History of The Berger Blanc Suisse
The White Shepherd as we know it today can be considered a dog of international origin and development, with several countries having a marked influence upon the formulation of the breed. The history of this noble dog has been mired and to an extent fostered by the political environments from which it emerged from a white coated GSD to a White Shepherd. Being somewhat of a paradox, those very factors which had the greatest potential to extinguish the existence of the white coated German Shepherd Dog ended up providing the very avenue in which the White Shepherd breed was able to be developed and grow as a separate and unique breed of dog.
The White Shepherd is a herding dog which originated from the United States, Canada and England. Its heredity can be traced back to Germany as the White Shepherd emerged from the white coated lines of the German Shepherd Dog and is a direct descendant of that breed, sharing the same common ancestry of the early German sheepherding dogs. Switzerland was the first country to officially recognize the White Shepherd as a distinct breed, which is why it is credited as the country of origin and the name was changed to White Swiss Shepherd (BergerBlanc Suisse) in many countries to reflect this.
The Early Years
The first phase in the development of the White Shepherd began in Germany and in the establishment of the German Shepherd Dog breed. In the late 1800’s as the German Shepherd Dog breed was being formed, herding dogs from all over Germany were utilized to develop the breed. These included the long coated “Old German Type”herding dogs, from northern Germany, particularly in Hanover and Brunswick who were generally all white in color and having erect ears.
The Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde (Society for the German Shepherd Dog or SV) was formed as the German Shepherd Dog breed parent club. Grief, a white German sheepdog born around 1879 was the maternal grandfather of first dog registered in the German stud books of the SV , Horand von Grafrath, SZ1, along with his litter mate Luchs von Sparwasser, SZ155. Both Horand and Luchs were used extensively, line bred and inbred, producing many litters resulting in numerous offspring being registered with the SV. Their genetic code which included the recessive gene for the white coat was handed down through their progeny (along the Horand and Dewet lines) and from that time forward the color white has been a part of the genetics of the German Shepherd Dog.
Worldwide popularity quickly grew for the German Shepherd Dog and the dogs were imported into many different countries having been first introduced into to the United States in 1904, with the AKC registering the first German Shepherd Dog in 1908. The first reported AKC registration of white coated German Shepherd Dogs were from a litter whelped March 27, 1917 from the Stonihurst Kennels.
As the German Shepherd Dog flourished in the United States as well as the rest of Europe through the 1930’s, the SV continued to have much influence over the standard of the GSD worldwide. In 1933, the German SV, rejected the white coats as a "defective" breed trait and refused to register white coated dogs unless they were of the old fashioned German Type sheepherding Dogs. In the 1960 revision to the SV standard all white coated dogs were completely banned and refused registration. White puppies were typically culled from litters and dogs producing white coated puppies were considered undesirable for breeding. Many countries throughout the world which adhered to the strict SV standard also eliminated the white coated dog from their standard. The white coated dogs of GSD descent were almost eliminated in Germany and throughout Europe. There were, however, several kennel clubs in other countries, notably, those in the United States, Canada and England, who were not as closely bound to the SV standard and having their own standard for the GSD which still permitted the white coated GSD to be registered. It was primarily within those countries that the white coated GSD was able to flourish and the origination of the White Shepherd to emerge.
The Beginnings of the New Breed
In the United States, during the period of time from just prior to WWI when the German Shepherd Dog was first introduced through the end of WWII where the population of GSD’s had greatly expanded, the white coated German Shepherd Dog was accepted as a natural part of the breed. Many early lines of GSDs from Germany, imported into the United States, were carriers of the white coat. Well known kennels of that era, such as Stonihurst, Grafmar, Giralda Farms, and Longworth included white dogs in their breeding programs and produced white dogs. The white coated GSD was even desired in some areas and found a particular niche as a family dog. Even though some influential breeders of the period accepted and even admired white coat German Shepherds, some other breeders did not and a campaign was made against the white coated GSD in the United States. The German Shepherd Dog Club of America‘s standard was revised in 1968 to declare the white coat a disqualifying fault, however still permitting the white coated dogs to be registered as a GSD with American Kennel Club. This effectively banned the white coated dog from the conformation ring.
The period after WWII until the late 1960’s, while there was growing dissent of the white dog in the United States, they still maintained full breed privileges within the GSDCA and the AKC. Often these dogs were bred separately, breeding white to white, but there was not a unified preservation effort until the first “White German Shepherd” breed club was formed in 1964 with more clubs forming in the 1970’s both in the United States and Canada to promote and preserve the White German Shepherd Dog.
Through the efforts of the White German Shepherd clubs in the United States and Canada, the white coated German Shepherd Dog flourished outside of the traditional German Shepherd Dog Fancy. Although, technically they were under the auspices of the German Shepherd Dog breed, because they were still permitted to be registered as AKC or CKC GSD’s these dogs began to take on their own identity. Over the years, dogs attending White German Shepherd Dog club specialty shows have become more uniform in type, temperament, size, and health.
The White Shepherd Breed Emerges
Throughout the 1970’s and into the 1990’s, parallel efforts to preserve and promote the white coated dog took place. In Europe, where the white coated GSD was no longer acceptable and almost eliminated, the White Shepherd was re-introduced by the importation of what was referred to as the ”American-Canadian White Shepherd”. A dog benefiting from these early preservation efforts, AKC registered GSD, Lobo White Burch, whelped in 1967, was to be exported to Switzerland and later to be considered as the progenitor of the White Swiss Shepherd Breed in Switzerland. He along with other imported dogs mostly from the United States and Canada, but also England were used as the foundation dogs to establish the new breed there. The identity for the new breed and the ability to establish the dogs as their own breed was facilitated in Europe because these dogs were no longer permitted to be registered as German Shepherd Dogs there. Since 1991, the Berger Blanc Suisse or White Swiss Shepherd has been registered as a new breed in appendix of the Swiss Stud Book (LOS).
The White Swiss Shepherd was awarded provisional recognition as a breed by the Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI) on November 26, 2002 as the Berger Blanc Suisse. The provisional status was changed to official recognition on July 5th, 2011 and the Berger Blanc Suisse breed is eligible for CACIB as of July 6th, 2011. The White Swiss Shepherd / White Shepherd popularity as a recognized breed has been growing rapidly throughout Europe and has even returned back to Germany, from which its roots began, and is acknowledged by the SV as a separate breed and not a white German Shepherd Dog.
Conversely, in the United States and Canada, what started out as an effort to preserve the white coated German Shepherd Dog within the GSD breed evolved into the establishment of a separate and unique breed outside of the GSD breed. In 1995, some members of the original White German Shepherd Dog clubs formed the American White Shepherd Association (AWSA) to promote worldwide recognition and acceptance of the White Shepherd as a separate and distinct breed of working and herding dog. AWSA along with the White Shepherd Club of Canada (WSCC), originally established in 1971, have been diligently working to establish the White Shepherd as a distinct breed in the Americas. AWSA maintains a White Shepherd breed registry. Only white-coated AKC German Shepherds Dogs and Canadian Kennel Club white-coated German Shepherd Dogs, imported FCI White Swiss Shepherds, and the off-spring of AWSA registered parents are eligible for AWSA registration. AWSA licensed breed shows are hosted throughout the USA and champion points are tracked and AWSA Champion titles are recorded.
In the latter 1990’s, AWSA members petitioned the United Kennel Club, the second largest kennel club in the United States, for White Shepherd breed recognition. Subsequently, the United White Shepherd Club was formed and, on April 14, 1999, the UKC officially recognized the White Shepherd as a distinct breed of herding dog. Notably, to firm the desire to become a separate and distinct breed was not without sacrifice. Owners were able to transfer their dogs to the new breed, however, this commitment meant that their GSD Champion titles were invalidated and they had to earn them all over again under the White Shepherd breed standard. (And, it was worth it!) Since the birth of the UKC White Shepherd, the breed has flourished and was ranked 47 out of 300 breeds in 2009. UKC White Shepherd fanciers continue to enjoy the versatility of the breed and participate in a host of UKC venues including breed shows, obedience, agility, fly ball, dock diving, dog sports, and weight pull while their temperament lends them to make excellent family companions and their natural herding abilities enable them to compete at all levels with herding associations that officially recognize the UKC White Shepherd breed.
To date, AWSA continues to support and seek AKC breed recognition for the White Shepherd/White Swiss Shepherd.
Information found in this article was researched and written by Melanie Fuellgraf & Diana Updike.