American vs. European German Shepherds: What’s the Difference?

American German Shepherd vs European German Shepherd

If you are a German Shepherd enthusiast, you might already be aware of its popular variants — the American German Shepherd and the European German Shepherd. What are the unique differences between them?

The American German Shepherd Dog is usually larger and has thicker bones. It also has a more refined head, smoother curves, and taller stature. On the other hand, the European German Shepherd has a bigger head, more angular form, and is shorter in height than its American counterpart.

All of these differences and even similarities between the American German Shepherd and the European German Shepherd will be covered in this article. Continue reading to see which GSD suits you better!

American German ShepherdEuropean German Shepherd
22 – 26 inches
21 – 26 inches
55 – 90 pounds
55 – 85 pounds
Confident, Loyal, Intelligent, Protective
Confident, Loyal, Intelligent, Protective
Activity Level:
Very High
Activity Level:
Above Average
7 – 10 years
10 – 12 years
Puppy Price:
$750 – $1,500
Puppy Price:
$1,200 – $5,000

Breed History

American German Shepherd resting outdoors

Being one of the most popular breeds in Germany, these dogs were originally bred as herding dogs. The original German line of these canines was split into two, creating the American and European lines known today.

American German Shepherds

The German Shepherd Dog is also referred to as the Deutsche Schäferhund in Germany. It is descended from a herding dog line that varied from district to district.

Captain Max von Stephanitz, a cavalry officer, aimed to create the ideal working dog for herding in the 19th century. This resulted in the modern-day German Shepherd Dog we are all familiar with.

Due to his sudden fame as a movie star in films like Rin Tin Tin and Strongheart, the German Shepherd gained popularity in America in the 20th century. As a result, its population in the area multiplied.

The American Kennel Club (AKC) first recognized German Shepherds as a breed in the United States in 1908. From that point, the breeding standards for the American line have been regulated by the AKC.

European German Shepherds

The European German Shepherd has the same roots as its American counterpart. Instead, their only difference is that European Kennel Clubs regulate the breeding standards of the European line. 

In Germany, breed standards were created and standardized by the Verein fur Deutsche Schäferhunde (SV) – the German Shepherd Club of Germany (GSCB).

This was later adopted and recognized by the Federation Cynologique Internationale. This Belgian breed registry allows registrations from all over Europe.


American and European German Shepherd sitting on the grass

Though both the American and European German Shepherds originated from the same breed, each has its own unique differences in terms of physical attributes as they grew up in different places.

The most obvious difference between the American German Shepherd and the European German Shepherd is its size, with the American line being larger and having a longer body than its European counterpart. 

The American German Shepherd stands at around 22 to 26 inches and weighs between 55 and 90 pounds. Meanwhile, the European German Shepherd measures 21 to 26 inches tall and weighs 55 to 85 pounds.

Further, the American GSD also has a strong, muscular build, a broad chest, and a powerful neck. Its head is slightly smaller and rounder than the European line. 

It also has a more pronounced stop, meaning that the transition from its forehead to its muzzle is more noticeable. 

On the other hand, the European GSD has a larger and more angular head, similar to a wolf’s. It also sports a long neck, thick collar fur, and a narrow chest.

Another main difference between the American and the European GSD is their stance.

The American German Shepherd’s back end slopes more compared to their European cousins. Their hind legs also bend further. This gives them a flowing gait that is admired in the show ring. 

Meanwhile, the European bloodline has a straight topline and a shorter body. Its coat is thick and dense, with a harsh outer coat and a softer undercoat. Its coat colors include black & tan, sable, and black & red.

On the other hand, American German Shepherds have thick, medium-length coats. They usually come in lighter colors such as tan with black markings, sable, white, and even solid black.

Temperament and Personality

The German Shepherd is well known for its protective and loyal nature. Along with its innate intelligence and confidence, it is a popular choice as a working dog breed, especially in a service, military, or police dog role.

However, despite being the same breed, there are a few behavioral differences between its European and American lines. 

The American German Shepherd is usually more outgoing and friendly, often displaying an eagerness to please and a desire to be around people than the European Shepherd.

They are also calmer, more laid back, and affectionate. With these behaviors, they are also less protective to some degree and may show less aggression when not given the right level of physical activity.

Further, American German Shepherd Dogs are quite sensitive and are easily stressed out. Hence, patience and understanding are needed when handling these dogs.

If having a family pet is your goal, the American German Shepherd’s traits would fit the purpose better. However, it can still effectively do its duty as a working dog or a guard dog, regardless. 

On the other hand, European German Shepherds are generally more reserved and aloof towards strangers compared to their American counterparts. This makes them even more alert as guard dogs.

This also means that the European Shepherd needs more time to warm up to people. It is also more difficult to train due to its strong will and independence, requiring a more experienced owner to handle it.

Exercise and Training

American German Shepherd during training

Most American German Shepherd Dogs are bred for the show ring. They have been developed for a specific look and have not been designed to focus on their working abilities.

While they still need daily walks and moderate physical activity, they are not typically used as working dogs and do not require the same level of rigorous training as European GSDs.

You can raise them well by enrolling them in fundamental training sessions and subjecting them to socialization, even at a young age. However, be sure to be firm with them without being mean.

On the contrary, European German Shepherds are obedient dogs bred to perform in a working environment. They are highly trainable and are often used as military & police dogs, search & rescue dogs, and service dogs.

Thus the European German Shepherd has more endurance and higher energy levels and requires intense exercise for 60 to 90 minutes.

Though this breed can withstand long and hard workouts, it is important to remember that it does not do well when pushed too hard. Like with other breeds, it should be given time to rest and recover between activities.

Moreover, European lines are not couch potatoes. They also have a more independent and dominant temperament and require a lot of mental stimulation and exercise.

Nutrition Needs

Both the American and European varieties of German Shepherds will thrive on high-quality food that is formulated to meet their nutrient requirements.

Like with other dogs, finding a kibble that contains enough protein, fat, calories, and nourishment is important to provide your pooch with the fuel they require throughout the day.

Additionally, be sure to provide your German Shepherd with food suitable for their life stage. This is crucial during the puppy stage since it needs more energy and specific nutrients for healthy development.

Always read the directions on the package and feed them in accordance with their age, size, and energy needs, like how it is done with other dog breeds.

German Shepherd Dogs typically eat 3 to 4 cups of food each day, depending on their activity level. However, if they are utilized as working dogs, especially European lines, they may need to be given more.

Grooming Needs

Adult European German Shepherd while being groomed

In terms of grooming requirements, German shepherds from Europe and America are similar and will depend more on the coat length.

It will only require brushing once a week if it is short-haired. Additionally, if it is long-haired, it will need to be brushed 2 to 3 times per week to remove dead hair and dirt.

You may anticipate that they will shed the same amount whether they have a short or long coat. However, it will stand out more with a long-haired Shepherd.

Regardless of whether you have the American Geman Shepherd or the European version, they both shed moderately all year long and heavily in the shedding season.

Lifespan and Health Problems

Because of the way they are bred, European German Shepherds often live between 10 and 12 years compared to American lines, which typically live between 7 and 10 years.

This is because European Shepherds undergo more frequent health checks, and breeding techniques are more strictly regulated than in America.

Due to its slanted body, the American German Shepherd is more likely to develop certain health issues, including hip dysplasia and other potential issues such as bloating and ear infections.

Meanwhile, because of their straight and balanced posture, European lines have a lesser chance of developing hip issues.

This being said, elbow and hip dysplasia are two health problems that the German Shepherd breed suffers from. However, diagnostics and screening have helped to minimize this tendency.

If you are planning to get a German Shepherd Dog, ask the German Shepherd breeders for the hip scores of the dog’s parents. This might help you figure out whether your dog will remain healthy in the future.

Additionally, both German Shepherd lines are susceptible to degenerative myelopathy. It is known that the brain and spine are both affected by this disorder, which eventually results in total loss of rear motion.

Puppy Prices

Four American German Shepherd puppies sitting side by side

The average cost of an American German Shepherd puppy is between $500 and $1,500. Meanwhile, the starting price for a European German Shepherd ranges from $1200 to $5000.

Due to the rarity of European German Shepherd breeders in America and the necessity of importing premium specimens from Germany or Europe, their costs are more expensive.

No matter what line you choose, make sure you deal with a reputable breeder who will go above and beyond to raise healthy and happy puppies.

The most obvious difference between dealing with a reliable breeder and a puppy mill is the puppy’s cost.

Puppy mills may have lower prices for their German Shepherd puppies, but they will eventually cost you higher due to medical expenses brought on by the puppy’s poor health.

Breeders and Rescues

Locating breeders that specialize in producing litters of American and European GSDs need not be difficult. Furthermore, you can also discover these variations of the German Shepherd breed in a lot of rescues.

Listed below are some trustworthy breeders you can check out if you want to move toward your goal of having an American or European GSD pup quickly:

  • Mittelwest German Shepherds – Mittelwest produces GSDs that come from champion bloodlines. Currently, they import premium GSD puppies from all over the world, including European German Shepherds. They undergo a meticulous breeding and rearing process to ensure that their puppies are of the highest caliber in health and behavior.
  • South Florida Shepherds – Since its founding in 1996, South Florida Shepherds has dedicated itself to producing only the finest German Shepherds. The puppies are all descended from imported European purebred lines. Their puppies receive health checks, including vaccinations and deworming, and are all AKC registered. Additionally, you can request their thorough medical records.
  • Alta-Tollhaus German Shepherds – The German Shepherds raised in Alta-Tollhaus are physically outstanding to other shepherds. The temperament of these puppies is another selling point for this kennel. Many people refer to their dogs as “World-Class” since they adhere to the Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde (SV) standard.

If adoption is more your style, you’re in luck because there are many rescues where you can locate American and European GSDs.

The following organizations can help you look for American and European German Shepherds for adoption:

  • German Shepherd Rescue of Orange County (GSROC) – The mission of German Shepherd Rescue of Orange County (GSROC) is to save, care for, and rehome purebred German Shepherd Dogs, including those from European lineages, who have nowhere else to turn to. Loving pets are rehomed to kind people and families for their entire lives after being carefully screened.
  • BrightStar German Shepherd Rescue – BrightStar German Shepherd Rescue was founded in 2002 with the goal of saving German Shepherd Dogs. Because of the organization’s efforts, hundreds of abandoned German Shepherds find new, permanent homes every year. Please be aware that the adopted dogs from Rochester, New York, are frequently from areas within a 150-mile radius.
  • Westside German Shepherd Rescue of Los Angeles – This nonprofit rescue facility cares for neglected GSDs, including European German Shepherd Dogs. For an adult dog, the usual adoption fee is $375, which covers all expenses incurred while the dog is a shelter resident. Currently, there is no on-site screening. To meet the dogs in person, though, prospective applicants must first be accepted.

Whether you choose to acquire your American or European German Shepherd through a reputable breeder or a legitimate rescue, research is important to ensure you get your money’s worth.

Similarities Between European and American German Shepherds

American and European German Shepherds tongue out

Most of the time, American German Shepherds are pretty similar to European German Shepherds.

These canines share similar intelligence, loyalty, and love. In fact, they shed about the same amount of hair as well!

Their passion for work is another thing these dogs have in common. American and European German Shepherd Dogs will try their hardest to please you and make you happy.

Additionally, it is simple to train both of these dogs. Positive reinforcement training gives the best results from them.

In other words, American and European German Shepherds are identical, with the exception of a few minor physical and health differences.

Therefore, it will be challenging to distinguish between the two unless you are very clear about what you are searching for.

American vs. European German Shepherd: Which Is Better for You?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple answer to this question of which is better: the American German Shepherd vs. the European German Shepherd. Choosing a pet is a very personal decision.

Here are some pointers to consider when determining which of these breed variants best suit your preferences.

The American German Shepherd Dog is right for you if:

  • You prefer a larger dog with a powerful stance.
  • You want a family pet that is calm, affectionate and laid back.
  • You have plans of joining conformation shows.
  • You want a dog that is friendlier and more sociable.

Meanwhile, the European German Shepherd Dog is right for you if:

  • You want a slightly smaller breed variant yet with a straighter topline.
  • You need a more effective working dog or guard dog.
  • You have enough time for more rigorous physical and mental activities.
  • You want a dog with fewer health concerns.

Whether you are looking for a dog that is fitter for active families or one that is known for its working ability, there is a variant that would suit you better. 

Ultimately, with the right breeding standards, both breed variants are excellent options for the right owner.

To help you make a better decision, here is a video that summarizes the distinction between the American German Shepherd and the European German Shepherd:

American vs European German shepherd - Which one should you get?

Final Thoughts

Overall, there are more breed similarities between the American and European German Shepherds than differences. Ultimately, your personal preference will determine which option is best for you.

European German Shepherds make great companions for people with plenty of free time for physical activity. They are workaholics, loving, and very receptive to training.

On the other hand, American German Shepherds are a perfect choice if you’re searching for a calmer puppy who also makes a great family dog. They might be quite reserved but are incredibly loyal.

When choosing a German Shepherd, do not make your decision just based on the appeal of the German Shepherd’s name but also on its purpose.

Now that you are familiar with the differences between the American German Shepherd and the European variant, what breed variant fits you better? We would love to hear your preference in the comments section!

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