German Shepherds: Working Lines vs Show Lines

Not all German Shepherds are created equal. “Sure”, you may think, “just as people have different personalities, so have dogs”. Yes, this is true. But what I refer to is the fact that there are different lines within the German Shepherd breed, and the dogs within these lines are prone to have different temperaments, and in consequence be better suited for one purpose of another.

In general terms, we can distinguish between two different lines: working lines and show lines. I’ll explain their differences below. But first, let’s talk a little bit of the origins of the breed.

History: The Origins of the German Shepherd

Although it is not clear when or how the German Shepherd first appear, we do know that the standard of the breed was created at the end of the 19th Century by a group of breeders, of which Max von Stephanitz is the most famous. Their goal was to create a strong, working dog, with various abilities: safekeeping of cattle, guard and protection.

The first “official” German Shepherd was originally known as Hektor Linkshrein, but was registered as Horand von Grafath. Hektor / Horand was considered to be the model of the breed, and he was bred with many different females to perpetuate the breed.

The standard definition of German Shepherds has been revised various times, the last (as far as I know) in 1976. But these changes have been minor.

Working Lines

Working lines are said to be closest to the breed’s origins. They usually have high prey drive and they need some kind of work to feel useful. Otherwise, they can become restless, which can result in destructive behaviours at home. They can be good family dogs, but they need to exercise and work.

In terms of looks, they usually have dark / greyish colours and are smaller than show line German Shepherds.

Show Lines

The show lines, on the other hand, have lower energy levels than working line German Shepherds. Still, they are dogs who love to work but do not require as much exercise as the working lines. They work better as family pets, in the sense that they are more easy to manage.

Within the show lines, there are the American and the German lines. The main difference between the two is that, in order to be registered with the respective associations, dogs in the American show line do not need to pass any temperament or physical tests in order to obtain a certification. In order to breed, German show lines require working titles.

This means that dogs that descend from German show lines tend to have better health and temperament, and are closer to the ideal definition of the breed, as there have been controls on which dogs were allowed to breed.

In any case, show line German Shepherds have more steeply angled hindquarters and overall tend to be bigger than working line GSDs. When it comes to colours, they usually have a combination of red/black or tan/black.

What to Choose?

For most people looking for a family dog, I would go for a (German) show line dog, without question. You get all the good qualities of the breed in a more manageable dog.

On the other hand, if you’ve got experience or you are very aware of what you’re doing, are willing to put in the time and wish to have a dog to work, then a working line may be a good idea.



  • Pacheco, Alfonso. El gran libro del perro pastor alemán. Ed. De Vecchi. Barcelona, 1989.
  • Rossi, Valeria (Desachy, Florence). El pastor alemán. Ed. De Vecchi. Barcelona, 2000.
  • Teich Alasia, Giorgio (Simone, Maria Luisa). El pastor alemán. Educarlo, adiestrarlo, cuidarlo, quererlo. Ed. De Vecchi. Barcelona, 2008.


Image Credits
  • Dog drawing – German Shepherd Portrait:  Extracted from Wikipedia, from a public domain book.
  • Working Line dog – Female GSD (Sable): Image by DoglovingJim, under license CC BY-SA 4.0
  • Remaining images, copyright Nix & Us.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *