You probably know German Shepherds as pets, guide and assistance dogs, police dogs and military dogs. You recognize these noble-looking, handsome black and tan dogs anywhere, and think of them as one of the more well-known and popular breeds of dogs. But you may not know much about the history of the breed.
German Shepherds are not the oldest breed of dogs, but they are quite old as a breed.0 Their origins lie with a group of breeders, the Phylax Society, formed in the middle 1800’s to develop a breed of German dogs. In the end, after studying breeds and experimenting with mixing different breeds, the Phylax Society disbanded in 1894 without developing a new breed. However, their researches paved the way for another breeding group.
Toward the end of the 19th century, Captain Max Von Stephanitz formed another group, this time to develop a breed that carried forward the best traits of sheepdogs. This breed developed into the modern-day German Shepherd. As the name suggests, these dogs were first used primarily as herding dogs, but as the need for this decreased, Von Stephanitz found that the breed was an excellent choice for military and government needs, and this is how the German Shepherd became such a well-known military and police dog.
German Shepherds were heavily inbred early in the development of the breed. This ran the risk of defective offspring, but was necessary to overcome early problems in the breed and develop a good breeding line. The German Shepherd breed is now very stable and very dependable, and of course is a registered breed with the AKC and other national kennel clubs.
Although German Shepherds themselves had nothing to do with World War II, there was of course a backlash against Germany after the War, and the breed’s name was changed from German Shepherd to Alsatian Wolf Dog. This name came from the German-French Alsace-Lorraine, but the dog was essentially the same German Shepherd that it had been before the War and is today. In 1977, the official name of the breed was changed back to German Shepherd, which is now used in most countries.
Owners of German Shepherds often refer to them as GSDs, or German Shepherd dogs, because that is easier to say and other “GSD” owners and breed lovers know exactly what they mean.
As a breed, German Shepherds are known for short, wiry coats, black and tan markings, and pointed ears. Temperamentally, they are very calm and gentle with people and other animals, and are very obedient and eager to please. Because German Shepherds are very intelligent, they’re easy to train. The breed was developed as a working dog, and most Shepherds are very eager to work and do something to keep active and stimulate their minds. While quiet and subdued indoors, they love to play and run, and are very active outdoor dogs.
And to think all of this is due to a now-defunct society from the middle of the nineteenth century. The research of the Phylax Society is very much responsible for the breed we now know and love as German Shepherds.