All about the Purebred Dog

by Linda J Shaw

The GSDCA in Trouble, part 2    I know from personal experience that the mental state of the American show GSD deteriorated to an alarming degree. I’m told things have improved, but how much?  Moses, Amidon and Rinke all talk about the working ability of the breed, but agility, rally, obedience, “watching the kids” and weekend herding are not work. These fun activities are not objective tests of working temperament.  Many breeders’ claims of “wonderful” temperament in their dogs are without objective evidence.  A good GSD should demonstrate that it will, unaccompanied, hold its ground under threat, has the drive to persist on a difficult track, and the stability to withstand applied stress. Rinke says that taking the dog home off lead will show you its temperament, but that won’t show you working aptitudes unless you arrange for a capable tester to assess the dog.

There probably are no really strong American show line dogs.  A dog that “shows you its molars” (a comment made by a well-known American show breeder about one of his well-used studs) in its own backyard is showing you nothing.  American dogs are not objectively tested for stable defensive drive.  Show judges are not able to judge temperament in a show ring except to cull the truly defective.  Without working titles, working ability in a line degenerates. Rinke comments that, “There are good dogs that are doing protection, obedience, leader-dogs, guard-dogs, and family dogs. (What) I’m talking about (are) animals that are very close to the Standard – extraordinary specimens”. He seems to imply that the great American show dog is superior to the true working dog, and that the capabilities of a true working dog still exist in modern show lines, despite dozens of generations of untested, untitled and unqualified breeding. I’d be happy if they did, but there is no evidence that this is true, and much evidence that it is not.

Most American breeders of AKC show lines seem to have little experience of working dogs. They don’t differentiate between German show and German working lines, which are quite different. They appear not to understand bite work and the differences between drives and defense, or the importance of nervous stability and how it is tested. They seem to prefer to avoid the issue and produce soft, low drive dogs (drive and energy are two different things). Show breeding has become pet breeding. When I got into the breed over forty years ago, it was understood that the shepherd was not just an everyman’s pet. A shepherd required training, discipline and exercise, and was “more” dog than average. Show breeding has changed that.

None of these three breeders discuss the working dogs they bred or the dogs of their breeding that are guiding the blind, serving on SAR units or as police service dogs. Have any dogs of their breeding achieved advanced schutzhund titles, or even advanced tracking? Why are the Best in Shows and ROMs and Selects so much more important? They are to a conformation breeder. They are not to the breed.

To be continued…

by Linda J Shaw

The GSDCA in Trouble, part 1    There are three Interviews posted on the GSDCA site, with Jim Moses, Barbara Amidon and Dave Rinke, that make for interesting reading.  What struck me was that the GSDCA appears to be dying, and they seem to have no idea why.  Membership is dwindling, and entries for the national, futurity and maturity shows is shrinking even while American SV style shows, trials and clubs are becoming more popular.  If the GSDCA was a company, I wouldn’t invest in it.  All three seem cognizant of deep trouble but appear unable to identify why.  And yet the answers are so obvious.

I’ve been going through Reviews and Red Books from the early 1980s through the 1990s, gathering references on structure.  Prior to the 1980s the dogs were solid, balanced and without exaggeration. Pedigrees were relatively open, and the back ends of most were still anchored by schutzhund titles.  But by the middle of the 1980s the tsunami of Lance genetics was well underway.  While dogs with excellent, Lance-free pedigrees still existed, their lines were being swallowed up by Lance lines for no better reason than that breeders wanted to win in the conformation ring.

By the late 1980s and 90s, the pedigrees of so-called top dogs had reached a level of inbreeding that was disturbing, to say the least. At the same time, “top” dogs began dying prematurely of torsion, toxic gut and cardiomyopathy, while pancreatitis, esophageal problems, allergies and thyroid issues became more common. How coincidental do you suppose that was?  I owned many American line dogs, almost all with health issues.  After almost two decades I fled to German working lines and suddenly had healthy, long lived dogs.  None of these three breeders even mention the genetic bottleneck into which American dogs have been levered. Rinke comments that breeding indiscriminately to the same dogs is reducing genetic diversity, but never suggests that the only real remedy is to breed out to unrelated (non-Lance) dogs. Simply trying to select against genetic problems while remaining within the same inbred gene pool is not going to repair the breed over the long term.  I sometimes wonder if American breeders have any real understanding of the dangers of inbreeding.  Certainly the wider public is learning fast.

With increased levels of inbreeding (breeders like to call it line-breeding, but that strikes me as disingenuous) physical type became increasingly strange.  Some breeders delighted in advertising their dogs as extreme.  Torsos, spines and chest cavities became abnormally elongated. Rear angulation became so unstable that the back legs could neither properly support the dog’s weight, nor generate the strength required to lift the dog into a period of suspension.  Breeders who achieved gait with “long, smooth, elastic, close to the ground strides” sacrificed the period of suspension to get it. Such dogs show “movement” by racing around the ring with huge strides, high speed and no power.  This may give the impression of spectacular side gait, but these dogs can’t gallop properly and they can’t jump. They can’t work. American breeders alone find this distortion to be attractive and desirable.  The rest of the world sees it for what it is.

To be continued…

by Linda J Shaw

Finally spring is springing, and I am starting to get back into it. It has been a while since I have updated, and I appologize for that, but I have been somewhat immobilized since New Year’s. Ice on a stone walkway and a nasty tumble into a rockery and I have been forming a close relationship with my crutches for several months. Fortunately I have one dog who is a high speed, self propelled rocket with a large yard, and another dog who is happy sunbathing. However I am finally beginning to hobble about, and to start picking up where I left off after Christmas!

My internment was not entirely unproductive. I managed to complete a 78 page manuscript for a book I have been mulling over for some time: An Analysis of Canine Structure and Gait. That’s 78 pages without any illustrations; they are next on my to do list. Despite the differences between so many breeds, they are fundamentally alike. And they are nothing like horses. So much of what has been claimed for dogs has come from opinions about horses, and they are wrong, or at least irrelevant. I have a bit more research to do and then I am going to spend a month storming the illustrations. It is going to be fun.

by Linda J Shaw

The Back & Spine   When I first look at a dog, the first thing I see is the spine. The topline is the upper surface of the dog that is visible to the eye, but the spine, or backbone, is what lies underneath the muscle and fur. I think of the spine as the cornerstone of the dog, the architecture that is the foundation of the dog’s structure.  If it is normal, the rest can’t be too bad (according not to some show standard, but to nature’s requirement for how a dog should function). If the spine is not correct, whether too long or too short, swayed or roached, it can affect the proportions and function of the entire body.

In the German shepherd breed, roached backs are a problem, and have been for decades. It’s obvious from show critiques that many judges do not understand the anatomical structure of a roached back, and why it is wrong.  Hundreds of roached dogs appear in breed magazines with critiques praising their strong backs. Recently a photo of a young dog made the rounds of the internet, with discussions about her topline. Some commentator suggested that, because her midback did not rise above her withers, her back was therefore not roached. She is a very nice female and I like her, but her spine is roached. This person could see only the visible back, which was not humped, but could not visualize the spine underneath, which was. It’s little wonder that curvature of the spine has become widespread.
Before you can visualize the spine though, you have to know what a spine looks like. Below I’ve attached six illustrations from the preeminent folio of studies of mammalian anatomy: An Atlas of Animal Anatomy for Artists, by W. Ellenberger, H. Dittrich and H. Baum, originally published in 1901. The Canidae, or family of canines, is represented by a large central European “cur dog” very similar in structure to a wolf. The lion represents the family Felidae, the felines, which with the dog are dominant members of the order Carnivora. The horse represents the order Perissodactyla, the odd toed animals, while the ox, goat and deer represent the even toed. The predatory carnivores evolved for pursuit speed, while the hoofed prey animals evolved for escape speed. The goat specialized somewhat for agility and the ox for power. However, the most immediately interesting thing about them is how similar they are.

The Dog

The most important points to take away from these illustrations is how the longer thoracic spines of the withers give the topline a much different contour from the actual line of the spine. In all cases in an animal built to run, the vertebrae are strung in a virtually straight line from the base of the neck to the pelvis. In the predators, both of which show a double suspension gallop with huge flexion of the backbone, there is a very slight upward curvature of the spine, which is generally not visible particularly in a dog with a heavy coat. This cur dog is very close coated. In all cases the withers show a slope well differentiated from the slope of the back.

The Lion

Look at these studies carefully. Note that the “cur dog” was a nineteenth century animal produced without any influence of shows (dog shows as we know them did not exist in the mid-nineteenth century), or artificial breeding by man. He was just a common dog, and probably the product of generations of street and farm dogs. So it’s a pretty fair guess that this is the anatomy that nature confers on a large domestic dog when man does not interfere.

The Horse

In Part Two I will post drawings of the typical roach backed GSD, the kind that is regarded as having a good, strong back, as well as anatomical drawings of what the spine of a dog like this actually looks like under the fur and muscle.

The Ox (cow)

The Deer

The Goat

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by Linda J Shaw

A Christmas Story, by Linda J Shaw

Enjoy, and have a safe and happy holiday

Once upon a time, there lived a breeder of German shepherd dogs. He and his wife lived in a tidy little house on a pretty little property, and he kept a neat little kennel in a glen not far from the house. In every kennel run but one there lived a champion. The breeder was retired, and spent nearly all his time with his dogs, grooming, playing with and just admiring them. They were beautiful dogs, darting about their runs, flashing black and gold. His wife sighed over his obsession, but was content that he was happy. Only once had one been brought into her tidy house, and had quickly been banished back to the kennel. They were not house dogs.

One day a woman came to see his dogs. Proudly, he stood before the run containing his prize beauty, a lithe, graceful bitch who zoomed about the perimeter of her run. She took no notice of the visitor. She was the culmination of his breeding program, he said, and was undefeated in the show ring. The visitor smiled, but moved on down the kennel. She stopped at the last run, where quietly sat a young, grey bitch, sturdy and curious, with a tiny notch in one ear. She was not one of the breeder’s dogs, but had belonged to a relative who had fallen ill. She would never be a champion, said the breeder. Her name was Sarah, and she needed a home. It was decided she was suitable, but the breeder refused payment. “She’s not really worth anything to me”, he said. “All I want is that she get a good home”. So the little bitch was loaded into the woman’s van. The breeder did not pet her goodbye.

A few days later the breeder took his prize beauty to a large show. Of course, she won. She always won. He gaited her back to the car, a cascade of blue and gold satin fluttering from her lead, turning admiring heads as they went. In the parking lot, they ran past a vehicle whose engine suddenly coughed, and she leaped aside, nearly breaking her lead. They made it to his car, and she curled up with relief in her crate.

The drive home that night was long and the breeder was happy but tired. He wondered where in the den he would find room for the trophy on the seat beside him. There were so many. It started to drizzle rain. He wished his wife had come, but she never came. His dogs did not interest her. He mulled over in his mind the pedigrees of several stud dogs, wondering which to select for his prize beauty. In his preoccupation, he did not see the stop sign that flashed past. Suddenly, there was only the glare of headlights. It was the last thing he ever saw.

In the hospital, his bones eventually knit, but his eyes were gone. He was told his prize beauty had been killed. At home, his wife tried to care for the dogs that remained, but it was hard for her. They would not heed her commands, and she found it difficult to cope with them. When her husband finally came home, he struggled on her arm to the kennel and fed and groomed each one. But time passed, and it became more difficult for him also. They could not be exercised, and often escaped. He became fearful of being knocked down by their frantic spinning and leaping. The decision was inevitably made, friends were called and advertisments placed, and the day came when the last dog was loaded into a van bound for another kennel. The breeder retired to his chair in his den, to spend his days brooding amongst trophies he couldn’t see.

The months passed and winter came. He sat listening to Christmas carols on the radio while his wife decorated the tree. One day she insisted that he rouse himself and helped him into his coat. “We’re going Christmas shopping”, she said firmly, and guided him out to the car. He sat slumped in his seat without speaking. The thought of glittering lights and colourful packages only deepened his gloom. After a while, he began to wonder at the length of the journey. He couldn’t recall downtown being so far. Finally he felt the car crunch its way into a driveway. His door opened to a rush of cold air, and a man’s hand grasped his. “Welcome to the Seeing Eye,” said the man. In an office, coffee was served, questions were asked, and it was explained to him why he was there. “I don’t know, I don’t know”, he muttered, and then he slowly ventured, “could I have a shepherd?”. “Well”, said the man, “that depends on what’s available, and what’s suitable for you”. There was a pause. “But we’ll see what we can do”.

Suddenly he heard the sound of a door opening, and the scrabbling of nails on the floor. A woman’s voice laughed “oh dear!”, and he heard a flurry of delighted squealing heading straight for him. A dog flew into his lap and a warm bath drenched his face. “Oh! Oh!”, he spluttered. “Are they all this friendly?” No one answered. His hands clutched the dog’s head, and he knew instantly that it was a shepherd, a large velvet bow tied to its collar. But then he froze, as his fingers reached a tiny notch in one ear. His arms slowly encircled the now quivering dog, and he buried his face in her fur. The only sound was her tail beating against his legs, and the small sqeak of a new leather harness. Sarah had found her new home.

Courtesy of German Shepherd Rescue of England & Wales


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