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West German Shepherd

Kristin Hitchcock

By Kristin Hitchcock

slope-backed german shepherd standing on grass

Today, there are a surprising number of German Shepherd varieties.

Not everyone agrees on exactly which types are “real” and which dogs fall into which category. Kennel clubs don’t recognize any specific type over the other, so we don’t have any official ruling on this matter.

For the most part, the West German Shepherd refers to dogs closer to the older version of the breed. Usually, these are working dog lines that haven’t been bred for the show ring and are missing many of the possible deformities many modern dogs experience.

The West German Shepherd may also be compared to the East German Shepherd, which was bred in Russia. The latter breed has long hair, while the West German Shepherd is what you’d recognize in Western countries.

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West German Shepherd Origins

The German Shepherd dog originated in Germany around the 1850s. It was around this time that people started standardizing dog breeds.

Before then, dogs were bred for practical purposes. Dogs that were good at herding were bred together, leading to lots of puppies that were bred together. Eventually, this created something that looked like a breed – but they varied a lot depending on the location.

In 1891, the Phylax Society was founded to create a standardized development program for dog breeds in Germany. This society didn’t last very long due to internal conflict, but they did start creating the first standard for the German Shepherd.

In 1899, Von Stephanitz attended a show with his dog Hektor. This canine would later be recognized as the first authentic German Shepherd. He resulted from many generations of selective breeding that produced what Von Stephanitz thought was the perfect working dog.

Von Stephanitz then founded the Society of German Shepherd Dogs. This organization kept a registry of German Shepherds – one of the first of its kind. The breed quickly became one of the most popular globally, likely because it was one of the first organized breeds.

All kinds of German Shepherds originate from Hektor and his offspring. Most of the early generations are the result of inbreeding, which may be the cause of some of the breed’s health problems today.

It wasn’t until modern times when the German Shepherds began to differ substantially from each other.

West German Shepherd History

As you might expect, selective breeding has changed the German Shepherd dog substantially over the years.

Max von Stephanitz believed that dogs should be bred primarily for purpose. He didn’t believe in breeding dogs for physical characteristics. These beliefs heavily influenced how he bred the German Shepherd – and are one of the reasons that they have such devoted temperaments today.

However, many modern breeders are criticized for straying away from this original idea. Many German Shepherds are now mainly bred for their physical characteristics, allowing them to win in the show ring.

Over time, this led to some impractical characteristics of the modern breed. For instance, the breed’s back has become significantly sloped. This trait causes an odd gait in the hind legs and may result in structural problems like hip dysplasia and arthritis.

This is a problem in the United States and Europe. Over the years, it has led to a lot of controversies.

The West German Shepherd is a reaction to this controversy. Instead of continuing down the line of breeding for appearance, some breeders try to revert the breed to its original form. Many of these breeders use working line German Shepherds who haven’t strayed as much as those bred for show.

What exactly counts as a West German Shepherd is somewhat up in the air. There are no guidelines for this specific line of dogs, so any breeder can claim that their dog falls into this category.

Your best bet for determining whether or not a dog is a true West German Shepherd is to ask for the results of health tests – especially hip dysplasia. Because they are bred for practical purposes, these dogs should be pretty healthy.

You should also speak with the breeder about their thoughts regarding dog breeding. They probably aren’t breeding working line dogs if they proclaim that their dogs have won many shows. And if they talk about sending dogs to police departments or military institutions, their dogs are likely West German Shepherds.

West German Shepherd Traits

The West German Shepherd mostly looks like what you’d expect to find in a Western country. However, most breeders who are advertising their dog under this guise are likely breeding practical dogs.

West German Shepherd Appearance

Western German Shepherds may have a straighter back and be bred for practical purposes. These breeders usually produce their dogs for use as protection and companion animals – not for shows. So, they often have a stricter focus on practical traits.

These dogs usually have compact torsos. They are thicker across the chest and look slightly squatted. However, they are not nearly as hunched over like some other variations of German Shepherds.

Sometimes, these dogs are imported from Germany (as these dogs are considered “purer”). This will affect their traits and appearance. They are usually further away from what you’d expect a modern German Shepherd to look like.

West German Shepherd Temperament

These dogs are very devoted to their owners. That’s necessary for dogs that are bred to work closely alongside humans in high-risk environments.

They are very eager to learn and do their best with a purpose. Breeders explicitly focusing on working dogs will likely produce canines more intelligent and more likely to perform well in the field. They’re breeding dogs that perform well – not selecting for physical traits alone.

Many West German Shepherds are very protective of their owners and not as accepting of outsiders.

It does depend on where the dog came from, though. A breeder producing dogs for military and police organizations will often breed very protective dogs on purpose. However, those who are breeding companion animals may produce slightly friendlier dogs.

No German Shepherd is going to be as friendly as a Golden Retriever, though. That isn’t in their blood!

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West German Shepherd Facts

1. What counts as a WGSD varies.

No one exactly agrees on what counts as a West German Shepherd Dog. Many people will describe these dogs as closer to the original breed idea. Some breeders achieve this by taking modern dogs and breeding out some of the defects that have been introduced over the years – such as the sloped back.

Others accomplish it by importing dogs from Germany. These dogs haven’t undergone the heavy selective breeding that dogs in the United States have experienced. Therefore, they are often closer to the original breed than those in the States.

Some breeders state that anything that isn’t an Eastern German Shepherd counts as a Western German Shepherd. However, this would include all the dogs in the states and makes the category largely unhelpful.

2. German Shepherds aren’t just protection dogs.

Many people see the modern West German Shepherd as a protection dog. That is essentially what they are bred for today, after all. Many of these practical dogs end up working for police organizations and similar institutions – typically as protection animals.

However, they were initially bred as shepherds. They herded sheep – that was their original purpose.

To do this, they needed to possess a few vital traits. They have a powerful nose, for example. This allows them to be used as bombs and drug dogs, especially in the police force. They can also be used for tracking and search and rescue work.

3. West German Shepherds need a lot of mental stimulation.

Because they’re bred solely for practical purposes, these canines are extremely smart. While this makes them able to pick up on training very quickly, they also need a lot of mental stimulation.

For this reason, we only recommend them for people who have a lot of extra time on their hands. It will take quite a bit of time each day to keep these dogs entertained. Training is a necessity – if only because it challenges your dog’s mind.

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Conclusion: West German Shepherd

The West German Shepherd is either a new breed or an ancient breed – depending on who you ask. It’s an attempt to bring back the older, practical German Shepherd breed. Many modern dogs have incredibly sloped backs, for instance. This type attempts to remove some of these modern developments.

Usually, you can find these dogs by looking for breeders that produce practical dogs. Those who produce protection dogs and breed dogs for purpose often have German Shepherds that resemble the original breed.

For the most part, these dogs are excellent as companion animals, as long as you know what you’re getting into. They’re working dogs through and through, though. They aren’t for the casual dog owner. If you’re interested in working with your dog daily, we recommend these dogs.

Featured Image Credit: Hans_Kemperman, Pixabay

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