The German Shepherd Dog occupies the top spot on the global popularity scale for pedigree dogs, with breeding clubs currently registered in 78 countries. Thanks to its balanced nature, its unconditional loyalty and its numerous uses in a wide variety of areas, from service dogs to film stars, this breed has proven itself to be outstanding: With Rin Tin Tin or Inspector Rex, everyone knows which dog it is about!
Shepherds are said to have been known in Germany since the 7th century. In addition to their physical resilience, their ability to lead the cattle herds with obedience, perseverance and calm was already valued at that time. Towards the end of the 19th century, the stick-haired and short-haired herding and working dogs, which were widespread throughout Europe, caught the interest of breeders. The appearance of the animals was still inconsistent, regional breeds have developed into their own breeds, such as the old German herding dog. The direct predecessors of the German Shepherd mainly come from the regions of Thuringia and Württemberg.
During a maneuver, the officer Max von Stephanitz was able to observe a shepherd who was perfectly directing his guard dog with hand signals and shouts. Visibly impressed by the performance of the animal, von Stephanitz made the decision to breed this breed. In 1891 the first breed standard was created with the varieties wire-haired, straight-haired and long-haired. At a dog show in Dortmund in 1894, German shepherds caused a stir among the public for the first time. Von Stephanitz looked at many lofts across the country and decided on January 15, 1898 to buy the 3-year-old male Hektor Linksrhein from the Frankfurt breeder Sparwasser. Under his new name Horand von Grafrath, this male is the recognized progenitor of all German Shepherds. Just over a year later, on April 22nd, 1899, von Stephanitz founded the “Association for German Shepherds” in Karlsruhe together with other lovers of the new breed and took over the office of President. Later, the SV, one of the oldest breeders’ associations in Germany, relocated its headquarters to Augsburg. By virtue of his office, von Stephanitz set the official breed standard at the first club meeting and entered Horand von Grafrath’s number 1 in the stud book – he should have been followed by over 2 million entries so far. At the VDH, the SV is the largest association for German Shepherds with 19 regional groups and 2200 affiliated local groups. RSV2000 eV is also committed to preserving the German Shepherd Dog cultural property according to Max von Stephanitz’s guidelines. The association founded in Göttingen in 2007 is also a member of the VDH.
According to the motto “Shepherd dog breeding is working dog breeding”, the cynologist Max von Stephanitz introduced well-founded breeding selection based on criteria that were new at the time. According to this, breeders should report complete litters to the stud book office, not only selected puppies as before. Particular emphasis was placed on the selection of the breeding bitches, as was the case with Mari von Grafrath, the ancestor of the German Shepherd breed. Pointed erect ears, a long muzzle and the bushy tail, which was carried slightly downwards, were all breeding candidates. Von Stephanitz refused to cross with other races. Through systematic pure breeding taking into account Mendel’s teachings of inheritance, the first solid bloodlines were formed that were practically free of inherited health risks. Von Stephanitz also publishes a thousand-page cynological work “The German Shepherd Dog in Words and Pictures”.
For fear of interbreeding with native Australian dingoes, the British Commonwealth Government banned the import of German Shepherds into Australia in 1929. The old English name “Alsatian” (Alsatian) wolfhound contributed to the negative image of the breed, as it was thought that as close relatives of wolves, sheepdogs tear sheep instead of protecting them. Although this law was originally designed for five years, it was binding until 1972. It was then loosened and completely abolished in 1974. There are statements about the German Shepherd that deal with crossbreeding with wolves. At the beginning of pure breeding between 1870 and 1900, some breeders are said to have experimented with it. It was hoped that such a mating would provide protection from distemper. As a deterioration in character became noticeable at the same time, the offspring were excluded from breeding. Rumors about crossing wolves were probably a marketing ploy to offer “special” animals to lovers. According to statements by professional shepherds, these mixed breeds are said to have been unsuitable as working dogs. The breeds Saarlooshund and Czechoslovakian Wolfhound, recognized by the FCI, were created with crossed wolves. So far not recognized wolf hybrids are Lupo Italiano, Kunming Wolfshund and Timber Wolf-dog Shepherd.
The wedge-shaped head should have the same proportions of the top of the head and facial part and generally fit the body size. The pointed erect ears stand with the shell forward, when moving the German Shepherd Dog puts them backwards. Slightly sloping, almond-shaped eyes with the darkest possible color are desirable according to the FCI standard. The slightly arched forehead continues into a long, straight bridge of the nose with a black nose. The dark-colored lips lie tightly and tightly over the muzzle with a complete scissor bite. The muscular neck without dewlap is at an angle of approx. 45 ° to the top line, which results from a straight back that slopes slightly towards the croup. The chest should be moderately wide and have an elongated rib cage with slightly arched ribs. The tail reaches at least to the hock joint. It is carried in a slightly hanging curve, but when paying attention it is not raised higher than the horizontal. The forelegs are straight and parallel to each other, the position of the hind legs is somewhat backward. The German Shepherd Dog is bred with stick hair and long stick hair. Both varieties have a thick undercoat. With stick-haired people, the top hair is straight, dense and tightly fitting. The hair is longer on the head, ears and neck, as well as on the back of the legs. With long-pole hair, the top hair is soft and loose. It forms clear flags on the ears, legs and tail. The neck area is particularly overgrown with longer hair like a bushy collar, and distinct trousers are formed on the back of the hind legs. The color of the coat may be black with markings in reddish brown, brown, yellow and light gray. In addition, monochrome black, dark cloudy gray with mask and black saddle are allowed. White fur in the German Shepherd Dog is a breeding fault. The White Swiss Shepherd, on the other hand, is an outwardly very similar, but independent breed.
Equipped with a high level of intelligence and versatile skills, the German Shepherd Dog masters every situation. This has been ruthlessly exploited in the course of history: During two world wars, many animals lost their lives in action at the front, and they were stylized as a status symbol for the highest rulers under National Socialism. Good maneuverability and high learning ability predestine him even today as a service dog in the police, where he is used as a sniffer dog for explosives and drugs. Equally indispensable is its performance in rescue services when people buried in natural disasters or accidents need to be tracked down. In the civilian sector, German Shepherds are trained to be guide dogs and therapy dogs and of course he has mastered his original job as a herd guard dog. You can see him as a watchdog on company and private property. All of these activities put the German Shepherd to full capacity. This high need for mental and physical activity should also be met by dog owners who want to purchase such a family dog. In dog sports, the German Shepherd shines with endurance, strength and dexterity, and he also likes to accompany joggers and cyclists. The hunting instinct hardly emerges, but its protective instinct is highly developed. All these positive sides should not hide the fact that the German Shepherd only belongs in experienced hands. The owner must take on the undisputed leadership role, because the animal immediately feels insecurities – and then it can become quite dangerous. The breed is listed in Switzerland as a so-called list dog, and even in Germany there are an above-average number of biting incidents with German shepherds in some areas. In most cases, however, the misconduct of the animals can be traced back to the inability or the influence of the owners. Well-socialized German Shepherds, on the other hand, are loyal, strong-nerved and reliable companions who get along well with other dogs and children.
From an anatomical point of view, today’s German Shepherd Dog is stronger than its ancestors at the turn of the century. What is noticeable is the inclined sloping topline from which hereditary hip dysplasia (HD) developed. This disease was first found in German shepherds. During the division of Germany, breeders in what was then the GDR addressed this problem by gradually only allowing animals with light, later only specimens without HD for breeding. A top value of almost 95% HD-free German Shepherds was achieved. With the turnaround, breeding was continued together again. In order to counteract the disease, shepherds to be mated are tested for an HD breeding value, which, including all closely related animals, must not exceed 200. Other diseases that occur more frequently than average are elbow dysplasia (ED) and degenerative lumbosacral stenosis (DLSS), which is noticeable through lameness.
The German Shepherd Dog at a glance
Origin: Germany FCI Standard No. 166, Group 1 Sheepdogs and Cattle Dogs Section 1 Shepherd Dogs Height at the withers: males approx. 60 – 65 cm, females approx. 55 – 60 cm Weight: males 30 – 40 kg, females 22 – 32 kg Varieties: stick hair and long stick hair with undercoat color : monochrome black or black with markings in shades of brown, shades of gray Eyes: almond-shaped, medium-sized, dark color Ears: forward-pointing, pointed erect earsBody structure: muscular, slightly elongated attentive, confident, loyal Health risks: Hip dysplasia (HD), elbow dysplasia (ED), spinal problems (DLSS) Life expectancy: approx. 9 – 13 years
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