The Origins and Nature of The German Shepherd

In this orientation we’ll take you on a brief tour of the German Shepherd’s origins in Germany (in another article you’ll find a more detailed history). Then you will read about the special qualities of the breed, along with some of the many roles performed in human society by the German Shepherd.

We’ll wrap up with a look at ownership. You’ll be introduced to the places to go on this website to find information of special interest to the new owner.

A Brief History of the German Shepherd

In the Germany of the 1800’s farmers typically used their own local-bred dogs for herding work on their farms. They’d attempt to match breeding pairs with the qualities that would result in offspring that were fast, intelligent with a strong sense of smell.

In the late 1800’s an ex-cavalry officer, and one-time veterinary student, Max von Stephanitz set out to establish a breed that would comprise the best qualities amongst herding dogs. He had been a member of the Phylax Society which had been formed in 1891. Its goals had also been to develop a top-notch standardized herding dog.  But the society was disbanded when the members failed to agree on the qualities to emphasize in their intended dog. Some wanted to focus entirely on the working abilities, while others were also concerned with appearance.

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So, Von Stephanitz continued the quest on his own. In 1899 he was shown a dog which impressed him as encapsulating the qualities he sought. Von Stephanitz immediately purchased him, giving him the name Horand von Grafrath. This was to be the patriarch of the German Shepherd Dog. Von Stephanitz then founded Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde (Society for the German Shepherd Dog). Horand was bred with other dogs owned by society members with a view to preserving and perpetuating their best combined qualities. A number of Horand’s prodigious progeny were interbred in order to fix the most desirable traits for the breed.

The German Shepherd quickly gained recognition, and its abilities as a service dog was recognized by the German army, which employed it extensively during both World Wars. A number of American servicemen brought German Shepherds home with them on their return from Europe. In 1913 the German Shepherd Dog Club of America was founded.

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In the 1920’s German Shepherds first achieved great popularity with some starring roles in the movies! Rin Tin Tin, who’d been rescued from the battle field by an American soldier, Lee Duncan was the most famous. He went on to perform in 27 Hollywood Films! Another GSD, Etzel von Oeringen,whose screen name with Strongheart starred in a number of films including the 1925 version of Jack London’s White Fang.

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Some Distinguishing Qualities

  • Noble appearance
  • Sturdy frame
  • Loyal character
  • Endurance
  • Highly trainable
  • Excells in competition

Some Roles Fulfilled by German Shepherds

  • Police
  • Military
  • Search and rescue
  • Guide to the impaired
  • Therapy dog
  • Competition: Agility contests, rallies,Schutzhund trials, and various other events.

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Physical Qualities of the German Shepherd

  • Weight:  50 to 70 pounds for females and 65 to 90 pounds for males.
  • Height: 22″ to 24″ for females and 24″ to 26″ for males. Height is measured to the withers (the rise where the back meets the neck).
  • Coloring: Sable, is the color most often associated with the GSD. Typically has characteristic saddle and mask markings. Others colors are lighter beige, bluish or grey. In Germany, the black and tan coat is the standard. There are also all-black German Shepherds. The White Shepherd is a beautiful variation on which we’ve written a separate article, see The White Shepherd.

Life with a German Shepherd

Owning a German Shepherd can never be a casual thing. Your GSD is not a couch potato! He is a smart, energetic dog. As a pet he is both demanding, and wonderfully rewarding.

The knowledgeable owner with an understanding of the nature and needs of this special breed stands to gain the most. Having a working knowledge of Training, Socialization and Activities options are a good starting place. Coupled with these, your understanding of good Food and Healthcare can greatly enhance the quality of your dog’s life. Click the blue underlined bolded words (above and throughout the website) to read corresponding articles, or alternatively, you can refer to the index on the right sidebar.

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