As with many of the herding and working dogs that are bred in different areas, there are slight differences between the breed standards in German Shepherd Dogs. This is particularly true between true "German" bred GSDs and American or internationally bred GSDs. In most cases the biggest issue is the temperament testing and grading system used in Germany, which is much more limited as to what particular dogs can be used in breeding lines. The emphasis in some countries is also more on a working and performance dog than a show ring standard, which also causes some differences in breed standards.
The American and Canadian Kennel Clubs have very similar breed standards for the German Shepherd Dog, and these are the standards provided below. Most of the AKC and CKC German Shepherd Dogs could be registered with the Society of German Shepherd Dogs in Germany, however the Society is very strict about imported dogs, so most international breeders don't attempt this type of registration.
All German Shepherd Dogs outside of Germany can trace their heritage back to the original line created by Captain Max von Stephanitz. The exact body shape, coloration and even coat type has changed throughout history, and there are still significant ranges of color and coat type allowed in show dogs throughout the world. This is, in part, due to the strong working and temperament characteristics in the breed that are considered to be more important than absolute adherence to a specific appearance.
The modern German Shepherd Dog is athletic and strong in appearance with an overall proportionate and balanced appearance. They are not overly heavy in either the front or hind quarters, however the entire body should be powerful and graceful in movement and when standing. The dog is longer than it is tall with the topline or back sloping from the withers to the hips. The dog should have gentle curves over all of the body when viewed from any angle and should not have sharp points. Unlike some breeds they should present a more rounded profile, except in the head. This contributes to the look of power and agility that this breed naturally possesses.
The German Shepherd Dog is also one of the breeds that should look definitely masculine or feminine, not with both sexes appearing the same. Males are taller, heavier and squarer through the face than females, definitely appearing to be male, while females are slighter, lighter and narrower through the face and muzzle area. Both are still well-developed dogs and neither should be timid or aggressive in temperament. They should, however, be alert, attentive and intelligent, ready to protect if the need arises but tolerant and accepting of strangers. The attitude or temperament should be one of directness and courage, without hostility or displays of aggression. In addition for show dogs any signs of timid behavior or submissive behaviors in the ring will also result in disqualification.
The head of the German Shepherd Dog is very recognizable. They have an abrupt stop, a sloping, wedge shaped head and a moderately arched skull when viewed from the front. The muzzle is long but proportional to the rest of the head and body. The lips should fit tightly against the teeth, which should be complete without missing or damaged areas, and in a scissors bite. Any undershot or overshot jaws result in disqualification. The nose is large, wide and open and must be black in color. Blue or other colorations in the nose are not allowed in show dogs. The eyes are dark brown, slightly almond in shape and well set in the head. They should be alert and intelligent and follow all actions in the environment. The ears are moderately large and carried pricked to the front, with a wider base tapering to a point at the tips. Any turned over ears or pendant ears are a full disqualification from the ring.
The neck is very strong but not arched, not overly long but also not short. There should be no extra folds of skin on the neck and the dog, when at attention, should carry the neck in a position straight up from the chest. When in motion the head is lowered but typically always carried slightly above the shoulder line. The withers are not pronounced but rather flow into the shoulders and the chest. The chest itself is wide and deep, blending into strong, straight front legs. The ribs are well sprung and there is a definite cut up through the abdomen. The hind quarters are broad and very well developed and the upper and lower legs should form close to a right angle. The hind legs have a slope to the leg, and should not be straight or boxy in appearance.
The tail of the GSD is bushy and fairly long, with the last vertebra of the tail at least at the level of the hock. When the dog is at attention or in motion the tail may be carried moderately high, however it cannot reach the level of the hip or curl over the back at any time. Generally when at rest the tail is carried down close to the hock with a gentle curl upwards. Tails tucked between the legs, docked tails or very short tails will all be considered faults or disqualifications.
The coat of the GSD is double, thick and medium in length. The hair on the legs, feet and face is very short blending naturally into the longer medium length hair on the body. Some GSDs may have a very slight wave to the coat that is acceptable, however it should never be curly or kinky in appearance or texture. Silky coats or open coats are disqualifications. The colors of the GSD vary, however the tan to sandy colors with the black markings and saddle pattern is by far the most common. All black dogs, black and brown dogs and various rich color combinations are acceptable. Any dog that is white, spotted or blue in color is considered disqualified from show competitions.
The German Shepherd Dog should move easily and smoothly, with the topline maintained in the sloping position in all gaits. The dog should not track or move the body to the side, rather the legs should extend fully over the ground surface towards a center line that is parallel to the center of the dog's body.
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