Germany May Be Reunited, But German Shepherd Bloodlines Aren’t

AP Photo/Franka Bruns

West German shepherd Fjandi stands on the grounds of the German Shepherd Breeders Association in Berlin, Monday, Oct. 1, 2007. As the country celebrates 17 years of reunification on Wednesday, some animosities between the formerly communist East and capitalist West remain and few are as doggedly contested as the fight over whose shepherds are superior.

You’d think they were talking about the North American/European German Shepherd bloodline split: “Our dogs are healthier and have a better personality,” Gerlinde Schultze, a 20-year breeder of East German lines, told the Associated Press on Wednesday. “Those overbred shepherds in the West are merely about good looks.”

Breeders of West German lines, of course, disagree. Such a rift is not unusual to most breeds in the dog fancy, but whether because of its popularity or in spite of it, the German Shepherd has evolved into several “types,” or looks, each preferred by its promoter. Besides the obvious North American and European division and the recent news-making East-West German split, there are strict enthusiasts of overall show or working lines, Belgian lines, Czech lines, British lines and Scandinavian lines; not to mention the long, dilute and white coated dogs, eschewed by most German Shepherd breed standards.

And it turns out, such enthusiasm can devolve into outright ignorance. American Kennel Club spokeswoman Lisa Peterson told the Associated Press for the same story, “In the U.S., there’s only one standard and one breed of German shepherd dogs.”


Perhaps she’s conveniently forgotten about United Schutzhund Clubs of America, which is dedicated to breeding German Shepherds according to the SV (German), not AKC, standard. And how many working police and military dogs are AKC bloodlines? And German breeders on both sides of that country are laughing all the way to the bank as they continue to export hundreds of their dogs to North America each year.

Clearly, there is no single standard to which all German Shepherd enthusiasts will agree. But the founder of the breed, Captain Max von Stephanitz, did have at least one ideal in mind by which he determined future dogs could be measured:

“The shepherd dog is a working dog; he was born so, and only as such can he remain a ‘shepherd dog’; the dog which we value and love. His abundance of joy in life must be used and he must be allowed to work even when kept by an amateur.”
— von Stephanitz

The relative newness of the breed may also contribute to its current fractured status. Until after World War II, the German Shepherd was used primarily as a working dog — herding and guarding flocks, and most certainly during both world wars as a sentry and messenger dog.

Most breeders in the U.S. who follow the German, or international, breeding standard use a combination of European lines to breed what they hope will be a better dog. But as many buyers continue to clamor for “original” German lines, the furor over breed type is not likely to die down anytime soon.

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