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History of the German shepherd Dog & its Founder Max von Stephanitz

As a young cavalry officer, Stephanitz’s military dirties often required him to travel across the German countryside. It was common for travelers like Stephanitz to board with rural families along the way. At that time most rural German farms had at least a few head of sheep and a herding dog or two to tend them. Stephanitz become fascinated with the German herding dogs and their working capabilities. He admired all the hard working dogs, but observed some dogs had a special look and bearing about them that he especially admired.

Eventually stephanitz become inspired with the idea that German should have a national herding dog that combined the work ethic of the most accomplished herding dogs with that special look and bearing he so admired. Stephanitz envisioned a German shepherding dog who was extremely intelligent, could reason and be a working companion to man. Further, the dog must be quick on his feet and well coordinated, protective, noble in appearance and bearing, trustworthy in character, physically sound in joint and muscle, and be born with an innate desire to please and obey the shepherd master. This is the German Shepherd dog that we know and love today. By 1891 Stephenitz started selecting the best herding dog from across the German countryside for his breeding program, but Stephanitz was not alone in his passion to develop a national German Shepherding Dog.

The phylax society, active primarily between the years 1891-1894, was an organization of German shepherding dog fanciers that in many ways formed the foundations for the German .The phylax society documented shepherding dogs of varying size, types and colors, including white to have been in all areas of Germany during the late 1800’s.

Like stephanitz, Phylax Society members were actively engaged in uniting the various size, type and colors of German shepherding dogs to produce a standard shepherding dog for Germany. Stephanitz corresponded with phylax society members and attended dog shows organized by the society, thus adding to stephanitz ‘s already considerable understanding of bloodlines.

The Phylax Society provides an essential prolog to modern German Shepherd story, both white and colored. The society ultimately did not long survive affairs.

The phylax society essentially evolved into the German Shepherd Dog Club of Germany, organized and managed by stephanitz, as many former phylax Society members later joined with Stephanitz.

As interest in dog breeding continued to grow in Germany throughout the 1890 ‘s one of the largest all breed dog shows to date took place in the Rhineland town of Karlesruhe on April 3,1899. Stephanitz, accompany by his friend Artur Meyer, attended the Karlesruhe Exhibition in his continuing search for shepherding dogs that could be added to his breeding program.


Among the many shepherding dogs brought to the exhibition from a number of different German agricultural areas, stephanitz saw a truly unique and noble looking shepherd dog name hector Linksrhein , born the 1st of January 1895 along with litter brother, Luch von Sparwasser, later registered SZ 155. The breeder of hector and lunch was Herr Friendrich sparwasser of Frankfort. Stephanitz at once recognized Hektor as his ideal German Shepherd Dog that he had been striving to develop in his own ten year long breeding program. He bought Hektor on the spot and renamed the dog Horand von Grafrath.

Hektor ‘s and Luch ‘s meternal grandfather was white-coated German herding dog named Greif von Sparwasser, whelped in friendrich sparwasser ‘s Frankfort kennel in 1879. George Horowitz, renowned English Judge, German Shepherd (Alsatian) columnist, author and historian documents the background of hector linksrhein (a.k.a. horand von Grafrath ) in his 1923 book, “The Alsatian wolf-Dog. In his book Horowitz documents that the white-coated herding dog named Greif ll was Sparwasser, born in 1879, was presented at the 1882 and 1887 Hanover

Dog Shows

Next, at the 1888 Hamburg Dog show, Greifa, anther white-coated herding dog, was presented and a third white=coated shepherd named Greifa ll was presented at the 1889 Cassel Show. The master of Hounds of Beyenrode, Baron von Knigge, who acquired Greifa from the Frankfurt breeder Friedrich Sparwasser, eventually owned all three of the white-coated herding dogs Greif, freifa and Greif ll. These dogs were described as very alert, well proportioned, erect erect eared white herding dogs. The modern German Shepherd Dog appearance further developed when Greif von sparwaser was mated with female Lotta von Sparwarsser ,who than whelped a litter that included a wolf-grey colored female named Lene von Sparwasser, later registered SZ 156.Both Greif and Lotta had the distinction ‘up right’ ears that we see in the modern German Shepherd Dog breed but which was uncommon in shepherding dogs of that time. Lene then passed the genetic coding for up right ears as well as white coats, in her pairing with dog kastor, to hector von linkrshrein (a.k.a. Horand von Grafrath SZ1) and his litter brother Luch. Friedrich sparwasser’s line of dogs, therefore, contributed very important conformation and behavioral aspects to the modern German shephered god breed, then perhaps Frankfurt breeder friedrich sparwasser should also be credited as a grandfather. Concurring information is provided in “The German shephered Dog, its history, development and genetics,” written by M. B. Willis, B.Sc. Ph.D

In stephanitz’s original book “The german shepherd dog is words and picture, “printed in Germany by Anton Kamphe, Jena in 1923, he describes the background of the dog types used to develop the German shepherd breed.

Stephanitz’s original book “The German shepherd Dog in words and picture” English translated reprint from hoflin publishing

Clearly, among the several dog type used in the breeding program there were two dog type of particular importance to the development of the German Shepherded Dog as we know them today: sheepdogs from the German highland Thuringia region who had erect ears and a general conformation of the modern, German Shephered dog, and sheepdogs from the wurttemberg region which were heavier, larger- boned and had very bushy tails. Grief, Lotta, Hektor and Luch are note as having “Thuringian blood”. Unfortunately, later revisions of Stephanitz’s book eliminated much of Stephanitz’s original descriptive commentary on the various dog types used in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to develop the modern German Shepherded Dog breed. Information and photos of old German shepherds can be found in the book (in German)” Hirten und huetehunde” by kari Hermann Finger, Eugen uimer GmbH & Co., published 1988.

Stephanitz writes in his book, “ Horand embodies for the enthusiasts of that time the fulfillment of their fondest dreams. He was big for that period, between 24” and 24 ½”, even for the present day a good medium size, with powerful frame, beautiful lines, and a nobly formed had. Clean and sinewly in build, the entire dog was one live wire. His character was on a part with his exterior qualities; marvelous in his obedient fidelity to his master, and above all else, the straightforward nature of a gentleman with a boundless zest for living. Although untrained in puppy hood, nevertheless obedient to the slightest nod when at this master’s side; but when left to himself, the maddest rascal. The wildest ruffian and incorrigible provoker of strife. Never idle always on the go; well disposed to harmless people, but no cringer, made about children and always in love. What could not have been the accomplishments of such a dog if we, at that time, had only had military or police service training? His faults were the failings of his upbrining, never of his stock. He suffered from a superfluity of unemployed energy, for he was in Heaven when someone was occupied with him and was then the most tractable of dog.”

On April 22, 1899, less than a month after stephanitz purchased Hektor, who he renamed horand von Grafrath, Stephanitz founded the german shepherd dog club of Germany or der Verein fur Deutsche Schaferhunde, the SV, as he wrote the first entry into the new SV Stud book- Horand von grafrath, SZ 1. “ Thus, Horand (a.k.a. Hektor) was documented as the foundation of the German shepherd dog breed. Membership of the SV German shephered Dog club grew quickly and soon many breeders were using horand’s progency, as well as Horand’s litter brother luch and his progency, to expand the German shephered breed population.

The genetic influence of horand’s maternal grandfather, white- coated Greif, is significant in the breed given horand was line- bred and inbred with his own offspring in the expansion and refinement of the new breed after 1899. Horand was bred to 35 different bitches, including his own daugheters, producing 53 litters, of which, 140 progency were registered with the SV. Horand’s litter brother Luchs was also widely bred in the same way in the expansion of the modern German shephered breed. Further, Horand’s litter brother luchs was also widely bred in the same way in the expansion of the modern german shepherd breed. Further, Horand’s offspring was inbred with Lcch’s offspring, which further concentrated the DNA of these dogs. It is a statistical certainty that a large percentage of all of horand;s and luch’s offspring inherited the white genetic factor that was passed to them by white- coated maternal grandfather Greif. The white genetic factor in turn was forwarded on to a percentage of all subsequent generations of the breed. In the first 15 years of all subsequent generations of the breed. In the first 15 years of pedigreed German Shepherd Dog breeding more than half the registered dogs had litters with white puppies. Many of Horand’s grandsons produced white pups including Baron von der see wise (1913) who became the first white shepherd registered in the breed book. Of the many genetic traits that became firmly entrenched in the founding breeding program, the white- coat color gene figures prominently, even to this day.

In Steohanitz’s original 776- page book, “The German Shepherd Dog in Words and Picture.” he included a photograph of a celebrated White Shepeherd, Berno von der Seewiese, who was a direct descendent of Horand von Grafrath, (a.k.a. Hektor) the father of the breed. Berno v.d. Grafrath through Horand’s equally famous, and some said even more wrote, “ Our German Shepherd Dogs have never been nred for color, which for the working dog is a matter of quite secondary consideration, Should any fashion breeder allow himself to pursue such a senseless fad, he might be bitterly disappointed.” Clearly, the founder of the breed stressed utility over appearance, however, it must be noted that in other passages in his book Stephanitz also wrote of his preference for dark colored shepherds. Stephanitz writes in his 1925 book, “ Albino’s (i.e. animals without color, in other words white digs with completely colorless skin, pale claws, flesh colored nose and reddish eyes) must be completely excluded from breeding. With dogs, however, who have been bred to white color, where the skin has retained the pigmentation, it is not a sign of pailing but of breed, this, however, applies only to other breeds; for shepherd dogs, both smooth and rough haired, white is only allowed for shaggy haired ones as the descendants of the old sheep dogs bred for white.”

The prime directive of Stephanitz breeding mandate was that the German Shepherd Dog breed must embody all the qualities of a working abilities of the dog; muscle, bone, joint, proud look and bearing, intelligence, stamina and work ethic were the primary strengths sought in the breed. To ensure thus prime directive of breeding was honored Stephanitz created the Koerung, a survey, in which the dogs were thoroughly examined, judged, and deemed fit or unfit for breeding. German shepherd breed standard during he first twenty years of the breed club. Dogs known to carry the “white coat factor” were not, for this reason alone, excluded from the SV breed program. This is not to say white-coated puppies were happily received in all breeder’s litters, even in these early formative years of the breed when the recessive gene for white coats was so well established and wide spread in the breeding pool. (Scutzhund is the modern version of Stephanitz’s breeding assessment survey.)

By 1923 Stephanitz’s still growing club membership numbered over 57,000 enthusiasts who grouped into factions of herdsmen, commercial breeders, and show dog devotees. Many commercial and show oriented breeders, who were less passionate about the dog’s working characteristics, particularly wanted the breed to have a full wolf appearance. This, in part, is a carry over form the old Phylax Society members who joined with Stephanitz on the founding of his club in 1899. Winfred Strickland writes in her (1988 revised edition) book, “The German Shepherd Today,” that the old Phylax Society, “was based slolely on its memebers common interest in breeding (herding) dogs to resemble wolves, presumably hoping to cash in on their high market value.” Another faction opposed to the SV direction, who did not reject white as a breed color, actually broke away and operated under the DSV name until about 1928.

In his 1923 book Stephabitz recognized the esteem many held for the wolf look and wrote that breeders must not to add more “wolf blood” into his dogs because he had already developed the ideal balance of conformation and temperament, Stephabitz also wrote of SV politics in his 1923 book, “ The group with the best chance of gaining the upper hand was the one which envisioned turning the breed into a working type show dog, with at costs, erect ears and possibly, a wolf-like appearance for the wolf-like black and tan coloring in his 1916 and later writings. By the late 1920s SV breeders were already beginning to white-coated puppies from litters and the SV breeding program.

Glancing through the first Breed Books of the organization formed by Stephanitz is as exciting as researching the ancestral records and genealogies of European royalty. We discover how an old breed gained a new look.

In the year 1900 dog people behaved much like today’s politicians embroiled in campaigning with mud slinging and personal insults. The opponent’s common sense and national pride came under attack in books, pamphlets, and at shows. in his book “German Dogs” published in Munich the cynologist [gr. cyno= dog, logos= study; the study of canines]Richard Strebel lamented. “when will we Germans finally learn to value what we produce at home?” with respect to German Shepherd Dogs he envisioned a model borrowed from British collie breeders. He felt that there should be at least two separate breeds – one being the luxury model for urbanites and the upper classes, some of whom, in the form of minor royalty, owners of hunting estates, and retired sea captains, had already expressed an interest in such animals. The second breed should live in the country – with sheep herders and farmers. He thought it meaningful to suggest three” classes or sub-classes”.wirehair, stock hair, and longhair.

These assessments were shared by the other canine researcher of that timer,Ludwing Backamn of Dusseldorf, a painter of hunting scenes and animals. The only difference between these two influential men was Backman’s categorical insistence that the three “classes” of dogs proposed by strebel would have to be “separated into three completely different breeds.”An entirely different decision was made by Max Von stephantiz, president of the “mightily blossoming verein fur Deutsche schaferhunde (S.V)” as noted rather tartly by Strebel in 1905. The Man “of legendary vision in matters of club politics” held the opinion that only one breed should be fashioned from suitable lines within the reich.

This tribute, bestowed upon its founder by the SV, was amplified in 1969 with accolades still valid in our 100 th anniversary year. ”In those days the rittmeister thrust open door which lead to German and international study of dogs, studies which were then just germinating but sprouted under his tutelage to bloom into their first spring.” He chose the herding Dog [Hutechund] of Wuttemberg and Thuriongia- saxony as foundation for the German Shepherd Dog breed.

In the Brenz valley in Wurttemberg were two breeding kennels of old standing; v,d Krone” in Heidenheim and “Vom Brenztal” in Giengen. Saxony was the home of the HCH kennel “ Vom klostermansfeld”[Monk’s Field].While a larger, stronger, more utilization dog was preferred in Wurttemberg the dogs of central Germany were of a slighter build. A combination of the two forms was soon achieved under the influence of the SV.

Entries in the early Breed Books focused largely on the external characteristics of the breed standard. Representative dogs from many well-known and unknown lines are listed with an emphasis on Herding Utility dogs deemed suitable for breeding. The kennel “Von der Krone”, owned by Anton Eiselen of Heidenheim, is shown most often in the first few volumes.

Hektor Linksrhein, aka Harand von Grafrath (front) and Mari von Grafrath(formerly v.d.krone)

Hence, the pairing of SV dog No.1 “ Horand von Grafrath “ with different bitches from the Krone kennel founded many of the Horand lines .A close look into those years is well worth it. As far back as 1900/01 Horand, winning First Place in Karslruhe in 1899,produced a seiger who would become an significant influence in GSD breeding. This was his son “ Hektor von schwaben” , SZ 13, out of an unknown bitch “ Mores Plieningen”, SZ159 (owner Franz of Werra). “Hektor von Schwaben” was a medium tall, long bodied dog on a good trotting frame, noble in appearance. One of his sons out o “Flora I von Karlsruhe” became the 1903 Sieger. “Roland v. Park” (formerly “vom Goldsteintal”), SZ 245, a dog whose build, the “structural form, embodied the correct utility dog characteristics.

The club learns from experience.

One of Hektor’s sons was Beowulf, SZ 10, out of the Horand daughter “Thekla von der Krone”. He sired “Heinz von Starkerburg” whose son, the 1906/07 Sieger “Roland von Starkerburg”, SZ 1537, is well known to the GSD breeding community. Roland was the product of very close inbreeding and although, in appearance, he was the most beautiful dog of that time, his temperament left much to be desired. Stephanitz blamed incorrect handling in his critical observation that the owner, Spielman, mollycoddled “his dear little Roland”.

Nonetheless, this dog frequently stood at stud because of his superior form. His top son was the 1909 Siege “Hettel Uckermark,” SZ 3897. Through his son “Alex v. Westfahlenheim” Hettel produced the 1920 Sieger, “Erich von Grafenwerth”, PH, SZ 71141. It is unfortunate that this Sieger also inherited the temperament faults of his father and great- grandfather. This after-the-fact realization brought an immediate response from the club: temperament testing at trials, shows and breed surveys was tightened. Erich’s top son “Koldo vom Boxberg”, SZ 135239, took the Sieger title in 1925. Stephanitz chose a dog whose measurements represented the corrected type of medium size. Previous Sieger titles had been given to dogs at the upper size limits. This was also true for his [Klodo’s] son “Utz v. Haus Schutting”, two-thirds inbred on “Eroch v. Grafenwerth”, the beauty winner. His breeder, Dr Werner Funk of Hannover, had attempted to moderate the temperament faults of the paternal line by blending it with the sound temperament faults of the maternal Horst line. The last Sieger in this succession was “Hussan vom Haus Schutting, ZPr., SZ 375476. The “Glockenbrink” line is an outcross leading back to “Erich v. Grafenwerth”. Erich [v.Glockenbrink] was a dog of correct structure and temperament within the utility dog type. He became Sieger in 1926 and 1928.


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