Max von Stephanitz

Max von Stephanitz (Max Emil Friedrich von Stephanitz) was born to a noble family on December 30th, 1864 and died on April 22, 1936, which was the 37th anniversary of the club he and Artur Meyer founded together. Von Stephanitz is credited with having developed the German shepherd dog breed as we currently know it, set guidelines for the breed standard, and was the first president of the Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde (SV).

Max von Stephanitz was a career cavalry officer and spent some time serving at the Veterinary College in Berlin. Here he gained valuable knowledge about biology, anatomy, and the science of movement, all of which he later applied to the breeding of dogs. He was promoted to Captain in 1898 and shortly after was asked to leave the service when there was a scandal concerning his new wife, who was said to be an actress (a dishonorable profession at that time).

Max von Stephanitz purchased property near Grafrath in the 1890's where he began experimenting with dog breeding. He used many of the techniques utilised by English dog breeders of the period. He was primarily interested in improving the German sheep herding dogs because they were local and were the working dogs of his time. Von Stephanitz enjoyed attending dog shows and observed that there were many different types of shepherding dogs in use in Germany but there was no breed standardization. He greatly admired those dogs with a wolfish appearance and prick ears who also were intelligent, had sharp senses and willingness to work and believed that he could create a better working dog that could then be used throughout Germany.

He purchased his first dog Hektor Linkrshein in 1899 and changed his name to Horand von Grafrath. Horand was used as the primary breeding stud by von Stephanitz and other breeders and is the foundation of the German shepherd breed as we know it. Stephanitz used the knowledge he had acquired during his years at the Veterinary College and established a grand design he wanted breeders to aim for with judging based on angle of bones, proportions, and overall measurements. Horand's son Hektor von Schwaben and his grandsons Heinz von Starkenburg, Beowolf and Pilot were also instrumental in standardizing the breed. Dogs from other areas of Germany such as Frankonia, Württemberg and Thuringia were also used as breeders.

On April 22, 1899 von Stephanitz founded the Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde (SV) with his friend Artur Meyer. Three sheep masters, two factory owners, one architect, one mayor, one innkeeper and one magistrate joined them as co-founders. Along with establishing a breed standard the SV also developed a Zuchtbuch (Breed Register). Twenty years later they published the Körbuch (Breed Survey Book), which determines a dog's suitability for breeding based on their physical and mental characteristics, and not based solely on show wins. Under von Stephanitz's guidance the SV became the single largest breed club in the world and it was his idea to introduce the breed to other types of work such as delivering messages, rescue work, sentry duties, and as personal guard dogs. The German shepherd made his world debut in these roles during the First World War.

The first Schutzhund trial was held in Germany in 1901 and tested the dogs abilities in tracking, obedience and protection. The English Kennel Club honored the breed with its own register in 1919.

Captain von Stephanitz died in 1936 after the Nazis had taken the SV away from him by threatening him with internment in a concentration camp. However, his memory lives on in a breed of dog renowned for its beauty, loyalty, nobility, intelligence, temperment, and strong working instincts.

The SV is still in existence and is headquartered in Augsburg, Germany.

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