The Different Types of German Shepherds: Which One Should You Get?

What are the different types of German Shepherds?

If you’re planning to get a German Shepherd dog of your own, it is important to research about the breed. While all dogs are lovable and loyal, their appearance, temperament, energy levels, and activity vary.

It may or may not surprise you but sometimes these factors may also vary in any breed – just like the German Shepherds.

The different types of German Shepherd Dogs

There are 5 different types of German Shepherds. These types of German Shepherds are the same breed we love and adore but the distinction helps can help future owners and trainers which GSD’s are better suited for different roles and jobs. Here are the different types of German Shepherd dogs:

American show lines

The Different Types of German Shepherds - American Show Line 1

Photo: keeper_the_gsd/Instagram

The American show line German Shepherds are also called the AKC Lines. These are the German Shepherd dogs you see strutting their stuff at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. These German Shepherds are bred for show and conformation, and are evaluated for their color, movement, built, angulation, size, and overall “GSD” look.

This type of German Shepherds is generally taller and longer than European lines. They come in different colors, too, like:

  • Black and tan saddle,
  • Bi-color,
  • Solid black,
  • Sable,
  • And solid white.

The pigment of American show line German Shepherd’s coat is typically lighter than European GSD’s. Cream, light tan, and silver are more common than the tan and red coats of German show lines and working lines.

This type of German Shepherd is generally more laid back. They also have lower drive and less energy than working lines.

American show line German Shepherds make good family pets. Eager to please, they also do well in tracking, obedience, agility and herding. Compared to working lines, American show lines are active and have lesser strength – some traits that do not really make them suitable for personal protection or law enforcement. But there are a few do well in these fields.

West German show lines

The Different Types of German Shepherds - West German Show Line

Photo: Megan Streussnig

The Western German show line GSD’s are known for being handsome. They look stunning but they’re not just bred for beauty or conformation to breed standards.

The rules of Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde e. V. or Club for German Shepherd Dogs Inc., which is the original German Shepherd Dog club and breed registry in the world, govern this breed.  Each dog in this line is required to have a working title—like Schutzhund or German for “protection dog”— and health clearance for hips and elbows before he or she is allowed to pass on his or her genes.

Unlike the American show line, the Western German show line can do great both as protectors and family pets. Western German show lines are not lazy. In fact, they need a lot of exercise, training and socialization.

West German working lines

The Different Types of German Shepherds - West German Working Line

Photo: Malinda Weber

The West German Working line GSD’s are the closest representation of the German Shepherd dogs developed by Max von Stephanitz. Stephanitz is the person credited for developing the breed and the one who set the breed standard’s guidelines. He was also the first president of the Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde, also known as S.V..

The West German Working line’s main focus is on stable temperament, high and strong drives, and excellent working ability. Aside from the line’s working ability, the West German working line is also bred for their stunning looks.

The West Germans prefer calmer demeanor and perfect colors. The back of West German working lines are also more sloped than the DDR/East German working lines – but they remain as energetic and active as the DDR/East German working lines. In West Germany, health evaluations were not as strict so this line may encounter more health problems than their East German lines.

This type of German Shepherd excel at different sports and jobs such as guarding, protection, and search and rescue.

Although West German working line German Shepherds have a strong drive, they know how and when to stay calm and settle down, this trait makes them amazing pets for an active family.

East German DDR Working lines

The Different Types of German Shepherds - DDR East German Working Line

Photo: German Shepherds Pakistan

Post-WWII, the Berlin Wall separated East Germany and West Germany so the trade outside was ceased. This led to the preservation of the DDR/East German working lines’ lineage. This type of German Shepherds was originally bred for military purposes. That time, the government took control of this working line – protecting and insulating it from outside influence.

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The DDR/East German working lines have extremely high and strict breed standards. These German Shepherds have really strong bones, large heads, and broad shoulders. Not all dogs in this line – not even the ones born with both DDE/East German working line parents – are allowed to breed. These dogs could only be allowed to breed if they were completely free of hip dysplasia.

Each puppy of each litter is also inspected, tested, and examined for proper bone structure, coat quality, temperament, etc.

This line also undergoes physical tests including:

  • Scaling a straight wall of 1.5 and 1.8 meters;
  • Walking on a balance beam;
  • Searching 10 blinds ;
  • And completing a series of tracking tests.

This type of German Shepherds is bred to endure terrible weather conditions and long working days. Their main purpose was to patrol territory borders, but they also worked as tracking and attack dogs.

These dogs had to have lasting endurance and athleticism. Unlike show lines, they also tend to be more aloof and defensive.

Czech Working lines

The Different Types of German Shepherds - Czech Working Line

Photo: Herby Willems

This type of German Shepherd originated from communist Czechoslovakia. The Czech Working line German Shepherds were bred mainly for border patrol work. The original and the development of breeding the Czech working happened in the Pohranicni Straze kennel of the Czechoslovakian Army.

These German Shepherds are known for their phenomenal working drives. They are also more agile and intense than other lines. Most of these dogs were remnants from the former East Germany.  However, the dogs from the Czech Socialist Republic were also used in this strict breeding program.

Like the East German Working line, the Czech Working line is powerful and agile. Their coats also have dark pigments. These dogs are bred for stringent work and can excel in agility, obedience, and protection jobs.

Why are there different types of German Shepherds?

After World War II, the German Shepherd dog breed became hugely popular. For the first few decades, the American and European lines have only little differences in their physical or mental characteristics.

That time, European dogs even performed well in the show ring and conformation shows. Also, there were many breeders who cross-bred their domestic lines with those of imports so it’s really hard to tell the line of an individual German Shepherd unless you know what continent the he or she hailed from.

Read: German Shepherd Ears: Why Are My German Shepherd’s Ears Not Going Up?

Decades later, the breeding practice began to change. The interpretations of the breed standards also started to vary in accordance with the preferences of show/competition judges, breeders, and exhibitors. The preference of show judges led the American show lines to deviate from the original breed standards set by the German SV.

Since then, the focus of breeding deviated from the original purpose of the breed. American show line breeders mostly focused on the appearance, exaggeration of the rear angulation, and the “flying trot.”

After generations of breeding, the show line German Shepherds – especially the American show line —  look significantly different from the original GSDs. Due to these noticeable differences, many European GSD fanciers sometimes call these German Shepherds the “American Shepherd”.

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