died, that the breed's German origins were recognized and the breed became the Alsatian (German Shepherd Dog). In 1974, it became the German Shepherd Dog (Alsatian).

Second World War:

Although anti-german feeling was high during Second World War, it was mainly directed towards Hitler and his government, and German Shepherd did not suffer more than any of the other breeds that were struggling to survive against a background of food shortages.

After the Second World War the breed experienced various dips and peaks in popularity, but it has now become firmly established as one of the most popular breeds in the world. The German Shepherd Dog consistently reaches the top positions in the annual American Kennel Club and the Kennel Club registration figures, rubbing shoulders with the ever-popular Labrador Retriever and Golden Retriever.

The Breed Today:

For a relatively new breed, the German Shepherd has quickly captured the hearts of the dog lovers around the world. His love of people, his eagerness to please and to share his life with his family, together with his keen intelligence, have ensured his status as companion dog par excellence.

From his humble beginning as a Shepherd in Germany, the German Shepherd Dog now work for police, army, fire,and search and rescue organizations, and is a hard working assistance dog for those that are physically disadvantaged.