In the late 1800s, people began attempting to create standardized breeds of dog throughout Europe to preserve the highly regarded traits that assisted them during their work as a sheep herder or flock protector. This was the first time people began selective breeding to make a dog with all the traits necessary for herding and the Germans were no exception to the standardization. Around this time, organizations with the intentions of breeding a specific dogs began to form including the Phylax Society.
The Phylax Society was organized in 1891 with the goal of creating a standardized German breed. Members of the society could not agree on which traits their breed should have and could not decide whether the German Shepherd should be bred for their looks or for their ability to work. Due to the many internal conflicts, the Phylax Society only lasted about three years but it did serve as a precedent for people to begin independently standardizing other dog breeds.
A History of High Standards
One of those inspired people was Max Emil Friedrich von Stephanitz, a former captain in the German cavalry and a former student of Berlin Veterinary College. Stephanitz had a passion for animals, especially breeding them, and was interested in creating a better shepherding dog for Germany. After taking his release from the cavalry, he set out to create a highly intelligent, wolf-like dog with keen senses and a willingness to work- all traits which today’s German Shepherds have.
Stephanitz traveled all over Germany to attend dog shows where he saw many fine shepherding dogs but none with all of the traits he was searching for. At last in 1898, Stephanitz was shown a dog that perfectly represented all of the traits he desired. The medium-sized dog, named Hektor Linksrhein, had a wolf-like appearance with a yellow and gray coat, was extremely loyal, powerful and strong, and showed a willingness to work. Stephanitz was so impressed he bought the dog immediately, changed his name to Horand von Grafrath, and began to set the standard for the German Shepherd breed.
After purchasing Horand von Grafrath, Stephanitz founded Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde which means Society of the German Shepherd Dog. Horand was the first dog to be registered under the new breed and was heavily bred, including inbred, to carry on the new standard. As he perfected the breed, Stephanitz maintained his view that German Shepherds should be bred for their ability to assist humans, not for their looks.
A History of Service
As industrialization began to spread throughout Europe and the need for farms faded, Stephanitz was worried that the need for the German Shepherd would disperse as well. He used the connections he made from the cavalry to ensure that the breed would have work with police forces and to persuade the German government to use the dogs during World War I. During war times, German Shepherds served as guards, mail carriers, messengers, Red Cross dogs, and rescuers. The breed rose in popularity in America after their service in the war, though German Shepherds had been recognized by the American Kennel Club 10 years prior, mainly due to servicemen from the United States and its allies that brought German Shepherds back home with them.
One of America’s most famous German Shepherds was one of those dogs that went home with a soldier from the war. Lee Duncan, an American soldier from Los Angeles, saved a 5-day-old German Shepherd puppy caught in the midst of battle. He raised the puppy in the states, trained him and named him Rin Tin Tin. He eventually obtained some silent film work for Rin Tin Tin, who became a worldwide success. He starred in 27 Hollywood films during his lifetime and is responsible for leading the transition from German Shepherd being not only working dogs, but also family companions.
German Shepherds: A Popular and Loving Companion
German Shepherds are at their best when they have a job to do that can keep their attention and focus. This is why they continue to be one the most popular working breeds. Police utilize these dogs for tracking and capturing criminals, search and rescue missions, drug detection and patrolling. The military is also known for using German Shepherd to assist in their daily work, including warning soldiers of enemies or threats in the area. These dogs have also made excellent guide dogs because they can complete their jobs regardless of distractions and have incredibly keen senses.
The German Shepherd is a more reserved breed of dog, which is why they make such great watch dogs. They are hesitant when meeting strangers but once they get to know you they are fiercely loyal. German Shepherds are one of the most intelligent breeds and they are highly trainable because of all of the information they can retain and their devotion to a mission. German Shepherds have a lot of energy and require daily physical and mental exercise to prevent them from becoming bored and restless.