Alsatians vs. German Shepherds

When in England, I thought I knew the answer to this question, but here in North America, I find Im confumsed.
This is rather long, but for others that are curious, its a well worth read....

An Alsatian is a German Shepherd Dog

How can one breed have two names?
It is a common misconception that the Alsatian and the German Shepherd Dog are two different, but similar, breeds. Or, that they are of the same breed, but differ in coat length – one being long-haired and the other short-haired.

The push behind this article comes from extensive reading of Internet groups and forums, including some that profess to be an authority on dogs, that broadcast the idea that Alsatians and German Shepherd Dogs are “definitely not of the same breed”; that there are either subtle or striking differences between the two breeds. The amount of energy, and including lost tempers, put into explaining why they are not the same breed fascinates me, especially as a simple Google search of the Net would reveal results that overwhelmingly prove them to be incorrect.

People’s confusion regarding the name of the breed is emphasised in the following exchanges, taken from various Internet forums and newsgroups, with names removed to safeguard their reputation from being twice branded a plonker, and presented in no particular order:

An Alsatian is from Alsace in France and a German Shepherd from Germany. They are related but have a different background and a different name and therefore are different.

Yes different. The German Shepherd gets his name because he has a coat like a sheep.

They bark in different accents. German Shepherds go “voovf” and Alsatians go “woof”.

The name German Shepherd was used in America. Alsatian was its original name and later became the name of the white coat type of the animal.

Sorry, but they are the same.

I agree. They are the same. The GSD was used by both sides to fight during the war. But the British didn’t want to call their dogs German so they decided on the name Alsatian. Later, after the war, the Brits changed the name back to German Shepherd Dog.

How can a dog toss a grenade or fire a rifle? Come on now.

Why would a dog that is German fight against Germans?

Ok I have a Alsatian Shepherd and it is not the same as a German Shepherd.

It’s true. After the war the name Alsatian was associated with vicious dogs so everyone chose to call it a German Shepherd again.

If you’re posh you own a German Shepherd. Everyone else owns Alsatians.

The same. The name German Shepherd Dog was changed to Alsatian to spite Germany and Hitler.

An Alsatian is a German Shepherd that is not very well bred.

They are different. I have a long-haired German Shepherd Dog. The Alsatian is a short-haired similar breed.

How can this be? That so many people, including some that own GSDs, are so misinformed.

A brief history lesson
In the wake of the First World War (1914 – 1918), there was a surge of anti-German sentiment in Britain, the Commonwealth and America. By association, anything ‘tainted’ by the word German in its name became quite politically incorrect. Even the British Royal family (who had German origins) changed their name from the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to the House of Windsor. This surge of anti-German feeling came at a time when the first German Shepherd Dogs were making their appearance in Britain.

Up until this time, the GSD was virtually unknown in Britain. It was returning soldiers that brought the first wave of GSDs to Britain. They also brought fantastic stories of the extraordinary feats and heroic deeds that the dogs had exhibited in battle. At the time it was feared that the public would not take to any animal referred to as ‘German’. To allay these fears the Kennel Club promptly changed the name in 1919 to the ‘Alsatian Wolf Dog’.

The Alsatian Wolf Dog
Alsace is a region of France that borders Germany. The region has changed hands between France and Germany several times in the last few hundred years and both German and French languages are spoken there today. And, an Alsatian is a resident of Alsace. Some of the first GSDs to reach Britain were shipped from this region. Hence, the name Alsatian (often misspelt as Alsation) seemed fitting for the breed. However, it is unclear why the Kennel Club tagged the new name with ‘Wolf Dog’. The new name, while dealing the public’s dislike of anything German, had the adverse effect of relating the dogs directly to wolves. This, in itself, was an impediment to the public’s perception of the breed with many believing the dog was the direct result of breeding from wild wolves.

To make matters worse, those that were interested at the time and looked back into the ancestry of the GSD would have found evidence of wolves in the original breeding programs in the late nineteenth century. Although it is generally thought that all dogs evolved from wolves, in 1919 the wolf ancestors of GSDs were a mere few generations past from the dogs being brought into Britain after the War.

Captain Max von Stephanitz, creator of the breed, in his quest to produce the perfect working dog, collected herding dogs from all over Europe to breed with, including his favorite dog Horand von Grafath who was allegedly one-quarter wolf. In his original German Shepherd studbook, “Zuchtbuch fur Deutscher Schäferhund”, he lists several wolves that were used in the breeding program.

The Press fanned the flames of outrage at this new breed that “came from wolves”, and used its name ‘Alsatian Wolf Dog’ as proof of the fact. Similarly, there were several books of that era that questioned the wisdom of the wolf in the Alsatian.

Stephanitz himself, in a book he had written in the first decade of the twentieth century called “The German Shepherd in Word and Picture”, requested that breeders no longer include pure wolves in their breeding programs. (In subsequent reprints, all references to wolves were removed). In Australia, the book “Australian Barkers and Biters” by Robert Kaleski, originally published in Sydney in 1914, was reprinted after the First World War with a chapter entitled:

“The Menace of the Alsatian Wolf Dog…There is much argument about this dog at this time – as to whether he has wolf in him or not, and as to whether he is safe or dangerous…”

Due to its unpopularity and the suspicion it brought to the breed, the ‘Wolf Dog’ tag was soon dropped and the breed became known in Britain and the Commonwealth as the ‘Alsatian’. However, conferring the ‘Wolf Dog’ label on the GSD certainly did a disservice to the breed both at the time and to this day. Despite the fact that, one hundred years on from its wolf ancestors, the GSD of today is no more tied to the wolf than it is tied to Germany, the association between GSDs and wild wolves still lingers.

In Britain, and most of the Commonwealth, the breed was known as the Alsatian until 1977 when, after many years of campaigning by supporters of the breed who felt the correct name should be reinstated, it was changed back to the German Shepherd Dog.

Today, some dog clubs still use the title Alsatian in their name. For instance, the South African Alsatian (Shepherd Dog) Club claims their club “will not change its name to be more correct and modern because its name is synonymous with a club that has stood the test of time”. However, the general public, a more reliable meter for change, have generally adapted to the correct name of German Shepherd Dog. The Kennel Club adds Alsatian in parenthesis for clarity – German Shepherd Dog (Alsatian).

In America, before the First World War, the breed was known as the German Sheep Dog, and not as the German Shepherd Dog. In 1917, when America joined the War, the name was changed to Shepherd Dog. And later, in 1931, the name was changed again to what it should have been in the first place, the German Shepherd Dog.

The German Shepherd Dog
The proper name for the breed, given by the founder of the breed, Captain Max von Stephanitz, is Deutscher Schäferhund, which literally translates into English as the German Shepherd Dog.

Many omit the word ‘Dog’ and prefer simply to refer to them as ‘German Shepherds’. However, ‘German Shepherd Dog’ is actually an accurate translation from German to English with ‘dog’ being an integral part of the word Schäferhund.

In addition, some may refer to them as ‘Police Dogs’ as this is the breeds most recognisable role in society.

In less than a century, the German Shepherd Dog (Alsatian) has become one of the most popular breeds with pet owners, who consider them loving and loyal companions; not bad for a dog that was once referred to as “a half wolf let loose on British society”!


Author: Kay Wheatley.

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Published in Senior Chatters


  1. millie

    so interesting, pollypie. shepherds have always been my favorite breed. i found this info really fascinating. thank you. 🙂

  2. macathy

    Love these dogs always been German Shepherds to me have had two of then intelligent faithful dogs last one had for 19 years No more dogs now……thanks mac

  3. jcb1

    i think the kennel club renamed them german shepherds from alsations. they are all known as gsds now but ask Pollie she is the dog expert on here!

  4. PollyPie Post author

    I always thought that GS were different, with shorter snouts and higher forehead and longer coat. and alsatians were lighter in colour, long snouts. Thats why I was confused as here in North America they are called GS but look like Alsatians. Pollie, where are you ?

  5. jcb1

    she didnt appear yesterday pollypie hee hee! but im sure she will comment when she does…even if its to say i might be wrong. dont think i am but who knows eh!

  6. pollie

    well pollypie…yep what jcb says is correct however, im not an expert by a long chalk!!!!…to me there are no experts as regards dogs but yep i have bin involved with them from 1964…The kennel club re-named all Alsations to German shepherd Dogs…quite a few years ago now…depending on the particular ‘breed line’ will depend on how they look…The long coated variety aren’t recognised by the kennel club and can’t be shown in breed. they can however be shown in obedience, workin trails, agility, HWTM, etc…I used to breed GSD’s a long time ago but i bred for long coats cos’ they are the ones i prefer…Also…if one is pure white they also can’t be shown in breed…i like long coated white ones, though the ones i bred were normal sable colours etc…Hope that helps to put the record straight for you? 🙂 🙂

  7. PollyPie Post author

    Thanks pollie…. I was brought up with Alsatians, and Im having a hard time in thinking them as German Shepherds, but I will get there. Thanks again for ‘putting the record straight’ , lol