Old German Shepherd Dog: A Rare and Loyal Breed

The Old German Shepherd dog, also known as the Working Line German Shepherd, is an ancestor of the more common German Shepherd breed we know today. While they resemble long-haired German Shepherds, the Old German Shepherd is a distinct breed with a unique history and characteristics.

If you’re considering adding one of these intelligent, protective dogs to your home, read on to learn more about their origins, temperament, health, grooming needs, and what it takes to care for an Old German Shepherd dog.

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Breed History and Origins

Before establishing the German Shepherd breed in the late 19th century, any dog used for shepherding in Germany was referred to as a “German Shepherd” dog.

In 1899, Captain Max Emil Friedrich von Stephanitz formed the Society for the German Shepherd Dog to breed and document a superior herding dog. He chose a dog named Hektor Linksrhein to be the original German Shepherd in his breeding program, and any descendants of Hektor were designated as official German Shepherds.

The dogs not included in Stephanitz’s records continued to work on German farms and were bred purely for their working ability, without emphasis on physical appearance. These solid working dogs became known as Old German Shepherds.

While long-haired German Shepherds are sometimes mistaken for Old German Shepherds, the original working dogs are a distinct breed in their own right. They have existed for hundreds of years but are incredibly rare today, with some estimating they are near extinction.

There is no standard for the Old German Shepherd without a breeding program. They vary greatly in physical appearance, focusing on traits like speed, stamina, and intellect rather than appearance. They most closely resemble long-haired German Shepherds but have a broader variation in coat length, color, and body size.

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Temperament and Personality

The Old German Shepherd is an intelligent, athletic dog devoted to its family. Traditionally used as farm dogs to herd sheep and protect livestock, they are alert watchdogs who bond closely with their owners.

These dogs are loyal and form tight bonds with their trusted humans. They have strong protective instincts and will defend their family if necessary. Old German Shepherds can get along well with children and other household pets with proper training and socialization from a young age.

This breed is energetic and benefits from having a job to do. Old German Shepherds may engage in destructive behaviors like chewing without adequate exercise and mental stimulation. They excel at canine activities like agility, flyball, and obedience competitions.

Training an Old German Shepherd

The Old German Shepherd is highly intelligent and trainable. Consistent, firm guidance helps these strong-willed dogs reach their potential. Keep training interesting to hold their focus and prevent boredom.

Short, engaging training sessions after exercise work best for this energetic breed. Try to train at the same time each day and use positive reinforcement like praise and treats to encourage desired behaviors. Avoid any punishments that could undermine progress.

Patience is vital when training an Old German Shepherd; even intelligent dogs take weeks to master new skills. But their intellect allows them to learn multi-step tasks and problem-solve better than many breeds.

Exercise Needs

With their history as active farm dogs, Old German Shepherds need vigorous exercise daily. A large, secure yard and long walks are a must. These energetic dogs thrive when given jobs to do.

In addition to physical exercise, mental stimulation is essential for the Old German Shepherd. Activities like obedience training, agility courses, and interactive toys provide mental challenges. Old German Shepherds may resort to destructive or high-energy behaviors without enough action.

Grooming and Care

The Old German Shepherd’s coat sheds heavily during seasonal changes. Frequent brushing helps control loose hair. Some owners find professional grooming necessary during shedding season.

These dogs should be acclimated to grooming from a young age, including paw, ear, and teeth exams. Regular brushing of teeth is essential to prevent dental disease. Trim nails if clicking on floors.

Old German Shepherds are prone to obesity, which can exacerbate joint problems. Follow portion guidelines based on food labels and ensure adequate exercise.

Health and Lifespan

With so few Old German Shepherds remaining, there are limited medical studies on the breed’s health. But they likely share some conditions with modern German Shepherds, though possibly with lower frequency and severity due to less inbreeding and emphasis on sound structure.

Potential health issues include hip and elbow dysplasia, degenerative myelopathy, digestive problems, and allergies. Reputable breeders screen breeding dogs for hip dysplasia.

With proper care, Old German Shepherds can live 10-14 years. Keeping them fit and preventing obesity adds to healthy years.

German Shepherd Puppies

Like most intelligent breeds, Old German Shepherd puppies require significant training, socialization, and activity from a young age. Interacting with different people, pets, sounds, and environments will help Old German Shepherd puppies grow into confident, well-rounded adult dogs.

Reputable breeders begin handling and exposing puppies to new things starting at three weeks old. By 8-12 weeks, when they go to new homes, Old German Shepherd puppies already have a head start on training.

New owners should enroll puppies in obedience training as early as three months old. Combined with socialization, formal training establishes important behaviors and prevents problem habits before they start.

Puppies have sharp teeth when teething, so provide appropriate chew toys to save furniture and skin. Interactive toys also provide mental exercise. Feed high-quality, ample breed puppy food for proper growth.

With their intelligence and energy, Old German Shepherd puppies require much time, training, and stimulation. But raising them properly sets the foundation for an exceptional adult dog.

Black German Shepherds

While less common than the classic tan and black coat, all-black German Shepherds occur both in modern German Shepherds and Old German Shepherds. Selective breeding has produced some lines of Black German Shepherds.

The melanistic black coat is attributed to a recessive gene. Both parents must carry this recessive gene to potentially produce black puppies. When bred from non-black parents, a black German Shepherd puppy may suddenly appear in a litter due to ancestors carrying the recessive black gene.

Black German Shepherd puppies mature into dogs with gleaming jet-black coats. Their facial features, body structure, and temperament are identical to classic colored German Shepherds. The only difference is their deep, rich coat color.

Some people believe black German Shepherds have superior health and abilities. But there is no scientific evidence for this. Ethically bred dogs of any color can be healthy, intelligent companions.

When selecting a German Shepherd puppy, potential owners should focus on health testing and temperament overcoat color.

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Key Differences: Old vs. Modern German Shepherds

While Old German Shepherds laid the foundation for the beloved German Shepherd breed, decades of specialized breeding have led to significant differences.


The Old German Shepherd is more variable in appearance, without a strict breed standard for looks. They frequently resemble long-haired German Shepherds.

The modern German Shepherd has a defined physical standard emphasizing a sloped back, black saddle and mask, and medium-length double coat. Conformation heavily influences their structure.

Working Ability:

Old German Shepherds were bred solely for herding, protecting livestock, stamina, and problem-solving skills. They have a robust independent working ability.

The modern German Shepherd remains an intelligent working dog in many roles, but breeding choices have reduced focus on natural working instincts.

Structure and Health:

With no appearance standard, the Old German Shepherd tends to have fewer structural exaggerations. Their straight backs likely reduce hip and joint problems.

The sloped structure and angulation pursued in modern German Shepherds may increase orthopedic problems like hip dysplasia.


The Old German Shepherd is extremely rare, and numbers are decreasing. Only traditional farmers maintaining the old working lines breed them now.

With global popularity, the German Shepherd is the 2nd most registered breed in many registries. They are common as working, show, and family dogs.

While the Old German Shepherd laid the groundwork, the modern German Shepherd has become a distinct breed through specialized breeding. Both are intelligent, energetic dogs that excel at working roles.

How Long Do German Shepherds Live?

The average lifespan for German Shepherds is 10-14 years. With proper health, nutrition, and exercise, many German Shepherds live happily into their early teens.

Larger breeds like German Shepherds tend to have shorter average lifespans than smaller dogs. Keep your German Shepherd active and fit to reach a long, healthy life.

Provide annual veterinary exams to catch any potential health issues early. Follow your vet’s vaccination and preventive care recommendations for the best disease prevention.

Feed a nutritious diet formulated for large, active dogs like German Shepherds. Appropriate calorie intake balanced with sufficient exercise prevents dangerous obesity.

Make time for adequate daily walks, playtime, and training. Activity benefits physical and mental health. Activity decreases with age, so adjust food portions downward to maintain a lean body condition.

How Old is My German Shepherd in Dog Years?

To estimate your German Shepherd’s age in “dog years,” multiply their actual age by seven. Each year of a dog’s life equals seven human years.

So a 4-year-old German Shepherd would be 28 in dog years while an 8-year-old dog equates to 56 in dog years.

This seven-year calculation is based on dogs aging faster during the first two years of life. But German Shepherds remain quite vigorous well into their senior years. The seven-year-per-year ratio is just a general guideline.

Keeping your German Shepherd active and at a healthy weight is the best way to support an energetic, youthful temperament for life. Regular veterinary care ensures health issues that may slow dogs down are caught and treated early.

Provide mental stimulation with activities like obedience training and puzzles. An engaged mind combined with proper physical exercise benefits health and slows aging in dogs and humans!

The Rare but Rewarding Old German Shepherd Dog

For experienced dog owners willing to provide extensive activity and training, the Old German Shepherd’s working ability, loyalty, and protective instincts make this rare breed very appealing. Their history as independent farm workers means they need firm guidance and plenty of activity to prevent problem behaviors.

While their rarity means few breeding options exist, Old German Shepherds remain exceptional for high-energy working roles or dog sports. They reward dedicated owners with devotion, intelligence, and athleticism.

Jennifer Barker

I'm Jennifer. My passion for dogs lead to this blog's creation in 2014. I share tales of life with my pups and insights on natural dog care so fellow pet parents can nurture the joy and wellbeing of their furry friends.

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