The Different Bloodlines of the German Shepherd

July 3, 2014

german shep gomaBy Linda Cole

The German Shepherd is hands down one of the most versatile dog breeds around. This is an intelligent breed capable of doing a wide variety of jobs. The original job of the dog was as a multi-purpose herder that could protect the flock, home and family, and be a companion pet at the end of the day. However, a split occurred that took the breed in two very different directions and created an American bloodline and a German bloodline.

Captain Max von Stephanitz is the German breeder who developed the German Shepherd dog. He wanted to create a smart, strong, courageous, protective and adaptable herding dog capable of doing his job and then returning home to his family to play with the children. Von Stephanitz was interested in the working ability of the breed, and everything he did was to preserve the characteristics and traits of the dog he developed.

In 1899, he mixed early versions of shepherd dogs to come up with the Deutsche Schäferhunde, the German Shepherd dog, and wrote the standard for the breed in 1901. Soon after, von Stephanitz created a test to evaluate each dog’s herding ability, and Schutzhund to measure their mental stability, protection ability, courage, willingness to work and obedience. Both tests determine if a dog is a good candidate to use in a breeding program. Any German Shepherd bred in Germany and Europe to this day must earn a Schutzhund I title or a certificate in herding in order to be used in breeding.

During and after WW II, many dog breeds were on the brink of extinction, including the German Shepherd. A lack of food and a distemper outbreak took a toll on the number of dogs throughout Europe. It was after the war when the American line and German line went in different directions, with American breeders more interested in breeding for show quality and the German breeders wanting to preserve the working traits of the breedgerman shep martin.

The American Bloodline

The most pronounced difference between the American line and German line is the extreme angulation of the hindquarters, and the body has more of an angle from the front to the back. Both bloodlines adhere to the same standard, but the difference between American and German lines lies in the interpretation of the breed standard. American German Shepherds are slightly taller and longer then their German counterparts. The head is more refined, their body is a bit longer and angled, and they are generally heavier and lighter boned.

These dogs are bred for the show ring, and appearance and movement is the main focus of breeders. The sloped back gives the dog a “flying trot” which is the desired movement in the show ring. Compared to the German and European line, the American bloodline is considered by some to be a separate breed. They aren’t a working dog, although some American bred GSDs have been successful as a herder. However, they aren’t suited for police or military work, search and rescue or Schutzhund. Their coat color can be the traditional black and tan saddle pattern, solid black or white, bi-colors or sable. The breed standard for the American line is regulated by the American Kennel Club.

The German Bloodline

The one and only goal of German breeders is to maintain the working ability and temperament of the German Shepherd. Rin Tin Tin is from the German bloodline of the breed. These dogs are usually darker in color than the American bred dogs, with the traditional black and tan saddle pattern. The back doesn’t have the severe slope, nor does the dog have the “flying trot.” Canines from the German line are used in military and police work, search and rescue, Schutzhund, herding, protection and a variety of other jobs.

The German bloodline takes a very different interpretation of the breed standard which is regulated by the German Shepherd Club of Germany (SV) and strives to continue breeding the German Shepherd Dog for the characteristics and traits that were developed by von Stephanitz.

It’s important to understand the differences between the two bloodlines because it will matter which one you decide to get. Most German Shepherds from the American line will be impressive in the show ring because that’s the job they are bred to do. Some may do well in herding trials, agility, obedience or other dog sports, but they don’t have the temperament for Schutzhund or any other protection type of work. German Shepherds from the German bloodline excel at a variety of jobs, but they will not catch the eye of a judge in an American show ring.

Both bloodlines are bred to do a job, and if you are looking to add a German Shepherd to your family, knowing the difference between the two lines helps you decide which one is right for you. Have some knowledge about the breed before you buy, and make sure you’re dealing with a reputable breeder.

Top photo by gomagoti
Middle photo by martinilounge834
Bottom photo by Kristine Gunter

Read more articles by Linda Cole

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  1. Nick Olivas says:

    I have an all German blood shepherd that is an amazing dog; VERY protective, very loving to his family. I did
    Not have the money at the time to get him appropriately certified but if I get aanother, I will. God willing.

  2. Ron M. says:

    Hello. Thank you for the article.

    Do you think an American Show Line German Shepherd will still be protective of their family? I don’t want to spend multiple hours a day with a working line as they need lots of attention. Will 2 hours a day be ok with a show line? Will they still be protective and intelligent?

    1. gaz says:

      Dogs from east german bloodlines tend to be more protective in general. The dogs that patrolled the east side of the berlin wall were called DDR dogs or (Deutsche Demokratische Republik) dogs

      The german government selectively bred the DDR dogs over a period of about 40 years to be the ultimate man stopper. Only the strongest hardest dogs made the cut. Any sign of weakness and they were killed.

      DDR dogs had bigger bones, massive heads and very protective natures, mostly very dark in colour.

      After the berlin wall came down the DDR dogs went to the czech military and continued to be bred by only one kennel.

      DDR And Czech bloodlines are almost the same or very similar.

  3. azeez says:

    wise and stemmet bloodline
    is that American or german?
    wanna get me a puppy

  4. GSD Len says:

    Unfortunately, this article is so vague that it does more harm than good. As KK said, there are SEVERAL types of American lines and German lines, many of which exhibit almost nothing as the article represents. Sorry. Otherwise, great blog! 😉

  5. Trish says:

    I lost my beloved GSD this past March to an undetected tumor on his spleen, which started bleeding. Despite a blood transfusion, fluids, he passed during surgery. His heart just couldn’t hold on…my question is after losing Sascha to this heartbreaking illness, I found out GSD’s and Golden Retrievers suffer from this condition all to commonly. Sascha’s father was German bloodline, his mother was American. Sascha looked and had the temperment of the German bloodline. Best dog ever. I have been told the German bloodline does not have this same health concern as do the American. Is this true? I know there is no guarantee, but I need to do some research before I adopt another.

  6. Armin says:

    im gonna buy a germanshepherd so how can we findout deference between them???

  7. Kk says:

    So inaccurate. There are 2 American lines… American show lines and American pet lines. The show lines are the ones with the deformed figure to “comply” with the breed standard in the show ring. Pet lines are just that. Your average German Shepherd across the street…nothing special.

    There are 2 German lines as well. (West) German show lines and German working lines (DDR & West German WL). Czech working lines too, but not “German”. Whatever. You get the point. The German show lines have a different conformation from the American show counterparts, the REAL difference is temperament.

  8. Petter says:

    I love the look of that German bloodline. Looks so handsome! ^^

  9. Brandy says:

    How do you find a reputable breeder of the German or European lines? I’m having trouble doing that!!

  10. Thank-you for the article. It was interesting to hear more about von Stephanitz as he really helped pioneer the German bred GSD. I will add, as a police officer and professional GSD trainer, we only accept our dogs from German breeders.

  11. DMatsuura says:

    I’m sure many American German Shepherd breeders would disagree with your statements that American bred dogs are not suitable for any activities other than the show ring. I think readers need to be aware that in many breeds there are different styles of dogs but the genetics of the breed are the same. A German Shepherd is the same dog whether it is bred in American or Germany. Diane @ CANIDAE

  12. sandy weinstein says:

    i get sick to my stomach when i watch the gs at the dog shows, even the puppies are walking on their hocks. the akc has ruined this breed. most cant even walk by the time they are 4-5 yrs old, get hip displasia. it is disgusting

    1. Debbie Jensen says:

      The breeders of SOME of the GSD show lines are styling their lines to what they consider representing the standard. Some breeders don’t use the standard, obviously when breeding their dogs. I think the judges need to keep the standard in mind when they choose the winners. Throw out the politics and do the breed a big favor. I think the German lines that are coming into the country don’t use the standard either when breeding their dogs. I have seen roached backs that are a complete opposite to the standard description. They have block heads and shorter snots. Why did they ignore the standard? Both countries need to take in consideration as to the dogs long levity, cancer free, easy movement and DM free, as they mature and hopefully live a long life.