WHITE SHEPHERD BREED HISTORY AND CURRENT STATUS
Written by Ed Rhoads
The founding dog of the GSD breed, Horand von Grafrath, SZ1's maternal grandfather was a white German sheepdog named Greif born around 1879. Horand was bred to 35 different bitches, producing 53 litters of which, 140 progeny were registered with the SV. He was also mated three times with his daughters, thus fixing the genetic code into the development of this breed. This genetic code was handed down through his progeny and thus remains with us today.
When did the first White German Shepherds appear in the United States? A litter born March 27, 1917, bred by one of the GSDCA founders Anne Tracy, contained four white puppies - known as Stonihurst Edmund, Stonihurst Eric, Stonihurst Eadred, and Stonihurst Elf. Later came the dog owned by H.N. Hanchett of Minneapolis, MN which was the first White German Shepherd imported from Germany in 1920. Then in 1921, Etzel V. Oeringen (otherwise known as "Strongheart") was imported to the USA. This dog had strong bloodlines, and produced some of the finest Whites of that era. White GSD's were bred and kept by such respected early American kennels as Longworth Kennels, Giralda Farms, and Grafmar Kennels.
Why was the white colored German Shepherd Dog disqualified? That is a question that only the German SV and the German Shepherd Dog Club of America can answer. The SV was the first to officially eliminate white dogs from the gene pool through the disavowment of the color around 1960. Capt. Max Von Stephanitz, founder of the breed made conflicting statements concerning coat coloration. In his last edition of his book he expressed that a white coat was a sign of "degeneration," but a few paragraphs later he said... "Our GSD's have never been bred with special regard to coloring, which for a working dog is a matter of quite secondary consideration." (Lanting, 1990) By mid - 1930's, the Nazi party had began to hold a large number of memberships within the SV party. The Nazi party continued to exert more and more influence over the SV, until the point where its founder Capt. Max Von Stephanitz was forced out. By the time of Von Stephanitz death in 1936 the Nazi take over of the SV was nearly complete. The SV put the breed to use for the Nazi party much as the party did with other animals. In the flawed medical and genetic "science" of the Party mentality, all manner of ills were attributed to the gene for the white color coat. Such problems as deafness, blindness, albinism, mental instability, sterility and degeneration and loss of vigor were associated with and blamed on the white dogs. Once these beliefs took root, they flourished and grew, even after the end of World War II.
Even with the breeding population of these dogs at an all time low in Germany after the War, the breeders continued to believe in removing these "degenerative throwbacks" from the remainder of the gene pool. To this day, white dogs remain ineligible for registration as GSD's within Germany and throughout most European nations. Following Germany's lead, the German Shepherd Dog Club of America petitioned AKC for the disqualification of the color white from the GSD Breed Standard. This disqualification was approved by the AKC and went into effect on April 9, 1968. It remains so to this day. "Though many feel the (whites) are structurally and temperamentally unsound, there is no scientific evidence of genetic linkage in the breed. The genes for poor temperament or proportions are not side-by-side with the genes for white. . .the colored dogs and the white dogs may differ only in that respect (to) pigment. . . structure and temperament are unrelated to color." (Lanting, 1990)
Who is the White Shepherd parent club? The American White Shepherd Association was formed in 1995 to seek separation of the white dogs into a newly formed breed known as the White Shepherd, here in the United States, thus bringing the dog in line with the majority of the rest of the White Shepherd organizations through-out the world. AWSA is working side by side with its sister club the White Shepherd Club of Canada in helping develop separation. AWSA is currently working with the UKC in forming a parent club for the new separated breed by Jan 1, 1999. This breed club will be known as the UWSC (United White Shepherd Club)
Is the White Shepherd a Purebred? Yes. The White Shepherd has not been mixed with any other breed of dog from the time of its introduction to North America. The gene that controls the white color is a natural component in the total color genetic makeup of the German Shepherd Dog breed. The white coat color comes from a simple recessive gene. To put it plainly, in order to produce a white puppy, both parents must carry the gene for the white coat color. The white gene is not associated with the genes that cause color - paling in the German Shepherd Dog, since those genes are located on different loci. It is probably possible that a solid white GSD could carry these dilution genes; however since the dog is white in color, the paling factor would not express itself in the color of the coat. All white GSD's are homozygous for the gene pair responsible for producing the color white. Thus the dog will always pass the white recessive gene onto its offspring, no matter what color the mate is or what color is expressed in the pup.
Is it a White Shepherd or a White German Shepherd? The dog remains the same no matter what the political views are. AWSA organization seeks separate breed status where some White German Shepherd Clubs seek to remain a style or variety of the GSD. In the world picture, the separation issue has tremendous rooting throughout Europe, as well as Germany. The issue of remaining a White German Shepherd is fading, with further countries seeking separation. An international association (WAWSO) has been formed. Is it a White Shepherd or a German Shepherd? There is no argument that the White Shepherd was/is a GSD genetically. Like all breeds, including the GSD, new breeds of dogs are born through changes to a current breed of dog, or the non acceptance of a standard.
What makes a White Shepherd so different? The dogs in the current White Shepherd rings tend to be less extreme in slope and angulation, much like the dogs that were shown in the early GSD ring during the 20's through the 60's. The AWSA breed standard stresses the importance of form following function, which is working ability, "This is a herding dog that must have the agility, freedom of movement, and endurance to do the work required of it...balance, strength, and firmness of movement is to be given more emphasis than a sidegait showing a flying trot. (AWSA Breed Standard) Many White Shepherds are participating in performance events throughout the United States, as well as winning points in the conformation ring.
Are there enough White Shepherds to sustain a separate breed? One myth is that the gene pool is too small for separation, and that without a continuation of breeding back to the colored GSD, the White Shepherd can not support itself. If the White Shepherd would become a separate breed with the AKC today, it would be the 41st largest breed in the AKC registry, with over 5000 new dogs registered yearly. There are many sustainable breeds below 41st in this list that have much smaller gene pools.
Are White Shepherds albinos? White Shepherds are clearly not albino. In fact the eyes of a white shepherd are dark brown to black, and the skin pigment such as the nose, pads, gums and eyelids are black. The skin of the entire muzzle may be dark as well. This dark skin will often show through the sparse coat on top of the muzzle. An albino dog would show no color characteristics, except for the eyes which may be a pink to red color.
Are White Shepherds prone to deafness? Hereditary deafness is not linked to the gene that causes the white color in this breed. Hereditary deafness is not common in the GSD, regardless of color. "Although deafness might occur in the GSD it is likely to be very rare and more probably acquired than inherited." (Willis)
What is happening with the White Shepherd in the UKC? The UKC has given White Shepherd owners an opportunity to break the discrimination that the GSDCA and the AKC have put on these dogs, by allowing them to be registered as a separate breed. Dogs currently registered as white German Shepherds may be registered as White Shepherds through the UKC. The breed change should officially take place on January 1, 1999. This has given White Shepherd owners throughout the US more opportunities to participate in both conformation and working events. The UKC has shown time and time again that they are leaders in many fields, whether it is the DNA testing or their blue ribbon pedigree program.
Is it a new breed, or not a new breed? The German Shepherd Dog was founded by Capt. Max Von Stephanitz in 1899. It has been around for less than one hundred years. Compare this to some of the sighthound, Mastiff and spitz-type breeds that have been around basically unchanged for thousands of years. Controversies rage on among the various clubs over which breed is the oldest. The history of the Ibizan Hound is traceable to 3400 B.C. Considering the great antiquity of these few breeds, the German Shepherd Dog is, itself, a relatively recent breed. Our White Shepherds are just a bit newer...
Where will White Shepherds go from here? White Shepherds will continue to go where they have always gone--to the fields to herd livestock; to disasters to search for victims; to the assistance of their handicapped owners; to obedience, agility, flyball, tracking, and Schutzhund events; to police calls with their human partners; and to the protection of their homes and families. In addition, White Shepherds will be going one more place--the UKC conformation group ring to compete against the other herding breeds. And White Shepherd owners, wherever they go with their dogs, will be able to go there without having to explain the predicament of the white German Shepherd, but instead can say with pride--This is the White Shepherd.
Bibliography The American Kennel Club, The Complete Dog Book, AKC, Howell Book House, Inc.,New York, NY, c. 1983.
Strang, P.D., Berman, S.A., Hilldrup, M.E., The White German Shepherd Book,Medea Publishing Co., Inc., New York, NY, c. 1983
Willis, Malcolm B., Ph.D., The German Shepherd Dog: A Genetic History, Howell Book House, Inc., New York, NY, c. 1991.
Lanting, Fred L., The Total German Shepherd Dog, Alpine Publications, Inc., Loveland, CO., c. 1990.
Nicholas, Anna Katherine, The Book of the German Shepherd Dog, TFH Publications, Inc. Ltd., Neptune City, NJ., c. 1983.
Strickland, Winifred and Moses, James, The German Shepherd Today, Macmillan Publishing Company, New York, NY., c. 1988.
Allan, Roy and Clarissa, German Shepherd Dogs, Salamander Books LTD., Blacksburg, VA., c. 1988.
Willis, Malcolm B., The German Shepherd Dog, Ringpress Books Limited, c. 1993.
Orban, Timothy, Guide to Owning a German Shepherd, TFH Publications, Inc. Neptune City, NJ., c. 1994.
Carloni, Karen, The White Shepherd FAQ, Westhaven, CT., c. 1998