The American Alsatian is a recently developed breed of dog from California. Developed by Lois Denny (now Schwarz) in the late 1980’s, the American Alsatian was bred to be a calm, even-tempered, large companion dog that resembled the now-extinct Dire Wolf. The American Alsatian is known for its calm nature, lack of working drive, and impressive appearance. As of this writing, American Alsatian breeders have decided to keep their breed under the control of their own club and registry, and have not shown any interest in having their breed registered with any multiple breed registries. As a newly developed breed, the American Alsatian remains quite rare. Throughout its development, the American Alsatian was also known as the North American Shepalute and the Alsatian Shepalute.
The History of the American Alsatian is almost entirely due to the work of Lois Denny. As a child in 1969, after being followed home by a German Shepherd mix, she fell in love with the breed. By the age of 9, she was breeding a variety of animals including guinea pigs, pigeons, mice, and rats. However, it was always her dream to develop a new breed of dog. As a result she became a dog trainer, handler, groomer, and breeder, gaining experience with hundreds of dog breeds and mixes in the process. By the age of 30, she had created a standard for the breed of dog she wished to develop, putting the primary focus on intelligence, temperament, and appearance. An experienced trainer and handler, she obviously wanted her dog to exhibit a very high degree of intelligence and trainability. Her experience as a trainer also taught her that there were a large number of people who wanted to own a very large dog athletic breed, but were put off by the tendency of large dogs to have strong working drives and too high of an activity level. She decided that it was very important for her dog to have an ideal temperament for a companion dog, affectionate and loving, but with low exercise requirements and a minimal working drive. Her love of German Shepherds had inspired a love of wolf-like dogs in general. She wanted her breed to resemble the dire wolf, an extinct wolf species native to North and South America.
The dire wolf, also known by its scientific name Canis dirus, was closely related to the gray wolf and domestic dog, but was neither their direct ancestor nor descendant instead being more akin to a cousin. Dire wolves were both considerably larger and significantly slower than surviving wolves, and probably specialized in hunting the massive prey species that once lived in the Americas. Since the Dire Wolf is now extinct, it is impossible to know exactly what they looked like, though there are two primary theories. Some believe that the Dire Wolf developed in South America and most closely resembled the wild canine species from that continent such as the maned wolf and crab-eating fox. Others believe it evolved in North America and was more similar in appearance to the red wolf, coyote, and gray wolf. The Dire Wolf is most famous due to it being among the most commonly discovered fossils from the La Brea Tarpits. The La Brea Tarpits, located very close to downtown Los Angeles, trapped prehistoric creatures such as mammoths that became stuck and later fossilized. Predators, including the dire wolf, came to kill or scavenge the trapped beasts only to become stuck as well. So many dire wolf skeletons have been uncovered at La Brea that it is now among the best understood of all extinct animals. The creature is also very well known in Southern California, where Lois Denny resides, a fact that almost certainly influenced her breeding decision.
After a great deal of thought, Lois Denny decided that intelligence, temperament, and health were to be the most important aspects of her dog and that they would to be bred for first and foremost. Appearance and conformation could be settled on after her breed exhibited the other desired characteristics. Although she wanted to develop a very wolf-like dog, she decided that no wolves or wolf-hybrids were to be used in her breeding program because of their unstable and aggressive temperaments. She also decided that she would not use any breed that had recently been infused with wolf blood, such as the Czech Wolfdog or Saarloos Wolfhond. Denny decided to focus her efforts on two of the most wolf-like of all dog breeds without recent wolf decent, the German Shepherd Dog and the Alaskan Malamute. By the end of 1987, plans for the Dire Wolf Project had been developed. Lois Denny carefully selected a small number of dogs to begin work on her project. Several American Kennel Club (AKC) registered German Shepherds from show lines were chosen, along with a few working-line German Shepherds from Canada, Germany, and the Netherlands and two purebred Alaskan Malamutes. Denny’s first litter was born on February 4, 1988 in Oxnard, California to Buddy the Alaskan Malamute and Swanny the German Shepherd Dog. Lois called the resulting dogs North American Shepalutes.
Lois Denny, who eventually married and changed her name to Lois Schwarz, bred from her Malamute/Shepherd mix lines for ten years. Although improvements had been made, Schwarz felt that her dogs were still were too similar in appearance to the German Shepherd Dog. She took a few carefully selected dogs with the best temperaments and crossed them with a fawn English Mastiff named Brite Stars Willow. Willow introduced the large bone structure and massive head of the English Mastiff to the North American Shepalute. For several subsequent generations, Schwarz only selected those dogs with the boldest and most stable temperaments along with those that barked the least for several generations, completely disregarding appearance in her judgments. By 2002, lines had been set and the most desired features were breeding true. In 2004, it was decided that it was in the breed’s best interest to change the name from Shepalute because it was believed that the name implied a cross rather than a purebred. The name Alsatian Shepalute was chosen as a temporary solution. In 2006, two new dogs entered breeding lines. One was a Great Pyrenees/Anatolian Shepherd Dog cross from pure lines, and the other was an unrelated German Shepherd Dog/Alaskan Malamute cross. These dogs were chosen for size and temperament. In 2010, the dog’s name was formally changed to American Alsatian because Alsatian (another name for the German Shepherd popularized during World War II) implies a wolf-like dog and American separates it from the use of Alsatian in other English-speaking countries. The American Alsatian is currently five generations removed from the latest outcross and the breed is now breeding true for temperament, intelligence, and appearance. In recent years, an Irish Wolfhound has also entered a few American Alsatian lines as well.
The passion and dedication of Lois Schwarz, along with the high quality of the dogs that she has produced has attracted a number of other fanciers and breeders to the American Alsatian. These newer admirers have continued to work towards Schwarz’s goals and have greatly helped her in her efforts. At the very beginning of the American Alsatian’s history in 1987, the National American Alsatian Breeders’ Association (NAABA) was founded (although it had a different name). Eventually, the National American Alsatian Club (NAAC) was also founded to promote and protect the breed. Currently, the NAABA is in charge of the Dire Wolf Project.
Health, temperament, and intelligence have always been considered of the utmost importance to the American Alsatian breed. As a result, breeding for close resemblance to the dire wolf has taken the back burner, even though that is the eventual goal of the NAABA and NAAC. As the temperament, intelligence, and health of the American Alsatian are beginning to stabilize, it is hoped that efforts to standardize the breed’s physical appearance will begin soon as well. Additional outcrosses will likely be made as well as the selection of breeding dogs based partially on appearance. However, the NAABA and NAAC are determined that appearance will never take precedence over other breed attributes and any physical changes made to the breed will not compromise temperament, health, and intelligence. As there are two major theories about what the Dire Wolf looked like, there has been some debate within the Dire Wolf Project as to whether the breed should resemble North American or South American canids, or even two varieties that resemble both. It appears that the project will focus on the North American canids such as the Grey Wolf for the time being, as most of the world, especially the United States, is more familiar with those animals.
There has been some criticism of the development of the American Alsatian. The scientific community claims that the Dire Wolf is totally extinct and it is therefore impossible to revive it. In fact, the Dire Wolf Project has never claimed to be reviving the Dire Wolf as a species, only developing a domestic dog that resembles it. Some people feel that there are already enough dog breeds and that it is unnecessary to develop any others. American Alsatian breeders counter that there were not any large dog breeds developed solely for companionship. Others have claimed that it is not beneficial to breed any additional large dogs since so many end up in shelters. American Alsatian breeders respond to this criticism by saying that the entire purpose of the development of the breed is to create a large breed that doesn’t exhibit the working behaviors that are responsible for so many other large breeds arriving in shelters. There are also those who oppose any purposeful breeding of dogs and even the keeping of dogs as pets altogether.
American Alsatian breeders are currently working to increase breed numbers in a slow and responsible way that allows for overall quality and conformation to be maintained. Breed numbers are increasingly slowly but surely, as is the number of fanciers. The American Alsatian is not currently recognized with any multiple breed registries, and the NAAC and NAABA have shown almost no interest in doing so. The American Alsatian was developed exclusively as a companion animal and that is where the breed’s foreseeable future resides. As this breed remains quite rare, its ultimate future has not been decided.
The defining features of the American Alsatian’s appearance are that this breed is quite large and wolf-like. The American Alsatian is a very large dog. Males typically stand between 26 and 30 inches tall at the shoulder and weigh between 90 and 120 pounds. Females typically stand between 25 and 28 inches tall at the shoulder and weigh between 85 and 110 pounds. Although generally well-proportioned, American Alsatians are usually longer from chest to rump than they are tall from floor to shoulder. This is a very powerfully built breed with very thick bones. However, this breed should not appear overly bulky or stocky, rather looking muscular and tough. In particular, this breed has very large feet. Other than bulk, the American Alsatian’s features tend to be very wolf-like and unexaggerated. The tail of this breed is especially wolf-like, long and usually carried low when the dog is at rest. American Alsatian breeders have put a very great emphasis on health and soundness. As a result, any body feature that suggests poor health or unsoundness is greatly discouraged and eliminated from breeding lines.
The head and face of the American Alsatian are virtually identical to those of the wolf, albeit somewhat larger and wider. Connected to the body via a very large and muscular neck, the American Alsatian’s head is slightly longer than its muzzle. The head is slightly rounded, never domed, and flattens as it approaches the eyes. The muzzle is large, around 4 – 7 inches in length and 11 to 13 in circumference. The muzzle has tight fitting, black lips and ends in a large, black nose. Inside the muzzle are large teeth that meet in a scissors bite. The ears of the American Alsatian are triangular in shape, rounded at the tips, and moderate in size. Very expressive, these ears stand straight erect and are set widely apart. The eyes of this breed are almondAmong experts, the use of Almonds, or Almond derived products in pet food appears to have been met with mixed reviews. While some feel that there is no issue and that the ....-shaped, small to medium in size, and set obliquely. Lighter colored eyes ranging from yellow to light brown are greatly preferred. These eyes give the breed a very intense, wolf-like stare which is one of its defining features.
In general, the coat of the American Alsatian is very similar to that of the wolf, but is usually longer and somewhat woollier in appearance. The American Alsatian a double-coated breed, meaning that it possesses an outer coat and an undercoat. The undercoat is soft, short, dense, and very thick. The outer coat is medium in length and moderately coarse. The hair is especially long on the tail where it looks almost fluffy and on the sides of the face where it forms a distinctive ruff on many dogs. The coat is significantly thicker during the winter months than the summer. The face, head, inner ears, legs, and paws have considerably shorter hair than the rest of the body, even in winter. The American Alsatian comes in a variety of colors and patterns, but some are greatly preferred to others. Silver sable is the most preferred color, but gold sable, tri-sable showing both gold and sable, black silver sable, an cream are also found and acceptable. Many of these dogs have a black, saddle-shaped marking on their backs similar to a German Shepherd Dog. The ears and tails of American Alsatians are ideally outlined in black, but this is not always the case. Muzzles are either black or cream, but usually lighten with age.
Temperament has always been regarded as the most important aspect of the American Alsatian. This breed has been developed exclusively as a companion dog, and has the temperament one would expect of such an animal. The American Alsatian is an incredibly people-oriented breed, and this dog wants to be in the constant presence of its family. Although generally laid back, sometimes an American Alsatian will suffer from separation anxiety. This dog can definitely be a snuggler, and many come to believe that they are lap dogs. This breed also tends to form very close attachments to those it loves, and often demonstrates intense loyalty. American Alsatians were bred to be family companion animals, and this breed generally gets along very well with children once it has been properly socialized with them. Most of these dogs are very gentle with children, although not all are especially playful.
American Alsatians should never exhibit either aggression or timidity towards strangers. This breed was bred to be very confident and bold but also friendly and calm. With socialization, most breed members are inquisitive and tolerant of strangers, but many are reserved and somewhat aloof. Although aggression issues have not yet been seen in this breed, shyness issues have been observed in at least one line, a problem that is currently being resolved. Most fanciers claim that American Alsatians make poor watch dogs. This breed makes an even worse guard dog as they are much more likely to cautiously welcome an intruder than show one aggression, although their size and intimidating appearance would probably discourage many potential wrong-doers.
Intelligence and trainability were always very prominent in the development of the American Alsatian, and the breed still retains these characteristics. This dog is capable of learning a great deal and learning quickly. This breed is highly sensitive to changes in voice and commands, and generally responds very quickly to light correction. Some American Alsatians may not be the easiest dogs to train due to their general lack of drive, although this would likely only be a problem for someone looking for a working dog or top participant in dog sports, which the American Alsatian is not.
The American Alsatian was developed to be a low energy dog with very low working drive. As a result, this breed requires less activity than many similarly-sized breeds. As is the case with any breed, regular exercise is a necessity for American Alsatians in order to prevent behavioral problems such as destructiveness, over excitability, and timidity. However, meeting this breed’s needs will probably not be difficult for the average, committed family. In general, this breed is very relaxed indoors, and usually makes a calm house pet. Slightly higher activity levels and a somewhat stronger work drive are still occasionally seen in at least one line of American Alsatians, but breeders are working to eliminate this trait. Because this breed is so low energy, many breed members do not like to jump and many are not especially playful. While this breed is physically capable and would love to go on long walks, those looking for a dog to accompany them on extreme adventures are probably much better suited to a different dog.
The American Alsatian possesses several other unique personality traits. The elimination of barking was one of the primary goals in the development of this breed. American Alsatians are very quiet dogs, who very rarely make noises as a result. In particular, this breed rarely whines. This breed is so devoted to its owners that it rarely wants to leave their sides or their homes. These characteristics are so deeply ingrained that the American Alsatian rarely wanders away from its home, preferring to stay on its own property.
American Alsatians require a regular and thorough grooming. Although this breed usually does not require professional grooming, owners who live in hot climates may wish to have their dogs shaved in the summer to keep them cool. The coat of this breed usually repels dirt, leaves, and other detritus, and this dog is said to rarely have an odor. American Alsatians do shed, and some of them shed very, very heavily. This is a breed that can cover furniture, clothing, and carpets with hair, and relatively long hair at that. Shedding is much heavier when the seasons change and the dog is replacing its coat. During such times an American Alsatian can virtually leave a trail of hair wherever it goes.
Health is a critical aspect of the American Alsatian’s development and is central to the efforts of all American Alsatian breeders. It is the goal of the NAABA and the NAAC for the American Alsatian to have the life expectancy of a captive grey wolf, roughly 15 to 20 years. Currently, the breed’s life expectancy remains at between 12 and 14 years although this is considerably longer than most breeds of this size. Although no formal health surveys have been conducted for this breed, since its creation breeders have been keeping a very close track of every health problem diagnosed in breed members. Any dog with a major health problem (and usually even those with minor problems) is excluded from breeding, and several entire lines have been eliminated as a precaution. Although American Alsatian breeders are aware that it is impossible to completely eliminate genetic illness, they are doing their very best to do so.
Although still quite rare, epilepsy and/or seizures have been diagnosed in approximately .5% of American Alsatians. At least 12 total cases have been observed in the breed or its foundation dogs. Some of these cases were diagnosed as epilepsy while others were the result of trauma, infection, or an unknown cause. Seizures in dogs are very similar to those in people, and can be wildly unpredictable. Seizures can range from very mild to very severe and last from seconds to hours. Seizures can be very dangerous to both the dog and those around it because it can unintentionally severely injure itself or others. Several of the dogs which experienced seizures only had one or a few episodes and some have needed no further treatment. Those dogs that were diagnosed with epilepsy require life-long care and treatment.
A full list of health problems which have been identified in American Alsatians, even if they have only been seen in one dog includes: