The History of German Shepherds

German Shepherds are known for their intelligence, strength, and versatility. And as the breed’s enthusiast, you may be curious about the history of German Shepherds. How were they created? Who was the first German Shepherd Dog?

Standardization of Dog Breeds

During the 1850s, attempts were made to standardize different dog breeds in Europe. Different dogs were bred to preserve desirable traits for different jobs during that time. Shepherds in particular wanted dogs with traits that will help them herd sheep and protect their flocks from possible predators.

This was practiced within local communities of Germany. Shepherds picked dogs with the traits they believed to be important in herding sheep. They wanted dogs with the following traits:

  • Intelligent,
  • Fast,
  • Strong,
  • And keen sense of smell.

After selective breeding, they came up with dogs that were able to do the things they wanted. However, the dogs varied significantly – both in looks and ability – from one place to another.

To remove or at least lessen the differences, an organization called the Phylax Society was formed in 1891. The group intends to create standardized dog breeds in Germany but they unfortunately disbanded after 3 years due to conflicts within its members; some think the dogs should be bred for working purposes while the others think the dogs should be bred for their looks as well.


The Creator of German Shepherds

Although the Phylax Society disbanded, the group served as an inspiration for certain individuals to pursue their goal independently. Max von Stephanitz, a former student of the Berlin Veterinary College and a former member of the defunct society, was determined to create a breed meant for working.

The History of German Shepherds

In 1889, von Stephanitz started the standardization of the breed. It began at a dog show in Karlsruhe. He was shown a medium-sized dog named Hektor Linksrhein. The wolf-like dog was yellowish-and-gray and he certainly caught von Stephanitz attention. Hektor looked like the primal canine type. He was powerful, strong, steady, and intelligent. Prior the show, Hektor was also working as a herder of sheep. He had no training for the job. He was the product of a few generations of selective breeding and was born possessing the ability – and von Stephanitz believed that’s a working dog should be.

Von Stephanitz, who was also a former cavalry captain, believed a dog should be intelligent with an even temperament. His motto was “Utility and intelligence”.

Von Stephanitz then named the breed Deutscher Schäferhund which translates as the German Shepherd Dog in English. During that time, all other herding dogs in Germany were called with the same name; they thus became called Altdeutsche Schäferhunde or Old German Shepherd Dogs.

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The History of German Shepherds and the First German Shepherds

Von Stephanitz was very pleased with Hektor and he purchased him instantly then renamed him Horand von Grafrath. After that, the former cavalry captain created the Vereinfür Deutsche Schäferhunde, which translates to Society for the German Shepherd Dog in English.

Horand was then named as the first German Shepherd Dog and the very first dog listed in the society’s registry. Since then, Horand became the center-point and ideal standard of the breeding programs.

Von Stephanitz heavily bred Horand — as well as his brother Luchs – to further strengthen the bloodline. Horandthen sired many puppies with dogs owned by other society members that showed the same desirable traits. His most successful offspring was Hektor von Schwaben. He was inbred with Horand’s other offspring and produced Beowulf, who then sired 84 puppies (still mostly breeding with Hektor’s other puppies). It is believed that all modern day German Shepherds draw a genetic link from Beowulf’s offspring.

While they were aiming to strengthen Horand’s bloodline through intense inbreeding, the method also strengthened undesirable recessive traits. Von Stephanitz then introduced unrelated blood that is still with herding origin through Audifax von Grafrath and Adalo von Grafrath.


Effects of Industrialization to the German Shepherd Breed

Von Stephanitz eventually realized that the breed might decline as Germany becomes more industrialized. He then tapped police and working dog clubs and specific tests were developed for the for the following fields:

  • Formal Obedience,
  • Tracking,
  • And protection work.

These were the prototype of the present Schutzhund tests and trials. Von Stephanitz then persuaded the authorities to use and employ the German Shepherd Dogs in different branches of government service. That proved to be successful and soon, the German Shepherd dogs served during the war as messenger dogs, rescue dogs, supply carriers, and guard dogs.

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