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West German Shepherd vs East German Shepherd: What’s the Difference? (with Pictures)

The ever-so-popular German Shepherd originated in Germany in the late 1800s. Intelligent, athletic, and obedient, this breed was produced for herding sheep and protecting the flocks from predators. At first, they were not considered pets, but working animals.

Toward the beginning of World War I, the German Shepherd was popular throughout Germany and other parts of the world. German Shepherds stood out due to their loyalty and athleticism. Their bravery, loyalty, trainability, and keen sense of smell quickly led the breed into police work, scent work, and use as sight dogs for the blind.

German Shepherds are one of the most popular dog breeds of all time and have a rich history. A lot of people may not realize that there are some sub-groups of the breed and they have taken on some slightly different characteristics due to specific breeding.

During World War II, Germany was split into two separate regions. With this separation came different breeding styles of the German Shepherd Dog. The untrained eye might not notice the differences between the German shepherd types. We will take a look at both the West German Shepherd and the East German Shepherd and help you determine which would be right for you.

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Visual Differences

western and eastern german shepherd
Image Credit: Left – dendoktoor, Pixabay; Right – stefanoceruti63, Pixabay

At a Glance

West German Shepherd
  • Average height (adult): 25 – 28 inches
  • Average weight (adult): 70 – 100 pounds
  • Lifespan: 10 – 12 years
  • Exercise: 30+ minutes per day
  • Grooming needs: Moderate
  • Family-friendly: Yes
  • Other pet-friendly: Often
  • Trainability: Intelligent, loyal, eager to please
East German Shepherd
  • Average height (adult): 24 – 26 inches
  • Average weight (adult): 55 – 80 pounds
  • Lifespan: 10 – 14 years
  • Exercise: 1+ hours a day
  • Grooming needs: Moderate
  • Family-friendly: Yes
  • Other pet-friendly: With proper socialization
  • Trainability: Intelligent, high-energy, driven

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West German Shepherd Overview

During World War II, the German Shepherd breed became divided into two separate regions. Both regions continued breeding the German Shepherd but the East and the West took different approaches. West Germany put their focus more on breed’s appearance and show quality, while East Germany put their focus on producing the most elite working dogs.

The West German Shepherds are the most popular here in the United States, this version has been Americanized even more since arriving here in the states. The most noticeable difference comes with the slope of the hips. You will notice a more pronounced slant in the Western German Shepherd’s hips as compared to the East German Shepherd. They are typically heavier built and a bit taller at the shoulder.

german shepherd dog lying on wooden table outdoors
Image Credit: lancegfx, Pixabay

Personality/Character

Western German Shepherds are loyal, loving, devoted, and protective. They can make great family pets with proper training. It’s best to socialize them with strangers and other animals from a young age as they can be wary of both. German Shepherds tend to be a bit talkative and full of personality.

Training

Western German Shepherds are eager to please and very intelligent. They pick up on training very easily. It’s best to start training as early as possible and remain consistent. These dogs do very well with reward-based training, whether it be treats or play.

Health & Care

Due to their breeding, the Western German Shepherd may be more prone to hip dysplasia since their hips are slightly more angled and they tend to carry more weight. It’s best to make sure your dog is fed a high-quality diet and gets regular exercise for its overall health and well-being.

slope-backed german shepherd standing on grass
Image Credit: Hans_Kemperman, Pixabay

Grooming

You can expect a great deal of shedding from a German Shepherd, no matter the origin. It’s recommended to brush them thoroughly at least once per week to keep the excess hair to a minimum. If you’re not up for a house full of dog hair, a German Shepherd may not be the most ideal choice. It’s best to get them used to nail trims at an early age to avoid the dramatics and hassle later. You’ll also want to ensure their ears are wiped clean regularly to avoid dirt and build-up.

Suitable for:

West German Shepherds are most suitable as family pets and companions. If you’re looking to get into showing dogs, this would also be your preferred breed type. West German Shepherds, though still maintaining their overall high energy and athleticism, have had some more of the intense work drive bred out of them for their use as show dogs and companions.

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East German Shepherd Overview

After World War II, the East German Shepherds, also referred to as DDR, were maintained by the government of East Germany, and breeding focused solely on workability. These dogs have a very distinct look, they have less angular hips compared to West German Shepherds. They tend to be smaller, lighter, and more compact.

East German Shepherds are especially driven. They’re ideal if you’re planning to train a dog for police work, search, and rescue, protection, or guarding. The East German line has a much higher energy level and is more commonly seen in the military, law enforcement, and other demanding fields where drive and endurance are needed. East German Shepherds are best suited with experienced, firm handlers.

german shepherd lying on grass
Image Credit: Dory, Pixabay

Personality/Character

Fierce, driven, and intelligent, the East German Shepherd has all the typical German Shepherd qualities but is much more intense and work-focused. They are very high energy and will require a lot of physical and mental stimulation. They aren’t typically too fond of strangers and have a very strong prey drive. If around other animals and people, they need to be well socialized.

Exercise

These dogs need a job to do and will require a great deal of daily exercise. They will not be suitable as lazy house pets. If you choose an East German Shepherd, you’ll want to be a regularly active person that is ready to try and match this dog’s stamina.

Training

East German Shepherds need firm, strong, experienced handlers. They are intelligent and powerful and can be more stubborn than their West German Shepherd counterparts. After all, they were bred for the military, and their personality shows it. Training will need to begin at a young age and they will need to quickly learn who the alpha is, otherwise, they will happily assume the role.

Health & Care

East German Shepherds tend to have more work-related injuries since they are on the job. They are also prone to hip dysplasia, as with any German Shepherd. Their smaller, more compact stature does work in their favor and puts less stress on their body as they age. These dogs require high-protein, high-quality food that matches their activity level.

Sable German Shepherd stacking
Image Credit: TanyaCPhotography, Shutterstock

Grooming

The grooming needs of the East German Shepherd are no different than the West German Shepherd. They will shed, and they will shed a lot. They have that water-repellent topcoat and a thick undercoat that is blown all year round. Expect to brush this dog frequently and ensure to keep their ears clean and their nails clipped.

Suitable for:

East German Shepherds are most suitable for very experienced dog handlers and trainers. Their intense work drive requires a job to do. This line makes great military working dogs, law enforcement officers, search and rescue dogs, agility competitors, and protection dogs. They can make good family pets if housed with the proper handler but will not be the best option for novice dog owners that simply want a companion animal.

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Which Breed Is Right for You?

Most individuals and families will opt for the West German Shepherd since they don’t have the intense exercise and work requirements of the East German Shepherd. Those leaning toward the East German Shepherd need to have experience with the breed and are likely searching for a working dog.

If you’re planning to add a German shepherd to your family, make sure to opt for the lines that best suit your lifestyle. If you are prepared to offer your German Shepherd the best training and care, you will have yourself a very faithful, devoted companion.

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Feature Image Credits: Pixabay