The Four German Shepherd
German Shepherd dog is a breed most of us know well, but do we really know them
at all? There are four distinct styles of German Shepherds and they are as
different from one another as are donkeys and zebras. They all have erect ears,
most are black and tan, black and red, or sable, all have long tails, but there
the similarities end.
The most common GSD is the pet type, called euphemistically in the South, as Old
Timey Big Bone. This is a large substantial dog, typically semi smooth coated
and straight legged with a level topline. They are territorial and generally
fairly strong in temperament. Many times these dogs have white shepherds in
their backgrounds. This is the type of dog you will see in farm yards and junk
yards. They are purebred and registered but will seldom have a Ch or Obedience
title holder in a four generation pedigree. Seen at left is a typical female,
heavily in whelp.
Next is the American Show Shepherd. These are elegant dogs with sloping toplines and very well angulated front and rear. They are judged heavily on
sidegate and topline. In the main, most of the aggression has been bred out of
these dogs. An aggressive dog does not do well in the showring. There are show
shepherds that have obedience titles but very few with protection titles (Schutzhund).
They make impressive show dogs and nice pets but have a distinct tendency to be
nervous and timid. There is a loose lead temperament test in the showring but
more of the dogs have to be trained past timidity than past aggression. In
German conformation and schutzhund competition, the dogs have to be steady to
gunfire. If one were to fire a gun in the AKC show ring, it would leave the
ring clear of dogs except for the ones cowering on their bellies. Very few
American Show shepherds will bite. The incidence of hip dysplasia is much lower
than in the past.
third type is the German
show Shepherd. They basically adhere to the famous quote of Max von Spephanitz,
“Above all, keep my dog a working dog.” Most of this type are black and red,
some black and tan. They have a different topline than the American show type
but are also judged heavily on sidegait. Many long coat shepherds come from
German show lines. The temperament is somewhat stronger than the American show
types because to gain the highest ratings a Schutzhund (protection) title is
required. Clean movement, not cow hocked, is much valued in this type. This
type often has a roached or curved backline, not the straight and sloped of the
American show shepherd and not the straight and level of the American generic
shepherd or the working style. The colors tend to be much stronger with even
some blacks in this style. Most are fairly large, heavy boned, and impressive.
fourth type is the working type, mostly either Czech or East German in origin.
These dogs tend to
be more what the founder of the breed, Max Von Stephanitz, had in mind when the
breed was created. Dark, either sable or black and tan, some all black,
somewhat lighter in bone and shorter backed than the other types. Smaller
ears. What I see as the RinTinTin type of Shepherd. These guys have an
unequaled work ethic. They are bred for border patrol and police work and excel
in both. The kindness and consistency with which this type is trained determines
his behavior. If treated with kindness they will be kind, if treated harshly
they will be harsh in return. Often they are seen as being aggressive but that
is far from the truth in most of this type. STRENGTH OF CHARACTER IS
PARAMOUNT.. Strong nerves combined with great trainability make this type of
dog a candidate for all types of police, search and rescue, and guide dog work.
This is the type of dog who would willingly lay down his life for you, while
lovingly guarding your child or elderly parent.
Photos courtesy of Kathy Wilcox
Dogs and research background courtesy Joan Ronalder, Vom Ron German
Below are shots of Czech imports in training.