The German Shepherd is one of the most widely recognised dogs in the world. Thanks to a rich history and a large cultural impact in various global societies, they are one of the most respected dog breeds. This is partly due to their intelligence, compatibility with humans and usefulness as a working dog. There are only two officially recognised German Shepherd dog breeds, but there are many ways you can differentiate the breed. Here we look into the different types of German Shepherd dog to see what breed variations exist, some of which may become officially recognized in the future.
Characteristics of the German Shepherd Dog
The German Shepherd Dog ( or GSD) is the current officially recognised name for this breed, previously known as 'Alsation' or 'Alsation Wolf Dog'.
The two distinct types are defined by the length of their coat; either medium or long. Both types have a double layered coat, a softer and thicker undercoat and a coarser outer layer of guard hair.
As their name suggests, the German Shepherd was first produced in Germany. While there were different progenitor breeds, the first officially recognised German Shepherd Dog was called Horand von Grafrath. In 1899, von Grafrath's owner started the breed as the epitome of what a working dog should be and it is from this one dog that all modern German Shepherd dogs originate. There has been some discussion over the years that this dog may have been part wolf.
The working origins of the breed are very important as the standardisation was established to promote the dog's ability. This was something which was becoming lost as industry and urbanisation began to reduce the need for working dogs. Thus, the German Shepherd was created to ensure these traits were maintained. While many GSDs are now kept as companion animals, they are still one of the most widely used working dogs in many different areas. Shepherding is not as common a practice as when the breed was established, but use in law enforcement, security and rescue operations is still widespread.
It wasn't just physical ability which made the German Shepherd breed so popular. Their incredible loyalty and desire for engagement means they are relatively easy to train. For the same reasons, they need to be well-socialised and given sufficient physical and mental stimulation. Without these practices, they can develop serious behavioral problems.
While the medium and longhair varieties are the only recognised length of coat for German Shepherds, the color of said coat can be varied. Not all are allowed in competitions, with some color variations being considered to be faults and will affect their scoring. In terms of coat color, there are the following different types of German Shepherd:
Saddle coat (black & tan)
It should be noted however that not all varieties of German Shepherd are accepted by all breed associations such as the FCI (known as the World Canine Organization in English). Similarly, there are dogs which look very similar to the German Shepherd, but are not considered part of the breed, Such as Belgian Melinois, Dutch Herder and Czech Wolf Dog.
Saddle Back German Shepherd Dog
This type of German Shepherd is the most common variety. While they are usually of two color, it is the distinctiveness of their markings which gives them this name. The saddle part refers to a patch of black fur which lays over their back, resembling the shape of a saddle on a horse. Some people refer to this as a ‘blanket’ pattern, interpreting the shape as of a blanket were laid over their back.
The other color of Saddle Back German Shepherds are usually either tan or red. In many dogs shows and competitions, the more vibrant the color, the better the scoring. Liver color is not welcomed and may be used to deduct points. They usually also have a black muzzle which covers their snout and parts of their face, with some other areas such as their tail exhibiting black coloration.
Solid Color German Shepherd Dog
The solid color German Shepherd dog is less common than the Saddle Back, but they shouldn't have any other differentiating characteristics. Their health status and temperament should not be informed by color. It is possible to have powder blue colors in the dog's coat, but it is unlikely this will be solid. While a GSD may be accepted in competition, they will likely be marked down for this color or liver. However, for solid colors, you tend to only get solid black , white or blue German Shepherds. Solid black German Shepherds are accepted in competition. However, solid white German Shepherds are one of the few color variations which tend to be immediately disqualified. While black GSDs are due to a recessive gene, white GSDs are thanks to a dominant gene which exists in some litters. It should not be confused with albinism. Neither should it be confused with the Berger Blanc Suisse, also known as a White Swiss Shepherd. Perhaps partly due to their disqualification from competition, solid white Germans Shepherds are not very common.
Panda German Shepherd Dog
Another type of German Shepherd which is not very common is the Panda German Shepherd. They have a curious and striking appearance which is often confused with other dog breeds. Due to a genetic mutation, but they are a full German Shepherd and are not a mixed breed. The mutation occurred in a litter from the USA. This type of German Shepherd exhibits a white coat on the abdomen and legs, but has black or tan on other parts, giving them a sort of panda like appearance.
Like other German Shepherd Dogs, they are agile, strong and ideal family pets. However, they arouse controversy over some breeders as white markings are considered a fault. However, the main controversy appears to be the belief that the dog is from inferior stock, but so far their health seems to be average when compared to other GSDs.
Sable German Shepherd
The technical term for Sable German Shepherds is ‘agouti’. The sable pattern does not manifest in patches like the saddle back. Instead they have various multicolored hair over their bodies which gives a variegated all-over appearance. This color tends to develop as they get older and some may be stronger than others. The color may be a combination of tan, grey, black, or gold. However, all Sable GSDs start off as tan and then develop darker colors as they age. The variations among Sable GSDs are wide, but they are due to a dominant gene. They are believed to be dominiant over German Shepherd colors and variations.
German Shepherds - Working and Show Lines
In addition to the length of their coat and its coloring, the German Shepherd is also sometimes categorised by its body type. This body can be more or less stylised, tending to be more or less muscular. The more muscular they are, the dogs are considered to be working lines and the less muscular are show lines. They are not officially different types of German Shepherd dogs, but they do exhibit small differences.
Focusing on working dog lines, they tend to have larger muscle mass and a more structured body. This means they are more commonly used by police or security forces. However, there is sometimes noticeable difference in temperament, working lines tend to become easily bored if not worked and exercised often enough both mentally and physically and show dog lines tend to be less stressy and are wonderful companion animals. They can have long or short hair, but more often than not working line German Shepherds most commonly appear in shorter sable coat patterns.
In contrast, all German Shepherds are lovable and loyal. However their appearance, temperament, energy levels, and activity can vary greatly. Sometimes the breed lines cross making it difficult to distinguish working and show lines, and true temperaments may only show at a later age. Researching the breed and looking into each side and their differences can affect your choice when looking for a German Shepherd.
We currently (at the time of writing) have 6 German Shepherds, 1 Czech Working Line (VUX), 1 Solid Black (KENSI), 1 Mid Coat Show Line Black & Gold (RILEY), 2 Black & Tan short coat (ABBIE & ZEVA) and 1 Black & Tan long coat oversize (LEON) not one of them is the same as the other. Their energy levels and temperament vary dramatically.
If you wish to meet any of them just ask! You will straight away see the differences between the lines and colours.
Hopefully this little insight to German Shepherds has opened your eyes to just how versatile and vast the 'breed' really is and hopefully also shows how we are able to help our potential adopters when looking for their potential new companion. We dont just know about the breed we actually have vast experience of the breed, breed lines and classes.