German Shepherd History

German shepherd history can be traced as far back to the writings of the early Roman era by quoting Tacitus, a Roman historian. Tacitus briefly mentioned "a wolf-like dog," seen in the Rhine country of Germany; however, the German shepherd as we know it today is the product of one man's intense and powerful vision. This man was Max Emil Frederick von Stephanitz, a German cavalry captain.

On April 2, 1899, von Stephanitz attended the Karlsruhe Dog Show with his friend Artur Meyer and bought a four-year-old yellow and gray working shepherd-type dog named Hektor Linksrheim. Von Stephanitz immediately renamed the dog Horand von Grafrath, thus beginning the trend of using von within the breed’s name, which in Germany suggests a noble ancestry. This animal became the foundation dog of the German Shepherd breed.

von-Stephanitz Max von Stephanitz had long admired the qualities of utility and intelligence, attentiveness, unshockability, tractability, watchfulness, reliability, and incorruptibility together with courage, fighting tenacity, and hardiness. These were the traits of what he believed was the perfect herding dog.

On April 22, 1899, von Stephanitz and others established the Verein fűr Deutsche Schäferhunde (club for German Shepherd Dogs), or simply the SV. He became the cofounder and first president. The first registered dog was the aforementioned Horand von Grafrath, whose official number was SZ1.

He appointed himself breeding master, judge, and breed inspector. The breed standard was written to describe von Stephanitz’s vision of the perfect, highly efficient herding dog.

Having found what he believed to be the perfect male (Horand von Grafrath), von Stephanitz and the SV immediately began holding annual shows in which von Stephanitz judged and chose the best male (the Sieger) and female (the Siegerin). He based his awards not only on the dog’s merits but also on their pedigrees and their ability to counteract prevalent faults in the breed.


Because breeders usually flocked to the Sieger of the year, von Stephanitz was able to steer the breed’s development.

As the SV grew, local branch clubs arose. Local Breed Wardens were appointed who inspected litters and evaluated breedings. This iron-fisted policy may have seemed tough, but it was largely responsible for the breed’s rapid rise in quality. This policy is still in place today.

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