The German Shepherd – Construction and Breed Standard


Development of the breed was originally pursued by various people who experimented by using many different types in order to breed a dog which looked as closely as possible to a wolf, but with sheep-herding qualities.

In 1889 Captain Max von Stephanitz began to standardize the German Shepherd in an effort to develop a breed that would be globally recognized as such. He bought a dog at a show in Karlsruhe in western Germany. The dog was wolf-like, of medium size and yellow-and-gray. The dog was of the primal canine type, intelligent, supple and powerful, and had stamina, steadiness and endurance. He was born with the ability to herd sheep, requiring no training other than direction and finish to become proficient at the task. Von Stephanitz renamed the dog, HektorLinksrhein, to Horand von Grafrath. The dog became the first registered German Shepherd Dog at the Deutsche SchäferhundeVerein, of which Von Stephanitz became the first president.

Initially the GSD was bred mainly for intelligence and working abilities, but in later years people began to breed for aesthetic properties as well. The following is a series of photos to demonstrate how the looks of the breed has changed over the years from what Horand von Grafrath looked like, to what the breed looks like today.

Current Breed Standard in South Africa

South African German Shepherd Breeders have a choice to register their dogs either with KUSA (Kennel Union of South Africa) or the GSD Federation of SA. Because the Federation only deals with German Shepherds and is affiliated to the Vereinfür Deutsche Schäferhunde (SV) in Germany, and because it works according to the SV breed standard, I prefer to stick with them.

The breed standard is revised from time to time by the SV order to allow for desirable changes, and to rule out undesirable traits. The latest (valid) GSD breed standard in South Africa is the breed standard as determined by the SV in 2010, and can be found in this publication.  The KUSA has recently decided to break away from the federation once again, after a union of about eight years, the implications being that they cannot secure SV judges to judge GSD’s at their shows. This means that KUSA GSD breeders do not have a reliable indicator as far as the breed standard goes. I would therefore suggest that any serious aspiring GSD breeder register with the Federation rather than KUSA. I would not say that KUSA pups are inferior, but in order to keep to the standard one needs to know what it is.

As an example, in order to compare an SV graded dog to one that has been graded by a general Kennel Club judge, I post the following two photos. Both dogs have been graded top class in their respective countries of origin. I have cropped the photos in order not to display the names and countries of the dogs:

These two photos demonstrate the difference between the typical Grand Victor in the country of origin (left) and the typical German Sieger (right) as displayed during the early 1980’s. In my opinion, by looking at these photos, I would say that the non-German dog on the left was bred for beauty and intelligence, and the German dog on the right was bred for power, stamina, beauty and intelligence. Very obviously, the shoulder height on the non- German dog was achieved by compromising on front angulation. The front quarters are under angulated by about 10 degrees to about 35 degrees. Compare the German dog’s front angulation where the shoulder blade and upper arm is joined at about a 45 degree angle, and you will see what I mean.

In order to try and disguise the deficiency in angulation, the dog’s chest has been bred to stand out to the front in order to try and an illusion of correct angulation. However, in my opinion, all that the breeder accomplished here was to make the dog look like it has a crop like a dove. Also, the neck has been straightened to make it look longer. The reason for this could have been to try and breed a more beautiful dog. But in my opinion it only serves to accentuate the “crop”. To the experienced GSD breeder, the chest/neck combination looks rather grotesque.

Furthermore, the GSD being a trotter, it needs to carry its head low on the shoulder in order to minimize wind resistance. To the non-German dog, that would be impossible.

Hind angulation cannot really be seen on this photo because of the angle that the photo was taken at. But, judging by the distance between the two hind paws when the dog is in that position, I would say that the hind quarters have been over angulated by about 5 to about 50 degrees. This would increase hind thrust while trotting. Usually, this would have posed no real problem, but with the deficiency in front angulation, the hind thrust on a full trot will be such that it will cause the front half of the dog to collapse under the strain of the usual 15 km that a GSD has to trot in a stamina test. This means that the dog will measure about a centimetre lower after the stamina test than before the test. Usually in a ring the dogs get placed in their anticipated positions before the stamina test begins. In a German SV test the dog will be downgraded to one or more grades lower, and lose all the places in between. If the judge is particularly strict, and the dog has another serious fault like the oversized chest, it could result in a grading of “insufficient”. A dog that has been graded “insufficient” cannot be bred from, according to the current SV standard… which is also the South African standard.

I include the following photo of the top 2012 South African German Shepherd Dog, taken from the website of the German Shepherd Dog Federation of South Africa.



VS Breed Standard for GSD’s:

Nova Scotia German Shepherd Dog Club:

German Shepherd Dog Federation of South Africa:


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