In 1899, Rittmeister (Captain) Max von Stephanitz created the breed of German Shepherd Dogs in Germany and founded the SV – Schaeferhund Verein Germany. He used intelligent herding dogs (shepherd dogs) to create a single breed that could serve instead of the several different highly specialized breeds farmers were using to work their flocks of sheep. He dreamt of a single, multi-purposed dog that could herd sheep, protect boundaries, defend against predators, protect the shepherd, his property and his family and still lie down in the house to play with the children at the end of the day. He set out with determination to select the best dogs exhibiting the desired traits and started building his breeding program. He was a very methodical man with a plan and he produced some very detailed documents to guide breeders in their efforts.
Max devised a breed worthiness test, to insure that all German Shepherd Dogs used in breeding were of good temperament and possessed pronounced working drives and exhibited a correct structure. All dogs have to obtain this certification in order to be breed-worthy. It is called a breed survey and gives us a detailed assessment and recommendations in regards to the dog’s breed worthiness. It entails a working title (Schutzhund/IPO or herding) an endurance test (running 12.5 miles beside a bike), a temperament test, an obedience test, a conformation title and a courage test. This is a very tedious, expensive and time-consuming process, but it insures that only the best dogs are used in breeding, therefore protecting the standards of this breed we love so well.
The standard and breed worthiness requirements are recognized internationally and in over 80 countries in the world abide by the German standards. So basically, the German shepherd dogs we find worldwide are pretty much the same and compete side by side in local shows and at the World Sieger Show in Europe once a year.
THERE ARE TWO MAJOR DIFFERENT TYPES OF GERMAN SHEPHERD DOGS WITHIN THE RECOGNIZED WORLD STANDARD: THE WORKING LINES AND THE SHOW LINES.
All German Shepherds in Germany and International must get Schutzhund/IPO titles before they are permitted to breed.
Working lines are usually bred to have a very high pain tolerance. This means they do not respond very much to pain. This helps a Police dog when a crazy man on drugs is trying to kick the s**t out of him so he won’t give up the fight. It also means he will not respond to normal corrections and requires much harder discipline to get the dog to obey you.
Working dogs have more “hair trigger” aggression, and generally a higher Prey drive. Because of this, they must be monitored carefully around people, especially children. Anything that moves fast becomes Prey (like a rabbit) to be chased down and caught. If a jogger runs by or a child zips by running, or is on a bicycle or on skates, the Working dog may react to them as if they are Prey. They can’t grab with their paws, so they use their mouth to grab (bite) to stop their Prey.
So what is best for you will depend on how you intend to live with your dog (kennel dog or house companion), how experienced of a dog handler you are with aggressive dogs and how far you want to go in Schutzhund/IPO competition. With the higher pain tolerance, the higher aggression and higher Prey drive, you had better known what you are doing and how to handle the dog in a safe manner if you want a working line shepherd.
If you want a really nice quality dog with relatively easy going temperament that does have natural (but sensible) protection drives, that can make it’s Schutzhund/IPO titles with proper training, and is easier to live with and control than the Working line dog, then you will do better with the German Show line shepherd.
The show lines were developed by breeders who are very focused on the structure and appearance of the dog. Although the dogs do have to obtain working titles in order to qualify for breeding, their working drives are usually lower than those of the working lines. The conformation lines are dogs that are generally ease to live with, trainable, stable and calm, yet possessing enough drive to work and protect.
The structure of these dogs is excellent, balanced, harmonious and efficient and their general appearance is quite homogenous. They are mainly black and red, black and tan or occasionally sable. Working and show lines are still similar in temperament, with the working exhibiting a higher drive and more intensity, making the show lines a better choice for children when placing them in a family environment.
In North America, we find American/Canadian shepherds. They are very different from the original German shepherds. Although these dogs have common ancestry to the German Shepherd, they have become almost a breed onto themselves and are International not even recognized as pure bred German Shepherd Dogs. These dogs are bred for show purposes, the breeder focusing almost exclusively on looks and movement. They have adapted the standard to their own preference, the result is that these dogs differ greatly from German Shepherds found in the rest of the world.
They are softer and have a lighter bone structure. There is often less differentiation of the two sexes, the males having less masculine heads and bodies, their angulations being quite extreme and their very structure being different from German shepherds. Aside from their appearance being quite different, the major distinction is the temperament: The American/Canadian shepherd is not a working dog. Most of these dogs do not have the required temperament to do any sort of work. They have gone a long way off from the temperament described in the breed standard.
The American/Canadian shepherds are not required to pass any temperament test or to do Schutzhund, to undergo the endurance test, to acquire a breed survey or any other requirement. They are not even required to be free of dysplasia. The only registry is the AKC, which does not control the quality of the animals being bred. These animals retain a potential for protective behavior and responses, but without the courage, stability and clear headedness to temper their actions. They are often fear-biters, nervous and stressed, showing inappropriate aggressive tendencies. They lack the courage for true protection work, their aggressive behavior being a result of defensiveness and fear for themselves and not an instinct to protect their master. This can be confusing to a novice, but the end result is very different, you cannot count on this type of dog to protect and defend you in a threatening situation.