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Working vs Show Line German Shepherds: Key Differences

If you want to get a German Shepherd, you’re faced with the question “working line or show line?” And if you feel like saying, “well, I just want a German Shepherd,” it is crucial to know the differences between these types to inform your decision further.

Working line German Shepherds have high energy and stamina alongside immense desire to please and protect. In contrast, show line German Shepherds are a derivative breed that is much more aesthetic and comparatively lower-energy, making it easier to maintain but having more challenging health issues.

In this article, you will learn about the differences between working line and show line German Shepherds. I’ll include the origin, advantages, and disadvantages of each type of German Shepherd. You will also discover what makes both working lines and show lines respectively appropriate for different owners.

By the end, you’ll know which dog you mean when you say, “I just want a German Shepherd.”

Let’s dive in!

A working line GSD and a shoW line GSD. Difference Between Working Line and Show Line German Shepherds

Differences Between Working Line and Show Line German Shepherds

Working Line GSDShow Line GSD
AppearanceStraighter topline, athletic, muscular, wolf-like Sloped back, more angulated, bulkier size
TypeWorking / CompanionShowing / Companion
TemperamentHigh-energy, Protective, Guard-dog, Brave, Loyal, Highly-bonded, Intelligent, Confident, Aloof, Versatile, AlertSlightly less energetic, Affectionate, Less clingy, Intelligent, Confident, Independent, Aloof, Protective, Loyal
HealthImproved health (hip and elbow dysplasia is rare)Hip and elbow dysplasia, other joint issues
Coat Type (Length)Short-medium, Medium Medium, Long
Coat ColorBlack sable, black & tan, solid blackRich dark colors; black and red, black and tan, all black
Cost$1500+$2000 – $2500

Working Line GSD: A Brief Overview

Working line German Shepherds are bred for work and have an aesthetic and sometimes intimidating appearance. They possess a strong work ethic, enhanced physical capabilities, better limb-length consistency due to less hind angulation, and improved health.

They can be distinguished from show line German Shepherds by their physique and athleticism. These dogs come in 11 registered coat colors (with black and tan, black sable, and solid black being more prominent) and a wolf-like posture.

The history of show dogs, in general, goes back to the 1850s when breeds were being standardized in Germany. Breeders at that time had a significant bone of contention; whether dogs should be bred based on appearance or their working capabilities. 

Max von Stephanitz, a German army captain and former veterinary science student, advocated for standardized breeding of working dogs and dedicated 35 years of his life to developing a breed with excellent herding capabilities.

He was inspired by a dog, Hektor Linksrhein’s (known as Horand von Grafrath) qualities and abilities in a dog show. Von Stephanitz purchased the dog, and Horand von Grafrath was considered the first German Shepherd Dog. 

The breeding of these working Shepherds was greatly improved by Stephanitz’s formulation of methodical breeding programs. Specific GSD working lines like the East/DDR Working Line GSD, West German Working Line GSD, and the Czech Working Line German Shepherd emerged throughout the 1900s, adding to their working pedigree.

Working line German Shepherds have an athletic and muscular body with a straight back and less angulated hips that assist them in their duties. They also have erect, pointy ears. They are trained to perform under pressure and have the mindset to desire work. 

They also have a higher pain endurance and work tolerance and can work even in extreme weather conditions. Working line German Shepherds have enhanced drives of prey, defense, and fight.

They are great for police work, military, search and rescue, drug and bomb detection, arson or human detection, personal protection, patrolling, guarding, serving disabled people, therapy, guidance, carrying messages, and of course, herding.

After spending almost 30 years as a Police Officer, working alongside the police German Shepherds was genuinely inspirational.

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The working German Shepherds’ versatility never ceased to amaze me. In the same shift, I could witness their detection skills during a house search where they’d find narcotics or other prohibited items, and a few hours later, they would join me at a large sporting event where they would assist in crowd control and keeping the public safe.

Working line GSDs are usually 24-26 inches in height for males and 22-24 inches for females. Male dogs weigh around 66-88 pounds, and females weigh between 49-71 pounds. Their life span is about 10-13 years, but they are less prone to diseases than other types and are generally healthier.

Health-wise, working line German Shepherds rarely suffer from hip dysplasia but are prone to bloat (GDV) and pancreatitis. They are brave and vigilant dogs with incredible loyalty, intelligence, independence, versatility, and energy. They are innately territorial as well and are pretty protective.

Working line GSDs are high-energy dogs with medium to high exercise needs. They also need to put their brain to work and require frequent mental stimulation, which owes to their intelligence. Since they are highly trainable, you can efficiently ease them into a routine. 

Like other types, working line GSDs have a double coat and shed all year round. They have fewer grooming needs than show line German Shepherds, but you need to care for their ears, teeth, and nails. Although they may look a little intimidating, these dogs are great with children and other pets.

Working line GSDs typically cost anywhere between $1,500 – $4,000 (top end) depending on their bloodline.

Pros and Cons of Working Line German Shepherds

Working Line German Shepherd Dog (Russian Police Dog)

Pros of Working Line German Shepherds

Great as Working Dogs 

Working line German Shepherds are some of the most versatile working dogs in the canine world and are widely known for their working capabilities. Although they were developed for herding, they can do much more. Given their role in the police, military, and assisted services, they are great at chasing criminals, working as guard dogs, helping blind people, cheering up the sick, guarding property, leading, and even taking up movie roles.

Incredibly Loyal and Well Behaved Dogs 

Working line German Shepherds are very well-balanced, behaved, and committed dogs. They have the least temperamental issues because they are bred and trained to withstand pressure and deal with unfamiliar circumstances. 

They are also very protective and loyal and make excellent family pets but can be aggressive if they need to be. Not only are they compassionate without being needy, but they are also fit and willing to serve as both guardians and companions.

Although a dog’s behavior and temperament usually depend on genetics, they tend to be friendly to their owners and can appear intimidating to strangers.

Wide-Scale Information Available for Help 

The German Shepherd is one of the most sought-after breeds globally. The American Kennel Club ranked them as the third most registered breed in 2020, and because of their popularity, there is a wide range of resources available for help and information. 

Any kinds of questions related to your German Shepherd’s health, eating habits, temperament, or exercise can be quickly answered by a variety of communities available via online forums, social media groups, or other websites like this one. Just use the search function on this website to find what you’re looking for.

Cons of Working Line German Shepherds

Time Investment 

Working line German Shepherds are quite a handful to train and maintain. Moreover, excessive time and effort demands do not end at their physical and mental stimulation. From health to socialization to training and diet, their needs are as diverse as a human. This can be a good or a bad thing, depending upon how much time you can invest.

Being There for Them as a Leader 

Spending time with your working line GSD is not enough; you need to establish yourself as an approachable but commanding leader for proper training. This way, you can keep your dog within his boundaries and make sure he trains adequately.

A working line GSD may not be the right fit for you if you are not comfortable being firm and commanding. These dogs can also suffer from separation anxiety and should not be left alone for long periods.

Large Size and Energy 

Working line GSDs are large dogs and require ample living space. Their height and weight do not make them suitable for apartments and small living spaces or people with a sedentary lifestyle. Although not hyperactive, they need a daily discharge of energy to prevent behavior problems and becoming destructive.

Show Line GSD: A Brief Overview

Show line German Shepherds are a German Shepherd variety that is bred majorly for showing. They are beautiful and are not specialized to work. Since GSDs usually require a lot of care, time, and attention for their upbringing, the show lines were initially developed as a reaction to these extensive requirements. 

Breeders in Europe bred them for owners without the patience, time, and energy to deal with working line types. They are also known as “High Lines” or “Sieger Lines” and are considered the easier-to-raise version of the German Shepherd types.

Show line German Shepherds are usually darker in color as judges prefer rich colored dogs in show rings. The American Kennel Club considers dilute colors, such as blue and liver, serious faults, so they do not make good show dogs. White German Shepherds and those without a predominantly back nose are not allowed in show rings.

You can read more about German Shepherd colors and patterns here, 21 German Shepherd Colors & Patterns (With Pictures).

Many owners choose a show line dog but have no intention of entering competitions. My German Shepherd is a European show line (as opposed to the American show line), and I chose her for her temperament, color, and looks.

Show line German Shepherd
My German Shepherd Willow showing off her good looks!

The show bloodlines also have triangular and erect ears along with a broad head with powerfully angled hindquarters. They are good-tempered dogs, make excellent family pets, and you can even train them as guard dogs. They are also highly intelligent and, therefore, easily trainable but require authority guidance. 

Since they are raised differently than working GSDs, show line German Shepherds have a lower energy drive but require physical and mental stimulation, albeit comparatively lower. They also have extensive grooming requirements to ensure refined showing qualities.

Show line German Shepherds are generally thinner boned dogs with large bodies. They have the appearance of shorter back legs and long front ones due to refined hip angulation, which makes their back sloped or slanting.

The American show line is also known for having an even more defined angulation and sloped top line than their West German Shepherd counterparts.

However, there is a lot of controversy around this trait, as neither is a sloped back a breeding requirement according to the American Kennel Club, nor is it a trait passed down by original GSD generations. 

Most experts and researchers believe that this trait was promoted by a specific group of breeders, also known as “breed authorities,” simply because several sloped back show line GSDs won showing competitions. This trait was intentionally bred to imitate the physique of those winning dogs.

Some researchers have also found out that these breeding requirements are turning sloped back into a skeletal deformity. 

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A survey conducted by the Royal Veterinary College showed the cruel orthopedic problems caused by these exaggerated breed standards. Since a curved back causes the dog’s hips and knees to come closer to the ground, the hindquarters become more angulated and cause substantial wear and tear.

Without appearing too biased, breeders and winners of show lines will say their German Shepherds are perfectly healthy.

Show line GSDs can be registered in America if their parents are registered with the American Kennel Club. There are also no standard temperament, health, or obedience requirements for breeding, but that is not the case in European countries. 

Therefore, getting a dog from Germany or another European country ensures the probability of good temperament, health, and obedience. Show lines are prone to developing health conditions such as hip and elbow dysplasia, arthritis, bloat, and allergies.

Show line German Shepherds are pretty expensive and usually cost around $2,000 – $2,500. The price naturally increases if the dog possesses certain show line traits or is unique in color, and you could pay more than $4,000 for a dog of this caliber.

Pros and Cons of Show Line German Shepherds

Like every type of GSD, show-line German Shepherds come with certain benefits and drawbacks. So before you adopt a dog for its beauty, you better know your duty.

Show Line German Shepherd

Pros of Show Line German Shepherds

Visually Appealing Dogs 

Show line German Shepherds are bred with substantial focus on their looks. They are beautiful and aesthetically pleasing with their rich and dark colors. However, just because they are not working does not mean they are weak or frail-looking. 

They are tall, broad-chested, sturdy, and imposing figures with chiseled heads and well-formed features. Their hindquarters are in proportion to the rest of their body. Good show line Shepherds look a little intimidating and scary, even somewhat aloof.

Well Balanced Temperament

Show line German Shepherds are very calm and well-balanced with an easy-going temperament. They are also highly protective of their owners due to their past as herding dogs. The show lines are affectionate and loving dogs and develop strong bonds of trust with their owners. 

Even though they are skeptical of strangers, they usually do not resort to violence and use intimidation techniques when they feel threatened. The American Kennel Club declares the ideal show line German Shepherd to be “regal in temperament, a dog with a noble bearing, fearless and self-confident.”

Good for Both Showing and Guarding 

You can easily train a show line German Shepherd for show ring qualities by using specific strategies and reward-based techniques. If you are interested in showing your dog, you can put some effort into his grooming and training for him to win competitions. If not, you can take them in as family pets.

They are great with children and other dogs and are pretty affectionate without being clingy. These dogs can also make excellent guard dogs if socialized and trained correctly.

Cons of Show Line German Shepherds

Prone to Genetic Health Concerns 

Since there is a lack of qualifying requirements and standard health evaluations, show line GSDs are prone to several health concerns stemming from their genetics. The primary focus lies in their physical appearance, which sometimes comes at the cost of their health, such as sloped backs. Hip and elbow dysplasia, bloating, and arthritis are the most common complications.

Exceptional Grooming Requirements 

Although all dogs have specific hygiene and grooming requirements, show line GSDs have certain additional ones to maintain their striking physical appearance. Their heavy coats require frequent brushing and grooming to ensure their shine and volume. Since they are the models in the canine world, their nails, ears, teeth, and skincare need better attention.

Financial Burden 

Show line German Shepherds are expensive not only to acquire but also to maintain. Their grooming, food, and exercise requirements mean you have to be ready to commit time and money. Check out this article to give you an indication of costs, Costs of Owning a German Shepherd: With 21 Examples!

However, since one person’s expense is another’s investment, you can make no universal judgment about whether getting a GSD is a good or bad fiscal choice. You need to know that you’ll spend more time and money than you expect.

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Key Differences Between The Two

THE GERMAN SHEPHERD DOG - Working line or Show?

Difference in Purpose and Training

Working line GSDs are bred and trained for work, usually in law enforcement or the military. Because of this, they are subjected to training processes that conform to the work standards of these agencies. 

Their endurance is enhanced via training, as is their pain tolerance, survival rate, and work efficiency. Show line German Shepherds, on the other hand, are bred and raised for show rings. They are not trained to have the same abilities as a working line Shepherd; they are trained to fulfill the requirements of dog shows.

They specialize in being well structured and visually appealing, which is not the focus for working bloodlines.

Physical Appearance:

Working Line German Shepherds are athletic dogs with a straight back and less hip angulation. These traits allow them to work efficiently for long periods without it being detrimental to their health. Show line German Shepherds have sloped backs and thus shorter hind legs, making them suitable for showing. 

Working line Shepherds do not have extensive standards and usually only prefer a medium-length double coat for climate tolerance. That is not the case for show line GSDs, which are required to be of rich and dark colors like black, black and red, black and tan, or black and silver.

Temperamental Difference

Working line GSDs are more alert and have a higher sensitivity to moving people or animals. They are also more aggressive and are prone to biting or attacking when faced with a threat. This is a direct result of their training, including specific exercises for developing physical strength, intelligence, and tolerance. 

Show line German Shepherds are, in contrast, calmer, more tamed, and home-friendly dogs. They usually resort to intimidation instead of violence and only attack when they need to defend themselves.

Final Thoughts – Choosing the Right Bloodline

You can choose which German Shepherd is the right fit for you by matching your personality with theirs. Working line German Shepherds are bred to have working abilities, whereas breeding of show lines focuses on appearance.

Both types have specific differences in personality, purpose, and physical attributes but are equally excellent family dogs and are very loving and devoted. Both of them come with their fair share of responsibilities, and thus you should only take one if you can ensure their safety and proper upbringing.

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