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Old German Shepherd Dog Breed Guide: Pictures, Info, Traits & Care

Written by: Nicole Cosgrove

Last Updated on July 9, 2024 by Dogster Team

german shepherd dogs resting in the yard

Old German Shepherd Dog Breed Guide: Pictures, Info, Traits & Care

Breed Overview


20–25 inches


48–85 pounds


9–13 years


Black, brown, tan, or grey

Suitable for:

Families, farm work, guard work


Intelligent, loyal, alert, independent, protective

The Old German Shepherd Dog is the ancestor of the Standard German Shepherd (GSD), a dog that was not included in the strict breeding program of the modern GSD. They closely resemble a Long-Haired GSD, and since they are so similar in many ways, they are often referred to as such. These dogs have been used by German farmers for centuries and are bred mostly as diligent working dogs for herding, but they are often kept as family and companion animals too.

There is a great deal of confusion around the breed—Old German Shepherd Dogs are not just elderly GSDs—and there is more to them than just a longer coat too. We’re here to clear up some of the confusion and demystify this rare and beautiful breed!

Old German Shepherd Dog Characteristics

High-energy dogs will need a lot of mental and physical stimulation to stay happy and healthy, while low-energy dogs require minimal physical activity. It’s important when choosing a dog to make sure their energy levels match your lifestyle or vice versa.
Easy-to-train dogs are more skilled at learning prompts and actions quickly with minimal training. Dogs that are harder to train will require a bit more patience and practice.
Some breeds, due to their size or their breeds potential genetic health issues, have shorter lifespans than others. Proper exercise, nutrition, and hygiene also play an important role in the lifespan of your pet.
Some dog breeds are prone to certain genetic health problems, and some more than others. This doesn’t mean that every dog will have these issues, but they have an increased risk, so it’s important to understand and prepare for any additional needs they may require.
Some dog breeds are more social than others, both towards humans and other dogs. More social dogs have a tendency to run up to strangers for pets and scratches, while less social dogs shy away and are more cautious, even potentially aggressive. No matter the breed, it’s important to socialize your dog and expose them to lots of different situations.

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Since there is no real breeding standard for Old German Shepherd Dogs, the appearance of these puppies can vary fairly widely among individuals, and they are much less uniform in appearance than standard GSDs. Indeed, most breeders of these dogs focus on capability rather than appearance. Their ability to herd has long been the most important factor.

Luckily, this effort on breeding based on ability rather than appearance has made the breed less predisposed to some of the health conditions suffered by modern GSDs. Where it gets confusing is that many breeders will simply classify any long-haired GSD as an Old German Shepherd Dog, but this is not entirely accurate. If you want to bring home a true Old German Shepherd Dog puppy, you’ll need to find a reputable breeder who can confirm with certainty that you are not simply buying a long-haired GSD.

It’s important to remember that these dogs are working animals and have long been bred as such. This means that they will not simply be content with a stroll around the neighborhood once a day and need far more exercise than even standard GSDs.

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Temperament & Intelligence of the Old German Shepherd Dog 🧠

The temperament of the Old German Shepherd Dog can be closely compared with that of the modern GSD, and in this way, the two are similar. The Old German Shepherd Dog is said to be friendlier and more balanced in personality, although this depends on the individual dog.

The Old German Shepherd is a hard-working, reliable, and loyal dog that is seemingly constantly on the alert and makes an excellent watchdog. They are also highly independent, a wonderful trait for a working and herding dog to have, but it can present challenges in a more urban setting.

These dogs form powerful bonds with their owners and are supremely loyal, with a protective nature that is unwavering and may even be problematic at times. This can be largely mitigated with proper socialization and training, but you’d still be hard-pressed to find a more loyal and protective pooch.

Are These Dogs Good for Families? 👪

The Old German Shepherd Dog is said to be more mellow, calmer, and easy-going than their modern cousin, which makes them perfect for families. They have a higher threshold for irritation and are said to be much harder to upset, but they should still not be left unsupervised with young children. Still, they make excellent playmates and supreme protectors for families.

Does This Breed Get Along with Other Pets? 🐶 😽 

The Old German Shepherd Dog has a powerful prey drive and hunting instinct, a trait that they can keep in check with small children but may have a harder time with a smaller dog, cat, or small pet. The key to keeping this prey drive in check is to introduce them at as young an age as possible and to make socialization a priority early.

Proper training is also essential, and since Old German Shepherd Dogs are so loyal and eager to please their owners, this may overshadow their instinct for chasing!

divider-dog pawThings to Know When Owning an Old German Shepherd Dog

Food & Diet Requirements 🦴

The correct amount of food to feed your Old German Shepherd Dog will depend on their size, activity levels, and age. Since these dogs can vary in size, especially as they are growing, you’ll need to adjust their food accordingly. As a general rule, 2–3 cups of dry kibble a day is ideal for puppies and 4–5 cups for adults.

Try to give them the best quality dry food that you can, with meat listed in the top three ingredients—preferably the first—and make sure the food is tailored to your dog’s age. Puppies have different nutritional needs than adults and thus, will need food tailored specifically for them.

It’s important to split your dog’s meals into two or even three portions, as GSDs are prone to bloat or gastric torsion if they eat too much too quickly. You may also consider using a specially designed bowl to help with fast eating, as this condition can be fatal.

german shepherd eating out of a dog bowl
Photo By: annabelle l, Shutterstock

Exercise 🐕

Old German Shepherd Dogs have similar exercise requirements as modern GSDs. They are a similar size, although they tend to be a fair bit more active due to their herding heritage and may need a bit more physical stimulation than modern GSDs. Your Old German Shepherd will need daily exercise to stay happy and healthy. Without it, they can get bored and develop worrisome habits, including chewing, barking, and even aggression.

As a general rule, your Old German Shepherd will need at least 2 hours of exercise per day, although more is better! Just be mindful with younger GSDs, though, as over-exercise while they are still growing can cause harm to their joints. No matter the method of exercise that you choose for your pooch, they will certainly love it! German Shepherds are always up for running, leisurely walks, hiking, or simply playing in the backyard with a ball. All of these are ideal ways to exercise your pooch and bond with them.

Training 🎾

Known for being one of the smartest dogs on the planet, Old German Shepherds are typically a breeze to train, but it does take consistency and dedication on your side. You should begin training as early as possible, as the first year or so of your puppy’s life is critical for preventing them from developing bad habits, and you should focus on teaching them good ones early.

You can begin basic command training from the day that you bring your GSD home, as well as socialization—an often overlooked aspect of good training.

One of the most important differences between Old German Shepherds and standard GSDs is their independent and sometimes stubborn nature. While Old German Shepherds are intelligent and eager to please, they do have a stubborn streak inherited from their herding origins that can be challenging during training. The key to overcoming this is consistency, a firm, “pack leader” mentality, and a reward-based training method.

This method of rewarding good behavior and ignoring bad behavior is ideal for GSDs, and with their supreme intelligence, you’ll be surprised how quickly they can learn.

Grooming ✂️

Since Old German Shepherd Dogs have longer coats than modern GSDs, you will need to brush them daily or at least every other day. These dogs shed plenty of hair all year round, and without regular brushing, it will end up all over your home. It also tends to clump and knot into a swiftly unmanageable state. These dogs will not need to be bathed unless they get full of sticky mud, and even then, a spray with clean, warm water will be sufficient—plus, they’ll love it!

They’ll also need regular teeth brushing—at least once a week—to prevent dental disease, and nail clipping every 6–8 weeks if necessary.

Health and Conditions 🏥

Since Old German Shepherd Dog are somewhat rare, not much is known about the genetic health of these dogs, although it is widely believed that they do not suffer from the same inherited conditions of their modern cousins because they were not selectively bred for appearance and due to the lack of inbreeding for profit that has befallen GSDs.

They are the ancestor of the German Shepherd, though, so they may suffer from a few similar conditions, albeit far less frequently.

Minor Conditions
  • Allergies
  • Obesity
  • Colitis
Serious Conditions
  • Hip and elbow dysplasia
  • Degenerative myelopathy
  • Dilated cardiomyopathy
  • Bloat
  • Gastric torsion

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Male vs. Female

In general, male Old German Shepherd Dogs are slightly bigger and more heavy-set than females and can be rather territorial and less likely to get along with other males. Females are smaller and generally friendlier, although they are more independently minded and less needing of affection.

That said, it is important to remember that dogs are all individuals, and their personality is far more affected by their upbringing, environment, and training than their sex. Any minor differences in their personality are all the more mitigated by spaying and neutering, procedures that most experts recommend unless you intend on breeding.

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3 Little-Known Facts About the Old German Shepherd Dog

1. They are highly intelligent.

The standard GSD is widely considered the third most intelligent dog on the planet! This is according to the book “The Intelligence of Dogs” by neuropsychologist Stanley Coren, who assessed over 100 dog breeds. The top-ranked dog breeds were able to learn commands in five repetitions (or fewer) and obey them 95% of the time or better.

The GSD came third after the Border Collie and Poodle. Since the Old German Shepherd Dog is the ancestor of the modern GSD, they will likely have a similar intelligence ranking.

2. They are expert working dogs.

Old German Shepherd Dogs were originally bred for herding, and unlike standard GSDs, they are not bred for appearance, but rather their physical ability. The standard GSD is still one of the most renowned working dogs in the world and for good reason, but the Old German Shepherd Dog has been bred expressly for the purpose for centuries.

3. They are not an officially recognized breed.

The Old German Shepherd Dog is not officially recognized by the Fédération Cynologique Internationale nor the American Kennel Club but is instead considered merely as a GSD variant. The authenticity of these dogs as a separate breed is thus highly controversial, although breeders are working hard to have the Old German Shepherd Dog recognized and accepted as a separate breed.

These dogs are incredibly rare nowadays and may even be in real danger of extinction, so finding one in the United States is difficult.

Dogster_Website dividers_v1_Jan 18 2024-03 Final Thoughts

The Old German Shepherd Dog is a rare gem, and if you manage to find one, count yourself extremely lucky. These dogs have all the traits that you know and love from a modern GSD, with a slightly more easy-going temperament and a longer, luxurious coat.

Another important difference is the need for exercise. German Shepherds are active and energetic as it is, and Old German Shepherd Dogs are all the more so. These dogs have been bred and developed for hundreds of years for performance, not appearance, so they need a ton of regular exercise to keep them happy.

The German Shepherd is one of America’s favorite dogs for a variety of good reasons, and the Old German Shepherd Dog simply adds a few more. If you want a German Shepherd with a bit more energy, a slightly mellower disposition, and a gorgeous long coat, the Old German Shepherd Dog is an ideal choice!

See also:

Featured Photo Credit: Ivor Ilic, Pixabay

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