German Lines? The Case for Outcrossing


We in North America have seen a great growth in the GSD population with recent German bloodlines and first-generation imports. In recent years there has been a slight increase of interest in matings between the immigrants and the “American” dogs. In almost all cases, it has been domestic bitches to import studs. But these pairings are still in the tiny minority, and not likely to have much effect unless the number of them grows substantially. If it does, is that good or bad? Which side will benefit? I am assuming you agree that there might actually be a beneficial effect, or you wouldn’t be reading this.

With all the hoopla about the GSDCA, the WUSV and FCI, and the world breed standard, only a hermit would not know that there are significant differences in Type or at least style between the average American and the average German GSD. Further, there is a vastly greater range of phenotype in the American dog in the show ring than there is in the German dog. The latter, it has been said, all look like they were made with the same cookie cutter. This is partly because Americans tend to enter just about anything (and just about anything will eventually win points) but the Germans sell their lower-quality dogs as pets or to Americans. The other reason is that SV judges are more closely held to the Standard than judges on this side of the pond; they have to go through an apprenticeship and if their critiques aren’t substantially identical to what the teaching judge had written down, they don’t get their SV license. Thus, SV judging results are much closer from one judge to another. In the U.S. and Canada, a Beardie or Poodle breeder can apply for and be granted a license to judge the breed with no real mentoring of the demanding type used in Europe and much of the rest of the world.

Now, much of the rancor and misunderstanding comes about because we tend to generalize. The average AKC-GSDCA judge tends to think of all German dogs as carp-backed and ugly, while the average aficionado of the world dog throws up his hands at the spooky, wrongly proportioned American Shepherd. Neither one is right, and neither dog is justly portrayed as representing all of its fellows. It is easy to generalize, though, when almost all you see comes close to those stereotypes. Maybe it would clear things up a bit if each camp went to a few more shows held by the other, instead of just repeating someone else’s observations. How often do you see importers or USA members watching an AKC-GSDCA show? And how often do you find the AKC-GSDCA fanciers at the USA Sieger Shows (or even “their own” WDA Sieger Shows? Pitifully seldom. I judge in both arenas, and I see good dogs in both. Mort Goldfarb is the only other person that judges both types of shows, since Bill Collins is inactive and Jack Ogren is dead.

The FCI-WUSV Standard has not been accepted by GSDCA, and with the nominated slate that was announced the summer of 2000, it is easy to predict it won’t be. But, since there are dogs on both sides of the controversy that approach the Standard, what advantages might there be in combining bloodlines? Several. First, the simple fact is that on both sides of the ocean, the breed has become quite linebred and thus more limited in genetic diversity than it should be. In Germany, almost everything goes back multiple times to Palme, Lasso di Val Sole, Q-Arminius, and Uran. In America, it is even more restricted, with almost everything still linebred on Lance and most of that through Sundance Kid. No matter how good these dogs may have been, ignoring the benefits of outcrossing from them is not healthy for the dog or the sport. Genetic diversity gives us better opportunity to avoid health problems by reducing the percentage of times that defective recessive come together.

Outcrossing within a phenotype range dictated by a breed Standard preserves the breed. It is a natural tendency for isolation to foster greater and greater differences, which is why a Turk doesn’t look like a Swede, and a Japanese looks different from a Tibetan. The main reason we had different breeds for thousands of years is isolation and evolution in different, environment-mediated directions; the additional reason primarily in the past hundred and fifty years is the whim of the breeder, a la Herr Dobermann and the creator of the Chesky Terrier. The GSD breed in North America has been more and more isolated since the mid-1960s, and as a result is half-way toward becoming a different breed, just as the English Springer Spaniel is vastly different here vs. in England, and the Shiba and Chow are even further apart. Isolation has caused these differences, even to the point of creating new breeds. Look at the large flock guardian breeds and their Turkish/Middle-Asian ancestors for additional examples. If it is the purpose of the GSDCA to create such a new breed by continuing to isolate it from the rest-of-world gene pool, then we should say so — admit it to ourselves and the country of origin. On the other hand, if we want to preserve the GSD as one breed, we need to combine bloodlines.

Either “a few or a fad” causes a breed’s phenotype to change. In Germany, the respected and powerful Martin brothers (Hermann/Arminius and Walter/Wienerau) put great emphasis on better front angulation but even more on rear drive, so that the dog very powerfully propelled himself forward and slightly upward in order to cover (as the FCI Standard calls for) “much ground with the greatest ease”. In America, it was the fad of excessive rear angulation that was used for a similar but exquisitely different purpose, to cover “much ground with the fewest steps”. Anyone who remembered watching Asslan von Klämmle win Select-3 two years in a row will know what that technical but important difference is. What resulted from the emphasis was that the Germans neglected toplines, so that as long as the dog was built to push his body up and forward, it didn’t seem to matter that the back was shaped like a banana or a boomerang. At the same time, Americans neglected sensible stifle-to-hock length so that many now sag to their knees or stand with the back foot a yard behind the torso, and cannot support a too-long, weak midpiece. There are many other differences as you well know, but I mention this to use it as an example of how a breed can drift with fashion or neglect.

Other than increasing the variety of genes available to breeders, what can be accomplished in a positive sense by “crossing” recent German lines with American ones? That question might well be rephrased: What can they offer that we need, and what do we have in abundance that might be good for them? You can place yourself in either the “we” or the “they” category, as you wish. There is no reasonable argument against the statement that the American Shepherd male is lacking in masculinity and the look of strength (remember, we are talking typical, not the exceptions). Decreased stop, overcrowded lower jaw and the resultant uneven line of bottom incisors, narrow and small head, and weak ears are signs of this degeneration in secondary sex characteristics and expression. Even the bitches are refined beyond the pale of femininity. So the usual U.S. lines can improve in those areas if a German with improved traits in those areas is used.

The German dogs that come here to live usually have problems, otherwise the Germans would have kept them there or sold them for much “bigger bucks” to the Japanese, Argentineans, and others who know a good dog when they buy one. The most glaring one that I mentioned earlier is the unlovely topline. Those imports with the hinged back or the excessive curve that are already in this country can benefit (actually their offspring can) from the straighter back and less-steep croup of the better Americans, if they can be found. An import bitch with the two-angled back could, if bred to a dog with excellent structure (like Chimo, Polo, Uzi, Enterprise, Lamborghini, Indy, or Heart Throb), produce at least half of her litters with normal toplines while sharing her genes for strength of gender, character, and ligaments. A dog of the overline that Americans find objectionable could be bred to well-proportioned U.S.-line bitches of normal topline and produce the same result, while adding much to the gene pool here in the way of masculinity, balance, width of body, stronger ligaments, and other improvements.

There is a movement to establish the white GSD as a separate “breed” or at least a variety called a breed. In fact, recently, the specialty show of the Salt Lake City GSD Club shared grounds and spectators with the national specialty of the White GSDC International, one of two major clubs for the “breed”. This “cooperation with separation” further establishes the likelihood of the two worlds co-existing in peace and recognition of each other’s right to life. Even though this particular white-dog group is against breed separation. The other white-dog group is the AWSA (American White Shepherd Association), which is actively lobbying for separate breed recognition, and is affiliated with the WAWSO (World Ass’n of White Shepherd Organizations) HQ’d in Europe. The white GSD is heading down the road toward complete worldwide recognition as a separately-established breed. The reason I bring them up here, is that if we do not blend current German lines with current American lines, we will be establishing a similar breed separation. It is up to the membership of the GSDCA to decide (if the power-hungry Board would ever allow the membership to take control) whether they want this separation or the alternative, blended lines. We won’t have the same very obvious phenotype distinction that is easy to see with the white dog vs. the colored dog, but there are many more subtle differences that need to be brought closer together if we are to avoid eventual breed separation into American and German Shepherd Dogs. We already have an American herding breed; it’s called the Australian Shepherd, developed in this country mostly by Basque herders who were managing Australian-breed sheep in our western states. We do not need another separate herding breed to represent America. Those who disagree will continue on the road to further isolationism and breed differentiation. The rest of us will try to salvage the best out of both American and German lines and rescue the breed.

The most-often failings in the American lines are: wrong proportions, too much rear, upright fronts, weak backs, lack of secondary sex traits, and slack ligaments. Since the opposites of these are exactly what the German dogs have as good features, it is a no-brainer to realize that combining and culling is the answer to those problems. Likewise, German dogs of the 1970s and ‘80s developed improper toplines and too many steep croups, and in the 1980s and ‘90s we saw a weakening of overall pigment and less coverage of the saddle area. Again, it does not require genius to figure out that the opposites of these traits can be found in abundance in American lines, and that combination of gene pools is the logical answer. If you need stronger pastern and hock ligaments, better ears and dentition in a more easily sexed head, you will find more studs to select from among the imports. The latest thing that the Germans have given over to neglect is the rear stance of the dog, and how it moves going away. Because emphasis was put on better front angulation and rear drive, trueness going out has often been sacrificed, and it is hard to find German dogs that are not cowhocked now. Obviously, with the emphasis that AKC judges at all-breed shows put on “going away”, we will in these present days find sounder dogs in that respect among the Americans.

I have given only some examples, these being the more important or obvious ones, of differences and how these opposites can be put together to complement each other. What one has, the other needs. It is unfortunately necessary to generalize to make a point, but you should always remember what I have been preaching for the past four decades of my life in GSDs: a good dog does not know where it was born; a good dog is a good dog regardless of whether it is a German export to America or a carefully planned and executed breeding in U.S. lines. There are dogs in the American gene pool that more closely fit the Standard than do some dogs in the recent German gene pool; relatively how many may be an area we will disagree over, but we should not disagree that good features for the breed can be obtained by putting the two pools together.

Genetic diversity, almost synonymous with outcrossing, is essential to health, a return to the Standard, better relations between GSD fanciers in various parts of the world, and even the very preservation of the breed.

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
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