The popularity of this remarkable breed has led to the creation of many bloodlines and "types" in several countries. As well, there are several offshoot breeds, all claiming to be improvements on their progenitor. For someone wanting to buy a true German Shepherd Dog, the variety of similar dogs must be mind boggling. I have listed as many of these cousins as I could find, with comments on how they compare to the real thing, in both conformation and temperament. For those seeking the "best" type, it should be remembered that all lines can exhibit mental and physical shortcomings, grandiose advertising notwithstanding. Buyers need to be careful about purchasing a dog from an experienced breeder specializing in whichever type can best fulfill their requirements.

Almost every one of the offshoots claims to have superior size, intelligence and temperament to the correct GSD. Superior size means oversized, even giant size. While this may impress the neighbors, it handicaps a working dog. In all fields of service the most effective size is medium size. Dogs between 60 and 90 pounds show the best balance of speed, strength and agility. In terms of intelligence and temperament, not one of these offshoots has demonstrated the abilities of the GSD. While most can make a fine family pet, it is the GSD that serves in the tens of thousands in all fields of professional and volunteer service all around the world. It dominates in Schutzhund, by far the world's most popular working sport, and excels in obedience, tracking and herding trials. No other breed comes even close to the GSD's proven service record, and while as a breed it certainly has its problems, its qualities have never been equaled.

One last comment. The GSD is a working breed, perhaps the very best. While there is nothing wrong with a dog serving as a family pet, this is not its primary function. Breeding GSDs to accommodate the minimal demands of suburban life is like manufacturing a BMW with the engine of a sewing machine. It will certainly look good and give its owner's ego a boost, but the essence is gone. If a pet owner is not willing to provide the training and exercise this breed requires, there are many other breeds, including several listed here, which would be more appropriate. If you cannot cope with a working breed, please do not buy a German Shepherd Dog. Breeders who are unwilling to promote their dogs' working capacities should also find another breed to produce. Breeding away the working ability of a GSD is like wiping the smile off the Mona Lisa - the beauty is still there, but the greatness is gone.

German Shepherd Dog, West German Show (High Lines). This is the breed type most popular in Germany, and which at its best probably comes closest to the Breed Standard. Representatives of this family can be successful show and breeding dogs, and still perform as herding, service, SAR and guide dogs, as well as reliable companions and sport dogs. They are shown world wide under the German SV system, which requires working titles of show and breeding dogs. They are predominantly black and red in color, and exhibit a fluid, ground eating trot. Shortcomings which are most typical of this family are roached backs, fading pigmentation and weak temperament.

VA1 Yasko v Farbenspiel SchH3 Kkl1 a

German Shepherd Dog, German Working Lines (also Belgian and Dutch lines, which are NOT related to Belgian or Dutch shepherds, which are different breeds - see below). These dogs have been bred primarily for the sport of Schutzhund, and as service dogs. They excel as police, military, SAR and drug/bomb detection dogs. If you seriously want a working dog, or one that can be competitive in sport, these are the lines you would consider first. They are less likely to show the elegant conformation typical of show lines, but many, like the dog illustrated, show excellent structure, and they are powerful and athletic. Sable, black and bi=color are typical, although black & tan is also common. Some show more drive and aggression than would be wanted in a family or guide dog, although there are many more that are suitable for any purpose.

V Buster v Adelmannsfelderland SchH3 Kkl1 a

German Shepherd Dog, East German Lines (DDR). This family was developed in East Germany from those dogs remaining in the East after WW 2. Those foundation dogs predated the show/working split of post-war West Germany, and were not extreme in either conformation or drive. The DDR dogs tend to show solid working structure with heavy bone and massive heads, and strong temperament. Some dogs can show a degree of sharpness. Overall, they tend to be very sound. Some breeders are attempting to preserve the pure DDR lines, but they are more commonly being integrated into the working lines with good success.

SG Alk v Osterburg Quell SchH3 DPO2 WPO Kkl1 a

German Shepherd Dog, Czech/Slovak Lines. These dogs were bred in Communist Czechoslovakia as state working dogs. They are essentially the same as the DDR lines, from which they were largely developed. Similarly, some breeders are attempting to preserve the pure Czech dogs, but they are more commonly being integrated into the working lines with good success.

Gent od Policie SchH3 IPO3 ZVV3 Kkl1

German Shepherd Dog, American Show Lines. This family has been the numerically dominant type in North America since the 1970's. The entire family is heavily inbred on one extraordinarily successful show and stud dog at that time, GV Lance of FranJo. They are shown under the American & Canadian Kennel Club systems, which require no working titles or hip certification. In general, they are bred for an extreme trotting structure often showing excessive length of body and rear angulation. Unfortunately, the extreme physical type wanted by specialty judges is not conducive to the speed and jumping ability required of a working dog. Temperament is generally soft, and drive is variable. Weak nerves are a problem, as are other health issues. Recently, some breeders are showing more interest in obedience, herding and agility tests. Hip status is generally good. At their best, members of this family, if not extreme, can be fine family and obedience dogs.

CH Hermsdorf's Highland Wind CD, owned by Linda J Shaw

Old American Show generally refers to American show dogs bred prior to the 1970's, which did not show the extremes of the later bloodlines, and whose bloodllines largely died out with the appearance of the modern American show lines. At the same time in Germany, the breed had not yet differentiated into show and working lines, and in type were very similar to the American dogs. Dogs like Marko Cellerland and Bernd and Bodo Lierberg were great show dogs, and great producers of show, working and sport dogs as well. German dogs won in the American show ring and produced American champions. American dogs produced many service dogs in use in North America. There were no extremes of physical type or temperament.

GV CH Yoncalla's Mike

German Shepherd Dog, British Lines (Alsation). These dogs are descended from old lines imported into the British Isles prior to the modern, post-war German lines. They developed into a heavy boned, long bodied type with uniformly beautiful shoulders, showing generally soft temperament and variable drive. They did find usefulness as police service dogs and guide dogs, but with the relaxation of English quarantine laws, they are being supplanted in service by modern German working lines, and in the show ring by modern German show lines.

CH Shootersway Xanthos of Colgay

Crosses between types are as good or as bad as the animals used to make the cross. They generally do not show the extremes of either parent's type. Shown is a first generation DDR X Canadian show cross, the product of a Group winning show champion (the dog pictured in the Page Heading) and a bitch of Haus Kuhn breeding. He is my homebred male, Tim, and the most stable, reliable dog I have ever known. He is living proof that a GSD can have high drive and strong aggression, and still be a wonderful companion, gentle with small children and friendly with people. He has made friends for the breed where ever he went.

Shawlein Easter Parade SchH3 AD CD TD TT CGC UCC OFA, CH ptd. Bred, trained and owned by Linda J Shaw

German Shepherd Dog, White (Swiss Shepherd Dog). White is a dominant masking gene that is a disqualification in most countries. Lovers of the white GSD campaigned for equal recognition, but finally pursued separate breed status and gained FCI recognition as the Swiss Shepherd Dog. In North America they are still AKC/CKC registered as GSDs, or are recognized by ARBA as Canadian or American White Shepherds. In general, they show good but somewhat oversized structure and medium to soft temperament, with variable drive. They have served as SAR, therapy and guide dogs, where white can be an effective color. The white gene is not linked to deafness or any health problems, and is not albinism. They should show dark eyes and skin, and black nose, lips, pads and nails.

 

Panda Shepherd. Currently one family of AKC registered GSDs of German lines, that shows a new, spontaneous mutation for white spotting that exhibits an autosomal dominant mode of inheritance, consistent with the action of a single gene acting with full penetrance. This family shows uniformly good structure and sound temperament, no discernible health affects, and is pursuing separate breed status. The unique genetics of this race are being studied at the University of California, Center for Veterinary Genetics, School of Veterinary Medicine.

Lewcinkas Franka von Phenom CD TC

There are no "rare" or especially desirable colours in the correct GSD. Blue and liver are disqualifications world wide. Silver, fawn, cream and solid red dogs are examples of extremely faded pigmentation. Breeders who promote odd colors are not breeding to the GSD Breed Standard, although their animals may be perfectly sound and make fine companions. Interbreeding animals with insufficient pigmentation can result in dogs with skin problems, and lightly pigmented exposed skin which is not well protected from UV radiation.

Pictured is a liver and tan GSD.

Shiloh Shepherd. A breed developed in America as a reaction to the increasingly extreme show type, in a supposed attempt to recreate the qualities of the "original" GSD. Alaskan Malamute and Sarplaninac were crossed in to increase size. This is a giant breed, at least 30" at the shoulder. It is not AKC recognized, but is registered with the ISSR, or International Shiloh Shepherd Registry. All colors and long coats are accepted. Ears are slightly smaller than the GSD. Temperament is medium to soft and drive is variable. Although its giant size and soft temperament make it unsuitable as a police service dog, it is an intelligent and sensitive breed that can make a fine companion, family and therapy dog.

CH ptd Trillium Adam Tribute to Zion, CGC TDI

 

German Shepherd Dog, Long Haired (Alt Deutsche Schaferhund, "Old German Shepherd Dog"). This is not a separate type or breed. The recessive gene for long hair is present in all families and types, and results in a longer than normal coat. It can vary from slightly longer than normal, to very long hair which is difficult to keep well groomed and free of burrs and ice. The long coat is a fault, and cannot be shown in Germany. As a result, a separate breed club has been created to promote the long haired shepherd in Europe as the "Old German shepherd", although they appear to be untitled dogs of no particular bloodline, and are not bred for work.

King Shepherd. An American attempt to produce a giant, long haired GSD. ARBA recognized. Malamute, Akita and other breeds were crossed in to increase size. Its Standard insists on as much size and bone as possible. An impressive family and companion dog, It's huge size and soft temperament make it unsuitable as a working dog.

German Shepherd Dog, Old Style (Old Fashioned, Original, Old World etc). This appears to be an attempt to return to the good old days of the breed, with dogs exceeding 30" at the withers, and well over 100 pounds in weight. They are advertised as being "flat backed" and "straight backed", in reference to the excessive slope of some American show dogs and the roaching of some German show dogs. Many are long haired.

In fact, excess size, long hair, placid temperament and high rear ends were never considered desirable in the GSD. Although these problems did exist in the original foundation dogs, which varied widely in type, conscientious breeders have striven to breed out these faults.

This is the true "German Old Style", a Sieger from the 1920s. The dog's dry bone, leg length, shallow chest and square proportions make the breed's kinship with the northern Malinois quite apparent. The breed's founder decided that a more powerful dog was wanted, with a lower stationed, trotting structure that was not so massive as to detract from the dog's speed and agility. These early dogs are the breed's foundation and history, but breeders have developed better dogs than this, and there is no good reason to return to the past.

VA1 Erich v Grafenwerth

Kunming Dog. An interesting attempt to recreate the GSD in Communist China, but with the square, leggier structure of the very early GSD. They can show a tendency to weediness. Colors include all GSD patterns, as well as brindle apparently. This breed was created to supply military dogs in Yunnan province, of which Kunming is the capital. It was founded in the 1950's on the blood of 10 Beijing military "wolf dogs", likely of GSD descent, 20 tested local dogs and 10 GSDs from Germany. They serve widely in China as police and military dogs, as well as SAR dogs. Although they have lost the beautiful trotting structure of the GSD, they are medium in size, close coated and selected for temperament. How they compare in ability to the best working bloodlines in the West remains to be seen, but they are reputed to make fine companions, and overall would seem to show good stability and trainability.

Byelorussian Ovcharka. An interesting attempt to recreate the GSD in the Soviet Union. In the 1930's GSDs were crossed with Central Asian Ovcharkas, Russian Laikas and other local breeds, supposedly to increase the ability to withstand cold, which is odd, considering a healthy GSD is quite happy in even Canada's severe north. It was recognized as a separate breed in 1964. This dog was essentially a guard and prison dog for the KGB, which preferred black or near black dogs, although many other GSD colors, as well as white and brindle, are accepted. Blue eyes also exist. It is a giant breed, at least 28 inches at the withers, preferably taller. While touted as superior to the GSD in almost every way, it's huge size would be a liability in most working venues, and it has yet to prove its abilities as something other than a security dog against the best Western working lines.

Czechoslovakian Wolfdog. An FCI recognized Czech breed developed from a cross between the European wolf and the GSD, supposedly to produce a larger, healthier, super shepherd. While similar to some Czech line GSDs in appearance, this dog's temperament, incorporating as it does the wolf's highly developed flight response, makes it unsuitable as a working dog, although some take part in obedience and low level IPO sport. It is a light wolf grey in color.

Science is now revealing that the domestic dog has evolved a genetic capability to recognize human gestures and intonations of voice, an ability not possessed by the wolf. This would suggest that crossing the two might not be such a good idea.

Sarloos Wolfhond. An FCI recognized Dutch breed developed from a cross between the European wolf and the GSD, supposedly to produce a superior shepherd dog. It has become highly inbred, has a pronounced flight response to stress (embedded in its Standard!), problems with shyness and poor nerves, and is completely unsuitable as a working dog. It can be light wolf grey, light cinnamon sable and pure white.

Interestingly, the wolf breeds have become quite popular in Europe, where the wild wolf is essentially extinct. They seem to have a romantic appeal to Europeans who value their novelty and ties with a vanished wilderness. In North America, which still has extensive wilderness and healthy wild wolf populations, wolfdog crosses are frowned upon.

Utonagan. Another example of the European fascination with the wolf. A cross between GSD, Malamute and Siberian huskies which has yet to achieve FCI recognition. This hybrid was not created to produce a better shepherd, but to producea dog of wolf-like appearance, without the wolf blood. This cross seems to show good temperament and trainability for companion purposes, and makes no claims to superiority as a working dog.

American Tundra Shepherd. An non-registerable American cross between the North American wolf and GSD. While certainly impressive, its very large size makes it unsuitable as a service dog. It has no record as a reliable working dog in any field of service or sport. It seems to come in a wide range of wolf and GSD colours, and most seem to show a high set rear and sway back, which are not typical of the wolf. The percentages of wolf blood have not been standardized, and temperament can be unstable. Suffice to say, the wolf belongs in the wild, and there can be no good reason for crossing them with dogs of any breed.

Another virtually identical American cross is referred to as the Timber Shepherd.

Dwarf German Shepherd Dog. This is not a miniature version of the breed, but a genetic defect that can cause multiple health problems and is referred to as pituitary dwarfism. It appears to occur in many different families, and afflicted dogs require lifelong veterinary care to maintain health and coat. Dwarves are usually identifyable at birth, and are not simply runty animals stunted by health issues. Secondary problems include pannus, thyroidism, allergies and poor coat. Many can become nearly bald with age, and none grow much larger than 20 or 30 pounds. The temperament of dwarves however appears unaffected, and they show the character typical of their family. If well cared for, they can live a long and happy life, and make a charming companion.

Remy SchH1 and dwarf Nemo AHBA HCT, photo courtesy of Julia Priest

Bohemian Shepherd (Chodsky pes, Chodenhund). An indigenous herding breed of the Czech Republic that can be traced back approximately 500 years. This breed is, if not a progenitor of the GSD, then certainly descended from some of the same European herding families. Somewhat smaller than the GSD, it carries a long coat and is always black with red markings. Its resemblance to the GSD can be striking. It is an energetic, friendly dog that excels as a general service and companion dog. Although not currently FCI recognized, it is considered a national dog of the Czech Republic, and its growing popularity will assure its recognition.

Aira Ringer

 

Altdeutscher Huetehunde. A popular, indigenous herding breed of Germany, probably descended from some of the same European herding families. Some members of this breed may have played a part in the foundation dogs of the GSD. It comes in all coats and colours, and is a herding specialist.
Belgian Shepherd (Malinois). This smaller, lighter, highly athletic breed is a cousin to the GSD, descending from Northern European sheepdogs, and developed in the Belgian town of Malinois. It excels as a police and general service dog, and in sports such as French Ring, Mondio, KNPV and Schutzhund. Other varieties are the Groenendael, Turveren and Laekenois.
Dutch Shepherd. Very similar to the Malinois, this breed is brindle striped, and also has long and wired haired varieties. It also excels as a service dog, and is occasionally used in crossbreeding with the Malinois to produce sport and service dogs.

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