German Shepherd Dogs: Fashion vs. FunctionPublished October 13, 2011
Did you see the article about German Shepherd Dogs in the New York Times on Sunday? Turns out the police force in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia announced that they were replacing German Shepherds with Belgian Malinois. The author believes that this blow to the breed in the public service sector is a good thing: less visibility in service positions might create less demand, which in turn will force unscrupulous for-profit GSD breeders to look for a new meal ticket. Perhaps then the breed might have a chance to recover?
The article got me thinking about the evolution of German Shepherds, specifically a cosmetic trend in the show world I find perplexing. (Granted, I'm perplexed by much of what goes on in dog shows.) Have you noticed how sloped and tucked GSD's hindquarters are these days? They look as if they're trying to keep their tails from getting caught in a slamming door. Their gait is wobbly and inelegant (also known as "ataxic."). The posture is exaggerated when the dogs stand still...I've heard the low-slung conformation called "banana back," and that sounds about right.
GSDs didn't always look like that. Photos of winning show dogs back in the 1940s and 1950s illustrate a more straight back "natural" appearance. The trend changed in the 1970s. Winning show dogs became increasingly sloped, with an exaggerated "roaching" of the back. Sadly, the preference for this type of conformation in the ring has continued.
The exaggerated posture of the show GSD is a matter of fashion, not function. In fact, working GSDs look more like the dog pictured in the above drawing, taken from "The Book of Dogs" published in 1919. In the excellent BBC documentary Pedigree Dogs Exposed, an orthopedic veterinarian viewed footage of British show GSDs in the ring and pronounced them "not normal." (The entire documentary is worth watching, but you can fast forward to 7:00 to see the GSD clip.)
German Shepherds aren't the only dogs suffering for "beauty." The very traits that draw us to particular breeds, or make them winners in the ring, like pushed in faces, or short legs, or wrinkles, can be the same things that undermine their health. Perhaps its time for the show world to take a step back and think about the health of the dogs, not the traits that just win dog shows.