What is the Difference?
That is a question that is difficult to answer concisely. There are Shepherds that fall under different categories and there are some who would argue that one is better than the other. That is relative to personal experience in a lot of respects. My purpose here is to explain why we go in the direction of the West German lines. There are three types which are most familiar to me, so those will be the ones I explain based on my personal knowledge and experience with each type.
The most familiar Shepherd to all of us is the black and tan American Shepherds that we recognize as the trademark "German" Shepherd. All American Shepherds have German origins in their pedigrees, even if it's removed by many generations. These dogs are bred with other Shepherds that have been in the U.S. for many generations and have strong U.S. roots. American show lines have the extremely sloped hips that we all look at and think, "hip dysplasia". It is considered in many show rings to be a desirable feature. With some research, each individual can come to their own conclusions as to how they feel concerning that feature. The American Shepherds tend to be smaller than the East and West German Shepherds with smaller heads, chests and bones. A lot of the German traits tend to be "diluted" in many of the American Shepherds due to the fact that a lot of breeding goes on between dogs whose lineage has been in the U.S. for many generations. Here in the U.S. it is thought that the answer to hip dysplasia is to breed the dogs to be smaller with straighter backs. If the house is smaller but the frame isn't properly constructed, then the size of the house won't make a difference.
The East German lines are most commonly sable, bi colored or solid black in color. These dogs are what's known as DDR dogs. They are bred in East Germany specifically for the purpose of working, policing and guarding. These dogs have straighter backs, broad heads and deep chests. They're powerfully muscled, confident and are driven to be proactive in their approach to handling situations they deem need handling. They are fearless and love to work. That's why police and military choose this type of German Shepherd to work with. East German Shepherds excel at Shutzhund, IPO and other athletic competitions. There is no physical challenge that this dog is afraid to tackle. They can be great companions for people who love to be active and are the outdoor type. Typically, they do require more consistent exercise in order to burn off some energy. Bred responsibly and within strong East German rooted lineage, you don't see hip dysplasia due to genetic factors in these dogs.
Now we get to the West German dogs. These are the dogs that people stop us on the street and say, "I know that's a German Shepherd, but I haven't seen anything like that around here. Where do they come from?" I love it when people are moved to ask that question. The West German dogs are sometimes solid black, but most often have a deep red pigment instead of tan coloring. Their heads are big, their bones are thick, their chests are deep. Their movement is fluid and their profile is strong and sleek. These dogs are bred in West Germany to provide a balanced combination of work and companionship, but are most often bred for show (looks). West German Shepherds love to have their time of activity with their people, but also love to just hang out and relax. They do not require as much exercise as the East German dogs. These dogs love kids and affection (which go hand in hand) and therefore they don't find the overtures of affection from a child to be irritating. If a kid drives a toy car over their head they could care less. Their patience with kids is unending and their ability to make sound decisions is truly amazing. There is no "sheer instinct" or "reaction mode" in these dogs. Any action they take is well warranted and thought through completely before they make their move.
They do excel at Shutzhund, IPO, and other physical sports, but you can also bring them into the show ring and see them rise to the top by earning the winning titles. That's where you'll see "World Sieger Champion", "VA", or "KKl" in their titles. Those titles have to do with competitions in Germany where that dog or its lineage wins those top titles in looks (build, bone structure, etc.) and recommendations for breeding (meeting the breed standard to near perfection), beating out thousands of other dogs. Their backs are somewhat sloped, but not as drastically as the American lines. This is necessary due to their large bones. If there is a slight slope it actually offers shock absorption, keeping their hips in perfect working order and taking the pressure off of their shoulders and elbows. The Germans feel that the slope of the American dogs is too drastic and have regarded it as "sloppy". Again, that is a sensitive subject for American show line lovers/owners. I will say however that you do not see hip dysplasia in the high quality West German bred dogs for two reasons: the dogs are engineered to perfection in build, and it isn't allowed into their breeding programs. Their breeding stock has to go through rigorous scrutiny, earn titles and have an SV rating of Excellent or Good in order to be brought into their breeding programs.
East German Shepherds
West German Shepherds
It is important for dogs to be health tested, but which health tests should be done in breeding stock and why? By having some health tests done we can make the best and healthiest offspring possible. There is much confusion and misunderstanding of how genetics work and what the results of health testing mean. Here are some common ones.
DM (DEGENERATIVE MYELOPATHY)
This illness causes dogs to experience loss of control in their back end as they get older. It is thought that there's more to DM than just whether or not the dog has the gene. A suspicion amongst researchers is that there is a component to the dog's spinal fluid that plays a major role in the development of DM. However, the pursuing of that lead can't be researched unless dogs are donated to the study when they pass on. Of course the spinal fluid can only be studied after the dog passes. We should still test breeding dogs for DM in order to minimize the chance that they will pass it to their offspring. There are three grades:
DM CLEAR - this dog does not carry for the gene thought to be a contributor to DM. It got a clear gene from its mother and another clear gene from its father.
CARRIER - this dog has one clear gene and one carrier gene from its parents. It is believed that these dogs will not express DM or pass it to their offspring.
AT RISK - these dogs got the gene for DM from their parents. They are thought to have the highest risk for expressing DM and to passing it on to their offspring.
The DDC in Ohio is an excellent lab that tests dogs for DM and the OFA in Missouri also performs these tests. Both labs are wonderful and love what they do. Anyone can call and ask them questions about this illness and how the genetics work. I encourage you to do so.
HIP AND ELBOW DYSPLASIA
Hip dysplasia is a condition that can be the result of hip joints and sockets that don't fit together properly. Over time, it can create wear and tear on the joints. However, not all hip dysplasia is caused by genetics. Environmental factors such as hard or slippery surfaces, diet, weight, too much running/excessive exercise, and allowing your dog to jump off of higher surfaces (car, couch, bed, etc.) while their joints are developing are not acceptable for the formation of healthy joints. The reason for getting breeding stock certified is to again minimize the risk of a genetic factor being passed on to the offspring. The three grades of certification are as follows:
EXCELLENT - The ball and socket have a perfect and snug fit. This is a less common grade as fewer dogs have excellent hip and elbow structure. It's like winning the gold medal.
GOOD - The ball and socket have a very good fit and are very sound in structure. This is a more common grade as many quality breeding dogs fall into this category. It's like winning the silver medal.
FAIR - The ball and socket fit together, but not as ideally as preferred. This is still considered acceptable for breeding, so long as the dog has other qualities such as temperament, proper conformation, is DM clear, or has a great coat to contribute AND as long as that dog is bred to a GOOD or EXCELLENT graded dog. Remember: the goal of good breeding is to improve the breeding stock with every generation. This isn't about being snobby or bragging, it's about making the best dog one can with the least amount of health issues possible.
As far as ratings of the elbows go, there's only one positive rating a dog can get and that is "Normal". If the parents' elbows are certified as "Normal" then that means neither parent has/carries the genes for bad elbows.
OTHER HEALTH TESTING
I do believe that certain health testing is very helpful when choosing what combinations to breed. Thankfully, the testing that we have can show what the parents' dominant and recessive genes are, giving a high predictability for a consistent outcome.
In summary: health testing can reduce the risks of throwing undesirable traits. There are great resources available to breeders today that can clear dogs for certain health issues. Health testing is an expensive and nerve wracking ordeal as breeders want to see the very best results in their dogs. Here at Liberty's West German Shepherds we give copies of our dogs' health test results to all of our clients so that they have proof on paper that we have done everything in our power to make sure our dogs are truly breed-worthy and compatible with one another for strong genetics. We also buy our dogs as imports or as the children of imports, which really is half the battle. The high quality German and American breeders make sure that they breed dogs who only have healthy and strong genetics, sound temperaments, and the correct conformation according to the German standard.
Do Titles Really Matter?
Absolutely yes! The reason is far beyond bragging rights. Titled dogs are essential for the person who wishes to show their dogs, enter them in competitive sports, or for someone who wishes to have a service or therapy dog. The reason for this is those titles give you proof on paper that your dog has the potential by lineage to do well in the field you choose to develop it in. It also says volumes about the temperament and trainability of the dogs in those lines. For example, one of our Pako's titles is "BH". That is the German version of "temperament tested ". Pako was exposed to a variety of social situations which would push his buttons if he had any. People on bikes, traffic, gunshots and being controlled by his handler on and off his leash were all part of his testing. He had to handle himself in an unflappable manner in order to receive his BH title. His lineage is consistently strong in these titles as well as in World Sieger, KKl, IPO, VA and the list goes on and on. Pako is protection trained and makes error free judgments when he needs to, yet he has never directed that part of his training toward any of us or toward anyone whom he knows to be a part of our family and friends. Pako knows how to use good judgement when assessing a potential threat and will act only if need be. If he does have to act, he becomes our fearless defender.
Our Delta's lines are West German from her father's side. Those dogs hold titles in the same way. Her mother's side is from East Germany where those lines hold titles on the athletic side of the game. Delta bears characteristics of both parents. Her judgment is clear and error free, her temperament is as constant as the sun -- nothing shakes or irritates her. That is a strong West German trait. Speaking to the East German influence, her athleticism and agility is unparalleled and she never shies away from a threat. She goes headlong toward it, never counting the cost to herself. After the threat is gone, Delta does a head count to make sure her human and animal pack are safe and sound. It is truly remarkable to see.
So what about those of us who don't want to breed, show or otherwise compete our dogs? Do dogs with these pedigrees and titles matter? Again, absolutely yes. These animals' wonderful characteristics do not isolate themselves to the breeding world, show ring or field. They will offer you a dog with the most dependable disposition, trainability and the ability to make sound decisions that are not based on fear or aggression. There is a beauty in having a dog that has the physical ability to neutralize a threat and yet turn to a child and show that child its most gentle, loving side. To lay your head down at night and know that in your home there is your friend, protector and "babysitter" to your children who will lay down its life for you and your family without hesitation is a wonderful feeling and worth paying for.
There is a large amount of Shepherd puppies that are being sold in the Midwest. Without knowing the difference in the lines it's understandable that the thought pattern would be, "I can get the same dog for hundreds less somewhere else." Before we understood the difference, that's exactly what we thought too. We had to learn through trial and error, fails and successes exactly what the difference is and how big that difference is. With that said, we are selling these puppies for a much lower price that what these dogs are selling for in other regions of the U.S. because we want to get them into people's homes. Once you "Experience the Difference" in the West German bred Shepherds you'll be in love. It will be the best investment you've ever made.
What Does It Really Mean To Have an AKC Registered Puppy?
We all get so excited when we find a puppy that's AKC registerable! We walk away with our new bundle of pride and joy truly believing that we just bought a puppy that's a good quality, bona fide German Shepherd. Wait just a second. Do you know what AKC papers really prove about your dog? Probably not. That doesn't make you a failure; it makes the whole system a failure. It is so very difficult to find good and accurate information on this topic. I will do my best to make it clear.
I find it important to make a note of AKC papers because of the amount of people I've talked to who have been led to believe that an AKC registerable dog is the be-all-end-all of a good quality dog. That is what consumers and breeders alike have been led to believe, but that's simply not true. So what is AKC registration all about?
It proves on paper, traceable by the AKC, that the puppy you are buying doesn't have other breeds mixed in its lineage somewhere. After a sire breeds a certain amount of times the AKC requires that male to have a sample of its DNA on file in case someone buys a puppy from that sire and a particular dam, and wants or needs to verify the puppy's parentage. When there are multiple dogs in a breeding program, whether they are different breeds or all the same breed, accidents can happen. Sometimes the breeder's Beagle can accidentally get access to the female Spaniel and contribute to either all or just some of the litter. In these cases, the male's DNA that is on file is matched to the DNA of the puppies to determine which sire they came from. AKC registration proves that your puppy has lines that have been only bred to other dogs within its specific breed. That is all.
The AKC manages the system of purebred dogs very nicely, but it will not verify for you that the dogs are coming from good quality lines that have been health tested or that have compatible temperaments for breeding. Not all dogs that could be paired should be paired. Breeding dogs should be watched and evaluated before matches are made. What if two pretty dogs who could be paired both have skittish or nippy tendencies? Not a good combination. There should be a deliberate balance of strengths to weaknesses on every level from coat quality, bone structure/quality, health testing (OFA, DM, etc.), to temperament and disposition. The AKC doesn't require any of that in order for a dog to be AKC registerable. That is the responsibility of the breeder, and that's as it should be. The AKC simply doesn't have the resources or man power to track down all that information, and we as breeders should spend the money to health test our dogs before breeding them.
AKC registration doesn't prove the quality or origin of the bloodlines. The best quality lines come from Europe. Period. I know that sounds narrow-minded, but if you want to buy a BMW where would you want the engineering to come from: China or Germany? The same applies to dogs. German Shepherds were originally designed in Europe/Germany and still are, leading to a much healthier, stronger and more stable animal. The closer the generations are to their original source (Europe and Germany) the better dog you will get all around. Once you reach the third or fourth generation in a line, those dogs should be bred to imports or to the second generation of imports in order to keep the qualities strong.
In summary, AKC registration is a starting point, not the ending point. It guarantees your dog's lines haven't been tainted by an accidental mating, but it doesn't guarantee that you are getting a good quality dog. When you see that a dog is "true to the breed standard" make sure that you know what the breed standard is based on the breed's country of origin (Irish Setters to the Irish standard, English Bulldog to the English standard, German Shepherds to the German/European standard, Doberman Pinscher to the European/German standard, etc.).
I truly believe that there isn't a network of breeders out there who are looking to mislead people, but rather that it is so incredibly difficult for breeders and consumers alike to get good direction and information these days. This segment is meant to give people the confidence to ask the proper questions
and to expect a higher standard.