|In Honor of Captain Max von Stephanitz, Father of the German Shepherd Dog
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The German Shepherd Dog owes its existence to the steadfast vision and extraordinary foresight of Captain Max Emile Frederick von Stephanitz. Von Stephanitz envisioned a dog of incorruptible character and great working ability, a loyal and exceptionally trainable dog. He set the premise for the breed, "Utility is the true criterion of beauty." "Do right and fear no one" is the motto of the family coat of arms and von Stephanitz adhered to this creed in all aspects of his life, perhaps no better exemplified than in his pursuit of his vision concerning the German Shepherd.
Born to a family of nobility in Germany on December 30th, 1864, von Stephanitz wanted to become a gentleman farmer when he finished school, but he respected the wishes of his mother and became a career army officer. Having served with the Veterinary College in Berlin for a time, he gained much biological knowledge that was valuable later when he applied it to the science of breeding dogs.
His career as a cavalry officer was a highly respected position in this society. In 1898, he was promoted to Cavalry Captain, but soon thereafter, he was requested to leave the service because he had married an actress who was considered beneath his social standing. But such was an act of fate. Now von Stephanitz had the time to devote to producing his vision, the German Shepherd Dog.
He bought an estate near Grafrath in 1899, the same year he founded the Verein Fur Deutsche Schaferhunde. In the ensuing years, he had two children, Herta and Otto. Otto became a gentleman farmer and was never particularly interested in dogs. Herta, however, was always keenly interested in dogs and played an active part behind the scenes. When the Sieger Show became an international event, Herta could be found interpreting for the many foreign visitors who attended the show. Throughout her life, she devoted many hours of her time compiling reports for German Shepherd officials.
Throughout the 1890s, Captain von Stephanitz experimented with breeding
dogs, employing many of the ideas the English dog breeders were using in
England. He was vitally interested in the shepherd dogs because they were the
true working dogs of that era. Down through the centuries these dogs had
developed exceptionally sharp senses and instincts, and the predisposition to
In 1899, he attended one of the small dog shows and there he found and
purchased Hektor von Linkrsheim. He immediately changed the dog's name to Horand von Grafrath. It was Horand's shepherd qualities that impressed von Stephanitz the most. He was a medium-sized dog with beautiful lines and he was active with a zest for living. He was obedient, bold, protective, and energetic. But most importantly, he was mentally sound.
Two weeks later, he and a friend, Artur Meyer, founded the Verein Fur Deutsche Schaferhunde (S.V.) and von Stephanitz became the first president. Artur Meyer became secretary and conducted the affairs of the club from his home in Stuttgart. Three sheep masters, two factory owners, one architect, one mayor, one innkeeper, and one magistrate joined them as co-founders. This illustrious group of men founded the club that was destined to become the greatest single-breed club in the world. The monumental task of developing the German Shepherd Dog had begun.
The club statutes and breed standard were drawn up and are still valid today. There is nothing in the breed standard that does not have as its cornerstone, the basis of utility. The Standard applies to the physical attributes as well as to temperament and character. Von Stephanitz was a noted disciplinarian and headed the S.V. from its founding until 1935. He instituted, guided, and directed an intensive breeding program to fix type and was adamant in his demand to preserve utility and intelligence.
The S.V. controled all breeding in Germany, allowing which breedings were to take place and which dogs were fit for breeding. It mandated when bitches were to be bred and the number of pups to be raised in the litter, and set a maximum age for dogs to be used for stud service, all of which appears to be somewhat authoritarian and dictatorial. But without such regimented control which breeders willingly complied with, von Stephanitz would not have been able to so swiftly mold his vision into the German Shepherd Dog.
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