If you don't have your dog's registration papers, but suspect that he's a purebred German shepherd, there are ways to tell. Compare your dog's appearance to that of the American Kennel Club breed standard. If he passes that basic test, you can look further. Investing in a DNA test will confirm whether your pet has German shepherd or other canine blood.
German Shepherd Breed Standard
Although you might think of a German shepherd as a primarily tan or brown dog with a black saddle and facial markings, the breed standard allows most colors. At maturity, male German shepherds stand between 24 and 26 inches tall at the shoulders, with females slightly smaller at 22 to 24 inches high. Ideally, the dog is longer than tall, with a clean, strong head and withers that are higher than the fairly short back. The tail is bushy. The German shepherd should appear well-muscled and strong.
Long Haired German Shepherds
The description of a German shepherd in the AKC standard breed lists a double coat of medium length. Under faults in the coat, the AKC denotes a "too long outer coat." That fault refers to the long-haired German shepherd. The AKC does not recognize the long-haired variety, and considers it to be a German shepherd with a fault. Long-haired German shepherds have a more even temperament than the short-haired; this may explain why they are more likely to be pets than working dogs. Owners state that the long-haired variety is easier to get along with than their AKC-approved relatives. Long-haired German shepherds have a straighter back and are less prone to hip problems that plague German shepherds.
White German Shepherds
While the AKC standard states that, "A white dog must be disqualified," that doesn't mean white German shepherds don't exist. White German shepherds can't compete in AKC conformation shows, but other groups, including the United Kennel Club, allow the white German shepherd to compete. White German shepherds aren't albinos -- they have brown eyes and dark paw pads, eye rims, noses and mouth pigment. It's easy to confuse a white German shepherd with a white Siberian husky; after all, they're both beautiful dogs with long tails and pointy ears. Though both white German shepherds and Siberian huskies have medium length double coats, there are minor differences in their coat finishes. The German shepherd's outer coat should be dense with harsh, straight hair, compared to the husky's smoother outer coat. Typically, the German shepherd is the bigger of the two dogs, standing between 22 and 26 inches and weighing between 50 and 90 pounds. The husky stands between 20 and 23.5 inches tall and is a lighter 35 to 60 pounds.
European Versus American German Shepherds
German shepherds from European lines or imported from Europe look slightly different from their American counterparts. The European German shepherd -- colloquially referred to as an Alsatian -- have larger heads, a wider and shorter back, and straighter rear legs. The American German shepherd is generally somewhat larger than his European counterpart, with more bend in the rear legs. The American German shepherd usually has a more refined head than the European-bred dog.
Breeds Resembling German Shepherds
Belgian malinois bear a close resemblance to German Shepherds. The height standard for both breeds is the same. Coloring is a clue -- the Belgian malinois has a brown base coat, ranging from "rich fawn to mahogany" with black ears and mask. White is allowed on the toe tips as well as a small spot on the chest. The American Belgian Malinois Club notes that its breed is a quicker and lighter dog than the German shepherd.
The Swedish Vallhund resembles a miniature German shepherd, small but sturdy. At maturity, males of this breed mature between 12.5 to 13.5 inches tall, while females stand between 11.5 to 12.5 inches. The head and ears resemble those of the German shepherd, as does the sable coat coloring. The double coat texture is much like that of the German shepherd.
Another dog resembling the German shepherd is the Belgian tervuren. The tervuren is virtually the same size as the German shepherd, well-balanced and with medium bone structure. While the head is similar to that of the German shepherd, it is somewhat longer. His hair is especially profuse around the collar, on the back of his thighs and the tail. The female Belgian Tervuren does not have as much hair as the male.
Test your dog's DNA through a reputable lab to find out his background. All you have to do is obtain a company's DNA test kit, swab your dog's cheek and return the kit via mail. Inform the company that you suspect your dog is a German shepherd, so the test is run against a breed database. You generally will receive results online in a few weeks.
- German Shepherd Dog Club of America: German Shepherd Dog Breed Standard
- American Belgian Malinois Club: AMBC Malinois Standard
- Pedigree: American vs. European German Shepherds
- DDC Veterinary: Dog Breed DNA Test- Frequently Asked Questions