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German Shepherd Dog Information

 

This GSD judge says there’s more to it in 2019 than a facetious attention-getter since the days of Max von Stephanitz and his colleagues in the 1960s.


 

Is the German Shepherd Dog a Dog?

 

Fred Lanting, All-Breed Judge, SAAB

 

A silly question, of course, but there’s more to it than a facetious attention-getter. The GSD has evolved since the days of breed founder Max von Stephanitz and his colleagues, especially noticeable since the early 1960s.

 

Click thumbnail photos to enlarge, close window to return to article or hit back button on mobile devices.

 

Fig. 1 -- 1933 Sieger (top GSD in the world) Odin Stolzenfels. Note level back, angle of lower thigh

Old-timers in the sport remember when the GSD still looked like it did for the first sixty years of its existence as an “official” breed. I am a member of that fraternity, having obtained my first GSD in the mid-1940s. As a competitor, breeder, and judge (SV, AKC, UKC, The KC, etc.) I have witnessed the evolution (some would say the devolution) of what had long been the world’s most popular and most populous breed.

 

Fig. 2 -- Long-coat GSD without the structural faults

The change has been gradual enough so that newer show judges, and even German Shepherd Dog breeders, seem to be blind to how different the modern structure of this breed’s body is from other breeds and its ancestors.

 

Before I delineate the three or four biggest changes that have ostracized the GSD in the eyes of non-owners, please understand that there are more features to consider when evaluating the dog in (or outside) the show ring than those that follow. We must consider the total package as well as all its individual components.

 

Those problems that follow are the ones that have driven many potential owners away from the breed, and have misled others.

 

It probably is vain to hope that a noticeable number of you reading this will have a copy of von Stephanitz’ book (or even mine), but please go to such for confirmation of the following observations.

 

Fig. 3 -- The “Broken-back” look that started late 1970's

The first thing that a person “outside the breed” notices about the modern show-dog GSD is the topline, whether German or AKC. The breed Standards vary a little in wording, but the word “straight” (or “gerade”) has been ignored by many since the mid-1970s and the Martin brothers’ empire. Most people are turned off by the “broken” or “boomerang” backs, and thus stay away from our breed.

 

The 1997 WUSV-FCI Standard describes a high and long withers followed by a straight (mid-)back and then a lightly sloped croup. The 1991 SV wording was better, and more true to von Stephanitz et al: “The topline proceeds over the well-developed withers and (then) the horizontal (level back), to the lightly falling-off croup without breaking” (without bend, curve, or change in direction). Most breeds have a level back or nearly so.

 

Fig. 4 -- Recent UK Champion showing curved back and steep croup

The other big problem in most toplines, even straight ones, is the absence of that called-for horizontal midpiece. The trend (in show lines, not working lines) has led to a rather exaggerated downward slope from the neck to the tail, often described as “ski-slope”.

 

Besides making outsiders think our breed has some hyena ancestry, this aberration makes the pelvic area ridiculously steep and very far from the ideal angle of about 35 degrees off horizontal (most other breeds have 30 degrees as their ideal).  The second problem easily seen by people outside the breed but to which GSD fanciers have become inured, is the exaggerated rear limb.

 

Fig. 5 -- Probably the Best Pairing (Vello-Betty) in the history of the breed, sound character and body

Look at old GSD pictures, and almost every other breed’s hindquarters, and you will not find the combination seen in GSD showdogs: “too much rear angulation”. In most breeds, a vertical line dropped from the rear end of the pelvis will touch the toenails of the hind-leg when posed so that the metatarsus (“hock”) is vertical. In the German Shepherd Dog two irregularities result: the foot is too far behind the torso, and the lower leg from knee/stifle to hock/heel is horizontal. That is not “natural” as you can see by looking at photos of every other breed, including wolves. But it is accepted, not just tolerated.

 

The third departure from von Stephanitz and others is in the matter of height-to-chest-depth proportions. Ideally, the GSD, like others of similar size and function, should have only 45 to 50% of its height between elbow and chest and the withers. That is, whether you measure withers at just behind the shoulder blade as the SV does, or the highest point of the scapulae, as AKC does.

 

The modern GSD showdog typically has less of its height in the legs and too great a proportion in the torso.  Those three deviations are common on both sides of the pond, with AKC lines even further exaggerating the vertical front assembly, the ski-slope back, and the distant hocks.

 

Fig. 6 -- American Extremes Exemplified, too much rear angulation, weak pasterns, non-level back, etc.

To those problems, Americans have imbedded another: pasterns that slope much more than the ideal of 25 degrees from vertical. “Working-line” dogs have their own, though far less exaggerated, divergences from the ideal GSD.

 

Fig. 7 -- My Gin Lierberg Daughter, Hard-as-Nails character, correct structure and a perfect mother

I have had all three “types” of German Shepherd Dog, and must add here that the above structural problems should only be addressed after you have established two more important things: 1. Character, and 2. Health (orthopedic and other).

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