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Leerburg » Articles » Breeding Articles » Balance Problems With the American Show German Shepherd

Balance Problems With the American Show German Shepherd
Balance Problems With the American Show German Shepherd
by Jean Mueller

A Typical AKC Show Dog

I do not often publish articles on my web site that have been written by other people, but I asked Jean Mueller permission to print this article. It addresses the structural problem with the AMERICAN GERMAN SHEPHERD. I wrote an article titled German Bloodline Dog's vs American Bloodline Dogs. In it I address the fact that American Shepherds have lost their temperament, drive and working ability as a result of American Show Breeders searching for extreme angulation.

Jean’s article addresses the basic conceptual mistake that American AKC Show breeders make in how they interpret what a German Shepherd Dog should look like. They are so far off the mark that they have virtually destroyed the functionality of their bloodlines.

In my opinion is it foolish, stupid and wrong to breed an animal whose sole purpose is to enter conformation shows and run in a circle. I will guarantee you that Max Von Stephanitz never had the American German Shepherd in mind when he wrote his standards for the breed in the early 1900's.

I would like to share some ideas found through researching the American German Shepherd (GSD) as a herding breed dog. How the overall balance and structure is affected by exaggerated angles in this breed.

This breed originated as a herding dog. Herding dogs are trotting dogs that must have great endurance, strength and agility. In 1899 the first registry was created for GSDs called the SV (Verein fur Deutsche Schaferhunde), a society devoted to the development of the German Shepherd in Germany. Von Stephanitz as president favored dogs from Thuringia and Frankonia. These dogs were generally coarse coated, small and stocky with the prized qualities of erect ears and wolf-gray color. (see photo below)

Keeping in mind the GSD's original structure and purpose my premise is this:

Breeding a dog solely for its flying trot has left the American German Shepherd (GSD) wobbly and easily taken off balance. This breed features an attractive fault which pleases the 'fancy' but is, in fact, a detriment to its original function. The main point of concern is agility and balance in the structure of these dogs. Out of the herding group the GSD stands apart with an exaggerated top line and extremely long stride.

Beauty or extremes often win in dog shows. If the stride is suppose to be long, then of course, the longer the better. If the stride should be long then breeders will find a way to develop longer striding dogs. Selection for aesthetics and extremes has made the American GSD what it is today. At present these dogs are not bred to function as working dogs but to win in the show ring regardless of whether it improves the dog's original purpose or not.

There should be balanced angulation for dogs designed to be endurance trotters such as the GSD. That means the angle at the point of shoulder should be nearly equal to the angle at the stifle and the angle at the elbow should be nearly equal to that of the hock joint. One definition of "Balanced Angulation" is whatever angulation is needed for the function of the breed during locomotion.

Functional tests performed on dogs indicate that 45° lay back is undesirable for a trotting dog. (Brown, 1986) If the angle on the shoulder of the GSD remains at a extreme 45° angle as is widely believed to be correct it will also continue to affect the faulty angle of the rear.

It is not reasonable to measure the angulation of the rear leg since this position can be stretched as little or as much as desired. But there is a limit to how far the rear pasterns (from the paw to the hock joint) can be pulled in towards the ischium and kept on a vertical line. The rear pasterns shouldn't be slanted forward or backward to view these angles.

In realizing these variable distances some take their measurements of angle from structural points on the body. For instance in demonstrating top line differences between German GSDs and American GSDs, a 30° angle could be found common in both types of dog using a straight line from the high point of withers to ischium (buttocks bone). (Lanting, 1997)

But how can the angles in the rear be measured if the hock can be positioned at so many places behind the body of the dog?

Not only can the problem of defining the rear angulation be confusing, it allows for many varied perceptions.

The AKC (American Kennel Club) standards requirement can be taken by breeders many different ways. Right now it's for a maximum angulation in both front and rear.


The whole assembly of the thigh, viewed from the side, is broad with upper and lower thigh well muscled, forming as nearly as possible a right angle. The upper thigh bone parallels the shoulder blade while the lower thigh bone parallels the upper arm. The metatarsus (the unitbetween the hock joint and the paw) is short, strong and tightly articulated.

A German Shepherd dog is a trotting dog, and its structure has been developed to meet the requirements of its work. General Impression The gait is outreaching, elastic, seemingly without effort, smooth and rhythmic, covering the maximum amount of ground with the minimum number of steps. At a walk it covers a great deal of ground, with long stride of both hind legs and forelegs. At a trot the dog covers still more ground with even longer stride, [my emphasis] and moves powerfully but easily, with co-ordination and balance so that the gait appears to be the steady motion of a well lubricated machine. The feet travel close to the ground on both forward reach and backward push. In order to achieve ideal movement of this kind, there must be good muscular development and ligamentation. The hindquarters deliver, through the back, a powerful forward thrust which slightly lifts the whole animal and drives the body forward. Reaching far under, and passing the imprint left by the front foot, the hind foot takes hold of the ground; then hock,then hock, stifle and upper thigh come into play and sweep back, the stroke of the hind leg finishing with the foot still close to the ground in a smooth follow-through. The over-reach of the hindquarter usually necessitates one hind foot passing outside and the other hind foot passing inside the track of the forefeet, and such action is not faulty unless the locomotion is crab wise with the dog's body sideways out of the normal straight line. [my emphasis]

The typical smooth, flowing gait is maintained with great strength and firmness of back. The whole effort of the hindquarter is transmitted to the forequarter through the loin, back, and withers. At full trot, the back must remain firm. The forelegs should reach out close to the ground in a long stride in harmony with that of the hindquarters [my emphasis]. Faults of gait, whether from front, rear, or side, are to be considered very serious faults.

The American GSD is known for its flying trot, a trotting style altered by humans. In the GSD standard, it is suggested that side overreaching is required for exceptionally long strides, necessitating the extreme angulation not found in other dog breeds.

This excerpt taken from The GSD Today written for the American GSD fancier is a good example of the popular belief in extreme angulation. "We prefer a dog with exceptionally good rear angulation as it gives him that strong forward propulsion and powerful drive he needs to maintain a smooth, effortless gait. This type of hindquarter, besides being esthetically pleasing to the eye, is also enduring, for well angulated dogs keep their feet low to the ground, eliminating waste motion. Some people erroneously criticize a dog who has good rear angulation, blaming this feature for any galling faults. [my emphasis] In all probability the faulty dog has a poor shoulder and is not a balanced animal. If the dog had a good shoulder to accompany the good rear angulation he would be able to out move any others."

This has been the direction most American Breeders have sadly been going in for much too long now.

Some in the study of dog structure and the GSD have raised comment on the apparent concept in the American fancy of "the more angulation, the better."

As Curtis Brown points out in Dog Locomotion and Gait Analysis "We now have German Shepherds with angulation which can never be used; in the walk they are disgraceful and in the trot, the hock joint never straightens (sickle-hocked)."

In The German Shepherd Dog A Genetic History, Dr. Malcolm B. Willis states "and hind angulation that bordered on the abnormal. Breeders proudly advertised their dogs as 'extreme at both ends movement had become the god but there was concentration upon side gait without real regard to front and hind movement (Loeb, 1988). [my emphasis] The god of movement was nothing but a graven image It is a tragedy and, alas, one sees no end to it. Pottle (1984) of Covy-Tucker Hills kennels in an interview opined that American Shepherds were structurally the best in the world! Her partner Birch (1984) felt that German imports could not compete in the show ring but she then went on to state categorically that 'a superstar (see photo above) at Covy-Tucker Hills has to have more than extreme angulation and movement to win'. The admission that extreme angulation is needed gives the lie to any claim the GSDs in the USA are going in the right direction North America has got it wrong and seems oblivious to its error in its obsession with extremes." (see photo below)

Even the American White Shepherd Association has a breed standard that emphasizes the working ability and discourages the extreme angulation seen in many colored American GSDs today. "This is a herding dog that must have the agility, freedom of movement and endurance to do the work required of it. When gaiting, the dog should move smoothly with all parts working in harmony. Overall balance, strength and firmness of movement is to be given more emphasis than a side gait showing a flying trot." [my emphasis]

In looking at a skeleton that fits many of the current herding dogs today and that of the GSD there are two big differences. The distance of the hock from the body, and the angle of the rear leg joint including its movement in the hip socket. (See drawing below)

Taking into account that the rear leg can be posed any distance from the body, here again the rear pasterns shouldn't be slanted forward or backward but positioned as closely to the ischium as possible. (The dog should be able to physically hold this position by themselves comfortably.) This position of the leg is still so far behind the body that even though it creates an incredibly long stride at the same time it leaves the dog with a lack of balance and loss of agility. Observation of other herding breeds in motion during a specific task herding, jumping, changing direction; all require balance which is found with dogs whose feet are firmly set close to their bodies for stability.)

Compare the difference between diagram A and B and the position of the rear thighbone in the hip socket. Note how the angles are different in each. With the rear leg at this angle it does little to support the body as the foot pushes out off the ground. In my opinion this weakens the overall movement of the dog; a turn in direction or shift easily causes the dog to lose balance.

The rear legs don't give support to the back part of the dog. The rear hip joint has to support this part of the body. This leaves the joint more open to injury with any quick change in direction. The GSD now only achieves real balance when in forward motion.

References to a "full support" position in the GSD have been made in connection to balance. In some German Shepherd manuals the skeletal structure looks nothing like the GSD today. (Barwig et al, 1986) Some of these diagrams might not be accurate but it still raises questions on what should be correct for this breed. At any case what might have been true in 1950 is no longer so.

Static and kinetic balance as well as gravity should be looked at and evaluated.

American GSDs in daily routine need to be able to spin, change direction and walk without a loss of balance, which at this time they don't have. Consideration should be taken to breed a GSD that can function in all it is many facets. In trials of agility, balance, endurance and strength this breed is lacking what all other herding breeds have balance.

The origin of the GSD shows a different body type with the feet set more closely under the body.

Refer to 1950's Axel vd Deininghauserheide and others like 1953's Alert of Mi-Noah's (see photo D) (Attached at bottom of page) in which you see dogs built like other herding breeds we see today. I advocate a change in breeding and also suggest that the common hip problems in the GSD might be greatly lessened.

Let it be noted that many of the working German line GSDs today are extremely well balanced with excellent temperament. American GSD breeders need to take their blinders off to see what a REAL GSD is all about.

American Kennel Club, The Complete Dog Book: New York, Howell Book House, 1997

Barwig et al, The German Shepherd Book: Colorado, Hoflin Publishing, 1986

Blxler-Clark, Alice. Brlarda: New Jersey: TFH Publications, Inc., 1994

Brown, Curtis, Dog Locomotion and Gait Analysis: Colorado, Hoflin Publishing, 1986

Collier, Marget. Border Collies: New Jersey: TFH Publications, Inc., 1995

Lanting, Fred, The Topline of the German Shepherd Dog: Colorado, German Shepherd Quarterly, Hoflin Publishing, 1997

Lucas, Miranda. The bouvier des flandres: New York: Howell Book House, 1990

PettengelI, Jim. The new rottweiler: essential reading for owners, breeders: New York: Howell Book House, 1995

Robertson, Narelle. Australian cattle dogs: New Jersey: TFH Publications, Inc., 1992

Scott, J.p., and J.L. Fuller. Genetics and the Social Behavior of the Dog. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1965

Sloanem, Steve. Australian Kelpies: New Jersey: TFH Publications, Inc., 1991

PaIika, Liz, 1954. Australian shepherd: champion of versatility. New York: Howell Book House, 1995

Turnquist, Marge. The Belgian sheepdog: Virginia: Denlingerís Publishers, LTD., 1985

Strickland, Winifred Gibson and James A. Moses. The German shepherd today: New York: Macmillan General reference, 1974

Sundstrom, Harold W. and Sundstrom, Mary O. Collies, A Complete pet owners manual: New York: Barronís Educational Series, Inc., 1994

Walkowicz, Chris. The bearded collie: Virginia: Denlingerís Publishers, Ltd. 1990

Willis, Malcom B., The German Shepherd Dog, A Genetic History: New York: Howell Book House, 1991

My husband and I started out with American line GSDs 4 years ago. I currently have three dogs. They have been shown in the breed ring as well as the obedience ring. My dogs are worked in obedience, agility, herding and fly ball. I've shown two dogs to their championships and continue to put working titles on my dogs. Due to problems with this breed health and structure wise; I began to research and talk to AKC judges, UKC judges, Breeders, and the dog community in general. I have shown other peoples dogs in breed as a way to work with as many American line GSDs as possible. And as part of my on going studies I've opened my home to breeders who have puppies stay for a week or two for socialization and training. I have worked with other herding breeds as well as German line GSDs which I base my comparisons on.

Jean Mueller

I am really glad to see that someone having been in the GSD breed for four years is so knowledgeable. I wish after 30 years, 50 Champions, professional handler for 20 years, could say I know as much as you. I hope to one day to meet you face to face. You are a disgrace to this wonderful breed. The really bad part of this is you will get a lot of new young people to listen to you. People like you are the ones who will destroy the breed for which it was intended by Mr. Max.

Bob Grady. Breeder for 30 years, Pro Handler for 20 years, and now AKC Judge.

I have received a number of nasty grams on this article. Since you seem to represent the herd I will respond to your email.

To begin with I did not write this article. I mentioned this at the top of the article. If you have only been in the breed 30 years, then I have 5 years more experience than you do. But this is an irrelevant matter. The interesting thing is that the lady that wrote this article figured these things out in 4 years. Does it mean that she is a tad bit smarter than you? After all she came to the correct conclusion after 4 years and you have not figured it out in 30.

The AKC and people like you have misled the general public long enough. The advent of the internet has allowed people like me to break your strangle hold of mis-information on this breed. While I would like to take credit ( in a small way) for educating people about the misgivings of the American GSD, you people accomplish a lot on your own. Don't think that John "Q" public does not look at these goofy animals that you breed (and show) and realize that no animal should look and move the way they look and move.

I find it curious how you can toot your horn about the AKC and your 50 champions. If the AKC was sincerely interested in bettering the breed they would require tattooing puppies (or putting identification chips in them), they would require hip x-rays before two dogs could be bred and they would insist on working titles and temperament tests on a dog as a requirement for a championship. Your arrogance and your stupidity fly in the face of common sense. So don't try and tell me about how people like me have destroyed the breed, go look in the mirror.

So Badbob (or Bob Grady), if you really are an AKC judge, then you are also a fool. Showing GSD's in conformation is 80% political and 20% dogs. AKC shows are about "who you know and not what you have." AKC conformation is the epitomy of the "GOOD OLD BOY NETWORK" at its worst.

I too was an AKC Judge a number of years ago. I judged herding dog trials in the "tending style." When the AKC took their stupid stand against Schutzhund I resigned.

Ed Frawley
Dear Bob,

I just read your e-mail to Mr. Frawley on the Leerburg web site. I must say that I disagree with your point of view. The woman who wrote the article to which you commented on, makes a compelling argument about the physical state of the "AKC GSD" and the examples that are shown in ACK sanctioned dog shows.

I have owned and trained German Shepherd dogs for approx. 10 years now and I am also a Police K-9 Handler for the Sheriff Dept I work for. One thing I must point, I have never seen a "American " line GSD that was able to perform as a suitable patrol dog. They simply do not have the temperament to function in this role. This situation alone demonstrates the need for a change in the AKC,s outlook toward this breed.

The AKC needs to look at itself more objectively and realize that they have left the ideas of the breed founder in a dust filled closet and have created a very faulty method of determining what a GSD should be.

I would be delighted to discuss this issue with you in detail and share with you what I have learned. You must know that I do not hold my opinions as a result of reading information on Mr. Frawley's web site. I have held my opinion toward the current state of the "American" GSD for quite some time. Since opening my mind about canine breeding, I feel even stronger than ever that your position is in error.

Please feel free to e-mail me at the address below for a civil discussion.

Mark (

Hi!! Well.... I TOTALLY disagree with what you had to say about the German show lines. "Couldn't fight their way out of a paper bag..." Totally not true. Apparently you have not seen many show dogs. For example.... VA2 Nanto von Dan Alhedy's Hoeve SchH3 IPO3 Kkl1 life. He is a prime example of a show-working dog. He comes from a line of tough dogs. One of the best producing bitches of all time, Catja v. Dan al.... His offspring are excelling S&R and even a police dog in NY who has already had 5 street bites. But much for a show, VA dog. I agree with you that American GSDs are pieces of sh*t. I think you should restate your opinion of German Show lines once you have more knowledge of them.

I do not want to be offensive, but you have a lot to learn. Go out and get some experience and then talk to me in 10 years.

There are a lot of police dogs that have no business being on the street so this argument does not hold water.

Think what you want about these dogs, but the fact is there are sound reasons for people like me (including the German Police) not looking at the show lines.

I read the article on your web site about balance problems in the GSD. It was right on the money!!! The pictures didn't come close to the jokes they called GSDs at the last Specialty I handled in almost 3 years ago. The angulation was such that the dog's hock were dragging the ground. That was Stoney's last show, he is retired now. The judge was afraid of him and excused him because he is NOT American. I am going to get him DNA'd soon because of his conformation and temperament not matching his pedigree. The GSDs I see now are a HUGE JOKE!!!!!

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