Long-Haired German Shepherd Vs. Short-Haired: An In-Depth Comparison

Categorized as German Shepherd Types and Mixes
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The German Shepherd is one of the most popular dog breeds in the world, renowned for their intelligence, trainability and versatility. While most people are familiar with the classic medium-length double coat of the German Shepherd, there are actually two varieties – long-haired and short-haired.

While long and short-haired German Shepherds share many similarities, there are some key differences in their appearance, grooming needs, temperament and suitability for various roles. This comprehensive guide explores the long-haired vs short-haired debate in depth, providing an overview of their history, traits and what prospective owners need to know.

Here is a helpful comparison table summarizing some of the key differences between long-haired and short-haired German Shepherds:

Long-Haired German ShepherdShort-Haired German Shepherd
Coat LengthMedium to long topcoat, fringedShorter topcoat, close lying
Grooming NeedsDaily brushing to prevent mats2-3 brushes per week
SheddingHeavy seasonal sheddingHeavy seasonal shedding
TemperamentCalmer, friendlier, eager to pleaseMore serious, energetic, aloof
Energy LevelVery energetic but slightly lower energyExtremely energetic and intense
TrainabilityHighly trainable and obedientExcellent trainability and focus
UsesShow dog, family companionPolice, military, service dog roles
Exercise Needs60-90 minutes/day60-90 minutes/day or more
Apartment LivingPossible with sufficient exerciseDifficult unless very active owners
Health IssuesHip dysplasia, allergies, bloatHip dysplasia, allergies, bloat
Life Expectancy9-13 years9-13 years

Origins of the Long and Short Coated German Shepherd

The German Shepherd breed originated in Germany in the late 1800s, bred for herding sheep and protecting flocks. The founding sire of the breed, Horand von Grafrath, had a classic medium-length double coat which became the standard.

However, long-haired German Shepherds also existed from early on in the breed’s development. These likely occurred due to breeding with Tibetan herding dogs that had long coats. Long-haired German Shepherds were considered a fault by breeders at the time as they didn’t have weather-resistant coats suitable for herding.

It wasn’t until the 1960s that long-haired German Shepherds became recognized as a separate variety by major kennel clubs. While still not as common as the short-haired variety, they grew in popularity as family pets and show dogs.

Long-Haired vs Short-Haired: Key Differences

While long and short-haired German Shepherds share similar traits in many regards, there are some notable differences between the varieties:

Appearance

  • Coat length – The long-haired German Shepherd has a medium to long length top coat that is soft and slightly wavy. The hair fringes at the ears, legs, tail and body.
  • Undercoat – Both varieties have a dense undercoat which sheds seasonally. The long coat likely developed due to a recessive gene.
  • Colors – Acceptable colors for both types include black and tan, black and cream, black and silver, solid black and sable. Long-hairs may have a more faded coloration.
  • Size – No differences in size. Males 24-26 inches tall, females 22-24 inches. Weight around 65-90 pounds. Large and muscular build.

Grooming & Shedding

  • Brushing – Long-haired German Shepherds require daily brushing to prevent matting and tangles, especially behind the ears, tail and legs. Short-hairs only need 2-3 brushes per week.
  • Bathing – Only bathe when necessary, around once a month. Overbathing can damage their double coat.
  • Shedding – Both varieties shed heavily during Spring and Fall. Long-hairs require more grooming during shedding season to remove dead hair.
  • Trimming – Do not trim the coat of a long-haired German Shepherd as this damages the way it protects them from weather and heat regulation. Only tidy excess fur between paw pads if needed.

Temperament

  • Friendliness – Long-hairs are often described as being slightly calmer, gentler and friendlier than the more serious short-haired variety. But this can vary greatly between individuals.
  • Trainability – Both varieties are highly intelligent, ranking in the top 10 most trainable dog breeds. Short-hairs may be a little more driven and focused during training.
  • Family pets – Excellent family companions devoted to their owners. Good with children. Can be aloof with strangers. Early socialization is key.
  • Activity levels – Very energetic and athletic. Require at least 1-2 hours exercise and mental stimulation daily. Short-hairs may be more intense and energetic.
  • Protection – Loyal and protective of family members. Short-hairs often better suited as watch dogs. May try to herd kids and pets.
  • Prey drive – Moderate to high prey drive in most lines, due to their herding ancestry. Should not be left unsupervised with small pets.

Uses & Suitability

  • Show dogs – Long-hairs recognized as a separate breed by major kennel clubs. Excel at conformation showing and competitive obedience.
  • Service dogs – Both varieties commonly trained as guide, hearing and therapy dogs. Their temperament and trainability makes them ideal service dogs.
  • Police & military – Short-haired German Shepherds are the most common choice for these roles due to higher energy levels, protectiveness and weather-resistant coat.
  • Herding – Possible but less common these days. The long coat is not well suited to harsh weather while herding.
  • Family pet – With proper training and socialization both varieties make wonderful family companions. Long-hairs may suit lower energy households.

Long Haired German Shepherd – An Overview

Now let’s take a more detailed look at some of the traits and needs of the long-haired German Shepherd specifically.

Appearance

The long-haired German Shepherd is a large, muscular dog standing 22-26 inches tall at the shoulder. They have a medium to long length top coat that is soft, smooth and slightly wavy.

The hair falls in gentle curls and fringes at the ears, tail, back of legs and body. Some long-hairs may have a mane around the neck and chest. Their undercoat is thick and soft.

Common coat colors include:

  • Black and tan
  • Black and silver
  • Black and cream
  • Sable
  • Solid black

The long-haired coat is thought to be caused by a simple recessive gene. If two long-haired dogs are bred together, their offspring will also have long fur.

Grooming

That beautiful long fur of the long-haired German Shepherd comes at a price – they require extensive grooming to keep their coat free of tangles and mats. Here are some top tips:

  • Brush thoroughly – Ideally brush the entire coat daily to prevent matting, paying extra attention to behind the ears, tail and back of legs. Use a slicker brush and metal comb.
  • Bathe occasionally – Only bathe your long-haired Shepherd when needed, around once a month. Use a dog-friendly shampoo. Bathing too often can damage their natural oils.
  • Don’t trim – Never trim or shave down a long-haired German Shepherd’s coat as this can irreparably damage it. Simply tidy excess fur between paw pads if needed.
  • Manage shedding – During heavy seasonal shedding use deshedding tools to remove loose undercoat. Extra brushing will be required.

With the proper grooming regimen, the long fur should be manageable. Neglecting brushing will lead to painful matting and skin irritation. Owners need to be prepared for the extensive grooming requirements before getting a long-haired Shepherd.

Temperament

The long-haired German Shepherd is prized for its gentle, amicable temperament while still possessing the intelligence and athleticism characteristic of the breed. Some key attributes include:

  • Affectionate and loyal towards family members
  • Eager to please owners – highly trainable
  • Friendly with proper socialization
  • Gentler and calmer than short-haired variety
  • Energetic and playful – requires plenty of exercise
  • Intelligent and quick to learn
  • Protective instincts – may try to herd children/pets
  • Wary around strangers if not socialized
  • Moderate to high prey drive – don’t leave unsupervised with small pets

They bond very closely with their owners and don’t like to be left alone for long periods. Raised with proper training and socialization from puppyhood, the long-haired Shepherd makes a wonderful family companion.

Exercise & Activity Levels

Long-haired German Shepherds have high energy levels and need upwards of 60-90 minutes of exercise per day. They particularly thrive with having a job or task to complete.

As working dogs bred for herding, they need both physical and mental stimulation to be happy and avoid problem behaviors like destructiveness.

Activities long-haired Shepherds enjoy include:

  • Long leash walks
  • Hiking & swimming
  • Playing fetch
  • Agility courses
  • Interactive toys
  • Obedience or rally training
  • Canine sports like flyball

A long-haired German Shepherd adapts well to most climates, although very hot weather may be more difficult for them to handle. Access to air conditioning and fresh water is important on hot days.

Due to their athleticism they are not recommended for apartment living unless owners can provide sufficient daily exercise. A securely fenced yard is ideal.

Trainability

With owners who established themselves as fair, firm leaders, the long-haired German Shepherd is highly trainable and eager to please. Their exceptional intelligence allows them to learn cues quickly.

Positive reinforcement training yields the best results with this sensitive breed. Harsh methods are not effective. Owners need to be patient and consistent in training.

Socialization from an early age is imperative to prevent aloofness or skittishness in new situations. Expose the long-haired Shepherd puppy to a wide variety of people, dogs, places and experiences in a positive way.

Common training challenges include mouthing/nipping, jumping up and stubbornness. Owners must establish rules and boundaries in a kind but firm manner.

Overall, the long-haired German Shepherd’s trainability and willingness to work make them a delight to train for most owners.

Health & Care

Long-haired German Shepherds are prone to the same genetic health issues seen in the short-haired variety. Reputable breeders will screen their breeding dogs. Some conditions to be aware of:

  • Hip and elbow dysplasia – have parents OFA tested
  • Bloat – don’t allow vigorous exercise before or after eating
  • Degenerative myelopathy – genetic nerve disorder
  • Allergies/skin problems – food allergies, hot spots
  • Heart disease – annual vet checkups recommended

With proper care, regular vet checkups and a high quality diet, the average lifespan is 9-13 years. Make sure to keep their teeth cleaned regularly as well.

Short-Haired German Shepherd Overview

Now let’s take a look at some of the main traits of the classic short-haired German Shepherd:

Appearance

The short-haired German Shepherd has a medium length, dense and straight outer coat, with a thick undercoat. Their hair lies close to the body. Coloration is the same as the long-haired variety.

Males stand 24-26 inches tall, females 22-24 inches. Weight is approximately 65-90 pounds. The short-hair has a classic wedge shaped head, erect ears and bold expression. Their build is muscular and athletic.

Temperament

The short-haired Shepherd is best described as:

  • Confident, courageous and self-assured
  • Energetic – higher energy than long-haired
  • Intense and determined
  • Highly intelligent and trainable
  • Faithful and loyal to family members
  • Wary of strangers if not socialized
  • Protective of family and territory
  • Moderate to high prey drive

With proper socialization and training they excel as family protectors and companions. Short-haired Shepherds bond deeply with their owners.

Uses

The classic short-haired German Shepherd is better suited for:

  • Police, military and guard dog roles – more serious nature and protective instincts
  • Dog sports like schutzhung and ring sport which require agility
  • Search and rescue – high trainability and energy suits this role
  • Service dog roles – their trainability makes them excellent guide, hearing and therapy dogs
  • Herding and farm work – weather resistant short coat

The short-hair’s energy, athleticism, trainability and protective nature makes them a popular choice for both work and family environments.

Care & Exercise Needs

Short-haired German Shepherds are very active dogs with high exercise requirements. They need 60-90 minutes of vigorous activity daily.

This athletic breed thrives when given jobs or sports to participate in like agility, jogging, swimming, hiking and playing fetch.

Their energy and exercise needs are higher than the long-haired variety. Bored short-haired Shepherds are prone to problem behaviors like escape attempts, digging, chewing and hyperactivity.

Short-haired Shepherds are better suited to active owners who can give them adequate physical and mental stimulation each day. They adapt well to all climates. Apartment living is doable with sufficient exercise but a yard is ideal.

Long-Haired vs Short-Haired German Shepherd: Which is Better?

So which of the two German Shepherd varieties makes a better pet? The truth is that there is no right or wrong answer – it depends on the owner’s lifestyle and preferences.

Those wanting a slightly calmer household companion may find the long-haired Shepherd better suited. Owners seeking a driven, intense dog for sports or working roles are better matched with a short-haired.

Both make wonderful pets for the right owner. Ensure your lifestyle aligns with the activity needs, grooming requirements and temperament of the type of German Shepherd you choose.

Meeting their needs will ensure a happy, well-adjusted companion whether long or short-haired.

German Shepherd FAQs

Answers to some frequently asked questions about long and short-haired German Shepherds:

Are long-haired German Shepherds rare?

Long-haired German Shepherds are less common than the short-haired variety, but have increased in popularity and are no longer considered rare. Around 18% of GSD litters produce long-haired puppies.

Are long-haired German Shepherds recognized?

Yes, long-haired German Shepherds are recognized by major kennel clubs including the AKC as a separate variety since the 1960s. They can compete in conformation shows.

Do long-haired German Shepherds shed more?

Both long and short-haired Shepherds have a dense undercoat they blow twice a year. Long-hairs require more grooming during shedding but don’t necessarily shed more.

Are long-haired German Shepherds bigger?

No, there are no size differences between long and short-haired Shepherds. Both stand 22-26 inches tall and weigh around 65-90 pounds. Long-hair’s coat may make them appear larger.

Are long-haired German Shepherds healthier?

There is no difference in the health issues faced by long vs short-haired German Shepherds. Both are prone to hip dysplasia, allergies, bloat and spinal conditions.

Do German Shepherds do well in apartments?

German Shepherds can adapt to apartment living with sufficient daily exercise and mental stimulation. However a yard is ideal for this active breed. Long-hairs may be better suited than intense short-hairs.

At what age is a German Shepherd fully grown?

German Shepherds are considered fully mature by 18-24 months of age. But they’ll continue filling out muscle wise up to approx 3 years old.

Conclusion

To summarize, long and short-haired German Shepherds share more similarities than differences. Both make superb companions when properly trained and cared for.

While the long-haired variety requires more intensive grooming, they tend to have a slightly calmer nature. Short-haired Shepherds are often more intense and better suited for demanding working roles.

Choose your German Shepherd based on your lifestyle and preferences. Meeting their high exercise needs and practicing positive training techniques will ensure you have a loyal friend for life, whether long or short of coat!

By Andrew Garf

Andrew Garf has loved dogs, especially German Shepherds, since he was 10 years old. Though he also loves burgers, training dogs is his real passion. That's why he created the website TrainYourGSD.com - to help dog owners learn how to properly train, care for, and bond with their German Shepherd dogs.