Working Line vs. Showline German Shepherds
Updated: Jul 21
German Shepherd breeders are often confronted by first time buyers who do not know that German Shepherds can be "herded" into two groups- showline and working line. We are asked to explain the differences, and there are many, which distinguish each. Why is this important? Because adding a #dog, especially a #GermanShepherd, to your home is a big decision which should be made with the utmost care. Choosing the correct dog for your family AND lifestyle will make the difference between a mutually enjoyable relationship versus one where you feel compelled to drop the pup back to your breeder. And none of us want to have that!
As I gathered information to discuss the topic, it occurred to me that a few questions posed to #MeerKuste clients who have BOTH types of #GSDs would be the easiest way to explain! Below, you will find some thoughtful answers from husband/wife team Chris and Sara. They have a female showline named Cisco, who happens to be a #longstock, and a male sable working line named Dallas.
Here are their insights:
Explain the one major difference with your two dogs?
Chris: Sable/working line is higher drive and more amped up, show line is more gentle and less amped up (most of the time).
Sara: Our showline shepherd, an almost 2 year-old female, is gentle and easy going. She is a goofball who loves her people (her person in particular) but can turn on her protectiveness if/when necessary.
Our working line male, now 10 months old is a ball of energy. Still young, so very excited to do literally anything (you're getting up from your chair? Where are we going?!) He is VERY eager to learn, and like his older housemate eager to please. We love this about him. It is his excitement while trying to please that can at times be challenging. His energy during training is remarkable. Our showline absolutely loves being worked and getting her praise and treats during training, but the working line is like a machine. He sees the training pouch and explodes! He assumes the position ready for the next command. Both excel at learning new tricks/commands and are so much fun to work with. When the training session is over, our showline is content to lay by our feet while we watch tv or sit in our office chair. The working line does not want the session to end. And without daily training sessions and a long walk, the evening can be tough. He needs his energy spent or will spend time pacing around ringing his bell to go outside even if he doesn't have to go to the bathroom. He doesn't want to sit still (unless of course, he has a tasty bone to focus on).
Luckily, we are an active family so we find time to exercise both the dogs with hiking, snow shoeing, and training which both dogs love. Working or Showline, German Shepherds definitely need #training and exercise. They love spending active time with their people.
"On/Off Switch: Showline has one. Working line needs the battery drained."
What made you initially choose a show line and then want to try out a working line dog?
Chris: When we got Cisco, we really weren’t thinking about the lines as much as what was available to us locally that would be a good quality German Shepherd. Once we got her, and were thinking about a male, the working line/sable Dallas became available. I’ve always liked the look of a sable so I wanted to get him! I also thought the working line would be great for hiking.
Sara: We chose showline because we always wanted a GSD and decided to go with the classic red/black look. We had done some research and kept hearing the term "drive" when talking about different "lines" or what we thought were just "colors" in our inexperiece. We didn't really even know there was a difference.
We've always had 2 dogs, so after having the showline for about a year and a half we decided to get a male. We'd always wanted a sable because they "look like a wolf". At that point we were more experienced with GSDs and knew what we were getting into. My husband was searching for a hiking partner, not to say that our showline wouldn't be up for the challenge (she loves #hiking and #camping!) He wanted a higher drive/energy dog as his trail partner for longer hikes, and now working from home vs. the office he had the time to devote to this new companion. If we didn't have the time or previous experience with GSDs this could potentially have been a mistake and unfair to the dog.
Which traits do you like best in each dog?
Chris: I love how gentle, sweet and easy-going Cisco is. I’m not sure how much of that is her individual personality vs. her West German lines though. For Dallas, I love how focused he is on pleasing you, he loves to work/play and genuinely wants to do the right thing, even if he doesn’t always know what that is. Cisco is more playful while Dallas is more serious.
Sara: They are SO different from one another.
I love how our working line is a guy's guy. He loves truck rides and going on adventures!
I love the showlines' excitement for life. We often say, "She is always so happy!" Always smiling.
Are either dogs better with the cat, kids, the elderly?
Chris: Cisco is more gentle and more aware of her size and strength, so she is a little better than Dallas is in that respect. He still greets strangers by jumping up sometimes!
Sara: Both are surprisingly good with the cat, although those boundaries were established the moment they came into the home as puppies. Do Not Chase The Cat.
Our showline has eased up on the jumping up as she's matured, but still gets excited when the kids laugh and play with her. Our working line still only 10 months old, gets very excited at the laughter and smallness of children and can sometimes be a little too rough when first greeting them.
How much extra time do you need to give Dallas vs. Cisco?
Chris: They both demand our attention and follow us everywhere and want to be with us all the time. Dallas is younger so is slightly more time consuming. He’s also been a little more of a challenge discipline wise at times. It’s tough to say how much extra time is devoted, it’s more that I know he needs to go for a walk or do an activity each day whereas Cisco doesn’t always need to.
Sara: Working line GSDs need a lot of attention. They are not content sitting quietly in the house all day. If I've had a long day at work and don't feel like going out in the rain for a walk, I can convince my showline she'd rather stay in for a quick indoor training session. The working line needs to at least play a quick game of fetch to burn off his energy.
What advice would you give to a first -time buyer who has no idea about the German Shepherd Dog?
Chris: For a first-time buyer, I would suggest West German showline and I would look for a dog that will be more forgiving of its owners if they make mistakes handling and training.
Sara: Both working and show lines require training and a daily routine. If you want a great looking, loyal, protective, loving companion who you can take anywhere with you whether it be the local park or your next summit, showline is for you. If you are super active, have the time and budget dedicated for proper training or are considering joining the world of dog sports, you may be suited for working lines. Every dog is different. We lucked out and happened to get a phenomenal showline and lucked out again with our working line who although driven, has a very sweet temperament and fun personality. We love them both so much!
Closing comments to help prospective owners understand the differences of working and showlines:
Chris: Working Lines/Dallas is more nimble, slightly faster and more compact than Cisco. He would probably be more suited to being a trick dog, and I think is more ruggedly built and will stand up to hiking long distances better. Cisco is more graceful however and her herding heritage shows a bit more in that if we are displeased with Dallas, she will nip at him to move him away from something (like the trash can or the dinner table).
Sara: Our male GSD has hit the age where he has begun barking when he hears something outside and will patrol the yard and run the fence to check out the situation.
Our female is more protective of her people vs. the property, sometimes herding the other animals away from her person or if she hears something, will start barking but always comes right back to check in.
You don't like the idea of a prong collar? Working line shepherd is not for you.
We are a lot "harder" on our working line than we are on our showline. He needs a solid correction, whereas she gets the hint with even just a stern "no". Some differences, however, may be because of individual personality, not necessarily temperament, as well as age difference, and male vs. female.
Like all dog breeds, the German Shepherd will continuously be modified as breeders learn more about genetics and track their dogs’ traits. Perhaps one day, as in the beginning of #GSD breeding programs, they will find their way back to middle ground making these differences among them less discernible.