Types of German Shepherds


There are many types of German shepherds that exist. German shepherds are a very beautiful, popular breed of dog that almost anyone can picture in their mind when you say the words, “German shepherd”. People may picture the wolf-like brown and black, thick fur that we all know and love. The medium-large dogs are also called Alsatian wolf dog, GSD, Shepherd, and DSH.

The majestic creatures can be traced back to Germany in the late 1800’s. The German shepherd was bred in order to herd sheep (hence the name) and protect them from possible threats and predators. German shepherds are reliable work dogs and are known to be easy to train, good at following instructions, and performing tasks. In the modern day today, they are well known for being police dogs because of their ability to track, capture (herd), and hold criminals.

There are many different types of German shepherds’ appearances ranging from the color of their coat to the pattern. Their coats may be brindle (mixture of black and brown), bi-color, black, blue, gray, liver, and sable (which is a brownish color). They are also black with either tan, silver, red, or cream. The different patterns in their fur can be a solid, sable, or panda pattern. It could also be a blanket back or a saddle back pattern. Their coats can also be medium to long haired.

Over time, German shepherds have been bred to either show, focused on appearance, or work, focused on their temperament and activity. Due to a large amount of undocumented breeding there are a lot of “mixed breeds” than you can find. For example, German shepherds with poor hip and elbow health shouldn’t be bred in order to prevent passing on unhealthy genes. This “mixed breed” can be considered mixed if it is bred across lines. This can mean the dog is not close to what it was originally bred for (show or work).

There are two lines of German shepherds including a show line and a working line. The line indicates where the dog came from in terms of what they were bred for and why they were bred. German shepherds come in five lines: North American and Canadian Show Line, West German Show Line, West German Working Line, East German/DDR Working Line, and Czech Working Line.

North American and Canadian Show Line

North American and Canadian Show Lines are known for how they look, not how they act (hence why they are a show line, not a work line). They are also called AKC and CKC, respectively. The shepherds from this line tend to have a black saddle color to them. This means that their backs are typically all black and their legs and feet are a brown/tan color. This line is known for its exaggerated angulation of the rear, meaning that the pelvic slope is longer. This can mean that they are typically longer and taller than their European brothers and sisters.

This line of dogs has mainly only been bred with other North American dogs, rather than imported dogs. So, they have left most of the pure German heritage behind. Typically, AKC’s and CKC’s have been North American bred for at least fifty years. AKC’s and CKC’s are more laid back and relaxed dogs, meaning they’re not so great for work or police but make great family pets. High activity and less strength make up this line and is why it’s better for them to be family dogs.

West German Show Line

West German Show Line German shepherds are also known for how they look, not how they act. So, you can also expect them to be less focused on work and more on being relaxed, family friends. Although, they do still have a good work drive. These dogs tend to have abilities of both show and working lines. So, they need lots of training, exercise, and socialization.

West German Show Line German shepherds don’t have as sloped of a back as the AKC. They are also black and red, as opposed to black and tan or black and cream. Most West German Show Line German shepherds will have the black saddle back color. Their coats tend to be lighter than their counterparts and their backs are flatter than the working lines. Some people may consider this line the most beautiful of the five because of their stockiness in certain areas (like the face). Their rear isn’t as prominent as the AKC and CKC, but is more noticeable than the East German working lines.

West German Working Line

West German Working Line German shepherds are the closest line to what the original German shepherd was supposed to act like and look like. The West German Working Line have the strongest balance between being made for show or work. They make great show dogs from their stunning looks, but they also have a strong working ability and drive. This line of German shepherd is perfect for protection, guarding, hunting, searching, and rescuing. Though they are fully skilled in work, they also know when to stay calm, making them the perfect pet as well. These qualities make them a high-quality dog.

The West German Working Line German shepherds have more of a sloped back than the East German/DDR working lines. They have more of a uniform black body with parts that are tan or red, but the specific pattern and color can vary from each dog because they were mainly bred for work then show, rather than show then work. Their coats can be mostly sable. The angle of their pelvis is not as straight as the East German/DDR working line or the Czech working line. The angle of their hindquarters and back is more like the West German Show lines.

East German/DDR Working Line

East German/DDR working line German shepherds are known for their strong ability to work. They are bred to have a strong work ethic. Their hard work personalities are attributed to their high energy and intensity. They were also bred to be excellent guard dogs that are good for patrolling, attacking, and tracking. Because the East German/DDR working line was originally bred for the army, they had to have courage, high intelligence, iron will and focus, and endurance. They had to possess the same qualities as the soldiers so they could keep up. Some of the more modern-day shepherds from today can be more friendly than focused, allowing them to lay around the house with the family. This line has a bit force of about 238 pounds of pressure. They can scale walls 6 – 8 feet with no problem. They are agile and quick with awesome leaping power and stamina. Their athletic nature allows them to be great at dock diving and jumping events.

The East German/DDR working line have a strong working structure. They were built for work with their large, blocky heads and thick paws. They have a thicker barrel chest and a think bone structure. They have stronger backs and dark colors with the darkest colors out of all types of German shepherds. It is common for them to be mostly black or sable with a bit of tan on the feet, legs, face, and ears. They also typically have a saddle colored pattern but can sometimes be solid black.

Czech Working Line

In comparison with the East German/DDR working line, the Czech Working Line was made for work. They were bred with a strong work ethic since birth. These working dogs can make great police, military, or assistance dogs. The Czech Working Line German shepherds are cautious with strangers and can take a defensive stance when approached by someone new. They are also very smart, making them easy to train. While this line has an even temperament, it can still anger to the point of being very dangerous, with strong, quick attacks. When they are threatened, they can enter this protective mode. Because they are so protective, they can make great family dogs and work well with children.

These types of German shepherds are typically black and tan or red, sable, and can sometimes be solid black. Because they are so protective, they can make great family dogs and work well with children. They need a high level of exercise and socialization to release their energy, which can prevent some mischievous behavior within the home. These dogs can be smaller than other shepherds and have more of a variety of colors. Since they are bred for work, little care is taken into their appearance when breeding. They were originally bred to protect the German/Czech border, making them have thicker bones, heads, chests, and stronger muscles.

How to Tell What Type of German Shepherd it is

Because there are five lines of German shepherds, they can be easily confused with each other. There are, however, ways that you can determine the types of German shepherds and what their line is.

  1. First, and most obvious, is with DNA testing. This can tell you everything you need to know about your German shepherd (this can run you around $70 or so).
  2. Look at the fur on your shepherd. Whether long haired or short, black or tan, you can tell a lot about your dog’s ancestry from their thickness and color.
  3. Focus on the build and body structure of your pup. The thickness of their head, chest, and paws can tell the difference between working and showing lines. Working lines have more of a thicker, stronger build. While showing lines have a sleek, slender look about them.
  4. Look at the ears. The colors around their ears and the size could indicate what line they come from.
  5. Ask your vet. Vets can look at the teeth and paws to determine what their background may look like.
  6. Download dog breed apps. Yes, there is an app for that. You can look up apps that can help you better determine your breed by uploading a photo of your furry friend.
  7. Watch their behavior. Some shepherds may be more protective than others. Some may be more energetic than others. Use their characteristics to understand what they were originally bred for.

Solid Color German shepherd

While the most common color combination of German shepherds is black and tan, they can also come in solid colors such as all-back and all-white. The solid color German shepherd are in the same gene pool as all other German shepherds dating back to the 1800’s in Germany. The all-white shepherd has a recessive trait that is its own gene. So a German shepherd could not be all-white if it did not have this gene. Both the all-black and all-white German shepherds cannot be traced back to a specific origin, and the all-black German shepherd was actually a result of an accident. The all-black gene is recessive (meaning they cannot be all-black unless they have the gene) but it is made dominant when one of the parents are all-black.

Black German Shepherd

The black German shepherd is a gorgeous color. There are some all black German shepherds out there across various lines. The all-black German shepherds have an all-black gene in their make-up. So, if their mom is black and tan and the dad is all-black, there is a chance the pups can be all black. All black German shepherds can be born all-black, but most German shepherds develop their actual colors around 6 – 8 weeks. All-black German shepherds can be hostile when first meeting someone, but are nice once they get comfortable. When they are with its owner or family it is normally friendly and helpful.

All-black German shepherds are typically work dogs with family qualities. So, they need love and attention and make great assistance dogs. They are also known to be loyal to their owners and adamant in listening to commands and following orders. While introducing the dog to others (even children) they should be supervised, as they can be very protective of themselves and their owner in front of new individuals.

When taking care of an all-black German shepherd, be sure to keep their coat strong and healthy. Using a quality soap and brushing them frequently can allow their black fur to shine (and even seem blue) in the light. Because their fur can be thick, knotting can be easy so it’s important to treat their coat one – two times every two weeks.

All-black German shepherds have an increased risk for hip dysplasia, chronic degenerative radiculo-myelopathy, and osteoarthritis. Keeping your dog on joint-healthy food and supplements can decrease the risk of your pup getting these diseases and disorders. If they do develop these conditions, they can be treated with medication and surgery.

White German Shepherd

The all white German shepherd color is gorgeous, and eye catching, to say the least. They have an all-white coat, dark eyes, black nose, and dark lips. Just as with the all-black shepherds, these dogs are highly popular and sought after. They are very versatile, making them great family dogs, as well as working dogs. Their beauty is seen through their stance and in motion. They are typically longer than they are tall and can be short haired or long haired. The white gene in these dogs arose in the late 19th to early 20th century.

White shepherds are self-confident and can be alert, eager, and ready to serve with loyalty. When approached by someone new, they are observant rather than protective. They are very open and friendly with others and are not very timid as an older dog. These dogs are extremely loyal and very protective of children and younger dogs. All-white shepherds tend to be persistent and whiny, but still very clever. The white shepherds are very vocal and playful. The white shepherd can be easily trained and great for agility, tracking, and herding.

Sable German Shepherd

The technical term for a Sable German shepherd is “agouti”. These types of German shepherds have various colored hairs all over their body and the colors tend to develop as the dog gets older. Some Sable German shepherds have stronger colors than others. The various colors across their body can be gold, black, tan, and gray. They can also be referred to as having a “wolf gray” appearance. All Sable German shepherds will start as tan and then gradually get a darker color as they get older. A Sable German shepherd has a dominant gene, meaning that it overtakes any other color genes.

Panda German Shepherd

The Panda German shepherd color is so rare to come by. Because of the peculiar colors in their coat they are easily mistaken for other breeds of dogs. Their black and white mixture of colors is due to a genetic mutation; however they are still German shepherds. The mutation started from a litter in the United States. Panda German shepherds have white on their abdomen and legs, while having a black/tan color on all other parts. This gives them the “panda” experience. Just like other German shepherds they are strong and ideal family pets. Some breeders may believe that they are “inferior” because of their colors; however they are average in health and qualities when compared to the other types/colors of German shepherds.

Saddle Back German Shepherd

The Saddle Back German shepherd is the most common types of German shepherds. They are typically two colors, but the positioning of the colors is what makes them considered Saddle Backs. The color on their backs is draped over their sides and stops around the nape of the neck, making it look like the dog is wearing a “saddle”. Other people say it looks like a blanket pattern, due to the resemblance of a “blanket” lying over their backs. They will also usually have a black snout, mouth, and parts of their face. Their tails may also show a black color. In dog shows and competitions, the more vibrant the color then the more points they receive.

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