The Old German Shepherd dog is a traditional style herding dog that existed in Germany as far back as the 1800’s. Although similar to the modern-day GSD, there are some differences. This is mainly due to the fact that it was bred solely for the purpose of working with Shepherds to herd flocks of sheep. As opposed to performance or show line GSDs. Here are 5 cool facts about these old timers that may surprise you!
1. They Are Known In Europe As “Altdeutsche Schäferhunde”
In the country of Europe, they are referred to as Altdeutsche Schäferhunde. In English, this translates to “Old German Shepherd.”
At the time, this was a blanket name that covered all of the local shepherd dogs even though they varied in size and appearance. Any dog in the area that was working or herding was lumped into this group.
Shepherds weren’t worried about physical appearance and instead focused on finding the best dog for the job. It wasn’t until later on that the more modern-day GSD was developed.
2. They Are Considered A Landrace Breed
You may have never heard of the term “landrace” breed before. It refers to domesticated traditional dogs that have adapted to the local environment naturally over a period of time.
Typically, landraces are almost the same genetically but vary much more than a standard dog breed. Often times landraces are developed into standardized breeds. So, one could look at them as a step towards developing a specific breed.
Characteristics and traits can vary greatly depending on location and the particular purpose the dog serves. The modern-day GSD is a good example of a breed that was developed from the landrace version.
Fun Fact: With over one billion dogs on the planet and only 420 standardized breeds, 75% of all dogs aren’t officially recognized by any breed club. That means that the majority of dogs on the planet are landrace or village dogs.
3. The Old German Shepherd Dog Is Long Haired
During the late 1800’s Max von Stephanitz began to develop his version of the perfect working German Shepherd dog.
His vision was to produce a dog that could serve the military with bravery, loyalty and obedience.
To further his pursuit, he founded the “Verein für deutsche Schäferhunde (SV)” in 1899.
Originally, during the inception of the breed, all different colors and hair variants were accepted by the organization.
At some point that changed, and they started to exclude certain variants to perfect the breed.
The long-haired German Shepherds, along with white and wire-haired, were eventually precluded from the standard breed.
During this time the Old GSD continued to be bred and developed even though it wasn’t officially recognized by the SV. The only major difference was the long hair. A couple of other Old German Herding dogs, the “Gelbbacke” and Harzer Fuchs” were lumped in with the group.
It would stay this way for 80 years until 2010 when the FCI, the worldwide pedigree for dogs, officially recognized the long-haired variant as part of the German Shepherd breed.
This long-haired coat is the only significant difference that there used to be between the old and the new breed. The old GSD looked a bit larger and stronger due to its coat which was thicker and longer than the modern-day version.
4. They Originated In The Early Middle Ages
The roots of the original Altdeutsche Schäferhunde go all the way back to the early middle ages. It was during a time in Germany when “transhumance” was taking place.
Also referred to as nomadism or pastoralism, shepherds would use dogs to move livestock between mountain pastures depending on the season to ensure their animals had food to eat.
Transhumance is practiced in those parts of the world where there are mountains, highlands, or other areas that are too cold to be inhabited and utilized for grazing except in summer.Britannica – Transhumance
During these migrations, Old German Herding dogs would drive cows, pigs and sheep over varying distances. Along the way, they would herd and protect the flock from any danger that may arise.
It was during these travels, that dogs would interbreed. This would sometimes cause lots of different variations in coat types and colors. At this time, the different colored dogs had unique names depending on their region in Germany.
However, they were not considered separate breeds. These were the original herding dogs that would later become the old GSD.
5. The Old German Shepherd Dog Breed Is Being Preserved
Thanks to the organization “Die Arbeitsgemeinschaft zur Zucht Altdeutscher Hütehunde,” which stands for AAH – Association for Breeding the Old German Shepherd Dog, the breed is being preserved.
Formed in 1989, the registry’s goal is to maintain and preserve the Altdeutsche Schäferhunde in a variety of different types of working stockdogs.
To be officially registered with the organization, qualifying dogs must be able to herd cattle or sheep. They even hold sheepdog trials in Germany to test their herding abilities. Dogs are put through several tests to judge their skills.
- Keeping the sheep tightly packed together in a group.
- Driving the sheep forward through an open field while keeping them in control.
- Moving the sheep along an open road without fencing while guarding their flanks to avoid strays.
To initiate the herding, the shepherd will walk in front of the flock and then give some brief instructions to the dog. The presence of the dog alone keeps the flock of sheep in line. The dog may even appear detached from the situation until they need to drive the flock or turn back a stray.
This method is still used today in parts of Germany. Dogs will assist shepherds in moving flocks of sheep from one pasture to the next for grazing.
The Old German Shepherd Dog goes back hundreds of years and remains a staple in parts of Germany where they continue to work on isolated farms doing what they do best, herding and protecting livestock. Hopefully this article shed some light on this breed and introduced you to some new and exciting facts that you have never heard before. Stick around for more GSD articles weekly and make sure to subscribe to our newsletter for updates!
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