The German Shepherd


Captain Max von Stephanitz
Captain Max von Stephanitz

History Of The German Shepherd

On the evening of April 22, 1936, there sped through the Shepherd Dog world the shocking report that Captain von Stephanitz had died unexpectedly. It is true that in February and March he had been indisposed, but he was so far restored to health again that he was able to resume his literary tasks. He sat at his desk and had even finished a cynological work when death suddenly overtook him. It was a strange caprice of fate that called home Captain von Stephanitz on April 22nd. For that was the day on which was founded the former Verein für Deutsches Schäferhunde, our present Section (German Shepherd Dog Section of the Reichsverband f.d. Deutsche Hundewesen). Captain von Stephanitz had always hoped to die "in the service of the SV". Unfortunately that was not granted. A year before he was obliged for reasons of health to give up the direction of affairs and some months later to lay down his office. Anyone who afterwards observed him as judge or at his duty as Körmeister (breed inspector) could believe that the disturbance to his health was relieved but the illness was deep-seated and severe, as most of us had known. And so the end came quickly and unexpectedly. The deceased had attained the biblical age span and had experienced the greatest happiness of laboring humanity which comes when a man develops his life's work to the highest pitch and sees it recognized upon all sides.

Captain von Stephanitz observed the conditions of German dogdom during the final decade of the nineteenth century. At this time associations had been founded for most of the German breeds which had set pure breeding and the betterment of the race as their aim. There was lacking, however, an organization to promote the very breed which Captain von Stephanitz considered the best in origin and working characteristics, namely the German Shepherd. He called together some like-minded fanciers and on April 22, 1899, founded the Verein für Deutsches Schäferhunde. At the organization meeting he was chosen the leader of the Verein and remained president until July 1, 1935. He possessed the best qualifications for the work which can be imagined. As a cavalry officer he was well versed in the critical examination of horses. Its theory of the mechanics of movement and the different working breeds of horses was known to him down to the smallest detail and had only to be applied to dogs.

The original Rin-Tin-Tin (sable color)
The original Rin-Tin-Tin (sable color)

Furthermore, he had a natural eye for breed questions which, coupled with a practical breeder's point of view, provided the vision and foresight of which the breed had need. Proof of this are the breed standard of the German Shepherd Dog set up during the first period after the establishment of the Verein and the outline for its breeding which were laid down in such comprehensive and many sided form that their validity has been recognized even to the present day. Through his practical judging operations, the deceased carried out in practice the theoretically accepted rules in his long years of activity in the Verein. At first a few, later an increasing number of co-workers were so trained and influenced by him that they were able to absorb the standards set up by their master for breeding and race and could in their turn likewise carry them out in practice.

To these activities devoted to race and breeding questions the deceased brought a second unusual qualification for his office. This was his great gift for organization. From the beginning he had so organized his Verein and established it on a basis conformable to rule that this work also needed only completion but no essential alteration. When today we cast a glance backwards and see what the deceased already considered and partly foresaw over thirty years ago we are astonished at his work and his foresight and gratefully thank the author of all these things.

Head of a Wolf
Head of a Wolf

Under these favorable circumstances success could not be lacking. The German Shepherd Dog, which until then had been like a rose blushing unseen, became well-known through Herr von Stephanitz and through its excellent qualities was esteemed by an ever greater number of fanciers. Membership in the Verein rose from year to year as new breeders were added, and the number of Shepherd Dogs at shows took a continuously upward line. It was not long before the German Shepherded Dog outstripped all other breeds and took the lead in all canine affairs. German Shepherd Dog fanciers were not limited to Germany. Foreign countries also gave attention to this German breed.

First it was introduced into the countries adjoining Germany, but soon crossed the seas to England and America and now in the latest period has extended to the Far East, so that one can truthfully say it has circled the globe. It is idle to dispute in that regard whether the splendid qualities of the breed caused this wide popularity or whether the efforts of Herr von Stephanitz accomplished this result. Both naturally played some part but neither would have attained such tremendous success without the other and consequently to our founder and president of many years is due the renown of "his dog" not only in Germany but also throughout the whole world and "his child, the SV" he made into the greatest canine organization in the world.

Head of a German Shepherd Dog
Head of a German Shepherd Dog

The care of the deceased for the German Shepherd Dog did not concern itself only with the questions of breeding and organization of the Verein without considering ways and means to maintain and improve the qualities of the dog. Herr von Stephanitz early recognized that to retain the natural character of the breed the best means was work, and that dogs confined to the kennel must soon lose their good qualities. Because the true old-time work of our dogs, service with the flocks, became impossible for the overwhelming majority owing to the tremendous spread of the breed, since opportunities for work with the flocks were lacking, this true Mentor of the breed concluded to open up other fields of work.

As transition he introduced during the early years training contests in which the dogs were tested for obedience and activity. From these important divisions of work developed very early. Herr von Stephanitz pleaded for the use of dogs by the police and other authorities. At first his efforts were opposed and laughed at. Gradually he prevailed by his unflagging efforts and succeeded in interesting the various authorities in the use of dogs for service, and gradually the introduction of service dogs was accomplished. When we view today our expanded system of dogs on duty, which the younger fanciers now take for granted, we must admire the achievement of Herr von Stephanitz here also. We older fanciers remember well enough the difficult negotiations and struggles which had to be carried on in behalf of the service dog and know that because of his pioneer work in this field, the deceased must be regarded as the Father of the service dog system in Germany.

Head of a German Shepherd Dog

It was clearly proper that the largest specialty club should also be called to play an authoritative role in the general affairs of dogdom. As so frequently happens in life to those whose labor has achieved great success, on the other hand, it was attached and vilified. Envy and malice played played their part here also in rendering the task of Herr von Stephanitz more difficult. But in his case his opponents had caught the wrong man; and while in defense he often struck hard it was not by chance out of personal vindictiveness by only to further the success of the point of view which he believed in. Here also he won the victory. In the Deutsche Kartell für Hundewesen, of which the SV was among the charter members, Herr von Stephanitz had a decisive influence. His executive ability bore fruit here also. And likewise in today's Reichsverband für das Deutsche Hundewesen he was a valued collaborator whose word carried weight.

A special quality of the deceased which we ought to remember was his extensive literary activity. The numerous little essays which today play a big part in canine literature were crowned by that great work, "The German Shepherd Dog in Word and Picture," which appeared in eight editions. In his searching and comprehensive way he included everything related to the German Shepherd Dog: from the origin and relationship of shepherd and herding dogs through species and uses, breeding, rearing and handling, judging, education, and housing, up to show and training fixtures, buying and selling and shipping by rail. The work, replete with numerous illustrations, and written in an exceptionally striking style, is of importance not only to Shepherd Dog fanciers but is of great value to all dog lovers. It has received on all sides the honorable title of the "canine bible". An English edition made the work available to the many friends of our breed in England and America.

A remarkable chance ordained that the death of Herr von Stephanitz almost coincided with the year's national championship show in Cologne.

Head of a German Shepherd Dog

Natural History Of The Shepherd Dog
The undersigned was commissioned to open the proceedings of the dog congress on the day before the show. Under the fresh impact of the fatal news he could not but begin the opening speech with the announcement of Herr von Stephanitz's death.

Of its own accord the assembled crowd rose to its feet and listened in silence to the sorrowful news.

On the first day of the show the judging was interrupted at four o'clock in the afternoon and the exhibitors and their dogs were assembled in the but judging ring for the Open Dog class.

The undersigned delivered a short speech: "Members of the Section for German Shepherd Dogs: I herewith officially announce that on April 22nd of this year the founder and president for many years of our Section, Captain Max von Stephanitz, retired, died suddenly. In token of the value of his extraordinary service to our Section and our breed we are interrupting our work for a minute of silent commemoration. We raise our in the German salutation and salute our dead captain." After the moment of silence had passed, the undersigned ordered the dogs present to "speak". Loud and clear their voices sounded over the show grounds in a last greeting to the creator of the breed.

On Monday, the 27th of April, Captain von Stephanitz was escorted to his last rest. The funeral ceremony took place at the crematory at Berlin-Wilmersdorf. At the head of the coffin lay a helmet and sword, while the foot was adorned by a bronze Shepherd dog. The coffin was framed by many wreaths. After the undersigned had made the funeral speech the coffin was lowered to the strains of the old soldier song "Ich hatt einin Kameraden" (I had a comrade). Germany had lost one of her greatest dog authorities!