Sam Shephard is an experienced German Shepherd owner and has learned throughout the years how to optimize the breed's health and wellness.
Breed Divergence in German Shepherd Dogs
The German Shepherd is one of the most popular dog breeds in the world. They have been bred since the 19th century and have had a significant impact on the development of domestic dogs worldwide.
German Shepherds (sometimes referred to as Alsatians during and immediately after WWII), as the name implies, were initially bred to be work dogs. Farmers in Germany needed extra hands (paws) to help manage their animals, and they quickly realized that the dogs were fantastic at doing this. It’s part of their natural duty. As a result, German Shepherds were bred to be strong, smart, loyal, and intelligent.
As time went on, the breed began to spread. People began to notice how stunningly attractive these dogs were, in addition to the fantastic amount of strength they carried and their impressive loyalty and intelligence. People wanted to start breeding them to expand upon the more appealing traits for those who enjoy keeping domestic animals.
Over the next century and a half, the breed diverged. As they spread out of Germany, across Europe, and into other countries, breeders were not always able to exclusively mate German Shepherds with other German Shepherds. This led to the creation of lots of other new dog breeds.
Nowadays, you can find German Shepherds that are bred to be pets, those that are bred to be working dogs, and even those that are meant to be a hybrid of both. For example, some people keep pets that also protect them as guard dogs or help them as service animals.
These are some of the most popular variations of the German Shepherd breed that are available today.
1. American German Shepherd Show Line
American show-line German Shepherds, also commonly known as AKC lines, are dogs that were bred in America to compete in dog shows. Americans were some of the biggest fans of the initial breed, and its use was popularized in the States because of a Shepherd that won a dog competition sometime in the early 20th century. Seeing this new, striking dog breed win the show inspired a lot of people to start breeding their own Shepherds for both domestic and competitive use.
These dogs are best recognized for their physical appearance because that’s what they are bred for. They are often considered to be more strikingly attractive than other variations of their kind.
Show dogs are commonly evaluated for their colors, the way they move, the way they’re built, the angles on their bodies, their size, and the degree to which they resemble the ideal archetype of their own breed. The American show line is bred to have sleek fur, be strong and muscular, and have proportional body shapes.
In comparison to other variations, American show-line dogs are typically a bit taller and lengthier than their European counterparts. They come in quite a few colors, including black, tan, sable, and solid white. Some are bi-colored, but many are solid. Their pigmentation is typically less dense than that of European show dogs.
Traits and Behavior
These show dogs, despite being bred to be very agile and perform well in shows, are known for being more relaxed than either German or European show dogs. They don’t have as much energy or drive as working dogs and are not suited for jobs.
Instead, they make fantastic pets. They’re smart enough to learn quickly, they can track small animals, they’re loyal, they are agile and good for herding, and they’re always happy to play with or please their owners.
2. West German Show Lines
West German show-line dogs are known for being more handsome than other varieties. Their bodies and faces are more sculpted, and there is a lot of care taken to breed strong, proportional dogs. They aren’t just bred to be attractive, though they do conform to all of the standards that the breed has.
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The rules for the standards of this breed are set by the Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde e. V. Known also as the Club for German Shepherd Dogs Inc.; this is the first group that began breeding German Shepherds, coined the name, and first created their breed registry.
They strictly govern the reproduction of pure German show-line Shepherds. If you want your dog to be able to reproduce among the registry, your dog will need to have a working title like protection dog or seeing-eye dog, as well as certain measurement minimums for their hips and elbows before it’s allowed to contribute to the gene pool.
These dogs have a very strong, pronounced build, though they aren’t as beefy as the German working lines. They are bred according to the conformity standards of the Club for German Shepherd Dogs Inc., so members of this family will live up to a certain standard of beauty that the owners of Shepherds have come to expect.
Traits and Behavior
Dogs in the West German show line, despite their striking beauty, are not as lazy as their American counterparts and are capable of doing some work-like tasks. They make good house protectors and prefer to get a lot of exercise and to be trained frequently. These dogs are ideal for families because they’re very social. They are friendly with kids and are very happy.
3. West German Working Line Dogs
These dogs are often what people think of when they hear about police dogs or serious working dogs, as they’re often used in movies depicting dogs of a similar nature. They are closest to the original breed that was bred and developed by Max von Stephanitz, who is acknowledged as the first breeder of Shepherds. He set the standards for the Club for German Shepherd Dogs Inc. and was the president of it for quite a while.
These dogs are fantastic workers. They are bred to be highly capable and to be able to handle stressful situations for extended periods of time. They must be extremely intelligent so they can handle the immense learning processes that are involved in the lines of work that dogs are used for, especially for police and detective work where people's lives might be at stake.
The guidelines in place for West German Shepherds are not as strict in terms of health, so these dogs might be a bit more prone to developing health problems.
These dogs are certainly bred for their ability to do work, but that doesn’t mean that the clubs that regulate breeds don’t have high beauty standards, as well. West Germans are quite well-known for their striking physical appearance.
Their coats are bred to be pure, perfect colors. Their backs are made to have a more significant slope than other breeds.
Traits and Behavior
When they are not in the line of duty, West German Shepherds are actually quite calm. They are bred to have a calm temperament and to be able to respond well to different types of situations.
These are highly motivated dogs with tons of energy. They can last a long time in the field, exerting lots of strength and power for hours on end. Their loyalty and appreciation for their owners ensure that they’re happy to be working in the field.
4. DDR or East German Working Line Shepherds
These dogs emerged as a result of World War II, which led to the Berlin Wall separating East and West into two separate areas in Germany. Trade ceased, and the DDR/East German Shepherd working lines genes were preserved as a result of not being able to dilute their genes with other kinds of dogs.
The government seized control of this line of dogs, stopping any outside influence from changing the gene pool. For that reason, they have incredibly high standards. They must be entirely free of hip dysplasia to be able to reproduce, and many health conditions or physical imperfections will bar a dog from being able to contribute to the gene pool. Puppies are all inspected and tested to ensure their coats, bones, health, and attitude comply with the standards.
These dogs are bred to have strong bones, which is displayed by their big heads and the strong, wide shoulders that they sport. Due to the incredibly high standards for physical appearance, these dogs all have beautiful, shiny coats and well-made bodies.
Traits and Behavior
These breeds are incredibly strong and powerful. Their physical testing requires them to be able to scale vertical walls up to 1.8 meters, balance on a thin beam, complete tracking tests and search through blinds.
They are still bred to have a pleasant temperament when not in the line of duty. They can also endure very bad weather for extended periods of time due to their breeding history, and were initially made to secure the borders of East and West Germany, working as trackers or guards in between.
5. Czech Shepherd German Working Lines
These dogs were a result of the communist reign in Czechoslovakia, where they were made to patrol the borders. They are reputed for their unparalleled ability to work. They can handle incredibly long working hours in abject conditions while managing to stay perky and motivated. They can execute tasks well due to their incredible agility and commendable strength, creating an attitude of far more intensity than most other breeds of German Shepherd.
These dogs were a result of the East German Shepherd, who was already subjected to a rigorous breeding regulation. The Czech further tightened the breeding regulations, leading to arguably the most powerful, well-rounded breed of German Shepherd available.
These dogs aren’t always renowned for their physical appearance since they’re bred mostly for their characteristics to be used in lines of work. They tend to have dark coats that are sleek and shiny. Their stances and bodies can be observed as strong, rigid, and well-proportioned.
Traits and Behavior
The Czech "German" Shepherds are first and foremost bred to fit a specific type of niche. Since they were made to patrol borders, they must be agile, strong, fast, and able to endure difficult work situations for extended periods of time.
Due to the inherent need to train these dogs, they were also bred to be extremely loyal and obedient. This has led them to be very intelligent and capable of learning quickly and understanding fairly complex concepts compared to other breeds of dogs.
They are very intense in terms of personality. They aren’t known for being laid-back, though they can have a pleasant temperament when raised properly. They excel at protecting people and do well as guard dogs.
6. Mixed Lines
Mixed German Shepherds are all over the place, but this type of dog isn’t regulated by any of the official clubs and can’t be a part of their registries. Mixed lines aren’t accepted by breeders because dog clubs prefer to inbreed their dogs so they can preserve their lineage.
German Shepherds can breed with pretty much any other dog, so there are tons of crossbreeds that you can find at local pet stores. German Shepherds are generally understood to be calm of temperament, strong, and loyal, regardless of what they are bred with. However, after several generations of cross-breeding, a dog can’t really be exclusively called a Shepherd or even a crossed Shepherd.
Mixed Shepherds can have appearances from all over the charts, depending on what they are bred with. There are no standards that can be specified for a mixed breed, so breeders can do whatever they want.
Traits and Behavior
The loyalty and strength of the German Shepherd breed won’t be easily outdone with a few generations of casual crossbreeding. However, mixed breeds can adopt traits from other dogs that become a part of their genetic lineage. This can lead to very interesting combinations of personalities with dogs that manage to retain the loyalty and strength of the German Shepherd.
Once a Shepherd, Always a Shepherd
The German Shepherd breed types have been popular ever since their original namesake was coined a century and a half ago. Thanks to rigorous breeding procedures, the breed continues to share many of the same traits that they first did years ago.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2018 Sam Shepards
greenvilli on March 15, 2018:
i like that