Fewer dog breeds appear as similar as the Alsatian (officially knows as the Alsatian shepalute or American Alsatian) and the German shepherd, and fewer breeds are so radically different. Matching only in appearance, these two breeds derive from different places and are bred for different purposes. While the Alsatian bloodline does have German shepherd in it, it has since diverged, and the Alsatian has been identified as a separate breed.
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There is no comparable history between the Alsatian and the German shepherd. The German shepherd was bred in Germany beginning around 1899 as a high-drive working dog with high intelligence and protective instincts. The Alsatian was bred by California breeder Lois Schwartz in 1987 as a large-breed companion dog with little to no working drive. In order to achieve these traits, the line started with a German shepherd/Alaskan malamute cross. That achieved the size and appearance of the dog Schwartz wanted, but both of those breeds are able working dogs. Her goal was to eliminate the working drive. In order to mellow the breed out, she added English mastiff lines, along with Anatolian shepherd. The breed stabilized and became recognized in 2000.
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The German shepherd is a working dog. Suited for anything it can be trained for, it excels at obedience trials, protection work, search and rescue, agility, tracking, freestyle and herding. The Alsatian is a companion dog. Unsuitable for work, the dog makes a wonderful family pet. It possesses a very calm, stable temperament and is quite friendly.
The German shepherd and Alsatian are extremely similar in appearance and color. Both breeds are easily trained and make wonderful family pets.
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The size difference between the German shepherd and Alsatian is staggering. The Alsatian is a much larger dog, often outweighing the German shepherd by 20 to 40 pounds. Alsatians tend to live two to four years longer than German shepherds. The German shepherd breeding lines are riddled with health issues, while the Alsatian has been carefully bred to be a solid, healthy dog. Health problems haven't been seen in the Alsatian line since 2003.
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Both breeds are easily trainable, although the German shepherd catches on far quicker. The Alsatian is a "thinker," a breed that must process and figure something out before acting on it. German shepherds immediately embody the lesson at hand and possess a need to constantly be learning.