The GSD Family

The German shepherd dog has evolved into many breed types in many countries, and even many offshoot breeds all claiming to be improvements on their progenitor. For someone wanting to buy a German Shepherd Dog the variety of similar dogs must be very confusing. I have included as many of these cousins as I could find, that actually have some claim to breed status and aren’t just crossbreds, with comments on how they compare to the original breed. Those seeking the “best” type must remember that all lines have mental and physical problems. Buyers need to be careful about purchasing a dog from an experienced breeder specializing in whichever type can best fulfill their requirements.

In all fields of service the most effective size is medium size. Dogs between 60 and 90 lbs have the best balance of speed, strength and agility. Huge dogs over 100lbs may impress pet buyers, but serious trainers want a smaller dog. In terms of temperament, the buyer wanting a working dog must demand nervous stability and high prey/hunt drive to a degree that may make the dog unsuitable as a pet. Only the GSD serves in the tens of thousands in all fields of professional and volunteer service all around the world. The breed dominates in Schutzhund, by far the world’s most popular working sport, and excels in obedience, tracking and herding trials. Although I and anyone else who understands what this breed is capable of would prefer that it remain a working dog, that horse escaped the barn a long time ago. The GSD has been one of the world’s most popular breeds for decades, and most of those dogs have been, and will be, pets. Breeders of show and pet dogs – the breeding of show dogs is usually the breeding of pets – must ensure that their dogs are stable, reliable, sound and healthy. Breeders of working dogs must ensure that their dogs are placed only in the hands of those willing and able to provide the training and excercise that these dogs require. When high drive, energetic dogs fall into inappropriate hands, both the dogs and the breed will suffer.

German Shepherd Dog, West German Show (High Lines). This is the breed type most popular in Germany and in much of the world, 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 redominantly black and red in colour, and exhibit a fluid, ground eating trot. Shortcomings which are most typical of this family are roached backs, cowhocks, 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 – see below). These dogs are bred primarily for sport 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 conformation typical of show lines, but many show excellent structure and are powerful and athletic. Sable, black and bicolour are typical, though black & tan also appears. Some show too much drive and aggression to be family or guide dogs, but many 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 WW2. 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 preserving the pure DDR lines but they are more commonly being bred into the German 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 German working lines with good success.
Gent od Policie SchH3 IPO3 ZVV3 Kkl1
German Shepherd Dog, American Show Lines. This family has been the dominant type in North America since the 1970′s, and is heavily inbred on one show dog, GV Lance of FranJo. In general, they are bred for an extreme trotting structure showing excessive length of body and rear angulation, which cannot show the speed and jumping ability of a working dog. Temperament is typically soft, drive is variable and weak nerves have been a problem. The better breeders recognize the issues, and their dogs are participating in obedience, herding and agility. Hips and elbows have improved. At their best, these dogs can be fine family companions.
CH Hermsdorf Highland Wind CD, owned and trained by Linda J Shaw
Old American Show generally refers to American bloodlines bred prior to the 1970′s, and which died out with the appearance of the modern AKC show lines. At the same time in Germany the breed had not yet split into show and working lines, and in type were very similar to the AKC dogs. Dogs like Marko Cellerland and Bernd and Bodo Lierberg were great show dogs and great producers of show, working and sport dogs. German dogs won in the AKC show ring and produced AKC champions. American dogs produced many service dogs in North America with 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 generally do not show the extremes of either parent’s type. Shown is a first generation DDR X Canadian show cross, from a Group winning show champion (Ch Corry Wiesental OVC TT) and a bitch of Kuhnhof breeding. He was my homebred male, Tim, and the most reliable dog I have ever known. He was living proof that a GSD can have high drive and hardness, and still be a wonderful companion, gentle with children and friendly with people. For 14 healthy years he 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 loved by Linda J Shaw. April 14 1995 – May 27 2009
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 pursued separate breed status and gained FCI recognition as the Swiss Shepherd Dog. In North America they are still AKC/CKC registered as GSDs. 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 is an effective colour. The white gene is not linked to deafness and is not albinism. White is a recessive masking gene, bleaching the pigment from a colored dog, but white dogs should show dark eyes and black nose, lips, pads and nails.
CH Alhambra’s Fox Mulder Int’l CH, World CH 2004-05
Panda Shepherd. Currently one family of AKC registered GSDs of German lines, that shows a new, spontaneous mutation, the first ever recorded in dogs, for white spotting that exhibits an autosomal dominant mode of inheritance, consistenct 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 have been studied at the University of California, Center for Veterinary Genetics, School of Veterinary Medicine.
Lewcinkas Franka v 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 colours 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.
Maskless Shepherd. This is a colour variant only, characterized by a lack of the typical black mask, and often showing faded or “bright” points of tan on the muzzle, chest and feet. It can also be seen in sable and bicolour patterns. While common in English lines prior to WW1, it is not typical of any contemporary bloodline. White markings are indicative of fading pigmentation, but are not evidence of wolf blood, although wolf crosses will often show similar colouration. A black mask gives the typical GSD expression and is generally required by most judges, but the lack of it is not strictly speaking a sign of fading colour.
Shiloh Shepherd. A breed developed in America as a reaction to the increasingly extreme show type, in an 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 International Shiloh Shepherd Registry. All colours and coats are accepted. Temperament is medium to soft and drive is variable. Although its giant size and soft temperament make it unsuitable as a service dog, it can make a fine companion, family and therapy dog.
Acer’s Royal Flush of Zion
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. Regarded for many years as a fault, the long coat is now accepted and can be shown in Germany, provided it has an undercoat. A coated dog bred to a dog that is free of the recessive will produce normal puppies who carry the recessive.
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. While no doubt an impressive family and companion dog, because of it’s huge size and soft temperament it is 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 AKC show dogs and the roaching of some German show dogs. Many are long haired. In fact, excess size, placid temperament and high rear ends were never considered desirable in the GSD. Although these problems did exist in the original foundation dogs, good breeders have long ago bred out these problems.
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 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 history and foundation, 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 attempt to recreate the GSD in Communist China, with the tall, square, leggier structure of the very early GSD. Colours include all GSD patterns as well as brindle. It was created to supply military dogs in Yunnan province, and was founded in the 1950′s on 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 trotting structure of the GSD, they are medium in size and selected for temperament. How they compare to Western working bloodlines, but they are reputed to make fine companions, and seem to show good stability and trainability.
Byelorussian Ovcharka. An 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, and was recognized as a separate breed in 1964. It began as a KGB prison dog, which preferred black or near black dogs, although all other GSD colours, as well as white and brindle, are accepted. Blue eyes also exist. It is a giant breed, at least 28 inches at the withers, preferrably taller. While touted as superior to the GSD, it’s huge size is a liability in most working venues, and it has yet to prove its abilities against German 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 has yet to participate in high level sport, although some take part in obedience and IPO sport. It is a light wolf grey in colour, and shows a more confident temperament than the Sarloos. Science is revealing that the domestic dog has evolved the capability to recognize human gestures and intonations of voice, an ability not possessed by the wolf. Dog and wolf should not be crossed again, and existing crosses should be selected for the dog’s more stable temperament.
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 problems with shyness and poor nerves, and is unsuitable as a working dog. It can be light wolf grey, light cinammon sable and pure white. Interestingly, the wolf hybrid 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 healthy wild wolf populations, wolfdog crosses are discouraged.
Utonagan. Another example of the European fascination with the wolf. A cross between GSD, Malamute and Siberian husky which has yet to achieve FCI recognition. This hybrid was not created to produce a better shepherd, but to produce a dog of wolf-like appearance, without the wolf blood. This breed seems to show good temperament and trainability for companion purposes.
American Tundra Shepherd. A 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. The percentages of wolf blood has 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 hybrid is referred to as the Timber Shepherd.
Alsation Shepalute. This is not a breed, as several breeds are still being crossed to produce it. It is a type bred by a single American kennel to supposedly recreate the Dire Wolf, a large, low stationed, long extinct canid. Its type is not yet stable, it is not recognized by any registry, and it has no accepted breed standard.
Dwarf German Shepherd Dog. This is not a miniature GSD, but a genetic defect that can cause multiple health problems, known as pituitary dwarfism. It appears to occur in many families, and afflicted dogs require lifelong medical care to maintain health and coat. Dwarves are usually apparent at birth. 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.
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.