The German Shepherd Dog- Which Are Better; German Lines or American Lines?

The German Shepherd dog has gone through many changes since its creation more than 100 years ago. These changes have taken the breed in different directions in America and in Germany. Nowadays, German bred German Shepherds look totally different and have a different temperament than those bred in the United States. Some breeders still prefer the German lines, but some prefer the American lines. There are conflicting points of view in this matter and my intention with this post is just to share some information with you, so that you can make your own informed decision as to which type is better for you.

Let me start by explaining how the different breeds of dogs and dog associations are organized. This is very important for anybody trying to fully understand the German Shepherd dog, as you will see as you learn more about this breed.

There is a world canine organization called the "Fédération Cynologique Internationale" (FCI), which has its head office in Belgium. It was created on May 22nd 1911, with the objective of promoting and preserving purebred dogs. The main interest of the FCI is to link all dog clubs worldwide and thus have uniform breed standards. Furthermore, it safeguards that the pedigrees and judges are bilaterally recognized by all FCI members.

This entity includes 84 members, one per country; each issues their own pedigrees and trains their own judges. These are mostly national registries, although some may be international. Most national clubs in Europe, Asia, Africa, South America, the Middle East and the former east-block countries are members or contract partners of the FCI. The only significant exceptions are the United States, England and Canada.

The FCI has divided the different breeds into 10 groups:

Group 1- Sheepdogs and Cattle Dogs (except Swiss Cattle Dogs)

Group 2- Pinschers and Schnauzers - Molossoid Breeds - Swiss Mountain Dogs and Swiss Cattle Dogs

Group 3- Terriers (large and medium-sized)

Group 4- Dachshunds

Group 5- Spitz and Primitive Types

Group 6- Scent hounds and Related Breeds

Group 7- Pointing Dogs

Group 8- Retrievers - Flushing Dogs - Water Dogs

Group 9- Companion and Toy Dogs

Group 10- Sight hounds

The German Shepherd dog belongs to the first group; the herding group.

There is also a separate entity, which is not a national registry, but a breed-specific registry club. This club, the SV (short for Verein fur Deutsche Schaferhunde — the German Shepherd Dog Club in Germany) is the parent club of the breed. The SV is the largest and most active breed-specific club in the world. This club has a dual function, by not only being a breed-specific registry, but also sponsoring sporting and training activities, influencing the breeding of working dogs.

Finally, there is a third and very important club, the WUSV (World Union of SV's). This club was established in 1974 and is a member of the FCI. It mainly acts as a link club, bringing the over 60 German Shepherd dog clubs worldwide together, serving as a link to the SV in Germany and connecting them to the FCI.

Some other clubs, like the American Kennel Club (AKC) are not members of the FCI and don't follow its conformation standards. Since the FCI recognizes the standard of the breed's country of origin, the conformation standard adopted by the FCI is that of the SV. This basically means that any German Shepherd dog not registered in a national registry that abides by the rules of the FCI hasn’t necessarily been bred according to the breed's standard.

Nowadays the German Shepherd dog of American lines is not accepted by the FCI as a true German Shepherd. This is such an important issue that I believe it’s necessary to take some time and explain the origin of the problem.

Up to the start of World War II German Shepherds in America were identical to the ones in Germany. To illustrate the point we can use Pfeffer von Bern as an example. This dog was the last German Shepherd imported to the United States before the war, to have a strong impact in the development of the breed in the United States. This dog became American Grand Champion in 1937; was taken back to Germany the same year and became Sieger; and became American Grand Champion again in 1938. He was the first dog to be awarded a Register Of Merit (ROM) which is a title based on accumulative credits awarded to each dogs progeny, with the intention of bringing recognition to outstanding studs. His bloodline dominated German Shepherd dog breeding in the United Sates during the 40’s.

During World War II, due to the animosity between the two countries, the Americans separated their breeding from that of the Germans. There was excessive breeding amongst very closely related dogs. Due to the extreme inbreeding and line breeding, American German Shepherds started showing characteristics of their own. By the end of the war some American breeders recognized the need to go back to the original German Shepherd, bred for hard work, and imported a large number of German Shepherds. However, a new trend had already started. American judges and breeders had come to appreciate their own style of “German Shepherd”, which was a little more refined and had much more angulated hindquarters, necessary for its peculiar trot.

The last imported American Grand Champion was Arno von der Kurpfalzhalle, in 1969. From then on, the American “German Shepherd” has developed on its own and nowadays an imported German Shepherd wouldn’t stand a chance at a dog show in the United States. The American “German Shepherd” has become a mere object of beauty. Its utility, good temperament and health have been sacrificed in exchange for its “floating trot”. Nowadays, there is no similarity between these two breeds except for the name.

In future posts I will attempt to go a little deeper into the
between these two “types” of German Shepherds and I will share more information about the other varieties within the German Shepherd dog breed.


  1. ... this is a sad story that the breed in US has no utility, good temperament or health left ... I'm glad that I live in Europe and own a real German Shepherd :) ... Thanks for your article /Annika

  2. I own an imported German Shepherd. He is a police dog, but the trainer we got him from has never given me his papers. Is there some way I can get his pedigree using his ear tattoo?

  3. Yes. It should be possible. If you read my post about the tattoos on the German Shepherd you will understand how this works a little better. I believe you should be able to contact the United Schutzhund Clubs of America and get some information.

  4. Another well written, true article. Reaffirms stuff I've read and heard about the steep angulation in american shepherds. Amazing that they gave up so many great attributes in the breed for a damn floating trot.
    Keep up the great work Jorge,


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