The breed was originated by Captain Max von Stephanitz in the late 19th century and early 20th century. His goal was to breed an all-purpose working dog. The first registered GSD was Horand v. Grafrath . Von Stephanitz admired the landrace herding dogs of his native German Empire, and believed they had the potential to be all-purpose working dogs. Additionally, he was aware of the declining need for herding dogs and believed that the working abilities of the breed would decline unless it was put to other uses. Von Stephanitz created the Verein f?r Deutsche Sch?ferhunde , or SV as the official governing body for the breed.
The SV then created the schutzhund trial as a breed test for the German Shepherd Dog, and prohibited the breeding of any dog which could not pass the trial. The schutzhund trial, along with the SV's conviction that "German Shepherd breeding is working dog breeding, or it is not German Shepherd breeding" led to a rapid development of the breed's abilities.
After World War I, British and American soldiers, impressed by the abilities of the dog, brought home examples to breed. The breed instantly become popular, both as a family pet and as a working dog. To this day, the German Shepherd Dog is considered one of, if not the most intelligent and versatile breeds in existence.
The German Shepherd Dog is a large, strong, handsome-looking dog. The fur is a double-coat and can be either short or long haired. It varies in color, coming in many different shades, mostly cream (tan) and brown, but also solid black or white. Dogs with coats that have tricolored hair (that is, black and white and either brown or red) are called sable or agouti. Different kennel clubs have different standards for the breed according to size, weight, coat color and structure. German Shepards are loving dogs, and make great family pets.
There are several types or lines of GSD and the behavior, abilities, and appearance of each is quite different. The major lines are the international working line, the international show line, and the North American show line.
Dogs from FCI-recognised international working lines are bred primarily for traits involving their working ability rather than appearance, so their appearance can be somewhat varied.
The FCI-recognised international show lines differ in that emphasis is given more to the appearance of the dog when breeding, so they are very consistent in type or appearance.
The North American show lines have also been bred primarily for their looks, but have a markedly different appearance from the international dogs, featuring a noticeably sloped back and sharp angulation of the hock joint. There is a current debate over whether the American show lines still represent the original German Shepherd Dog, or whether the line has become distinct enough that it should be considered a separate breed. Critics of the American line argue that the working ability of these dogs has been lost, and that the angled back is detrimental to the health of the animal. Proponents of the line believe that the altered bone structure of their dogs represents an improvement to the herding ability of the animals.
In the erstwhile GDR, the German Shepherds more closely adhered to the old prewar standard marked by straighter back, longer and denser coat and darker color. These dogs are now praised for breeding working dogs as they are less prone to hip dysplasia. Attempts to preserve this distinct line and raise it to the status of an officially recognized breed ("East German Shepherd Dog") are stalled.
Well-bred GSDs have powerful jaws and strong teeth, can develop a strong sense of loyalty and obedience, and can be trained to attack and release on command. Poorly bred GSDs such as those from puppy mills can be fearful, overly aggressive, or both. GSDs are (like Pit Bulls) often percived as inherently dangerous. If a GSD is violent or aggressive, it is often due to the combination of poor breeding (bad nerves) and the owner's lack of control or training. GSDs are often used as guard, attack and police dogs, which further contributes to the perception of being a dangerous breed. However, GSDs function perfectly well as search dogs and family pets, roles where aggressive behavior is unsuitable.
GSDs' sense of loyalty to, and emotional bond with, their owners is almost impossible to overstate. Separation trauma is one reason they are now used less often in guide dog roles, since guide dogs are typically trained from puppyhood by one owner prior to final placement with their employer.
Temperament Differences Among Lines:
The different types or lines of GSD display differences not only in appearance but also in ability and temperament.
Dogs from working lines have very high energy, and have been bred to have a natural drive for protection, tracking, and obedience. They are bred primarily for consistent temperament, working drive, and intelligence. These dogs can be used as pets, but will be unhappy if not exercised daily or trained to do a job of some sort. These dogs are more commonly seen in rescues in North America due to their high prey drive and owner's inability to control or train them.
German and Eastern European lines tend to be stockier, with shorter snouts and more muscular chests, and typify the working lines.
North American lines have a tendency towards a longer croup, longer back, higher wither and more stable temperament ideal for companionship. They do not require something to do constantly to keep them from becoming bored and without an outlet, destructive.
These dogs can make excellent pets, provided that an irresponsible breeder has not sacrificed consistent temperament or health in the quest for popular standards for good looks.
Working German Shepherd Dogs:
German Shepherds often compete and excel in obedience trials and Schutzhund competitions. German Shepherds are also often trained as police dogs, due to their trainability, size and work drive.
The original purpose for the German Shepherd Dog, was (not surprisingly) to herd sheep, cattle or any other animal that may require the assistance of a shepherd. Even given the name "shepherd" some people are surprised to hear that these dogs were bred for herding, as the GSD is more often found working as a guard dog, police dog or companion pet than in the field working sheep.
The German Shepherd Dog does not have the "eye" as border collies or other similar breeds. They are trained to follow their instinct, which for the GSD is to "work the furrow", meaning that they will patrol a boundary all day and restrict the animals being herded from entering or leaving the designated area. It is this instinct that has made the breed superb guarding dogs, protecting their flock (or family) from harm.
A German Shepherd Dog's instincts to herd might manifest themselves by the dog closely watching or even nipping at members of its family as they go for walks. The dog might attempt to lead people to what it perceives is the correct location, even going so far as to gently take a hand in his teeth to lead the person.
Variant sizes and coats:
Some groups or breeders have focused on variants or mutations of the breed that are not recognized by most kennel clubs as acceptable show GSDs but that might eventually become breeds on their own.
A white (or very light), but not albino, version of the German Shepherd has also always occurred, but was designated a disqualifying fault in the AKC in the late 1960s; it is also considered a fault by German breed standards. This fault, however, does not prevent the white coated German Shepherd Dog from being registered in the AKC as a German Shepherd Dog. White Shepherds hold champion titles in the UKC (United Kennel Club).
Now, some breeders selectively breed White Shepherds for their beautiful snowy white coats and physical stature, striving for a Shepherd that closely resembles the original dog; less angular than today's German Shepherd breed. See the WGSDCA or American White Shepherd Association for more detail. However, the white German Shepherd has been recognised by some organisations under the name Berger Blanc Suisse (or White Shepherd Dog).
The so-called "long-haired German Shepherd" is considered a "fault" in the German Shepherd Dog breed according to American Kennel Club standards. The long hair gene is recessive. Dogs with this coat look somewhat like the Tervueren type of Belgian Shepherd Dog. An example with pictures can be found here. Popular myth holds that long-haired GSDs ("fuzzies") are more affectionate, but there is little evidence for this.
Some organizations recognize a deliberately bred, larger variation of the breed as the Shiloh Shepherd Dog or other names.
As is common in many large breeds, German Shepherds are prone to elbow and hip dysplasia. Other health problems sometimes occurring in the breed are von Willebrand's disease and skin allergies. German Shepherds are also prone to bloat. They have an average life span of ten to twelve years.
Some GSDs have ears that never stand up completely; instead, the top 10 to 15 percent of the ear remains floppy. These are called "friendly-tipped" dogs. It is a disqualifying fault in show dogs.
A small percentage of GSDs have a tail that stands vertically, exposing their anus. This is also a disqualifying fault in show dogs
The proper English name for the breed is German Shepherd Dog (a literal translation from the German "Deutscher Sch?ferhund") but they are usually informally referred to as GSDs or simply German Shepherds. In addition, the sobriquet police dog is used in many countries where the GSD is the predominant or exclusive breed used in the canine police force.
Alsatian is also commonly used in the United Kingdom and countries of the Commonwealth of Nations. After World War I, a few dogs were taken to England and the United States. At that time, the English owners renamed the dog as the "Alsatian Shepherd", as it was feared that the breed's original name could be an impedement due the anti-German feelings still present after the War. Only in 1930 did the British Kennel Club authorise the breed to be known again as German Shepherd.