THE German Shepherd is one of the world’s most popular companion and community service dogs. The origins of this lovable breed came from various sheepdogs found in Germany during the last century.
In the second half of the 19th century, dog breed fanciers began to fix the type of sheepdog found in Germany that would eventually form the basis of the modern German Shepherd dog.
In 1899 German cavalry officer Captain Max Von Stephanitz purchased a dog that impressed him very much. Naming this dog Horand v Grafrath, Von Stephanitz soon founded the Verein fuer Deutsche Schaeferhunde (SV) in Germany (The German Shepherd dog club of Germany). The SV started a registration book and Horand v Grafrath became the first registered German Shepherd dog.
By 1910 the German Shepherd had a firm foothold in Europe, and in Germany the service potential of the dogs was realised by helping to equip police stations with trained police dogs. Von Stephanitz was adamant the breed should remain a working dog, and constantly looked for new tasks to keep the breed working.
During the First World War, the German and French military used German Shepherds for various functions, including search and rescue of casualties, carrying ammunition, messages, cables and first aid supplies between the trenches, often through artillery fire.
Many soldiers, impressed by the bravery of the dogs, took captured German Shepherds home with them after the war. German Shepherds were trained in large numbers by the German authorities as ‘seeing eye’ dogs to support the many soldiers blinded during the war.
During the 1920s, canine movie stars such as Rin Tin Tin and Strongheart made the breed extremely popular outside of Germany. However, great harm was caused as unscrupulous breeders introduced poor breeding practices which, along with some irresponsible owners, worked against the founding principles of the breed.
Anti-German sentiment following the First World War, caused the British to rename the breed as the Alsatian Wolf-Dog. During the Second World War many German Shepherds were pressed into military service. Breeding stock in Germany was greatly reduced due to losses during the war. Many dogs were trained to detect unexploded devices resulting in today’s explosive and drug detector dog programmes.
Today it remains one of the most popular breeds of dogs in the world. The founding club has over 100,000 members.
German Shepherds are working dogs but also make ideal family pets.