Friday 28 July 2017

Shocking new study: German Shepherds die because they can no longer stand up

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.

As a result of measures introduced by the Kennel Club after the Crufts 2016 GSD scandal (including - I kid you not - adding to the breed standard the line "Must be capable of standing comfortably and calmly, freely and unsupported in any way") the UK GSD show scene is in some turmoil.

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.

Uxås Criga
To those of us who weep when we look at the modern show German Shepherd it all offers a small glimmer of hope.

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.


  1. You'll wait a LONG time for the Surrey study to deal with conformation as they have told me that they will measure the 'slope' simply by the angle that the withers-croup line makes with the horizontal. There is NO measure of spinal curvature. So far they've changed the parameters of that study 3 times. It's a huge joke - but, whatever the results, you can bet your bottom that the Kennel Club will claim success.

  2. My GSD is from working lines and built like the puppy shown. I wouldn't have either and American or German show line dog.

    1. Dog shows are the death of all working breeds!

  3. To be fair, if they'd done this study in the 60's, they'd have likely found that inability to stand was one of the leading causes of death too, whether it was spine, HD or DM. Lifespan definitely appears to have decreased despite better vet care now. It wasn't uncommon for more GS to reach 15 and 16 than we hear off now. Germanic show is not the largest fraction of the breed in the uk; i would say pet bred from the old English bloodlines are predominantly the largest fraction and they advertise themselves as 'straight back' so, if anything, the study doesn't give any meaningful info that dogs are dying from issues caused by abnormal structure such as bendy spines and overangulation. There is however, evidence from studies over the last 15 years that the sloping croup changes the angle of the facet joints in the spine which may be a precursor to spinal issues. Its logic to think the downwards bend to the spine and a steeper croup may exacerbate the angles but that's only speculation. I don't think this study tells us anything we didn't already know, and i cant see it persuading the germans to change the showline. Love the Swedish dog btw. Got lovely tight feet.

    1. You are wrong. The largest section of GSDs registered ARE Germanic showlines. Only about 5% of GSDs now come from old English breeding and the majority of straight back show dogs have very, very little of it in their ancestry. Some of the information quoted comes from other studies - like the one the SV in Germany had done which examined over 700 dogs and conclusively showed a problem which was absolutely and directly related to the lumbar spine curvature. All of the dogs in that study were German Show Lines that had been submitted for hip-scoring.

      Jemima - the SV2000 was formed many years ago by an ex breed warden of the SV who had the temerity to say that the shape of the show linedog was wrong and interfered with its working ability. Naturally, he was fired within 7 days and formed the SV2000 as an alternative. Unfortunately, he misses the point that the function of the dog, e.g. what it is supposed to work at, is to be a shepherd and the SV2000, like the SV, is heavily reliant on 'man-work'.

    2. Read the BRS, Philip. I know some are mixing AM blood with English. AM are riddled with the same health issues and completely bottlenecked. Mixing two bottlenecks with health problems does not a healthier breed make. The overwhelming and largest sub population of GSDs in the UK are pet bred, not show dogs. Colours make up a considerable proportion of that. Musculoskeletal problems in this breed are not new, and dogs going off their back legs has been reported long before the curved spines were bred. I am not saying there isn't a problem; there most certainly is, but I don't believe it starts and stops with the Germanic SL.

    3. So funny that you know that comment was from Philip!

    4. Function of the dog is a working utility dog. To keep the traits of a working dog as a working dog you have to work the dog. The dogs profile was extended to a working utility dog by the breeds founder irrespective of what job he had in mind when he decided to start a breed. Not been enough sheep now in decades to keep the genetic traits in the population at the fore.

  4. They should ban breeders and kennel clubs. They are the cause of all the health problems of dogs. Look at the Cavalier. Look at the boxer. The original dogs were bred for their use, not for how they looked

    1. Actually, the original cavalier King Charles spaniel was bred for how it looked. -- Rod Russell, Orlando, Florida USA

  5. I think this is sick and actually I feel dogs should be tested before shown. If you wanna claim your dog is indeed of the real I repeat the real German Shepherd then DM testing ,spine and all X Rays to show. Now yes this would do away with puppy shows all together or maybe certain tests should be done as a pup as well. Then to show as an adult the rest of the tests including OFA excellent or Good and nothing below that able to show. I am a German shepherd breeder and hold myself to the highest standard of the breed. For it is not about money it is about keeping the true German Shepherd not this man made disaster.

    1. Perhaps the best solution would be to require an INDEPENDENT vet's examination report as a pre-requisite to get into a show ring to begin with. A truly independent vet, who'll check that the animal is a healthy DOG, not just "healthy for the breed".

      To help prevent breeders from finding a complicit "purebreed friendly" vet to do the exam, there should be a requirement for actual documentation to be included-- genetic tests, MRIs, X-Rays, etc-- should be submitted as part of the packet. If confirmation show breeders claim to be "improving" the breed, let them show the proof.

      If any part of any dog's health report is discovered to be falsified, then all humans involved should be banned for life from any participation in the show ring, whether as owner, breeder, exhibitor, judge, or vet check provider. Period.

      *sigh* Yes, I know it'll never happen, but I can dream, can't I?

    2. But thats the thing isn't it. You can't 'improve' on some thing if your own criteria states that only what is already there, in front of you, can be 'recognized'.

      The 'standards' simply replace any form of environmental selection ( the conditions that govern natural selection and adaptation) with a set of 'standardized' conditions.

      Humanity is Domestic Dogs natural environment and the species evolved beautifully to fit into that environment through a very natural selection. By meeting or not, the diverse conditions imposed by humanity. In meeting those conditions, Dogs improved their own environment by achieving and demonstrating value within it.

      The problem isn't as much that the K.Cs impose their own conditions to be met in the form of 'Standards', but that they refuse to recognize value that does not strictly conform to those standards. Represented by a Pedigree. Promoting the idea that any value lies in the pedigree, not the Dog or his his own specific value.

      The majority of registering bodies state that they do not recognize dogs unless bred to the protocols set out by their organizations and represented by a pedigree.

      An Identity can be defined as a cultural collective bound by a common belief of 'self'. Weather its a single human identity or a canine identity, bound by its cell culture or the broader cultural identity of 'a breeder' made up of many people. Both are ruled by a physics of culture. They are both defined by belief based on past experience.

      Diversity in either culture, be it cellular or human, allows for adaptation to changed conditions or evolution.
      'Fixed' traits of culture are a belief in a single or set response to a required action. Any other can't be seen as a possibility. Its possibility is not recognized because it has no value to the belief of self imposed by its identity.

      In the statement that Dogs bred outside of their own Pedigree protocols will not be recognized, The K.Cs have defined the identity of a Dog Breeder by a belief in the Pedigree. Not in a belief in Dogs or their possibilities.

      Its an inbred culture responding to set and fixed beliefs that don't allow for diversity or other possibility by its own refusal to recognize the realities of its environment.


    3. All I can say is that many Dogs are line bred EG:- Daughter to Father, mother to Son, brother to Sister etc because of conformation requirements and Money??
      This includes many other breeds. Very sad indeed.

  6. Appalling news, to be sure. And notice: it's not just the croup that's deformed in modern GSDs. Like many other purebred (inbred) dogs, the face is changing, the size is overall increasing, the gene pool shrinking, and the likelihood of inbreeding depression and genetic disorders is going up (of which hyena-like hindquarters is only one). Sloping backs surely need to be addressed, but that's just the tip of the iceberg in this and other purebred domestic wolves (dogs).

  7. Yes Anon 17:52

    Would love to ban shows, and any organization that promotes a belief that 'Standard' conditions for dogs takes precedence over the environmental conditions and demands that govern weather a species has what it takes to survive, adapt and evolve to needs.

    What a mess. And it gets worse each year this is allowed to continue. Lets just start over please.

    Some of these breeds are just too risky now to even use in out crossing.

    1. If someone offered show line breeders a special prize of $1,821 (1,395 pounds) for "old-fashioned" straight-backed German Shepherds, I'm pretty sure that these types could be presented very quickly. Look at the history of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.

      All conformation show breeders get a higher percentage of "pet quality" dogs in their Champion-bred litters than they like to admit. All they need is a financial incentive to keep them, rather than sell them off as pets-- or worse, have them discreetly euthanized by a purebred-friendly vet.

  8. 30 years ago I worked for a GSD breeder who was always afraid of being associated with any "roachy back" specimens. She'd be rolling in her grave now.....

  9. Maybe there are few show-line Germans that look like the picture from the 20s, but there are definitely plenty of pet and working (police, guide, etc.) dogs that have a healthy conformation. I had never really seen a show bred German before I found this blog a few years ago, but they are very common as pets where I live. So the pics of these hunched up dogs that almost crawl on the ground were extra horrifying to me as I'm used to a very square dog that moves with sound gaits!

  10. My GSD mix is shaped just like the vintage photograph - she's probably smaller though (only 19kg and 23 inches tall at withers). I think she's gorgeous and vastly prefer her shape over the purebred showline GSD.

    People tell me she is beautiful and ask me what breed she is all the time. My mother tells me that my dog looks like an "Alsatian" from back when she was a child.

    So far my dog has no health issues but she's only 20 months old - hopefully she hasn't inherited anything bad from her gsd parent.

  11. I have a English Shepherd Dog and a Akita Shepherd and they both are healthy and active but I love that 1925 German Shepherd he looks amazing.

  12. I have been working at a k c dog shows since 1995 as a dog food rep, then leashmaker and trainer. The racket they run with judges dogs being sold crippled and ignoring ethical rules by the akc.

    It's not just one breeder, it's covy Tucker hill genes. They also were told and chose to ignore it. And crossed into American lines everywhere.

    Worst people on the planet

    And her grand Victor pyramid of crippled.