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The Beginning…The Modern German Shepherd

               The history of the German Shepherd truly began in 1889, when Max von Stephanitz appeared on the scene.  A wealthy German, von Stephanitz was born in the kingdom of Saxony, in Dresden to an upper-class family.  While von Stephanitz made his career in the German cavalry, his true interest was in animals.  He served at the Veterinary College in Berlin and upon his release from the captainship in 1898, began devoting himself full-time to dog breeding, influenced by similar movements going on across the Channel in England.  Von Stephanitz saw the potential inherent in standardizing the German Shepherd breed across Germany, selecting the most desirable traits in each regional group of dogs and ultimately creating an “ideal” breed that combined the best elements of each.  He sought to create a dog that was as keenly intelligent as it’s lupine ancestor, with pricked ears that would allow it to hear the coming of intruders, a keen and refined sense of smell, and a strong work ethic; traits ironically seen in today’s modern German Shepherd.

               Such a dog caught von Stephanitz’s  eye at a dog show in the town of Karlsruhe.  There he came across the embodiment of his ideal- a wolf like dog with speckled yellow and gray fur, a powerful gaze, and a strong demeanor that bore traces of the primal animal within.  The dog was intelligent, easily trained in the skills necessary for a sheepherder.  Von Stephanitz knew that he had found his ideal for the breed.  He purchased the dog, Hektor Linksrhein, shortly thereafter, choosing to rename the creature, Horand von Grafrath.  Von Stephanitz then registered the dog , rendering it the first officially registered German Shepherd in the world!  Von Stephanitz used this dog as his main “stud”-breeding Horand with a variety of bitches to create litters of offspring, hoping to create pups that were the model of their proud, noble father.  To further his ends, Von Stephanitz founded the German Shepherd Dog Club (In German, the Verein fur Deutsche Schferhunde, also known as the SV), of which he became president and was successful in creating a standardized German Shepherd breed.

What Does Czech/DDR Bloodlines Mean?

               The popularity of the German Shepherd Dog (GSD) had been growing in numbers since their origin by founder Max von Stephanitz.  Little did anyone know what an impact both World Wars would impart on the German Shepherd breed.  The German Shepherd was much sought after by the military for their profound working abilities, loyalty, trainability, and their dedication to their owners or handlers.  One of the greatest impacts to astound the working dog world and the German Shepherd breed was the onset of the Cold War.

               Before the onset of the Cold War, Germany was one nation.  Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and the USA were all allies during WWII.  As WWII was coming to an end, all four allies occupied Berlin.  At the end of WWII, the city was split into four sectors.  A large dispute arose over the boundaries.  Thus began the Cold War with the Soviet Union closing borders; hence the two nations for Germany were formed, West Germany and East Germany (Deutsches Demokratische Republik, the DDR).

               Many of us remember what communist controlled countries were like.  They were not allowed free trade or contact with the outside world and were dominated by their government over decisions most of us take for granted every day.  So was it also for breeding kennels in East Germany.  With the border and Berlin Wall up, closed breeding within the DDR kennels kept the dogs at their standards without outside influence. 

               Germany, now divided. became a satellite state of the communist regime on October 7th, 1949, East Germany became the Deutsches Demokratische Republik-DDR.  It didn’t take long for “The Partei” to quickly confiscate and gain control of the German Shepherd pedigree registration and financial administration offices.  With the government’s hand and control over breeding and registration, strong criteria and tests were set forth as many of the dogs would be used for their military purposes. 

               Consequently only the best of the best would be suitable for their new duties.  Strong bones were needed for the great distance of walking they would endure, exposure to the most ruthless of harsh elements also played a part in the development of structure.  Thus they were very athletic with straight lines and a large, intimidating look with large heads, broad shoulders and large chests.  Other breeding criteria that differed from West Germany was the DDR dogs could only be bred if they were completely free of hip dysplasia (HD).  Dogs that had “fast” normal hips or lesser could not be bred.  Dam’s had to appear with her whole litter for an inspection of teeth, ear set, temperament, coat, total overall appearance and males naturally had to have both testicles descended by one year of age. 

Along Comes Czechoslovakia

               The kennel Z Pohranicni Straze (Z PS) was founded in 1955 for the single purpose of production and training of dogs that would be solely used for the protection of the Czechoslovakian People’s Republic’s, and since 1968 Czechoslovakian Socialist Republic’s borders.  Most of the dogs were acquired from the territory of former East Germany (DDR) and there were also dogs from Czechoslovakia used for breeding; the ones that excelled in their character qualities.

               The breeding program, established in 1956, was under the direction of Mr. Jiri Novotny from 1981-2000.  Mr. Novotny was also the director of training during this time.  Since the foundation of the breeding program , it was focused mainly on strengthening the good power of bones, dark pigmentation, strong nerves, and willingness to work in tracking, obedience, and defense work.

               There were three breeding facilities with a total of 80 breeding females that made up the “Z Pohranicni Straze” kennel.  Combined to these 80 females were 30 stud dogs, all of which were on active duty with their handlers.  The breeding facilities were located within the Czech Border Police compounds in Domazlice, Libejovice, and Prackovice.  These compounds had a high security status with access to them strictly forbidden to anyone, including Czech Border Police, who did not work at the specific facility.

               The females were bred and the puppies whelped, raised, and trained all within these breeding stations by military service conscripts.  These stations were staffed by trainers, veterinarians, assistant breeders, and kennel help.  Once trained, the Pohranicni Straze dogs were assigned a handler and patrolled primarily the border with Germany and Austria to prevent Czechoslovakian’s and any others from within the East Block from escaping.

               The dogs were trained at the kennels for about 12 months and afterwards relocated to Border Patrol training facilities, in their quarters.  (Now they are located in Czech police training facilities).

               During the years under the communist regime, the Czechoslovakian border patrol and their dogs would apprehend 20 to 30 people on a daily basis.  While nine out of ten people would give up when confronted, the dogs were regularly call upon to defend their handlers from those intent on crossing the border at whatever cost.

Brandenburg Gate

History of the Breed

Special thanks to our Sources


1.“German Shepherd Dog (Alsatian) Breed Standard.” The American Kennel Club.

2.“Welcome to DDR Legends. Where the REAL working dogs unite.”\  Pam Cyrene


Prairie Shepherds, LLC

4. “German Shepherd Puppy Handbook”.  Noble Companions. Rick Slavens

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