The West German Shepherd is one of the most popular lines of the iconic German Shepherd dog breed. These intelligent, loyal companions have a rich history and make excellent working, sport, and family dogs.
This in-depth breed guide provides a comprehensive overview of the West German Shepherd, including its origins, physical characteristics, temperament, health, training, and more.
History and Origins
The German Shepherd breed traces its roots back to 1899 in Germany when Captain Max von Stephanitz bred a dog named Horand von Grafrath to create his vision of the ideal herding dog. This original dog became the first registered German Shepherd.
After World War II, Germany was divided into East and West Germany. This division led to separate breeding programs in each area, causing the German Shepherd breed to diverge into different lines:
- West German working lines – Bred for working abilities like herding, protection, police, and military work. Focus was on health, temperament, and working drive. Became the most popular working line.
- West German show lines – Bred for confirmation show standards in West Germany. Focus was on physical appearance.
- East German working lines (DDR) – Bred for military and police work in East Germany. Highly driven with very high energy.
- American show lines – Bred for AKC conformation show standards in the US. Known for a sloped back and calm temperament.
- British lines – Bred for a calmer temperament suitable for families.
The West German working line is considered the variety that adheres closest to Max von Stephanitz’s original vision. These dogs possess excellent working drive while retaining the noble character and athletic structure of the early German Shepherds.
The West German Shepherd has a medium to large muscular build with a noble, rugged appearance. Some key physical traits include:
- Coat – Thick double-coat with short, dense undercoat and longer outer coat. Common colors are black and tan or black and red. Solid black and sable coats are also seen.
- Head – The head is wedge-shaped with a strong muzzle and black nose. Ears are erect and stand tall.
- Eyes – Almond shaped, medium sized eyes that are brown in color. The gaze is intelligent and expression is keen.
- Body – Athletic, muscular build. The back is straight and strong without the extreme rear angulation seen in American show lines. The chest is broad and deep.
- Legs – Forelegs are straight and sturdy. The rear is well-muscled with moderate angulation.
- Tail – Large, bushy tail reaching to the hock. Carried down with a slight curve when relaxed.
|Height at withers||24-26 in||22-24 in|
|Weight||66-88 lb||49-71 lb|
Overall, the West German Shepherd has a balanced, athletic structure suited for high working performance. The body is lighter and more agile compared to the stockier East German lines.
Temperament and Personality
The West German Shepherd has a noble character reflective of the original German Shepherd Dog. They are highly intelligent, loyal, willing to work, and eager to please their handler.
This line maintains strong protective and territorial instincts while being approachable and discerning. Their lively nature and alertness make them excellent watchdogs.
West German Shepherds bond very closely with their families. They aim to stay by their owner’s side and can suffer from separation anxiety if left alone for long periods. Extensive socialization from a young age is essential.
When properly trained and socialized, the West German Shepherd is self-assured, serious, but not skittish. They have a high impulse for prey and need structured obedience training. An experienced owner is recommended to handle their enthusiasm and energy.
Overall, this line has excellent temperament for a wide range of jobs from police and military work to therapy, service, and guide dog roles. Their people-focused nature also allows them to succeed as family companions.
Exercise and Activity Needs
West German Shepherds have very high exercise requirements to satisfy their active, energetic nature. They need a minimum of 60-90 minutes of vigorous exercise daily.
As working dogs bred for endurance, they excel at activities like:
Along with physical exercise, West German Shepherds greatly benefit from mental stimulation through training, interactive toys, and brain games. A bored West German Shepherd can become destructive.
This line typically retains a high level of energy and stamina well into maturity. They need an active home that can keep them properly exercised. retired working dogs thrive when they have a job to do around the homestead.
The West German Shepherd’s high working drive and eagerness to please makes them highly trainable. They excel in obedience, tracking, herding, and other canine sports.
Here are some key tips for successfully training a West German Shepherd:
- Use positive reinforcement methods and be patient and firm during training.
- Start socialization and obedience from an early age.
- Provide structure and clarity when giving commands.
- Prevent problem behaviors by redirecting their energy into activities and training.
- Challenge their intelligence by teaching new tricks and skills.
- Establish yourself as the confident leader.
- Avoid rough handling – be firm but fair.
- Provide daily mental and physical stimulation.
- Ongoing training will strengthen your bond.
An experienced owner will find the West German Shepherd easy to train. First-time owners may benefit from professional training assistance to properly channel this dog’s high drive.
The West German Shepherd has a double coat designed to protect them from weather and injury. The undercoat is thick and downy while the top coat is straight, harsh, and lies close to the body.
During shedding seasons, the undercoat will release significantly and require more frequent brushing. Generally, expect grooming needs to include:
- Brushing – 2-3 times per week. More often during shedding. Use a slicker brush and undercoat rake.
- Bathing – As needed, around every 6-8 weeks. Use mild shampoo for dogs.
- Nails – Trim when they get too long. Grinding is safer than clipping.
- Teeth – Daily brushing removes plaque. Annual cleaning by vet.
- Ears – Check and wipe out ears weekly. No need to trim hair inside ears.
Take care not to bathe too often, as this can strip the coat of essential oils. Some owners opt to have their West German Shepherd professionally groomed a few times per year.
Nutrition and Feeding
The West German Shepherd is a large, active breed with high energy needs. To fuel their demanding lifestyle, feed a high quality commercial dog food formulated for large active breeds.
West German Shepherds should do well on a diet with:
- Protein – Minimum of 22% for adults. Puppy and pregnant/nursing dogs need higher levels.
- Fat – 12% – 15% from high quality animal sources. Provides concentrated energy.
- Carbs – Limited starchy carbs. Higher fiber, lower glycemic options preferred.
- Calcium – Controlled phosphorus to calcium ratios and calcium levels.
- 2-3 meals daily is optimal. Avoid free feeding.
- Puppies should eat 3-4 smaller meals until 6-12 months old.
These dogs are prone to gastric dilatation volvulus, a life-threatening condition where the stomach bloats and twists. To reduce risk, don’t exercise before or after eating and use a slow-feed bowl.
Health and Care
With a lifespan of 9-13 years, the West German Shepherd is less prone to major health problems compared to working lines bred purely for appearance. Still, responsible screening and preventative care is vital.
Potential Health Issues
- Hip and Elbow Dysplasia
- Luxating Patella
- EPI (Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency)
- Annual wellness exam, heartworm test, and vaccinations.
- Diagnostic screening for joints, eyes, and thyroid at appropriate ages.
- High quality diet
- Maintain lean body weight.
- Joint supplements.
- Brush teeth and provide chew toys.
- Flea, tick, and heartworm preventatives.
Knowing the health history of the parents can help determine possible risk areas to monitor. Overall the West German Shepherd is a robust, healthy line when bred ethically.
Finding a West German Shepherd Puppy
It’s important to source West German Shepherd puppies from reputable breeders focused on improving the health and temperament of this line.
Warning signs of unethical West German Shepherd breeders:
- No health testing or titles on breeding dogs.
- Reluctant to answer questions.
- Puppies remain with mother for under 8 weeks.
- Multiple litters available.
- Puppies are undersocialized.
- Referrals from regional breed clubs. Check health certifications.
- Importers specializing in working line German Shepherds.
- Rescue groups if looking for an adult.
Expect to pay $1,500 to $3,000 USD or more for a puppy from properly health and temperament tested parents. Be patient and selective in your search.
Is the West German Shepherd Right for Me?
The West German Shepherd thrives as an active working dog and devoted family companion. Consider if you can provide:
- A home with older children. Supervision required with very young kids.
- Space for a large, energetic dog. Access to safely exercise off-leash.
- Time for extensive daily physical and mental exercise.
- Training to establish leadership and structure. May need professional help.
- Budget for quality food, supplies, vet care, training costs.
- Ability to handle strong protective instincts.
If the above fits your lifestyle, the West German Shepherd will reward you with unwavering loyalty and enthusiasm for life at your side. Their versatility allows them to excel in many roles while remaining a faithful companion.
How is the West German Shepherd different from other GSD lines?
Compared to American and British show lines that focus on looks, the West German Shepherd retains the original working abilities and temperament of the early German Shepherds. It is less angulated and lighter boned than American show lines and has higher drive and energy than British lines.
Are West German Shepherds easy to train?
This highly trainable and intelligent working line is very responsive to obedience training and other canine activities. They excel at a variety of jobs from police and military work to dog sports. Positive reinforcement and firm, patient handling works
Here are some additional FAQs not already covered about the West German Shepherd:
How much grooming does the West German Shepherd need?
West German Shepherds have a double coat that sheds moderately year-round and more heavily during seasonal shedding cycles. Plan to brush 2-3 times per week and up to daily during shed seasons. Bathe every 6-8 weeks and trim nails as needed.
Do West German Shepherds make good family pets?
Yes, with proper training and socialization from an early age, West German Shepherds can make loyal and loving family companions while still needing adequate activity and work. Supervision is recommended with very small children.
Are West German Shepherds good with other dogs?
Early and ongoing socialization will allow West German Shepherds to live harmoniously with other dogs. Their high prey drive means cats may require more careful introduction and monitoring.
Where are good places to exercise my West German Shepherd?
Safe open areas like parks, hiking trails, and beaches allow them to run off-leash under voice control. They also enjoy access to pools for swimming and organized activities like agility, dock diving, or herding.