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German Shepherd Dog History
The German Shepherd Dogs long and noble history began in the late 1800 with an idea for breeding strong, intelligent, highly trainable dogs for herding and guarding sheep. Not only breeding, but breeding true to form--to a standard. Until this point, any dog showing propensity for herding was used for that purpose. Therefore, many different breeds were in use, and there was a need to pinpoint abilities and pass them on genetically.
Rittmeister (Cavalry Captain) Max Emil Frederich von Stephanitz, universally accepted as the "Father of the Breed", saw a dog in 1899 while attending a dog show in Karlsruhe, Germany; a herding dog which he felt had all the qualities he had been searching for: instinctive herding ability, high trainability, dignity, intelligence, strong build and quiet demeanor. This dog fit the motto von Stephanitz had coined for his new breed: "Utility and Intelligence", and he purchased the dog on the spot. That dog became Horand von Grafrath, the foundation dog of the German Shepherd breed, and given the designation SZ1, the very first German Shepherd Dog in the German Shepherd Dog Club, the SV. Von Stephanitz searched for bitches of Horand type to breed with him, and being very picky, it was a hard search indeed. By carefully and selectively breeding and inbreeding, it was possible to create a line of dogs that bred true to form. Captain von Stephanitz, who had served with the Veterinary College in Berlin while in the military, used extensive biological knowledge to help him in the science of breeding dogs.
That same year (1899), von Stephanitz founded the Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde, or the SV (the Club for the German Shepherd Dog), became its first president, and wrote the first standard for the breed. He ruled the club as a military man would run his troops, appointing himself breeding master, judge, breed inspector and arbiter of all things German Shepherd. The foundation dog Horand von Grafrath would become the first entry in the S.V. Stud Book, in fact the first registered German Shepherd Dog.
Von Stephanitz felt the breed should be founded on hereditary research and not show wins, he therefore required that all litters must be registered to provide the basis for genetic recording. He advised breeders on which dogs should be bred to which bitches, and perhaps just as importantly, which combinations should not be bred. He also decided which dogs would not be used for stud at all, and sent all this information to club members in the form of newsletters. Von Stephanitz expected, and even demanded compliance with the rules. He was never interested in beauty alone, only as it pertained to the dogs soundness and working ability. He wanted the GSD bred for intelligence and physical soundness suited for its work. An excerpt from his written standard reads: "A pleasing appearance is desirable, but it can NOT put the dogs working ability into question." Von Stephanitz obviously was more interested in the brain, not the beauty of the breed.
Captain von Stephanitz worked tirelessly to improve the breed, and to look for other ways the German Shepherd could be useful to mankind. Industrialization caused a decline in the necessity for sheep herding dogs, and he found that the intelligence of kenneled dogs declined. He therefore devised Obedience competitions to resolve this problem. After donating several dogs to policemen, their usefulness as Police Dogs was demonstrated. Various Trials, such as Herding, Training (for police), and special achievement in breeding were established. Interest in Breed Shows increased, as did membership in the SV. The Army finally recognized the usefulness of German Shepherd Dogs during the First World War. They served many functions: messengers, tracking the position of wounded soldiers, sentry and guard dogs, and patrol dogs signaling enemy presence. Other countries had discovered the GSDs many abilities, and used them extensively. Because of animosity in wartime toward anything German, England renamed the breed Alsatian. In some places that name is still used.
After World War I, German Shepherd Dogs became famous and very popular. Unethical breeders began to export puppies to foreign markets, breeding without thought to the best interest of the breed. Von Stephanitz immediately instituted the Koerung, or breed survey, a system whereby all dogs are thoroughly examined, judged, and based on those results are recommended for, or excluded from, breeding privileges. Steady improvement of the breed promptly re-commenced. The daring exploits of dogs such as Rin-Tin-Tin and Strongheart on movie screens across the United States created immense demand for "German Police Dogs". Puppy factories soon flourished, filling demand but selling dogs with often questionable parentage, malnourished, carelessly bred and possessing innumerable physical and psychological defects. Falsified pedigrees were not uncommon. These breeders only concern was the money to be made on this popular breed. (Sadly, some of these practices are still on-going today in many places)
As Nazism spread throughout Germany in the 1930s, it became more difficult for von Stephanitz to continue managing the SV due to interference from the many SV members who were Nazis. He gave up in 1935, and on April 22, 1936 , the 37th anniversary of the founding of the SV, von Stefanitz died.
The SV has continued to carry on the work of Captain von Stephanitz, breeding quality dogs and instituting new practices designed to improve the breed. One such program started in January 1971 was tattooing the right ear of every dog, and to have that number imprinted on the hip x-ray, insuring that no switches can be made. In August 1968, Germany began their Hip Dysplasia Program, x-raying and recording thousands of dogs, rating their hip phenotype, and either allowing or disallowing breeding of that animal. All German Shepherd Dogs competing for the Sieger or Siegerin title must have an "a" stamp hip rating, a SchH II title, and both parents must have at least a SchH I title. Today they have gone one step further, and instituted a "Zuchtwert", or Hip Dysplasia Breed Value Assessment based on x-ray results from the parents, siblings and progeny. Only time will tell if this program helps in the constant battle against the crippling disease.