The most significant differences between a German Shepherd vs Pitbull are:
Their origins – GSDs have a long working history, and as a result they are often easier to train.
Restrictions on ownership – due to an insalubrious previous career as fighting dogs, many regions still prohibit Pitbulls.
Grooming – the GSD’s long coat requires more upkeep than any of the Pitbull types.
Choosing Between a German Shepherd vs Pitbull
These two well-known dog breeds have massive reputations, but how do they compare against one another?
The German Shepherd is a very popular breed, but both of these breeds have had controversy surrounding them in the past.
In this article, we will be covering everything from temperament to health issues in these two breeds to find out once and for all which is the better breed as a family dog.
So let’s see what we can find out!
German Shepherd vs Pitbull History
A good starting point in comparing these breeds is to look at their respective backgrounds.
It can give us a great idea of what we can potentially expect to see in the modern dogs.
History of the German Shepherd
The German Shepherd traces its ancestry back to late 19th century Germany.
Back then, there were many different forms of herding dog that varied across Germany’s districts.
A German Cavalry Officer known as Captain Max von Stephanitz decided to cross some of these breeds in an attempt to create the perfect herding dog.
After some years, Stephanitz succeeded in developing an incredibly intelligent dog that not only excelled in herding but many other disciplines.
They were named the German Shepherd, and they were the first of the modern breed we know well today.
Nowadays, the German Shepherd is commonly used by both police and military forces.
However, the breed also finds itself as a very popular companion dog.
History of the Pitbull
As for the Pitbull, it’s important to realize that the term refers to a few different breeds.
What breeds fall under the Pitbull name is subject to some debate, but most agree that the American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, and Staffordshire Bull Terrier all fit into this category.
While each Pitbull breed has their own history, they each share an unfortunate background of being forced to take part in blood sports.
They were bred to fight other dogs, or in some cases, larger animals such as bears.
Spectators would bet on the outcome.
This cruel practice was outlawed across Britain in the mid-18th century, however, it wasn’t until 1976 that dog fighting was outlawed across all states in America.
Despite their brutal past, Pitbulls find themselves leading fulfilling lives as companion dogs with the right loving owners.
German Shepherd vs Pitbull Appearance
German Shepherds and Pitbulls are significantly different breeds when it comes to their physical appearance.
However, there are some similarities, such as the fact that they are both very well-built and strong dogs.
Let’s look further and see how they compare.
Height and Weight
The German Shepherd commonly reaches heights of 22–26 inches.
A healthy specimen of the breed should weigh around 50–95 pounds.
As for Pitbulls, it can vary depending on which particular breed you are looking at.
On one end of the scale, the Staffordshire Bull Terrier has an average height of 14–16 inches and an average weight of 24–38 pounds.
At the other end, American Pit Bull Terriers reach sizes closer to the German Shepherd: 17–21 inches.
However, they weigh significantly less, with an average weight of 30–60 pounds.
As for the physical characteristics of each breed, the German Shepherd should have a black facemask, erect triangular ears, and a bushy tail that is set rather low with a slight curve.
Pitbulls will vary by breed, but they all share some traits, namely, a square head and stocky body.
They should have a deep, broad chest and a muscular neck.
There is a significant difference in the coats of these two breeds.
German Shepherds should have a double coat.
Their outer coat should be very dense and coarse with straight or slightly wavy hair.
In most cases, their coat will be medium length and lie close to the body.
However, shorter and longer haired German Shepherds are also possible, albeit more uncommon.
Pitbulls commonly have very short coats that are very close to the skin.
Their hair may be stiff or smooth to the touch.
As for what colors you may expect in either breed, both have a large number of possibilities!
The most common colors seen in the German Shepherd include:
- Black and tan
- Red and black
- Black and silver
In the various Pitbull breeds, you can expect to commonly see the following coat colors:
Pitbulls commonly have white patches on their chest, legs, and face alongside these base colors.
German Shepherd vs Pitbull Temperament
The temperament and personality of the German Shepherd and the Pitbull is something many are concerned about.
This is due to the fears that these two breeds may be aggressive and, therefore, dangerous dogs.
But how true is this?
Is either breed truly dangerous?
Let’s take a detailed look.
Aggression: The Stats
In two studies from the 1970s, German Shepherds were second only to mixed breed dogs as the breed most often reported as being involved in bite attacks on humans.
However, a 1991 review of those studies explains why ranking dog bite statistics by breed is not straightforward.
First, German Shepherds might be responsible for a large proportion of bites simply because a large proportion of dogs are German Shepherds.
German Shepherds have consistently ranked among the most popular dog breeds for decades, and if only 0.1% of GSDs are involved in bite attacks in one year, that’s still a lot of dogs.
If in the same year, 0.1% of the little-known Otterhound breed bite someone, the number of bites would be far smaller.
But it’s impossible to fully flesh out dog bite statistics with this kind of information, so we never get the full picture.
Second, because they are so well known, witnesses and victims might misidentify other black and tan dogs as German Shepherds.
Nonetheless, both the Pitbull and the German Shepherd have been involved in bite attacks that have caused severe injuries.
It was also found that 42% of dog-bite-related fatalities in the years 1979–1988 were reported to be Pitbulls, while German Shepherds made up 15% of the total number.
Again, we’re missing lots of information here, but what we can see is that Pitbulls are significantly more dangerous when they do attack and are linked with higher morbidity rates.
This is likely because Pitbulls have incredibly strong jaw muscles and bite with extraordinary force.
Due to this, the Pitbull is actually banned or under strict conditions in many countries due to concerns over its aggression.
Is Either Breed Inherently Aggressive?
Now that we have seen the stats, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that these breeds have the potential to be aggressive and dangerous.
But does this mean that every member of each breed is an aggressive dog?
Far from it.
The breed of any given dog is but one indicator of potential aggression.
There are many more factors at play, some of which could arguably play a much more important role in the development of aggression.
The environment a dog grows up in, how they are cared for, their training or lack thereof, all can have a huge effect on a dog’s personality as it matures.
There are plenty of Pitbulls who are lovely, friendly dogs despite their notorious reputation.
Likewise, many German Shepherds are loving, affectionate dogs.
Of course, you should not discount the fact that these dogs have the potential to be dangerous.
You must take as much care as possible to buy the breed from a good breeder and train them as thoroughly as possible while they are still young.
Both breeds may not make for a good choice for families with particularly young members, due to the potential risks.
But at the end of the day, both breeds contain lovely dogs who have never shown an ounce of aggression.
They deserve a chance, as much as any other dog.
Other Potential Temperament Issues
Both breeds can be aloof with strangers, so they require careful socialization from a young age to ensure they grow up to be polite and friendly dogs.
The German Shepherd and the Pitbull may also take part in destructive behaviors when they are bored.
They can also tend to be very exuberant when young.
It’s important to keep them properly exercised and mentally stimulated every day. Check out this article on good toys for dogs with strong jaws that like to chew.
The Pitbull has a strong mind of its own and will require a knowledgeable owner to keep them under control.
Since Pitbulls were used for dog fights, they are more likely than German Shepherds to display aggression toward other dogs.
Which Breed Is Better?
So which breed is the better fit for families, based on their temperament?
We would say the German Shepherd is best for most families.
They are easier to control and noticeably less dangerous than some Pitbulls.
Additionally, they are free from much of the dangerous dog legislation that affects the Pitbull.
However, this doesn’t mean the Pitbull is a lost cause, but they might be better suited to an experienced owner who is willing to put in the extra time to raise them.
German Shepherd vs Pitbull Training
Thorough training from a young age is key to ensure that both the German Shepherd and the Pitbull mature into well-behaved adults.
Socialization is important to ensure that the natural wariness toward strangers that both breeds possess does not develop into negative traits such as aggression.
Obedience training is key to keeping these powerful breeds well behaved.
As for which of the two breeds is easier to train, that accolade goes to the German Shepherd!
They are eager to please their owners and pick up new commands quickly.
If you require help in training your German Shepherd or Pitbull, check out our guides on the topic below!
German Shepherd vs Pitbull Exercise
Both the German Shepherd and the Pitbull are energetic dogs that require a good amount of exercise daily to stay fit and happy.
A good-sized daily walk and some outdoor play in a safely fenced area is usually enough for both breeds.
However, it’s important to be careful when they are still puppies, especially in the case of the German Shepherd.
While they are still developing, it is a good idea to avoid strenuous exercise, as it can damage their growing joints.
Keep this in mind, and keep their walks and play sessions shorter while they are still maturing.
German Shepherd vs Pitbull Health
Unfortunately, both the German Shepherd and the Pitbull are at risk for serious health conditions.
Before you choose either breed over the other, you must take into consideration the health risks each breed faces.
The Health Problems of Both Breeds
In the case of the German Shepherd, health conditions prevalent within the breed include:
- Hip and elbow dysplasia
- Degenerative myelopathy
As for the Pitbull, it depends on what breed you are looking at.
The American Pitbull Terrier is at an elevated risk for hip dysplasia, retinal dysplasia, and congenital heart disease.
The Staffordshire Bull Terrier is at risk for hereditary cataracts, elbow dysplasia, and a genetic condition known as L2HGA which can cause dementia, seizures, and wobbly walking.
Finally, the American Staffordshire Terrier can run into problems with hypothyroidism, cranial cruciate ligament disease, and cerebellar degeneration.
Which Breed Is Healthier?
As you can see, both are at risk for severe health conditions.
It’s important to note that the German Shepherd is at a much higher risk of joint problems than the Pitbull.
They also have a much shorter lifespan with an average life expectancy of 7–10 years, much lower than the Pitbull’s average lifespan of 12–14 years.
A study that looked into the mortality of various breeds in a dataset containing over 350,000 dogs.
It was found that the German Shepherd had a significantly higher percentage of mortality when compared with other purebred breeds.
This could be due to bad breeding practices, leading to a much higher rate of serious health problems.
For this reason, we would say that the Pitbull is the healthier breed.
However, they are not without their own problems.
Regardless, many of the conditions outlined above have a genetic basis.
Therefore, it is very important that you purchase any puppies of either breed from trustworthy breeders.
When it comes to grooming, the Pitbull is usually very easy to deal with due to their short coats.
A simple brush each week usually serves them well enough!
However, German Shepherds tend to have longer coats.
Not only that, they are notorious shedders!
Most of the time, they will require a brush two to three times a week, but this may become a daily affair during shedding seasons.
Keep in mind that proper grooming extends to their nails and teeth too!
Both breeds need regular trimming of the nails and brushing of the teeth.
The Pitbull is definitely the easier breed of the two to groom.
As for feeding, both breeds do well on high-quality dog food.
Be sure to work with your veterinarian to ensure your German Shepherd or Pitbull is receiving all the nutrients it needs.
Which Breed Makes a Better Pet?
So at the end of it all, which breed is the better pet?
Unfortunately, there is no straight answer when it comes to these two breeds.
It comes down to what you are looking for in a family dog.
The German Shepherd is the easier to control of the two.
On top of this, they are more easily trained and obedient.
However, the Pitbull is the healthier of the two breeds and has a coat that is much easier to maintain than the German Shepherd.
We would say that the Pitbull makes a better choice for families who are looking for a smaller, easier-maintained dog.
Owners will need to be in an area that allows them to be kept and have some experience handling strong-willed breeds.
German Shepherds make a better fit for families who are less experienced and are looking for a more easily trained breed.
They should have space for a large dog in their home and be prepared to take a lot of time and care searching for a healthy line of this breed.
Which breed do you prefer?
Do you have anything to add?
Let us know below!
References and Resources
Battaglia, CL, Bloat and the Risk Factors Breeding Better Dogs
Hedhammar, A, et al, Canine hip dysplasia: study of heritability in 401 litters of German Shepherd dogs Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 1979
Remy, D, et al, Canine elbow dysplasia and primary lesions in German Shepherd dogs in France Journal of Small Animal Practice, 2006
Clemmons, RM, Degenerative myelopathy The Veterinary Clinics of North America. Small Animal Practice, 1992
Battaglia, CL, Bloat and the Risk Factors Breeding Better Dogs
Beaver. BV, Clinical classification of canine aggression Applied Animal Ethology, 1983
Wright, J, Canine aggression toward people. Bite scenarios and prevention Veterinary Clinics of North America Small Animal Practice, 1991
Bini, JK, et al, Mortality, Mauling, and Maiming by Vicious Dogs Annals of Surgery, 2011
Baack, BR, et al, Mauling by pit bull terriers: case report The Journal of Trauma, 1989
Gough, A, et al, Breed Predispositions to Disease in Dogs and Cats John Wiley & Sons, 2018
References and Resources Continued
Rodarte-Almeida, ACV, et al, Retinal dysplasia in American pit bull terriers – phenotypic characterization and breeding study Veterinary Ophthalmology, 2014
Oliveira, P, et al, Retrospective Review of Congenital Heart Disease in 976 Dogs Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, 2011
Ackerman, LJ, The Genetic Connection: A Guide to Health Problems in Purebred Dogs American Animal Hospital Association, 2011
Bell, J, et al, Veterinary Medical Guide to Dog and Cat Breeds CRC Press, 2012
Witsberger, TH, et al, Prevalence and risk factors for hip dysplasia and cranial cruciate ligament deficiency in dogs Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 2008
Boge, GS, et al, Breed susceptibility for common surgically treated orthopaedic diseases in 12 dog breeds Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica, 2019
Short, AD, et al, Exonic mutations in the L2HGDH gene in Staffordshire bull terriers The Veterinary Record, 2010
Olby, N, et al, Cerebellar Cortical Degeneration in Adult American Staffordshire Terriers Journal of Veterinary Medical Internal Medicine, 2008
Bonnett, BN, et al, Mortality in over 350,000 Insured Swedish dogs from 1995-2000: 1. Breed, Gender, Age and Cause-specific Rates Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica, 2005