The White German Shepherd – the Ancestor of All GSDs

The White German Shepherd is now defined as an independent breed and is one of the most sought-after breeds of German Shepherd due to its distinctive color. Yet, it has been an uphill battle until this day.

Do you know all German Shepherds are the descendants of a white German Shepherd? And Germany had barred white German Shepherds from the conformation ring and the breeding pool?

In this article, we will learn more about the history of a special breed of its own. Read on to find out more:

White German Shepherds in the early days

The White German Shepherd is a breed mentioned repeatedly in literature, where it dates back to before the birth of Jesus Christ.

It was first mentioned by the Roman historian, Marcus Terentius in 116 BC, who described the dog as an excellent dog for shepherds.

The tasks for herding dogs were very different from what we know today. They should, like today, keep the flock together – but its main task was to defend the flock from predators/thieves.

Evidence suggests that the first German Shepherds were white because that was preferred by shepherds since thieves and wolves couldn’t distinguish a white German Shepherd from the sheep.

The history of the White German Shepherd

The only documented effort breeding of decidedly White German Shepherds before 1900, are from Alsace-Lorraine in Austria (the Austro-Hungarian Empire), where the powerful royal family of Habsburg thought white German Shepherd was tailored to their white Lipizzaner horses and white gowns, which is why they started breeding the white German Shepherd.

Habsburg is one of Europe’s major royal houses with holdings throughout Europe with headquarters in Switzerland.

That the first documented breeding program was in Switzerland should come as no surprise, since that Switzerland today has a very prominent status in the White German Shepherd community.

Coat of arms of the Counts of Habsburg

The ancestors of German Shepherd Dog was white

In 1887, a White German Shepherd named Grief was exhibited.

Greif was born in Frankfurt (1879), and was paired with the bitch Lotte. They came from the tribes Thuringia and Frankonia known for their wolf-like ears and wolf-like color.

Greif and Lotte gave birth to Lene, who was paired with a dog named Kastor, but what color Lotte had is unknown.

Lene and Kastor then birthed the famous dog Horand von Grafrath. The rest is history.

The birth of the first German Shepherd Dog

A society named the Phylax Society was formed in Germany in 1891, with the intention of standardizing dog breeds. The society disbanded in 1894, but many of the members continued to exhibit the ideologies promoted by the society.

Max von Stephanitz (with Horand von Grafrath) – the founder of the German Shepherd Dog breed

One of these members was Captain Max von Stephanitz, the man now credited with being the father of the German Shepherd Dog. In 1899 while attending a show, von Stephanitz saw a dog named Hektor Linksrhein. Von Stephanitz was so impressed by Hektor’s intelligence, strength and obedience that he purchased the dog immediately.

On April 22, 1899, Stephanitz presented Horand at a dog show in Karlsruhe. On the same day, he also formed the German Shepherd club: “Verin für Deutsche Schäferhunde”. Von Stephanitz went on to change Hektor’s name to Horand von Grafrath and included this dog as the center point of the society’s breeding programs.

This very dog was then registered on September 20 in the same year, under a new breed registry – making Horand von Grafrath the first German Shepherd Dog.

Horand von Grafrath is considered to be the ancestor of all German Shepherds.

Horand con Grarath is the grandson of Grief and Lotte, which means that all German Shepherds are the descendants of a white German Shepherd.

Max von Stephanitz wrote in 1908 in one of his countless theses, where he claimed that the color of the German Shepherd had NO INFLUENCE on the dog’s ability to work.

The aftermath of Nazis’ possession

In the ’30s, the Nazis started possessing more and more power in the German Shepherd Club, where German Shepherds (along with the Dobermann) had successfully been widely used during World War I.

The Nazis wanted characteristics other than Max von Stephanitz’s thoughts, and Max was threatened to cooperate – otherwise, he would have been sent off to a concentration camp, and in 1935 he was forced to resign.

Von Stephanitz died the following year – the 37th anniversary of the club’s founding. His life work was in ruins (at least in Germany), and at the end of the war, there were only a few German Shepherds left in Germany.

The discrimination of the White German Shepherd

The Nazis, including Hitler, saw the white coat as an undesirable trait, and further assumed that the white-coated dogs’ genes paled the darker coated dogs’ colors. With little knowledge of science, they blamed the whites for many diseases as well.

Germany soon barred white German Shepherds from the conformation ring and the breeding pool. The United States followed suit in the late fifties and early sixties.

Hitler in 1942 with his long-time lover Eva Braun.

A huge smear campaign was launched against the White German Shepherd at the end of World War II. Breeders used the method “shot or drowned” to extinct the breed. 

The White German Shepherd was blamed for all problems the colored German Shepherds were suffering from (aggressive behavior, diseases, light-skinned) – which was the consequence of too much inbreeding.

Even well-known writers and “breed scientists” were more or less voluntarily behind the massive smear campaign against the White German Shepherd, and especially in the final phase of the war, where the need for scapegoats grew.

Today, science and breeding history have proven that the white recessive gene masks the actual color of the dog, making them appear white, and brings along no health problems: in other words, the gene which causes white does not itself cause any other defect. They are otherwise genetically identical to colored German Shepherds. (Source: White German Shepherd Dog Club of America)

Guide books on the White German Shepherd are as rare as the breed. Check out this complete guide on the White GSD, where it covers: Temperament – Vital statistics – Before you buy – Choosing the right dog – Health – Daily care – Feeding – House training – Medical care & safety – Grooming – Training – Poisonous Foods & Plants – Caring for your aging dog …. and much more.

Is Alsatian Sheperd the same as German Shepherd?

During World WarII, German Shepherds had their name changed to “Alsatians” simply because Britain and other European countries who were fighting against the Germans didn’t want to use a working dog with a name associated with the German forces.

Anything related to the Germans was changed, therefore the German Shepherd dog was called the Alsatian.

The “Battle” in North America

In America and Canada, the white German Shepherds developed little by little and became more and more an independent breed. The American White Shepherd “Lobo”, born on 5th March 1966, is considered to be the progenitor for all white German Shepherds.

In 1968 the German Shepherd Club in America chose to disqualify a White German Shepherd simply because of the color – for the first time since the club’s establishment in 1913, where both colored and white were exhibited as equals.

The reason was inspired by the prejudices from Germany since inbreeding was also a huge issue in the US.

And just like in Germany, the White German Shepherd got the blame.

The first club for the White German Shepherds

In protest against the prejudices against the White German Shepherd – not only in Germany but all around the world – supporters organized the creation of the first club for White German Shepherds in 1969, Sacramento USA.

In 1970 the famous book The Invincible White Shepherd by Dr. Peter Neufeld was published. The book’s title was fitting for a breed whose entire life had been an uphill battle.