German Shepherd Vs. Pit Bull: 6 Key Differences Explained

Written by Kaleigh Moore
Updated: September 19, 2023
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Key Points

  • German shepherds have cemented their place as guard dogs, while pitbull are friendlier.
  • One interesting similarity between these dogs is that both are tough yet loyal.
  • The two dog breeds are remarkable, versatile, sturdy, and reliable muscle dogs.

Right off the bat, German shepherds and pit bulls are pretty different. From physical features to their lineage, these two dog breeds would appeal to diverse owners. However, they do have a few similarities. But the million-dollar question is, why would you choose either of the dog breeds? 

German shepherds have cemented their place as guard dogs, while pitbull are friendlier. Also, the German shepherd’s intelligence and star power have been recognized in Hollywood. German shepherds are two of the three dogs with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

That’s a clear indicator of the German Shepherd’s versatility. But along with its lineage and heaps of praises, there’s the negative connotation with the Nazis and Adolf Hitler. He had a German shepherd called Blondi that tested his suicidal poison. At some point, the British voted to change its name to Atlassian.

On the other hand, the pitbull is a lovable and welcoming dog while quite protective of the family, especially if trained early. Let’s see the differences between these two versatile and sturdy dog breeds.

Breeds History

German Shepherd playing with blue ball

The German Shepherd’s origins date back to 1899.

©iStock.com/jentakespictures

German Shepherd

German shepherds originated from Germany in 1899 to help herd sheep. Essentially, they were developed to be working dogs like most dogs from that era. During the 1850s, breeders wanted to create a dog breed to protect sheep against predators while herding.

The German shepherd breeder wanted a dog with the following abilities: strength, agility, speed, and a high level of smell. Even though they were successful in breeding dogs with such characteristics, each locality had a diverse breed of dog. 

In response, the breeders formed the phylax to regulate the breeding of dogs in Germany. However, they disbanded three years later due to internal conflict. Max von Stephanitz, a member of the phylax, believed that dogs should be bred as working dogs.

During a visit to a dog show, he saw a new breed of dog which impressed him, so he bought it. Later, he registered Verein fĂĽr Deutsche Schäferhunde (the society for the German shepherd dog) with the specific dog as the first to be recorded. 

Stephanitz changed the dog’s name to Horand von Grafrath, the first German shepherd. Of course, years later, German shepherd dogs would be entangled with the Nazis and Hitler. For 50 years, the British changed its name but later went back to calling it the German shepherd dog.

Pitbull 

Pitbulls originated from England in the early 1800s and were bred from Old English bulldogs. Pitbulls have similarities with modern American bulldogs. They were developed as fighter dogs, and spectators would stake on them during match day. 

But this stopped in 1835 when the British parliament passed the animal cruelty law. The fights continued, however, clandestinely. “Pit” in Pitbull originated from the Brutal spirit of pitting a dog against a bull which later developed to placing rats in a pit against pit bulls after the animal cruelty act became law.

Ratting required an agile and fast dog. Bulldogs and terriers were bred together to form the first pit bull terrier. Breeders went to great lengths to create a dog that wouldn’t bite easily because the owners had to be within proximity as the ratting game went on.

Immigrants from the British Isles brought pit bulls to America after the Civil War. During that period, the pit bull terrier was named the American Pitbull Terrier.

German Shepherd Vs. Pit Bull: Physical Features

As far as size is concerned, the GSDs are slightly larger than the American Pit bull terrier. On average, adult pit bulls reach between 17 to 21 inches while they weigh between 30 to 65 pounds. German shepherds grow up to 26 inches and weigh between 50 to 95 pounds. 

The American pit bull will do well as a pooch if you compare the sizes. Because of its short hair, the pitbull seems more muscular than the GSDs. However, a German Shepherd’s long hair hides its muscles which play well in its professional protection duty. 

Interestingly, the German Shepherd coat is medium or long. In contrast, the coat color is limited to the easily recognizable black with a tan or the occasional all-black posture. Pitbulls are colorful and come in all colors, including red and any other color that would look great on a dog.

Pit bulls have broad wedged-shaped heads and thick necks. Drawing from their breeding ancestry, they were developed to fight. For that reason, the pitbull appears muscular and well-built. 

The pointed ears in a German shepherd dog are a distinguishing factor. They, too, have a wedged-shaped head, slender (unlike pit bulls) and slightly longer. Pitbulls have short ears.

What about the bite strength? A German shepherd packs a stronger bite of 238 psi, while a pitbull has a slightly lower bite strength of 235 psi. Pulling strength is one area in which the pitbull beats the GSDs. 

Even now, pit bulls dominate the pulling competition. Conversely, the GSDs are better built for agility than pulling. If you are walking your dogs, remember that these two beasts have enough strength to shake up your cores on a leash. As a precaution, you should train them on leash etiquette as puppies.

Temperaments

Red Nose Pit Bull in Front of Large Door

Both the Pit Bull and the German Shepherd are tough yet loyal.

©Maya K. Photography/Shutterstock.com

One interesting similarity between these dogs is that both are tough yet loyal. But the German shepherd typically follows the alpha in the pack, who could be the leader in your household. Think of the pitbull as an extroverted friend, pleasant and easygoing, especially among family members. 

Therefore, he can take cues from anyone they know within your home. German shepherds sometimes take their guard role too seriously and mistrust strangers. Their prey hunting could kick in faster than it would in pit bulls. The best solution is to train the dogs early to ensure they don’t harm children, pets, or visitors. 

If you are looking for a dog skilled in protection and security, the German shepherd beats pit bulls. However, you can also train the pitbull to fit In that role; otherwise, they look cute as your family’s best friend. The German Shepherd is ranked #3 among the most intelligent dogs. They can pick up new tricks in under five seconds. 

And they will follow orders 95% of the time. On this front, the American Pitbull is missing from the ranking, which could be because the American Kennel Club doesn’t recognize it. Nevertheless, its rank is lower than the German Shepherd when you examine the stats. 

For instance, the pit bull requires fifteen to twenty repetitions before they master a new trick. Still, they respond to an order 70% of the time. These dogs are quickly eager to please, which also runs into their trainability. They are easy to train.

Early socialization means training a pit bull to stay with other dogs because of its fear of aggression. The German Shepherd needs to be trained to let its guard down because not everyone is an aggressor.

These dogs require regular exercise, at least an hour a day. But the pit bull is more playful and energetic. You can spice up their exercise routine by adding more toys. Unlike the German Shepherds, the only shortcoming of pit bulls is that they are less independent. 

They tend to become restless and bored if they do not exercise enough. Because of their level of intelligence(above average), German shepherds’ bodies and minds need to be stimulated through interactive games.

What kind of games can you play with these dogs?

  • Jogging
  • Frisbee games
  • Brisk walks
  • Playing fetch 
  • Swimming in the lakes
  • Tug of war
  • Playing with water

Get creative with the games to keep your dogs engaged.

German Shepherd Vs. Pit Bull: Health 

Pit bulls have a longer lifespan, 12 to 16 years, while GSDs get 7 to 10 years. Health is a critical aspect of your pet dog because of the financial implications, and knowing about it gives you an idea of the time you’ll spend with your friend. While both dog breeds could potentially get hip dysplasia, the German shepherd is at risk of elbow dysplasia.

On the other hand, pit bulls are prone to grass allergies which can be controlled through proper medication. A neuro condition known as cerebellar Abiotrophy affects pit bulls. This condition makes them immobile. German shepherds could also be rendered immobile when affected by a condition known as Degenerative myelopathy. 

Degenerative myelopathy is a life-threatening condition that affects the spinal cord, explicitly immobilizing GSDs’ hind legs. German shepherds tend to have delicate digestive systems that require a lot of fiber to stabilize. 

Pitbulls are easily affected by knee problems because of their energetic personalities. Knee problems affect their hind legs and could hinder their movement. Hypothyroidism is another condition that affects the thyroid. Hypothyroidism’s effect is an excessive weight increase coupled with skin problems.

Nutrition

Pit bulls and German shepherds are muscular dogs, which means they need a high-protein diet. However, GSDs need a more significant meal portion than pitbull, which is understandably comparable to each dog size. A German shepherd Dog requires three to four cups of food daily, while a pit bull needs two and a half cups daily. 

Even so, a dog’s individuality is a factor you must consider when assessing your dog’s food intake. While all dogs go to heaven, they are not built equal. A high-protein diet helps to build muscles in the two dog breeds. More importantly, the proteins will help sustain the dog’s activity throughout the day. Feed them kibble that contains proteins between 25% and 30% for better results.  

German Sheperd Vs. Pit Bull: Grooming Needs

Pit bulls have a short coat, while the GSD is covered with a plush coat of a few colors. Therefore, different coat sizes require unique needs. The German shepherd has a double coat: a straight external coat and a wholly inner coat. GSDs will shed their coat daily while blowing off their inner coat at least twice a year. 

Grooming requires brushing their long hair a couple of times a week, at least three times. Pit bulls demand less grooming. Their short hair can do with at least one brushing a week, and they are easy to bathe.

Socialization And Living Environment 

Pit bull terrier

Socializing a pit bull helps with reputation, performance, and control of aggression.

©sobakabarobaka/Shutterstock.com

There are a few fundamental reasons why you should socialize with a pitbull:

  • Performance
  • Control aggression
  • Reputation

A pit bull exhibits athleticism, and with it comes risks. If not properly socialized, the dog might cause unimaginable damage. Remember, the dog still has wild tendencies. Its strength and speed can easily overpower humans, especially children, with much ease.

Most dogs are naturally aggressive toward other dogs. But with the proper training, this can be managed to ensure they don’t cause more trouble. With pit bulls, you must socialize them at a young age to achieve better results.

There’s a general misconception that the pit bull breed is aggressive and reinforcing. Socialize them when they are young. Again, ensure that you show them you are a firm leader. Your pitbull doesn’t need to be scared of you. Instead, it would be best if you taught them obedience. 

Take them to obedience class. Not only will obedience class help lead them, but it will also set boundaries. As a precaution, you shouldn’t punish your dog for bad behavior. Instead, communicate with your dog to highlight the wrong moves and emphasize the correct ones.

The ideal time to start socializing a German shepherd is 12 to 18 weeks. Because of their personality and functions, GSDs need high-level socialization to distinguish welcoming strangers from rogue ones easily. The intelligent GSDs will pick up on dangerous people with the correct exposure. Further, you can crate-train your puppy, which is a safe place to go independently. 

Consistent crate training will also help your puppy learn the house rules. According to experts, dogs should stay in a crate for no more than three hours. It’s also helpful to give them toys when they are in their crates so that they can pass time without feeling lonely.

The German shepherd dog has impressive work decorum. They respond positively to obedience training which goes with their temperaments and being obedient to the alphas in the home. Two other critical lessons include teaching your GSD how to recall and control impulses.

Which Breed Would You Choose For a German Shepherd Vs. a Pit Bull?

German Shepherd With Blue Eyes

There are many reasons why dog lovers would choose a German shepherd over a pit bull.

©Alan Malone/Shutterstock.com

For seasoned dog lovers, the choice is clear. And even for others, pop culture could easily influence their choice between the two dog breeds. The two dog breeds are remarkable, versatile, sturdy, and reliable muscle dogs. To a large extent, the German shepherd dog outperforms the pitbull. 

The GSD is significantly bigger, although slower, and lacks pull strength. Still, German shepherds have a more significant bite strength than pitbulls. On the other hand, if you are searching for a friendlier dog, easygoing with the kids, then pit bulls outshine GSD. 

While both of these dogs were bred as working and fighter dogs, It seems like the German shepherd stuck to its militarized lineage. Nonetheless, each of these dogs’ intelligence allows easy training and socialization. 

A German shepherd is more expensive than a pitbulls at $1250, while a pit bull costs $800. Regarding intelligence, German shepherds are ranked higher and will attract institutions that need proper security. Many myths about pit bulls are untrue; for instance, most people assume a pit bull is an aggressive dog. They are not if their aggression is managed with early puppy training.

While this is not a clear-cut head-to-head comparison of the two dog breeds, a GSD beats a pit bull. And the choice between the two would be determined by personal choices and preferences.

For example, some people would go for a pitbull over a German shepherd based on their facial features, temperaments, and other attributes. If you wish to pick one breed over another, this article has enough data to find the right one based on your needs.

What is a Pit Bull that Looks Like a German Shepherd?

Pitbull and German Shepherd mix, German Sheppit, sitting pretty

The German Sheppit is a first-generation designer dog that made its debut in the early 2000s.

©Jody Huckaby/Shutterstock.com

It is often hard to choose between certain breeds of dogs, especially when you like them both. It may not always be ideal to get two dogs at the same time but sometimes, you may get lucky and not have to choose, which just may be the case with these two breeds. Now, you can have both dogs rolled into one with the German Shepherd Pit Bull.

Also known as the German Sheppit, the German Pit, and the Shepherd Pit, this designer dog is a loyal and protective companion that will form a close bond with its family. As hard-working, loyal, and intelligent dogs, they also make great police dogs. As with all dogs, you should adopt from a responsible breeder or your local shelter.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Alan Malone/Shutterstock.com

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