A Look into the History of the German Shepherd

Unleashing the Power of the German Shepherd: Understanding its Intelligence and Temperament

The German Shepherd, also known as the Alsatian, is a breed of working dog that was brought to fruition by the mastermind Max von Stephanitz in the late 1800s. Using traditional German herding dogs, this medium to large sized breed was originally bred for the sole purpose of sheep herding. But, as time passed, the German Shepherd proved to be a jack of all trades and has been utilized in various fields such as disability assistance, search-and-rescue, law enforcement and even warfare.

Nowadays, this highly intelligent and versatile breed is mostly kept as a loyal companion and in 2013, it was the second most registered dog breed according to the Fédération Cynologique Internationale


The German Shepherd, also known as the Alsatian, was crafted by the masterful mind of Max von Stephanitz in the late 1800s. The Phylax Society, formed in 1891, aimed to standardize dog breeds in Germany but unfortunately, disbanded after only three years due to internal conflicts. The society’s disbandment however, inspired people to pursue standardizing dog breeds independently.

With the rise of industrial cities in Germany and the decline of predators, sheepdogs were no longer necessary. However, the awareness of sheepdogs as a versatile, intelligent class of canine began to rise. Von Stephanitz, an ex-member of the Phylax Society and a firm believer in breeding dogs for working, admired the intelligence, strength, and ability of Germany’s native sheepdogs but could not find one breed that satisfied him as the perfect working dog.

At a dog show in 1899, von Stephanitz was shown a dog named Hektor Linksrhein, the result of selective breeding, who completely fulfilled his ideal of a working dog. He purchased Hektor immediately and changed his name to Horand von Grafrath. Von Stephanitz then founded the Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde (Society for German Shepherd Dogs) and Horand became the first German Shepherd Dog, the first dog added to the society’s breed register.

In just a few decades, the German Shepherd breed became one of the world’s most popular and numerous, a position it has maintained to this day. Horand was the center-point of the breeding program, fathering many pups, and his progeny were inbred to fix the traits being sought in the breed. It is believed that the society accomplished its goal mostly due to von Stephanitz’s strong, uncompromising leadership, and he is therefore credited with being the creator of the German Shepherd Dog.

During the first half of the 20th century, the breed became strongly associated with Imperial and Nazi Germany due to its association with purity and militarism. German Shepherds were coveted as “germanische Urhunde”, being close to the wolf, and became very fashionable during the Nazi era. Though, unfortunately, the breed’s reputation was tarnished by its association with the Nazi regime.


The German Shepherd Dog, so cleverly named by von Stephanitz, was once referred to as “Deutscher Schäferhund” in Germany and was distinguished from other herding dogs as “Altdeutsche Schäferhunde” or old German herding dogs. However, due to the anti-German sentiment following the First World War, the breed was officially renamed to “Alsatian Wolf Dog” by the UK Kennel Club, after the French region of Alsace.

Years went by, and the appendage “wolf dog” was eventually dropped, as breeders feared it would negatively impact the breed’s popularity and legality. The name Alsatian remained for five decades until 1977, when campaigns by dog enthusiasts led to the breed being registered again as German Shepherds. Even American Kennel Club, where the word “Alsatian” once appeared in parentheses as part of the formal breed name, was removed in 2010.


Intelligence is a trait that was specifically bred in German Shepherds. They are ranked in second place by Stanley Coren in a list of breeds most likely to bark as watchdogs. This trait, combined with their strength, makes them desirable as police, guard, and search and rescue dogs as they are able to learn various tasks and interpret instructions better than other breeds.

German Shepherds are described as self-assured in breed standards and are moderately active dogs. They are marked by a willingness to learn and an eagerness to have a purpose, making them excellent guard dogs and suitable for search missions. They can become overprotective of their family and territory if not socialized correctly, but are not inclined to become immediate friends with strangers. They are highly intelligent and obedient, as well as protective of their owners.

A 2020 literature review in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery found that from 1971 to 2018, of all purebred dogs in the United States, German Shepherds were responsible for the most bites severe enough to require hospital treatment. While an Australian report from 1999 provides statistics showing that German Shepherds are the breed third most likely to attack a person in some Australian locales, once their popularity is taken into account, the percentages of attacks by German Shepherds drops to 38th.

According to the National Geographic Channel television show Dangerous Encounters, the bite force of a German Shepherd is reported to be over 1,060 newtons, which is higher than other breeds such as Rottweiler, Pit bull, Labrador Retriever and human.

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