GSD vs. WGSD – It’s not a black or white issue!
Submitted by Aimee Harder – Aimee wrote this article for the Hoflin White German Shepherd Annual and it is reprinted here with her permission.
Since the late 1800′s, history shows that the German Shepherd has been an extremely popular breed across the world, and continues to remain popular today. They protect and serve in law enforcement, do a variety of Search and Rescue, serve in Wars in many capacities, provide a myriad of services to handicapped individuals, provide families as lovable companions, herd and guard as farmhands, and even star in their own television shows such as “Rin Tin Tin”. German Shepherd dogs can have a variety of coat colors ranging from the typical black/tan, to sable, to all black, or all white. Unfortunately, the white-coated German Shepherd is not allowed to show in the conformation ring along with its fellow German Shepherds. The reason: the white coat is considered a disqualifying fault in the AKC/GSDCA German Shepherd standard. The white coat was not always considered a fault; in fact, it was one of the original colors of the German shepherd dog, and a very important part of creating the breed itself. Reviewing history, we will see where the white coat fits into the big picture of the GSD.
Over in Europe and especially in Germany, shepherding was a common way of life. The shepherd would use his dog to herd the sheep where he needed them to be throughout the day, and guard the sheep against various unwanted predators. This was the foundation – starting point – of the dogs we know and love today. For numerous years, the Germans used a wide variety of dogs to herd their sheep, with no consistency of “type” among the dogs. All shepherding dogs had been placed under the category of shepherds, with no consideration of their size, color, or shape.
Captain Max von Stephanitz changed all of that. As a young cavalry officer, he traveled all over the country and stayed with families along the way, many of them farmers. He was fascinated with the shepherd dogs and their working capabilities. However, he noticed that what one dog flourished in the next dog lacked. If only he could create a dog that could have all the qualities of a total working shepherd dog. He generated information on all these dogs and created in his mind what he thought a well-rounded shepherd dog should encompass. Winifred Strickland states in her book, The German Shepherd Today, that Max Von Stephanitz “saw a dog who would be extremely intelligent, quick on his feet, protective if necessary, noble in appearance, trustworthy in character, physically sound so that he could work tirelessly all day long, and be born with an innate desire to please, a dog who could reason and be a companion to man.”
As his ideas formulated, he came to the conclusion that he wanted to breed such a dog and make it available to sheepherders all over Germany. During the last decade of that century, Captain von Stephanitz experimented with breeding dogs, taking the best of the shepherd dogs across the country to get the qualities he desired. Grief, a white coated shepherd dog, was one of the shepherds Max often used to generate his idea of the perfect working dog. In 1899, he attended The Karlsruhe Exhibition and bought Hektor Linkrsheim, a grandson of Grief, but Max immediately changed his name to Horand von Grafrath. Because Grief was white and Horand was line related to him, Horand carried the white gene and sired many white pups and many colored pups with the white recessive gene.
On April 22, 1899 the Verein fur Deutsche Shaferhund (the SV) was founded, with Max von Stephanitz as the first president. Horand became the first entry in the newly found SV Stud Book and the first written foundation of the German Shepherd breed. There was another club called the Phalax, but this club only survived for approximately four years.
As German Shepherds grew in numbers and increased in popularity, the SV held dog shows and Max continued to perfect the breed. He wrote and distributed newsletters discussing which dog gave certain qualities and which dogs to breed together. During that era, white-coated German Shepherds were the same in stature and status as a dark-coated German Shepherd. Repeatedly, Max pounded the issue that the German Shepherd was a working breed first and foremost. The beauty is in the working abilities of the dog. He diligently worked to keep the SV (and as such the breeders) on that focus. He created the Koerung, a survey in which the dogs were thoroughly examined, judged, and deemed fit or unfit for breeding. In the beginning, many of these men were idealistic and enthusiastic. Their willingness to follow his orders on breeding largely accounts for the swiftness that the diverse sheep dogs were molded into a distinct and recognizable breed.
During Winifred Stricklandï¿½s interviews with Herta Von Stephanitz (daughter of Max), she learned some history on why Max gave up. In the 1930ï¿½s Nazism started to spread throughout Germany rapidly. They were the “elite” and they had power. At the same time, breeders of “luxury” breeds disputed Maxï¿½s unyielding position that this was a utilitarian breed. They wanted to focus on beauty and less worry about function. The racial views and plans of the Nazis gave them a different view of what the German Shepherd should have been than what Max von Stephanitz’ dream of the German Shepherd was. Many SV members were Nazis and intervened in the SV affairs. They continuously attempted to rid Max of his work. They even threatened him with a concentration camp. After thirty-six years of managing the SV, he gave up. He died one year later on April 22, 1936; ironically this was the anniversary of the conception of the SV.
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, early sixties. (The exact date is unknown due to lack of finding correct historical documents) While Shepherd enthusiasts in the USA wanted to remove them also from the breeding pool, the AKC refused to withhold them from registration. Hence, the color white is in the top number of colors of GSDï¿½s registered with the AKC today!
History provides us with the factual information that the White German Shepherd was an important aspect in the founding of the German Shepherd breed. History also shows us when and where the discrimination came from. During the time the white coat color was banned, science was lacking the information that we have today, and many false theories (although stated as facts!) were given to the white coat of a German Shepherd. Breeders thought that the white coat caused dark shepherdï¿½s coat to pale into an undesirable light color. (Remember their focus was on beauty in a large way…) They also thought that the white coat was a sign of albinism or disease. Today, science and breeding history has 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.
Some present breeders of the dark German shepherds claim that the white coat is too visible for police work, too light for sheep herding, and undesirable for a family home. Ellen Mattingly stated in an article, written in 1972, “A German Shepherd dog herding stock in a snow-covered field or herding white sheep in any weather would be somewhat less than optimally visible if he were also white.” If you will notice, sheep are not the stunning white color of the WGSD; rather, they are a dun color. But letï¿½s counter this theory. What about black sheep? Would this mean that a black or dark GSD could not herd black sheep, especially at night? Or what about the sables who may blend into the yellow/tan landscape? Mattingly additionally remarks, “The German Shepherd Dog is used extensively for guard and sentry duty, much of which seems to be done at night, and, in this case, the white color makes for maximum visibility which would certainly be a disadvantage.” Studies in the police force have shown that the majority of K9ï¿½s injured of killed are shot in crossfire, or by their own officers due to poor visibility! And in this day and age the officers are required to announce that they have released the dog, thus eliminating the theory that the dog must sneak up in darkness! One incredible notion passed down against the whites referred to the blind who would have white dog hair on their clothes and couldnï¿½t see to remove it. Anyone who knows GSDï¿½s knows that they shed their undercoat, MOST OF WHICH IS CREAM OR WHITE HAIR! So this is a ridiculous argument! Also stated on this line was that the blind wanted no attention brought to themselves in public and a white coated GSD would draw extreme attention. As if the walking stick and having any colored dog in harness is invisible to the public?
However looked at, a dogï¿½s working ability or temperament should be based on that itself and only that, not a coat color. Coat color does not define a German shepherdï¿½s temperament or ability to work. As Max von Stephanitz stated, “A pleasing appearance is desirable, but it can not put the dogï¿½s working ability into question.” Nowhere within his book does he state that the white coat is less of a German Shepherd than any other. White German Shepherds can be found working as police dogs, service dogs, herding dogs, and many other lines of work. They have proven to the world what Max has stated numerous times. Beauty (and thus color) does not define a GSD – the working ability does.
Another reason White German Shepherds remain a disqualification is the principle that for more than thirty years this rule has been in effect. The old clichï¿½ says it all. “Old habits die hard.” Those opposing the white coated GSD see no apparent reason to change the standard, as, in their opinion, it would not help them in any way, shape, or form. They have fought this for so long based on the views and opinions passed from generation to generation that it is difficult for them to see the other side. Now look at how it COULD help them: If whites were to be allowed into the AKC conformation ring with colored dogs, the number of entries would rise greatly, boosting the club with many new members and dogs, which would be beneficial to the German Shepherd breed as a whole.
Many reasons why White German Shepherds should be allowed to show with colored German Shepherds exist. The most important reason is that science today has done nothing but prove that White German Shepherds are not a fault. Their coat color is merely based off of a recessive gene that carries no health related problems. This gene is not linked to the diluting of darker coats; research has shown that the dilution of coat color is an entirely a separate gene. Additionally, a white coat is not a sign of albinism. Albinos have no pigment whatsoever, while White German Shepherds have pigment in their eyes, nose, mouth, etc.
Coat color set aside, White German Shepherds can do just as much as a dark German Shepherd. There were White German Shepherds working at the World Trade Centers, the Oklahoma City bombing, and many other search and rescue scenes. Ve-Linï¿½s Kaiser the Role, otherwise known as K9 Conan, is just one example of a White German Shepherd police dog. This dog earned many citations for evidence explosive detection, and criminal apprehension for the military. (Princess Diana had even heard of this dog and wanted to meet the famous K9 Conan.) There are many more white K9s out there, as well as in other fields of work. German Shepherds are working dogs and work is what they do. Their herding, intelligence, health and structure are not determined by coat color. White German Shepherds have the same great instincts as the next. Moreover, coat color cannot define a regal dogï¿½s love and loyalty for its owners.
Taking the side of the White German Shepherd is Dorothy Crider, a former actress, breeder, and trainer for motion pictures and TV, boldly stated, “I have owned and trained white and dark German Shepherds for twenty-seven years. The difference lies in the individual animal, not the coat color.” Her White German Shepherd dog, White Shadow Crider, appeared in one-hundred and sixty eight films; he also won an award for best actor dog.
In conclusion, White German Shepherds deserve the right to stand along side a colored German Shepherd not only in the working fields, but in the AKC conformation show ring and gene pool. These dogs have proven that they have nothing to fault. A simple comparison could be to use the white and black human race. Years ago, blacks were considered inferior, or faulted, due to their skin color. Today, we know that black people are the same as any other race, with the exception of only skin color. Years ago, during the Hitler era, white-coated German Shepherds were seen as inferior to the colored German Shepherd. Today, white-coated German Shepherds, with the exception of coat color, have proven they truly are the same as colored German Shepherds.
So, why is there still discrimination present today? Where do we go from here? What do we do to rectify this discrimination? First and foremost, of course, is education! Not Bible-thumping, yell in their face type of education. Stand proud and be noticed in the public – get out there and work your dog. Then, with respect and love for your dog, state the facts. Show them your passion of this breed. Let that passion convey the message! And last but not least, a wise woman once told me that friendship will always overcome prejudice. So get out there in the dog world, socialize, and make friends – changes in attitude will follow!