The German Shepherd (aka Alsatian and Alsatian Wolf Dog)
The origination of the German Shepherd Dog’s name depends greatly upon its place in history. The breed originated in Germany, where Max Emil Friedrich von Stephanitz, an officer serving in the German military, desired to develop the dog as a unique breed. Von Stephanitz spent years in the field, where he witnessed the day-to-day work of these shepherd dogs, which were used primarily to herd sheep. As he traveled around the countryside, he saw many dogs with similar characteristics but realized there was no real continuity of type among the dogs. He determined to develop a true breed standard that would combine the best attributes of the various dogs he had seen. Focusing on function and attitude, he developed the standard for the German Shepherd breed. His efforts culminated in his discovery of the dog he believed would serve as the breed’s foundation. Upon seeing this dog at a show, he immediately purchased him and renamed him Horand von Grafath. After this, von Stephanitz developed his breeding program, and the German Shepherd as a distinct breed was born.
Purpose of German Shepherd aka Alsatian Wolf Dog
Centered on retaining the dog’s initial purpose as a working dog, Von Stephanitz soon promoted the breed in other areas, realizing that their courage would make them perfect for protection work and law enforcement purposes. The breed became wildly popular in Germany, with thousands of the dogs used during World War I.
Soldiers returning from Germany to Great Britain were hugely enthusiastic about the dogs, immediately increasing their popularity in England. Unfortunately, the introduction of the dog to the general population of Great Britain coincided with the timing of World War I. Due to the British dislike of all things ‘German’, The British Kennel Club promptly changed the breed’s name to the ‘Alsatian Wolf Dog’ in 1919.
Although many people today believe that the Alsatian and German Shepherds are two distinct breeds, this is simply not the case. The British Kennel Club decided to refer to the dog as an ‘Alsatian’ because some of the earliest dogs brought to Great Britain were actually from the Alsace region of France, which bordered Germany. These were the same dogs that lived in farm family homes in Germany. The addition of the phrase ‘wolf dog’ is probably associated with the origination of the breed, which included wolves in its ancestry. Supposedly even Horand von Grafath, the foundation sire of the breed, was one-quarter wolf. Von Stephanitz’s original studbook referenced several wolves found in the ancestry of foundation stock.
Reaction to the new Alsatian Wolf Dog Breed
The reaction of the public to this new name was two-fold. Although the popularity of the dog continued, there was also public outrage to the introduction of this breed with such definite recent ties to wolves, which were considered dangerous and unpredictable. Finally, the British Kennel Club dropped the reference to wolves from the breed’s name, calling it simply the ‘Alsatian.’ This name continued to reference the dogs until 1977, when the breed’s original name, the German Shepherd, was finally reinstated.
The story was a little different in the United States. The German Shepherd Dog Club was established in 1913. In 1917, when the US joined the war effort against Germany, the name of the dog club was changed to Shepherd Dog Club. Dogs such as Rin Tin Tin enhanced the dog’s reputation, and the dogs became popular family pets. In later years the United States changed the name of the breed back to the German Shepherd.
Today, German Shepherds remain one of the most popular breeds in the world. Their temperaments make them ideal as family dogs: They are loyal, steady, and intelligent. They are perfectly suited for protection work and are often found serving in police departments as well as the military. They are excellent dogs for search and rescue work and are also used as guide dogs for the blind. It is easy to see why this is so: The German Shepherd Dog’s original calling was as a herding dog, where it was called upon to be a guardian.
German Shepherds were bred so that the finest qualities of their loyalty, their courage, and their protective nature would be passed down from generation to generation, regardless of the name by which they are called Alsatian or German shepherd.