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Australian Shepherd vs. German Shepherd: Breed Differences & Similarities

Considering the German Shepherd or the Australian Shepherd for your next dog? These two breeds are very different from one another but do share a few similarities. Find out what you can expect when you adopt either of these herding dogs.

Kelly Wilson

Last Updated: May 17, 2021 | 10 min read

Australian Shepherd vs German Shepherd

If you’re comparing the Australian Shepherd vs. German Shepherd for your next four-legged friend, you’ve come to the right place. These dogs both have the word “shepherd” in their name, but they’re far from the same.

Though both breeds were bred to be herding animals, their appearance, size, and needs differ. While there are some similarities with their behavioral traits, everything else about them is quite different. Learning about both breeds will help you determine which breed is the right fit for your lifestyle.

Of course, if you’re simply curious about which one’s which, this article will help with that too! So without any further ado, let’s jump in and compare both of these famous herding dog breeds.

Breed Comparison

Australian Shepherd

  • Height 18-23 Inches
  • Weight 50-65 Pounds
  • Temperament Inquisitive, Intelligent, Obedient
  • Energy High Energy
  • Health Average
  • Lifespan 12-15 Years
  • Puppy Prices $1,000 and Up

German Shepherd

  • Height 23-25 Inches
  • Weight 60-75 Pounds
  • Temperament Obedient, Intelligent, Loyal
  • Energy High Energy
  • Health Average
  • Lifespan 7-10 Years
  • Puppy Prices $1,000-$2,500

Breed History

The similarities and differences between these two breeds start with their history. Both of these two pups fall into the herding class. They were created and bred for very specific purposes. Learning where they came from and why they were created will help you understand what these pups are bred to do, and better yet, what they’ll be like as both pets and companions.

Australian Shepherd

Brown and White Colored Dog Outdoors
The Aussie originates from the European steppes of Basque.

Also known as Aussies, the Australian Shepherd descends from the Pyrenean Shepherd, which is a herding dog still in use today in the Pyrenees Mountains. There, Basque shepherds used the dogs to move flocks of sheep through the valleys and hillsides.

Sometime in the early 1800s, many Basque shepherds began to sail to Australia. Of course, they brought their precious herding dogs with them. Australia was a supposed paradise for sheep raising, and the Basque Shepherd’s saw it as a new frontier.

When they arrived, they began to interbreed the Pyrenean Shepherds with the Australian Collie. It wasn’t long after that, though, that the Basque Shepherd’s again chose to set sail. This time, they found green pastures in sunny California.

Mistaking the Pyrenean Shepherd and Collie mixes for a unique Australian breed, local California cowboys and ranchers gave the dogs the name we know them by today: Australian Shepherds.

The cowboys and cattle ranchers found Aussies well-suited to life in the wild west. Australian Shepherds love work, and California ranchers had plenty of it.

Even today, ranchers and cattle raisers rely on Australian Shepherds. But the dogs are suitable for other occupations too. You’ll see Aussies work as drug detectors, therapy dogs, and search and rescue canines worldwide.

German Shepherd

Black and Tan Dog Laying Outdoors
German Shepherds are most often seen as family companions and as law enforcement or military dogs.

Just like Australian Shepherds, German Shepherds have a long history of herding. But, rather than the Pyrenees Mountains, these dogs descend from various regions of Germany.

Initially, each district of Germany had its own distinct herding dog, each one slightly different in appearance, temperament, and ability. In the 1800s, though, a German cavalry officer named Captain Max von Stephanitz made it his mission to breed the perfect German herding dog.

He collaborated with several dog breeders throughout north and central Germany. Together, they began cross-breeding shepherds for ideal traits. After about 35 years, the German Shepherd we know and recognize today was born.

The breed became popular in America in the early 1900s by earning a roll on the silver screen. Rin Tin Tin, an orphaned pup who became a silent film star, was so loved that legend claims he had the votes to win Best Actor at the inaugural Academy Awards in 1929.

Ultimately the academy thought giving the award to a dog could make the entire ceremony seem less than serious, so Rin Tin Tin did not officially win. Nonetheless, the breed retained popularity in the US up until the 1940s.

Unfortunately, anti-German sentiment during WW2 meant these dogs became less desirable in allied countries for a time. To combat this, the British began referring to the dogs as Alsatian Shepherds, a name still sometimes heard today. German Shepherds also differ by their regional makeup, with both American and European breeding lines.

Nowadays, with less need for sheep herding, German Shepherds are the top pick for K9 law enforcement units. Their speed, agility, and stealth allow them to excel as police dogs.

Appearance

Two Long Coated Dogs Playing in Snow
Both dog breeds have long, fluffy coats but differ in overall size.

Though they’re both herding dogs, it’s easy to tell the breeds apart. To start, their coats are very different. Australian Shepherds have straight or wavy coats of moderate length. They often have a merle, or mottled pattern, with contrasting shades of reds and blues.

German Shepherds have a straight, dense outer coat that’s often wiry to the touch. They have dark muzzles and dark coloring on their ears and back. They can have longer coats, or coats of medium length. They also have differing coat colors, with black and tan being the most common. Other coat colors include all black, blue, sable, and the often controversial white.

Because of their more dense coats, German Shepherds also excel in colder climates, whereas Aussies are typically more suited to temperate weather.

In terms of size, German Shepherds often stand slightly taller than Australian Shepherds, and they tend to weigh significantly more, too.

While the height difference is only about 2-3 inches on average, the weight difference can be upwards of 10-15 lbs. German Shepherds tend to weigh 60-75 lbs, while Aussies tend to be between 50 and 65 lbs.

The difference in weight may be a critical factor in determining which dog is right for your family. Overall though, both breeds are gorgeous with muscular bodies, alert eyes, and beautiful coats.

Temperament

Two Working Dogs Looking at Camera
Both breeds have an intense amount of energy and are from the herding class.

When it comes to temperament, these breeds are remarkably similar. As herding dogs, both Australian Shepherds and German Shepherds want to work! Luckily, both are great obedience students as well.

Aussies are known for being inquisitive, intelligent, and agile. So, it’s not just a matter of teaching them “Sit” and “Stay.” You also have to teach them boundaries.

It’s not uncommon for Australian Shepherds to see something they want to chase on the other side of a fence. Once they spot it, they’ll spend hours or days figuring out how to get over, under, or through the fence, unless you’ve taught them not to.

This type of unbridled energy and relentless need to solve problems can be cumbersome for some pet owners. It’s important to know that you’ll need to spend a lot of time exercising and training with Australian Shepherds.

German Shepherds are much the same. They’re also high-energy, super-smart pups that need lots of attention and do best when there’s a job to tackle. They are also known for being steadfast and loyal to their owners. They’re often kept as guard dogs and used for defense.

However, there’s a certain aloofness inherent to the breed that makes them less than ideal for some families. They often don’t take well to outsiders in the house or around their people. So if your family likes to entertain, a German Shepherd might not be the best fit.

Exercise

Two Long Haired Dogs Running in Snow
Expect to spend at least 60 minutes a day exercising both breeds.

Both dog breeds need a lot of exercise. As herding dogs, they do best when they have access to large yards to run around.

Australian Shepherds need approximately two hours of exercise a day. That doesn’t mean you have to run with them. As long as you have a large, fenced-in yard, they’ll happily entertain themselves running around it.

They’re also excellent on hikes, and when trained too, will run alongside their owners with ease. They do best, though, when given a job. Ausies tend to dominate canine agility competitions. Training them to compete is a common way to bond with your dog while keeping them entertained.

German Shepherds also need regular exercise. As highly intelligent dogs, they do well with tracking and agility competitions. But, they tend to become destructive when they don’t receive daily exercise. So, you need to ensure you have time to devote to play with the dog each day.

In truth, you won’t want to invest in either breed if you don’t have the time or energy to devote to daily exercise. But, if you already enjoy an active lifestyle, either breed would make an excellent companion.

Training

Two Dogs Laying Down During Training Sessions
Both breeds are very intelligent and pick up on new commands very quickly.

Both dog breeds are very smart, making them easy to train. They’re brilliant dogs who enjoy learning new commands, solving puzzles, and completing tasks. It’s worth noting that both dogs can have a stubborn streak, so you’ll need to be firm and direct during training sessions.

Because both breeds are high energy, training is crucial. It’s best to begin obedience school early on, and you’ll need to be consistent. In fact, both dog breeds tend to end up in shelters when owners skip obedience training. That’s because, if not trained, these breeds tend to be destructive.

Because of their destructive nature, we recommend using a dog crate early on, especially when house training your pup. Crate training has many benefits and can make your dog feel more secure. German Shepherds usually do best in a large dog crate that’s 42 inches in length, whereas Aussies can fit into a smaller crate, usually one that’s 36 inches in length.

Both breeds are eager to please, though. So as long as you’re willing to commit to training your four-legged friend, you shouldn’t have a problem with destructive habits.

Health

Two Long Haired Healthy Dogs Exercising in Snow
Both dogs are considered fairly healthy, with the German Shepherd having a shorter lifespan.

Both of these breeds are generally healthy breeds. Aussies do tend to live longer, up to 15 years. In comparison, German Shepherds live up to 10 years, on average.

Like many purebred dogs, both breeds are prone to joint problems like hip dysplasia. Aussies are also prone to cataracts and certain forms of cancer.

Reputable breeders won’t breed a dog with cancer in their lineage, though. So, buying from a reputable source should limit your Australian Shepherd’s risk of developing the disease.

German Shepherds are prone to a condition called bloat. Though it sounds benign, bloat is a sudden and life-threatening swelling in your dog’s abdomen that requires immediate veterinary care. They are also prone to hip condition due to their gait and legs that look slightly bent. This can wear on them over time and can be more accentuated by poor breeding habits.

With quality nutrition, daily exercise, and good breeder screening, most of the health problems seen in either breed can be avoided or minimized. Make sure you purchase your pet from a respectable breeder and that you’re ready for the energy commitment these dogs require, and you should be fine!

Nutrition

Two Dogs Eating Age Appropriate Dog Food
Both dog breeds should eat a high-quality kibble reinforced with glucosamine for joint health.

Given that both these breeds are high-energy, work-happy dogs, quality nutrition is vital to ensuring they have a long and healthy life. You’ll want to make sure you have them eating a high quality dry kibble that’s rich in Omega fatty acids and glucosamine to support their joints.

Australian Shepherds do best with a diet high in omega fatty acids and vitamin E to maintain their luxurious coat. They are also prone to hip problems later in life, so a glucosamine rich formula can help. Aussies will typically eat around 1.5 to 3 cups of dog food per day depending on their size and activity level. Aussies need 1400 calories as a maximum.

German Shepherds do best with a diet free of grains or gluten. Many within the breed are allergic or gluten sensitive, and it’s likely your vet will recommend a grain-free food.

When considering either breed as a pet, it’s crucial to consider the cost of kibble. German Shepherds need between 1700 and 2400 calories a day, depending on their activity level. Adults will eat anywhere from 2 to 4 cups of German Shepherd appropriate dog food per day. German Shepherd puppies should be fed a large-breed puppy formula to help their more rapid growth rates when young.

Grooming

Two Dogs With Grooming Brushes in Their Mouth
Both dog breeds will need to be groomed regularly to manage their double coats.

When it comes to grooming, both breeds vary in their needs. Australian Shepherds only need to be brushed once a week and require infrequent baths.

It’s worth noting that Aussies do shed seasonally, though. During shedding season, an undercoat rake used every few days can help you eliminate excess dead hair. They also require regular teeth brushing and ear cleaning to prevent wax buildup.

German Shepherds require a quick brush every few days to remove dead hair as they regularly shed. They also shed more profusely, up to two times per year, which will mean hair all over the house!

Baths, though, are only needed every few weeks unless they get overly dirty during work or play.

It’s important for both breeds to file their nails if not worn down from play and activity. Long nails can cause pain to your pup when running, and both these breeds love to run!

Puppy Prices

Two Small Furry Puppies Looking at Camera
Expect to pay around $1,000 and up for a purebred puppy of either dog breed.

Purebred puppies of both breeds cost about the same, depending on the breeder. Sometimes, German Shepherds cost a little more due to their lineage and popularity as defense dogs. They can also fetch a higher price tag based on them having some distinguishing features, like rarer coat colors.

Though it will cost more, buying from a reputable breeder is crucial. Only a reputable breeder will screen for things like cancer, hip dysplasia, and other health concerns that come with breeding both dogs.

You can typically expect to pay around $1,000 and up for purebred puppies of both breeds. The German Shepherd can fetch a price tag as high as $5,000 or more for a dog from a championship line. Aussies are typically a little less, at around $3,500.

Final Thoughts

And there you have it — a full rundown of the Australian Shepherd vs. German Shepherd! Both of these energetic, super-smart dogs will make loyal companions. Deciding which one is best for you and your lifestyle is a matter of personal taste.

Maybe you want the slightly smaller, merle-coated Aussie, whose boundless energy and need to please is sure to make a fun addition to the family.

Or, perhaps you’re seeking a steadfast and loyal guardian like the German Shepherd. With his majestic form and sharp intelligence, he’s sure to keep you safe while turning a few heads at the park!

As long as you’re sure you can meet these dogs’ daily training demands and exercise needs, either breed makes for a perfect pet!

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