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King Shepherd vs. German Shepherd: Which Is Right for You?

King shepherd vs German shepherd: Close-up of a German shepherd's face

Many believe the German shepherd dog (or GSD) is the most majestic of all dog breeds, but his majesty may need to move over — the king shepherd is trying to claim that crown.

With a name as regal as its appearance, the king shepherd shares part of its ancestry with the German shepherd. The two dogs look alike and have a lot in common, but they have distinct differences, too. We’re pitting these two breeds against each other — king shepherd vs. German shepherd — for a head-to-head comparison.

We’ll share the pros and cons of each breed so you can decide which of these majestic dogs will rule your heart. Learn about the king shepherd and German shepherd’s breeding, looks, personality, and general health to help you find the right fit for your family.

King Shepherd vs. German Shepherd: Breeding

German shepherd with their puppies

The king shepherd was bred nearly 90 years after the German shepherd was first recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1908. The AKC still doesn’t recognize the king shepherd as a purebred dog.

Instead, king shepherds are considered hybrid dogs. They’re a cross between purebred German shepherds and other large purebred dogs, like the Alaskan Malamute, Great Pyrenees, and Akita. Because German shepherd and king shepherd breeds were created during different time periods, they were also bred for different reasons. Here’s how their breeding diverged.

German Shepherds

Bred in Germany by Captain Max von StephanitzGerman shepherds were created from a mixture of the best local herding dogs. Rather than being bred for looks, they were bred for their intelligence and excellence in the field. A few generations of breeding eventually lead to a breed standard for both looks and temperament.

As sheep herding became less common, this dog’s intelligence allowed it to easily transition to other jobs, and they became solid choices for police dogs, service dogs, and search and rescue work. Plus, their desire to protect their flock (and family) made this dog a good choice as a family dog, watchdog, or guard dog. They even made it big in Hollywood where Rin Tin Tin became the most famous dog in America in the 1920s.

But ask any celebrity, and they’ll tell you that fame is a double-edged sword. This breed became and remains one of the most popular dog breeds in America. Their popularity led to high demand for German shepherd puppies, which led to overbreeding and a variety of health issues.

King Shepherds

King shepherds were first bred in the early 1990s. Two American breeders, David Turkheimer and Shelley Watts-Cross, wanted to create a larger, healthier version of the German shepherd. So, they crossed a purebred German shepherd with a shiloh shepherd, which is another hybrid dog that’s not recognized by the AKC.

Shiloh shepherds are a mix of American German shepherds, old European lines of German shepherds, and Alaskan malamutes. So, when Turkheimer and Watts-Cross mixed the shiloh shepherd with a German shepherd, they added more German shepherd DNA back into the mix.

Since then, breeders have mixed other large dogs with German shepherds and king shepherds so that today’s king shepherd lineage always includes a strong helping of German shepherd ancestry combined with Alaskan malamutes, Great Pyrenees, and sometimes Akitas.

King shepherds are still suited for a wide variety of jobs, and they can make good police dogs, service dogs, and search and rescue workers. Because of their malamute genes, they also sometimes work in cart pulling.

One thing this breed can’t do is participate in AKC dog shows — because it’s not yet recognized by the AKC. However, the king shepherd is recognized by the American Rare Breed Association and the American King Shepherd Club, which has set a breed standard for its looks and temperament.

King Shepherd vs. German Shepherd: Looks

King shepherd vs German shepherd: German shepherd outside on a leash

The king shepherd looks like a larger German shepherd (the opposite of a Belgian Malinois, which looks like a smaller German shepherd). King shepherds have a wider, more square frame, without the sloping back often seen in purebred GSDs. Here’s a look at the size difference between these breeds:

  • Male German shepherds: 24-26 inches high at the shoulders and weighing 65-90 pounds
  • Female German shepherds: 22-24 inches high at the shoulders and weighing 50-70 pounds
  • Male king shepherds: at least 27 inches high at the shoulders and weighing 110-145 pounds
  • Female king shepherds: at least 25 inches high at the shoulders and weighing 80-110 pounds

King shepherds typically have longer coats than German shepherds, but the king shepherd breed club also recognizes a smooth-coated variety. Both king and German shepherds have dense double coats with a rough, weather resistant top coat and a soft, insulating undercoat that sheds heavily twice a year.

Both breeds come in a variety of coat colors, including black, black and tan, sable, and bicolor coats. To care for their coats, both breeds will need to be brushed 2-3 times a week to remove loose hair and distribute their natural oils throughout their coats. And to keep their coat healthy, both breeds benefit from a daily fish oil supplement.

King Shepherd vs. German Shepherd: Personality

Little boy running with a German shepherd

The German shepherd is a high-energy working dog that needs plenty of exercise and mental stimulation. While the king shepherd shares the GSD’s working dog background and will need regular exercise and mental stimulation, it has a slightly lower energy level than GSDs.

King shepherds were bred to be companion dogs as much as working dogs. They move a little slower than GSDs and are gentle giants that make great family pets.

When it comes to German shepherds, different breeders specialize in different traits. Some breeders focus on breeding highly motivated working dogs for police and military operations. Others specifically breed companion dogs. If you’re picking out a family pet, choose a GSD breeder that focuses on companion dogs.

Both of these breeds are typically loving with their family and reliable with children when they’re socialized with them from an early age. Because of their large sizes, both breeds will be easier to manage with early socialization and obedience training. Their high intelligence makes them quick learners that respond well to consistent training.

King Shepherd vs. German Shepherd: Health

King shepherd vs. German shepherd: Vet examining German shepherd

The king shepherd was bred with health in mind — breeders hoped to create a healthier version of the GSDMixed breed dogs are less prone to health issues than purebred dogs. However, king shepherds are also larger, and larger dogs tend to have shorter life expectancies than smaller dogs.

Still, in spite of their large size, king shepherds do have longer lifespans (10-11 years) than German shepherds (7-10 years). So, to an extent, breeders succeeded in their goal. 

However, because they have such a long line of German shepherd ancestry, King shepherds can still inherit the same genetic health issues that are common in GSDs. These issues include:

King shepherds inherit these issues slightly less often than GSDs, but they do still inherit them. To keep either breed healthy for as long as possible, adopt from a responsible breeder, feed a high-quality dog food, take them to the vet for regular checkups, and add all-natural, air-dried supplements to their diet to support their overall wellness.

Who Is the Real King of the Shepherds?

Two German shepherds sitting outside

So, can we declare a winner in our showdown of the king shepherd vs. german shepherd dog breeds? Only you can do that.

Both of these breeds are loyal and intelligent working dogs. They excel at everything from serving as police dogs to search and rescue dogs to family dogs.

But unlike the German shepherd, the king shepherd is not a purebred dog. This crossbreed is a mix between German shepherds and at least one other large breed dog — usually the Alaskan malamute, Great Pyrenees, or Akita. Mixing breeds can lead to a dog with fewer health problems, giving you the look of a GSD in a bigger, healthier package.

But, because they’re not purebred, king shepherds can’t compete in most dog shows, and you won’t be able to rely on the AKC’s breeder certification programs to help you choose a reputable breeder.

The king shepherd is also a significantly rarer breed than the German shepherd, which can lead to long waitlists for king shepherd puppies. But whichever breed you choose, your new family member will be worth the wait.

To learn more about your favorite breeds, visit the Native Pet blog.
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