Are German Shepherds and Alsatians the same?

german shepherd laying on the grass

When you think about German Shepherds, a picture of a strong, intelligent, versatile dog probably pops into your head. But what about Alsatians? Although the names seem to suggest two different breeds, the truth might surprise you. The simple answer is, yes. German Shepherds and Alsatians are indeed the same breed.

This comprehensive guide will unravel this query and delve into the fascinating history, characteristics, and other crucial aspects of these dogs. Plus, discover why it's essential to have dog insurance for your furry friend.

A brief overview: German Shepherds and Alsatians

Before we dive into the depths of the debate, let's take a bird's eye view of the two breeds in question. German Shepherds are renowned for their intelligence, athleticism, and trainability.

They are medium to large-sized dogs, often breaching the 20-inch mark in height and weighing between 75 to 95 pounds when fully grown. They have a lifespan of 10-14 years and require regular exercise and mental stimulation.

On the other hand, the Alsatian breed, which might be unfamiliar to some, shares strikingly similar characteristics. They also fall within the medium to large size category, have comparable life expectancy, and require similar levels of exercise and mental stimulation.

Interestingly, the physical characteristics, temperament, and even health concerns are remarkably alike. Could this be a coincidence, or are German Shepherds and Alsatians the same dog?

The origin of the confusion: A historical perspective

To understand the confusion surrounding these breeds, we need to journey back in time to the era of World War I. During this period, both the Central Powers and the Allied Powers extensively used German Shepherds as military dogs or police dogs. These dogs, owing to their intelligence, loyalty, and obedience, were valuable assets on the battlefield.

However, the British forces, who were at war with Germany, were uncomfortable calling these dogs 'German Shepherds' due to the political implications. As a result, they coined a new name - 'Alsatian'.

This name originated from the Alsace-Lorraine area at the German-French border area, where the British forces had endured significant wartime experiences.

Alsatian vs. German Shepherd: Unravelling the mystery

In the aftermath of the World Wars, the British realised the impracticality of maintaining two names for the same breed. They reverted to using 'German Shepherd', effectively acknowledging that Alsatians and German Shepherds were indeed the same breed.

However, the dual nomenclature had already sown seeds of confusion, leading many people to believe that they were separate breeds. Even today, this misunderstanding persists, and the question "are German Shepherds and Alsatians the same breed" continues to be a common query.

Are German Shepherds and Alsatians the same breed?

The simple and definitive answer is, yes. German Shepherds and Alsatians are indeed the same breed. The contrasting names are a historical artifact rather than a reflection of breed diversity.

Regardless of the name used, these dogs share identical physical characteristics, temperament, and health concerns.

Why are Alsatians now called German Shepherds?

The intriguing story behind why Alsatians are now called German Shepherds dates back to the World War I era. The breed, originally known as the German Shepherd, was bred in Germany for herding and guarding sheep. However, during the World Wars, anti-German sentiment was at an all-time high, particularly in the UK and the US.

As a consequence, anything with "German" in its name faced prejudice and backlash. To save this magnificent breed from the repercussions of wartime animosity, the UK decided to change the name from German Shepherd to Alsatian, after the French-German border area of Alsace. This clever branding helped preserve the popularity of the breed during those turbulent times.

However, in 1977, it was decided to revert back to the original name - German Shepherd - to reflect its true heritage. This decision was primarily driven by breeders and enthusiasts who wished to acknowledge and honour the breed's origins. Thus, answering 'Why are Alsatians now called German Shepherds?' reveals a fascinating historical journey influenced by global events.

Today, both names are used interchangeably, but German Shepherd is more commonly used worldwide.

Dog Insurance Quote
  • 98% claims paid*
  • 24/7 vet video consultations
  • Claims paid directly to vet
  • Interest free monthly payments

About German Shepherds/Alsatians

Description and size

German Shepherd dogs, or Alsatians, are easily identifiable by their distinctive appearance. They typically stand between 21 to 26 inches tall, with males being slightly larger than females.

Their coats are dense and short, although some may inherit a long-haired trait. The colour of their coats varies, with brown, black and red being the most common. They also have black noses, brown eyes, and long, erect ears.


German Shepherds/Alsatians are known for their friendly and intelligent disposition. Their keen high intelligence makes them one of the easiest breeds to train. They are often used in the police force and by firefighters due to their high trainability and protective instincts.

Despite their amicable nature, they can become aggressive if not socialised properly. These dogs require a lot of exercise and mental stimulation to avoid boredom, which can lead to destructive behaviour.

Health and lifespan

German Shepherds/Alsatians have a lifespan of 10 to 14 years. However, they are prone to certain health conditions like Von Willebrand’s disease, degenerative myelopathy, and hip dysplasia. Regular check-ups and a healthy lifestyle can help manage these conditions and prolong their lifespan.

Debunking myths: Fun facts about Alsatian and German Shepherd dogs

Did you know that as puppies, Alsatian and German Shepherd dogs have floppy ears during teething? Or that there are about five German Shepherd varieties in the world?

Here are a few more fun facts about these versatile dogs:

  • The oldest German Shepherd lived for 18 years, with some unofficial reports claiming they can live up to 29 years
  • They benefit from socialising at an early age
  • During the 1920s and 1930s, a German Shepherd named Strongheart was the highest-grossing star in Hollywood

The American Alsatian: A different breed altogether

While German Shepherds and Alsatians are the same breed, there is a breed called the "American Alsatian" or "North American Shepalute". This different dog breed, created in the 1980s, has no relation to German Shepherds. Bred to resemble the extinct dire wolf dog, American Alsatians are large, intimidating dogs with sweet and loyal dispositions.

The importance of dog insurance

Whether you decide to adopt a German Shepherd or Alsatian (remember, they're the same!), it's crucial to consider German Shepherd dog insurance. It provides financial support for unexpected veterinary costs, protecting both your furry friend and your wallet. Visit our website to get a quote for your dog. For any queries, our dog insurance team is available at 0330 102 5748.


german shepherd smiling

So, to put the question to rest, German Shepherds and Alsatians are indeed the same breed of dog. The confusion arises from historical circumstances that led to the breed being known by two different names.

Regardless of what you choose to call them, these dogs are intelligent, loyal, and versatile, making them a beloved choice for many pet owners.

Pet Insurance Quote

  • 98% claims paid *
  • Claims paid directly to vets
  • 24/7 vet video consultations
  • Interest free monthly payments