Arguing about the (GSD) Standard(s)?


Revised December 2011.

Years ago, in the age of print media, there was a situation in the German Shepherd Dog Club of America in which people were striving in vain to speak out about the GSD Breed Standard. In many cases, members were not allowed to express their opposing opinions on the breed Standard in the GSD Review, the official journal of the GSD Club of America. Those who ran the club also ran the magazine, and their editor was on a tighht leash, although how much she actively sympathized with the power structure’s proclamations was anyone’s guess. But it doesn’t take a rocket scientist (and I actually was one for a while) to see the obvious slant the officers of the GSDCA had on the subject. I maintained that the members had the right to read opposing viewpoints, not just wishy-washy pieces that only pretended to take a different view than the Board’s. That oligarchy’s refusal to allow serious opposition of ideas was not as bad as in the old Soviet Union where there was only one candidate and he naturally won by a landslide, but the rigging reminded me of that to a degree. The same way the club management handled arguments for OFA hip certification for Selects, only worse, if you can imagine such a condition. (“Select” is a designation given the top 20 or so of each sex at the Natonal Specialty.)

Can we simplify this complex issue? There is a World Union of GSD clubs (WUSV) to which the GSDCA belongs. Nearly every country in the world that has a GSD club is a member, and the vast majority of those use the same Standard that the SV (international parent club responsible for the breed) in Germany does. The British, similar to fanciers in the USA, were long torn by Alsatian vs. Germanic factions, and have not yet completely done away with that schism. The Brit’s KC and its associated GSD clubs have not all adopted the exact wording that would signify compliance with the FCI (world all-breed association) breed Standard, which is the SV-WUSV document with the FCI stamp on it. However, they are a bit closer than the GSDCA-Americans are, and more importantly, most of the events there are judged in accordance with the FCI-SV judging methods as well as adherence to the world Standard.* Many of the GSD specialty shows in the British Isles are judged by SV judges who fly over (or now drive under) the channel, or are judged by SV-trained local judges. A smaller number of shows are judged by “Alsatian” fanciers, with The KC having traditionally alternated “Germanic” and “Alsatian” type judges annually for their huge Crufts show. The big show at Crufts usually had one type of judge doing bitches, the other type doing males, and then one of them making the decision for Best of Breed. In 2011, The KC stopped allowing Challenge Certificates for GSDs because they didn’t like the way the (German-style) GSD had developed. They complained of such things as terrible hock action and unlovely toplines, the latter being something that had been around for almost 40 years and was going away already.

* At the end of 2011, there began a movement among GSD fanciers in the UK to break away from The KC and have their own Standard and independent competitions.
In the U.S. and Canada, perhaps about half of active fanciers hold to the FCI Standard, although very, very few of the GSDCA (AKC affiliate) and GSDCC (CKC affiliate) members do. The other GSD breed clubs in North America are the United Schutzhund Clubs of America (UScA), the GSDCA branch called WDA, and the German Shepherd Schutzhund Club of Canada (GSSCC). The latter two of these are WUSV member clubs, while the CKC club and UScA are not (UscA is an affiliate, however, and WDA is connected only because their parent GSDCA is a WUSV member). The American-Canadian WUSV clubs combined have about the same membership as do the AKC-CKC clubs, though to a great extent the latter are on the rolls only to get the magazine, not taking much active part in the organization or sport. Even those “paper members” are disappearing, as are exhibitors at GSDCA and AKC shows.

The controversy comes from the WUSV’s pushing for all member clubs to conform to the essentials, or at least to the spirit plus some of the letter of the law—excuse me, the Standard. The AKC-CKC dog had drifted so far away from the world GSD, especially since the 1960s, that generations of breeders and judges have “grown up” thinking that the dog they see in their back yard or ring is normal, but the dog in all the other backyards and rings in the world is not. The remaining members of the AKC-affiliated GSDCA are thus put between a rock and a hard place. If the majority of these who have (to paraphrase the song) “grown accustomed to its face” decide to march in step with the world body of breed fanciers, they have much difficulty ahead. One enormous imminent task will be to re-educate judges and each other; the more immediate job will be to word the Standard to come close enough to the WUSV’s version for acceptance. The second roadblock, should the GSDCA choose this path, is the AKC. Professing to act only in a secretarial role and publish the Standards they claim are the property of the breed clubs, they nevertheless have the veto (and always use it). Might as well admit that the Standards in America are “AKC Standards” through-and-through, instead of playing semantic games. With all these stumbling blocks, it is no wonder that pessimism prevails.

We have not yet seen any serious attempt on the part of the GSDCA Board to clear the first hurdle, that of conformance to the world Standard. And I’ve been waiting for many decades! The hinted difficulty in getting two-thirds of the membership to approve changes is a smokescreen; the Board has always railroaded the members into following them, even completely overturning the members’ desires, such as in the OFA-for-Selects issue back in the years around 1980 when I was on the Board. The official GSDCA magazine had historically turned down articles of truly opposition views, so the members were in effect brainwashed by the Board (and the complicity of the editors they hired). Other smokescreens and deliberate diversionary statements would focus on what they feel the members cannot rather than should do, and on the less important differences. Let’s look at the really important differences in the Standards, and hence the “look” of the dog here and in the rest of the world. In the process, you might learn why almost nobody in the wide world buys GSDs from America. I know… I’ve been there!

Ignore the petty complaints about singular details such as one person’s desired topline vs. another’s, which seems to be the silly focal point for many. Look instead at the total dog, especially in regard to the matter of proportions. That, in addition to the head, is what sets one breed apart from another, and one level of quality within a breed from that of another individual member of the breed. Define that in one word? It’s “TYPE”. The written Standards are merely feeble attempts to put that and the details in writing; some are better at it than others. One of the big differences between the North American AKC-CKC GSD and the rest that almost anyone can see is in proportion of chest depth to overall height. Remember, now, we’re taking in very broad generalities, and there are plenty of exceptions. The AKC-show-winning “American Shepherds” often have deep chests and relatively short front legs. More often (almost without exception in the past decade or two) this AKC-GSDCA dog has almost no forechest at all, and extreme rear angulation and lower-thigh length, as well as a steep slope to the topline. In fact, a GSDCA committee’s proposed Standard revision actually called for the use of the words “deep-bodied” in one column and for deleting them in the adjacent column! Instead of the chest depth being from 45% to slightly less than 50% of the height at withers (the international Standard), it’s at least 55% in the American Shepherd. This makes our bulkier AKC-types similar to the “Alsatian” style in England, except the latter still have better fronts. The 1997 WUSV-FCI Standard, which I had translated and given to many magazines some time back, still calls for the amount of “daylight” under the dog to be about 55%, because a short-legged/deep-chest dog is not built for either endurance herding or agility, the twin pillars of utility in the GSD. From the WUSV: “The depth of chest should be about 45 % to 48 % of the dog’s height at the withers”.  By the way, if you want a copy of my translation of the German (SV) Standard, it’s on and a few other sites. There is no peace made when people refer to the Alsatian-AKC deep-body style as “sausage dog” —it only rankles the owners and people who choose not to read or follow the world union. I just ask here that you understand the difference. The same in the case of the slightly leggier, but objectionable in other ways, less-deep American Shepherd.

The WUSV Standard says, “ The length of torso exceeds the measure of the withers height by about 10 to 17%.”  So that you don’t have to get out your calculator, that means the torso that is 10% longer gives a dog with a height:length ratio of 9:10 and the dog that is 17% longer than tall has an 8.5:10 ratio. Americans have been breeding for longer and longer torsos (not even including where the rear leg is!) so that here the range starts at the 8.5 to 10 ratio and goes to 8:10 or even worse. SV judges adhere to this part of the Standard; AKC judges may or may not, usually the latter. See more about height in a few paragraphs hence.

The next item of proportions that sets the two or three major styles off is seen in the rear limbs. Here the Standard is not as specific, but reading between the lines and looking at the breed around the world, you can see that the North American variety is disproportionately long in lower thigh. This gives what von Stephanitz called a “backward” stance. Those who exaggerate say that the hock is a yard behind the buttocks, and certainly it is not supposed to be like that. Some length of “stifle” or tibia/fibula contributes toward a long stride and the fluid forward propulsion of the whole body during the working trot, but as usual we Americans tend to think bigger or longer is better — if some is good, lots more must be better, right?  Wrong. Too long a tibia in proportion to the femur means that a herding dog will be exhausted hours before a normally-angulated dog will, all other things being equal, and an “extreme” dog will not be able to get his feet under himself and maintain stability when being driven in Schutzhund. That sport is designed to mimic, in a stylized way, the protection/police qualities that are equally important as herding/trotting ones in this breed.


Regarding the three dogs pictured here: The first one has normal angulation; the second has a decent shoulder assembly but the rear is so much more “extreme” that it was “sickle-hocked” (“locked”) in motion; the third is very lacking in upper-arm length and balance, causing it to step high in front, wasting enough time for the rear to complete its stride.

Not so incidentally, I must remind readers here that “rear angulation” is NOT the slope of the topline, a persistent misunderstanding among the multitude of novices continually entering our breed. What that term refers to is the angles between femur (upper thigh) and tibia (lower thigh) and consequently between the latter and the metatarsus (“hock”) when that is vertical in the rearmost leg. A Chow or Shar-Pei has almost no bend at the stifle (knee) while the GSD has the most of any breed (exclude the achondroplastic dwarf breeds from this discussion, please). When you look at pictures of the GSD in a “stack” (show pose) or natural pose, if you are so lucky as to see a properly structured dog set itself up, look for the knee articulation and then the hock. In too many magazine ads, you will see a dog stand with that knee depression or point of direction change being actually lower than the hock joint. Even if the two are in the same horizontal plane, the dog probably has too much rear angulation for a working dog. As von Stephanitz reminds us, the GSD is nothing if it is not a working (style) dog. That relation of height of knee to hock will give you a good idea as to whether the dog is built incorrectly. Of course, many handlers pose their dogs by pushing down on the croup to create or exaggerate the ski-slope topline, but too many dogs actually have been selectively bred for that, and walk into it themselves without training. What does the WUSV Standard say? “Hindquarters: The position of the hind legs is slightly toward the rear, and viewed from behind the hindlegs are parallel to each other. Upper thigh and lower thigh are roughly of equal length and form an angle of approximately 120°.”  That certainly is a far cry from the 90 degrees or less that we see in the photos and in the ring!

The final area of difference relating to proportions that I want to mention in passing is the head and how it fits with the body. Especially in males, where masculinity is a very important feature in the WUSV Standard. The AKC version gives lip service to the differences in sexes, but judges rarely pay much attention to it. Part of what makes up masculinity is the strength and subtle angles and curves in the skull compared to the female, but there are also many dogs whose heads simply are not big enough for the size of the torso. Sam Lawrence many years ago had a GSD big winner with a tiny head, and we keep seeing some examples of this disparity.

Other than the all-important first impression of Type and proportions, where are the obstacles to agreement with the direction our breed should take, or to conformity to the FCI (SV) Standard? By the way, the only thing the FCI should be doing in the equation is to provide a common meeting-ground for all autonomous breed clubs and countries. The SV and more recently the WUSV are the guardians of the Standard, and the FCI’s policy is that each Standard is to come from the country of origin. I hinted earlier at the answer: it is the collection of details that are stated in order to keep breeders from drifting off the path, as we have in this country since the late 1960s. It also involves definitions that the GSDCA ad hoc Breed Standard Committee and Board are confused or adamant about. The committee published a comparison between the current AKC version, their proposed changes, and their reasons. However, they failed to publish in adjacent columns, the features of the WUSV Standard that they are being asked or required to incorporate.Here are some of those details that make up the rest of the “sticking points” that have kept the GSDCA from compliance all these years. First, we all agree that the GSD is medium-size, slightly stretched” and the WUSV Standard adds, “strong, with the ‘bone’ dry and firm.” Well, what constitutes “medium” and how can we insure judges hold to it? In the SV, one must apprentice and agree with the other, teaching, judges before he is licensed, but in America, we need written disqualifications to keep our judges in line. That’s because the AKC “method” of training/educating its judges is a farce, despite the proliferation of seminars and tests. In many countries, disqualifications are not needed because it would be unthinkable for a judge to wander from the consensus course laid out by the founder and guardians of the breed. In the matter of size, though, the WUSV Standard makes clear what would disqualify a dog from not only being ranked or rated, but even being allowed to breed and have offspring registered! The AKC Standard has no such protection. Here is the WUSV Std.: “Important measurements and proportions. The withers height for males is 60 to 65 cm; that of bitches is 55 to 60 cm”.  (Dogs 23.5 to 25.5 inches, bitches 21.5 to 23.5 inches). A dog that measures up to one measly centimeter outside these ranges is considered less desirable for breeding—a breeding-class 2 (in German, Körklasse-2), suitable for breeding but not preferred. Exceed the limit by more than one centimeter (about four tenths of an inch), and the dog is not eligible for a Kkl rating at all—not Kkl-1, not Kkl-2. Nada. Nicht. Nothing. Zilch. He/she is not supposed to be bred. Now, I don’t want to get into the “rubber meterstick” that is used to “measure in” outstanding dogs that would otherwise be lost to the gene pool; I just want to emphasize that dogs in other WUSV countries are required to be measured and breed-surveyed in order to breed and continue showing. AKC does not allow the judge to measure dogs unless there is a size disqualification in their Standard, and it must be done in the ring. Do you think the GSDCA will finally put height disqualifications in place? Do you think if that happens, judges will measure? Don’t hold your breath! For decades, the GSDCA has been deathly silent on it, and believe me, it is a vital part of the Standard that should not be ignored by the GSDCA. The most they offered was to change from “desired” to “ideal height”. Not good enough, guys!

What is meant by “dry and firm”? The German words, “trocken und fest” should be tattooed on every judge’s palm so he remembers not to reward the sloppy-hocks, weak pasterns, undulating backs, “friendly” ears (they wave to the spectators), loose skin and dewlap, and other evidences of “wetness” and weakness. One horrible trend that AKC judges as a whole have ignored is the weak pastern. Many, many years ago GSD judge Bob Ligon remarked to me how upset he was with that fault, and I have heard pitifully few specialist judges echo him. Even some of the somewhat severe cases of carpal subluxation, a real problem in American lines, are put up for the blue and even purple ribbons! That’s not dry and firm, folks. Look at what the WUSV Standard calls for: “The pastern has a length of approximately 1/3 that of the forearm and has an angle of approximately 20° to 22° to this. Both a slanting pastern (more than 22°) as well as a steep pastern (less than 20°) are harmful to working suitability, particularly endurance. The paws are round, well closed and arched”.  The WUSV requires a very moderate slope, and certainly would not press GSDCA if we retained the AKC-GSDCA old 25-degree mention; however, why does the GSDCA allow judges to get away with rewarding the extremely bad ones such as the 40- and 45-degree slopes? Loose ligaments are often found in more than one part of the dog. It is not uncommon to see splay feet or long toes (not knuckled up), bad pasterns, a roll to the skin on the back when moving, floppy or weak ears, and other signs all in the same dog. However, this matter is one of lip-service, personal preferences, interpretation, and the dogs available in the ring. Not so much the wording of the Standards.

The following recommendations for change to the AKC Standard have been long recommended by those who believe the country-of-origin has the best right to dictate what the breed should be. “The German Shepherd Dog must be, in its essential image, well-balanced, firm in nerves, self-confident, absolutely calm and impartial, and (except in tempting situations) amiable. He must possess courage, willingness to fight, and hardness, in order to be suitable as companion, watchdog, protector, service dog, and guardian.”  The GSDCA proposes or tends to water this down considerably, especially re anything dealing with being a watchdog and protector. They could get away with it if that were the only digression, but the sum of all such tangents and alternative paths is what bothers the WUSV.

“The teeth must be strong, healthy and complete (42). The German Shepherd Dog has a scissors bite; i.e., the incisors must mesh in a scissors bite whereby the incisors of the upper jaw intersect like scissors with those of the lower jaw.  Dentition faults: All deviations from the scissors bite and the formation of the teeth that are not dealt with in the following list of specific faults.Disqualifying (“exclusionary”) dentition faults (also ineligible for breed survey):  the absence of:

  1. one P-3 and another tooth, or
  2. one fang (canine), or
  3. one P-4, or
  4. one Molar-1 or Molar-2, or
  5. any total of three or more teeth;

And, “Bite irregularities: overshot by 2 mm or more, undershot, or pincer bite in entire incisor area”.

Here is a real sticking point. Dentition is almost always perfect in the rest of the world’s “show” GSDs, but not so in America. One fellow member (at the time) of the GSDCA Board called me and worried about how anyone could remember that. I told her it was simpler than it seemed: anything worse than two missing P-1 or P-2 teeth is a disqualification (the Germans use the word that denotes not only that the dog should be put at the end of the class and given the rating “Defective” or “Insufficient”, but that it also should be barred from breeding). What’s the big deal? The GSDCA could adopt the wording and then let judges proceed to ignore it. Why argue about this? For that matter, most of the Standard could be adopted, and the long slow process of bringing judges into line could begin with hardly a ripple. What are people afraid of?
“The neck should be strong, well-muscled, and without loose skin at the throat (dewlap). The head is held such that the neck is at an angle of approximately 45 degrees from the (horizontal) torso.”  Look at the pictures in the magazines. How many fit the Standard in this respect? The fact that the typical GSDCA-AKC dog is so notoriously upright in front, with consequently swan-like head carriage and concurrently a short and steep upper arm, will likely not change if this wording is accepted.  “The overline proceeds without abrupt change”.  Do you see that in the swan-dogs?  No matter, adopting the Standard will not change that much.

“Movement: Every tendency toward over-angulation of the hind quarters decreases the firmness and the endurance, and with that the working ability. With correct structural proportions and angulation, a far-reaching, ground-covering, level gait results, which conveys the impression of effortless forward movement. With the head thrust forward and tail slightly lifted it presents, in a fairly level, balanced, and smooth trot, one uninterrupted, gently flowing overline from the tips of the ears over the nape and back, through to the end of the tail.”  Combine that paragraph with the earlier one, “The overline proceeds from the neck, continuing over the high, long withers and over the straight back through the slightly sloping croup without abrupt change.” Can we really argue with that? Is it so unacceptable to thus describe the ideal topline and gait?

“Coat: The correct type of haircoat for the German Shepherd Dog is the Stockhaar (straight, harsh topcoat) with undercoat. Disqualifying Faults (also ineligible for breed survey):  Langstockhaar … Langhaar…”  (two slightly different descriptions of longcoats). The only change would be in the wording, since in practice, judges already “disqualify” or penalize heavily the long-coated GSD. Interestingly, in 2009 or so, it became OK for longcoated GSDs to be registered and compete (in their own classes) in Germany. This is a result of dropping show entries, I am sure. But there will continue to be a strong prejudice among specialist-GSD judges in the U.S. against longcoats, and even though there is no disqualification, most of the coated dogs are never shown. I raised a storm at one Louisiana show when, in a class of two dogs, I gave the first place to a structurally superior long-coat over the poor normal-coat dog.
“Major faults:

  1. anything that departs from the Standard and known characteristics of the breed in relation to the suitability for work;
  2. Ear faults: held out to the side; low-set; tipped over; overset (tipped toward each other); weak.
  3. Considerably lacking in pigment;
  4. Considerable deficiency in overall firmness.”

I certainly would like to see the above wording enforced in the AKC Standard. Maybe if our own judges of the GSDCA National Specialty would pay attention to that, especially the ears part, the other specialty and all-breed judges might, too. Even if they ignored it, what’s the harm of having it in the AKC Standard? Thirty years after I started pushing that idea, we are still seeing floppy-ear GSDs getting class wins and even points in AKC shows!
“(Other) effectively-disqualifying (exclusionary) faults:

  1. Weak character, biting, nervous;
  2. Demonstrated severe hip dysplasia
  3. Cryptorchidism (unilateral or bilateral); unequal or stunted, atrophied testicles;
  4. Dogs with deformities;
  5. White haircoat even if the dog has dark eyes and nails…”

No serious argument with the above? Good. Now the solutions to the only tough parts re adopting the WUSV Standard almost verbatim:

By requiring all Select, AOE, Maturity Finalists, and ROM animals (non-regular, non-AKC-regulated classes) to have a minimum of OFA-certified hips (or perhaps a PennHIP DI of under 0.4) and normal elbows, we could demonstrate to the WUSV and FCI our good intentions in the face of inability to require X-ray evaluations and certifications for entry to AKC rings and registry. I’m sure they would accept that dilemma.

Tell the AKC it’s our Standard, not theirs, and that we insist on having a height disqualification implemented immediately. Not in their own good old time, but right now! If they want to suspend our GSDCA membership in AKC until they catch up, fine. We don’t need them; they need us. (They won’t do that, don’t worry!)
Swallow hard if you must, but accept the correct height-to-length and height-to-chest-depth proportions. Let the judges wrestle with personal preferences, and hire the ones who like those “Bassett-GSD crosses” if that’s the kind you breed or that turns you on.

Get rid of all those impossible, erroneous angles that we inherited from the 1900s when dogs could not be radiographed in a standing or trotting position. With the exceptions of the one about the 120-degree femur-tibia angle, and the slope of the pasterns, they are scientifically insupportable and unnecessary. Clean up the Standard; make it more accurate. Everything else is a non-issue. All the fury and feathers flying reminds me of my former neighbor’s cockfights… in the end everybody can amiably sit down together and share a fried chicken dinner.

In 2000 the GSDCA reported: [The SV president and vice-president] “agreed that only an authorized English translation of the SV Standard would be acceptable to the WUSV.”  The GSDCA president was said to be continuing “the dialog.” If they had accepted and submitted the English version of the Standard I translated for them over two years earlier, they wouldn’t have been in that pickle then or today!

If influential breeders in this country could only approach the WUSV Standard in these important aspects, the problem of disparate breed type compared to the rest of the world’s GSDs would eventually disappear. Perhaps we need to stop selling our “cripples” as “showdogs” and stop exhibiting and breeding everything that comes out of the whelping box. Agreeing to a world Standard for the breed is only a small step in the right direction. Following that Standard is another matter. Let’s at least take the first step. Then we can argue about the second if you must.

Fred Lanting The Total German Shepherd Dog Canine Hip Dysplasia and Other Orthopedic Problems Conflict: Life, Love and War

Fred Lanting Fred Lanting is an internationally respected show judge, approved by many registries as an all-breed judge, has judged numerous countries’ Sieger Shows and Landesgruppen events, and has many years experience as one of only two SV breed judges in the US. He presents seminars and consults worldwide on such topics as Gait-&-Structure, HD and Other Orthopedic Disorders, and The GSD. He conducts annual non-profit sightseeing tours of Europe, centered on the Sieger Show (biggest breed show in the world) and BSP.

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Canine Hip Dysplasia and Other Orthopedic Problems
It covers all joints plus many bone disorders and includes genetics, diagnostic methods, treatment options, and the role that environment plays. This highly-acclaimed book is a comprehensive (nearly 600 pages!), amply illustrated, annotated, monumental work that is suitable as a coffee-table book, reference work for breeders and vets, as well as a study adjunct for veterinary students, for the dog trainer and the general dog owner of any breed.

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