The German Shepherd we see today was first developed in Germany at the end of the eighteenth century by a cavalry captain named Max von Stephanitz. He spent thirty-five years developing and promoting the breed to produce a trustworthy, reliable and handsome dog. He encouraged the police force in his native country to use German Shepherds in their line of work and during the First World War, thousands of GSDs became part of the German army.
German Shepherds were originally bred as herding dogs and they job was to guard large flocks, but the demand for herding dogs decreased over time which is when Max von Stephanitz stepped in to promote the breed’s other skills while at the same time honing specific traits, namely a dog’s stamina, strength, speed, intelligence, eagerness to please and work.
By the late 1800s, the first Breed Dog Club was set up in Germany called the Phylax Society, (Phylax being Greek for ‘Guardsman’). It was established by Max von Stephanitz together with other breed enthusiasts who further developed and promoted the GSD as a working dog and they were subsequently often used by the German army and police force. Their aim was to standardise the breed countrywide. When the first club disbanded, Stephanitz set up the Society for the German Shepherd Dog and his own GSD, a dog called Hektor was the first GSD to be registered. He then changed his dog’s name to Horand von Grafrath and used him in breeding programmes to produce well-bred, strong and resilient German Shepherd Dogs, namely the ancestors of many German Shepherd lines that we see today.
The breed has evolved over the last fifty years or so with a marked difference in breed “type” appearing on the scene. More recently, a longer coated variety of GSD is now part of the recognised Kennel Club Breed Standard.
Interesting facts about the breed
- Are German Shepherds a vulnerable breed? No, they are among the most popular dogs in the world and rated the 10th most popular in the UK
- GSDs proved they were reliable and trustworthy dogs during the World Wars when they were used as messengers and guard dogs
- The German Shepherd is one of the very few breeds to have the word “dog” in their name
- The sport of Schutzhund was created in the 1900’s for German Shepherd Dogs
- Max von Stephanitz is known as the “father of the breed”
- German Shepherds were highly regarded for their reliability during the World Wars
- A German Shepherd called Strongheart has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
- German Shepherd Dogs were the first guide dogs