History of the White Swiss Shepherd Dog
The white colouration in Shepherd dogs is a colour bequeathed from the white sheepherding dogs of the 1800’s that helped forming the German Shepherd breed as we know it today.
Information provided in early books on the German Shepherd Dog make mention of white herding dogs, with upright ears and a general body description that resembles the German Shepherd Dogs. Many of the early herdsmen preferred the white coat, as it was easier to distinguish the dogs from darker European wolves.
The most concerted effort to develop a pure strain of White Shepherd puppies prior to the 1900’s was in Alsace-Lorraine in Austria by the powerful Royal House of Hapsburg. It seems the Queen of Hapsburg, as the story goes, wanted White Shepherds to go with their white gowns and the magnificent Lipizzan horses.
On a dogshow in Hannover (Germany) in1882 was a White Shepherd named Greiff who was born in 1879. Greiff was seen on another show 5 years later accompanied by his two pure white daughters Greiffa and Russin.
Greiff was the grandfather of Horand von Grafrath, the dog acknowledged as the foundation of all contemporary German Shepherd Dog bloodlines.
Horand was bred over daughters and granddaughters to quickly establish the traits that were so admired. This also ensured the colour genes of his ancestors, including Greiffs recessive gene for white coats. It was stamped into the genetic code of the new German herding breed for generations to come.
In his famous book ‘The German Shepherd world in word and picture’ by Max von Stephanitz (first edition 1921) you can see a picture of Berno von der Seewiese, the first white German Shepherd registered in Germany, who was born in 1913. His conformation and looks is nearly identical to the shortcoated White Swiss Shepherds (often called White Shepherd) now a days. Berno is out of the 5th generation of Horand von Grafrath, de very first German Shepherd ever registered.
Ann Tracy, living in the USA, was a member of the ‘German Shepherd Dog Club of America’ and she bred German Shepherds out of imported German bloodlines. In 1917 a litter containing four white pups was born in her kennel, out of two coloured parents closely related to Horand von Grafrath. Horand’s litter brother Luchs was the grandfather of these puppies. The four white pups, Edmund, Eadrid, Eric and Elf were registered under the prefix “Stonihurst” and they became the first registered white German Shepherds in America. With these dogs Ann had started the White Shepherd bloodline in America.
Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge
In 1923 Geraldine Rockefeller imported a number of German Shepherd dogs into the USA from the German toplines. Lady Rockefeller lived on an estate of over 2000 acres in New Yersey where she kept more than 150 dogs.
In her kennel “Giralda Farm” she bred black and gold, solid black and solid white German Shepherds. The dogs and puppies out of Giralda Farm kennel were of top quality and have been very important roots to many of the Shepherds now a days, regardless of their colour.
In 1933 white coats became undesirable in the breed standard of the German Shepherd Dog Club of Germany. This happened when the breed club came under the control of the German Nazi party that took over all aspects of German society in February 1933 after Hitler declared a state of emergency.
In 1959 the German ‘Verein fur Deutsche Schaferhunden’advised that white German Shepherds were albino’s and the white dogs were blamed for coat fading, blindness, deafness and skin diseases in the breed. In 1968 the breedstandard was changed: dogs with more than 50% white were disqualified from showing, breeding and dogsports. White puppies of registered parents were still allowed to be registered, with the remark “disqualified colour white”.
In Europe most white pups out of German Shepherd registered litters were eliminated after birth and the White Shepherd population disappeared within a few years.
In the late sixties and early seventies there were several breedclubs formed in America and Canada to protect the White Shepherd and to continue the breeding, showing and dogsports within those clubs. This has been very important and has probably saved the whites from being wiped out. It has also been the main source to keep track of the bloodlines used for breeding.
Strangly enough there was no repercussion at all to use White Shepherds in the movie industry. The dogs were very popular for their train-ability and innocent looks, being all white. The most famous movie star, dog trainer and breeder is Dorothy Crider. She owned and bred White Shepherds. Her dog Harvey Bindlestiff Offner, aka Chinook, starred in more than 184 movies. His son White Shadow Crider, acted in 168 movies and won an award for best acting dog. Dorothy herself received the ‘Musart Best Actrice Award’. In an interview Dorothy gives her opinion about the discrimination of the White Shepherds: “Since 27 years I own, breed and train the white and dark coloured German Shepherds. The difference is in the individual dog and not in the colour of the coat. Something I will never allow is cruelty towards animals, in my opinion the eradication of the white German Shepherds just because of the colour of his coat is a crime. My ‘White Shadow’ line you can see in a lot of movies and my dogs received ‘Pastry Awards’ as proof of their huge intelligence. This bloodline leads to the line of the Austrian ‘Von Habsburg’ from the 19e century.If the white German Shepherd really is inferior, would they not have already degenerated, after all these years?”
Thanks to the movie industry the White Shepherds gained popularity again and were bred widely in the USA and Canada, still being registered as ‘German Shepherd with the disqualifying colour white’.
The foundation of the modern White Swiss Shepherd Dogs
In the mean time in Europe the white German Shepherd had already disappeared for years, white pups were eliminated when they were born. Very rarely a White Shepherd is mentioned or survives the ‘culling after birth’ practise in a pet home.
In 1967 things start to change with the arrival of ‘Lobo White Burch’ in Switzerland. Lobo is born in the USA and his owner, Miss Agatha Burch, who has lived for years in the USA, returns back to Switzerland and brings back Lobo with her. Once back in Switserland, Agatha imports a White Shepherd bitch from the UK, named White Lilac of Blinkbonny and starts breeding the two. It is these two dogs and a few other imports from Canada that will become the foundation of the modern White Swiss Shepherd Dogs.
In 1991 the Swiss Kennelclub starts registering the White Swiss Shepherd dogs as a separate breed in a special provisional register. Allowing them to breed, go to breedshows and attend dogsports. Followed in 1993 by the Dutch Kennelclub. This is the first step on the way for recognition by the Federation Cynologique Internationale (FCI)
In 2002 the FCI provides provisional recognition and judges are being trained. On 4th of July 2011 the White Swiss Shepherd Dog is fully recognized by the FCI as a separate breed.
The reasons for the FCI to recognize the White Swiss Shepherd Dogs as a separate breed are many.
First and foremost because the German Shepherd breedclubs will not lift ‘white as an undesirable colour’ in German Shepherds. Through DNA we know now that the recessive white gene is a masking gene which is responsible for the coat colour in breeds like Samoyed and Labrador. It naturally produces different shades ranging from gold to pure white. The white masking gene only affects the coat colour, not the skin underneath or the eye colour (with albinism the skin and eye colour are affected). It is also unrelated to the Merle gene or Piebald gene, the two genes responsible for congenital deafness in dog breeds.
The second important reason is, the development of the German Shepherds over the years has not been the same as the White Swiss Shepherd, which reflect in a different breed standard with the most important difference being the backline which is straight or just slightly sloped with White Swiss Shepherds. Also the coat is more often than not long stockcoated.