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The breed was originated by Captain Max von Stephanitz in the late 19th century and early 20th century. His goal was to breed an all-purpose working dog. The first registered GSD was Horand v. Grafrath. Von Stephanitz admired the landrace herding dogs of his native German Empire, and believed they had the potential to be all-purpose working dogs. Additionally, he was aware of the declining need for herding dogs and believed that the working abilities of the breed would decline unless it was put to other uses. Von Stephanitz created the Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde, or SV as the official governing body for the breed.
The SV then created the schutzhund trial as a breed test for the German Shepherd Dog, and prohibited the breeding of any dog which could not pass the trial. The schutzhund trial, along with the SV's conviction that "German Shepherd breeding is working dog breeding, or it is not German Shepherd breeding" led to a rapid development of the breed's abilities.
After World War I, British and American soldiers, impressed by the abilities of the dog, brought home examples to breed. The breed instantly became popular, both as a family pet and as a working dog. To this day, the German Shepherd Dog is considered one of the most, if not the most, intelligent and versatile breeds in existence.
The German Shepherd Dog is a large, strong, handsome-looking dog. The fur is a double-coat and can be either short or long haired. It varies in color, coming in many different shades, mostly cream (tan) and brown, but also solid black or white. Dogs with coats that have tricolored hair (black and white with either brown or red) are called sable or agouti. Different kennel clubs have different standards for the breed according to size, weight, coat color, and structure.
Common faults in show dogs
There are several common features that are disqualifying faults in show dogs:
* Ears that never stand up completely; instead, the top 10 to 15 percent of the ear remains floppy. These are called "friendly-tipped" dogs.
* A small percentage of GSDs have a tail that stands vertically, exposing their anus. This is also a disqualifying fault in all GSDs.
* A muzzle that is not predominantly black is considered a disqualification only in American show GSDs.
There are a number of different types or lines of GSD and the behavior, abilities, and appearance of each is quite different. The major lines are the international working line, the international show line, and the North American show line
Dogs from FCI-recognised international working lines are bred primarily for traits involving their working ability rather than appearance, so their appearance can be somewhat varied.
The FCI-recognized international show lines differ in that emphasis is given more to the appearance of the dog when breeding, so they are very consistent in type or appearance.
The North American show lines have also been bred primarily for their looks, but have a markedly different appearance from the international dogs, featuring a noticeably sloped back and sharp angulation of the hock joint. There is a current debate over whether the American show lines still represent the original German Shepherd Dog, or whether the line has become distinct enough that it should be considered a separate breed. Critics of the American line argue that the working ability of these dogs has been lost, and that the angled back is detrimental to the health of the animal. Proponents of the line believe that the altered bone structure of their dogs represents an improvement to the herding ability of the animals.
In the erstwhile GDR, the German Shepherds more closely adhered to the old prewar standard marked by straighter back, longer and denser coat and darker color. These dogs are now praised for breeding working dogs as they are less prone to hip dysplasia. Attempts to preserve this distinct line and raise it to the status of an officially recognized breed ("East German Shepherd Dog") are stalled.
Well-bred GSDs have powerful jaws and strong teeth, can develop a strong sense of loyalty and obedience, and can be trained to attack and release on command. Poorly bred GSDs such as those from puppy mills can be fearful, overly aggressive, or both. GSDs (like Pit Bulls, Rottweilers and Dobermanns), are often perceived as inherently dangerous, and are the target of Breed Specific Legislation in several countries. If a GSD is violent or aggressive, it is often due to the combination of poor breeding (bad nerves) and the owner's lack of control or training. GSDs are often used as guard, attack and police dogs, which further contributes to the perception of being a dangerous breed. However, many GSDs function perfectly well as search dogs and family pets, roles where aggressive behavior is unsuitable.
GSDs' sense of loyalty and emotional bond with their owners is almost impossible to overstate. Separation trauma is one reason they are now used less often in guide dog roles, since guide dogs are typically trained from puppyhood by one owner prior to final placement with their employer.
Temperament differences among lines
The different types or lines of GSD display differences not only in appearance but also in ability and temperament.
Dogs from working lines have very high energy, and have been bred to have a natural drive for protection, tracking, and obedience. They are bred primarily for consistent temperament, working drive, and intelligence. These dogs can be used as pets, but will be unhappy if not exercised daily or trained to do a job of some sort. Many of these dogs populate dog pounds in North America due to their destructive tendencies when not properly trained.
German and Eastern European lines tend to be stockier, with shorter snouts and more muscular chests, and typify the working lines.
North American lines have a tendency towards a longer croup, longer back, higher wither and temperament ideal for companionship. They do not require constant stimulation to keep them from becoming bored and possibly demonstrating destructive behaviors.
These dogs can make excellent pets, provided that a responsible breeder has not sacrificed consistent temperament or health in the quest for popular standards for good looks.