German Shepherd Information | Breed History & Facts | Economic and Social Changes in the 19th Century
For the German Shepherd, the nineteenth century was important indeed for a number of reasons. Nonetheless, it is important to note that nineteenth-century German sheepdogs were thus descendants of these original domesticated wild dogs. While, within a given region, it was highly likely that dogs would be related, and thus that they would resemble each other, there was no standardization across regional lines; sheepdogs in Bavaria, for example, could vary widely in appearance, coat-color, size, or shape from sheepdogs with equivalent purposes in Hamburg. Dogs working in warmer regions, for example, would evolve without the thick, warm fur coats that came to characterize sheepdogs working in colder regions.
By the nineteenth century, however, the social landscape was changing, and in a way that would profoundly impact the origin of the German Shepherd breed. Increasingly, rural, agriculture-based economies were giving way to urbanization and the rise of the prosperous, business-oriented middle classes – a process that was especially dominant in Germany. As farms declined in number, small towns and villages giving way to bustling cities and capitals of industry, so too did the sheep flocks – and with it, the shepherd – decline as well. At the same time, dog ownership was becoming a pastime of choice among the middle and upper classes, who tended to see dogs as pets and hobbies rather than as necessary helpers on the farm or in the field. Ironically, this migration of dogs from helpers to family pets eventually paved the way for the German Shepherd in becoming one of the most well-known and accepted breeds around the world today.
One final piece remains to be added to the puzzle – the nineteenth century interest in evolution. Ever since the publication of Charles Darwin's 1848 The Origin of Species, nineteenth-century Europe had been fascinated by how selective breeding could lead to “improvements” in a given species (an interest that took a decidedly sinister turn by the early twentieth century, when such “improvements” led to an interest in turn in eugenics). The combination of the middle-class interest in dogs as pets, rather than work-animals, and a prevailing fascination with selective breeding led in turn to attempts to “standardize” dog breeds. The mid-nineteenth century saw the growth of societies of herders and a move towards attempting to selectively breed useful traits in herding dogs and to standardize the characteristics of such dogs. The “Phylax Society,” founded in 1881, was the first formal organization of this kind. While the Phylax society was alas not very successful, disbanding after only three years, it nevertheless marked a watershed in canine breeding and development, one that would be furthered by Max von Stephanitz for the German Shepherd.
Additional subject matter relating to German Shepherd information, breed history, and facts include include the following: