Working Line German Shepherd: The Ultimate Guide for Owners

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The German Shepherd breed is known for its courage, loyalty, and versatility in working roles. Within the breed, there are working lines that have been selectively bred for generations to produce dogs with exceptional abilities as service animals, herders, guard dogs, and more.

Working line German Shepherds have a high drive to work, great energy, intelligence, and athleticism that allows them to excel across many fields.

Origins and History

The origins of the German Shepherd breed can be traced back to the 1850s in Germany. The breed was developed by Captain Max von Stephanitz, who wanted to create the ideal herding dog with intelligence, loyalty, courage, and utility. He started with existing herding dogs in Germany and standardized the breeding to establish the characteristics of the German Shepherd breed.

The German Shepherd quickly became popular beyond its homeland, including in the United States and Canada. However, after World War I, the breed began diverging – some breeders focused on a dog suited for dog shows with a sloped back and angled hindquarters, while others maintained the athleticism and working abilities of the original German Shepherds.

This divergence led to the development of working lines and show lines within the breed.

Early Working Lines

The working lines within the German Shepherd breed have their origins in the herding dogs used across Germany. Regional variations emerged, with dogs bred for sheep herding in Bavaria and Swabia and cattle herding dogs in Wurttemberg. Captain von Stephanitz incorporated many of these herding dogs into his original breeding pool for the German Shepherd.

Some key bloodlines that contributed to the working lines include:

  • Thuringian Shepherd: Originating in central Germany, these shepherds excelled at tending sheep and cattle. They contributed keen intelligence and athleticism.
  • Wurttemberg Shepherd: Hardy herding dogs from southern Germany added physical soundness and courage.
  • Swabian Service Dog: Bred as all-purpose farm dogs in southwest Germany, they added versatility, loyalty, and trainability.

Specialization of Modern Working Lines

While herding was the original work of the German Shepherd, as the breed spread around the world, working lines became further specialized based on needs and locales. Some key developments include:

  • Military and police dogs: German Shepherds demonstrated exceptional capabilities as military and police dogs. Specific lines were bred for traits like courage, aggression, and trainability for defense and law enforcement work. The German military and police forces made extensive use of German Shepherds.
  • Guide dogs: Around World War I, German Shepherds began to be trained as guide dogs for the blind. Their intelligence and trainability made them well-suited for this role.
  • Search and rescue dogs: German Shepherds’ athleticism, endurance and keen sense of smell enabled specialization as search and rescue dogs.
  • Show lines: As dog shows became popular in the late 1800s, some breeders focused on producing German Shepherds that would do well in conformation shows. This diverged from the working lines in terms of physical traits.

Today’s working line German Shepherds are the result of over a century of honing the breed’s abilities as service dogs in various roles. Selective breeding has produced an athletic, intelligent, and trainable working dog.

Types of Modern Working Lines

While all working line German Shepherds have the breed’s signature devotion, courage, and high working drive, there are distinct types of modern working lines:

West German Working Lines

  • Originated after World War II in West Germany
  • Produce some of the most driven working dogs
  • Known for confidence, strong nerves, and high intelligence
  • Possess natural suspicion of strangers and protective instincts
  • Excel as police, military and guard dogs

East German Working Lines (DDR)

  • Developed in East Germany through isolated breeding
  • Very loyal and bond intensely with handlers
  • Excellent guarding abilities and natural wariness
  • Superb scent detection skills for tasks like tracking and narcotics detection
  • Require dedicated training and stimulation

Czech Working Lines

  • Bred in the Czech border patrol and military programs
  • Combination of DDR and Western German working lines
  • Robust health and athletic structure
  • High drive, energy level, and working potential
  • Versatile – capable of both protection and scent work

Belgian Working Lines

  • Developed by combining German working lines with native Belgian herding dogs
  • Selected for intelligence, trainability, and solid nerve
  • Produce some of the most talented sport/competition dogs
  • Excel at canine athletics thanks to physical soundness

Physical Characteristics

Working line German Shepherds have an athletic physical structure that aids their duties. Unlike show line German Shepherds bred for a sloped back and exaggerated angulation, working line dogs have a muscular and athletic build for optimal fitness and performance.

Body, Back and Hindquarters

  • Straight, firm back rather than sloped
  • Athletic appearance emphasizing strength and agility
  • Less angulated hindquarters than show line dogs
  • Powerful hind legs for running, jumping, and agility

Head and Neck

  • Broad head with medium-sized triangular ears erectly positioned
  • Dark, almond-shaped eyes conveying an attentive expression
  • Strong neck without loose skin

Coat and Color

  • Dense double-coat with short, straight outer hair and soft undercoat
  • Typical colors are black and tan or solid black
  • Black dogs often have a reddish tint
  • All-black coats preferred in military and police bloodlines


  • Males 24-26 inches tall at shoulder; females 22-24 inches
  • Males weigh 60-90 pounds; females weigh 50-70 pounds

The athleticism and working functionality of the working line German Shepherd’s body give them physical superiority for demanding jobs.

Temperament and Behavior

In addition to physical traits, generations of selective breeding have produced working line German Shepherds with distinct temperament and behavioral tendencies.

Intelligent and Trainable

Working line German Shepherds have exceptional intelligence when it comes to working roles. They have a strong desire to have “jobs” and excel at obedience training, task training, and other learning. Their high mental capabilities and eagerness to work make them some of the most trainable dogs.


Working line German Shepherds have tremendous drive and energy. Their energy levels are higher than show line German Shepherds or many other dog breeds. They require intensive daily physical and mental exercise to direct their energy and prevent boredom-related behavior problems.

Protective Instincts

Many working German Shepherd bloodlines were bred specifically for protection work, and this is reflected in their temperament. They tend to be naturally suspicious of strangers and have strong guarding instincts. With proper socialization and training, their protective nature can be channeled productively.

Sensitive and Driven

Working line German Shepherds form close bonds with their handlers. They aim to please and are extremely responsive to reinforcement during training. Harsh training methods are unnecessary and counterproductive for these sensitive, willing workers.

Potential Dog Aggression

Some working German Shepherd lines have traits like dog aggression that aided their protective work. With socialization and training, this tendency can be controlled. Proper management is essential around other dogs.

The characteristic temperament and energy of working line German Shepherds must be fully understood to determine if this type of dog is a suitable choice for a family.

Roles and Jobs

Working line German Shepherds are versatile dogs, but they were bred specifically for certain jobs where their traits shine. Common roles and duties of working line German Shepherds include:

Police dogsTracking suspects, searching for drugs and bombs, patrolling with police officers, apprehending combative suspects
Military dogsPatrol bases, detect explosives, participate in operations, search for enemy forces
Search and rescue dogsUse scent tracking abilities and athleticism to locate missing persons in disasters
Drug detection dogsUse keen sense of smell to detect contraband substances like drugs and explosives
Guide dogsAct as guides and companions to provide mobility and independence for blind handlers
Herding dogsUse instincts developed while herding sheep and cattle to control livestock on farms
Personal protection dogsServe as guard dogs and provide protection; advanced dogs can perform neutralization behaviors
Guard dogsUse suspicious nature and protective drive to patrol property and deter intruders
Competition dogsCompete in events testing traits like obedience, agility, tracking, and protection

The working drives, intelligence, work ethic, and athleticism of working line German Shepherds make them suitable for this wide range of occupations. When matched with the proper role, these dogs find fulfillment by having a job to do.

Selecting a Working Line German Shepherd Puppy

For those seeking a driven, energetic dog from working lines, it’s important to take care in selecting a puppy suited to your lifestyle. Useful tips include:

  • Research breeders carefully to find those specialized in working lines
  • Look for evidence of titles, certifications, and achievements in breeding stock
  • Meet both parents if possible to evaluate temperament
  • Assess entire litter for soundness, confidence, drive and nerve
  • Select puppy based on temperament testing and breeder input
  • Prepare for intensive training, exercise, stimulation, and socialization
  • If lacking experience with driven dogs, consider show line instead

A responsible breeder matches puppies not just to physical standards but also temperament and drive level needed for prospective owners.

Training and Exercise Needs

Working line German Shepherds require intensive, structured training to reach their potential. Their intelligence enables them to excel at obedience, tricks, scent detection, protection sports, and more with proper technique. Training must start early and use positive reinforcement.

In addition to mental exercise through training sessions, working line German Shepherds need vigorous physical exercise daily. This athletic breed thrives when given 2 or more hours of activity like running, hiking, swimming, and playing fetch.

They particularly enjoy having jobs or tasks to complete. Without adequate outlets, their pent-up energy may be channeled into unwanted behaviors.

Mental stimulation through food puzzles, chew toys, and learning new commands is also essential. Owners must be fully committed to providing the physical and mental activation these dogs were developed for.

Pros and Cons of Working Line German Shepherds

Working line German Shepherds can make superb companions, but they are not ideal for everyone.


  • Excel at many working, sporting and service jobs
  • Form close bonds with family members
  • Intelligent and highly trainable
  • Athleticism allows them to participate in dog sports
  • Protective; excellent watch and guard dogs
  • Versatile – capable of different types of work
  • Thrive when given a job and purpose


  • Require intense physical exercise and mental stimulation
  • Prey drive may lead to chasing other pets or wildlife
  • Extensive grooming needed for thick double coat
  • Prone to boredom and destruction without adequate activity
  • Suspicious of strangers; may bark frequently
  • Strong will requires experienced training
  • Can be dog aggressive; need supervision with other pets
  • High energy may overwhelm sedentary owners

Working line German Shepherds are demanding dogs requiring owners prepared to provide them with the training, stimulation, leadership and activity they need.

Lifespan and Health Issues

Working line German Shepherds have a typical lifespan of 9-13 years. As with any dogs, proper nutrition, exercise, preventative veterinary care, and genetic testing of breeding stock for inherited diseases can help maximize longevity.

Some health issues that can affect German Shepherds include:

  • Hip and elbow dysplasia: Malformation of these joints leading to osteoarthritis. Screening of breeding dogs helps lower risk.
  • Degenerative myelopathy: Progressive spinal cord disease causing paralysis of back legs usually later in life. DNA test available.
  • Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency: Inability to properly digest food due to inadequate pancreatic enzymes. Supplements can manage it.
  • Hemangiosarcoma: Aggressive blood vessel cancer often of the spleen. May be hereditary.
  • Allergies: Environmental or food allergies are common. Symptoms like itchy skin and ears are managed with diet and medications.

Reputable breeders perform health testing to breed the healthiest working line German Shepherds possible. Even so, owners should be prepared for the chance of facing serious illnesses.

Finding a Responsible Breeder

Because working line German Shepherds require experienced owners, take care when selecting a breeder. Warning signs of irresponsible breeders include:

  • Having many litters available
  • Breeding dogs underage or excessively
  • Not screening for genetic diseases
  • Refusing to show parents or home conditions
  • Unable or unwilling to answer questions

Traits to look for in a responsible breeder:

  • Specializes in working lines with proven dogs
  • Achievements or titles prove capabilities
  • Only a few litters per year
  • Dogs on premises raised as pets with socialization
  • Adults temperament tested for sound nerve
  • Genetic health testing performed
  • Interviews buyers to match puppy temperament

While working line German Shepherd puppies may cost over $1000 U.S.D. from selective top breeders, this helps support responsible practices and ideally sets up buyers for success with these challenging dogs. Be skeptical of cut-rate puppies that may come from substandard breeders.

Final Takeaways

For active owners looking for an energetic, driven dog with protective instincts and intelligence, a working line German Shepherd can be an excellent choice.

They perform various jobs with excellence and bond closely with their handlers and families. However, they require vigorous physical exercise, mental stimulation, extensive training, proper socialization, and experienced owners to thrive.

When provided with the right environment and handling, a working line German Shepherd’s companionship, versatility and devotion is beyond compare. If you can fully commit to meeting their needs, their capabilities will amaze you as they live up to their reputation as top working dogs.

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 - to help dog owners learn how to properly train, care for, and bond with their German Shepherd dogs.