The German shepherd was originally bred to be a working dog with handsome features. Bred to herd livestock the German shepherd had the drive and temperament to perform any task that the owner needed it to perform. Today the German shepherd breed is used in variety of jobs, protection, detection, herding, search and rescue, service dogs, guide dogs, and therapy dogs.
During World War II the breed really became divided into two separate categories.West Germany continued to breed the German shepherd, but focused more on breeds apperance more than work ethic. The West German shepherds are the most popular, and have a more sloped body than the East German shepherd, but not as much slope as the American German shepherds. The most common colors are black and red, but they also come in colors of black and tan, sable, bi-colors and black. This is where today’s show dogs came from.
East Germany DDR (Deutshe Demokratishe Republik), used the dogs more for working during the time of the war, and they were bred to be more aggressive. They focused on the breeds temperament and drive. They tend to have dark pigmentation, a large blocky head, big bone structure and a lean build. The most common colors for the working lines are sables, but they also come in black and red, black and tan, and bi-colors, as well as solid black. Their backs do not slope like the American show lines of German shepherd, but have a straight appearance. This is where today’s working German shepherd came from.
The average person would not be able to tell the difference, except for the variations of colors and markings, but a true German shepherd breed connoisseur can tell a major difference.
A German shepherd that comes from show lines will be very beautiful in physical appearance. They will also show the protective qualities one desires in the breed coupled with the same great intelligence. What they lack however is the hard drive that the working line has.
What I mean by hard drive is this. I can take a show dog and assign him a job to do and more and likely he will follow the commands given to him. If for some reason something comes up that might not normally be what the dog expects, he might just call it quits and not complete the job. On the other hand, a working dog will push through it, and give 100% until the task he was assigned to do is completed. Why? A working dog has a higher drive. When they are assigned a task and they have been trained how to do it, then they put every effort into completing it.
A working dog is not your normal companion dog. They have to be worked or both you and the dog will go crazy. They are high drive, high energy, and always wanting to please. If I was walking through the forest and came across a bear I would feel safer knowing I had a dog that would stand its ground, but also listen while given a command to back off. This could save both the dog’s life and yours. You can build a dog’s drive overtime, but if the temperament was not bred into the bloodline, you might not have to out run the bear; but you will have to out run the dog back to the car.
This isn’t to say that a German shepherd that comes from show lines is not capable of performing the same task, but if it’s not in the genes. Then you might have to find out the hard way.
Many people say, “But a lot of show dogs carry Schutzhund titles,” and this is true. A well-trained German shepherd will always want to please its handler, and as long as the handler sets the dog up to succeed he will. By this I mean a show dog that doesn’t have a sound temperament will require a little help in achieving this title. This could be just as simple as making sure the dog is allowed to use the same helper (decoy) in competition that they use in training exercises. If it’s not the norm that they expect, they might not perform the task to their best ability. Not to say that any do! A working dog has to be able to switch drives. From a prey drive which is what they use in competition to a defensive drive; that they use in protection work. If I have a dog that is waiting for me to give them the PROTECT command while I’m getting the crap kicked out of me, that doesn’t help me much. They have to be able to make the switch themselves. They have to know the difference when your child is in real danger of being hurt; and when you are rough housing with your kids. If they can’t then, someone is going to get hurt.
Show lines and working lines are many times bred together so the pups can have supposedly the best of both lines. If the breeder is not an expert at seeing the qualities and the faults in the lines he breeds together, the pups can come out with more negative traits from each line; then the positive. By that I mean, you could have a dog with poor markings, health problems, and a very poor temperament. This is known as a backyard breeder.
A backyard breeder takes their male and female without knowing anything about the history or pedigree of the two, and because there are one or more titles in the pedigree, they call them champion bloodline dogs. If I’m going to call a pup a champion dog, then it’s because they proved to me that they are a champion dog; and not the great, great, great grand son of a dog that titled in Schutzhund 20 years ago, with nothing to show for it after that.
If you are buying a German shepherd for a specific task, then make sure that it comes from a bloodline that has shown for generation after generation that it is capable of performing the task. If you want a great companion dog that is intelligent, loyal, protective, beautiful; and capable of competing in shows, then look for a dog that comes from great show lines. If you want a dog that is going to be high drive; and that’s going to be working everyday, then look for one that comes from a working line, but don’t expect either one to automatically know how to perform what you are looking for. This comes from a great breeder who knows how to socialize the pups correctly, and you the owner making sure that both you, and the dog are well-educated in how to accomplish the task.
I didn’t come out of mother’s womb knowing how to start a vehicle, but with proper guidance I learned how to operate one, with an average amount of skill. I guess that depends on who you ask, but you get the picture!
Today, there are even more different standards of the breed, for example: The great American Bloodline German Shepherd. It runs around the show ring looking so beautiful, in every way. Placed beside a working shepherd makes the working dog look more like a mutt, then a German shepherd. But place them out in the field, and assign them a task and the American bloodline shepherd won’t even make the cut. If I’m a soldier, and I’m depending on my K-9 partner to back me up during an intense gun battle, I don’t care how pretty he looks when I’m dying from my battle wounds; and neither will the opposition. I do care however if he is fully capable of doing the job; and sadly the American blood lines are not bred to. They are bred away from the German Standards of a straight back that is used more for a working dog, and they have been bred to look pretty with sharper angulations or sloped backs. If you look closely at the hindquarters of an American bloodline show dog you can see that they are longer and leaner, and how badly this breeding habit has changed the working quality of the dog. So much, that many people consider it a complete different breed. They have a softer temperament then their German line counter parts. The most common colors are black and tan, black and red, sables, bi-colors, and blacks. Neither a working bloodline German shepherd from East Germany or a Show Line German Shepherd from West Germany could win a show according to the American standards, but they can devote every bit of energy they posses to doing the job assigned to them no matter what it is.