The German Shepherd Herding Dog The Genetic Origin of the Breed

An Interview with Schäfermieister Manfred Heyne Translate
by Anka Andrews & Astrid Bortolucci


Manfred heyne was born in 1930. He is a Schäfermieister whose whole life has been devoted to his dogs and sheep. Refer to his story: A Visit With Schäfermieister Manfred Heyne.

The Interview with Schäfermieister Manfred Heyne:

Q) Schäfermieister Heyne, please describe the original German Shepherd herding dog, the dog whose genetics you have devoted your life’s work to preserve.

It is the German Shepherd Dog genetically endowed as a herding dog with innate self-reliance / independence – an honest grip – endowed with the best temperament – requiring little water when working and not bothered by heat [by working in the heat of the sun]. A dog who can tend the flock on his own, to whom the presence of the shepherd doesn’t matter as long as he is allowed to tend the flock!! If the shepherd leaves the flock either on foot or by car, it makes absolutely no difference to this herding dog and he will continue to contain the flock working precisely on all four borders hour after hour on his own.

Q) Please explain what inspired you to preserve these genetics. I have been a shepherd for sixty-four years [as of 2009] and have always done my work with dogs from this particular male line of German Shepherd herding dog and have always been very satisfied with them. I have earned my wages and put food on the table by working with these dogs!! I have never had to come home from work in a bad mood – I always had the best co-worker! Twice in these sixty-four years I tired to use dogs from “show lines”, the so-called modern line – Oh God! Health problems and a limited work ethic, and then, only under constant supervision.

Q) Please give a brief history of the German shepherd herding dog, including how any why they were developed and what makes them unique.
They were unique!! In 1899 Rittmeister v. Stephanitz and 8 or 10 Schäfermieister formed the German Shepherd Dog Club (SV). The Schäfermieister from southern and middle Germany had indigenous tending dogs with upright ears and a variety of coats. The Schäfermieister were “poor people: and the people whose flocks they tended were also among the poor in the village. If something happened to a sheep in the shepherd’s care during the tending season [if it was injured or such], the shepherd had to replace it!!! Because grazing condition were very limited only correct, honest, and reliable dogs could be used!! Nevertheless if any sort of [character/working] faults became apparent in the dog, he would become a chained dog on the farm, or he would be hung from the nearest tree!!! This is how [breeding] selections were made one hundred and more years ago.

Q) Please explain why you believe the preservation of German Shepherd herding genetics like your is important.
1) The shepherds were so poor one hundred years and more ago that they couldn’t afford to have a second dog!! Hence, the dog the shepherd acquired had to be the dog!! For the next eight to ten years this dog would be the most important living thing to the shepherd for assisting with the job at hand and for looking after and tending the flock all day long!! The shepherd’s job is a very demanding job yet romantics say when they see a shepherd with his flock in a graze “Oh, how romantic and pleasing is this image.” But then there is also the saying that “A shepherd should be seen, but not heard.” My experience as dog handler for the past sixty years has brought me to the point where I can now state “Obedience is genetic.” I, Manfred Heyne, have always been able to select my future Bundesleistungshüten champions from litters of no more than six to ten weeks old!!

2) Obedience is genetic – there is no heritage more valuable than this … And what has the SV done with it? – for the past forty years at local club training fields handlers are heard loudly shouting commands at their dogs despite the use of electric shock collars and other training methods. Poor SV to what depths you have sunk!! The arrogance and ignorance of the SV leadership is responsible for losing these valuable genetics of the true working lines in its attempt to eliminate minor anatomical “faults”.

3) It is also genetics that makes a dog accurately walk a furrow [the furrow being the border between individual grazes]. I’ve seen it many times – young dogs [one year old] were grateful when they had a furrow to run in – they immediately then felt comfortable and really started getting into their work. [Just as] for centuries the same wild animal game paths were always used [ by deer and other animals to go at night] between feeding palces!!! This, too, is genetics created by nature. It comes from the wolf ancestry.

Q) What are your goals for seeing these genetics preserved?

I wish for a miracle that someday soon someone in the SV leadership might finally come to watch my current dog work, on his own, alone and independently, for the entire day! I have known for the past five years that he is the very last of the original breed!! There was not a single dog at the 2004 German Championships who brought these genetic attributes to the table. It is time for the SV to recognize and acknowledge this by making this particular dog available for breeding!! Otherwise, what I predicted thirty years ago will come to pass that there will always be show champions who get high ratings but they will only have 30% of the original genetics! They will be nothing more than command robots!

Q) Do you believe that these genetics are culturally developed? If so,why?

More than one hundred years ago there were many breeds [varieties] of herding dog in Germany but the shepherds were very careful not to allow any crossbreeding. Each herding breed had its own, unique working characteristics and traits depending on where in Germany it was being used. Take for instance the grip which is biting [to discipline] the sheep when necessary – in the middle part of Germany upright – earned dogs would bite the hind leg of a sheep silently whereas in the southern parts of Germany the same variety of dog would bite the rib area or the neck either silently or with a perceptible growl!! I think so, yes [that these dogs are cultural artifacts]- these dogs were the result of man’s careful and purposeful breeding over the centuries and they would then be selected as puppies by testing [as Manfred does in his puppy test] or they would be selected during training [as being the best for this work and therefore for breeding]. That this is true [that puppies can be accurately selected for their genetics by puppy testing] is something I’ve proven with my own breeding – my current dog is such [selected by puppy testing] – he is also the product purposeful breeding and not a fluke.

Q) What impact would there be if these genetics were lost?

This is the easiest of the sixteen questions! The dog would become what it already is and can only get worse! Such dogs are no longer biddable! They have a very unbalanced temperament! They have to constantly be bribed and baited with food [treats] and require a lot of praise just to be coaxed into working! They have to be stimulated with sticks or balls! We didn’t use those magic words called “prey drive’. It means that the dog is expected to grip the sleeve and with much praise from his handler carry it far off the field!! You can imagine a herding dog running all day long, having the occasion to discipline a sheep and then dragging it as prey all over the place – and then [to add insult to injury] you need an electric shock collar just to make him let go!!! These dogs have something wrong in the head – they have become the victims of politics!!!

Q) Are you involved in any cooperative efforts in preserving the genetics of these dogs?

This is a difficult question to answer. Alas, no I am not involved. The few shepherds who still use German Shepherd Dogs all need money just like the rest of us. These shepherd also want to sell puppies and to do this they must take their bitch to show dogs for mating, expecting then that the resulting puppies will be both “beautiful and hard-working”. These breeding practices have destroyed the old, good working lines!! As long as the Schäfermieisters were allowed to judge the herding competitions, you could still find the herding genetics!! But as soon as SV policy invented the “Head Herding Judge” position [this position is filled by a breed judge], the experts in the field, i.e. the Schäfermieisters, no longer had a say in the matter!!* The Schäfermieister who presently are allowed to judge have never had a top dog and have absolutely no idea what the basic genetic make –up of such a dog looks like. One of these gentlemen took first and second place at the Bundesleistungshüten some years ago only because the Head Herding judge fell ill with a heart problem that day and both of the other judges were more than three-hundred meters away from the events they were judging! This is NO way to test for a champion!!! *[The Schäfermieister herding judges judge under the Head Herding Judge – the Head Herding Judge has the ultimate power of determining the final points given at a competition no matter what the other Schäfermieister judges say.]

Q) What would you like to tell the public about the importance of preserving man’s agricultural heritage through the conservation of such animals?

Thirty years ago the Bundesleistungshüten was still a real attraction. People came from all over the world wanting to see the whispering Schäfermieister Heyne win and to take photographs to remember him by! The whole thing is now very lopsided [meaning: without any outstanding shepherds competing] – it lacks excitement [because there are no outstandind dogs or competitors to attract attention any more]- like a pike in the fishpond. This year in Kassel the clumsiest handler I have ever seen had the great good fortune to be given the gift of 93 points, a rating of ‘excellent’, during the first run of the day. At that moment I really regretted having come! Fortunately, a better handler followed but even his dogs no longer possessed the original herding genetics. Von Stephanitz said in 1927/28 that the German Shepherd Dog was over-bred and thereupon proceeded to take action right away. A new von Stephanitz is needed as soon as possible to lead the SV in the right direction – alone I can do absolutely nothing. Although I have won more Sieger titles by far than any one else in the hundred year history of the SV, no one there knows me anymore!!!

Q) What do you recall about the first time you saw one of these original German Shepherd herding dogs?

This is a wonderful question! I was sixteen years old. I used to see two young men, trainees from the place where I would later apprentice, riding their bicycles. Each one had a dog with him. We soon began to talk and I quickly befriended both dogs!! I’ve always made friends with dogs easily. Soon after, I was able to visit them when they tended sheep and was immediately filled with enthusiasm. I, too, wanted to be with such dogs and work with them, as soon as possible. Before this, I had not known that dogs could work like this without commands and without the crack of a whip! Two months later a trainee position opened when one of the trainees left and I got my wish – I was hired as an apprentice shepherd.

Q) As a heritage breed conservationist, what has been your most satisfying experience in preserving this breed?

I have been allowed to participate in the Bundesleistungshüten for thirty years – although there were two years when I was not permitted to enter because I protested [made a formal, written protest to the SV] against judging irregularities and by doing that had dirtied the SV’s nest. In my breeding decisions I have always remained faithful to my line and to the paternal line in my dogs all other attempts [with show dogs] were unsatisfactory. Even though I am the only one in the SV to win the National Herding Championship title thirteen times and ought to have won it at least five times more – EVERY DAY when I’m out tending my flock – where my dog always works on his own – and where my heart leaps for joy-I have this feeling that von Stephanitz is looking down on me from Heaven saying “Yes, my boy, you have done it right!!!”

Q) Why are breeders modifying breed types exclusively for the fashion of winning?

Because they have no idea what they’re doing!!! The higher the educational level of the SV leadership, the more the genetic working ability of the dogs was neglected. Please keep in mind that it was simple shepherds who developed this breed, and it was simple shepherds who together with von Stephanitz founded the SV in 1899. It would be absolutely unimaginable if these men suddenly appeared before us again… Oh God…Oh God. Whatever would they say to us?? And how would the SV leadership of the past fifty years react – those men several of whom have demonstrated dictatorial attitudes? Some time ago I overheard a gentleman at a funeral say that nowhere are as many lies told as at the cemetery!! They are buried with the highest SV honors, and, yet, no one speaks about what become of our breed?

Q) What consequence will this have on breed types?

Where today can you still find the true breed type? After 1946 I’ve seen this type only a very few times and then really only in my own dogs. The current fashionable “ring runners” no longer represent the German Shepherd Dog for me. All winners in each class of the so-called German Shepherd World Championships should be taken up and put in an animal preserve – in wintertime with snow. The gaiting structure and augulation so favored by the SV leadership and their supporters are nothing more than theory and would actually be a hindrance in the struggle for survival. Just look at wolves!! The German Shepherd Dog is supposed to be the most versatile working dog of all, so I must ask myself: what work would this kind of extreme gaiting be useful for other than running around the show ring? Theory and practice really are two different things.

Q) In your own opinion: what do you think our ancestors would think of such breeding practices?
Our ancestors were professional shepherds not animal tamers in a circus where the performance lasts only ten minutes and, then, not even every day! The shepherd and his dog “perform” for eight hours each and every day for eight to ten years long!!! I am firmly of the opinion that our ancestors and especially the co-founders of the SV could not understand the type of dog that is being bred today – and this dog is what is called the German Shepherd Dog!!

Q) What could we learn today from the work that our ancestors did over the past generations to create these specific breed types?

These men [shepherds] were aware of their responsibilities – they didn’t need educated consultants – in their struggle for survival they did what was best in their experience and, if possible, cost nothing. Continual, non-stop breeding really should be punishable by law!! Certainly it represents breeding without responsibility!

Q) How can the public help to preserve these heritage breed types?

The public cannot help! The SV has to divide into two groups – serious breeders on one side and the crazy show dog breeders on the other side.

I have never worked with a dog who didn’t want to work. “(Manfred Heyne)


Services Overview



© 2013 Copyright German Shepherd Dog All rights reserved.