Founding of the Modern German Shepherd Dog Breed in Germany

As a young cavalry officer, Stephanitz’s military duties often required him to travel across the German countryside.

It was common for travelers like Stephanitz to board with rural families along the way. At that time most rural German farms had at least a few head of sheep and a herding dog or two to tend them. Stephanitz became fascinated with the German herding dogs and their working capabilities. He admired all the hard working dogs, but observed some dogs had a special look and bearing about them that he especially admired.
Eventually Stephanitz became inspired with the idea that Germany should have a national herding dog that combined the work ethic of the most accomplished herding dogs with that special look and bearing he so admired. Stephanitz envisioned a German shepherding dog who was extremely intelligent, could reason and be a working companion to man. Further, the dog must be quick on his feet and well coordinated, protective, noble in appearance and bearing, trustworthy in character, physically sound in joint and muscle, and be born with an innate desire to please and obey the shepherd master. This is the German Shepherd dog that we know and love today. By 1891 Stephanitz started selecting the best herding dogs from across the German countryside for his breeding program, but Stephanitz was not alone in his passion to develop a national German Shepherding Dog.


The Phylax Society, active primarily between the years 1891-1894, was an organization of German shepherding dog fanciers that in many ways formed the foundations for the German Shepherd Dog Club of Germany. The Phylax Society documented shepherding dogs of varying sizes, types and colors, including white, to have been in all areas of Germany during the late 1800’s.
Like Stephanitz, Phylax Society members were actively engaged in uniting the various sizes, types and colors of German shepherding dogs to produce a standard shepherding dog for Germany. Stephanitz corresponded with Phylax Society members and attended dog shows organized by the Society, thus adding to Stephanitz’s already considerable understanding of bloodlines.
The Phylax Society provides an essential prolog to the modern German Shepherd story, both white and colored. The society ultimately did not long survive because it had no strong central figure to organizing and manage Society affairs. The Phylax Society essentially evolved into the German Shepherd Dog Club of Germany, organized and managed by Stephanitz, as many former Phylax Society members later joined with Stephanitz.
As interest in dog breeding continued to grow in Germany throughout the 1890’s, one of the largest all breed dog shows to date took place in the Rhineland town of Karlesruhe on April 3, 1899. Stephanitz, accompany by his friend Artur Meyer, attended the Karlesruhe Exhibition in his continuing search for shepherding dogs that could be added to his breeding program.
Among the many shepherding dogs brought to the exhibition from a number of different German agricultural areas, Stephanitz saw a truly unique and noble looking shepherd dog name Hektor Linksrhein, born the 1st of January 1895 along with litter brother, Luch von Sparwasser, later registered SZ 155. The breeder of Hektor and Luch was Herr Friedrich Sparwasser of Frankfort. Stephanitz at once recognized Hektor as his ideal German Shepherd Dog that he had been striving to develop in his own ten year long breeding program. He bought Hektor on the spot and renamed the dog Horand von Grafrath.
Hektor’s and Luch's maternal grandfather was a white-coated German herding dog named Greif von Sparwasser, whelped in Friedrich Sparwasser's Frankfort kennel in 1879. George Horowitz, renowned English Judge, German Shepherd (Alsatian) columnist, author and historian documents the background of Hektor Linksrhein (a.k.a. Horand von Grafrath) in his 1923 book, “The Alsatian Wolf-Dog.” In his book Horowitz documents that the white-coated herding dog named Greif von Sparwasser, born in 1879, was presented at the 1882 and 1887 Hanover Dog Shows.


Next, at the 1888 Hamburg Dog Show, Greifa, another white-coated herding dog, was presented and a third white-coated shepherd named Greif II was presented at the 1889 Cassel Show. The Master of Hounds of Beyenrode, Baron von Knigge, who acquired Greif from the Frankfurt breeder Friedrich Sparwassar, eventually owned all three of the white-coated herding dogs Greif, Greifa and Greif II. These dogs were described as very alert, well proportioned, erect eared white herding dogs. The modern German Shepherd Dog appearance further developed when Greif von Sparwasser was mated with female Lotta von Sparwasser who then whelped a litter that included a wolf-grey colored female named Lene von Sparwasser, later registered SZ 156. Both Greif and Lotta had the distinctive 'up right' ears that we see in the modern German Shepherd Dog breed, but which was uncommon in shepherding dogs of that time. Lene then passed the genetic coding for 'up right' ears as well as white coats, in her pairing with dog Kastor, to Hektor von Linksrhein (a.k.a. Horand von Grafrath SZ 1) and his litter brother Luch. Friedrich Sparwasser's line of dogs, therefore, contributed very important conformation and behavioral aspects to the modern German Shepherd Dog breed. If Stephanitz can be called the father of the German Shepherd Dog breed, then perhaps Frankfurt breeder Friedrich Sparwasser should also be credited as a grandfather. Concurring information is provided in “The German Shepherd Dog, Its History, Development and Genetics,” written by M. B. Willis, B. Sc.Ph.D.
In Stephanitz's original book "The German Shepherd Dog in Words and Picture," printed in Germany by Anton Kamphe, Jena in 1923, he describes the background of the dog types used to develop the German Shepherd breed.
 
Clearly, among the several dog types used in the breeding program there were two dog types of particular importance to the development of the German Shepherd Dog as we know them today: sheepdogs from the German highland Thuringia region who had erect ears and a general conformation of the modern German Shepherd dog, and sheepdogs from the Wurttemberg region which were heavier, larger-boned and had very bushy tails. Greif, Lotta, Hektor and Luch are noted as having "Thuringian blood." Unfortunately, later revisions of Stephanitz's book eliminated much of Stephanitz's original descriptive commentary on the various dog types used in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to develop the modern German Shepherd Dog breed. Information and photos of Old German Shepherds can be found in the book (in German) "Hirten und Huetehunde" by Karl Hermann Finger, Eugen Ulmer GmbH & Co., published 1988.
Stephanitz writes in his book, "Horand embodied for the enthusiasts of that time the fulfillment of their fondest dreams. He was big for that period, between 24" and 24 1/2", even for the present day a good medium size, with powerful frame, beautiful lines, and a nobly formed head. Clean and sinewy in build, the entire dog was one live wire. His character was on a par with his exterior qualities; marvelous in his obedient fidelity to his master, and above all else, the straightforward nature of a gentleman with a boundless zest for living. Although untrained in puppy hood, nevertheless obedient to the slightest nod when at this master's side; but when left to himself, the maddest rascal, the wildest ruffian and incorrigible provoker of strife. Never idle, always on the go; well disposed to harmless people, but no cringer, mad about children and always in love. What could not have been the accomplishments of such a dog if we, at that time, had only had military or police service training? His faults were the failings of his upbringing, never of his stock. He suffered from a superfluity of unemployed energy, for he was in Heaven when someone was occupied with him and was then the most tractable of dog."

On April 22, 1899, less than a month after Stephanitz purchased Hektor, who he renamed Horand von Grafrath, Stephanitz founded the German Shepherd Dog Club of Germany or Der Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde, the SV, as he wrote the first entry into the new SV Stud Book – “Horand von Grafrath, SZ 1.” Thus, Horand (a.k.a. Hektor) was documented as the foundation of the German Shepherd Dog breed. Membership of the SV German Shepherd Dog Club grew quickly and soon many breeders were using Horand’s progeny, as well as Horand’s litter brother Luch and his progeny, to expand the German Shepherd Dog breed population.
The genetic influence of Horand’s maternal grandfather, white-coated Greif, is significant in the breed given Horand was line-bred and inbred with his own offspring in the expansion and refinement of the new breed after 1899. Horand was bred to 35 different bitches, including his own daughters, producing 53 litters, of which, 140 progeny were registered with the SV. Horand’s litter brother Luchs was also widely bred in the same way in the expansion of the modern German Shepherd breed. Further, Horand’s offspring was inbred with Luchs's offspring, which further concentrated the DNA of these dogs. It is a statistical certainty that a large percentage of all of Horand’s and Luchs’s offspring inherited the white genetic factor that was passed to them by white-coated maternal grandfather Greif. The white genetic factor in turn was forwarded on to a percentage of all subsequent generations of the breed. In the first 15 years of pedigreed German Shepherd Dog breeding more than half the registered dogs had litters with white puppies. Many of Horand's grandsons produced white pups including Baron von der Seewies (1913) who became the first white German shepherd registered in the breed book. Of the many genetic traits that became firmly entrenched in the founding breeding program, the white-coat color gene figures prominently, even to this day.
 
In Stephanitz's original 776-page book, "The German Shepherd Dog in Words and Picture," he included a photograph of a celebrated White Shepherd, Berno von der Seewiese, who was a direct descendant of Horand von Grafrath, (a.k.a. Hektor) the father of the breed. Berno v.d. Seewiese, born in 1913 was in a direct line down from Horand von Grafrath through Horand’s equally famous, and some said even more handsome, son Hektor von Schwaben. In his 1921 book, Stephanitz wrote, "The coloring of the dog has no significance whatsoever for service" and "Our German Shepherd Dogs have never been bred for color, which for the working dog is a matter of quite secondary consideration. Should any fashion breeder allow himself to pursue such a senseless fad, he might be bitterly disappointed." Clearly, the founder of the breed stressed utility over appearance, however, it must be noted that in other passages in his book Stephanitz also wrote of his preference for dark colored shepherds. Stephanitz writes in his 1925 book, "Albino's, (i.e. animals without color, in other words white dogs with completely colorless skin, pale claws, flesh colored nose and reddish eyes) must be completely excluded from breeding. With dogs, however, who have been bred to white color, where the skin has retained the pigmentation, it is not a sign of paling but of breed. This, however, applies only to other breeds; for shepherd dogs, both smooth and rough haired, white is only allowed for shaggy haired ones as the descendants of the old sheep dogs bred for white."


The prime directive of Stephanitz breeding mandate was that the German Shepherd Dog breed must embody all the qualities of a working herding dog. He maintained that the beauty is in the working abilities of the dog; muscle, bone, joint, proud look and bearing, intelligence, stamina and work ethic were the primary strengths sought in the breed. To ensure this prime directive of breeding was honored Stephanitz created the Koerung, a survey, in which the dogs were thoroughly examined, judged, and deemed fit or unfit for breeding. Coat color considerations did not disqualify a dog from Stephanitz’s German Shepherd breed standard during the first twenty years of the breed club. Dogs known to carry the "white coat factor" were not, for this reason alone, excluded from the SV breed program. This is not to say white-coated puppies were happily received in all breeder's litters, even in these early formative years of the breed when the recessive gene for white coats was so well established and wide spread in the breeding pool. (Schutzhund is the modern version of Stephanitz's breeding assessment survey.)


By 1923 Stephanitz's still growing club membership numbered over 57,000 enthusiasts who grouped into factions of herdsmen, commercial breeders, and show dog devotees. Many commercial and show oriented breeders, who were less passionate about the dog's working characteristics, particularly wanted the breed to have a full wolf appearance. This, in part, is a carry over from the old Phylax Society members who joined with Stephanitz on the founding of his club in 1899. Winfred Strickland writes in her (1988 revised edition) book, “The German Shepherd Today,” that the old Phylax Society, "was based solely on its members common interest in breeding (herding) dogs to resemble wolves, presumably hoping to cash in on their high market value." Another faction opposed to the SV direction, who did not reject white as a breed color, actually broke away and operated under the DSV name until about 1928.
In his 1923 book Stephanitz recognized the esteem many held for the wolf look and wrote that breeders must not to add more “wolf blood" into his dogs because he had already developed the ideal balance of conformation and temperament.

Stephanitz also wrote of SV politics in his 1923 book, “The group with the best chance of gaining the upper hand was the one which envisioned turning the breed into a working-type show dog, with at costs, erect ears and, possibly, a wolf-like appearance as well.” Even while expressing the importance of utility over appearance, Stephanitz himself expressed a personal preference for the wolf-like black and tan coloring in his 1916 and later writings. By the late 1920s SV breeders were already beginning to cull (kill) white-coated puppies from litters and the SV breeding program.

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