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The History of the German Shepherd Breed

Updated on March 7, 2013
German Shepherd breed
German Shepherd breed | Source

How it All Started

It all started when cavalry captain Max von Stephanitz envisioned a versatile herding dog equipped with great endurance. His dream was of a dog covering great distances, guarding the flocks, but yet, capable of being friendly and loving towards children and loyal to its owner.

In 1899, when attending a dog show, von Stephanitz was introduced to a dog named Hektor Linksrhein. This dog best fulfilled his idea of what a working dog should look like. The strength of this dog along with its great intelligence, and loyalty, impressed him so much that he bought him and re-named him Horand von Grafrath.

Max von Stephanitz therefore started an extensive breeding program and Horand von Grafrath was bred to selected females and sired several puppies. Von Stephanitz's perfectionism made him very selective in choosing high quality dogs that carried the herding dog degree. But most of all, he was always looking for that special dog equipped with a strong will to give, a good degree of devotion and that special physical expression of character and nobility. In short, the German Shepherd was born.

Today, von Stephanitz's book ''The German Shepherd in Word and Pictures'' remains one of the most extensive reference books on herding breeds in the world. Max von Stephanitz, often nicknamed as ''the father of the German Shepherd breed'' therefore, set the breed standards for the German Shepherd breed and became the first president of the ''Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde'', the German Shepherd Dog Club of Germany.

German Shepherd dogs are very versatile dogs
German Shepherd dogs are very versatile dogs | Source

The High Versatility of German Shepherd Dogs

Max von Stephanitz however came to realize later that there were evolving changes taking place in the 20th century. While the German Shepherd was still mainly produced as a herding breed, there were increasing needs for dogs trained in other specialties. According to Mary Belle Brazil-Adelman, author of '' The German Shepherd Handbook'', by World War I, German Shepherds were recruited as search and rescue dogs, and for sentry and patrol. They were also successful in delivering messages during war and for personal protection. The German Shepherd dog was also, according to Lee Weston, the first dog to be officially trained to guide blinded soldiers. This ultimately led to the establishment of the well respected ''Seeing Eye Dog''.

Von Stephanitz at this point became involved in the establishment of the requirements for Schutzhund (personal protection) activities. He made having a schutzhund title a requirement for all German Shepherd breeding stock. Eligible German Shepherds had to pass all three phases of schutzhund: obedience, tracking and protection. They also had to be well rated for conformation and hip certified in order to be allowed to breed.

Jolly Pets 8-Inch Bounce-n-Play, Blueberry
Jolly Pets 8-Inch Bounce-n-Play, Blueberry

A great game for herding breeds. Have your herding dog ''herd'' several of these balls in groups or simply play with these tough toys.


Introduced into the United States

The history of the German Shepherd dog into the United States is quite interesting. The first German Shepherd dog to officially enter United States soil, was a female dog named Mira V. Offingen in 1906. She was shown several times but was then returned to Germany. Afterward, in 1920 several German Siegers were imported to the United States to breed with Mira's progeny. The offspring became the foundation for the German Shepherd breed in the United States.

The popularity of the breed however came to a sudden halt during World War I, due to extreme anti-German sentiments. Because of this, the breed's name was altered from German Shepherd dog to simply ''Shepherd dogs''. During World War II, the breed was again re-named: this time ''Alsatian Wolf dogs''.

At the end of World War I, several soldiers returned home with German Shepherds. They were impressed by the devotion, bravery and intelligence of the breed and their stories abroad become very popular. Enamored of the breed and impressed by the tales, the public triggered the breed to become popular again. Two new heroes were honored and portrayed by film directors: Rin-Tin-Tin and Strongheart. Almost everybody at this point wanted to own a German Shepherd and the demand was growing abruptly. This overwhelmed the German breeders which were not willing to mass produce puppies.

Problems started when breeders abroad decided to mass produce causing problems in temperament and medical problems. With the Great Depression in force, several of these much wanted specimens ended up in the streets to fend for themselves. After World War II, another upsurge in popularity took place. Again, bad breeding led to poorly socialized, aggressive specimens with several blood lines affected by hip dysplasia, cataracts, elbow dysplasia, von Willebrand's disease and epilepsy.

Fortunately, among bad breeders there were some truly enthusiastic and passionate about the breed that really cared and followed von Stephanitz's motto "utility and intelligence". The German Shepherd Breed Club of America was founded in 1913. This club merged with the Shepherd Dog Club of New England and today boasts more than 3,000 members.

Today, German Shepherds remain one of the most popular dog breeds in the U.S. They are still highly appreciated for their devotion, loyalty, courage and eagerness to work....the same qualities that ultimately impressed Captain Max von Stephanitz.


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    • renee21 profile image

      renee21 5 years ago

      I love German Shepherds! I had one for a few months, but I had to give him up because my other dog that I'd had longer was attacking him.

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 6 years ago from USA

      German Shepherds are awesome dogs. I never had the pleasure to own one but the ones I have trained were awesome learners and great dogs!

    • Hady Chahine profile image

      Hady Chahine 6 years ago from Manhattan Beach

      Thanks, I really enjoyed the read. In my life, so far, I've had the pleasure of owning and loving two German Shepards. They are truly wonderful companions.

    • dahoglund profile image

      Don A. Hoglund 6 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      We had a White German shepherd at one time. A beautiful dog. Later we had some shepherd mixes.

    • profile image

      eminator21 6 years ago

      I grew up with a German Shepard we got from the shelter. She was the sweetest thing! She was so motherly with me, my brother and even our small pets! (Apparently when Shepards grow up with small children they develop strong maternal instincts.) I remember being surprised when I heard they had a bad rep for being aggressive and dangerous. It's sad that they get blamed when people just don't know how to handle them.

    • profile image

      Tripawds 6 years ago

      We are GSD fans here. They are the smartest dawgs ever. Unfortunately like Larry said, too many people fall in love with their looks before investigating what it really takes to have one of these super intelligent dogs in your life. They are awesome dogs if you're able to give them the attention and training they need, and they need it every single day. It's my hope that more people will take this into consideration before deciding to bring one into their life, and it's my greatest wish for people to adopt, not buy, these incredible dogs.

    • Cardozo7 profile image

      Cardozo7 6 years ago from Portugal

      Good hub. I had a German Shepherd some years ago and I must say he was amazing! The smartest dog i've ever seen. Didn't know their history, so thanks for that

    • Larry Fields profile image

      Larry Fields 6 years ago from Northern California

      Great hub! Voted up.

      About 10 or 15 years ago, a stray German Shepherd Dog started following me while I was on a late night walk. I tried putting out some unfriendly vibes, without being nasty. In the sternest voice that I could muster, I said, "Go home." That had no effect. She continued to follow me.

      I looked at her collar, but could not find an address or telephone number. Apparently some irresponsible dog owner had simply driven out of his neighborhood, and dumped the dog, rather than going to the trouble of finding a new home for her, or taking her to the pound.

      I lived on a small cul-de-sac, just off a large street, with fast and heavy traffic. Upon reaching that street, I had two choices.

      •Finish my walk, while pretending to ignore the dog. In that case, she probably would have been hit by a car.

      •Grab her collar, and take her home with me, which is what I did. She slept in my walled patio.

      I'd never been in this situation before, and did not know what to do. A part of me wanted to keep her. I waffled about that for a few days.

      In the meantime, my neighbor's children took a strong interest in the dog. Eventually, the dog started being aggressive toward the kids.

      The dog's behavior made up my mind for me. There's no way that I would adapt a dog who was at risk for biting innocent people. Then I called Animal Control.

      It's really sad about the fast-buck artists, who are breeding GSDs with bad temperaments. It's also sad that many people do not understand the special needs of herding breeds. They need lots of physical and mental activity. A typical GSD is definitely not a couch potato.