History of  Working German Shepherds

Wild dogs were captured and reared within man’s encampment, and in return for food, shelter, and protection, would help man hunt and give him advance warning of predatory animals. This was the beginning, and as man settled from his nomadic wanderings his requirements of the dog changed. He now needed more diversity in his dogs. There were those for hunting, those for protecting his home and family when he was away, those for carrying small burdens, and those for helping tend his flocks and cattle. The dawn of the pastoral shepherd dog had arrived. Throughout the world slow development was taking place, but the pace quickened in Europe where man himself was raising his standards more rapidly.

The size, coat, and color of sheepdogs at this time varied greatly, dependent upon many factors. The weather clearly dictated that dogs working in cold areas would have profuse coats while those of temperate climates would have shorter coats. Areas where predatory animals were found in large numbers would need more powerful dogs than those lands dominated by man. The wolf, the bear, the large birds of prey, all would influence man’s choice of sheepdog.

In Germany, as in France, the United Kingdom, Holland, and others, the growth of large industrialized cities meant that predators were declining quickly and also that there was a greater awareness of the excellence of the shepherding dogs of different areas. The establishment of dogs of fixed type was now at hand although there were still great variations to be found from one area to another. Breeders would meet and discuss the relative merits and shortcomings of certain dogs, and it followed that dogs of high merit were much in demand as breeders tried to fix into their stock the sterling qualities seen in dogs from other areas. It came to pass that in Germany, in 1891, a group of enthusiasts formed the Phylax Society with the aim of fostering and standardizing native German breeds. The society was short-lived and in 1894 it was disbanded, but it had sown the seeds from which the German Shepherd was to emerge.

At this time Capt. Max von Stephanitz appears in the breed’s history and indeed it is this man who is acclaimed as the father of the breed. Von Stephanitz had long admired the qualities of intelligence, strength, and ability found in many native sheepdog breeds but had yet to see one which embodied all of his ideals. Chance was to play its part, and while visiting a show with a friend in 1899, he saw a dog that impressed him greatly to all accounts so much that then and there he purchased the dog and promptly formed a society, the Verein fur deutsche Schaferhunde or SV as it is called. This was a milestone in the breed’s history and marked the beginning of a new era for it. From this date the German Shepherd as a specific breed had arrived.

Harried risks of incorporating faults, it likewise enabled the breeders to fix permanently those qualities which today are such features of the breed. Von Stephanitz believed above all else that the German Shepherd should be bred for utility and intelligence and this was to become his motto. It was this adaptability that was later to make the dog the world’s greatest all-rounder.

With the oncoming of the twentieth century, and having seen the SV develop into the largest single breed club in the world, Von Stephanitz was turning his attention to the long-term future. He was able to foresee that in a growing industrialized nation the role of the pastoral shepherd dog would decline and the breed must be able to adapt to other work if it were to continue as a functional animal.

It seemed that the very qualities that made the German Shepherd such an exceptional sheepdog could well be put to good use by government departments. This was the thinking of Von Stephanitz and this was to be his next campaign. As always, he achieved this and during World War I was seen as messenger dog, rescue dog, sentry dog, and personal guard dog. Servicemen from the USA, UK, and the Commonwealth would see first hand the dog’s bravery, intelligence, and steadfastness, and many stories were taken back home. Not surprisingly, a number of dogs were acquired by servicemen and transported home with them.

In 1919, when the English Kennel Club gave the breed a separate register, some 54 animals were included, but by 1926 the ranks had swelled to 8,058, such was the unprecedented success of the dog. At the end of the War it was thought that the breed would not flourish were the word German to appear in its name and it was therefore decided to call the breed the Alsatian Wolf Dog after the German-French border area of Alsace-Lorraine. The “Wolf Dog” tag was later to be dropped again as it was felt that this would prejudice the breed. Thus we had for many years the misnomer of the breed brought about by national hostilities. In 1977, following numerous campaigns by breeders the name of the breed was changed back to the German Shepherd Dog by which it is known in the USA, Australia, and most other countries.

With the breed arriving in Britain mainly on the strength of its reputation as a war dog, its sterling qualities as a sheepdog were largely overlooked. At that time Britain already had a string of quality working sheepdogs such as Collies, Corgis, and Old English Sheepdogs. Therefore, the pattern of development of the German Shepherd in the USA, UK, and Australia was to be dictated by its adaptability. The Seeing Eye dogs in the USA and Britain were predominantly German Shepherds and only later did the Labrador challenge this position.

At the outbreak of World War II, the trained dogs of the Allied Forces were seen wherever the troops traveled, spreading the breed’s popularity like a blanket around the world.

You can definitely recognize a German Shepherd by its popular black and tan markings. We’ve all seen them working as Police dogs, Search and Rescue, as well as in Hollywood. But what you may not realize is this breed is not that old of a breed. It’s relatively new.

A breeding society formed in the mid 1800s to develop a breed of German Dogs. This society was called the Phylax Society. Although they did not succeed in bringing about a new breed of dog before they disbanded in 1894, their research did pave the way for another.

Around the end of the nineteenth century Captain Max Von Stephanitz formed a new group to carry forward the best qualities of the sheepdogs, which ultimately became the German Shepherd Dog we know and love today.

The German Shepherd was bred and developed great herding capabilities. However, when the need for this decreased, Von Stephanitz saw that the breed did also master the qualities that could be used valiantly in Military, Government and Police work. This is how the German Shepherd became such a well known military and police dog.

As a breed, the German Shepherd is known for their short coats, black and tan markings and pointed ears. Temperamentally they are gentle with people and other animals. They are extremely intelligent and learn quickly and easily.

Of course the breed was developed as a working dog. The German Shepherd loves his job, no matter what it is and thrives when given a task to do. Whether that is to protect its owner, participate in Search and Rescue, or just actively train regularly to keep their minds and bodies in tune…they love it!


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