The Martin Shepherd, Dog of the Future ?

Jim Engel,  October 2010

In the advent of our American working dog awakening we looked to Europe for dogs, leadership, knowledge and the helping hand up; and this was right and good for it was in central Europe — Belgium, Germany, France, the Netherlands — where the transformation of a millennium of evolving herding dog service and culture into our protective heritage breeds had taken place.  It is because of the foresight and leadership of men such as  Konrad Most and Max von Stephanitz in Germany and Earnest van Wesemael and Adolphe Reul in Belgium that we have the police, service and military dog culture of today, which has taken the canine partnership with mankind to new levels.

Little did we know in the seventies and eighties as our idealistic quest gathered momentum that the new generation of leadership had feet of clay, that even then betrayal was lurking in high places of the Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde (SV), the mother club of the German Shepherd.  These heirs of von Stephanitz, these Germans on our pedestal, were abandoning his credo "form must follow function" in favor of their own new credo: "beauty is what we say it is and good enough rather than excellence is to be the motto for work."  And, of course, should good enough get to be a problem they could always further water down the Schutzhund trial, for they held the keys of the kingdom for good or for evil.

The result of all of this was the gradual but incessant and now far advanced division of the German Shepherds of the mother land into show lines and the working lines.  Cavalry Captain von Stephanitz would without doubt roll over in his grave.

Thus during the later half of the twentieth century the world of the SV, the German Shepherd, was increasingly dominated and transformed by a cabal of new men focused on the form, structure and external appearance of the German Shepherd with a concurrent, gradual, incessant loss of focus on the working origins of the breed. 

Perhaps the penultimate instance of this were the Martin brothers, Walter of the von der Wienerau kennel and Herman whose kennel was vom Arminius.  Walter was the guiding light, the architect of the new German Shepherd, and Herman was SV president from 1984 until 1994, only two years before the passing of both brothers within weeks in the fall of 1996.

Incest was endemic at the top, for when Walter’s dogs became Sieger it was Herman in his role of SV president who was making the selections and handing out the trophies, when he was not actually selecting his own dogs, as in these Sieger selections:

1986 & 1987          Quando von Arminius          

1992                      Zamb von der Wienerau      

1996                      Visum von Arminius            

Like the passing of the King naked from the waist down with no one having the courage to point out the lack of pants but one small, innocent boy the Shepherd community, especially the fawning American conformation dilettantes,  incessantly glorified and deified these self serving bureaucrats who had inherited the mantle of von Stephanitz and used it for their own aggrandizement. 

From the beginning the test of work, the Schutzhund trial, was the foundation of the German Shepherd Dog.  But in the second half of the twentieth century, slowly, subtly at first but with ever gathering momentum, the Schutzhund trial was incessantly made less demanding for an increasingly predominant conformation oriented segment of the breeding community.  The process was insidious, subtle in the beginning; pressure was put on judges to be a little bit lenient, on the helpers to moderate their intensity, to go easy on a weak dog because of his promise for the show ring.  In the eighties the export market, especially the American market, for titled dogs put a cash value on even mediocre or less titled dogs, creating another group with an interest in a watered down trial.  The rules were modified a number of times, decreasing courage test distances, making the scoring less demanding, introducing the padded stick and entirely eliminating the attack on the handler.  Thus both the letter of the law and the spirit of the law were incessantly weakened.

Today the division of the German lines into the traditional working stock and the fashionable show lines is so far advanced that no one could deny the need for a new name for this novel breed, these new dogs.  What could be more appropriate than the use of the name Martin Shepherds in recognition of those who did so much to bring this to pass? 

It would perhaps be intuitive to expect that this great transformation of the German Shepherd must be in response to new conditions, new public demands.  But in the years of the Martin shepherd emergence puppy registrations in Germany dropped in half, from 30,000 yearly to current numbers in the 15,000 range.   And the Belgian Malinois now routinely dominates the most prestigious Euro Schutzhund and IPO competitions, the German Shepherds increasingly retreating to their own back yards, the SV and world union championships, to maintain the illusion of dominance.

In the seventies and eighties Germans such as Gernot Riedel pioneered a second wave of American police canine service and  brought the Schutzhund trial to the attention of many of us, opening an exciting new world beyond dreary AKC obedience and tracking trials.  Virtually no one in America had even heard of a dog such as a Malinois or had any idea that other trial systems flourished in Europe.

But this was a difficult vision to bring to reality, and the failure of the original American attempt, NASA, made it abundantly clear that a European kick start was going to be necessary.  After the collapse of the original DVG transplant in the seventies, USCA came into existence as a new beginning, a brand new organization for all Americans to build the brave new world upon.  Indeed, the words "United" and " America " were highlighted and bandied about, while the words "German Shepherd" lurked in the fine print and the Martin Shepherd also had a beach head in America .

The cancer spread.  Just as the Martin boys and their ilk had hijacked the SV for their new Martin shepherd, disciples such as Johannes Grewe infiltrated USCA with the same agenda, the establishment of a show and promotional system to glorify and advance their Martin Shepherds and the concurrent erosion of the Schutzhund trial to maintain the illusion of working relevance.

Today the soul of the German Shepherd, the heritage of the founders, von Stephanitz and so many others through the years, hangs in the balance.  Proponents of the Martin Shepherd have a firm grip on the reins of SV power, and those with the courage to advocate the working heritage such as Helmut Raiser are systematically marginalized and vilified.

Those who love the German Shepherd must find the courage to act now least this noble breed pass into history, fall victim to this stealthy enemy within.

Jim Engel, Marengo    © Copyright