German Shepherd Types: Lines, Colors & Short vs Long Hair

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The aim of this guide is to list and briefly explain the different German Shepherd types within the breed.

If you ask those who want to maintain the breed as it was originally bred, they will say all German Shepherds should only be bred to breed standard.

This means they should have a strict set of breeding criteria including but not limited to having a certain appearance, a certain temperament, certain drives + more.

However, the reality is that breeding lines have diluted all over the place in the years gone. For an interesting read of the 

Together with recessive genes, different DNA combinations, and the fact that there has been more than one line of German Shepherd bred throughout history – there are many different types of GSDs alive that definitely don’t meet the breed standard.

Let’s explore these different german shepherd types and learn more…

 

German Shepherd Types: Lines, Colors & Short vs Long Hair

 

Summary – What Are The Different Types of German Shepherds within the breed?

Lines

 

Coat Color

 

Coat Length

  • Short haired (including medium hair/plush hair)
  • Long haired

 

What Does A German Look Like According To Breed Standard?

For the German Shepherd purists, what does a German Shepherd who is bred to standard look like? Well, some of what the AKC includes in the breed standard is:

“The ideal dog has a double coat of medium length…varies in color, and most colors are permissible. Strong rich colors are preferred. Pale, washed-out colors and blues or livers are serious faults. A white dog must be disqualified.”

American GSD standards don’t regulate hip and elbow certification.

As a comparison, you can compare the AKC american breed standard with the FCI European breed standard (SV).

As you can see, the FCI/SV standard puts more of an emphasis on the history of the German Shepherd, stricter health requirements (hip and elbow checks) and it’s utilisation as a working type dog + working titles (often IO or herding titles).

You can check out the German Shepherd Club of Germany page here.

 

German Shepherd Lines

There are two main lines of German Shepherds – show lines, and working lines.

The descriptions below are what each line was bred for, and what they should act and look like if two parents from those original lines were bred together by a knowledgeable breeder.

Backyard breeders, irresponsible breeders and people who have not studied the German Shepherd breed or DNA have diluted the lines over time. 

So, if you have a dog with ancestry from particular line, and it does not fit the general profile of that line, or it has health or temperament defects or instability, it could be because:

  • the parents are of high quality and either recessive or defective DNA has been passed on to your dog as an unlucky circumstance (the breeder was doing the right thing)
  • or the breeder was breeding dogs together that shouldn’t have been bred together in the first place because the parents had poor health, temperament or something else (breeder was doing the wrong thing)

Show line German Shepherds were bred more for their appearance (although German/European show lines have to have health, temperament and working requirements and ability), whilst working line GSDs were bred more for their hard edge working ability and drive to work.

As a brief summary of the history of the German Shepherd breed, the German Shepherd as a breed was first created as a breed around 1899-1901 when the first German Shepherd was bred and a breed standard was developed.

So, the German Shepherd was originally bred to be ‘the ideal working dog’.

However, WWII and the breed’s exportation over to America and Canada are the defining events that lead to the show lines being created and developed.

 

  • North American and Canadian Show Line German Shepherds

The North American and Canadian German Shepherds breeding has placed more of an emphasis on German Shepherds that conform to a certain appearance.

These dogs were bred to show well in the show ring and at showing competitions.

These dogs also tend to be the type of GSD you see as pets and family dogs.

This does not mean though that working line German Shepherds can’t make good family dogs (dogs with working line DNA can have puppies that are super friendly and don’t have a strong drive to want to work), and vice versa.

If you look at how the American breed standard like the AKC’s GSD breed standard for example, and the European SV breed standard are interpreted, you will see differences in emphasis on things like appearance and the ability to work + other factors.

General Profile:

  • Mostly black and tan saddles/coats
  • Most angled backs overall of all the lines
  • Most angulation/drop in the hindquarters of all the lines
  • Slightly taller and longer than German lines
  • Head is more defined/narrow than German working lines
  • Heavier in weight with lighter bone structure than German lines
  • Less of a working drive and ability than working lines
  • Less athleticism than working lines

 

  • West German Show Line German Shepherds

Around WWII, there was limited resources and food in Germany – and the original German Shepherd breed was at risk of extinction.

This was also a time when Germany was split up into West Germany and East Germany.

This is where all today’s show line German Shepherds come from.

The German Shepherds in West Germany were bred more to conform to showing standard, but they certainly still had meet strict health and temperament guidelines, in addition to possessing working drive or ability.

SV rules currently govern them  SV requires a working title (often herding or IPO) and health clearance for hips and elbows.

General Profile:

  • Some people think these are most beautiful in appearance of all the lines
  • Mostly Black and red saddles/coats – but also come in colors of black and tan, sable, bi-colors and black.
  • Angle of back and hindquarters isn’t as extreme as American show line, but is more than the East German working lines
  • Slightly smaller in height and length that American lines
  • More working drive than American lines
  • Better health than American lines
  • Less athleticism and less of a working edge than East German working lines

 

  • West German Working Line German Shepherds

West German show line GSDs are probably the most balanced of the lines between appearance, temperament and working ability, and are said to be the closest representation to the original German Shepherd bred by creator Max von Stephanitz.

They were bred to have a strong working drive and ability, but also a stable temperament both in the working field and away from it.

They do just as well in working and sports fields as they do as a companion and family pet.

Their bodies were bred to have more of a working structure than the West German show lines.

General Profile:

  • Balance between working drive and ability, and temperament
  • Coats and saddle colors are somewhere between West german show lines and East German working lines i.e. they are black and red or black and tan, but possess more black than West German Show lines
  • Angle of back and hindquarters is similar to West German show lines
  • More working drive and edge, and athleticism than West German show lines
  • Less hard edge and more stable temperament away from work than East German working lines

 

  • East German/DDR Working Line German Shepherds

East Germany at the time of WWII was also known as the DDR (Deutshe Demokratishe Republik).

The East German government at the time introduced an extremely strict government controlled breeding program for German Shepherds.

The aim was to breed German Shepherds with phenomenal DNA that had the highest working drives and ability.

Only dogs with clean health records (free of hip and elbow problems), high working drive, high working ability, great athleticism, good working structure in the body, and sound temperaments were allowed to be bred and registered.

They were primarily used for working with the East German army and police/law enforcement in working fields – especially with the military.

General Profile:

  • dark pigmentation/saddle/coat – mostly black or sable with tinges of tan on the feet or on the legs or in the face/around the ears,
  • a large blocky head, and thicker paws
  • thick chests
  • hard edge working temperament, very athletic, intelligent and great stamina
  • thick bone structure  – more muscle and less fat than show lines
  • straighter backs than any of the other lines

 

  • Czech Working Line German Shepherds

A specialised line of GSDs.

Breeding was isolated to one kennel starting in 1955 by the Czechoslovakian Army’s border patrol or Pohranicni Straze.

Their only purpose was to breed and train dogs for military border patrol.

Many of the dogs came from the former East Germany.  But, dogs from the Czech Socialist Republic were also used in this strict breeding program.

Very similar physically and mentally to the East German working lines, except the Czech lines had more of a mix of tan/red in their coat, perhaps had an even harder working edge/intensity, and were arguably intended to have more of a lean towards agility and protection than East German working lines.

General Profile:

  • dark pigmentation/saddle/coat – 60 to 70% black with 30 to 40% tan/red
  • a large blocky head, and thicker paws
  • thick chests
  • hard edge working temperament, very athletic, intelligent and great stamina
  • thick bone structure  – more muscle and less fat than show lines
  • straighter backs like the East German working lines
  • More geared towards agility and protection for patrolling than East German lines

 

German Shepherd Coat Colors

A dog’s coat color is determined by both their color genes and the color pattern genes.

There are 5 main pattern types in the GSD that produce different markings across the body of the GSD. These pattern types include the saddle back pattern, blanket back pattern, bi color pattern, solid pattern and sable pattern.

The common black and tan or black and red GSD you might see might have a saddle back pattern gene and black and tan color genes.

Potential color genes we listed near the top of this guide, and the available color genes depend on the parents, but obviously are influenced by the line and the individual DNA of the parents themselves.

As a summary of some of the more rare German Shepherd coat colors:

  • Black German Shepherd puppies will be born when there are two black GSD parents, OR, when the genes passed down to the puppy (both colour and pattern) are double recessive solid black genes. In the second situation, you can have parents of different colors that aren’t both pure or all black.
  • White German Shepherds are created when double recessive white color genes are passed down from the parents to the puppy. When both parents are white, the puppy will be white, but the parents can be different colors as long as one has the recessive white gene.
  • Liver German Shepherds are caused by the Liver recessive gene. In order for a Liver GSD to be born, its parents both need to possess at least one liver gene, which are passed to the puppy in its DNA material.
  • Blue German Shepherds are created when the double blue gene is passed to the puppy from the parents.
  • Brindle German Shepherds are caused by these gene formations.

 

German Shepherd Coat Length

German Shepherds generally carry the dominant short/medium hair plush coat gene.

This means that a most German Shepherds will be the short/medium length coat type.

However, there are long haired German Shepherds too.

Long Haired German Shepherds are born when the long haired recessive genes from their parents DNA are carried through/passed down.

 

Other Variations Of The German Shepherd That Likely Fall Outside The Breed

There are other variations of the German Shepherd breed such as the King German Shepherd, or various German Shepherd mixes like the German Shepherd Husky Mix for example, that fall outside the actual German Breed category.

They may contain parts of the German Shepherd breed, but also contain parts of other breeds.

For those wondering, the miniature German Shepherd is most likely either a mix, or is a German Shepherd with dwarfism.

 

How Has The German Shepherd Deviated Over The Years From What They Were Originally Bred For

In modern times without regulation on breeding, genetic problems have arisen such as

  • Lines not looking like they originally did,
  • colour-paling, 
  • hip dysplasia, 
  • monorchidism,
  • A whole range of temperaments, and weakness of temperament,
  • Bent or folded ears which never fully turn up when reaching adulthood,

The back structure of the German Shepherd has also changed over time too.

 

German Shepherd Types Resources

Evolution of The German Shepherd Over The Years

How Breeding Has Changed The German Shepherd Breed

 

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