Hepper is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Learn more.

Working Line vs. Show Line German Shepherds: Key Differences (With Pictures)

Nicole Cosgrove Profile Picture

By Nicole Cosgrove

Working Line vs Show Line German Shepherd

Though they are all part of the same breed, there are several different types of German Shepherd dogs. These lines were developed for different purposes, pimarily for work and for show. Each German Shepherd line has its own origin and its own unique traits. After reading more about these dogs’ physical traits, personalities, and care, we hope you will be able to decide which of these dogs could be right for you!

Divider-Dog Paw and Bone- New

German Shepherds: At a Glance

Average height (adult): 22-24 inches (females) or 24-26 inches (males)
Average weight (adult): 50-70 pounds (females) or 65-85 pounds (males)
Lifespan: 9-13 years
Exercise: 90-120 minutes per day
Grooming needs: Brush 3-4 times per week
Family-friendly: Yes
Other pet-friendly: Yes, as long as all pets are well socialized
Trainability: Highly trainable

Origins of Working Line & Show Line German Shepherds

red german shepherd
Image Credit: Callipso, Shutterstock

German Shepherds were first created in late 19th-century Germany by a man named ​​Max von Stephanitz. Von Stephanitz was a captain of the German cavalry who served for a time at Berlin’s Veterinary College. During his time in Berlin, von Stephanitz learned a lot about anatomy and biology, which he used when he became a dog breeder later in life.

Von Stephanitz aimed to create a breed that would be strong, intelligent, and loyal enough to perform rigorous tasks. Their primary role on German farms was to herd and protect flocks of sheep from predators. As working dogs, German Shepherds were not bred for their appearance; this simply was not a priority.

However, as German Shepherds gained popularity around the beginning of the first World War, breeders began to meet the demand by developing dogs that were more visually pleasing and could compete in dog shows. In general, show line German Shepherds have lower prey drives, larger and thinner bodies, and more uniform coats than their working line counterparts. They also tend to be friendlier and more well-suited to being kept as pets than the working line German Shepherd, which was never intended to be a pet. Unfortunately, the focus on appearance in show line German Shepherds has led to some common health issues such as hip dysplasia. While the working line German Shepherd typically has a straight back, the show line German Shepherd was bred to have a more angled back that can contribute to weaker hips.

Divider 8

Working Line German Shepherd Overview

Types of Working Line German Shepherds

There are several different lines of both working and show line German Shepherds. Two of the most common working line German Shepherd lines are the East German Shepherd and the Czech German Shepherd.

East German Shepherds

DDR German Shepherd
Image Credit: Sebastian_Wolf, Shutterstock

Also known as the Deutsche Demokratische Republik, or DDR, the East German Shepherd is the counterpart to another German Shepherd line, the West German Shepherd. As you might expect, the East/West split is a result of the World War II (and later Cold War) era division of the country of Germany into two halves. The East German Shepherd tends to be a bit darker in color than other German Shepherd lines. They are very powerful animals that were bred specifically for work. One of the tasks they were used for was trying to keep people from leaving East Germany. Though they are more aggressive than other German Shepherd lines, East German Shepherds are becoming more popular as pets.

Czech German Shepherds

Czech Line German Shepherd Dog_Jess Whitney_shutterstock
Image Credit: Jess Whitney, Shutterstock

The Czech German Shepherd working line was developed in the former state of Czechoslovakia. Like the East German Shepherd, they played a major role in protecting the Czech border before the fall of communism in Czechoslovakia in 1989. These dogs tend to have even higher energy drives than their East German cousins.


Working line German Shepherds tend to be quite hardy and healthy animals. They are less prone to hip and elbow problems than their show line counterparts. Still, it’s important to take your dog for regular visits to the veterinarian, who can keep your dog happy and healthy through routine preventative care.

Suitable For:

Despite the fact that they were bred as working dogs, working line German Shepherds can also make wonderful pets. However, it’s important to understand that they are very active dogs that require a lot of physical activity. They are most suitable for active owners who have the time and willingness to take them outside for up to 2 hours a day. Keep in mind that due to their high drive, they may not be suitable for families with young children, who could be easily harmed by these powerful dogs if they get too excited.

Divider 4

Show Line German Shepherd Overview

Types of Show Line German Shepherds

Two of the most common show line German Shepherds are the West German Shepherd and the American German Shepherd.

West German Shepherd

show line german shepherd
Image Credit: PardoY, Shutterstock

The West German Shepherd is the counterpart to the East German Shepherd and is considered to be the closest breed line to the original dog that was created by Max von Stephanitz. There are both show line and working line West German Shepherds, but West German Shepherds are one of the most popular show lines because their look is considered to be the breed standard. Their backs are more sloped than the East German Shepherd’s, and they are not as physically powerful, either, though they can still hold their own compared to an East German Shepherd.

American German Shepherd

American Show Line German Shepherds
Image Credit: Sady Muñoz, Pixabay

The American German Shepherd was bred with the most emphasis on its physical appearance. Its coat, typically tan or cream and black, is much lighter in color than other German Shepherd lines, which tend to be black, sable and black, or red and black. The American Kennel Club standard focused on the German Shepherd’s angled back and the “flying gait” or “flying trot” as desirable features. They are not bred as working dogs and are intended as family pets and for show.


Unfortunately, due to the tendency to breed for the characteristic sloped back that many show German Shepherds have, these dogs are much more prone to joint problems like hip and elbow dysplasia. Show line German Shepherds should be screened for joint dysplasia. Unfortunately, changes due to dysplasia are irreversible; however, there are treatment options available to help manage your dog’s pain related to the condition.

Suitable For:

Show line German Shepherds have a calmer temperament, which means they are likely more suitable for families than working line German Shepherds. However, you should not assume that show line German Shepherds don’t need a lot of exercise. You still need to take them out for at least an hour or 90 minutes of daily exercise, but show line dogs who don’t get enough exercise are less likely than their counterparts to turn their pent-up energy into aggression.

Divider 3

Which German Shepherd Line Is Right for You?

At the end of the day, both working line and show line German Shepherds can make wonderful pets. Consider your specific needs before making a decision to buy one of these dogs. Do you have small children? Do you lack a lot of extra yard space for your dog to run around in? A show line German Shepherd may make more sense for your family. Do you have a lot of land? Do you keep your own farm animals such as sheep? The working line German Shepherd could be an excellent addition to your family.

All German Shepherds are very intelligent and active animals, so no matter which line you choose, it’s important to make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise and mental stimulation. If you have a busy schedule or aren’t willing to take your dog out to exercise for up to 2 hours per day, this breed may not be for you.

Related Reads:

Feature Image Credit: (L) Jess Whitney, Shutterstock | (R) Alexander Naglestad, Shutterstock

Related Articles

Further Reading

Vet Articles

Latest Vet Answers

The latest veterinarians' answers to questions from our database