German Shepherd Dog History and Characteristics

The German Shepherd Dog Is Also Known By These Other Names: Alsatian, Deutscher Schaferhund, GSD.

German Shepherd Dog Temperament

The German Shepherd dog is amongst the most intelligent of dogs and its versatility and excellence in performing all manner of activities has secured its eternal position in the hall of fame when it comes to policing duties, search and rescue, military functions such as bomb sniffing and even as sight-seeing dogs for people who are blind or those with impaired eyesight. The German Shepherd is a quick study and due to their innate high intelligence are very easy to train.

These dogs are active, alert and like many other animals of a high intelligence and active nature the German Shepherd needs to be constantly challenged and stimulated both physically and mentally to avoid becoming a nuisance. That said, this dog breed makes a great companion and is both brave and loyal. Though some dogs tend to be somewhat aloof and wary by and large this dog breed makes for a great family pet and they generally get on well with children. Occasionally certain dogs may become a tad domineering with children which may manifest in the form of the German Shepherd trying to herd them about; in keeping with its breeding pedigree.

German Shepherd dogs have excellent watchdog ability and are typically wary of both strangers and other dogs. Early socialization is a must if your dog is going to be around other animals. As far as climate tolerance is concerned these dogs adapt fairly well to moderate cold as well as moderate heat, though extremes in either direction don’t go down well.

German Shepherd Dog Grooming & Exercise Requirements

The German Shepherd boasts a high energy level and thus this dog breed requires plenty of exercise on a daily basis. Its grooming requirements however are not quite as demanding and its coat only requires brushing once or twice a week. The German Shepherd is a moderate to heavy shedder and thus is perhaps not the best choice of dog for allergy sufferers.

German Shepherd Dog Appearance

The body of the German Shepherd dog is typically longer than it is tall and in the modern variant when the animal is standing the body slopes downwards as though the dog is poised to spring off of its hind legs. This was not always the case, the early variant of the German Shepherd dog having a squarer body and less slanting haunches. The tail is usually bushy and hangs with a slight curve.

This dog breed boasts an athletic build and erect ears atop a head with a pointed snout which enhances the alert appearance of the dog. Coat color may vary and includes the following: black, black and tan and sable. From a show dog perspective white-coated dogs are not allowed although of recent there is a movement for such specimens to be represented in their own sub-category.

This dog breed has a double coat with a thick outer coat comprised of close lying medium-length hair that may be straight or slightly wavy.

Weight: Males: 75 – 100 pounds

Females: 60 – 80 pounds

Height: Males: 24 – 26 inches

Females: 22 – 24 inches

German Shepherd Dog Health Issues/Life Expectancy

This dog breed on average has a lifespan of 10 – 12 years. Due to rather intense in breeding over the years the German Shepherd dog suffers from a number of genetic disorders which include the following:

Major Concerns:

CHD

Elbow Dysplasia

Minor Concerns: Panosteitis; vWD; Degenerative Myelopathy; Cauda Equina; Skin Allergies; Hot Spots; Neoplasms; Pannus; Cataract; Gastric Torsion; Perianal Fistulas; Cardiomyopathy; Hemangiosarcoma

German Shepherd dogs are also extremely susceptible to a potentially fatal systemic infection from the fungus Aspergillus.

German Shepherd Dog History

The modern German Shepherd dog is the end result of a concerted effort in the late 19th century to breed the perfect German sheep herding dog. Up until that time each district boasted its own distinct herding dog. To achieve the perfect herding dog various dog breeds from the north were crossbred with those from the central district ultimately resulting with the forbearer of the modern German Shepherd.

The goal of the German Shepherd dog breeding program was to produce a dog that could watch out for and control straying sheep from the rest of the flock without spooking the entire flock. Thus unlike cattle herding dogs it was undesirable for the German Shepherd dog to exhibit leg nipping and neither could it control its wards by barking at them because either one of those attributes would more than likely cause the entire flock to panic!

In essence the German Shepherd dog breeding program had to come up with an extremely intelligent, versatile, swift and independent thinking breed of dog that executed its duties in a precise, swift, calm and steady manner.

Between 1899 and 1901 a specialist breed club was established and was originally headquartered in Stuttgart before moving to Munich and then finally ending up in Berlin. This club was known as Der Verein Fur Schaferhunde (SV for short), and this organization’s primary goal and purpose was to oversee the continued positive development of the German Shepherd dog breed.

Within a decade of its breeding the German Shepherd dog had soon become one of the most popular dog breeds in the world. Its rising star in popularity was slightly marred by the occurrence of the two world wars, when it was considered prudent in both Britain and France to refer to the dog breed as either an Alsatian or simple the Shepherd Dog to avoid the inevitable backlash at the time associated with the word German incorporated in the dog breed’s name.

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Confident, Courageous, Smart
AKC Breed Popularity: Ranks 2 of 193
Height: 24-26 inches (male), 22-24 inches (female)
Weight: 65-90 pounds (male), 50-70 pounds (female)
Life Expectancy: 7-10 years
Group: Herding Group

German Shepherd Dog

German Shepherd Dog Club of America

Club Website

The History of the German Shepherd Dog

Captain Max Von Stephanitz

Captain Max von Stephanitz Founds a New Breed

In 1889 Captain Max von Stephanitz began the standardization of the breed. It all started at a dog show in Karlsruhe in western Germany. A medium-sized yellow-and-gray wolflike dog caught his attention. The dog was of the primal canine type, supple and powerful, and possessed endurance, steadiness, and intelligence. He was a working sheepherder, requiring no training other than direction and finish to become proficient at the task. This dog, Hektor Linksrhein, was purchased by von Stephanitz, renamed Horand von Grafrath, and became the first registered German Shepherd Dog.

Founding the SV

Von Stephanitz founded the Verein für Deutsche Sch·ferhunde, SV, becoming the first president, and in a short period of time achieved the standardization of form and type in the breed. A standard was developed based on mental stability and utility. The captain’s motto was “Utility and intelligence”. To him beauty was secondary, and a dog was worthless if it lacked the intelligence, temperament, and structural efficiency that would make it a good servant of man. A breed standard was developed as a blueprint dictating the exact function and relationship of every aspect of structure, gait, and inherent attitude.

Von Stephanitz inbred heavily on Horand and also Luchs, his brother, to consolidate the bloodline. Horand’s best son, Hektor von Schwaben, the second German Sieger, was mated with his half-sister as well as through daughters of his own sons, Beowulf, Heinz von Starkenberg, and Pilot III.

Intense inbreeding also concentrated undesirable recessive originating from the mixing of the original strains. Von Stephanitz then inserted unrelated blood of herding origin through Audifax von Grafrath and Adalo von Grafrath.

The First German Shepherd Dog is Exhibited in America – 1907

Mira von Offingen, imported by Otto Gross, was shown by H. Dalrymple, of Port Allegheny, Pennsylvania in the open class at Newcastle and Philadelphia. The first championships awarded German Shepherd Dogs was in 1913.

The German Shepherd Dog Club of America is Born in 1913

In 1913 the German Shepherd Dog Club of America was formed by Benjamin Throop and Anne Tracy, with 26 charter members.

The German Shepherd Dog Club of America’s first specialty show was at Greenwich, Connecticut in 1915. In 1917, when America entered World War I, all things German became tabu. The American Kennel Club changed the name of the breed to the Shepherd Dog and the German Shepherd Dog Club of America became the Shepherd Dog Club of America. In England, the name of the breed was changed to the Alsatian.

German Shepherd Popularity after WWI

With the end of World War I came a new appreciation for the breed. The German Army had made good use of the breed as a war dog. Tales told by returning U.S. fighting men, some bringing shepherds with them, and the intelligence and striking appearance of the dogs caught the attention of the general public. Rin-Tin-Tin and Strongheart, whose movies played on variations of the “boy and his dog” theme, shot the popularity of the breed sky-high. Puppy factories flourished to meet the demand, gutting the American market with poor quality “German police dogs”, resulting in a down-turn in popularity of the breed.

Serious breeding did continue such as by Mrs. Harrison Eustis, of Fortunate Fields Kennels, in Switzerland. Her approach was completely scientific with exhaustive research of breedings undertaken. The most widely known usefulness to which her dogs were put was as guide dogs for the blind at the famous Seeing Eye in Morristown, New Jersey.

In 1922 Germany introduced a system of regular breed surveys – a criticism of each dog, with a graded description and recommendation for (or against) breeding. This type of system never caught on in America due largely to the cultural differences inherent in American society. However, good dogs were still produced as German dogs were easily available for American dollars highly sought after in inflationary Germany.

After WWII

The German Shepherd Dog was widely sought after during World War II, employed by Allied and Axis forces, as mine detectors, sentinels, guard work, messenger, and other services. In America, Dogs for Defense was formed, providing thousands of dogs to the army.

The paths of German and American shepherds diverged after World War II. The Americans continued largely with the Pfeffer and Odin lines while in Germany the breed was in poor shape. Many dogs had been killed or destroyed due to lack of food. The best that was left was bred, frequently outcross breedings, since there was no great selection of line-bred stock. Soon the breeders had individual dogs dominant in the desired virtues. They then began to line-breed or inbreed so that by about 1949 quality specimens began to appear at German shows. The pedigrees of these “new” dogs were largely of the result of “type” breeding without the influence of Pfeffer but having the great dogs behind him. Prepotent sires emerged, Axel von der Deininghauserheide, Rolf vom Osnabruecker-land and Hein v. Richterback, representing preserved pre-war genetics.

Through Pfeffer, American breeders established a beautiful type. This was concentrated by inbreeding, and in combinations with descendants of his half-brother Odin vom Busecker-Schloss. Many well-known kennels of the day, utilizing these lines were Long-Worth, founded by Lloyd Brackett, Liebestraum, owned by Grant Mann, and Hessian, owned by Art and Helen Hess.

Troll von Richterback in the 1950s

In 1950’s America, some breeders recognized the need for some infusion of outcross blood and this was done through Klodo Boxberg and Odin Stolzenfels lines which blended well with American taste for topline, croup length and rear angulation. The Axel/Rolf/Hein combinations were also brought in notably by Troll von Richterback. Troll, 1957 Grand Victor, had remendous appeal. He was dominant in producing rear drive, hindquarter strength, muscle, bone, and head. He was also dominant in producing straight uppper arm, weak ears, blues, and fading pigment.

Bernd v Kallengarten & Falk v Eningsfeld

Imports critical to the breed in America were Bernd v Kallengarten and Falk v Eningsfeld. Bernd was imported by Ernie Loeb. Bernd was dominant for shoulder, forehand, bone, feet, substance, suspension, head, croup, tailset, and body length but also weaknesses for ears, steep croup, loose ligamentation, long coats, and high percentage of hip and elbbow dysplasia. Of note is the fact that Bernd introduced the solid-black gene into the American breed.

The Famous “F” Litter

During the 1960’s there was an emergence of strong families of stud dogs. In Germany the SV was in control while in America breeders were open to follow their own preferences. Troll wielded a large amount of clout in America by producing the famous “F” litter Arbywood, including Fels, Field Marshall, Fortune and Fashion, bred by Lucy Woodard. This pedigree combined Odin Stolzenfels/Klodo Boxberg/Pfeffer/Utz as well as the Axel/Rolf/Hein combination. The Arbywood males contrasted with their pure American counterparts, being stallion males with the desired type.

Lance of Fran-Jo

Fortune was bred to Fran and Joan Ford’s Frohlich’s Elsa v Grunestal producing Lance of Fran-Jo, American and Canadian Granvd Victor. Lance represented a new era in American shepherds – angulation, topline and sidegait. Lance’s popularity in the sixties was also due to the American tendency to turn away from imports, perhaps due to cost and poor quality. Lance was geographically convenient to all parts of the U.S.A. and was widely used.

Lance produced many offspring which in turn became pillars of the breed in America, including Lakeside’s Harrigan, Cobert’s Reno of Lakeside, Eko-Lan’s Morgan, Cobert’s Golly Gee of Lakeside and Mannix of Fran-Jo. Important offspring of these dogs included Doppelt-Tay’s Hammer and Hawkeye who figured prominently in the late seventies.

Also important during Lance’s time was Yoncalla’s Mike, a Bernd v Kallengarten grandson consolidating the Pfeffer/Odin blood. Mike was a potent sire transmitting balanced structure, rich colour, strong bone and good feet. Mike’s best known son was Grand Victor Hollamor’s Judd whose daughters were also widely used.