The original idea of the breed dates back to 1891, when the Phylax Society was formed with the intention of standardising German dog breeds. The society disbanded in 1894 and was superseded by the Society for the German Shepherd Dog (Verein fur Deutsche Schaferhunde), founded in 1899. The chair person of the society was Max von Stephanitz, the man now credited with being the creator of the breed. The first known German Shepherd Dog was Horand v Grafeth, which von Stephanitz purchased at a market, after being impressed by the dogs intelligence. Grafeth was later used as the basis for all future Society breeding programs.
The English Kennel Club first accepted registrations for the breed in 1919. Originally 54 dogs were registered, this number inflated to over 8000 in 1926. German Shepherds are currently the third most popular breed in America.
After World War I there was belief that the popularity of the breed would diminish given the anti-German sentiment of the era. The breed was officially renamed to "Alsatian Wolf Dog"[a], this name remained until 1977 when the British Kennel Club allowed Alsatians to be registered as German Shepherds.
The modern breed
The modern German Shepherd is criticised for straying away from von Stephanitz's original ideology for the breed.[b] It is believed that careless breeding has promoted disease and other defects. Under the breeding programs, overseen by von Stephanitz, defects were quickly bred out, however in modern times without regulation on breeding, genetic problems such as colour-paling, monorchidism, weakness of temperament and missing teeth are common.
Exact standards for the breed vary by country and organization, but the following criteria are generally part of the definition.
The German Shepherd Dog is a large and strong dog, typically between 65 and 100 lbs, but have been known to reach 130+lbs. The height for males is typically 24 - 26in (60 - 65cm); for females it is 22 - 24in (55 - 60cm). The fur is a double-coat (under coat and outer coat). While some organizations accept long-haired German Shepherds, short-haired dogs are typically, and historically, preferred.
German Shepherds are easily identifiable by their large head, ears which stand straight up, wedge-shaped muzzle and compact legs. They also have a distinctive gait, as well as other breed-specific features.
Their jaw strength ranges from 250-1200 pounds.
Disqualifications for conformation-line dogs include white nails, a nose which isn't all-black, a muzzle which isn't predominantly black, non-erect ears, and very light-toned eyes.
Appearance in working versus show lines
In Germany, Conformation line dogs are bred to not only proper physical appearance, but must also have working instincts (herding, prey drive) They are bred to conform to the published breed standards for appearance, health and workability, hence the strict rules of the German SV Schaeferhunde Verein for dogs in their Pink Paper breeding program to be titled and Küred (critiqued by a Judge). However, because they are bred for conformation to the breed standard of appearance, these dogs are most often found as quality pets, in breeder environments, and in sport (Schutzhund, IPO, AKC agility) and as volunteer Search and Rescue dogs.
Working line German Shepherds are typically excluded from the show ring, as most don't conform to the current interpretation of the breed standard for physical appearance. These dogs are bred to have an enduring work drive, and unwavering obedience. Of critical importance is the dog's ability to distinguish what constitutes a threat and what does not constitute a threat. Dogs that cannot make that distinction are eliminated from police and military programs. Extremely well-suited for police and military work, these dogs are less suitable as pets for home environments, unless the owners are familiar with their dog's abilities and needs. Working line dogs are now employed in many police departments and government organizations across the globe such as the UK Police Service and the Metropolitan Counter Terrorism Command in the United Kingdom, and the ATF, the U.S. Marshals, and Customs in the USA. Working line dogs are frequently found in sport and as volunteer search and rescue dogs.
Appearance in national breed lines
The West German Lines contain conformation lines and are the best known of the various lines. The split between the working line and conformation line bred dogs has affected this line also, with the confirmation line specializing in beauty while the working line dogs are targeted towards performance and working related activities.
The DDR lines. In the former East Germany, German Shepherds adhered more closely to the old pre-war standard, marked by a straighter back, a longer and denser coat, and a darker color. The government sponsored breeding program fell when the wall fell; thus there are no longer any true DDR dogs being bred, although there are current attempts to preserve this distinct line amongst certain breeders.
Most Czech dogs had their origins in the government kennels of Z Pohranicni straze (z PS), Z Jirkova dvora CS and Z Blatenskeho zamku. One of the most prolific kennels, Z Pohranicni straze (Z PS), was founded in the year 1955 for the strict purpose of production and training of the dogs that would be solely used for the protection of Czechoslovakia's borders. The majority of these dogs were acquired from former East Germany.
The American lines are recognized by the AKC and the UKC; their appearance is different from the international conformation line (German line) German Shepherds, most obviously with sloping backs and "collapsed" hips, a disqualification for dogs in international competitions. This has led to the creation of the Shiloh Shepherd in the United States, which was originally a line of German shepherd whose breeder did not favor that feature in the American lines and wanted to preserve the way the breed originally looked.
Variant sizes and coats
German Shepherds are a range of colors; conformation-line dogs are most often black-and-tan or black-and-red. Combinations containing very light hues such as cream are typically considered faulty. All-black is usually, but not always, accepted. A white German Shepherd is automatically disqualified from the AKC, but is fully recognized as a pure-bred dog by the UKC. Working-line dogs are typically sable, solid black, bi-color, or black-and-red.
There are several different color-marking patterns. For conformation-line dogs, the "saddle" marking is probably the most well-known. This consists of a large black patch on the upper and mid back, extending partway down the dog's sides. The "sable" marking, which consists of one color with randomly-sized and -shaped patches or swaths of different-colored hair mixed in, is typical for working-line dogs. Some sable-pattern dogs have three colors in their coat; this is called agouti. The other popular marking is called "bi-color", and consists of a dog that is all one color (typically black) save for differently-colored paws and lower legs, and sometimes a swath on the belly.
Some groups or breeders have focused on variants of the breed that are not recognized by most kennel clubs as standard conformation German Shepherds. White Shepherds or Berger Blanc Suisse are recognized as a separate breed.
German Shepherds have a double coat which sheds year round, with particularly heavy shedding in the Spring and Autumn.
Long-coated German Shepherds
Dogs with the long haired coat variation look somewhat like the Tervuren type of Belgian Shepherd Dog. The long hair gene is recessive. Popular myth holds that long-haired GSDs (sometimes called "fuzzies") are more affectionate, but there is little evidence for this beyond owner impressions. Long coats can come in two variations, both with an undercoat and without. Without the undercoat they have very little weather protection, but those longhairs with it fare as well as their short-haired companions, just with longer hair on the outside.
Kennel club treatment of long-haired German Shepherds varies. It is considered a fault under American Kennel Club and FCI (Fédération Cynologique Internationale, i.e. International Canine Federation) standards. Under other standards, such as Germany and the United Kingdom, long-haired German Shepherds are actively bred, registered, and shown, and specialized long-haired breeders exist. There is also a variation known as 'long, stock-haired German Shephard'; stock hair isn't registered directly as a fault and such dogs are able to participate, and are also known as plush coats.
The recessive gene for white coat hair was fixed in the German Shepherd Dog breed DNA by the late nineteenth and early twentieth century German breeding program that extensively used "color coated" dogs who carried a recessive gene for "white coats." The maternal grandfather of Horand von Grafrath, the first entry "SZ 1" in the SV Stud Book, was a white-coat German shepherding dog named Greif von Sparwasser. Whites can come in anything from pure white to a blondish golden colour. Normal pigment was expected to be present in the nose, pads, and eyes. White was designated a disqualifying conformation fault by the SV (German Shepherd Club of Germany) in 1933 and by the German Shepherd Dog Club of America (GSDCA) and the German Shepherd Dog Club of Canada (GSDCC)in the mid-1960s. White German Shepherds were disqualified from dog shows and other organizations mainly because of their fur color. Their color was known to be noticed too easily in the dark and difficult to spot in the lighter conditions such as snow.
German Shepherds are highly intelligent and agile dogs, with a strong work drive. They are often deployed in various roles such as police, guarding, search and rescue, therapy, service-dog, and in the military applications.
The breed has a personality marked by direct, fearless willingness to protect what it considers its "den" (i.e. house, car, and property in a home situation) and "pack" (i.e. human family in a home situation). It is poised, but when the occasion demands, eager and alert; both fit and willing to serve in its capacity as a companion, watchdog, guide dog for people who are blind, herding dog, or guardian, whichever the circumstances may demand.
Proper socialization as a puppy is one of the two key factors which determines what a dog's temperament will be as an adult. Genetics is the other. They go hand-in-hand; a dog with certain genetics cannot be trained to be stable and friendly, and by the same token the genetics most fit for training are meaningless if the dog is not well-socialized as a puppy.  The "ideal" German Shepherd should be alert and fearless in defense of its den and pack, but loving and non-aggressive within the home environment.
As is common of many large breeds, German Shepherds are susceptible to elbow and hip dysplasia. Proper breeding is needed to breed these traits out of their dogs, so that the dog may enjoy a pain-free life and stay suited for work situations. These breeders typically require that their puppies' hips and elbows be x-rayed, and the x-rays approved and certified by the OFA when the puppy is fully-grown (age two), in order for the puppy to be allowed to be bred. Recent American breeders have failed to maintain the same standard regarding the hind quarters of the breed as in other countries and dogs presenting the weaker hind quarters are disqualified in international shows.
Other health problems sometimes occurring in the breed are von Willebrand's disease, skin allergies and canine degenerative myelopathy. German Shepherds, like all large bodied dogs, are also prone to bloat. They have an average lifespan of 10-12 years.
German Shepherds also are prone to pancreas deficiency, which is where the pancreas stops creating enzymes and the animal is unable to pass any faeces. There is medication available, but it is not 100% effective. Unfortunately, it does not cure the problem, and the treatment is fairly expensive.
Other illness that may occur are:
Panosteitis-(definition from AKC encyclopedia) Excessive formation of bone growth or different maturity around some joints on young dogs resulting in intermittent lameness
Cauda equina syndrome-Group of neurological signs resulting from compression of the spinal nerves of the lumbosacral region.
Pyotraumatic dermatitis-(no definition)
Malignant neoplasms-(no definition)
Pannus(chronic superficial keratitis)- Potentially blinding inflammation of the cornea,including abnormal growth of vascularized pigment over cornea.
Titling and competitions
There are many prestigious titles available for German Shepherds, covering everything from conformation to herding abilities. Schutzhund trials were invented for evaluation German Shepherds, and measure the dogs' abilities in the areas of protection, tracking, and obedience. Most world-class conformation dogs are titled to the second or third (which is the highest) level of Schutzhund before they're bred.
The German Shepherd dog is one of the most widely-used breeds in a wide variety of scent-work roles. These include search and rescue, cadaver searching, narcotics detection, explosives detection, accelerant detection, and mine detection dog, amongst others.
Appearances in films and on television
* K-9 (film), a 1989 Universal City Studios comedy starring James Belushi. It has two sequels, K-911 and K-9 P. I.
* Rin Tin Tin, a German Shepherd dog, was considered to be one of Hollywood's top stars during the 1920s and 30s. At the peak of his career, Rin-Tin-Tin received as many as 10,000 fan letters a week. Several dogs played the role.
* Strongheart, also known as Etzel von Oeringen, was the first German Shepherd with name-above-the-title billing in a film. He starred in an adaptation of White Fang, released in 1925, and The Return of Boston Blackie, released in 1927.
* In the 1966-1970 Polish World War II mini series Czterej pancerni i pies a German Shepherd Dog named 'Szarik' is part of a Polish tank crew fighting back the German army.
* In a 1972 film version of Jack London's book, The Call of the Wild, which starred Charlton Heston.
* The Littlest Hobo was a live-action popular television series in the 1980s airing on CTV in Canada. It featured a German Shepherd that travelled from place to place, performing some good deed, and then moving on.
* Koton, a German Shepherd and a real life police dog, starred as Jerry Lee, a police dog, in the 1989 movie K-9.
* From 1994 to 2005, the Austrian television show Kommissar Rex, (English Inspector Rex) featured a resourceful German Shepherd police dog.
* The manga Ginga Nagareboshi Gin and its sequel, Ginga Densetsu Weed have many German Shepherd characters, including the very popular black-and-white Shepherd, Jerome, and Gin's right-hand dog, John.
* In the 2000 film The Cell, the antagonist of the film, a serial killer, owns an unusual, albino colored German Shepherd named Valentine, played by a dog named Tim.
* In the 2007 film I Am Legend, a female German Shepherd named Abbey plays Sam (short for 'Samantha'), the companion of main character Robert Neville (played by Will Smith).
* Charlie B. Barkin, voiced by Burt Reynolds, from the 1989 animated film All Dogs go to Heaven.
* In the 2005 film Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Jean Girard's husband is a world trainer of German Shepherds.
* In the Capcom game Haunting Ground, the female protagonist teams up with a white German Shepard in an attempt to escape the castle.
* In the 2008 tokusatsu series Engine Sentai Go-onger one of the Engines, Engine Gunpherd, is modeled after a German Shepherd and a gun.
* In the 2005 horror film The Hills Have Eyes, two German Shepherd dogs; "Beauty", (female) and "Beast", (male) are depicted as highly intelligent and loyal pets.
* In Cabin Fever, a deranged German Shepherd ravages the victims of a highly contagious disease. It is shown as extremely intimidating and aggressive.
* Ace the Bat-Hound, the pet of Batman in various DC media incarnations, is usually a German Shepard.
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