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Home Breed History of the German Shepherd Stephanitz and Breeding

Max von Stephanitz Breeding, Breed Standard German Shepherd | Utility and Intelligence

“Utility and intelligence” - these were, for von Stephanitz, the most important qualities of the German Shepherd, and this became the motto and oft-repeated mantra of the German Shepherd Dog Club. While one often thinks of German Shepherds today as being creatures of astounding physical beauty and elegance, these qualities were for Stephanitz subordinate. Even the most beautiful dog in the world, Stephanitz reasoned, was useless if it could not serve man well, living up to the standards of its name. Intelligence, temperament, and the ability to learn quickly and carry out its master's orders were far more important in this regard. Elements like structure, gait, and attitude were planned out by Stephanitz not for their aesthetic or even emotional appeal, but rather for their usefulness in creating an efficient sheep-herder.

Thus did Von Stephanitz, through Horand and his brother Luchs, create a lineage of powerful, intelligent, and useful canines. One of Horand's pups in particular, Hektor von Schwaben, was mated many times with his siblings and cousins to produce dogs similar in form and function to Horand, the ideal German Shepherd.

But Von Stephanitz had failed to foresee one flaw in his plan. The excessive use of inbreeding, which Von Stephanitz had utilized to try and approximate as closely as possible the qualities of Horand in subsequent generations, led to complications further down the line, as undesirable recessive genes were passed down through litters of German Shepherd pups. Eventually, von Stephanitz had to attempt to widen the gene pool somewhat by introducing two new German Shepherd dogs – Audifax and Adalo von Grafrath, herders from an unrelated bloodline – into his mating schemes.

While the growing industrialization of nineteenth and early-twentieth century Germany, and the shift away from the pastoral society in which German Shepherds were most useful, somewhat threatened the growth and development of the German Shepherd, the versatile breed found its niche in twentieth century Europe: the easily-trained, intelligent, loyal, and obedient dogs were used often during the First and Second World Wars by the German government as well as by the Red Cross in a variety of missions, from tracking the enemy to carrying supplies. In short, the German Shepherd came a very long way in a short time.

Other notable subject matter that plays an important role in the history of the German Shepherd bred include early origins of the breed, nineteenth century developments specific to this well-loved canine, along with post-war breeding that took place in Germany.  Additionally, the "America vs. Europe" comparison began to take root, resulting in early breeding developments in America.



1.“German Shepherd Dog (Alsatian) Breed Standard.” The American Kennel Club.

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