In March last year, the footage of the best of breed German Shepherd (above) scurrying bent-backed and stressed round the big ring at Crufts sparked an outcry way beyond the dog-world. (See the footage here).
Now, a new study published in Canine Genetics and Epidemiology articulates the troubling state of the breed today in finding that the two leading causes of death for the German Shepherd in the UK are musculoskeletal disorders and "inability to stand".
In fact, if you add in deaths from spinal cord disorders (which often lead to paralysis in GSDs) this new study suggests that almost half of German Shepherds (45%) die from issues that are likely linked to the stresses caused by abnormal conformation.
Says author Dan O'Neill: "These results are higher for causes of death related to osteoarthritis/inability to stand/spinal problems in GSDs compared with some other larger breeds that we have explored and therefore are a point of note."
One can only say "likely", because the study does not differentiate between Sheps with a sloped or unnaturally curved back and those with a more normal one. This is simply an overall snapshot of the breed in the UK and all the more depressing for that. For something more specific, we will have to wait for the results of a KC-funded locomotion study at the University of Surrey which is quantifying the different GSD types.
The truth is that there are very few German Shepherds in the UK (or indeed elsewhere) that are anything like as sound in body as this favourite-of-mine dog from 1925, Ch Klodo vom Boxberg.
To compare, here's the dog that was named best female at last year's Sieger show in Germany.
We are indeed seeing dogs with somewhat straighter backs and sturdier back ends in the UK show-ring but there remains a hard-core group of GSD breeders and judges who still want dogs like the 2016 Crufts winner. They continue to cling to the German showline dog - as evidenced by this logo for the British Singer Show held last month.
In Germany, whose show breeders are ultimately responsible for fucking up the breed, there has been a lot of discussion and some small indicators that change might be on the way. There will be many watching to see if there is any moderation in the dogs at this year's Sieger Show (the German showline dog's flagship event) in September.
There is also now a splinter group in Germany - the RSV2000 - which promotes a more workmanlike dog.
And just look at this dog which won Best Puppy at a show in Sweden earlier this year.
Then I go to the breeder website for the 2016 Crufts best of breed Cruaghaire Catoria - or "Tori" as she is known - and see that they are planning on breeding her (for the third time) this autumn (see here).
I am not sure who is going to win the battle of the GSDs.
Hopefully the dog.
PS: there was one other fascinating finding in this study: that female GSDs lived longer than males - 1.4 yrs longer on average in fact. They found that they are markedly lighter, and less aggressive, too.