Welcome to this unique perspective on the origins and history of the German Shepherd Dog. This photographic timeline of events begins in the 1850’s and continues all the way up until modern times detailing the amazing journey of the highly popular and aesthetically pleasing German Shepherd that people have grown to love.
German Shepherd History:
During the 1850's German people began to develop dogs with specific traits that would help them herd and protect their flocks of sheep. Different shepherds from varying localities bred dogs specific to their needs. Because of this, dogs would fluctuate in appearance and temperament.
A study was performed in 2018 on the evolution of domestic Italian dog breeds. It revealed that the German Shepherd along with the Berger Picard and five other Italian herding breeds come from a European herding dog predominant in the country prior to 1859.
Stephanitz who is credited with creating the German Shepherd dog breed is born in Dresden, Kingdom of Saxony. He later becomes known as the "Father of the Breed."
The Phylax (Greek for "guardsman") Society was the first German Dog Club. It was formed in 1891 to standardize the first German dog breed. Sheep dogs with exceptional qualities were hand chosen from local shepherds.
The Phylax Society would only last four years. Members of the groups constantly argued over breeding standards. Some felt appearance was more important while others wanted to prioritize the working dog traits. This eventually led to the break up in 1894. Though the organization failed, many were inspired to standardize dog breeds moving forward.
Famous dog breeder and creator of the first dog guide school for the blind, philanthropist and National Women's Hall of Famer, Dorothy Leib Harrison Wood Eustis is born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Former Cavalry Captain and Phylax Society member Max Von Stephanitz believed in breeding the perfect working dog. He purchased "Hektor Linksrhein" at a dog show. He changed his name to "Horand von Grafrath."
Max Von Stephanitz establishes the Society For German Shepherd Dogs with his friend Artur Meyer. They develop a standard for the breed and register "Horand von Grafrath" as the first German Shepherd in history.
The very first Schutzhund trial took place in Germany. It was developed to test the dog's temperament. It involved three phases: obedience, protection and tracking.
"Mira von Offingen" is imported to America with two other dogs by Otto H. Gross. She was owned by Dalmore Kennels of H.A. Dalrymple.
Mira, from Beowulf x Hella vom Schwaben, is owned by Dalmore Kennels of H.A. Dalrymple. She is entered into the open class at Newcastle and Philadelphia.
"Queen of Switzerland," who was bred by Herman Troesch, is officially registered by the American Kennel Club with #115006. Owned by Adolph Vogt, she is grey in color with a black saddle. She is the first of the breed to be entered into the AKC Stud Books.
A total of 7 GSD's make their debut at the world renowned Westminster Dog Show. Anne Tracy owns one of those dogs.
Anne Tracy along with Benjamin Throop create the German Shepherd Dog Club of America. It has a total of 26 members in its early days. In addition 2 GSD's named "Luchs" (Anne Tracy's dog) and "Hera von Ehrangrund" earned the 1st championship awards.
The GSD Dog Club publishes a book called "Schooling and Training the German Shepherd," which is written by Stephanitz. They also hold their 1st specialty show. It takes place in Greenwich, Connecticut and goes by the name "Anne Tracy."
"Stoneihurst Edmond," owned by Anne Tracy is the first registered White German Shepherd who was born and bred in the U.S.A. Note: The White GSD is not recognized in Europe as a full breed but rather a mixed breed.
To remove themselves from anything connected to war time Germany, the club removes "German" from their official name. The AKC also changes the breed name to "Shepherd Dog." In the United Kingdom, the breed name was changed to "Alsatian."
The German Shepherd is officially recognized by the English Kennel Club in 1919. Due to anti-German sentiment, the breed's name is changed to the "Alsatian Wolf Dog."
During the 1920's, the "Alsatian League" joined forces with the "Alsatian Wolf Dog Club" to form the "Alsatian League and Club of Great Britain."
Thanks to famous dogs like "Strongheart" and "Rin Tin Tin," the GSD becomes the number one dog breed during the 1920's. Unfortunately their popularity dwindled after the war.
Hitler owns a German Shepherd named Prinz. He is poor at the time and has to keep the dog at another location. She escapes and makes her way back. This loyalty leads to him owning more of the breed.
Strongheart becomes one of the first famous GSD's starring in the 1921 film "The Silent Call." He starred in 6 feature films including "White Fang." He increased popularity in the breed before passing in 1929 from a tumor caused by burns from a light on the set. His career reportedly earned him $2,500,000.
His book features a well known white GSD named "Berno von der Seewiese" pictured above. The dog was a direct descendant of his first German Shepherd "Horand von Grafrath." In it he says "The coloring of the dog has no significance whatsoever for service."
Photo Attribution: The German Shepherd Dog in Word & Picture by v. Stephanitz, copyright in 1925, English Edition, page 127
Stephanitz' Society For German Shepherds was highly successful claiming to have fifty thousand members paying dues by 1923. The members were spread out over 500 branches in Germany.
The now famous Rin Tin Tin lands his first big movie roll starring in "Where the North Begins." His career began as a double for wolves because he was easier to train than an actual wolf. He starred in 24 more movies and inspired many imitations. He produced 48 puppies with Nanette II before his passing on August 10, 1932.
Photo Attribution: Warner Bros-Lithograph by Otis Lithograph, Cleveland, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Eustis is 41 years old in 1927 and breeding German Shepherds in Switzerland for police work. She writes an article about a German dog guide training school for blind World War I veterans in The Saturday Evening Post. Frank Morris sees the article and writes her. Together and with the help of Frank's guide dog "Buddy," the two form the first dog guide school in history, The Seeing Eye.
Around this time, German Shepherds have a reputation for being used by bootleggers and gangsters. This leads to a brief ban from importing the breed into Australia.
The American Kennel Club officially changes the breed name back to the German Shepherd.
Stephanitz finally leaves the club that he founded after managing it for 36 years. He gave up due to Nazi interference with his Dog Club. He was even threatened with going to a concentration camp if he tried to interfere.
The creator of the German Shepherd Dog breed dies on the 37th anniversary of his club in Dresden, Kingdom of Saxony.
John Gans imports "Pfeffer von Bern" to America. The dog goes on to be the Grand Victor in the American Kennel Club dog shows in back to back years from 1937 to 1938.
Photo Attribution: SGR 1937/8GV CH(US) Pfeffer von Bern PedigreeDatabase.com
GSDs were used by the Allied forces and the Germans during the war. They were used as messenger, protection and recovery dogs as well as sentinels and scouts. After the war, American German Shepherds continued via the Pfeffer and Odin bloodlines. The German GSDs on the other hand were nearly destroyed due to the Nazis. The breed would start fresh with the few resilient and tough dogs left.
"Odin vom Busecker Schloss" along with "Pfeffer von Bern" would become the foundation for most of today's American German Shepherd Dog lines.
Photo Attribution: VA2 1937 INT CH Odin vom Busecker Schloss PedigreeDatabase.com
Adolf Hitler receives his most well known German Shepherd "Blondi" as a gift from Martin Bormann. She slept next to him in his bunker and was used as a propaganda tool to depict Hitler as an animal lover. The dog was given a cyanide capsule and died as a test prior to Hitler's own demise.
The division of Germany following World War II and the erection of the Berlin Wall in 1949 caused a split in the breed which resulted in two distinct sub-species of GSD: The West German GSD and The East DDR/Czech GSD. These are referred to in Europe as Show and Working lines. The split took place over a period of a couple decades.
The British Kennel Club finally changes the breed name back to German Shepherd after more than five decades.
Ch. Covy-Tucker Hill's Manhattan OFA H/E ROM, nicknamed "Hatter," wins "Best in Show" at the 1987 Westminster Kennel Club dog show. "Hatter" is considered the most winning male German Shepherd in the history of dog shows. He is also regarded as the #4 show dog of all time of any breed.
Photo Attribution: BIS CH (US) Covy-Tucker Hill's Manhattan PedigreeDatabase.com
Several factors including focus on conformation and line-breeding to appease the American and Asian markets subsequently lowered the quality of both distinct European GSD breeds.
Some European breeders begin to try and correct the inferiorities of the breed. To accomplish this, they cross Czech dogs with German dogs.
"Apollo," a GSD on the K-9 unit of the New York Police Department, joins the search and rescue crew and arrives on the scene just fifteen minutes after the fall of the twin towers. He would later receive the Dicken Medal, which is equal to the Victoria Cross, for his efforts.
GSDs claim the number two spot on the American Kennel Club's "Most Popular Dog Breeds" list right behind the most popular dog breed in the world, the Labrador Retriever.
Female German Shepherd GCH CH Lockenhaus' Rumor Has It V Kenlyn wins the 141st Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Madison Square Garden in New York City. This is the second time in history a GSD has won the inaugural event. She defeated 2,800 dogs and over 200 breeds to secure the victory.
Photo Attribution: GCHP Lockenhaus' Rumor Has It V Kenlyn PedigreeDatabase.com
Edward Denny Forms The Vom Zeder Haus Breeding Initiative to bring back the Old German Shepherd from the 1950's and 1960's era and what he calls the "Golden Years." He begins crossing GSDs from the Czech/German crosses with West German GSDs.
German Shepherd History Conclusion:
This concludes our German Shepherd History Timeline. Hopefully you have learned some new information about the origin of this great dog. The breed continues to astonish breeders and owners alike and remains one of the most popular dog breeds in the world.
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