German shepherds are the second most popular dog breed in the U.S., according to the American Kennel Club (AKC). However, what many people don't know is that there are several types of German shepherds, including the American German Shepherd, West German Shepherd, and East — or DDR — German Shepherd.
Spot subtle differences
The untrained eye might not notice the physical differences between the German shepherd types. The most noticeable difference comes with the slope of the hips. The American German shepherd dog type is what you see most commonly here in the US, or a variation of it.
American German shepherds have the most distinctly angled hips, the smallest hips, and heavy build with thinner bones according to Vom Geliebten Haus German Shepherd Dog Kennel. The breeder likens them as almost a breed in itself as they're different from shepherd dogs in other parts of the world.
After World War II, the DDR / East German dogs were maintained strictly by the government of East Germany and these dogs have a very distinct look. Working-class dogs, such as the East German shepherd, have less angular hips such as those found in the west German shepherd show varieties. However, when comparing DDR vs. west German shepherd types, there are other differences to look for.
DDR vs. West German shepherd
After World War II around 1949, East Germany and West Germany became separate entities. As a result, the German shepherd dogs within their borders developed separate and distinct traits. The East German government maintained the breed to work with the military, breeding for the dog's hard-working abilities, keen focus, and physical stamina, according to The Daily Shep. This type of German shepherd has a strong, straight back with sound hips and elbows, and are often very darkly colored.
The East German shepherd has an exceptionally strong prey drive and retrieving abilities. Their strong work capabilities develop at a young age, according to the German Shepherd Guide. The West German shepherd developed into two types: the working dog and the show dog. The show dog usually sports rich red and black coloration while the working line comes in a variety of colors but isn't necessarily showy in appearance.
Both varieties of the West German shepherd make excellent family pets. The temperament of the West German shepherd show line makes it a natural guardian for its family, according to Vom Geliebten Haus. The higher-energy working line is a good choice for service pets, law enforcement, search-and-rescue, and herding.
Choosing the right type
If you're planning to add a German shepherd to your family, make sure to opt for the lines that best suit your lifestyle. While you are researching, you may find the dog breed abbreviated as GSD, with its geographic designator in front of it.
American show line
The American German shepherd is the least physically demanding of all the German shepherd lines. With a laid-back temperament and loyal attitude, this dog is happy to lie at your feet, snuggle on the couch, or even work on agility or obedience events alongside you, according to German Shepherd Corner.
This dog's thinner bone structure and sharply angled back to leave it prone to hip and elbow degeneration. No hip guarantees are required in the U.S. for the American GSD. Dogs sold as pets aren't required to meet a specific set of characteristics, such as the official breed standard for this line published by the American Kennel Club.
West German shepherd show line
With a higher energy level than its American relative, the West German shepherd show line can make a strikingly beautiful pet for an active family who is willing to provide training, physical activity, and mental stimulation.
The breed must meet the standards of the German shepherd association, Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde (SV). Requirements include passing a screening for both hip and elbow dysplasia before a dog can be used for breeding. Also, dogs must be judged by SV officials to be of suitable anatomy, performance, and character, certifying that they promote "the preservation and advancement of the breed as far as is possible."
Working line dogs
The working line of the West German shepherd and the East German shepherd both exhibit strong prey, retrieving, and herding drives. They're ideal if you're planning to train a dog for search and rescue, protection, or guarding.
The West German working line is capable of settling down when needed to relax with the family. The East German line with its higher energy level is best suited for law enforcement and other demanding work, and should always work with an experienced handler.
- American Kennel Club: Most Popular Breeds
- Vom Geliebten Haus German Shepherd Dog Kennel: Types of German Shepherd Dogs
- The Daily Shep: East German Shepherd vs West German Shepherd—Origins & Differences + Similarities
- German Shepherd Guide: German Shepherd Types
- German Shepherd Corner: German Shepherd Breed Types — Which is Right for You?
- American Kennel Club: German Shepherd Breed Standard
- Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde: Breeding and Upbringing