Home Info German Shepherd Dog History

German Shepherd Dog History

by David W.

Admired and respected, the working class shepherd in German shepherd dog history has been one of the most coveted dog breeds around the world. Originating in Germany, the German shepherd dog proved to be excellent guardians and herders of sheep in their earliest uses. They were, and have been to this day, valued for their superior intelligence, ease of training, alertness, and muscular stamina. Officially introduced and recognized as a standard breed in 1899 by Captain Max Von Stephanitz, the German Shepherd has gone on to fill roles in police work, companions to the blind, search and rescue, security, herding, K9, and wartime participation. Today, among all registered breeds with the American Kennel Club, the dog takes up 4.6 percent of the canine population. It can be argued that Max von Stephanitz was the single most important contributor in German shepherd dog history.

Earliest Origins of German shepherd dog history and Max von Stephanitz


The German Shepherd Dog as a Working Dog

The German shepherd dog was first used as a working dog in the mountainous pastures of Germany, where herders needed an agile and competent dog to guard their sheep. This dog stood out as the most agile, intelligent, and faithful dog among other breeds, which were also used in this capacity. Formed in 1891, the Phylax Society was an attempt to create a standardized list of dog breeds in Germany. Society disbanded after three years of internal conflict over the most important traits of standardization—appearance and working ability. Max von Stephanitz, a former cavalry captain and veterinarian student had been a member of the Phylax Society and wished to establish a true standardization of the breed. Again another very important factor in the German shepherd dog history he preferred that the classification be regulated to the dog’s working ability and characteristics rather than appearance. von Stephanitz’s criteria called for a dog that was able to reason, even-tempered, agile, strong, and protective of its owner and his stock.


Max von Stephanitz first saw a German shepherd dog at a dog show in Karlsruhe, in western Germany. He immediately recognized its primal characteristics, which demonstrated a powerful endurance, keen intelligence, and steady disposition. This particular dog was yellow and gray, mirroring the appearance of a wolf. He purchased the dog and named it Horand von Grafrath, and it became the first registered German Shepherd dog in 1889. Shortly after, he founded the German Shepherd Dog Club and established the first criteria for the recognition of the breed. His motto was “Utility and Intelligence.” He devised a blueprint that dictated the overall morphology, gait, and temperament, which became the primary identifiers for the breed.


Von Stephanitz’s relied heavily on inbreeding of the German shepherd dog, tasking Horand and his brother, Luchs, to expand the bloodline through half-sisters and son’s daughters. Three prime dogs resulted from the breeding: Heinz von StarkenbergPilot III, and Beowulf. Soon, unrelated bloodlines were introduced, which possessed herding origins, eventually expanding the bloodline. Von Stephanitz championed the resulting breed to serve in various branches of government service that would take advantage of its versatility. This included tasks in supply carrying, tracking, courier service, guard positions, and Red Cross duties.


Mating Combinations of the German Shepherd Dog

The most lasting and notable mating combination of the German shepherd dog by von Stephanitz was an offspring of Horand, named Hektor von Schwaben. Hektor was inbred with another one of Horand’s offspring, and this produced Beowulf. Beowulf produced 84 pups, mostly matings from Hektor’s other offspring. Beowulf’ and his related bloodline are the ancestors of all German Shepherds today, thanks in most part to the efforts and attentive care of Max von Stephanitz. This was a huge factor in German shepherd history and the modern German shepherd dog today.


America and the First Exhibition of the German Shepherd Dog

The year 1907, in German shepherd dog history, brought the first exhibition of the German Shepherd dog in America. Mira von Offingen was imported by Otto Gross and exhibited by H. Dalrymple from Allegheny, Pennsylvania. The event was the open class at Newcastle and Philadelphia. Visitors and participants took immediate notice of this new breed. It wasn’t until 1913 that the German Shepherd dog received its first championship award. In the same year, Anne Tracy and Benjamin Throop founded the German Shepherd Dog Club of America, attracting a small charter of 26 members. Another big step in German shepherd history.


American German Shepherd Dog Club’s First Show

Continuing in German shepherd dog history, the American German shepherd dog club’s first show was held at Greenwich, Connecticut, in 1915. The club name was changed to the Shepherd Dog Club of America due to America’s entering the war and distancing itself from all things related to Germany. England opted for the breed name “Alsatian” However, as a result of Germany’s success with the breed in the war, American veterans found favor with the dog’s intelligence and attractive appearance, bringing some of the dogs back with them. In a twist in German shepherd dog history, the American public soon embraced the breed, but it was the emergence of Rin-Tin-Tin, a rescued male German Shepherd dog from the war, that graced the silent films of the day and shot the dog’s popularity through the roof. With the popularity of another German Shepherd dog, Strongheart, the American public became smitten with the canine stars and began swarming the kennels in search of the dog for a family pet. The canine film stars became so popular that Darryl Zanuck of Warner Bros advanced in the film hierarchy. In a bit of irony, Rin-Tin-Tin garnered the most votes for a supporting actor during the Academy Awards in 1929. The dog was nixed from the ballot only because it did not qualify as a human contestant. This obviously did not harm the German shepherd dog history at all and, in fact, may have brought it to even higher popularity.


German Shepherd Dog Into the World War II Effort

By 1937 the German shepherd breed had become more refined. The natural instinct was to incorporate the German Shepherd into the World War II effort. So the German shepherd dog history was changed once again. The dog found favor with both the Axis and Allied forces, used for mine detection, messenger, guard sentinels, and other tasks. The Army enlisted several thousand dogs for service. Due to a substantial loss of dogs in the war from hunger and casualties, a concerted effort was made to preserve the best of the inbreed and line-breeds to continue a quality bloodline. By 1949 quality dogs that had survived the war began to emerge at German shepherd dog shows. The selected post-war dogs, many of them products of superior sires, began to take on qualities of enhanced appearance while retaining the genes of the active war dog lines.


The new pedigrees of German shepherd dogs resulted from the infusion of out-cross blood, and by the 1950s, America began the blended breeding technique. The results eventually produced a stronger emphasis on high-quarter strength, upper leg strength, and increased muscle and bone density. The cropped ears and head began to take on a more pleasing, standardized appearance, increasing the German shepherd dog’s show qualities. Troll von Richterbach, a 1957 Grand Victor dog, was hugely influential in producing the finest qualities found in the German Shepherd history of the breed.


The most influential German shepherd dog import breeds to America in America’s German shepherd history were Falk v Eningsfeld and Bernd v Kallengarten. Both were brought in by Ernie Loeb.

Both dogs possessed dominant qualities for bones, feet, suspension, forehand, shoulder, tail set, head, crop, and body length. There were occasional problems with weaknesses for ears, steep, loose ligament structure, long coats, and elbow and hip dysplasia. The 1960s introduced a revival of sorts where American breeders followed their own whim and preferences. This time produced some of the best stud lines, bringing about the emergence of the “F” line, with such dogs as Field Marshall, Fels, Fortune and Fashion, and others bred by Lucy Woodard. One notable German shepherd dog, Lance of Fran-Jo, an American-Canadian Grand Victor, enhanced the line further by accentuating side gait, topline, and angulation traits. Lance was widely bred in America, negating the need for quality imports. Lance’s descendants populated the 1970s and became America’s unique foundation and lineage of the German shepherd dog breed.



Germany, controlled by the SV, a regulatory committee and organization, had a more strict breeding program in place from the start, introducing the “A” stamp, a tattoo I.D system. German shepherd dogs were highly sought after by South America, France, Italy, Japan, and the Scandinavian countries. This required stricter top-rating regulations for the entire bloodline. From this quality control stance, came some of the most notable sires, including Quanto WienerauMutz vd PelztierfarmMarko v CellerLand and Canto Wienerau. Quanto remained a popular producer, creating the best qualities of the forequarter, bone, and head morphology, along with desirable cow hocks and long and short croup in the German shepherd dog. Canto only lived for four years but passed on superior traits in energy, style, and fluidity of movement, which appealed to the international audience. The mating of the Quanto, traditional, and Canto lines yielded Canto Arminius, a very substantial and dominant influence in the breed as well as a heavy influence on German shepherd history.

The SV demanded more relevance on training degrees in the 1960s. Emphasis was placed on tests, such as courage and the AD endurance test. Minimum quality requirements were instituted, forcing breeders to concentrate on dental defects, problems with croups, and other less obvious features. The Schutzhund 3 degree of quality became mandatory for any of the prestigious VA awards. Breeders really had no choice but to conform to the guidelines since the SV officials at the Sieger show events were also the judges in charge of scoring. From the 1980s and on, the SV has remained in relatively tight control of the breeding and awards systems for the German Shepherd breed.

Full Circle of the German Shepherd Dog History

The influences of America and Germany have been profound in the development of the German Shepherd dog. Although both country’s systems are different and separate, their end results were always in parallel agreement: to establish a superior working-class dog that showed enormous potential and desirable characteristics. America owes its gratitude to the bloodline largely contributed by their Lance. Germany can certainly be proud of their Canto and Quanto, their shining stars. Both the American and German shepherd dog breeding systems have introduced desirable and even undesirable traits into the breed, but the pros far out-weight the cons when realizing that the breed is a unanimous success story. It might be argued that the combination of both systems might one day produce the perfect German Shepherd. The debate will go on. The Americans will forever do things their way, whether they are influenced from inside or outside the country. The Germans will abide and endure the SV stipulations and follow suit, but it does not mean that they will cease to improve the breed. The question is, what surprises will the countries have for the world in the future? It looks undeniably bright for the German Shepherd dog.

You may also like

Leave a Comment

* By using this form you agree with the storage and handling of your data by this website.