German Shepherd Dog

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German Shepherd Dog


(German Shepherd Dog)

Portrait in Oils by John Payne

Despite the enormous popularity of this breed and the fact that it has topped the Kennel Club registrations in Britain for several years past , the general public remains, by and large, in complete ignorance of the origin and purpose of this magnificent dog. It is in all respects a normal dog, no trimming or preparation being required for the show ring or to enhance its great natural beauty. Along with many other herding and working breeds, the German Shepherd Dog was certainly a dog which came side by side with man from the cave-dwelling days of pre-history.

The development and refinement into the noble animal we know today, is largely due to the work of Rittmeister von Stephanitz; the first stud books date back only to the end of the 19th century. So, in this respect, it is still considered as a “new” breed. Two long world wars involving the country of its origin have done much to obscure the correct nature and purpose of the dog, the greatest impediment being the distortion of its true name – German Shepherd Dog – by which it is known in almost every country in the world, except Britain, where it began its show career classed as a “Foreign Sheep Dog”, then as the Alsatian Wolf Dog, which did much to foster the stupid supposition that it is closely related to the wolf and, therefore untrustworthy – neither being true.

Not until the middle thirties did the Kennel Club agree to have the title changed to Alsatian (German Shepherd Dog); and responsible breeders look forward to the day when “Alsatian” is dropped and the simple “German Shepherd Dog” will be used, thus bringing the name into line with the rest of the world. In Britain this will assuredly help more than any other single factor to dispel the bad publicity the breed suffers when one dog commits, as members of all other breeds do (no more and rather less), a misdemeanour.

Rittmeister von Stephanitz was also the founder of the world renowned Vcrein Fiir Deutsche Schaferhunde, known as the S.V., which is the parent club of this breed and has its headquarters in Augsburg, Germany. This club closely controls the breed in Germany, and through its qualified S.V. judges influences and guides breeders all over the world. The main object is to keep the working qualities of the Shepherd Dog and to see that its construction and stamina are maintained to equal its extraordinary intelligence. The membership of the S.V. numbers some 43,000; and with an entry at its Siegerschau of nearly 700 animals (200 in the open dog class!) it may clearly be seen that the origin and purpose of the breed is safeguarded, as all exhibits must pass stiff tests for character, and only those with a working qualification may be entered in the open classes. In most European countries, the Police in rural areas work with a German Shepherd Dog – in rural Switzerland the proportion is one dog to each man. In the British Isles it grows steadily in popularity with the Forces; and the stories of its courage and tenacity would fill a large book. In the African countries its reliability as a tracking dog over vast territories, together with its stamina, make it a firm favourite everywhere. Used as a customs patrol dog in the mountainous frontier regions of many countries.

it is a splendid guard to its handler, a keen tracker after smugglers and an excellent messenger dog, covering long distances over rough territory with its surefooted and tireless gait. In “man” work its control, application and courage are second to none. As guide to a blind person, its sensitive  performance stirs all hearts, although it is sometimes passed-by for other breeds less expensive to feed. The German Shepherd Dog, like Paris, can “be all things to all men”. Its Great versatility has raised it to the top position wherever it is established. it has a fantastic record in crime detection and in the control of crowds and even mobs. It is an ideal demonstration dog in the displays of the Armed Forces, not only for its great training potential but by reason of its impressive beauty of form and movement. Farmers use it in increasing numbers, and even consider it an excellent gundog for rough shooting, since it is an un-flustered retriever. Its courage and devotion will always make it, above all, the very best of family and companion dogs.


Colours may be black and tan (golden to fawn), golden sable, gray sable or all black. Pigmentation is important, dark eyes and points being desirable while colour-paling should be penalized. White dogs or albinos are not permitted by any Standard.



This most natural dog requires no trimming, only to be kept clean by vigorous and daily grooming. Good condition depends mostly on its  feeding, ample freedom and exercise. Plenty of fresh raw meat, whole-meal rusk or kibble, seaweed powder, and calcium (when a puppy) will develop and maintain its strong construction and muscles. Soft, dainty or minced foods are detrimental to the highly desired firmness. Slow to mature it must be brought carefully through its first twelve months.



Certainly a sensitive dog, but never fearful or cringing, it is watchful to the point of suspicion and ever ready to defend its master and his property, and should thus be treated with the respect due to any guardian. Extremely keen senses make it both an excellent herding dog and companion, while its devotion and gentleness are unsurpassed. It learns very fast, even as a small puppy; and the ease with which it can be trained makes it a popular choice for obedience and working trials enthusiasts. It is an independent thinker, yet has a strong desire to please its owner. Usually strongly protective to children and small animals, which is normal in a herding breed.



The German Shepherd Dog impresses immediately with its strong bone and powerful muscles, its proud head carriage and its well angulated (but never exaggerated) shoulders and hindquarters, which enable it to  cover the ground with a typical effortless stride and to turn swiftly, as befits a herding breed. The broad thighs give its action strong propulsion, and with an outreaching front movement, allow it to cover the ground with an economy of stride and great smoothness.

the back must be particularly strong, and contrary to some opinions, is fairly short, the length of the body overall being measured from the point of the prostcrnum to the rump. In the AKC Standard the ideal proportion of length to height is 10 to 8 i.e. height is eighty-five per cent of length. The withers are high, with the backline sloping down to the coup without any dipping or other sign of weakness. The croup is well moulded and in harmony with the powerful, but not heavy,  hind-quarters. The tail is set fairly low and must be straight, with a gentle turn up (often called a sabre tail) at the tip. Ring tail and corkscrew tail are ugly faults; and while the tail may be lifted in movement or excitement it should never curl over the back or be carried above the backline. The body is deep and roomy with a solid appearance, yet shapely and not clumsy or heavy, the bitch being allowed rather more spring of ribs than the dog. The belly, or underline, is clean and firm but not tucked up in lion to give a Greyhound appearance. The chest is deep and well developed, and the depth of ribs should be carried down to the breastbone, which is ideally on a level with the elbows.

The legs are perfectly straight with strong “dry” bone, and the pasterns gently sloping but not overlong or weak. The hocks are well let down, and the bone must not be heavy or clumsy. The feet are those of a working breed, the pads being deep, thick and hard so that they grip the ground well. The claws should be strong and short, and preferably dark colored. Thin and spreading feet are a definite fault, as are weak and overlong pasterns and cow hocks.

The breed shows great nobility of bearing, with a broad skull, erect ears well used to show the dog’s alertness, and an almond-shaped eye of great depth and warmth, showing no fear or tension, and immensely wise and keen in expression. A dark brown eye is preferred; but an eye the colour of the surrounding coat is allowed, though it must never be yellow or pale. The lips must not be loose. The nose should be dark in colour. A full dentition is particularly required. Missing teeth are strongly hereditary and prevent the dog from exercising his powerful grip, which is so highly desired in his “criminal” work: in Germany, a dog with more than one of the small premolars missing cannot be given a Class I certificate for breeding, while three or more missing teeth preclude the animal from entry in the Stud book.

The double coat, with its soft, downy undercoat and firm, closely held guard-hairs or top coat, makes the dog very hardy and enables it to endure severe climates without detriment to health.

Height of a dog is 24″ to 26″ and a bitch, 22″ to 24″. The A.K.C. Standard cites 25″ as ideal for a male and 23″ for a bitch.




Please email John with a photograph of your dog and he will be happy to advise how on options for portraying your dogs true likeness in oils.

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