The DDR German Shepherd or East German Shepherd is a beautiful dog with a work horse mentality. Bred meticulously for specific traits like power, athleticism and tracking abilities, these amazing canines have a history that goes back to World War II. There is a lot to learn about this rare version of the GSD aside from their beauty and elegance. Here are 7 fascinating facts about the breed!
1. Their Name Comes From The Cold War
The DDR German Shepherd name stands for “Deutsches Demokratische Republik” or German Democratic Republic. In English we know them as East German Shepherds.
Their history goes all the way back to the end of World War II. Following the war, the land was eventually narrowed down to two sectors and split into East and West Germany.
The West side was a consolidation of three sectors and officially became known as Bundesrepublik Deutschland or the Federal Republic of Germany on May 23, 1949. The Eastern side became official soon after on October 7, 1949 and was called the DDR or Deutsches Demokratische Republik.
This was the beginning of the Cold War era and also the birth of the DDR German Shepherd. It was at this time that the East German Communist Party laid claim to the breeding rights and registration of German Shepherds.
Soon after, they were woven into the fabric of the German Military and strictly molded into fierce and powerful guard dogs with revered capabilities.
2. The DDR German Shepherd Was Culled To Perfection:
The German’s wanted an elite version of the GSD with specific traits and capabilities geared towards the military and protection of its borders.
To accomplish this goal, they instituted strict guidelines for breeding that led to wardens culling any German Shepherds with weaknesses.
Reasons for culling:
- A weak temperament
- Health conditions such as hip dysplasia
- Testicles that didn’t drop
Each litter was inspected thoroughly for all aspects of their appearance. They would check their bone structure, ears, teeth and even the quality of their double coat of fur.
They wanted an athletic dog with power, strength and a strong head. In contrast to West GSDs with a sloped back, bred for appearance, the East German Shepherd was bred with a straight topline. Their hips were also more angular.
They were also built a bit more compact, lighter and overall smaller than their western counterpart. This made them more versatile for guarding the Eastern Germany border.
Their efforts paid off and the result was an extremely driven working dog who could take on many different tasks.
3. They Could Scale Six Foot Walls
On top of their overall power and athleticism, they were also excellent at climbing walls. This came in handy when protecting the borders and going after any deserters.
To establish the breed’s superiority over the West, the East would challenge them rigorously, upping the ante on several different tests.
|East German Shepherd||West German Shepherd|
|Scale six-foot-tall straight walls||Climb over five-foot angled walls|
|Search ten blinds||Search six blinds|
|Track sixteen corners and angles||Track eight corners and angles|
All of these skills were put to use as the breed took on many different roles. In addition to patrolling large areas of Eastern Germany, they also served as attack dogs, sentries and tracking dogs.
4. They Were Barely Fed To Increase Ferocity
The Grenztruppen, or Border Police, for the Berlin Wall used the breed to guard the border. To do this, they set up several dog runs and fenced in pens along the 97 kilometers they were in charge of protecting.
Approximately 1,000 sentry GSDs were used during this time. The dogs were attached to a dog run by connecting their leash to a suspended line. This allowed them to run back and forth freely if anyone tried to cross the fence.
To increase their ferociousness, the Germans would only feed them once every 10 days, making them hungry, aggressive and ready to attack.
5. The DDR German Shepherd Bloodline Only Lasted Around 40 Years
The reign of the true bloodline only lasted around 40 years (1949-1989). During that time, they were used by the Grenschutz Polizei, to guard and patrol 850 miles of the Eastern German border.
In addition, they also guarded the Berlin Wall which spans 100 miles. But they weren’t only used by the military. Many friends and families of the breeders owned East GSDs.
By 1989, the border separating Eastern and Western Germany fell along with the Berlin Wall. Because of this, East German Shepherds were no longer needed to guard the border. Within a span of five months, 25,000 guards were dismissed.
Unfortunately, as a consequence, many of them were abandoned, put down or sold by the military. This was a pivotal point in the breed’s history and when the true bloodline stopped.
6. The Breed Was Rated Based On A Unique Numerical System
Throughout the breed’s four decades in Germany, a numerical system was used to keep track of their characteristics and traits.
This unique 6-digit rating system was called the Wertmessziffer system which in English stands for “measured value number.” Each of the six numbers represents a certain characteristic with a rating scale of 1-9.
Breeders and owners would use this system to determine the dog’s physical prowess and mental acuity. This would help them determine if the GSD was a good fit for working or Schutzhund training.
Here is a quick overview and what each of the six digits mean in the system:
DDR German Shepherd Wertmessziffer Rating System
- First digit – body type when measured against the breed standard (build, height etc.)
- Second digit – constitution (coat, ears, sexual characteristics)
- Third digit – build or structure (level of hip angulation and proportions)
- Fourth digit – temperament (aggressive, dangerous, fearful, friendly, sensitive)
- Fifth digit – sharpness (from none to very good on a scale of 1-5)
- Sixth digit – courage and hardness (from none to very good on a scale of 1-5)
The dog’s 6-digit number is referred to as their “Körung.” There are different ranges that dogs fall into that make them better suited for specific occupations.
Here are a couple of examples:
- ***3/33 to ***7/33 – Can be used in the military or police
- 5555/55 – Good working or schutzhund dog
The rating system was used during breeding and only East German Shepherds with a permissible rating were allowed to reproduce. Over time, this improved the breed’s overall athleticism, build, personality, power and temperament.
7. The DDR German Shepherd Is Being Preserved
Fortunately, some of the bloodlines carried on to the present day and are actively being preserved by a select group of breeders.
In addition to preserving the bloodline, they are also working to improve it. They have certain standards which include an array of characteristics and traits.
Here are some of the traits they are trying to preserve:
- Climbing abilities
- Endure extreme physical demands
- Intimidating presence
- Powerful and deep chested body
- Straight and square frame
- Supreme intelligence
One of the breeders leading the fight to preserve the breed is Vom Banach K9. They are one of the leaders in working line GSDs and import their puppies from DDR/Czech and German working lines.
The DDR German Shepherd is a beautiful animal with a rich history and elite pedigree. They have a perfect balance of athleticism, strength and power unmatched by many dog breeds. They are extremely intelligent and can perform several different difficult tasks making them a top choice for military, police and schutzhund work.
In addition, they can make great family pets when paired with the right family. They are exceptional guard dogs who will defend you at all costs!
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Do you have any experience with this amazing breed? Have you ever owned one? Let us know! We would love to hear about your personal story!
Photos in article: Courtesy of Jordan and his dog Ted