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


Last Updated: August 31, 2022 | 9 min read | 17 Comments

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The American German Shepherd and the European German Shepherd are both the same breed. The loving, loyal, and hardworking German Shepherd that we all know and love. But because they have grown up on different sides of the pond, they are slightly different from one another.

We want to be clear that these dogs are of the same breed. Much like the American vs. English version of the Labrador, all dogs that grow up and are bred from different stock can carry different traits. With that being said, not all breeders agree on the breed differences between localities, and our evaluation here is based on our research and experience. Every dog is different, and every dog can have a different temperament, depending on their parents.

Although the differences between the European and American German Shepherds are subtle, some of them might just sway you to choose one over the other. It might be their size, their work ethic, their health, or their price that might convince you either way. And, here in this guide, we are going to take you through their differences and similarities. So, let’s get straight down to the similarities and differences between these two German Shepherd lines.

Breed Comparison

American German Shepherd

  • Height 22-26 Inches
  • Weight 55-90 Pounds
  • Temperament Protective, Loyal, Intelligent, Confident
  • Energy Very High
  • Health Average
  • Lifespan 10-12 Years
  • Price $1,000 and Up

European German Shepherd

  • Height 21-26 Inches
  • Weight 50-85 Pounds
  • Temperament Protective, Loyal, Intelligent, Confident
  • Energy Very High
  • Health Above Average
  • Lifeaspan 10-12 Years
  • Price $1,500 and Up

Breed History

German Shepherds at the Lake
German Shepherds have a very long and unique history.

The German Shepherd Dog is also known as the Deutsche Schäferhund in Germany. He comes from a line of herding dogs, which varied from district to district. During the 19th Century, a cavalry officer made it his mission to create the ultimate herding dog. By breeding the best of the best, he created the German Shepherd that we all know and love today.

Not only was he proving to be a fantastic herding dog, but we humans quickly came to realize that he was protective and loyal. And this is why he is now one of the most popular choices of canine for the military and police services across the world.

He became popular in America in the 20th Century thanks to his newfound celebrity status as a film star in the likes of Rin Tin Tin and Strongheart. Because of his popularity, his population in America boomed. And over time, although the European line and the American line are the same breeds, they became distinctly different. It’s also important to know that we are not referencing the Eastern European Shepherd or the Dutch Shepherd which is an entirely different Shepherd line altogether.

Different enough that their breed standards are now different too. The American German Shepherd is regulated by the American Kennel Club (AKC). And the European German Shepherd is regulated by the German Shepherd Club of Germany (GSCB). There are German Shepherd breeders in the United States that breed only from European lines. This means it’s possible to adopt a European pup in the United States. You don’t have to go overseas to do it.


American and European German Shepherds Outside
European German Shepherds have a more angular face and head than the American German Shepherd.

The most significant difference between the American German Shepherd and the European German Shepherd is their appearance. The American is the biggest one of the two, with a longer body. His rear end slopes more than his European cousin, whereas the European has a much straighter topline. The American German Shepherd has a larger set of bones and weighs a little bit more than the European too.

The American German Shepherd has a smaller and rounder head, compared to the European German Shepherd, which has a larger and more angular head. Many describe the European’s head as similar to a wolf’s head.

When it comes to their coat, their coat length and texture are the same, and either line can have a shorter or longer coat. Their most common coat color is black and tan, and both can inherit the more unusual German Shepherd colors, such as solid black, white, and more rarely blue. The only difference here is, is that the American German Shepherd is usually lighter in color.


American and European German Shepherd Dogs
American German Shepherds and European German Shepherds have similar temperaments.

When it comes to their personality, the main difference between the American German Shepherd and the European German Shepherd is that the European variation is generally happier when doing a job. This is likely because they were purposefully bred as working dogs, in both the protection and herding fields. Compared to the American, who is now more commonly found as a family pet, and he is not put through his paces as much as the European.

This means that if you are after a working dog, you might be better working with a European German Shepherd breeder, rather than a general German Shepherd breeder. On the other hand, if you are looking for a German Shepherd with the sole purpose of him being a family pet, the American German Shepherd is the better choice. He is slightly less protective, and potentially the lesser aggressive breed variant if not properly exercised.

Because the American German Shepherd is less work-oriented and less protective, he is also less focused on his master or his primary caregiver. Instead, he is generally more relaxed with the entire family and much less intense. And this is another reason why he would make a better family pet compared to a European German Shepherd.

The remaining aspects of their personalities are pretty much the same. They both make excellent family watchdogs and guard dogs if you need them to be. The American and European German Shepherds are both aloof with strangers, and even after getting to know someone, they will never be overly affectionate with them. Both variations of the breed are huge fun and love to cuddle up with their family in the evening.


American and European German Shepherds Getting Exercise
Both breed variants will require a significant amount of daily exercise.

Because the European German Shepherd is the workaholic and the American German Shepherd is the calmer version, you can guess which one needs more exercise. Yes, you guessed it right, the European German Shepherd needs a bit more exercise than the American.

On average, an American German Shepherd needs around 60 minutes of exercise a day. The European German Shepherd will need between 60 and 90 minutes of intense exercise every day. In addition to that, he will also need more interactive play throughout the day to keep his intelligent brain ticking. The American is more partial to an afternoon snooze compared to the European German Shepherd. If you adopt the European variation, this means more interactive German Shepherd dog toys and more outdoor time.

This is not to say the American doesn’t need stimulation throughout the day, because he does. If you are an energetic family looking for an equally active canine to keep up with you, the European would be the better option for you. Equally, if you and your family are looking for an active dog who also has an off-switch every now and then, the American pooch is your best choice.

As they both require mental stimulation throughout the day, you will need to invest in a basket full of tough toys that he can keep himself busy with. Restless German Shepherds, be that American or European can become problematic and destructive. So, it’s best to keep them preoccupied.


German Shepherd Dogs Training Together
Training both variants of the German Shepherd can be a challenge.

Both the American and the European German Shepherd need early and consistent socialization for them to transform into polite pooches. Protective dogs can quickly turn into overprotective dogs if they are allowed to be. Socialization teaches them how to interact with other dogs and humans confidently, and without feeling fearful. So they both need intense training from an early age.

Again, they are both obedient and easily trainable, simply because of how loyal they are and their eagerness to please. But, when it comes to training, the European German Shepherd can be quicker to pick up commands. This is because he is the more intense workaholic, and his brain is wired to respond to and work with humans that bit more.

Thankfully, because they are both so smart and trainable. You don’t necessarily have to be an experienced dog owner to train either variation of the breed. All we would say is that the European German Shepherd can be more intense. They typically will thrive much better in a working environment. This means they can be more stubborn at times, which can be challenging to train them while walking on a harness, or other working activities.


Healthy German Shepherd Dogs
Both variants of the German Shepherd breed are generally healthy, with European lines living slightly longer.

As you can see in the chart above, the American German Shepherd has a shorter lifespan when compared to the European German Shepherd. The American usually lives between 7 to 10 years and the European lives between 10 to 12 years. This is because the GSCB is known to be much more stringent when it comes to breeding practices and health concerns to screen for. Over time, this has meant that the European bloodline is healthier.

The European German Shepherd is still prone to hip dysplasia. But because his topline is straighter and his poster is more balanced, he is less likely to develop it. The sloping back of the American increases the chance of hip dysplasia, and American breeders are becoming more aware of this, as well as the need to breed this trait out of the bloodline. Overall, the European line is healthier for sure.

Degenerative myelopathy is also another health concern in both German Shepherd lines. This is a condition that is known to affect the brain and the spine, which eventually leads to complete loss of rear mobility. Both lines are affected by this just as much as the other, so this is something to keep an eye out for.


German Shepherd Dogs Waiting on Food
Either breed variants will be healthier when consuming high-quality dry dog food.

Both the American German Shepherds and the European German Shepherds will do well on a high-quality kibble. Both variations of the breed need dog food created for the German Shepherd’s nutrient needs. Look for a kibble that has enough protein, energy, and sustenance to give them the fuel they need throughout the day.

Also, be sure to feed them a kibble that is life-stage appropriate. This is particularly important during puppyhood, as he needs extra power and particular nutrients for healthy development.

Always follow package instructions, and feed them according to their age, size, and energy levels. On average, each German Shepherd line will consume around three to four cups of food a day. Of course, if he is a working Shepherd, he will need much more.


Long Coated German Shepherds
The length of your German Shepherd’s coat is more important than the breed variant.

The American German Shepherd and European German Shepherds are similar when it comes to their grooming regime. It all depends on whether he is a short-haired or a long-haired variety of the breed. If he is short-haired, he will only need brushing once a week. And if he is long-haired, he will require brushing two to three times a week to get rid of dead hair and dirt.

Regardless of whether they have a short or long coat, you can expect that they will shed the same. But with a long-haired Shepherd, it will be more noticeable. They will shed moderately throughout the year and heavily during the shedding season. So, if shedding dog breeds aren’t for you, neither the American nor the European will fit in well with your family.

Puppy Prices

German Shepherd Puppies Outside
Both American and European German Shepherd Dogs will cost north of $1,000 as puppies.

American German Shepherd puppies from a reputable breeder start from around $1,000 and upwards. Understandably, there are many more American German Shepherds in America. As European German Shepherd breeders in America are much rarer, and because they have to import fine specimens from Europe in the first place, their prices are higher. Expect to pay at least $1,500 and up for a European German Shepherd.

Some argue it is a price worth paying because the European lines are healthier. But you need to remember that they are also much more intense and need more exercise, attention, and socialization training. Working out what you want in a dog is a more important consideration than price.

Whatever line you decide to pick, just be sure to work with a reputable breeder who will do their utmost to produce healthy and happy puppies. Avoid puppy mills and unscrupulous breeders at all costs, because it will only cost you more in the long run.

Final Thoughts

Overall, the American German Shepherd and the European German Shepherd are very similar because, ultimately, they are the same dog breed. But because they have been brought up separately and governed by different registries, they are slightly different. If you live in America, the European German Shepherd is more expensive simply because he is much rarer.

Their appearance difference is the biggest giveaway, with the American German Shepherd being the ever so slightly larger of the two. The American German Shepherd’s back is more sloped, meaning that he is more likely to suffer from hip dysplasia too.

When it comes to personality, the European German Shepherd is more intense. They may also be slightly harder workers, depending on their parents. And although they are both family-friendly, the American German Shepherd is the better option for a typical family. The differences between the two will usually help a family decide between the two lines. So the question is, are you batting for the American team or swinging towards the European clan?

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