In fact, this question is one of the most frequently asked questions amongst dog enthusiasts around the world. Not surprisingly as they look so similar.
In short, the answer is surprisingly: None, German Shepherds and Alsatian dogs are the same dog breed. This confusion has been present throughout history.
So, where did these two names originate from?
During World War 1 dogs played a vital role. These dogs served as guards, messengers, ammunition carriers and even helped wounded soldiers on the battlefield by leading them to safety and medical attention.
Over 53,000 dogs where employed across the countries. There were many different breeds used during World War 1 but the most popular breads where German Shepherd dogs and Doberman Pinschers because of their amazing agility, strength, loyalty and trainability. Both of these breeds where native to Germany.
The British army disliked using the name “German Shepherd” because they were named after their enemy, Germany. The name wasn’t only changed for this reason. There was also fear that the German Shepherd bread would not be accepted back home because of their name association with Germany. To protect the breed and not have the constant reminder of their enemy, it made sense for the British to call them a new name which wasn’t influenced by Germany in anyway. It was decided they would call them Alsatian.
At the time it was decided to rename the German Shepherd dog the British were locked in a fierce battle with the German soldiers at the German French border area of Alsace-Lorraine. The breed was official renamed to “Alsatian Wolf Dog” by the UK Kennel Club because of their wolf-like appearance. This name was also adopted by many other kennel clubs and the name Alsatian remained for 5 decades. Which is why internationally there become the assumption that there were two different breeds.
After numerous campaigns by breeders in 1977 the breed was reverted back to “German Shepherd dog” also known shorthand as GSD. Breeders had been campaigning for many years to remove the “wolf dog” reference as they were concerned that being known as a wolf-dog hybrid would affect the breeds legality and popularity. The world Alsatian was still used as part of the formal bread until it was removed in 2010.
The USA didn’t have an issue with calling the dogs German Shepherd dog. However, in 1917 the American Kennel Club removed “German” from the breeds name. This was because the German Shepherd dog had become so popular it was decided to drop the German attribute. This was short lived and in 1930 there was a voted by the American Kennel Club to revert the name back to German Shepherd dog.
For more information on the German Shepherd breed as a whole please see our German Shepherd ultimate breed guide.