It is self-evident that show line German Shepherds get their name from dog shows and their qualification probability for such shows. But there’s a lot more to a show line GSD than appearance. And while some can have incorrect assumptions about these dogs, those interested in adopting them cannot afford not to know the truth.
This article provides a complete picture of what show line GSDs are and what it means to own one. From origin to temperament and prices to maintenance, this post will be your most detailed resource on show line German Shepherds.
You’ll learn about:
- The origin and history of show line German Shepherds
- Differences between the American and German show lines
- Qualities of a good show line GSD
- Temperament and health of the show line German Shepherd
- How to care for a show line GSD
- Pros and cons of the show line Shepherd
So, if you want to learn all about show line German Shepherds and whether this breed is a good match for you, you’ll love my all-new guide. Let’s get started!
Origin and History
What is a Show Line German Shepherd?
Show line German Shepherds are a German Shepherd type primarily raised to produce aesthetically pleasing and well-structured dogs ideal for dog shows instead of working or guarding. Show line German Shepherds can also be good family pets.
Despite not being typical working dogs, they require considerable exercise, as they are energetic. They also have an immense bite force, so they must be trained and socialized well. Best practices for this include positive reinforcement and adequate mental and physical stimulation.
|Show Line German Shepherd||Breed Characteristics|
|Type||Showing / Companion|
|Height||24-26 inches (Males)|
22-24 inches (Females)
|Weight||66-88 pounds (Males)|
49-71 pounds (Females)
|Temperament||Brave, Protective, Strong, Confident, Intelligent, Alert, Independent, Loyal, Energetic, Aloof, Affectionate, Versatile, Territorial, Guard-dog|
|Appearance||Sloped Topline, More Angulated, Erect Ears, Bushy Tail, Long Muzzle|
|Health Issues||Hip and Elbow Dysplasia, Degenerative Myelopathy, Bloat (GDV)|
|Coat Colors||Rich dark colors, Black & Red, Black & Tan, Black|
|Coat Type||Double-coated, Medium, Long|
|Easy to Train||Yes|
|Good for new owners||Yes|
|Cost||$2000 – $2500|
Show line German Shepherds were initially bred recreationally for owners without the time, patience, and experience to adequately train and engage a working line GSD. Breeders in Europe worked towards creating the show line GSDs – also known as “High Lines” or “Sieger Lines” – as both a physically appealing and family-friendly version of this breed that was relatively easier to raise.
The American Kennel Club’s official standard of the German Shepherd considers washed-out colors such as blue, white, and liver serious faults. Show line German Shepherds are thinner with slanted backs because of their greater hip angulation, giving the appearance of shorter back legs and longer front ones.
They are calmer and more home-friendly than working line GSDs but can also be dangerous if not trained. They are also good with children but should not be left alone with them. You need to develop some boundaries, just like any other breed.
Show line GSDs express their aggressiveness only when they need to defend themselves or are anxious in new situations due to poor socialization. You can learn more about the key differences between the bloodlines in this article, Working vs. Show Line German Shepherds: Key Differences.
My German Shepherd Willow is a West German (European) Show Line; however, we don’t enter her into the show ring. We chose her for a mix of temperament, color, and looks.
German Show Line vs. American German Shepherd
There are two versions of universally recognized show line GSDs that are considered the standards for the breed; American show line German Shepherd and German show line (or European) German Shepherd.
Although both are bred for showing and are from the same meta ancestor, they possess certain contrasting traits. The differences in their bloodline characteristics can be easily identified and include predominantly physical characteristics, health concerns, and registration procedures.
Differences in Physical Traits
American show line German Shepherds usually have a narrow face, extremely angular hindquarters, and a downward slope in their back. These traits make this breed look longer and allow for the often praised “flowing gait.” American bloodline GSDs have a refined head with a smooth curved outline. They also have thicker bones and are heavier in weight but lighter in color.
On the other hand, German show line German Shepherds typically have a slight angle to their hindquarters and usually have straighter backs. They are also darker and shorter than their American counterparts. German bloodline Shepherds or the European lines have a bigger head with an angled outline, rather than smooth curves, and usually weigh less.
Different Health Concerns
American German Shepherds suffer from specific health problems, including bloating, hip dysplasia (due to their slanting back), and allergies.
In contrast, the German show lines are less prone to developing hip problems due to straighter and more balanced posture. They also have more pain endurance. Their standardized breeding and strict training programs make them more stable and healthy.
Different Breed Registration Processes
There are distinct breed registration procedures for both these varieties, which plays a significant part in their health as well. German show lines can be registered in Germany only if they pass a specific breed criterion.
These strict evaluations cover physical structure, endurance performance, and even herding. Governing bodies necessitate the clearing of these evaluations for registration. However, the American Kennel Club only requires the parents to be registered to enroll an American GSD offspring.
Both the American and German show lines have different breeding standards which determine their abilities and, in some cases, even fate. The American Kennel Club regulates the breeding standards of American German Shepherds.
The German Show line German Shepherds’ breeding standards are regulated by the German Shepherd Club of Germany (SV). They have to pass specific tests of obedience, health, and temperament. The American breeding standards have no such requirements.
What Makes a Good Show German Shepherd?
Both working and show line German Shepherds have had the German Shepherd Club of Germany (SV) as the standard-bearer for a long time. Show line GSDs have certain traits that distinguish them from working bloodlines in physical appearance, temperament, and capabilities. Color is one of the main hallmarks of a good show line.
Since most people expect a GSD to be a typical black and tan or red and black color, they are preferred in the show ring. White German Shepherds are not allowed to show, nor are dogs without predominantly black noses. Good show line German Shepherds have a much larger body than working line ones and are also broader in the head with powerfully angled hindquarters.
They also have medium or long and thick coats, which are somewhat longer than those found on the GSD working line. A show line dog must have neither cropped nor hanging ears but rather straight, triangular, and erect ones. A good show line GSD also does not have a docked tail.
Their energy level is slightly lower than other types simply because they are not raised for working purposes.
When expertly trained, they make fiercely loyal and friendly dogs with a good temperament, which is a prerequisite for show rings. It goes without saying that those who wag, wiggle, or have a habit of licking faces are not given preference.
Show line dogs exhibiting bad behavior such as biting or incessant barking are immediately disqualified. Although having a cool attitude and some heft is necessary, showing too much attitude can get your dog barred.
Watch Rumor Win Best in Show at Westminster Dog Show in 2017…
One other factor which decides the worth of show line German Shepherds is his past. Since they were originally bred for herding and protecting sheep, having a muscular build is of importance.
It is a misconception that show line GSDs do not need to be sturdy and that it is a trait attributed to only the working lines. Having ancestors produced to work indicates that German Shepherds must be strong, tall, broad of chest, and imposing. Some may even say that they need to look a little intimidating or scary, especially to strangers.
A well-balanced show line with hindquarters developed in harmony with his chest and in proportion to the rest of the body has more chances of making his mark in a show ring. His head should also be well-formed and chiseled, with the features showing the dog’s sex. Male show line German Shepherds should distinctly look male, and females should look feminine.
The West German Shepherd is a good example. This breed is quite famous when it comes to showing and is propagated majorly for showing. East German Shepherds (DDR) have a more sloped appearance and are pretty sturdy in build. They make excellent family pets as well.
Character of the Show Line German Shepherd
Show line German Shepherds exhibit excellent temperaments and are very calm; they are much more easygoing than other German Shepherd types. Show lines are loving dogs that bond quickly with their owners.
However, they are usually aloof with strangers and do not bond in passing. Since their past lies in herding sheep, they are highly protective of their family members and get along well with children and other dogs.
A show line German Shepherd’s temperament can be affected by external factors and is prone to change. Since they have high energy, they need quite a lot of mental and physical stimulation to drain their energy levels to avoid destructive behavior.
They will become frustrated and develop undesirable behavioral characteristics. Letting your dog off the leash can sometimes trigger such behavior, as even the most well-trained dogs can become distracted and overlook commands.
Exercises such as agility, herding, tracking, and dock diving efficiently engage these dogs mentally and physically, thus regulating their temperament.
The American Kennel Club declares the ideal show line German Shepherds to be “regal in temperament, a dog with a noble bearing, fearless and self-confident.” Dogs that are a little reserved are more likely to make their mark in a show ring.
Although they are bred for showing and not working, show line German Shepherds are preferred if they are a little standoffish, sturdy, and sometimes even unapproachable. This quality adds to their worth in the show ring.
Show line German Shepherds are also prized for specific working dog abilities such as confidence, a bit of calm wariness, and independence. These qualities are not hard to attain as they are highly intelligent and trainable.
Early socialization and ongoing obedience training ensure that a dog would grow up boasting these traits. Reward-based techniques (positive reinforcement) are also valuable methods of regulating the behavior and temperament of a show line German Shepherd.
The German Shepherd Dog Club of America corroborates small pieces of biscuit or kibble as treats for training. Check out my article on the best treats for German Shepherds for some more ideas.
Since they are very loving dogs, they are happiest when surrounded by family. Leaving them alone or chained up for long periods can disrupt their normal behavior. Thus, you should raise them amongst families with exposure to their daily activities.
The lack of age and nutrient-appropriate food can also take a toll on a dog’s temperament. Giving only table scraps hurts their self-esteem and is also detrimental to their digestive system. You should also keep away cooked bones and food with high-fat content at all costs.
Why Do Show Line German Shepherds Have Sloped Backs?
The German Shepherd breed has undergone considerable changes since its inception, picking up new traits along the way. One such trait is the sloped back of the show line type. This aspect may look aesthetically pleasing but is controversial for a different reason.
German Shepherds with straight backs are better adapted to perform their herding duties, which is why they have straight backs.
Most GSDs with sloped backs are show line dogs, but why?
The breed standard put forth by the AKC says that: “The back is straight, very strongly developed without sag or roach, and relatively short.” So, where did this feature come from when it is neither in the breeding standard nor present in the older generations? Let’s go back to this dog’s origin to find out.
Max von Stephanitz is credited to be “the father” of the German Shepherd breed as he spent a substantial period of his life breeding the perfect dog. He had a liking for dogs with a wolfish appearance and sharp senses who could undertake herding tasks immaculately and thus developed the German Shepherd.
He describes this dog as having a “straight and powerful” back in his 1923 book The German Shepherd Dog In Word And Picture. He further adds, “curvature of the spine diminishes the power of endurance and speed, and is therefore, an especially serious handicap for efficiency…”. You can still get this fantastic book from Amazon in hardcover, paperback, or kindle.
He also said that “The gait of a good shepherd dog is so easy and gliding that, during an even trot, not a drop of what would be spilled from a full glass placed on his back.” Even before that, in 1915, the book Dogs of All Nations (also available on Amazon) described German Shepherds as dogs with a “deep chest, straight back and strong loins.”
The American Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1908. Back then, they were usually used for the purpose for which they were developed; herding and protecting homes and farms. The working line GSDs of today have an effortless gait because of their straight back, but that is not the case with the show lines.
Along with other characteristics that add to their visual appeal and differentiate them from working GSDs, they possess a sloped back, which would most probably have Von Stephanitz rolling in his grave.
This change in conformation from straight to a rectangular shape to sloped with an exaggerated hind leg angulation prevents them from being good working dogs.
Louis Donald, a working dog judge, says that this curved spine results from “a very small number of very influential people” that go by the name of “breed authorities.”
These supposed authorities promoted this feature at dog shows and led to these sloping back German Shepherds being nicknamed “the hatchback, “downhill dog,” and “dog in front, frog in back.”
The reason behind this was simply that since several sloped back dogs gained wins at shows, this feature soon became a norm, and breeders started breeding based on the looks of the dogs that won the most.
This caused show line GSDs to evolve through aggressive selective breeding. It is also suspected by breeders and owners alike that intensive breeding to conform to specific appearance standards has made the sloped back a skeletal deformity.
Indeed, several German Shepherds with sloped backs are successfully competing and winning in show rings. Recently, a three-year-old Cruaghaire Categoria, a German Shepherd bred by Susan Cuthbert, caused quite an uproar when it won the Crufts Best of Breed 2016.
The public got very upset with the dog’s exaggerated slope and submitted many complaints about its struggle to walk and its apparent hesitation and anxiety in obeying the trainer’s commands.
Watch The German Shepherd Best of Breed – Crufts 2016
An article for The Telegraph showed The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) claim of being “shocked and appalled” at the incident. RSPCA also called for the UK Kennel Club to “take urgent action” for better protection of the welfare of animals.
Although people accused her and the dog show of animal cruelty, the dog’s owner Susan Cuthbert dismissed these allegations and said that her dog had passed through with a clean bill of health for competition.
A BBC documentary called “Pedigree Dogs Exposed” added fuel to the fire by throwing light at “then and now” pictures of early German Shepherds and those of today.
If you’re wondering what my view is…I have to agree with the founder of the breed.
A report by the Royal Veterinary College highlighted survey results from 430 clinics and showed how exaggerated breed standards cause cruel health problems when it comes to orthopedics. There are indications that the dog’s hip and knee come closer to the ground with a dog’s back curved, which causes his hindquarters to become more angulated.
Years of this wear and tear can cause serious complications that can negatively affect their quality of life. The German Shepherd breed has been listed as one “requiring particular monitoring and additional support” by the Kennel Club Breed Watch system, majorly because of the complications that arise from excessive angulation of the back knee and leg joints.
How to Care for a Show Line German Shepherd
Show line German Shepherds have special grooming requirements to ensure a flawless physical appearance and health. Grooming does not mean bathing; it includes an assemblage of elements that keep your dog healthy and beautiful. Grooming also massages your dog’s skin and helps improve circulation.
Show line German Shepherds have two coats and dense fur that gets tangled often. They shed hair all year long, and their undercoat is blown twice a year. They are sometimes even called “German shedders!” Their coats should be brushed at least 3 to 4 times a week to keep them free of loose hair. You can learn more tips on reducing shedding in this article, How To Reduce German Shepherd Shedding.
Heavy shedding takes place in spring to get rid of the winter coat so that your dog doesn’t overheat. During that time, you would need to brush your doggo daily. If not, loose hair can get on furniture and furballs in vacuums. There are a wide variety of brushes that you can use for this purpose.
I use the FURminator de-shedding tool from Amazon. I’ve tried numerous brushes and tools, but I’ve not found any as good as the FURminator. It’s easy to use and gets right through to the undercoat without damaging the guard coat.
Frequent bathing is unnecessary for show line German Shepherds as it makes their skin dry, irritated, and flaky. But you can bathe your GSD 2-3 times a year or after long exercise sessions if he’s become incredibly muddy.
Avoid using harsh shampoos or conditioners as they can damage the skin and hair and cause rashes. Choose the FURminator de-shedding shampoo and conditioner set from Amazon, as it promotes healthy skin and coat and contains Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids.
Since their coats are pretty thick, they require a lot of time to dry off. To ensure that your dog’s fur is completely dry, one should use a high-velocity hairdryer and blow the fur in the direction of growth.
Moving the hairdryer back and forth can cause the coat to become very tangled and matted. You can also use dry shampoo when you do not want to bathe your doggo.
Cleaning your dog’s teeth is essential as they can develop tartar and plaque. Frequent cleaning with a suitable brush is advised, so are regular checkups. You can use any dog-friendly toothpaste but refrain from brushing teeth too hard as it can damage tooth enamel as well as the dog’s gums.
One other efficient way of cleaning your dog’s teeth is feeding him hard cookies or kibble. I like to give my GSD Dentastix Dental Treats. She loves having a good chew on them, and this box of multiple flavors does the trick.
Another essential part of grooming is trimming your GSD’s toenails which can cause injuries if grown too long. Taking your show line GSD to a groomer may be a better option if you face trouble trimming his nails, as cutting too deep may injure your dog. If that happens and causes your dog to bleed, apply styptic powder to the area, and avoid DIYing the process the next time.
Do you want to learn more about GSD care? Check out this article, How To Care for a German Shepherd.
Cleaning your dog’s ears once every week and frequently checking them is also essential. Excess wax and debris can accumulate in the ears, which would not look good for a show line dog. You can use either ear drops for cleaning or pour a little solution into each ear and massage the base gently.
Next, use a soft cloth or cotton pad to clean the wax and debris. Never use water for cleaning your dog’s ears as it can cause infection by flowing and accumulating in the ear canal. More importantly, you should choose a quiet and crowd-free area for this process to prevent any mishaps.
Related: Have you ever wondered what your dogs’ ear positions mean? Check this out, German Shepherds Ears Meaning: 4 Examples with Pictures!
How Much Does a Show Line German Shepherd Cost?
Show line German Shepherds are not a cheap breed. A GSD coming from health-tested parents usually costs between $2,000-$2,500. However, the price can increase up to $4,000 if the dog already possesses top show line traits.
You can find some German Shepherd puppies for as low as $900, but they come without health and temperament testing papers. Since show line German Shepherds are prone to various diseases, opting for such a dog for showing purposes may not be the best choice. Remember, good show bloodlines are healthy before they are aesthetically pleasing.
How Much Exercise Does a Show Line German Shepherd Need?
Show line GSDs are bred for showing purposes or companionship, but that does not mean that they don’t need exercise.
The German Shepherd breed has high energy levels and needs substantial mental and physical stimulation regardless of the subset. Although less than a working line, a show line GSD requires daily movement to keep his limbs and bones in check.
A minimum of two hours of exercise is advisable for show line German Shepherds. This time can include walks, engaging exercise, or even extra playtime and training sessions. Exercise time also depends upon the age, health, and size of your dog, e.g., a growing puppy needs less exercise.
Since this is a case-to-case scenario, you should pay attention to signs of enthusiasm as well as exhaustion in your dog. Moreover, you should be present and fully engaged when getting your best friend to exercise. This can help develop a stronger bond with your dog as well.
Can a Show Line German Shepherd be a Guard Dog?
German Shepherds usually take to being guard dogs since they were developed for this very purpose and had a history in this domain. Although the show line GSDs available today were developed by meticulous breeders who kept the structure and appearance of the dog in view, they can still be good guard dogs.
They would need substantial training to become good protection dogs, but that is not a problem since they are easily trainable and highly intelligent. Along with possessing certain show-worthy traits, show-line GSDs also possess enough drive to work and protect.
They usually have strong protective instincts and are innately quite protective of their owners. All show line GSDs may not resort to violence upon encountering an intruder, which varies by training and temperament. That said, a show line would do everything he can to protect his owner.
Is a Show Line German Shepherd Right For You?
Owning a show line GSD, although quite rewarding, is not always flowers and rainbows. It is more like flowers, rainbows, and responsibilities. Let’s take a look at the advantages and the drawbacks of having a show line German Shepherd.
Show Line GSD Pros:
- Show line GSDs are aesthetically pleasing and beautiful dogs since they are developed mainly for showing. They can take part in show rings and competitions if they conform to certain health and appearance standards. Since they are highly trainable, they can be easily groomed for appearance, taught not to be threatened or distracted by an audience, and trained to perform show line routines.
- They have a more relaxed energy level and are balanced, intelligent, and active. Even if you do not have an interest in showing them, they can be good family pets and even outstanding guard dogs.
- Although a dog’s temperament depends greatly on his genetic makeup, they are generally incredibly loyal and loving and show their affection without being too clingy. Separation anxiety issues aren’t as prominent in them compared to their working line counterparts. The working line GSD may act aloof with strangers but develops strong bonds of trust with his owner.
Show Line GSD Cons:
- This variety of German Shepherd is bred majorly for appearance, and little consideration is given to health. They can have health issues that stem from the genetics in their breeding lines, hip and elbow dysplasia being the most common ones.
- They have additional grooming requirements to ensure their eligibility for dog shows. They also shed all year long, which is not the best if you are allergic to fur or to sweeping your floors.
- They have sloped backs and shorter hind legs, which can affect their movement ability and even cause orthopedic health problems.
Do you like to check other variations of German Shepherds? Here’s an exclusive video for you:
Show line German Shepherds have continuous demand owing to their personality, temperament, and price. Most breeders achieve an excellent return on investment with proper training, care, and diet. However, if you’re buying a show-line German Shepherd, it’s essential to know about this breed variation thoroughly.
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