"Old German Shepherd" refers to the working sheep and cattle-herding
dogs of Germany. Varying in type, dogs from among these strains were used
in the late 19th century/early 20th century in the development of the modern SV-registered German Shepherd Dog. While the
SV-registered dogs came to
have a standardized appearance and came to be bred more as police, service,
companion and show dogs, herdsmen in Germany continued to breed their sheep and
cattle dogs as they always had. The Old German Shepherds were bred solely
for their usefulness in herding, and outward appearance remained
Today there is a registry for these dogs, the Arbeitsgemeinschaft zur Zucht Altdeutscher Hütehunde (AAH), formed to preserve and promote the Old German Shepherd varieties as working stockdogs. To be registered, the dogs must prove their ability to work on sheep or cattle. Coats may be short, medium-length, or long; shaggy, wiry, or smooth-textured. Colors include black, black-and-tan, shades of brown or red, grey, blue merle, or brindle. Ears are semi-erect, erect, or sometimes folded close to the head. Some have natural bobtails. Old German Shepherds are characterized by their hardiness, endurance and easy-keeping qualities. They can be found throughout Germany working flocks and herds.
One notable strain of the Old German Shepherd is the Westerwälder Kuhhund (Cowdog), first mentioned in the late 13th century. This dog has a natural heeling tendency (nipping low at the heels of the animals) and typically has a medium-long, hard coat of red-brown with black shadings. Used for herding large groups of cattle, taking them to and from the villages and keeping them together on unfenced pastures, it has also been employed in sheepherding .
When itinerant sheepherding and open-field cattle herding declined in Germany, the Old German Shepherd varieties diminished in numbers. The German Society for the Preservation of Old and Endangered Domestic Animal Breeds has listed them as critically endangered. But numbers are now beginning to grow again.
Below are some examples of German herding dogs from early in the century. Dogs like these, registered by the SV, figured among the ancestors of the modern German Shepherd Dog. For pictures of present-day Old German Shepherds, visit the AAH website, linked above.
Information and photos of Old German Shepherds as
well as of many herding breeds of the world can be found in the book (in German)
Hirten- und Hütehunde
Herding on the Web