Sam Shephard is an experienced German Shepherd owner and has learned throughout the years how to optimize the breed's health and wellness.
One of the most revered working lines of the breed is the West German Shepherd dog. It is believed to be the line that is closest to the original breed created by Max von Stephanitz; this line is bred not just for color and body shape, but for working drive. The West bloodline focuses strongly on looks and what should be considered the standard.
As with all working lines, the emphasis is put on the dog’s behavior and personality, rather than on just their body shape and gait, which makes for a much healthier and more active line. While many people choose the West German Shepherd working line when they are looking for a working dog, these dogs also make great family pets if the family invests enough time in their family member.
The Division Between East and West German Shepherds
The reason that East and West German Shepherds exist at all is because of the division of Germany following the Second World War. Conditions of life were very different on either side of the Berlin Wall—not just for humans, but for dogs as well.
This means that East German Shepherds were raised and bred for a time in an environment that was a heck of a lot different than their Western counterparts. Some of the Eastern breed types, for example, were actually bred to be more aggressive and to help scout out and attack anyone who was trying to hop over the wall to escape East Germany.
Even in the West, there were differences between the working and show line dogs. However, the differences between the East and West Shepherd breeds are more pronounced.
Differences Between East and West
There are a number of differences between East and West German Shepherd dogs. To fully explain the situation it can be useful to have a basic understanding of both.
East German Shepherds
This breed is also referred to as DDR German Shepherd. DDR stands for Deutsche Demokratische Republik. These dogs are generally quite dark, with large, blocky heads. Their bones are large, lending them a heavy-looking structure, though they have a lean build.
Unlike show lines and "American" German Shepherds, they have flatbacks. These dogs were primarily built for their working abilities, and they are a lot less likely to develop some of the medical issues that other dog types frequently develop. They love working because they have such massive energy levels that they need to do things to keep busy.
West German Shepherds
West German Shepherds are a bit different than their DDR counterparts, and they comprise a large majority of the dogs that were bred to be in show lines at the time. They were considered the standard of how this breed should look. The type is split between working dogs and show lines.
Like any other show line of dogs, they are made to have a striking appearance. While their aesthetics may flourish, they regularly don't have the same degree of strength and courage as dogs that are bred to be a part of the working class. In my opinion, this depends, some bloodlines are just as powerful and work-ready as their Eastern counterparts. But on average you'll see differences and there are more people breeding this stereotypical looking German Shepherd as family dogs.
These dogs have a bit more of a slope on their backs, though not nearly as much as you would find in their American-bred counterparts.
They have a lot of energy and need to be kept occupied with high-intensity activities, otherwise, they’ll become restless.
The average West German Shepherd is going to mostly black, with tan legs and some tan on his face. You will often also see white tufts on his back legs and tail. The coloring of these dogs is going to vary greatly when compared to show lines. There are some dogs that are completely black, with only a little bit of tan on their legs, while other dogs, even from the same litter, maybe mostly brown.
In general, these dogs are not the same tone of brown and black that the American line exhibits. The black will be darker and less uniform, while the tan will usually be lighter. There is also a fairly common occurrence of sable in the West German working line.
As for body shape, you are going to see the regal head and shoulders, though there may be less bulk in the front of the body. These dogs are generally more balanced, as they are bred both for speed and agility and bite power.
This breed type does have a more sloped body than the East breed types. However, they don't have that much slope compared to show lines and in particular most American show lines. Just be careful, because of the inbreeding in the recent past some do also suffer from hereditary hip en joint issues.
American-Bred Dogs and Others
As mentioned earlier, German Shepherds aren’t just divided into the East and West variety. Since the breed has become increasingly popular, others have begun to breed the dogs.
The most common type of German Shepherd aside from these two is the American German Shepherd, one of the most popular show dogs on the planet. They have a significant slope to their back and very haunched hind legs that give them a unique trot that is ideal for helping them perform well in shows.
There are also British variations. Like the American ones, the British bred dogs have very calm temperaments. While they may be more energetic than some other dogs, they are still less energetic than the average East or West German Shepherd.
What Type of Dog Do You Need?
If you are considering getting a German Shepherd, it’s important to consider what you want to get the dog for. There are many differences between the East and West genetic lines.
If you’re hoping to get a hard-working dog to act as a professional guard dog, you may want to invest in an East German Shepherd. If you want a family dog or are interested in competing in shows, a West German Shepherd might be more what you are looking for. But overall we are talking about averages, you'll find excellent dogs in most breed types if you know what to look for.
These dogs need work and play, so make sure you are up to it. They are friendly with people and with other animals, are naturally loyal, and protective. These dogs will want to play and they will be very driven to fall your directives and do what they are told.
- Willis M. B. The German Shepherd Dog: A Genetic History. Howell Book House, 1992, 439 p.
© 2019 Sam Shepards