Most Popular Shepherd Dog Breeds & Their Characteristics
Considering adding a Shepherd to your pack? Or do you love the dog breed already and want to learn more?
From Australia to Belgium, every country seems to have its own shepherd dog breed. All these shepherds have unique characteristics but they all make for loyal lifelong companions.
What Does It Mean to Be A Shepherd?
Any dog breed with “shepherd” in its name was probably bred to do just that – herd sheep!
From the beginning of time, farming has been essential to every society. It’s overwhelming to imagine humans trying to herd hundreds of cows, goats, or sheep. That’s why farmers started training dogs to help them with their work.
Shepherds are outstanding working dogs because they love the mental stimulation of having a job. That’s why you’ll often see them as K-9 workers, search and rescue, and service dogs.
Every shepherd dog breed varies in appearance but tends to have short or medium-length double coats. Their bodies are nimble and lean though since they need lots of exercise to burn all that high energy.
Australian Shepherd Dog Breed Facts
It’s easy to mistake Australian Shepherds as a breed that originated in Australia, but they are actually from Europe. Australian Shepherds, or Aussies as dog lovers have dubbed them, descend from herders in the Pyrenees Mountains between France and Spain.
These dogs were bred to herd sheep and cattle which is why the shepherd part of their name is so fitting. The Aussie’s owners (actual human shepherds called Basques) sailed to Australia in the early 1800s in search of land for their cattle ranches.
Basques eventually worked their way to farms in California. Australian Shepherds were well-loved by Californians who assumed they came from the place they lived before – Australia. Thus, the misleading shepherd dog breed name was born!
Physical Characteristics of Australian Shepherds
Aussies have beautiful medium-length double coats of fur. These coats are thick and waterproof – keeping them warm and dry during stormy weather work.
If you look up pictures of Australian Shepherds you’ll notice that they hardly ever come in just one color. Australian Shepherds can have a single-colored coat, but it’s more common to have bi-colored or tri-colored fur. It’s common for Aussies to have a merle gene that makes their fur look like a painting of blue, black, white, or tan spots
Most Aussies are very agile and lean under their thick coats. Males typically weigh around 51 to 64 pounds as an adult. Female Australian Shepherds tend to be smaller around 41 to 44 pounds.
Australian Shepherd Personality Traits
Since they were bred to be herders, Aussies thrive in an active environment with lots of room to play and exercise. Dog parents with an Australian Shepherd know that the couch potato lifestyle doesn’t work well for them!
Australian Shepherds are also highly trainable because they need more mental stimulation than other dog breeds. Teaching your Aussie new commands and doing other stimulating activities will help them burn their high energy levels.
These pups are good with young children which is why Aussies make for great family dogs. Although most Australian Shepherds aren’t the most cuddly dogs, they will show their affection with playtime, loyalty, and eye contact.
German Shepherd Breed Information
Unlike their Aussie cousins, German Shepherds originated from the country they’re named after. A German military officer named Captain Max von Stephanitz spent 35 years in the late 1800s breeding the perfect herder that would become the German Shepherd Dog (GSD).
German Shepherds rose to worldwide popularity in the 1900s after GSD dogs were featured in movies like Rin-Tin-Tin. Sadly, GSD popularity did wane and wax during the international conflict with Germany during World War I & II.
Although they started as sheep herders, German Shepherds today commonly have roles as K-9 workers in police and military work. But these pups are also happy to be our loving companions. In fact, they are the fourth most popular dog breed as ranked by the AKC!
Physical Characteristics of German Shepherds
GSDs are larger than other shepherd dog breeds. Adult male German Shepherds range from 65 to 90 pounds while females can weigh around 50 to 70 pounds.
If you are thinking of adopting a German Shepherd, get ready to groom! They shed quite a bit with their medium double coats with even more seasonal shedding once a year. It’s recommended to give them a quick brush every few days.
The classic image of a GSD has pointed ears with a black or dark brown back that lightens to a tan color on their legs and bellies. But German Shepherds can also come in white, blue, gray, or bi-color combinations.
Personality & Behavior
One reason why German Shepherds do so well as working dogs is because they are easy to train. They love having a job or activity to keep them occupied just like Australian Shepherds.
GSDs are highly vigilant and protective, making them great watchdogs, as well. They are the total package – affectionate, good with children, playful, and adaptable.
Anatolian Shepherd Dog Breed
Anatolian Shepherds originate from the Asian portion of Turkey called Anatolia. The breed dates back to 2000 BC and the Bible depicts dogs with similar traits to the Anatolian Shepherd. Similar to most shepherds, these dogs worked best as livestock herders.
A pair of Anatolian Shepherds were imported to the US from Turkey and bred by the Department of Agriculture before World War II. This was a part of the secret “Sheepdog Project” to see which dog breed would work best on American farms.
When the project was abandoned, Anatolians were available to adopt and American ranchers started to import more of them. A US Navy lieutenant brought a pair of Anatolian Shepherds back from Turkey in the 1970s and started breeding them in the US.
Physical Traits of Anatolian Shepherds
Anatolian Shepherds fall into the giant breed category with males weighing from 110 to 150 pounds and females weighing 80 to 120 pounds. Even while they’re large, these dogs are very agile and ready to chase off any predators.
While German and Australian Shepherds have double coats, Anatolian Shepherds have smooth short length coats. They still shed at a medium level and should be brushed every week or so.
Almost all Anatolian Shepherds have a tan or light brown coat with dark brown, black, or silver “masks” on their face and ears.
Anatolian Shepherd Personalities
These gentle giants are pretty quiet and reserved. They aren’t as easy to train as other shepherd dog breeds but that also means they aren’t as high-energy and require less mental stimulation.
Anatolian Shepherds are very protective of their homes. They were instrumental in improving the endangered wolf population in the US because they would intimidate and chase off wolves rather than kill them.
Lowkey shepherd dog breeds like Anatolians tend to lounge more than Aussies and GSDs. They are very independent and love the occasional playtime.
Facts About Dutch Shepherds
Hailing from The Netherlands, Dutch Shepherds would mostly herd chickens and cows. They were essential in gathering the cows to be milked and would even pull carts of milk to the local market.
Dutch Shepherds date back to the late 1890s and were famous for their brindle coats. As needs for farm dogs decreased in the 1900s, Dutch Shepherds became more common in law enforcement, search and rescue, and service dog roles.
Physical Characteristics of Dutch Shepherds
Dutch Shepherds physically resemble a blend of Australian and German Shepherds. They often have the pointed ears and short double coat of a GSD with the a brindle mix of color similar to the Aussie.
The colors of a Dutch Shepherd don’t vary as much as other shepherd dog breeds – yellow, silver brindle, and gold brindle coats are most common.
Whether male or female, Dutch Shepherds tend to weigh around 42 to 75 pounds.
Personality Traits of Dutch Shepherds
These pups have the high trainability and energy levels of most shepherd breeds. But Dutch Shepherds are slightly more soft-spoken and will usually only bark to alert.
Dutch Shepherds are friendly and more open to strangers than Anatolian Shepherds. Don’t fret – Dutch Shepherds are still very protective when they need to be.
Perhaps the most affectionate shepherd dog breed, these dogs are very cuddly and playful with their humans.