By Janice L. Bartmess “Copyright LLC; ALL RIGHTS RESERVED”

The Dogs of the “DDR” (“Deutshe Demokratishe Republik” or East Germany) are an interesting phenomena, from a historical and cytological standpoint, due to the political history of that region of Germany and its’ effect on that society and its’ dogs, especially within the last 40-50 years.

The German Shepherd Dogs of that region of Germany, (also known as “DSH” or “Deutsche Sch�ferhunde”) especially so, for they were definitely the most popular and populous of the working breeds in terms of numbers. With a close contention by the “RS” (“Riesenschnauzer” or Giant Schnauzer), and the Rottweiler, they were the most conspicuous breed on the winners podium at the working dog trials there, and the most commonly used breed for defense duties in all levels of government. They were a favorite and trusted breed as a home companion and guardian also.

All of the trials, shows, and registration services were held through the VKSK and the SDG, both government directed. The SDG, or Sektion Dienst und Gebrauchhundewesen was principally concerned with the registration and trialing of the working breeds, such as the DSH. One of the most fascinating things about the SDG registry are that no dog received his registration papers until he had been evaluated as a young adult, and that this evaluation concerned the overall quality of the young dog, i.e.: ears, teeth, temperament, the presence of both testes, the presence of an ‘a’ stamp (normally formed hip joints), coat, the overall quality of the dog, whether an “sg” (sehr gut), or “very good” or better…

Further, such information was indexed to the sire and the dam, with the resultant quantitative information being published and made available to the breeders, primarily through the regional clubs and main breeders and judges, also through annual or periodic publications such as the “Rundschreiben”. Thus, a person interested in breeding to a particular dog could easily reference to both the actual number of offspring surveyed, and the actual number which were dysplastic or normal, or with faults of coat, testes, ears, dentition, temperament, and overall conformation. Such results were not only given in actual numbers but also in percentages!

This is information which is and has been, to the knowledge of the author, not available in any other breed of dog, in any other country, including West Germany’s SV, and such a superior and expansive system could only be compared in terms of quality, effectiveness and scope to the large state operated light horse cavalry stud farms of the last century in the former German state of Prussia. From such stud farms have come the foundation of the “warmblood” breeds, such as the Trakhener breed, known as some of the finest equine athletes in the world today. Breeding was a privilege accorded only to those horses who passed the highest criteria of performance.

Such performance was evaluated in tests of endurance and aptitude, following many months of training. In such a way, only the best horses were able to influence future generations in their line. The state-owned stud farms are gone, but the descendants of the line thrive as the treasured possessions of those people who still honor their tradition by breeding only performance-tested horses. Indeed, these early state-operated cavalry horse stud farms may well have been a model for one who would become known as “the father of the breed” of German shepherd dog.

This man was greatly impressed with the character and characteristics of a dog which he saw, and he purchased that dog, named Hektor vom Linksrhein, whom he later renamed “Horand vom Grafrath”, number “1” in the new stud books. Horand was of a type of indigenous, but previously unregistered old breed of German herding dog, the ancestors of which might well have been brought by the Roman invaders 1,500 years before, like the ancestors of the Rottweiler… Horand would be absolutely recognizable as a gsd today, a sable (grey) in color.

This man, a true dog-lover and student of the history of dogs, saw in his dog Horand a value worth preserving, and he had a plan… Other breeds of dogs’ such as the Rottweiler, were also coming under organization, for purposes of preservation and advancement of these breeds…So, Herr Max vom Stephanitz would also start a registry to preserve these dogs, as a WORKING DOG!

The good “Rittmeister” (Cavalry Captain) Herr Max von Stephanitz, who originally founded the “SV” (“Verein f�r Deutsche Sch�ferhunde” or German Shepherd Dog Club) in Germany in 1899, set that registry up in such a manner that this old indigenous German working/herding breed could retain its’ unique characteristics under a superior system of tests and disciplines, like the cavalry horses that he knew so well, meant to preserve and develop overall quality, especially working ability.

New tests were developed to proof the German Shepherd Dog in a new capacity, that of a police or military dog, as well as the traditional herding work. Thus the groundwork was laid not only for the preservation and development of a working dog, but also for “schutzhund”, which is today one of the worlds’ most popular and useful working dog sports, which has in turn been the foundation of all successful police, military, and working dog programs in existance today, and a wellspring of talented animals for use in the public service. We owe much also here not only to Rittmeister Max von Stephanitz, but also to Herr Konrad Most, who did so much in the early days to promote the study of dog behavior in the context of developing modern, effective, and humane methods of training.

The winner of many prestigious awards in his day, Herr Most is truly the father of modern working dog training. His book, “Training Dogs, a Manual”, in print only from time to time and quickly sold out, is still a hallmark reference for serious trainers and a classic in its’ own right.

By the beginning of World War 2, the German Shepherd Dog breed had become very popular in Germany, and numbers and quality were increasing, but World War 2 would prove devastating to the breed, not only in terms of the disruption of food supplies and the lives of the people who kept them, but many dogs were recruited forcibly into military service. Untold numbers were lost, but there were many stories of dogs being kept hidden by their owners, fed what little available food could be afforded them to save them.

At the end of World War 2, after the Allied Forces entered Germany, the city of Berlin was split in two, and the rest of the country also was divided into an east and west zone, with the entire former capital city of Berlin located far into the interior of communist East Germany. East Germany and East Berlin remained under Russian and communist control until the historic events of 1989 and 1990, beginning with demonstrations in Leipzig, and ending with the falling of the Berlin Wall in Berlin, and the final repatriation of East Germany to the Bundesrepublik Deutschland.

During the first 40 years of separation of East and West Germany, the German Shepherd Dogs, and the other breeds as well, began to follow their own different paths. This was largely of necessity and circumstance, for the East Germans had little or no access to the dogs in West Germany. A combination of political, bureaucratic, sociological, and perhaps most importantly economic separation prevented much intermingling of the bloodlines. Although they came from the same original stock before the war, they inevitably began to develop somewhat differently in their new and very different environments. Indeed, it was really the German Shepherd Dogs of West Germany which began the most conspicuous divergence from the original characteristics and concepts around 1975.

Following along certain family lines (principally the descendants of Jalk vom Fohlenbrunnen x Dixie von der Wienerau and their offspring, Lido and Liane von der Wienerau, and finally Canto and Quanto von der Wienerau and their myriad descendants, the breed in West Germany began to gradually to be more consumer driven, in a world market that was just beginning to heat up.

In the space of the next 20 or so years, the breed in West Germany began to lose much of its genetic diversity, as emphasis shifted from the concept of a dark-pigmented indigenous herding dog, from many families gathered from all over Germany, to a concept of a highly bred show dog, with special preference to a light color scheme, from a small selection of family lines.

During this time, many entire bloodlines were lost to obscurity and are now virtually extinct. By a combination of actions and omissions of the West German SV and its judges, the main breeders and a white-hot consumer market worldwide, powerful forces were being brought to bear.

In the orient and in Japan particularly, the rise of popularity of this breed paralleled the rising fortunes of the Japanese super-industrial economy of the 1980’s. In Japan, lighter pigmented dogs were preferred and a high value was put on the prestige of an important show win. Thus sales of individual dogs reached to $100,000 and well beyond, for “VA” dogs. Sales of regional winners went in the range of tens of thousands of dollars per dog very commonly. The world demand for the German Shepherd Dog not only as a show dog but as a working dog, which demand peaked in the late 1980’s to early ’90’s definitely had a profound effect on the development of the breed in its’ homeland, Germany, for better and for worse.

The best specimens of the breed now are often superb and evidence a high degree of evolution in some regards, and yet some say that the breed is losing its prominence as a working dog, and not enough has been done overall in the reduction of hip dysplasia so far. The ‘a’ stamp program has been in place, but we have not seen as many benefits of this program as should have been realized, for reasons which could only be speculated at.

On this note, I would like to say that the enhanced ‘a’ stamp program of the SDG in East Germany, which also offered statistical information to the breeders by which to evaluate a dogs’ production ability, in terms of actual numbers and percentages, also reported an average annual percentage of 85% or better normal hips. The author has found this number to be accurate in her experience in the radiographic evaluations of mature pups from East German bloodlines.

The experienced breeder who has for several years placed an importance on a radiographic program to control the incidence and severity of hip dysplasia will also know that this is a very acceptable and superior percentage. Happily, the remaining 15% or less also show a marked reduction in the severity of hip dysplasia, and thus are usually good candidates for adoption into pet homes, reducing the need for euthanasia or invasive surgery, which is a very great expense to the owner.

Although now increasingly rare, and with many lines unfortunately extinct, there are still enough East German bloodlines here and in Europe to serve to increase the genetic diversity and vigor of the breed of German Shepherd Dog, and in the authors opinion, to retain much of the original characteristics of the breed, while offering very good working ability, a more robust and well-pigmented dog, and improvement by a reduction in both the incidence and the severity of hip dysplasia.

Thus, the DDR bloodlines, wherever found, are worth preserving and very worthwhile to the breed and the breeder of this remarkable dog, the German Shepherd Dog. In the presence of new leadership in the SV and its associate organizations worldwide, it is hoped that the promotion of bloodlines and families within this breed will not be so subject to the proprietary interests which dominated this breed for the last decade. It is not altogether surprising, in hindsight, that the most successful families of dogs, and the kennels which worked with them, were from the kennels “vom Arminius” and “von der Wienerau”, belonging to brothers Herman (SV president) and Walter Martin, respectively.

These two men wielded an inordinate amount of influence over the breed in many ways, remaking it after their own model. Tragically, their days were cut short and both brothers recently passed on from separate causes. While these bloodlines, kennels and breeders have made a big contribution, which cannot be denied, perhaps now there will be a little more room and tolerance for genetic diversity, a healthy and desirable asset for any species or breed of animal.