Still Arguing About The Standard(s)?
(subtitle: “Where’s the Beef?”)

Many have spoken about the GSD Breed Standard in many places, but some have not been allowed to add their voices in the official journal of the GSD Club of America. Those who run the club also run the magazine, and how much of a tight lead their editor is on versus how much she actively sympathizes with the power structure’s proclamations is 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 have on the subject. I think the members have the right to read opposing viewpoints, not just wishy-washy pieces that only purport to take a different view than the Board’s, but that is not to be. What will be the likely result of this? It is 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 reminds me of that to a degree. The same way the arguments about OFA hip certification for Selects were handled, only worse, if you can imagine such a condition.

Can we simplify this complex issue? There is a World Union of GSD clubs (WUSV) to which the GSDCA presently 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 (parent club and responsible for the breed) in Germany does. The British, still torn by Alsatian vs. Germanic factions, have not adopted the exact wording that would signify compliance with the FCI (world all-breed kennel club or association) breed Standard, which is the SV-WUSV document with the FCI stamp on it. However, they are a bit closer than the Americans are, and more importantly, most of the events are judged in accordance with the FCI-SV judging methods as well as adherence to the world Standard. Many of their shows are judged by SV judges who fly over (or now drive under) the channel, and most of the rest are judged by SV or SV-trained local judges. A smaller number of shows are judged by “Alsatian” fanciers. The big show at Crufts usually has one type of judge doing bitches, the other type doing males. In the U.S. and Canada, roughly 50% of the active fanciers hold to the FCI Standard, although very, very few of the GSDCA (AKC affiliate) and GSDCC (CKC affiliate) members do. The other two GSD breed clubs here are the United Schutzhund Clubs of America (USA) and the German Shepherd Schutzhund Club of Canada (GSSCC). Both of these are WUSV member clubs, while the CKC club is not. 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 take much active part in the organization or sport.

The controversy comes from the WUSV’s insistence that all member clubs 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 a generation or two 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 members of the AKC-affiliated GSDCA are 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 one for acceptance, a la the U.K.’s situation. 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 say are the property of the breed clubs, they nevertheless have and always use the veto. 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. Their ad hoc committee chairman admitted to the power that the AKC wields in a January 2000 report to the membership via the Review, nearly three years after the committee was established. 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. The official GSDCA magazine has historically turned down articles of truly opposition views, so the members are in effect brainwashed by the Board (and the complicity of the editor they hired). Other smokescreens and deliberate diversionary statements focus on what they feel we cannot do rather than what we 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 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. In fact, the committee’s proposed revision actually calls 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, it’s at least 55%. This makes our bulkier AKC-types similar to the “Alsatian” style in England. The 1997 WUSV-FCI Standard, which I had translated and GSQ had run some time back, 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 can’t find that back GSQ issue, you can still read the Standard on (and related documents on nearby pages). There is no peace made when people refer to the Alsatian-AKC deep-body style as “sausage dog” — it just rankles the owners and people who choose not to read or follow the world union. I just ask here that you understand the difference. There is also 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 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.

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 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 Standard? By the way, the only thing the FCI is doing in the equation is providing 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 23.6 to 25.6 inches, bitches 21.6 to 23.6 inches). A dog that measures up to one measly centimeter outside these ranges is considered less desirable for breeding — a breeding class 2 or 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, 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? Could be, but for now, the committee is deathly silent on it, and believe me, it is a vital part of the Standard not to 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 years ago Bob Ligon remarked to me how upset he was with that fault, and I have heard pitifully few echo him. Even some of the 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. “The pastern has a length of approximately 1/3 that of the forearm and has an angle of approx. 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 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 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 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. ny total of three or more teeth;

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 member 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. Why not go along with the WUSV? We could just leave out reference to breed surveys.

“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 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?

“(Other) Disqualifying (exclusionary)


  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…
  6. ”No serious argument with the above? Good. Now the solutions to the only tough parts to adopting the WUSV Standard

”No serious argument with the above? Good. Now the solutions to the only tough parts to 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 the Bassett-GSD crosses if that’s the kind you breed.

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.

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.

Late flash: someone sent me a copy of a link to the Board-O-Gram (GSDCA) re their April, 2000 meeting: “Buss and Messler agreed that only an authorized English translation of the SV Standard would be acceptable to the WUSV.” GSDCA pres. Ken Downing will be continuing “the dialog”, it says. If they had accepted and submitted the English version of the Standard I translated for them over two years ago, they wouldn’t be in this pickle today! That can be found on the website mentioned earlier. Another Board-O-Gram news item: “The AKC has agreed that they would be willing to consider a formal request to hold a schutzhund trial at our National Specialty.” Again, if the GSDCA Board had had any spine from the mid-1980s onward, they would have continued to hold schutzhund trials and told the AKC to buzz off and not interfere with what is best for the breed. Almost everywhere else, the breed clubs are the guardians of the breeds. When you let distant bureaucrats run things that are best handled on the more local level, all you will get is a big SNAFU. You young people can ask your WW-2-era grandfather what that term means.

In the Winter 2000-2001 issue of GSQ I submitted 3 photos. The publisher (Hoflin) got the captions messed up, and did not run the pictures with the article in the previous issue, but if you have a collection of GSQs, take a look at three photos I submitted as examples that American-line breeders can produce dogs to the WUSV-FCI Standard if they put their minds to it. The dark young male owned by Ed Peterson is a son of Select and AOE Schneiderhof’s Urban Cowboy, and there are two positive things I draw your attention to: He has the correct height-to-length proportions (between 8.5 to 10 and 9 to 10), and his rear angulation is very good. You may at first glance think there is not enough bend at the stifle (the definition of rear angulation) if you are used to looking at the incorrect extreme dogs, but the knee should not be lower than the hock! Keep that in mind when you compare that photo with advertisements of most “big winners”. This dog has a nice short loin, and decent front and croup. His chest depth is excessive (55%) and he is posed in the fashionable but unnatural head-high manner, but overall, this is a normal dog.

The second photo is of Ann Hutton’s bitch, another correctly-proportioned animal, although her extreme pose doesn’t indicate that without measuring the length and height with a ruler. She actually is close to a 9:10 ratio, and has the additional advantage of having an elbow-to-ground ratio of about 50% of her height. Again, the head held artificially high (a matter of posing and training in some dogs, of structure in others) makes her look more upright in front than she really is. (See the spring GSQ issue for a critique.)

The third example is Kurdel’s Nasty, the BOB at the Los Angeles 1999 specialty (also from the classes) owned by the Hysens. She has a little more than an 8.5 to 10 ratio, and again has half of her height from the point of the elbow down. Her considerable rear angulation is still not so much that the lower thigh has to travel upwards to the hock. All three of these dogs are correct in size. If some breeders in this country can approach the WUSV Standard in these important aspects, the rest of us can, too. 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

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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