In order to understand
how the DDR German Shepherd came into existence,
we have to go back to World War II and
understand a little of the history of Germany.
War II was coming to an end, the Allies occupied
The Allied Forces included the
United States, France, Great Britain and The
Soviet Union. The war, of course, ended in a victory for the
Allies and the
and the United States
subsequently emerged as the world's
By 1941, the Nazi Germany, under Hilter's
leadership had the upper hand, but the tide
turned in December 1941 with the bombing of
Pearl Harbor. It was then that the
United States joined the war and Russia turned
to the Allies for support. Because of the
invasion their country by Germany, the Soviets
joined the Allies, and by late 1944, the United
States and Great Britain were closing in on
the West, while the Soviets were
closing in from the East.
In May 1945, Nazi Germany
collapsed when Berlin was taken
by Soviet and Polish forces.
It is rumored that Hitler
committed suicide when it seemed
inevitable that the Allies would
By September 1945, the German
Reich (which lasted only 13
years) and its Axis partners
(Italy and Japan) had been
defeated. World War II
resulted in the destruction of
Germany's political and economic
infrastructure and led directly
to its division. In the
immediate post-war years the
German population lived on near
starvation levels, and the
Allied economic policy was one
of de-industrialization in order
to prevent any future German
war-making capabilities. The
U.S. policy began to change at
the end of 1946 and by mid 1947,
Truman started policies to help
stabilize the economy of
Despite being allies against the
Axis powers, the USSR and the United States
disagreed about the
configuration of the post-war
world while occupying most of
A large dispute arose over the boundaries. Because
of the different political
beliefs between these nations,
relationships were strained and
thus began the Cold War.
The Soviet Union decided to
close its borders and this
eventually led to the division
of Germany into East and West.
The three western occupation
zones (U.S., UK, and French
zone) would later form the
Federal Republic of Germany,
commonly known as West Germany.
And the Soviet zone became the
German Democratic Republic (or
commonly known as East Germany,
both founded in 1949. West
Germany was established as a
federal democratic republic
while East Germany became a
Communist State under the
influence of the Soviet Union.
set the stage for the
which lasted for the next 46
One of the greatest
impacts to the German Shepherd breed
was, in fact, the onset of the Cold War.
The Cold War resulted in 40 Years of Closed
The concept of the Iron
Curtain symbolized the ideological and physical
boundary dividing Europe
into two separate areas from the end of World War II
in 1945 until the end of the Cold War in 1991.
During this period, these countries were
virtually cut off from any outside contact.
The government made any and all decisions and
this happen to include strictly regulating
The government controlled
the German Shepherd pedigree registration and
breeding program because they saw the DDR German
Shepherd as a military canine. Extremely rigid
breeding guidelines were put into practice. Agree
with the standards or not, one cannot argue that it
did assure that for almost 40 years only the dogs who
met strict criteria were allowed to breed. These
standards included powerful, deep chested bodies
with straight long backs, intimidating presence and
supreme intelligence. Strict standards assured that
dogs showing signs of hip dysplasia were not used
for breeding. Any litter born was examined
completely for teeth, ear set, temperament,
coat, etc. They examined them as if they were
evaluating a piece of military equipment - Did
it meet military standards?
These standards included
specific working abilities for these dogs
- such as,
tracking, athleticism, toughness, climbing
abilities, hardiness, and the ability to
withstand extreme physical conditions and
demands. These strict regulations on the
breed resulted in the formation of the DDR
within the border of the Berlin Wall that
no outside influence and were held strictly to
before, these government standards included
tracking abilities, athleticism, toughness,
survival abilities, etc. Other breeding
criteria of DDR dogs stated that they could only be
bred if they were completely free of hip dysplasia. Unlike West
Germany, dogs that had “fast normal hips
or worse could not be bred. Dam’s had to appear with her whole litter
for an inspection of teeth, ear set, temperament, coat, total overall
appearance. The testing criteria of the East was also much more
rigid than that of the West Germans.
They were bred for strong bones to handle the
great distances they would be expected to
patrol. They were constantly exposed to the
harshest weather conditions to build stamina, a
genetic resistance to disease, and ability to
function in the worst of weather conditions.
The dogs had be
able to scale a straight wall (instead of an
incline wall), walk balance beams, search more
blinds, track longer and farther - the test
were stricter and more physically demanding.
best of the best would be able to reproduce.
criteria as well as the harshness of their
environment shaped the look of the East German
DDR Shepherd into one of pure intimidation.
They had large heads, broad shoulders,
deep chests and dark coats.
They were truly an fearsome looking Shepherd --
the DDR Shepherd
was a sight to behold.
The East German national breeding program, as
ruthless as it was at times, succeeded.
The DDR GSD ultimately exhibited a distinctive
look that became different from the traditional
GSD. Just as Nazi Germany had strived to create
a “Super Race” with their ideology, so had East
Germany strived to accomplish this with their
Border Patrol Dogs
In 1946, the Soviet
Union formed the Grenzschutz Polizei (later known as Grenztruppen) or Border Police. They were in
charge of guarding 1,378 kilometers of East German Border.
the early 1950s, West Germany was rapidly
becoming a postwar industrial powerhouse. The
Communist domain, however, languished
economically. It began to leak skilled workers.
main border between East and West Germany was
sealed. However, because of its four-power
status, Berlin remained open. East Germans
seeking a better life could still leave for
Berlin and, from there, fly to West Germany. Of
17 million East Germans, 2.2 million fled
westward between 1949 and 1961, most via the
Berlin "escape hatch." By mid-1961, this exodus
threatened the Communist state's very
existence. Hence, the Berlin Wall.
almost a hundred miles around West Berlin, the
Wall became the Cold War's most potent symbol.
It began 50 yards deep on the East Berlin side,
with a high wall greeting potential escapers.
Next came an alarmed fence, then dog-runs
patrolled by specially trained DDR GSDs. Towers
stood every hundred yards, manned by guards with
orders to shoot on sight. At the edge of West
Berlin stood a final "marker" barrier (the part
tourists wrongly assumed to be "the Berlin
Responsible now for
patrolling the Berlin Wall as well as the East
German border, the Border Police
accelerated its DDR GSD breeding program.
end of their first year of forming there were over 3,000 soldiers
comprising the unit.
The Grenztruppen and
their dogs watched over minefields, border fences; many people will
remember Check Point Charlie and the watch towers. Many dog runs or
fenced pens also were set up throughout the border --
200-250 dog runs or pens were in Berlin alone! Dog runs covered 97 kilometers of the
border deploying approximately 1,000 sentry dogs.
The area fluctuated
between 90- 120 kilometers.
The dog run comprised of dogs being leashed to a suspended
dogs in the runs or pens were fed only once in a 10 day
period to retain their ferociousness.
More than just a sentry dog, many of these
Shepherds served as
tracking dogs, and attack dogs.
dog pack to find
deserters of their “cause” in
searches such as
buildings, timber, woods, or
of the Berlin Wall
1989, Hungary removed their physical border
defenses with Austria. This began a chain
reaction that eventually led to the fall of the
Germany began it’s
initial stages of becoming a unified nation once
On June 13th,
1990 the East German military began dismantling
the Wall. Free passage between East and West
Germany had already been permitted for several
No longer needed
to help keep the East Germans inside the
many of the DDR
GSDs were sold, abandoned, or euthanized.
The Grenztruppen were
officially disbanded in 1990. Soon after, much of the rest of the
world began importing these dogs from East
Germany at a rapid rate. Much of the
German populace saw the dogs as a symbol of
their repression and others simply had no room
or financial ability to maintain the dogs.
They were disbanded with alarming speed.
Thankfully, there are
still a small handful
of DDR breeders left that realize the value of the years of strict East
German breeding. These breeders have
helped preserve the lineage of this incredible
dog and are working to maintain their standards
as well. It would be a shame to see
this incredible breed of the working German Shepherd disappear.
With careful breeding, we have the opportunity to preserve
the DDR GSDs with their natural defense drive, tracking
abilities, temperament and structure.
Renowned for their intelligence,
courage, and loyalty, the DDR German Shepherd
Dog is coveted all over the world as truly
the “Best of the Best.”
The DDR border patrol dogs no
longer exists, a
historical relic of a bygone time and place,
but their great courage, loyalty, working abilities, and
devotion to their owner or handler survive throughout their lineage.