The German Shepherd community is in the midst of a huge controversy regarding the correct shape of the backs of German Shepherds. This community has been divided in their opinions of which back shape is more correct in showing the proper look of the GS line. The controversy is portrayed as “American vs. German dogs” and as “working vs. show dogs.” There is much debate and numerous opinions which discuss the correct look, any extreme angulation causing hip dysplasia, and sloping as a fashion trend or crippling of a good breed. The main question many ask is “Is the aesthetic look compromising the functionality of German Shepherds? Click on the link at the end to read the GS’s AKC breed standards.
Between the American GSDs and the German GSDs; which is sloping more? Both. There are also the questions of when did this sloping start? 1960’s. Who started it? Matter of opinion. Where is it most prominent? Matter of opinion. It is actually all a matter of opinion and who the info is received from. Both sides of straight back or sloped back state that their look is better and in line more of what the breed is intended to look like.
But what is the breed intended to look like? Von Stephanitz started the GSD line which did not have a sloping back. A good explanation was found for the sloping back appearing in the 1960’s: Rin Tin Tin on a rock or hill. This became the ideal standard appearance for all GSDs.
Why has sloping been a factor in what a GSD should look like in AKC show rings? This is explained by the AKC:
“…AKC approved judges examine the dogs and place them in accordance to how close each dog compares with their mental image of the “perfect” dog as described in the breed’s official standard.”
The biggest debate occurs between the show GSDs and the working GSDs. Are the show dogs actually functional in their working roles? To many people, they are not. To understand the show GSDs side one should understand the purpose of the AKC. The AKC states:
“For each breed the AKC registers, there is a breed standard which is a word description of the perfect dog of that breed. Standards describe the mental and physical characteristics that allow each breed to perform the function for which they were originated. The standard describes the dog’s looks, movement and temperament. Breeders involved with each breed are attempting to produce a dog that most closely conforms to the breed standard…”
The dog needs to perform a function assisted by good mental and physical characteristics. For GSDs this includes their gait/run. The function of a GSD is to run smoothly and quickly for herding purposes. More ‘show’ GSDs have an extreme slop in the back. According to breeders and AKC, this sloping allows the dog to perform this function better because the hind feet are closer to the ground. The other side states that the extreme sloping hinders the gait/run with wobbliness and displacement of the hind feet.
Veterinarians and their specific experiences may vary in regards to extreme sloping causing hip dysplasia (HD). Hip dysplasia is caused by genetic and environmental factors including rapid weight gain/obesity, nutrition, and pelvic muscle mass. Most often HD occurs during the puppy stage. It’s a failure of the hip bone to develop normally which leads in a gradual deterioration to loss of function. All large and giant dogs are prone to get HD. In an ‘old’er dog, HD is usually followed by osteoarthritis; an inflammation of joint cartilage and then deterioration of the cartilage. No studies are found to link sloping backs to HD.
Many opinions state the sloping back is ultimately crippling not only to the individual GSD but the entire line. The crippling claims include HD problems and the gait/run is severely affected that the GS has a crab like walk. Britain has criticized breeders and kennel clubs for allowing extreme sloping, calling them more frogs than dogs, thereby changing the original look the GS. Many other opinions state the correct GSD is with a straight back because that was the original design of the breed. Too much of anything is not good, and while we all think Rin Tin Tin was a good looking GS while climbing a hill or a rock, GSDs should not be sloped to the extreme to satisfy our aesthetic image but for their real purpose and function in this world.
AKC German Shepherd standards