As their name suggests, the German Shepherd was developed in Germany. The man who started it all was a breeder named Captain Max von Stephanitz, who bred local shepherd dogs of different hair varieties in order to create a breed that could withstand harsh conditions while also having the aptitude to herd and guard large flocks of sheep. The very first German Shepherd was a dog named Horan, who was officially registered under the German Shepherd name in 1899. Although his parents and siblings were also registered shortly after, Horan’s descendants dominated in the show ring, with the result that every German Shepherd today can trace their lineage to him.
A Bit Of History
Once the breed had become established, their remit was extended to include military duties with the German Army. During World War I, they were used extensively to keep German soldiers supplied with food and other essentials. The breed went through numerous name changes during their earlier days, largely due to Germany’s unpopular status at the time. In America, their name was changed to Shepherd Dog by the American Kennel Club. England, meanwhile, decided to opt for the slightly frightening Alsation Wolf Dog. But times change and so do names: by 1931, the American Kennel Club had switched back to German Shepherd, and most other kennel clubs that hadn’t already done so quickly followed suit.
Although all German Shepherds have the same origins, several different types have emerged over the years, each with its own heritage, traits, and appearance. Although all are still German Shepherds, each type has been bred for a different purpose, whether that’s as a working dog or a show ring champion. There are ten German Shepherd breeds in total, including American Show Line German Shepherds, European Show Line German Shepherds, East German DDR Working Line German Shepherds, West German Working Line German Shepherds, Czech Working Line German Shepherds, East-European Shepherds, Shiloh Shepherds, King Shepherds, White Shepherds, and White Swiss Shepherd Dogs. While each variety is unique, whether in terms of their physical appearance or their behavioral traits, they’re all German Shepherds and all related to the father of all German Shepherds, Horan. Here’s what you need to know about each of the ten German Shepherd breeds.
1. American Show Line German Shepherds
As you’d expect from their name, American Show Line German Shepherds are bred predominately across the US and Canada, and are, in fact, the dominant breed of German Shepherd in both countries. A varied combination of bloodlines has gone into the breed, resulting in a very distinct appearance. Compared with other lines, German Shepherds bred along American Show Line standards has a more substantial build, with shorter heads and smaller muzzles. The breed is the most dominant of all the varieties of German Shepherds in national kennel clubs, and dogs are bred to conform to the strict standards regarding conformation and gait set by the governing clubs. They tend to be black and tan, although other colors can also be found. Compared to European Shepherds, they have longer hocks, a more pronounced slope to their gait, and lighter bodies (although conversely, their underbellies and chests tend to be stockier). Over time, backyard breeding of American Shepherds has become a problem, with an ever-growing number of breeders sacrificing the health of their dogs in order to turn a quick buck. It has also become increasingly common for breeders to falsely claim that pups have been bred from champions. As a result, undesirable qualities like skittish behavior, aggression, and various health defects are becoming an ever-increasing issue in the breed. To avoid contributing to the problem, always do your homework and only buy from reputable breeders who can provide documentation regarding the pup’s bloodlines and the health of its parents. Where possible, always tour the breeder’s premises so you can check that the dogs are being kept in good conditions.
2. European Show Line German Shepherds
As doggiedesigner.com says, show lines typically come about once the working lines are solid. Although each dog used for breeding also doubles as working dog material, they tend to be slower and calmer than their workaholic relatives, with the result that they usually fare better as family pets. All European Show Line German Shepherds are bred to conform to the SV standard, which requires dogs to obtain health clearance for their hips and elbows, along with a working title and a show title before they’re eligible to be bred. Because of selective breeding, European Show Line German Shepherds tend to have fewer behavioral problems than their American counterparts, as tests will be conducted prior to breeding to reveal any unwanted characteristics. If issues are found, the dog will be removed from the breeding program. Physical issues are also less common due to a greater focus on maintaining original breed standards designed to produce reliable, well-rounded specimens. Physically, European Show Line German Shepherds have a very uniform appearance, typically boasting black and rust-colored coats and straighter backs without excessive sloping. With the right training and socialization, they made calm, loving family pets.
3. East German DDR Working Line German Shepherds
As geliebteshepherds.com explains, East German DDR Working Lines were developed after World War II from remaining war dogs. They were bred specifically as working dogs, resulting in a breed of prey-driven workaholics with strong protective instincts and an aptitude for guard duty. Thanks to strict control of the original DDR bloodlines, East German DDR Working Lines developed a very distinctive look, with a strong structure, stable hips, large heads, large bones, and dark pigmentation. Older DDR bloodlines are recognized for their excellent genetic heritage and temperament, although working drives can vary by dog. Those of a calmer, more docile nature can make excellent family pets. However, those with a stronger prey drive instinct can be problematic around other animals and small children, making them better suited to single owners with experience in training dogs than to novice owners or busy families who might not have the time needed to dedicate to their training and socialization. Most dogs are incredibly intelligent and will respond well to obedience classes and general training providing the owner establishes themselves as pack leader.
4. West German Working Line German Shepherds
The dogs of West German working blood are often said to be the closest of all types to the original dogs produced under Max von Stephanitz, the first person to ever breed and register German Shepherds. The focus of breeding is on temperament, rather than looks, although a correct working structure and strong working drives and ability are also prioritized. Like most working lines, West German Working Line German Shepherds tend to be slightly smaller than those from show lines. They have a more robust structure, and their backs are less arched than Show Line German Shepherds. Their coats tend to be sable, but they can also be found in black and tan, or a mixture of black and sable. To make them more of an asset in their line of work, they’ve been bred with a high pain threshold and excellent levels of endurance. Along with their high energy, they also have a strong prey drive, which is intended to ensure they stay focused on their job. While their instincts make them valuable in their field of work, it can become problematic if they aren’t provided with sufficient outlets. Without tasks and plenty of mental and physical stimulation, dogs may start to display nervous, destructive, or even aggressive behaviors. Thanks to their physical attributes, West German Working Line German Shepherds excel at endurance work and course and obstacle training. They can make excellent pets, but require commitment: unless they’re provided with ongoing training, socialization, exercise, mental stimulation and a sense of purpose, behavioral problems can often arise.
5. Czech Working Line German Shepherds
As germanshepherdguide.com notes, Czech Shepherds were developed in Czechoslovakia during the communist era, at which time they were bred primarily for use by border control guards and the military. Their original breeding revolved around the Czechoslovakian Army’s Pohranicni Straze kennel. Shepherds from Czech Working Lines tend to be leaner than many other working breeds, as well as slower to mature. They have strong prey drives, resulting in high stamina and excellent agility (not to mention the habit of chasing of everything that moves). As you’d expect of a dog originally bred for military duty, they have strong working drives, and while they love curling up on the sofa from time to time, they’d far rather have a job to do than laze around the house all day. Having appropriate outlets for their energy is vital; without plenty of mental and physical activity, they can become easily bored, destructive, and even aggressive. Although they can make excellent companions, early socialization and consistent training are vital for Czech Shepherds to become the family-friendly dogs they’re capable of being. Looks-wise, expect a sable or agouti coat (i.e. the classic German Shepherd blend of black and tan markings). Although it’s still possible to find “pure” Czech Shepherds, the breeding has become muddied over the years, with many breeders crossing the line with other varieties of German Shepherd.
6. East-European Shepherds
The East-European Shepherd (or the ostochno Evropeiskaya Ovcharkam if you prefer) is a variety of German Shepherd bred in Russia and Ukraine. It was selectively bred from German Shepherds to create a large, more cold-resistant variety of the breed that was better able to withstand the cold temperatures of the region. Although they were originally intended for military or guard work, East-European Shepherds are now one of the most popular pet dogs in Russia. Unlike many German Shepherd breeds, they don’t have the physical deformities that have been bred into the breed. As Wikipedia notes, East-European Shepherds are known for their intelligence, courage, and determination, with many owners describing their personality as being similar to the Doberman.
7. Shiloh Shepherds
The Shiloh Shepherd is a variety of German Shepherd that, as shiloh-shepherd.com explains, has been bred to be larger, calmer, and more family-friendly than standard German Shepherds. They were developed in the 1970s and 1980s with the specific intention of addressing some of the behavioral and health issues that have arisen in modern German Shepherds through intensive breeding. They’re characterized by their large size, strong gait, long back, and gentle disposition. As an exceptionally rare variety of German Shepherd bred almost exclusively in the US, they’ve been recognized by the American Rare Breed Association since 1990.
8. King Shepherds
The King Shepherd is another variety of German Shepherd that’s bred primarily in the US. Like the Shiloh Shepherd, it was bred to address some of the physical issues common to modern German Shepherds, such as hip deformities and a shortened spine. As The Spruce Pets notes, King Shepherds are considered the “gentle giants” of the canine world. Blessed with calm, sweet natures, they’re gentle with children and other pets and incredibly loyal and protective of their families.
9. White Shepherds
The White Shepherd is a variety of German Shepherd that’s bred almost exclusively in the US. In Europe, a white coat has long been considered a flaw on a German Shepherd, with Germany even going so far as to ban them from official registration. In the US, snowy coats were seen as less of a flaw than a desirable quirk, with the result that their numbers quickly started expanding. A breed club was established specifically for them, and they were given their official title of the White Shepherd. Today, the United Kennel Club recognizes the White Shepherd as a separate breed.
10. White Swiss Shepherd Dogs
The White Swiss Shepherd Dog is a variety of German Shepherd bred in Switzerland that descends from the American White Shepherd. All modern White Swiss Shepherd Dogs today descend from an American White Shepherd stud dog that was born in the US and imported to Switzerland in the mid-1960s. In 2003, the Fédération Cynologique Internationale recognized the White Swiss Shepherd Dog as a separate breed. Since then, it’s been recognized by several national kennel clubs.