A Bit of GSD History

By Martin Wahl


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1880 Sheep herding dog

It’s generally known that "Max von Stephanitz" started the German Shepherd breed. Lesser known facts are, that this man had a keen interest in, and extensive knowledge of, physiology, anatomy, mammalian natural history and evolution, theories of breeding, animal husbandry, and derivation and characteristics of the canine species. He was a cavalry officer only for social reasons, to satisfy his well to do, stuffed shirt family. It was no accident that he selected his original breeding stock exclusively from herding dogs, and not from farm or estate guard dogs, war or attack dogs, or British show dogs, which were the four prevalent types of dogs in Germany at the time. He knew that only the intelligence of a herding dog could make a perfect companion dog, based on his background knowledge and his experience with Germany’s first Shepherd club, the "Phylax Society". It had formed in 1881 but failed after only three years because of it’s emphasis on pretty show dogs.

On April 22, 1899, Max von Stephanitz and his friend Artur Meyer, together with nine others, formed the "Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde" (German Shepherd Dog Society), known by most Germans and most dog lovers around the world simply as "SV". Because of Max von Stephanitz’s outstanding background knowledge, the group made him the first President and General manager of the SV, which he led until 1935 with military precision and true German Gründlichkeit (thoroughness). If it’s worth doing, do it right the first time. He soon wrote the first breed standard for the German Shepherd Dog with emphasis on "utility and intelligence". It contained the sentence: A pleasing appearance is desirable, but it can NOT put the dog’s working ability into question! And to be certain he wouldn’t be misunderstood, he coined the phrase: "German Shepherd breeding is Working Dog breeding, or it is not German Shepherd breeding" which became world famous. By enforcing those rules with an iron fist during his term as president of the SV, the German Shepherd Dog became the world's most useful working dog, be it as police and military service dog, search and rescue dog, personal protection dog, guide dog for the blind, helper dog for the deaf, farm and property protection dog, and many other uses. Anyone doubting the superior abilities of Max von Stephanitz, take a look at how rapidly he developed the GSD in the first 8 years.

During the second world war, the GSD in Germany experienced unbelievable hardship by being slaughtered by the thousands, as the military confiscated any dog they could find, regardless of family attachment or breeding value, and through mis-formed, stunted and diseased puppies being born due to widespread malnutrition. The few dogs surviving the war were tough and lean, and almost represent a new start for the breed in Germany. The two most influential survivors of the war were "Rolf vom Osnabrücker-Land" and "Axel von der Deininghauserheide". Together with "Hein vom Richterbach" those 3 dogs rebuilt the German Shepherd in Germany after the war.

The overwhelming world wide success of the German Shepherd Dog is proof beyond the shadow of a doubt that "von Stephanitz’s" theories were absolutely correct. Yet, it is sad to see that more and more breeders today ignore his well founded and proven wisdom, especially in North America. But even in Germany, there developed a split between pure, old-fashioned working shepherd breeders, and trendy show shepherd breeders. This "show" trend started after the second world war and was most likely the result of some German breeders trying to cater to that new American style GSD that had developed during the war, and those promising big American bucks. All this may not be apparent to an outsider, because the SV retained the old rules and safeguards established by Max von Stephanitz, and as a result has a breeder/trainer guidance system in place that is unrivalled in the world and is beyond the imagination of most non-Germans. It is the reason why "GERMAN" German Shepherds, regardless of show or working blood lines, are still the worlds best and most in demand German Shepherds. And of course, the lack of any kind of a breeder guidance system in North America is the main reason for the huge variations in size, shape, and poor quality of the American Shepherds bred here (USA and Canada).


For more information, see: Recommended books on German Shepherds

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1898 Horand von Grafrath SZ1

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1901Hector von Schwaben

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1907 Roland von Starkenburg

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1925 Klodo vom Boxberg

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1929 Utz vom Haus Schütting

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1950 Rolf v. Osnabrücker-Land

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1972 Marco vom Cellerland

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1970's Quanto v.d. Wienerau

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1990/91 Fanto vom Hirschel


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Copyright 2001 Martin Wahl, Real GSD.  RealGSD1@netscape.net.  All rights reserved.   Please view his site Real GSD.