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Home Breed History of the German Shepherd Max von Stephanitz & the German Shepherd

Captain Max von Stephanitz | German Shepherd | Breed Profile, Origins, History, Facts

The history of the German Shepherd was about to truly begin in 1889, when the Captain Max von Stephanitz appeared on the scene. A wealthy German, von Stephanitz was born in the Kingdom of Saxony, in Dresden, to an upper-class Germany family. While von Stephanitz made his career in the Germany cavalry, his true interest was in animals; he served at the Veterinary College in Berlin, and upon his release from the captainship in 1898 began devoting himself full-time to dog breeding, influenced by similar movements going on across the Channel in England. Von Stephanitz saw the potential inherent in standardizing the German Shepherd breed across Germany, selecting for the most desirable traits in each regional group of dogs and ultimately creating an “ideal” breed that combined the best elements in each. He sought to create a dog that was as keenly intelligent as its lupine ancestor, with pricked ears that would allow it to hear the coming of intruders, a keen and refined sense of smell, and a strong work ethic, traits ironically seen in today's modern German Shepherd.

Such a dog caught von Stephanitz's eye shortly afterwards, at a dog show in the town of Karlsruhe. There he came across the embodiment of his ideal – a wolflike dog with speckled yellow and gray fur, a powerful gaze, and a strong demeanor that bore traces of the primal animal within. The dog was intelligent – easily trained in the skills necessary for a sheepherder. Von Stephanitz knew that he had found his ideal for the breed. He purchased the dog, Hektor Linksrhein, shortly thereafter, choosing to rename the creature Horand von Grafrath. Von Stephanitz then registered the dog, rendering it the first officially registered German Shepherd in the world! Von Stephanitz used this dog as his main “stud” - breeding Horand with a variety of bitches to create litters of offspring, hoping to create pups that were the model of their proud, noble father. To further his ends, Von Stephanitz founded the German Shepherd Dog Club (in German, the Verein fur Deutsche Schferhunde, also known as the SV), of which he became president, and shortly thereafter was successful in creating a standardized German shepherd breed.

Along with the Max von Stephanitz, it is also important to have a comprehensive understanding of other subject matter critical to the history of the German Shepherd breed, such as developments specific fo the Shepherd during the nineteenth century, along with Von Stephanitz' breeding traits for the ideal dog.  Additionally, interested parties should also learn about the differences that were starting to develop in the breed between America and Europe, the early breeding in the United States, along with post-war breeding in Germany.


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