All about the Purebred Dog

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

Any contribution you can make to help defray the costs of the maintenance and expansion of will be very much appreciated, and thank you in advance! Linda

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


by Linda J Shaw

Balance in the German Shepherd Dog   There is an interesting article on Ed Frawley’s site ( written by Jean Mueller, “Balance Problems with the American Show German Shepherd”, concerning over-angulation and the American show type GSD. The article has been there a while. Ed’s is a good site, full of information for anyone interested in working dogs, and I highly recommend it. Jean’s is a good article, well written and on point.  It’s illustrated with a photograph of a black and tan dog posing with his trophies, and labelled as a typical American show dog. Well enough, except that he’s a very balanced looking show dog. I’ve never been able to figure out why this particular dog was chosen to illustrate this article, because he is not really a typical AKC show type, at least not a typical specialty style dog, and he is not over angulated. In fact, he is a very beautiful, very correct dog, the type of dog that American show lines can produce when breeders know and care what they are doing, and judges know what they are looking at. He looks like a substantial, compact dog with a short, straight back, beautiful shoulder, high withers, decent croup and good rear angulation – not too much, not too little. His feet are good, his head looks nice, even his colour is attractive. I don’t know if he was a good dog or not (temperament, hips etc), but he certainly looks like a nicely constructed dog and using him as an example of extreme structure must be very confusing to anyone trying to learn about conformation. I know it’s probably not possible to use a photo of an extreme winning US show dog – the owners tend to object – so if Ed would like to use one of my drawings of an extreme dog that would really illustrate the article, I’d be happy to send him one.

Definitely NOT a typical American Specialty dog

by Linda J Shaw
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DOGS IN CANADA AND THE CKC    A while back I received notice that Dogs in Canada magazine, after 122 years of publication, has folded production. It didn’t come as a great surprise; the magazine had focused on the Canadian pet market at the expense of breeders and member interests for quite some time, and the magazine industry is a notoriously bloody one. I illustrated for the magazine going back to the early 1980’s, when it was under the auspices of Elizabeth Dunn, the publisher and founder of the Dogs Annual. While under Dunn’s management, the monthly magazine was very modest and targeted squarely at breeders and members, and the Annual was marketed to the purebred dog owning public, the people who buy what breeders produce. This was a rational and financially viable strategy, but for reasons that escaped me even then the CKC elected to exercise its majority ownership of Apex Publishing and mount a hostile takeover. Since then the CKC has tried to run a publishing business, without much success it would seem. The CKC lost sight of its strategic direction, assuming it had one.
The financial crisis of the last few years was not the cause of CKC troubles. I have to admit that I haven’t been a member for quite a while. After watching the profound temperament and structural issues afflicting the GSD in the Canadian show ring over the last few decades, I realized I was wasting my membership fee on an organization that was not committed to protecting my breed. When I left, no one bothered to ask why. While the financial crunch was dramatic, the CKC has had money problems for some time.  I recall the idiotic decision to increase the membership fee to $75 back in the early 90’s in a bizarre attempt to increase revenues. I had just convinced several friends to join, but that quickly dissuaded them. Later, after a long fight to get back a dog I had bred that had fallen into abusive hands, I discovered the CKC had no process in place to aid the breeder who protects her animals, and get the registration changed. After a year of wrangling, I found myself wasting an entire day before a panel of nearly a dozen bored CKC reps defending why the dog’s papers should be signed over to me (the abuser would not sign them). I did get them, but what a waste of time and money! The attitude shown me and other breeders of my acquaintance was one of bureaucratic proprietorship, not efficient customer service.
The CKC wasn’t the only organization to suffer in the downturn to be sure, but good governance can certainly ameliorate the sting. It’s my understanding that the board discovered the CKC’s budget deficit at the AGM. I’ve sat on more than one non-profit board, and served as treasurer, and I made sure that complete financial statements were presented to the board each month. Annual statements are presented to the members (or shareholders) at the AGM. Every director is legally obligated to understand these statements – budget, balance sheet, income sheet and cash flow – and have a functional understanding of governance as well. Where a director has no experience with either, the organization should provide training, and insist the director demonstrate competence in the basics prior to joining the board. Directors that pass off their responsibilities to the executive are negligent.
In the panic that seemed to follow, I read the laundry lists of activities posted on some directors’ sites as ideas for strategic planning. That is not strategic planning. For an organization like the CKC, SP should be pretty straightforward. The CKC has the federally protected mandate to maintain the registry for purebred dogs. The corollaries to that are: the responsibility to safeguard the quality of purebred dogs, and to promote purebred dogs to the public.
The registry is of most value to breeders. Unless they plan to show the dog, most pet buyers don’t seem to care much about “the papers”. What the registry actually produces is lists of names, which is inefficient and not very useful. In the 21st century, registries should be searchable databases, with pictures and videos of dogs performing. has already done some of this, and it is users who have provided the content. It’s still just a list of names, but at least now there are pictures to go with them, and access to siblings and progeny. A really superior registry would include the capability to calculate inbreeding coefficients, display verified health clearances and show cause of death. Obviously, a service like this would cross registries, so the CKC, AKC and FCI would need to do some cooperating, but a move in this direction would start to provide some real value to breeders. If they don’t do it, the private sector probably will, and will derive the profit.
Protecting the quality of purebred dogs would seem an obvious thing to do. It should be no secret by now that simply awarding breeding animals on the basis of beauty, often in contradiction to the breed standard (see the extreme rear angulation of German shepherds), is not the best way to ensure quality, if by quality you mean health, structural soundness and stable temperament. For one thing, it encourages inbreeding (line-breeding is inbreeding) on animals based on their show record, not because they are good dogs. The result is that very good dogs who don’t happen to satisfy the fancy of show judges can be largely left out of the gene pool. Dog shows will probably never disappear, but registries could minimize their negative genetic impact by requiring champions to be certified for sound temperament and free of whatever genetic problems are most common to their breed. I don’t think that’s a lot to ask, that a champion actually be a good dog. The registry could also ban breedings that result in unacceptably high (to a population geneticist, not a breeder) inbreeding coefficients, and limit the breeding of animals whose progeny show unacceptably high rates of genetic diseases. Educating breeders and judges is good, but you have to back up your convictions by refusing to reward defective dogs.
A registry that could accomplish this would then have something to promote to the public. Ten years ago the Golden Retriever dominated print and television advertising. Now it has virtually disappeared, to be replaced by varieties of little cross-bred collie types, as well as border and English collies. Various television specials have featured the problems in purebred dogs, the risks of buying one and the nonsense that can go on in a show ring.  For purebred dogs and the registries, this is a PR disaster. The currency of registration has been devalued. The purebred dog is no longer seen as the pinnacle of canine quality, but is often viewed as an inbred, overbred bag of medical and temperament problems. This is called branding in the corporate world, and the brand of the purebred dog, and the registries that support it, has been tarnished. It’s no surprise that there has been a tsunami of designer breeds popping up, mostly crosses of other breeds. Crosses are viewed as healthier, more stable and having “hybrid vigor”. The average person see some German shepherd show dogs dragging their rear ends around the ring, and the unregistered Shiloh seems a better alternative. AKC and CKC registration is no longer the gold standard for quality in dogs, if they ever were. In the US, alternative registries have sprung up to accommodate these new “breeds”.
In Canada, all we have is the CKC, but monopoly shouldn’t be mistaken for dominance. The population is aging, and becoming more urban, which will have an effect on the popularity of large breeds. The cost of gas is making trekking about to shows and trials less attractive, and rigid, militaristic marching around the obedience ring is not the practical training most people need. Working trials are often managed by independent clubs not recognized by the CKC, even conferring non CKC titles and maintaining their own registries. There is less prestige in owning a purebred dog than there once was, and more concern over health costs, which have skyrocketed. More breeders who specialize in crosses (an accepted practise in horses) of different breeds are beginning to fill the demand for pets. If the CKC can’t focus on its core issues and turn them around, it may find its importance in the world of dogs in Canada to be alot less than it once was.

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