Old German Shepherd Dog in America
Those who bring sheep here from Europe, do not forget to bring a good sheep dog or a
pair of these most necessary animals, transportation costs are repaid by the first offspring of
dogs, as these dogs are still rare here and with every day more people are
looking for them.
Der Nordamerikanische Landwirth: Ein Handbuch für
Ansiedler in den Vereinigten Staaten (North American
Agriculture: A Handbook for Settlers in the United States),
1848, by Carl L. Fleischmann
few years prior to World War I, the first registered German Shepherd Dogs
arrived in the United States. These
weren’t the first German shepherd dogs who came to America, however.
German immigrants had been coming to America since before the
founding of the United States. Among
them were farmers who came with livestock and dogs to herd the livestock.
are very few descriptions of the physical appearance of these dogs.
Their appearance probably covered the range of the German herding
dogs shown in Captain Max Von Stephanitz’ book, “The German Shepherd
Dog in Word and Picture,” first published in 1923.
While the dogs registered by the Verein für
Deutsche Schäferhunde (SV) became standardized into a
narrower range of type like most kennel club breeds, the former variety
of types continued on in the German dogs bred solely as
livestock-working dogs. Today
there is a registry for these sheep and cattle dogs, the AAH
zur Zucht Altdeutscher Hütehunde (Association for Breeding Old German
Herding Dogs). Within the overall designation of “Old German Shepherd” are
varietal names that apply to strains such as the Westerwälder Kuhhund, Harzer Fuchs, and others.
the varieties shown on the AAH website, in earlier times there were
additional types that appear to have greatly diminished or disappeared
today. Grey dogs seem to have
become uncommon in the working sheepdogs and cattle dogs, although
variations of wolf-grey still occur in some lines of the modern German
Shepherd Dog. The color white,
now disallowed in the SV-registered German Shepherd Dog, was not uncommon
among the original German herding dogs, and two strains in particular were
commonly white – the Pomeranian Sheepdog and the Hütespitz.
These two were still being mentioned up until the 1960s, but seem
to have disappeared after that. Also
gone, apparently, are the small herding spitzes, the ancestral type of the
modern Pomeranian, American Eskimo, Keeshond and German Spitz.
C. P. Lasteyrie of France wrote in 1810:
dogs, used in Prussia, for driving the flocks, are of a race differing
from those known in France, under the name of shepherd’s dogs.
They are of a small compact form, and prick-eared, resembling our
wolf-dogs [a French name for the Pomeranian].
Some of them are close-haired, others are shaggy; but all are very
docile, and never wound the sheep. At
the voice of the shepherd,
they repair to that part of the flock, which is pointed out; and if the
animals refuse to advance, the dogs push their noses against them, which
is enough to make them adopt the desired direction.
It is much to be wished that our
shepherds would accustom their dogs never to bite the sheep.
These animals, naturally timid, are quite alarmed when the dog
approaches them, under our system; they press against each other, run away
with terror, and are often materially injured. Their constant state of
fear disturbs their repose, and makes it impossible for them to graze in
tranquility, which is prejudicial to their health. Few of our flocks are
seen without individuals, at one time or another, exhibiting marks, which
have been caused by the tooth of the dog.
All of these types probably figured among the German dogs that came to America. In addition to the herding dogs in Germany, there were also large flock guardian dogs.
The sheepdog –
from Illustrirte Hausthierarzt, 1867
dogs of different coat types –
from Geschichte und Beschreibing
Rassen des Hundes,
dogs – from Das Buch vom Gesunden
und Kranken Hunden, 1901
dog from Saxony, blue-grey flecked - from The
German Shepherd Dog In Word and Picture
by Max von
Blue merle from Württemberg -
German Shepherd Dog In Word and Picture
by Max von
Pomeranian Sheepdog –
1938 English collector’s card
from Kamerad Hund, 1951
immigrants were among the pioneers of the sheep industry in the U.S.
In May 1824 a news item in the Charleston Courier related that a
ship had arrived a few days before with a shepherd who had come from the
mountains of Thuringia. Accompanying
him were a shepherdess and shepherd’s dogs.
“They are gone to the plantation of Col. Breithaupt, in Edgefield
District, who is about establishing a considerable Sheep Walk, for which
the pine wood range is particularly well calculated.
We wish him success, as the introduction of this branch of industry
will increase our domestic comforts and facilities . . . .”
the early years in America, the German herdsmen naturally enough continued
with the practices of their homeland.
In 1833, a religious writer related an anecdote given to him by
another clergyman, as illustrative of the 23rd Psalm, noting that in
America the shepherd usually followed the sheep:
year or two since, I heard in Boston, that some person had imported a
large flock of Saxony sheep, and that they had just arrived in the
city. One morning I happened to look out of my window at the moment
they were passing by. And I was delighted at the illustration of
Scripture, which the scene afforded.
were probably an hundred or an hundred and fifty in the flock. The
shepherd, who had come over to this country to take care of them, went
before the flock. He held his right hand behind him, with the palm,
turned towards the sheep. A large buck followed close behind, almost
touching with his forehead the palm of the shepherd's hand. The rest
of the flock were arranged in very regular order, behind the leader,
somewhat in the form of a wedge.
shepherd's dog followed behind the whole, urging on, the few straggling
sheep, who were disposed to linger.
the shepherd turned a corner, the leader of the flock obeyed the turn of
his hand, and thus the whole number were led, without
the least difficulty, through any part of the city.’
the years of 1832 to 1834, Prince of Maximiliam of Wied traveled in
America with the Swiss painter Karl Bodmer.
He wrote about his travels in four volumes that were published in
1843. In Ohio he came upon the
settlement of Zoar, “a pretty
settlement of Wurtemberg Separatists,” headed by a man whose name is
given as Baeumler.
1833, this colony had sixty very neat
buildings, all roofed with new red tiles, which are not common in America,
and which looked remarkably well in the green valley . . . The Ohio
Gazetteer says, that the settlement was originally founded on a piece of
land of 4,000 acres, which the company purchased in 1810, and the greater
part of which is now well cultivated. The
Separatists possess, besides, 1500 or 2000 acres of land in the vicinity,
as well as some vineyards, which are said to produce very good wine. . .
A long wooden bridge is thrown across the canal and
the river . . . Just as I was
at the spot, the shepherd drove a numerous flock of sheep over the bridge,
and answered my questions in genuine Swabian German. His
entire dress and equipments were quite in the German fashion: a shepherd's
crook, a broad leather bandolier, ornamented with brass figures, a flat
broad-brimmed hat, and a large grey coat; a costume very uncommon in
America. His dogs, too, were exceedingly careful in keeping the flock
town of Zoar remains today, but as happened with many communal
settlements, cohesion was lost after the passing of the early leaders, and
the communal society began to decline.
Toward the end of 19th century the remaining residents decided to
dissolve the society and divide the property.
New York, around 1843, another community of German religious separatists
incorporated near Buffalo and called their village Ebenezer (today it is
the town of West Seneca). They
bought 8,000 acres of wild land and set about making improvements.
The correspondent of The Cultivator, a monthly agricultural magazine published in
Albany, NY, wrote that they numbered
souls, and are expecting large additions from Germany during the present
season. They have already
built up three compact villages a mile or two apart; numbering about 100
large and commodious dwelling houses, some 30 or 40 barns . . . four saw
mills, one flour mill, one oil mill, a large woolen factory, a calico
printing establishment, a tannery, a large variety of mechanic’s shops,
school houses, &c., &c.; and have large herds of horses, cattle
and swine, and over 2000 sheep . . . .
barns, spacious and well ventilated, are provide for horses, oxen, cows,
yearlings, calves, and sheep, so that they are all sheltered in the most
comfortable manner through the winter, and the apartments for the sheep
are thoroughly white-washed four or five times a year.
Thus they promote health and increase the weight and fineness of
the fleece. The sheep are
divided into parcels and each is in the constant attendance of a shepherd
and his dog during the day, in summer, and driven up every night and
hurdled; and the land thus manured by them during the night, is at the
proper time sown with turnips. The
cattle are also kept in separate classes; and each is under the constant
attendance very day of its herdsman, and driven up into the yards at
Eventually, seeking more land and wishing to avoid the influence of the growing city of Buffalo, the group moved on to Iowa and founded the famous Amana Colonies.
article in the 1846 issue of the Cultivator
discusses the shepherds dogs in the United States.
“There are several breeds of dogs which may be trained to watch
and drive sheep. We have seen
at least three varieties which came from England and Scotland, one or two
from Germany, and a very large kind from Spain . . .”
The English sheep-dog is described as having “a sharp pointed
muzzle and long glossy hair.” Dogs
brought from Germany are described as being “rough haired,” of the
type shown in an illustration of a dog with a shaggy beardie-type coat:
“Mr. Bymler, the principal of the German community at Zoar, Ohio,
had sheep-dogs of a similar appearance, a few years ago.”
This is the same Mr. Baeumler – his named was spelled several
different ways – whose community had been visited by Prince Maximilian
a time there was a great interest in German sheep breeds, particularly
those derived from the Merino. Flocks
were imported, and with some of the flocks came shepherds and dogs.
Germans were considered to be expert sheep farmers, and sheep
breeders in the U.S. wanted to investigate their methods.
The February 1850 issue of The
School Journal and Vermont Agriculturalist, published in Windsor, VT,
related under the heading “Fine Blooded Sheep”:
ship from Bremen, has brought twenty-five Saxony sheep, imported by D. W.
Catlin, of New York, and C. B. Smith, of Litchfield Co., Conn., and
intended as an addition to their flocks in Torrington and Harwinton, Conn.
They are from the flock of
Maximilian Baron de Speck Leitchena, near Leipsic, Saxony.
They combine, says the Tribune, every requisite in fine sheep, fine
form, good constitution, compactness and weight of fleece and fineness of
fibre. A shepherd accompanies
them, with a well trained shepherd-dog,
with a view of introducing, as far as practicable, in this country,
the system of raising and training sheep, as practiced in Germany.
American Agriculturist reported
on an importation of Saxony sheep in 1850:
By the ship Louisiana, arrived here in
November last, Mr. D. W. Catlin of this city, and Mr. C. B. Smith of
Litchfield county, Connecticut, imported 4 Saxony bucks and 8 ewes. They
were selected for them by Baron de Spreck near Leipsic, and are of nearly
the same character as those we have before noticed as being imported at
different times by Mr. Taintor. Their
size and fineness are extraordinary, and they cannot but make a most
valuable cross on the Saxon sheep of this country. They were attended by a
German shepherd and a very fine sheep dog.
sheep, bred from the Spanish Merino, were among the breeds imported from
Germany. In the December 1858
issue of the American Farmer the
editor wrote of S. S. Bradford, a breeder of Silesian sheep in Culpeper
County, Virginia. Mr. Bradford
had shown some of his sheep at the U.
S. Agricultural Fair in Richmond, VA, that October.
The flocks of [S. S. Bradford] were in
charge of a shepherd obtained expressly from Germany, and thoroughly
trained in the management of sheep. The
wool of these sheep was of the finest quality, and these Merinoes will
prove a most valuable acquisition to the State of Virginia . . . .
is claimed for the Silesian, that they have the rugged hardy constitution
and weight of fleece of the Spanish Merino, and rival the Saxon in the
softness, elasticity, evenness and beauty of staple; and that in symmetry
of form they excel them both. No
one who knows the extraordinary care, skill and intelligence which has
been given for many years to the improvement of the Merino by the flock
masters of Prussian Silesia, will be disposed to dispute this claim.
Bradford's sheep have been obtained through the agency of Messrs. Campbell
of Westminister, Vermont, and Chamberlain of Red Hook, New York. These
gentlemen are associated in the ownership of a large flock of Fine Wooled
Sheep, and have imported largely. After a careful examination of the best
flocks on the continent they have for several years made their selection
from the celebrated flock of Mr. Fisher, of Silesia.
In caring for Mr. Bradford’s prized sheep, his shepherd managed the flock using traditional German practices:
S. S. Bradford . . . rarely
has less than a thousand fine wools in a flock. His
German shepherd seldom leaves them out of his sight for more than an hour.
In good weather he hurdles them nightly on the poorer spots of the field
in which they graze, and gun in hand, to punish intruding dogs, he sleeps
in a box or house on wheels, which is rolled wherever his charge is penned
for the night. In rainy
weather they are invariably housed day and night; as during intensely cold
weather. He feeds them daily
about a bushel of oats to 100 head. In
the grazing season they require no other such feed; when housed in the day
time they get corn fodder to pick, in addition to their oats. The
shepherd has them so completely under
his control, as that with the assistance of a single sheep dog he manages
them as easily as though not more than half a dozen in number.— His well
known whistle and a wave of the hand, will turn the flock in any
direction, even from too near vicinity to an unfenced patch of wheat or
better grass than that on which it is desired to graze them. If
a single sheep is obstinate or stupid, the dog is despatched to teach him
his place. He performs his
task with wonderful sagacity indeed, relieving his master from the care of
watching for hours. He comprehends what is forbidden ground for sheep, and
will not permit one or more to stray from the rest ; always promptly
driving those so inclined back to their proper position. When
with the flock in the day time, the shepherd, though keeping them in
sight, usually relies almost entirely on the watchfulness and intelligence
of his canine companion, and employs himself in cutting or grubbing
briars, making baskets, or something of the sort.
some farms dogs were given other jobs in addition to sheepherding.
In an article in the November 15, 1852 issue of the Ohio
Cultivator, a farmer describes how he built a home-made dog-power
churn, first taking measurements of his dog so as to construct the
treadmill in accord with the dog’s size.
“My dog is of the German shepherd species; we
find him heavy enough to churn and rock the cradle both at once. After a
few times training, by simply inviting "Toss" to
come and churn, he stepped up into the box, that
is the power, and trod away with all dignity and alacrity, and in from ten
to fifteen minutes, according to the state of the milk, produces good
solid butter. The churn should
not be filled quite half full of milk for speedy churning.”
the 1870s German shepherd dogs might even appear in a dog show.
In December 1875 the Missouri Valley
Poultry and Pet-Stock Association held its second annual exhibition in St.
Joseph, MO. Exhibited along
with the Newfoundlands, English Bulls, Black and Tan Terriers, Irish
Setters, and others, including plain “Shepherd” dogs (probably working
collies), was a German Shepherd owned by Howard Simpson.
the early German shepherd dogs were not maintained as a breed or breeds in
America. They had better luck
in Australia, though, where German sheep had also been imported and German
herdsman also immigrated, some bringing dogs.
In the late 19th century a breed of blue merle Australian herding
dog came to be called German
coolie or koolie. Although
mixed with the more numerous dogs of British background, the German
element provided an influence and a name for the breed as a whole.
In the U.S., however, little trace remained.
Among American sheep raisers, German management practices proved to be
less practical for the conditions prevailing in the United States.
Labor was too costly and land was easier to come by and was managed
differently. In more populated
areas with mixed agricultural use, it was less expensive in the long run
to put up fences and leave the sheep pastured, although for a time there
were still situations where a flock would be tended on occasion, for
instance a family farm flock watched over by the children and the farm
For a time there were flocks tended in public parks and on large
estates where they were used for mowing grass, fertilizing, and providing
a touch of rustic atmosphere. Very
large flocks on the unfenced ranges of the west could be tended by
shepherds and dogs, but the grazing on the wide open lands didn’t
require as close a supervision of
the flock as was the case in Germany.
the advent and great rise to popularity of the registered German Shepherd
Dog in the U.S., the earlier German herding dogs were forgotten.
There was no discernible attempt to breed them on an organized
basis, and they either disappeared or were absorbed into the general
American farm dog population, blending in with the more numerous collies
and other breeds. Perhaps they
made a contribution, even if small, to the American herding dog breeds
that are now called English Shepherd, Australian Shepherd, and some of the Cur
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