Last Updated on July 8, 2023
German Shepherds are an imposing dog that is known for their loyalty and courage. Known as Alsatian or GSD, these doggos also go by Berger Allemand and Deutscher Schäferhund or DSH.
Initially, a shepherd meant for herding and guarding cattle, they branched out into service lines and are now widely employed by the police force.
Despite their fearsome looks, they are incredibly gentle with children and make great family pets.
What are the 5 Types of German Shepherds?
Due to the popularity of the German Shepherd dog breed, they were adapted into 5 different types of German Shepherd dogs. Working and showing being the main two criteria.
While they all fall under the same AKC breed standard, there are slight differences in temperament, appearance, and even degrees of trainability.
This split came sometime in 1906 when the breed was introduced into America.
Due to highly unregulated breeding practices and a penchant for showing, Americans attempted to breed the aggression or protective instincts out of the breed.
Between 1961 and 1989, when Germany was divided, each territory went on to perfect their version of the German Shepherd, hence, creating the West and East lines.
During this time, Czechoslovakia also developed a line of Alsations for their own uses.
Most police dogs are sable dogs from East German lines or Czech working lines. They aren’t as pretty, but they get the job done.
The best dog for families would be European dogs as show dogs aren’t bred for their willingness to obey.
However, if you have small children at home, dogs with working titles might be hard to handle.
They would most likely have a tendency to herd kids, especially if they aren’t given the appropriate amounts of exercise and stimulation.
Regardless of which line you’re getting German Shepherd puppies from, make sure you source a reliable breeder, especially when purchasing an American or Canadian Line dog as they are known to be less regulated than their European peers.
1. West German Show Line German Shepherds
The most handsome GSDs are produced by the West German Show Line. These dogs do have a pronounced angulation of the back, along with larger heads that show judges often deem attractive.
Their luxurious Black and Red coats are usually denser than their working cousins. They can also be found with long hair and excessive feathering.
Long haired GSDs are not accepted by the AKC, but are entirely appropriate for the UK and German dog shows.
Breeding these dogs is a very strict affair. Dogs in this breeding program must be champions, as well as pass all health checks.
But it’s all worth it, because they make great family pets, especially since they have the loyal and protective mentality which other show dogs lack, but also do not have the high prey drive of working lines.
These dogs are an attempt to create a fully functioning German Shepherd that conforms to the breed standard. They should do well as search and rescue dogs or conformation dogs.
2. West German Working Line German Shepherds
These are the versatile dogs that Max von Stephanitz had intended the breed to be, which means that personality takes precedence.
These dogs have a very strong work ethic and are temperate. They would make a wonderful pet for active families, on a farm, or similar working environments for them to focus their energy and intelligence on.
They have slightly sloping backs, but it is not as obvious as the show line dogs.
You can usually find them in lighter shades such as Black and Red, Black and Tan, Sable, or Bi-Color and Black. Unfortunately, they have something of a reputation for having bad hips.
3. East German DDR Working Line German Shepherds
Following the construction of the Berlin wall, German Shepherds split into West and East lines, with the latter being more focused for police work or the militia.
The Deutsches Demokratische Republik (DDR) German Shepherds fell under the control of the East German Communist party who had very strict breeding regulations for these dogs.
They were extremely strict in East Germany, and any undesirable traits prevented them from being eligible for reproducing.
Dogs with hip dysplasia are immediately disqualified from the breeding pool. Puppies are also tested prior to going to their new homes. Many of them do not have the flying trot that GSDs are prized for.
While their heads and shoulders are more powerful than their Western cousins, they are slightly smaller when it comes to overall size.
The dogs from East German Working Lines are often Black or Sable, with undying stamina. Best suited for highly experienced individuals or families who can dedicate plenty of time to them.
4. Czech Working Lines German Shepherds
The border patrols of Czechoslovakia and descendants of the DDR German Shepherds. They are the most driven GSDs and are intent on working.
In spite of this, they are the smallest of them all. With minimal health problems, these dogs are highly trainable and excel in protection and obedience.
These dogs were developed after World War II and have amazing tracking abilities and a strong working drive.
Unless you are able to participate in dog training day in and day out, they most likely don’t make the best family dogs.
Without the proper outlets for their energy level, they will turn destructive and develop behavioral problems.
They look the most like wolves, especially since a great many of them are sable coated.
Also read: Czech German Shepherds
5. American Show Line German Shepherds
American Show Lines are also known as Canadian Show Lines. Like most conformation types, they are less high-strung and motivated to work.
This doesn’t mean that they are lazy, but it makes them more manageable in a home.
Being a working dog, they need to feel useful. Be it taking in the groceries, or fetching the mail, a GSD will only be satisfied when they have something to do.
While bred for the conformation show, these dogs can also excel at agility and obedience trials. Ideally, though, they would not exhibit “Schutzhund” traits, which is what makes them such great protectors.
They should have thick, short coats. Both the AKC and CKC are in favor of a dog with extreme rear angulation and the flying trot gait.
Unfortunately, being bred exclusively for looks has caused their backs to slope excessively. This rear angulation is extremely prized but it comes at a cost, many dogs have weak back legs and skeletal health issues.
Below is a chart for a quick comparison between the five variations, according to the respective breed standards of the American Kennel Club and the German Shepherd Club of Germany (SV).
German Shepherd Show and Working Lines
Show line dogs are often riddled with health problems because they are bred for looks instead of functionality. They are usually bigger, taller, and have thicker coats as well as bigger heads.
Sloping backs and angled hindlegs are both aesthetically desirable, but can wreak havoc on the dog’s spinal health.
Personality-wise, they are more mellow and can be happy house pets, provided that their needs are met. Despite being a show dog, they still need stimulation and exercise in order to keep them happy and content.
Looks don’t play a part in working ability, which is why they come in a wider variety of colors such as White, Black, or even Blue.
The most important thing is that they have a good temperament which matches their work ethic. Due to this, they would be better matched with a highly experienced owner.
German Shepherds from working lines are generally more courageous, naturally protective, and have a higher tolerance for pain and discomfort.
Their coats would be shorter and harsher than show dogs, to offer better protection against the elements.
Infographic: Types of German Shepherd Breed
Click here to enlarge and download the image.
The Different Types of German Shepherds in Terms of Coat Color
Aside from having different lines within the German Shepherd breed, they also come in a fair few colors. Many assume that GSDs are only Black and Tan but that is far from the truth.
The Black and Tan is only prevalent in the media, thanks to the depiction of a GSD of that color during the Golden Years of Hollywood called Rin-Tin-Tin.
Saddle Coat German Shepherd
These dogs are what is known as the classic Black and Tan. The tan can be a deep shade of red, resulting in Black and Red GSDs. This coloring can also be a very light shade of cream or silver.
In the show ring, deeper and richer colors are given higher marks than those with lighter shades.
Regardless of the shade, Saddle Coat Alsatians have a large patch of black over their backs which is referred to as a blanket or saddle, hence the name.
They are always born solid black, and their coloring will come in when they are 6 months of age, reaching full maturity at 24 months. They often have full masks which result in black muzzles and faces.
You can take a look at all possible color combinations here.
Solid Color German Shepherd
Not all German Shepherds have the black saddle markings. Solid colored GSDs can come in Black, Blue, White, and Lavender.
The latter three are seen as major faults and will either be rejected from the show ring or do badly.
A common misconception about White GSDs is that they are albino, which is not true.
Albino dogs lack any kind of pigmentation and will have pink paw pads, eye rims, noses, lips, and often have blue eyes. Blue or Lavender Shepherds can also have blue eyes due to the dilation gene.
The piebald gene manifests as big black splotches around the GSD’s eyes, giving them the moniker of Panda. It first cropped up as a mutation in the United States.
According to records, the dog was genetically tested and found to be a hundred percent German Shepherd, which means that the accusations that they are crossbred are unfounded.
While they don’t suffer from any genetic problems due to their piebald mutation, the color is not encouraged by the AKC, neither is it acceptable for conformation.
Sable German Shepherd
Sable German Shepherds are essential Agouti, or wild coloring. It’s a gene that’s found in many wild animals including deer and, yes, wolves.
This doesn’t change their temperament whatsoever, and GSDs that exhibit this coloring are as docile and temperate as any well-trained Alsatian.
What it does is make the fur banded with different colors. Each individual fur will have two or three colors, with black at the very tip.
A dominant gene, any dogs with this coloring will produce more of them, even when paired with classic Black and Tan GSDs.
They are generally born tan and turn darker with age. Sables can be any color that GSDs come in.
Don’t miss out: The Standard & Rare GSD Coat Colors
Popular Questions About German Shepherds and their Types
Type and coloring aside, there are a few other commonly asked questions regarding German Shepherds. Let’s dive into it, shall we?
Is there a Dwarf German Shepherd?
Dwarfism is not exclusive to German Shepherds and can affect dogs of all breeds. It is a severe deformity which is crippling in dogs.
German Shepherds are generally affected by pituitary dwarfism and they seldom live past the age of five.
Caused by a faulty pituitary gland, they often stop growing around two to three months, stunting them and giving them the appearance of a ‘forever puppy’.
It might sound cute, and indeed, they are, but as mentioned, GSDs with dwarfism will not lead full and fulfilled lives.
Their spine will malform and cause excruciating pain by the time they are four to five years of age. They also have a higher risk of developing aggression as well as separation anxiety.
Breeding them is cruel and the only way to prevent dwarfism is by testing both parents for autosomal recessive disorder.
Reputable breeders very seldom have this problem with their dogs because they make sure their dogs are up to date with all their tests, which is why dwarfism in GSDs are often associated with backyard breeders or puppy mills.
What breed of dog goes well with a German Shepherd?
As long as they are properly socialized, there’s no reason why an Alsation should have any trouble getting along with another breed. They are easy to train and live to please their owners.
Common breeds that are raised alongside Germans are Golden Retrievers, Siberian Huskies, Labrador Retrievers, and Border Collies.
This is because they are quite similar in size and energy levels, which makes them ideal companions.
Not only can they keep up with one another, there’s a small chance of injuring each other. That’s not to say that small breeds cannot work, quite the contrary!
There are some GSDs that have been reported adopting kittens! But in general, you want to avoid having prey-like animals in the house that could trigger their hunting instincts.
Dog Breeds Similar to the German Shepherd Dog
The German Shepherd is the second most popular dog breed in America and is also a popular choice when it comes to crossbreeds. Take a look at some of the most unique and exciting German Shepherd Mixes here.
There are some purebred dogs which are quite similar in both nature and appearance to the GSD. Below as some dog breeds which can easily be mistaken for an Alsation:
Which German Shepherd is Best?
Since each of these bloodlines are bred for a specific purpose in mind, the best German Shepherd for someone looking for a family pet would be different from one who wants a working dog.
Take into consideration the amount of exercise and stimulation each needs and choose one that’s most suited to your lifestyle.
Which type would you get and why? Let us know in the comments below.
Further reading: Learn more about GSDs
Cess is the Head of Content Writing at K9 Web and a passionate dog care expert with over 5 years of experience in the Pet Industry. With a background in animal science, dog training, and behavior consulting, her hands-on experience and extensive knowledge make her a trusted source for dog owners.
When not writing or leading the K9 Web content team, Cess can be found volunteering at local shelters and participating in dog-related events.