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Working Line German Shepherd (Training, Drive, & Health)

Last Updated: December 10, 2023

If you’ve taken even a passing interest in German Shepherds, you’ve already heard of the two broad categories: the working line German Shepherd and the show line GSD. Max von Stephanitz created the breed for work compatibility yet debuted the dog with such spectacle that it fascinated two different types of people.

The ones taken in by the dog’s majestic visual appeal are currently interested in show line German Shepherds. So, where does that leave the working line German Shepherd?

Working line German Shepherds are dogs bred to have a stronger work ethic, better health, and improved physical capabilities. They live just as long as other varieties but remain stronger and stay healthier. You can spot such a dog by comparing the dog’s physique and athleticism with an average GSD.

Working Line German Shepherd

In this article, you’ll learn the origin and history of working line German Shepherds alongside everything you need to know if you’re thinking of getting one, including how much exercise a working line dog needs, the pros and cons of owning one, and whether a working GSD can be a family dog.

But if you’re in a hurry, here is a quick breed overview…

Working Line German ShepherdBreed Characteristics
AKC GroupHerding
TypeWorking / Companion
Breed SizeMedium-Large
Height24-26 inches (Males)
22-24 inches (Females)
Weight66-88 pounds (Males)
49-71 pounds (Females)
TemperamentBrave, Protective, Guard-dog, Athletic, Strong, Confident,
Intelligent, Alert, Independent, Loyal, High-energy,
Aloof with Strangers, Affectionate, Versatile, Territorial
AppearanceMuscular, Pointy Ears, Athletic, Straighter Topline
Lifespan10-13 years
Health IssuesBloat (GDV), Pancreatitis, Hip Dysplasia (rare)
Coat ColorsBlack Sable, Black & Tan, Solid Black
Coat TypeDouble-coated, Short-Medium, Medium
Easy to TrainYes
Exercise NeedsMedium-High
Child FriendlyYes
Pet FriendlyYes
Good for new ownersYes
Cost$1500 – $4000

If you want to learn all about working line German Shepherds, you’ll love this all-new definitive guide. Let’s begin!

Origin and History

What is a Working Line German Shepherd?

When the German Shepherd breed was in development, the intended goal was to get a big, durable dog with high stamina and intuition for work. But while that did come about in the form of the early German Shepherd, the resultant dog had the capacity for breathtaking aesthetic beauty.

Soon, GSDs were bred for their visual appeal, which branched the show line and working line Shepherd dogs.

A working line German Shepherd is a GSD bred to have an improved work ethic, better discipline, and excellent physical fitness. Unlike show line GSDs, working lines have a straighter topline, better limb-length consistency due to less angulation, are more athletic, and are prone to fewer diseases.

On the other hand, show line German Shepherds are bred to utilize the breed’s potential for majestic visual appeal. This includes various fur colors (with black and tan being prominent), limb inconsistency that produces a lion-line posture, and better eye and face contrast that makes their pupils prominent.

Beauty isn’t mutually exclusive with work, though. Other varieties of German Shepherds can have some utility as private property guards, just like a working line German Shepherd can be a beautiful addition to your family. 

It is just that by dog pageant standards, the three types of working line GSDs won’t match the snobbish standards of “dog beauty.” These are:

  • East German Shepherd (DDR)
  • Czech German Shepherd
  • West German Working Line

If you want a dog that has incredible athleticism and the capacity to really go to war for your family, you might need a working line GSD rather than if you want a dog big enough to scare away intruders without moving a muscle.

Working Line GSD In Training

West German Working Line vs. DDR Working Line vs. Czech Shepherd

As covered above, working line German Shepherds can vary in utility across different dimensions. When choosing one that suits your needs, you must look at two factors: the context in which the dog was bred and how well the line was preserved. Let’s look at each of these factors after comparing the breeds at a glance:

West German working line is more balanced in looks and working utility than DDR and Czech Shepherds. DDR GSDs are bred with a stricter emphasis on work, while the Czech line has recently become more appearance-focused. All working lines fare better in endurance compared to show line GSDs.


The West German Working line was bred by breeders in West Germany who wished to retain the original German Shepherd appearance while controlling for endurance. 

DDR German Shepherds were produced under a strict military breeding program focused on offense capabilities and discipline. Though it was more for border control, Czech Shepherds were also bred under a strict breeding program.

Bloodline Preservation:

While Czech Shepherds were bred for work, the Czech bloodline isn’t as well-preserved as the East and West German dogs. This, to some degree, has to do with GSDs being Germany’s prideful export. 

There are entire breeding businesses built on the purity of the DDR bloodline (East German dogs). Between DDR and West German dogs, the DDR working line is better preserved because of the story of DDR German Shepherds.

“A West German Shepherd is the closest to the original German Shepherd bred by Max von Stephanitz, the father of the breed.”

World of Dogz

The East German Shepherd is coveted as the military dog that guarded the Berlin Wall. As you can see, these stories differ in the position of value.

The West GSD’s story places the dog’s value in his looks. In other words, as long as the dogs retain their appearance, the story continues: the dog looks closer to what von Stephanitz intended. 

Compare that to the East German Shepherd. For the story to remain consistent, the dog must have the superior work ethic and the ability to attack, unlike other GSDs. And that’s why, despite being working line dogs, DDR Shepherds and West German working line dogs are bred with different emphases.

Again, this doesn’t make the DDR Shepherd or any dog universally superior. If you like a balance between appearance and working utility, you should get a West German Shepherd precisely because the dog’s look is emphasized even this far into breeding for work.

On the other hand, if durability and endurance are so important that looks aren’t a priority, then a DDR German Shepherd might be your best bet.

Learn More About The 3 Main Types of Working Line German Shepherds Here…

Talking about looks can be tricky because beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder, and you might actually like the look of a dog otherwise seen as not up to the social standards of beauty. 

Appearance and Size

How to Identify a Working Line German Shepherd

To identify a working line German Shepherd, the dog’s topline will be straighter than a show line dog, with an arched structure and extremely angled hindquarters. Working lines will have less broad heads and less bulky bodies, and show lines will have longer and thicker coats.

Certain traits show up on a spectrum among working line German Shepherds. By looking for their presence, you’ll be able to tell that your GSD is a working line dog, and by noticing how prominent said features are, you’ll know how well-adjusted your German Shepherd is for work.

Thicker Bone Structure

Working line German Shepherds have denser bones. Fortunately, you don’t have to pull out a bone to ensure that a German Shepherd belongs to a working line! Denser bones are needed for work. Despite their thicker bones working lines are less bulky and more agile and athletic.

Admirable Nerves

The idiom “all bark, no bite” refers to the trope among dogs where the least powerful often bark the loudest. That’s because barking can often be the result of being scared or bothered. Working line German Shepherds, at least the well-trained kind, have nerves of steel. 

Loud traffic and other everyday background noises do not bother working line German Shepherds, and they’re able to maintain their focus despite these distractions. 

Usually Purebred

While German Shepherds are often an amalgamation of multiple canine genes, the properly established lines of working German Shepherds have become brands onto themselves. A DDR German Shepherd is a brand with a story, as is a West German working line. 

Very rarely will you find the general “for sale” working line puppies mixed breed. Breeders mix GSDs upon request or trendy short-term interest in a specific mix. In some instances, the mix can become popular enough to branch off into a potential breed, as with King Shepherds.

But when you get yourself a working line German Shepherd, you must ask to meet the dog’s parents and check the breeder conforms with standard breeding practices. Upon seeing the parents, you’ll be able to judge better (by structure and temperament) whether both are working line or not. 


Are Working Line German Shepherds Good Family Dogs?

A working line German Shepherd’s temperament is that of a workaholic office employee who looks forward to getting a pat on the back from the boss. A strong work ethic makes the dog seem an impersonal hustler, but the reality is different because, among dogs, a strong work ethic is driven by an insatiable desire to please.

Working line German Shepherds are good family dogs – such is their desire to please their family. Their hunger to be appreciated makes them fun as they can engage in different activities, such as agility or flyball. They are good with children and other pets if they are well socialized and trained.

The term “work” brings up connotations of labor, which is unfair to dogs who see work as a game. And “game” might conjure up associations of non-seriousness, but dogs take their “work/games” very seriously. You must detach your opinion of work or games from your personal experience to truly fathom the temperament of a working line German Shepherd.

Are Working Line German Shepherds Friendly?

Your working line GSD isn’t “driven” to work because he wants to drive a Lamborghini! He is dedicated to his tasks because he needs a job to do. Don’t worry, your unconditional love goes right over his head, and he takes full credit for how much everyone loves him by thinking it is because of his work.

Working Line German Shepherds are friendly. They bond with their family and other household pets as long as they are sufficiently socialized and trained from a young age. They have a neutral temperament towards others but can be suspicious of strangers due to their strong protective instinct.

Therefore, it is crucial to train your working line GSD puppy in the subtle art of ignoring familiar noises and random strangers outside. If you put too much emphasis on training the dog to guard, you might reduce his natural horizon of “safe people” and make him asocial. These dogs don’t require specialized training in biting intruders! 

Watch This Compilation of Cute Working Line GSDs…

Types of Work Suited to Working Line German Shepherds

When it comes to being good family dogs, all a German Shepherd has to do is love and protect. But let’s look at the actual working potential of working line German Shepherds. 

After all, what separates them from other German Shepherds is their ability to work better. They also bond extremely well with their owner or handler, are strong, loyal, versatile, obedient, and intelligent.

Their physical attributes of stamina, strength, athleticism, and agility set them apart from their show line counterparts. These are some of the many roles that working line GSD perform:

  • Police patrol
  • Detection
  • Tracking
  • Search and rescue
  • Military
  • Mountain rescue
  • Airport work
  • Personal protection
  • Guarding
  • Security
  • Guide Dog
  • Service Dog
  • Therapy Dog
  • Herding

Tracking / Search and Rescue

While German Shepherds have an acute sense of smell and the capacity to process different scents, working line GSDs also have the ability to track for long distances. They are also experts in search and rescue and can work for long hours in difficult conditions.

They are used in law enforcement as detection dogs, whether controlled drugs, explosives or bodies. They are also used in the military, as guide dogs, service and therapy dogs.

Search and Rescue German Shepherd

In a search and rescue scenario, the working line GSD will track the person to be rescued based on scent then even drag or carry them to safety (depending on their training). In rare instances, the dog might have to ward off an attacker who intends to harm the individual being rescued, which brings us to the next way to use a working line GSD.

“As someone from a police background, I’ve seen countless times, detection dogs indicate a “find” and it’s incredible to watch.”

World of Dogz

Protection and Guarding

Your working line German Shepherd is well equipped to protect and guard you and your family. Of course, training plays a role in this, but a working line German Shepherd will lay his life on the line when it comes to raw potential. 

The dog’s offense capability is partly due to its strong prey drive. Working line German Shepherds are therefore used as personal protection dogs, guard dogs, and security dogs.

As livestock protection and herding remain deep in their genetics, they are occasionally still used as herding dogs, although this is becoming less popular.

How To Care for a Working Line German Shepherd

Training Requirements

Working line German Shepherds are eager to please, but that doesn’t mean they’ll not need training. The following types of training should be considered mandatory for your working line German Shepherd. I advocate positive reinforcement training. You can learn more in this article, How To Train a German Shepherd: 7 Quick and Easy Ways.

  • Crate Training – I also recommend crate training and it also speeds up potty training. You also need to control your young pups’ environment for their safety, especially if you can’t watch them 100% of the time. Most dogs love their crate but ensure you get a size 48″ crate that allows them to grow into.
  • Leash training – Getting your dog to walk on a harness and leash is one of the most common activities you’ll do together. It goes without saying that you will need to train him to accept the harness and the leash in the first place. I use the Walk Your Dog With Love Harness, as it leads from the front preventing your dog from pulling, thus giving you more control.
  • Socializing – The more powerful a dog is, the more he needs to be well-socialized, as one miscalculation in the “friend or foe” conception can lead to an innocent bystander getting hurt. An unsocialized German Shepherd can become aggressive or dangerous as he is fearful and anxious and doesn’t know how to behave in his environment.
  • Stand by commands – As an extension of the previous point, you need to get your dog to learn and blindly follow commands to stand down.
  • Housetraining – Finally, you’ll need to train your dog how to be a functioning member of your house. The first step in this is potty training, but teaching your dog how to use the doggy door or how to react to a bell is also a part of this training.

How Much Exercise Does a Working Line German Shepherd Need?

Most German Shepherds need a moderate amount of exercise per day after reaching adulthood. But since working line German Shepherds are built differently, one might assume that there may be a drastic change in their exercise time. Surprisingly, that’s not the case.

A working line German Shepherd needs 90 to 120 minutes of intense exercise every day. However, you should conduct not all of a GSD’s exercise in a single session – you should split exercise sessions to 2 or 3 times per day depending on the activity. This is far better both physically and mentally.

Do you want to learn more about GSD care? Check out this article, How To Care for a German Shepherd.

Health and Lifespan

Are Working Line German Shepherds Healthy?

Working line German Shepherds are healthier than show line GSDs because they’re bred to be functional helpers and not showpieces. Depending on the specific working line breed, certain health problems have been bred out of the bloodline.

Related: Working vs. Show Line German Shepherds: Key Differences

Consequently, working line shepherds reach their maximum life span in a better condition than show line dogs. This raises two questions: one regarding the most common health risk among GSDs and the other about their lifespan’s longevity.

Do Working Line German Shepherds Have Hip Problems?

Working line German Shepherds can have hip problems. Still, they are not common because breeders have carefully weeded out issues like hip dysplasia in certain working bloodlines like the DDR German Shepherd. Still, improper breeding or sheer misfortune can result in hip problems among all working types.

How Long do Working Line German Shepherds Live?

Now that you know that working line German Shepherds have a lower risk of certain diseases and medical conditions, you might be getting a little too hopeful about the effects of this apparent immunity on the dogs’ lifespan. You’ll need to keep that excitement at bay.

Working line German Shepherds live 10 to 13 years, pretty much the same as other varieties. However, they reach this age with fewer health problems and ailments. Their prime also lasts longer as most retire at 10, the age at which AKC projects the demise of most GSDs.


How Much Does a Working Line German Shepherd Cost?

On average, working line German Shepherds cost $1500, although some breeders charge up to $4000 depending on bloodline, experience, litter size, location, and health screening. If you’ve found a working line dog for any less, you must be suspicious of the bloodline purity and breeding practices.

Always insist on meeting the parents, check the living conditions, and do your due diligence.

Is a Working Line German Shepherd Right for You?

A working line German Shepherd is right for you if you’re looking for a pet who is eager to please and has superior physical capacity than most dogs his size. You’ll also need ample time and space to accommodate this energetic dog, and you should make room to be loved as you’ve never been loved before.

Still on the fence? The following pros and cons might help you decide.


  • Strong work ethic, will stick with difficult and complex training. 
  • Offensive capacity keeps intruders at bay. 
  • Fewer health problems, won’t need excessive care.


  • Has a lot of energy, will need more intense exercise, which can be demanding.  
  • Looks intimidating; kids might not want to befriend him right away.
  • Extremely protective and loyal – will follow you everywhere.

If you think this variation of German Shepherd wouldn’t suit you, then here are other breed variations to check:

Sharon Waddington
Sharon Waddington is the founder of World of Dogz. With over 30 years of experience working with dogs, this former Police Officer has seen it all. But it’s her trusty German Shepherd, Willow, who steals the show as the inspiration behind this website. As Sharon’s constant companion Willow has played a pivotal role in shaping her passion for dogs. Recently, Sharon has become deeply passionate about the plight of rescue dogs and is an active advocate for dog rescue, striving to make a difference in the lives of dogs in need.

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