How Many Different Types Of German Shepherds Are There? (Lines, Colors, & Short vs Long Hair)

 

How many different types of German Shepherds are there within the German Shepherd dog breed?

Well, that depends who you ask.

If you ask a breed purist, they might say there are 5 lines.

But, if you ask a regular German Shepherd owner, they might tell you there are many more types of German Shepherds than that to choose from, and might discuss the colors and other types of GSDs.

We’ve already put together this guide with over 100 interesting pieces of information and facts about the German Shepherd Dog Breed.

But in the guide below we take a deeper look into all the types and possible combinations of German Shepherds that exist within the breed, along with clarifications of some types of GSDs that sit outside the breed (or are anomalies).

Let’s take a look!

 

(NOTE: this is a general information guide only, and is not professional advice, or a substitute for professional advice. A qualified vet or animal expert is the only person qualified to give you expert advice in regards to your pet/s)

 

How Many Different Types Of German Shepherds Are There?

 

Understanding The Original Breed Standard For German Shepherds

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.

 

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.

 

However, Breeding Lines Have Diluted Over The Years

It’s important to understand that the German Shepherd breed has diluted and deviated throughout is it’s history.

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 original breed standard.

Read more about the origin, history and evolution of German Shepherds since 1889 in this guide.

Today, there’s several potential ways to categorise German Shepherd types because of this.

 

How Has The German Shepherd Breed 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.

 

Categorising By Lines Of German Shepherds

Technically, there are really only 5 types of German Shepherds within the breed – which are the different lines.

So, categorizing German Shepherds by lines might be the best official way to categorize German Shepherds.

The different lines of German Shepherds are:

 

Lines

North American and Canadian Show Line German Shepherds

West German Show Line German Shepherds

West German Working Line German Shepherds

East German/DDR Working Line German Shepherds

Czech Working Line German Shepherds

 

The Different Lines Of German Shepherds

There are two main lines of German Shepherds – show lines, and working lines (read more about the the different types of work German Shepherds are used in in the modern day in this guide)

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

 

Other Ways To Categorize Types Of German Shepherds

German Shepherds in general have a pre-disposition to be short/medium haired (plush coat), and a particular color depending on the line.

However, there are other variations in genes like color, coat pattern and coat length that change the appearance from dog to dog.

Unregulated breeding over the years, and genetic anomalies give us German Shepherds that can look very different to one another within the same line e.g. a solid white long haired American Show Line GSD.

In particular with the colors, it’s worth noting there are different coat patterns too, that can change the coat appearance.

The full list of combinations and variations of German Shepherds is mostly as follows:

 

Lines

North American and Canadian Show Line German Shepherds

West German Show Line German Shepherds

West German Working Line German Shepherds

East German/DDR Working Line German Shepherds

Czech Working Line German Shepherds

 

Coat Color

Black and Tan

Black and Silver

Black and Red

Black and Cream

Black 

Bi-Color

Blue

Gray

Liver

Sable (a brown color)

White

Brindle

 

Coat Pattern

Saddle back pattern

Blanket back pattern

Bi color pattern

Solid pattern

Sable pattern

Panda pattern

 

Coat Length

Short haired (including medium hair/plush hair)

Long haired

 

Genetic Anomalies

Miniature German Shepherds with dwarfism

 

German Shepherd Coat Colors

Read more about German Shepherd coat colors in this guide.

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.

 

Which Dogs Are Confused As German Shepherds, But, Are Not Part Of The Breed?

King German Shepherd

Many of the Shepherd breeds and variations can be confused as being part of the German Shepherd breed.

One such example of this is the King German Shepherd.

This is a mix breed that was created by mixing Shiloh Shepherds (a mix of American/European German Shepherds and Alaskan Malamutes), American Line German Shepherds and Great Pyrenees dogs.

 

Miniature German Shepherd

The miniature German Shepherd is most likely either a mix, or is a German Shepherd with dwarfism.

 

German Shepherd Mix Breeds

Other mix breeds are sometimes confused as being part of the German Shepherd breed too, such as the German Shepherd Husky Mix.

 

Other Resources About The Different Types Of German Shepherds 

Evolution of The German Shepherd Over The Years

How Breeding Has Changed The German Shepherd Breed

 

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