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American vs European German Shepherd – Can You Notice The Differences?

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This might come as a surprise, but some people make a distinction between American versus European German Shepherd. They are essentially the same breed. The difference is whether the dog was bred on the continent of North America or Europe.

Now, while they are the same dog breed because they were bred on different sides of the Atlantic Ocean, they are slightly different.

Similar to the American versus English Lab debate, these dogs can carry slightly different traits.

While the differences are subtle, some of them might make you decide between one or the other. Let’s get into the discussion.

Breed History

In Germany, the German Shepherd is known as the Deutsche Schaferhund. Its long history dates back to the 19th century. Originally, the GSD was bred to be a herding dog. Its line of herding dogs varies from one district to another.

It wasn’t until the 19th century and Captain Max von Stephanitz, that the line was unified. He was a cavalry officer who wanted to make the ultimate herding breed dog. He mixed the best of the best herding dogs to come up with the German Shepherd dog breed we love today.

People quickly understand how versatile this puppy can be. They loved its protective and loyal nature. This is how the canine became a popular choice for protection dogs, guard dogs, police dogs, army dogs, and so on.

In the 20th century, the breed became popular in the US thanks to dogs in movies. Movie stars like Rin Tin Tin and Strongheart increased the popularity of the breed. And over time, the American line of German Shepherd puppy was born.

The American Kennel Club doesn’t recognize two different breeds. But they do regulate the breed standard of the American German Shepherd, while The German Shepherd Club of Germany regulated the European line. Still, you can find a German Shepherd breeder in the US that breeds only from European lines. In other words, you can adopt a European German Shepherd puppy in the US.

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Appearance Breed Comparison

Physically, if you are a German Shepherd enthusiast, you can notice the differences between American and European German Shepherd. But for casual fans, there might not be much of a difference. Yet, ask a breeder, and he will tell you the most significant difference between the two lines is in appearance.

European German Shepherds have bigger heads, a straighter line on the hind legs, and a shorter and wider backline. American German Shepherd is bigger overall, but he has more refined legs, their hind legs bend more, and the torso is more angled from front to back. That would make the American German Shepherd puppy bigger with a longer body.

Some breeders say that the European German Shepherd has a head that is more similar to a wolf’s head.

Their coat coloring standard is the same. Either line can have a shorter or longer coat, with the most common color being black and tan. They can also have some unusual colors like Sable German Shepherd, White German Shepherd, Black German Shepherd, or Blue German Shepherd. Some say that American German Shepherds have lighter coat color.

Speaking of size, we have to note the different breed, King Shepherd, which is another story.


Another difference between the two is in personality and temperament. The American line is more like a family puppy, while the European German Shepherd is the better working dog. Both can do amazing in either task or job, but the European variation is happier when doing a job.

This is because the European German Shepherd was bred as a working dog in protection and herding fields. The American variation is more commonly found as a family pet. He has not been put to the same amount of work as the European.

With that in mind, if you want a working dog, make sure to talk to your German Shepherd breeder about it. The American Shepherd is slightly less protective, and some might say less destructive and aggressive if not properly exercised.

But then there is the dirty little secret. Because the American German Shepherd is less work-oriented, he is also less focused on his master and dog owner. He is relaxed with the family and less intense when working and training.

Both these dogs are loyal, intelligent, calm, and quiet and can do well with other animals and children. But the American is more elegant, having a more graceful walk. If you want a show dog, the American German Shepherd is the better option.


Both dogs need early and consistent training and socialization to transform into amazing dogs and pets. You need to pay attention to their instinct. For example, if your European protective puppy is allowed to, it can quickly and easily turn into an overprotective dog. Socialization will help teach him how to interact with other animals and humans with confidence.

Both these dogs are obedient and easily trainable, but if you want a dog you can work with, the European version is much better. They are quick to pick up commands and are more intense during dog training sessions.

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Exercise Needs

No matter which one you get, you will still need to provide a hefty amount of physical exercise and mental stimulation. If you cannot commit to your dog, do not get one.

These two need between 90 and 120 minutes of exercise per day. And that means exercise, work, and play. The European line needs a bit more mental stimulation and work, while the American line will happily go on a long walk or hike.

Of the two, the European version needs more variety in its work and exercise. Both can get bored, depressed, and destructive without a sufficient amount of exercise.


Of the two, the American line has a bit more potential health concerns. They are prone to bloat and hip dysplasia. You can prevent those problems by maintaining a healthy weight, providing plenty of exercise, and going to regular veterinary visits.

The European line is less prone to hip dysplasia because it doesn’t have the sloped backs of the American version. They are also smaller and the breed standard is more closely regulated.

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Life Expectancy

Your German Shepherd dog will live between 12 and 14 years. European lines can live a bit longer because they have fewer potential health issues.

And because breeding has been more closely monitored, you are guaranteed to get a 100% purebred puppy.


The grooming regime is similar for both pets. The difference is whether you have a short-haired or long-haired variety of your dog. Those with short hair need regular brushing once a week. But if you have a German Shepherd with long hair, you will need to brush him two to three times per week.

They shed the same during the blowout season. Throughout the year, German Shepherds are moderate shedders, but heavy ones during shedding season.

Breeding Standards

As we said before, The American Kennel Club regulates the standard for American German Shepherd. Then, The German Shepherd Club of Germany regulates the standard for the European version. One difference is that the European variety has to pass the test of obedience, health, and temperament. There are no such requirements for the American line.

Which One To Get?

Which one is the right for you? How to pick between an American and a European German Shepherd? Well, you have to take your needs and preferences into consideration. If you want a true guard dog, police dog, or service dog, you will be better with the European version.

This dog is happier to work, train, and exercise with you. The American version is a bit laid back and more suited to family life. Yes, the European version is an amazing family dog as well. But they are more used by law enforcement agencies.

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