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Home Breed History of the German Shepherd America vs. Europe In Breeding

German Shepherd Breed Profile | American vs. European and German Bloodlines and Breeding

After the First World War we begin to see divergences between the European German Shepherd and its American counterpart. American soldiers, who had encountered the German Shepherds during their period fighting abroad, became interested in the German Shepherd (although, given anti-Teutonic sentiment at the time, they were given to referring to the breed as either just “shepherd” or by the recently-adopted English appellation of “Alsatian”), and films like Rin Tin Tin and Strongheart introduced the breed to a wider audience. Unfortunately, however, American breeders tended not to use the stringent – some might argue excessively selective – standards of German breeders, choosing instead to breed as many dogs as quickly as possible at “puppy mills,” resulting in turn in dogs that were relatively poor-quality compared to their German counterparts.

However, today's German Shepherd has become a dog that Americans and  Europeans of years gone by would be proud of-a highly intelligent canine, one that has been extensively used as a proven war and police dog.

Even with that said, it's very important to note that there are real differences between the American and European German Shepherds.  While American German Shepherds (for purposes of scope, we're including both Canada and the United States) adhere to the Canadian Kennel Club (CKC) and American Kennel Club (AKC) standards, they are merely just that -standards-with minimal enforcement, if any, on issues relating to health and temperament. In Germany, the Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde (SV), the official club for the German Shepherd dog, has taken a more involved and proactive role in the breed as a whole, requiring the dog meet a number of specified prerequisites for registration. Even with that said, the SV has had its challenges to, particularly with the German police, who have found it quite difficult to obtain quality working dogs for police work.  But more importantly, the differences seen in the German Shepherd breed from an American vs. European perspective are as follows:

American Lines: A large, and growing number of breeders in America have and are continuing to breed the German Shepherd for "show lines" and family pets.  The result is a dog that significantly differs from the original working lines of this great canine, and one that exhibits a large, soft frame, refined head, extreme angulation (i.e., sloping of the back, from the neckline to the hips), a temperament lacking the working drive and intensity seen in many of the German and European lines.  What's more, they are bred mostly for looks and gait, with little attention given to its true ancestry. As a result, many of the American German Shepherds are held in poor regard by working line purists due to these characteristics.  Critics of the American breeders point to the many amateur breeders, "back-yard" breeders, and other individuals who lack the knowledge and judgment in preserving and promoting the true working lines of this breed. With that said, there are, however, numerous breeders in America practicing sound and ethical breeding in hopes of improving the German Shepherd's health, temperament, and true working lineage. Sadly, however, they are outweighed by the many novice, ill-advised breeders.

And to be fair, the issue is much larger than "show dog" lines vs. working lines in America, rather, it's the struggle to preserve and protect the breed form careless and misinformed individuals.  And though purists of the working line for the German Shepherd dog greatly criticize the "softening" of the breed, it must be stated that as long as the "show", "ring" and family dogs being bred are healthy, with a sound and stable temperament, then consideration should be given by all in the German Shepherd community (especially the working line "purists") for accepting these canines as quality examples of this fine breed. Without question, the American German shepherd is a different breed than its European counterpart, but given the varying needs of this dog on the Americans shores (from family pet to canine cop), one can understand the desire to produce litters suited for various roles in our society. 

European Lines: Generally speaking, the European German Shepherds are a slightly physically smaller dog, with bigger heads, straighter lines (unlike the noticeable "sloping" of the back in American German Shepherds), along with shorter, wider backlines.  Additionally, these dogs exhibit more of a working bloodline than their American counterparts, have a much more alert, attentive demeanor, and generally seem to be more serious in nature. That does not make them any less of a family pet, rather, many argue that the European working bloodlines actually result in the dog having a sound and stable temperament; one that is confident in its roles, responsibilities, and overall duties as a canine. In fact, many of the American German Shepherd police and security dogs are descendant directly from European lines.  This longstanding tradition, however, is also being challenged as the popularity of the breed worldwide has resulted in widespread ill-breeding tactics that have comprised the quality of these dogs, so much so that other breeds are being considered (i.e., Belgian Malinois) for police and security work.

While the American German Shepherd is looked upon as refined, softer, gentler dog-one that is almost a completely separate breed from its original design-the European German Shepherd bloodline is one that remains as close to the original concept of founder Max von Stephanitz, but not without flaws.

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