Types of German Shepherds: A Dog Varieties Guide

Updated on June 23, 2018
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Sam Shephard is an experienced German Shepherd owner and has learned throughout the years how to optimize the breed's health and wellness.

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Many different types of German Shepherds

You have probably noticed, in your research about this breed, that there are many different types of German shepherd dogs. Unlike some breeds that seem to have a very homogeneous body style, coloration, and personality amongst their pure bred set, pure bred German shepherds come in many different sizes, colors, coloration patterns, and body styles.

German shepherd show and working lines

While these are all considered German shepherds, each is its own “line.” These lines usually indicate the heritage of the dog, and the differences between the types of German shepherds usually stems from how these dogs were bred and for what purpose these dogs were bred. While there are technically seven different lines, there are only two general lines: show lines and working lines.

Show lines, from America, Canada, and West Germany (just Germany now), were bred for body type, color, and coloration pattern over healthy and personality, while working lines are more typically bred for personality and health, instead of to achieve a specific “look.”

Here are the most recognizable types of German shepherd dogs and their defining features and characteristics:

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American and Canadian Show Lines

These are dogs who have diverged largely from their German origin, having been bred just with other American dogs for at least the last fifty years. This isn’t a requirement to be considered an American or Canadian show line German shepherd, breeders have preferred to breed from North American stock, rather than importing dogs from overseas, to retain a consistent body style, coloration pattern, and coloring.

The AKC and the CKC both have fairly strict regulations when it comes to what they want their dogs to look like—not act like, but look like. They want “extreme rear angulation,” and what’s known as the “flying trot” gait. They also want the tan legs with a black saddle coloration. The dogs should be short haired, and while some breeders do try to maintain strong personality traits, many breeders forgo protecting the typical German shepherd temperament, in favor of looks and gait.

West German Show Lines

Like American and Canadian show lines, these dogs are bred to have a specific appearance and gate. They are, however, often required to prove that they are just as skilled at “working” as they are at being shown. While there are many dogs that just barely pass the agility and obedience trials, there is usually a better attempt at breeding dogs that are both loyal, obedient, and intelligent, as well as dogs that just have the right look.

These dogs have very similar body styles to the American and Canadian German shepherd types, but it is preferable that this dog be red with a black saddle, rather than tan.

West German Working Lines

These dogs are considered to be true to the dogs bred when Max von Stephanitz, the founder of the German shepherd breed, was alive. Von Stephanitz believed deeply that the best dogs would have the right personality and temperament first, and the right looks second. This means that his dogs (and this line, by extension), are bred for their ability to work, learn, and listen, rather than for a specific coloring or color pattern.

These dogs are considered very high quality, with a drive to work and a desire to please their owners, which makes them unparalleled working animals and family pets. They usually have a uniform black body, with brown legs, though specific colors and patterns can vary wildly from dog to dog.

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East German Working Lines

This line has its origin in the 1940s and 1950s, when East Germany was separated from West Germany. These dogs were bred not for their appearance, but rather for their workability. In East Germany, breeding of these dogs was heavily regulated, to ensure that large, strong dogs were the result. The focus on ensuring clean genetics and an obedient, loyal temperament created a very “pure” lines of dogs.

The East German working lines are usually darkly colored—black or sable mottled with brown—and have more wolfish features that dogs bred for show. They also have longer back legs and a more stereotypical “dog” gait, instead of the flying trot so typical of show dogs. This is one of the German shepherd breed types that individuals looking for a sturdy working dog will usually turn t, though they can also make great family pets with the right training. Because they are bred for their working drive, however, it is usually best to make sure they have plenty of activities or they will become bored and potentially destructive.

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Czech Working Lines

Czech German shepherds are definitely the most wolfish among their cousins. With coloration and body style that varies drastically from the show lines of American, Canada, and Germany, these dogs were bred specifically to patrol the Czech border before the Iron Curtain fell. One single kennel in Czechoslovakia was responsible for creating these dogs, that focused specifically on agility, working drive, and a trainable temperament. While these dogs are less common than the other German shepherd types, they still make excellent family pets and are an excellent choice for police departments, search and rescue teams, and other working dog occupations.

Which Line Should I Choose?

Which line you choose really depends on what your German shepherd is going to be doing. Adopting a champion or the child of a champion from a show line simply to have the title may not be the best option if the dog does not have the proper temperament for a family setting. Some of these dogs have issues with anxiety or fear, which are a sign of weak genetics in the dog breeding world. However, if you are trying to find a dog to show, a German shepherd from the American, Canadian, or West German show lines from a reputable breeder is a great option.

On the other hand, if you want a German shepherd as a family pet or to train in some sort of job, an animal from the working lines may be a better option, since these dogs are bred specifically for their trainability, loyalty, obedience, and intelligence, which are all important when it comes to having a German shepherd as a pet or to do a specific job.

It is, of course, possible to get a German shepherd from a show line that is just as intelligent, trainable, and healthy as from a working line, if you source your dog from the right breeder—one that cares about a dog’s health, rather than just getting the right look. A well-bred German shepherd, of any type, will be caring, loving, protective, and intelligent—those are the characteristics to look for, as well as looking for a certain coloration, pattern, or body style.

More on the German Shepherd breed

Questions & Answers

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      • profile image

        Bruce Sikorski 

        3 months ago

        I think imports are the best That way you can trace the bloodlines to avoid inbreeding

      • Sam Shepards profile imageAUTHOR

        Sam Shepards 

        8 months ago from Europe

        Thank you very much. I guess there is still room to improve. The types of German Shepherd could use some clearer definitions and characteristics. The types are mostly generalizations. Not all working dogs are more intelligent than show dogs and visa versa and this goes for most of the features and lines. It's genetics and environment, so there is always some "luck" involved.

      • sgbrown profile image

        Sheila Brown 

        2 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

        I found your article very interesting. I did not know there were so many different "lines" of German shepherds. You covered this topic very well! :)

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