Judging – Are ‘Germanic’ GSDs really ‘Germanic’

Animal Care College – caring for people caring for animals

I must make it clear from the outset that I am not on anyone’s ‘side’ in this debate.  My concern is solely with the health, welfare and quality of the dogs.

Some pictures came my way a few weeks ago which I would like to share with you. It caught my eye because of a column I wrote a couple of months ago about German Shepherd Dogs which led to some discussion with GSD enthusiasts. The correspondence I received at the time demonstrated, in spades, the points I was making recently in another context about closed minds. I was sent an outline of the skeleton of a GSD, the one reproduced here, and told that it was accepted by breeders in Germany and throughout the world as the ‘ideal’. My view is that although exaggerated it was well within the parameters which I have outlined in these articles about conformation and soundness in the past so it was fine by me. If you examine the drawing, you can see that it represents a relatively normal conformation. The second thigh is somewhat over long and the angles in the hind quarter are significantly at variance with those in the forehand (the expectation in a ‘normal’ construction is that they would be very similar) but nevertheless the structure is acceptable.


I was then directed to the picture of a dog and told that it had won a sheaf of awards – and that it typified the conformation demonstrated in the drawing of the skeleton.  This is the one.


Here my correspondent and I part company. Imagine the photograph overlaid on the skeleton. Does it fit? No it does not – not by any stretch of the imagination.

We are often told in no uncertain terms that we should look to Germany for our inspiration and I am therefore delighted to bring you a third illustration which was taken in Germany prior to 1957 (it must have been before 1957 as this picture is in a German book on dogs breeds published that year ). The book is fascinating and has many lovely monochrome pictures showing quite clearly that many indigenous German breeds in the ring today including Rottweilers and Dobermanns, look very similar to those being shown fifty years ago.

As you can see, an exception is the German Shepherd Dog.


This picture shows a judges training session at a German show. You can see that the skeleton on the blackboard that the live model, black German Shepherd would fit neatly over it.

My question is a simple one – why is there so much attention being paid to the modern German Shepherd Dogs from Germany when they are so very different to the type and conformation of those which were considered ideal in the 1950s? Pictures from the books in my own library from the 1950s show UK dogs very similar to the black dog here. They were taken in the late 1940s I think, before the British fashion for long backed, low to ground GSDs became prevalent, a style which provoked firstly a reaction to and then the establishment of, the ‘real’ GSDs from Germany which gave us our current ‘Germanic’ type. The problem appears to me not to have been with UK breeders but German breeders who were getting away from what was the ideal shape and conformation demonstrated by the dog in the seminar photograph.

Fortunately, there are still many breeders of ‘balanced’ and not ‘extreme’ German Shepherds and so ‘on the street’ and occasionally in the ring, you do see sound GDSs that have not been designed to pull against the lead when gaiting.

What is such a shame is that we have already seen a significant reduction in the numbers of the breed shown in recent years as breeders of the two ‘styles’ have become locked into a battle which has ego at its heart rather than the dog (though to be fair this is not very different to many breeds and breed clubs). I wonder how long it will be before sales of GSD puppies are seriously affected. This may provide more of a stimulus than pressure from the Kennel Club to put breeders back on track.

Finally, here is another picture from the same book. My German is negligible but I understand the caption indicates that this dog is considered ‘a superb example of the breed’.


I submit that the breeders in Germany are those ones who have ‘got it wrong’ and that many of those in the UK have slavishly followed their lead without thinking the consequences through.

8 Comments on “Judging – Are ‘Germanic’ GSDs really ‘Germanic’”

  1. You are so right, Dave. The shepherd dog should be fit for purpose. They are intended to be trotting dogs, as all herders are. There is no animal in the world intended for trotting that has a half circle backline and long 2nd thighs. Think of wolves, African hunting dogs, dingos etc.The ‘germanic’ type is a fashion, it will change in time. In the meantime, I continue with my way of doing things! Incidentally, the public agree with my way of thinking judging by the enquiries and phone calls I get.
    My first German Shepherd was bought from Gwen Barrington (Brittas) in 1965 – that lady knew what she was doing!

  2. davidcavill Says:

    Thnak you for your comment Margaret. I look forward to common sense eventually prevailing and the pendulum swinging back to the norme.l

  3. Jackie Beare Says:

    Well said, David! Those old pictures are a real eye-opener, and show just how many changes have crept into the breed over the years. The modern, overangulated specimen with the “banana” back doesn’t seem capable of doing a full day’s work to me, but I understand that there are still some present-day breeders producing the old-fashioned “working-type” of GSD, so it should be possible to improve the structure fairly quickly, if one wished to, of course! I must look-up the FCI breed standard to see what is in fact required, but I surmise that the description doesn’t match the modern dog either. The GSD’s current structural problems probably also explain why a large number of professionals working with their dogs have turned to other breeds, such as the Belgian shepherds.

  4. John Leadbeater Says:

    We have just started to show our new young pup. We are trying to do this and show no exaggeration of angulation you may say more or less a natural stance. Results so far Newton Aycliffe Best avnsc Pastoral. Adult G3 pastoral Puppy G1 pastoral and Best Puppy in show. (2 Different judges). Otley CS Best puppy in Breed, BOB,
    Adult G1 pastoral & puppy G1 pastoral, Res Best puppy in Show.(3 different judges).Of course none of these judges were self confessed breed experts as we have in the breed council but does this just not show that dog people know a quality dog when they get the chance to judge one. This boy we have bought in is from a Canadian Ch Sire who has been imported into the country. It has taken 40 yrs for the supporters of the continental type dog to ruin the breed. My fear is it may take the same to rectify there disaster.
    The gene pool of the correctly conformed GSD is so small dogs are having to be imported. How sad is that when you think back to some great specimens here and in Germany in the 50-60’s.

  5. Debby Says:

    Great discussions like these makes a GSD owner want to love their dog more. No combative comments here just proud to be his mother!

  6. Jawad Mahdi Says:

    Dave, your visual illustrations of the two time frames of what a German Shepherd Dog (GSD) looks than and how it has been transform today is undoubtedly very true. Only a blinder can argue the point you are trying to make. Nevertheless, you may also agree (if you have the gut to do it) that the present day GSD looks better and appealing than what physical standards you are trying advocating. I suggest that we move forward and forget of the Darwin’s time frame. The transformation could be as much natural and environmental rather than selective breeding; though it has had its impact.
    The more worrying aspect is rather less significant differentiation left between the sex features of show ring GSD as of today. You can hardly differentiate a bitch from a dog (male) and vice versa. Many dogs have this problem in today’s VA/V categorized GSD. The heads (more particularly) and body (though it give stronger feelings for a bitch) looks similar (or near similar) between the male and female. It is only the visible sex organ of a male that makes sex determinable. I suggest this area needs improvement in future breeding programs.
    Overall, let’s accept what is available today and move forward less you confuse a new enthusiast.
    Jawad Mahdi
    Karachi – Pakistan

    • davidcavill Says:

      I am not sure I agree. I am not on anyone’\s ‘side’ and I am not suggesting we return to the GSD of the 1950’s. My articles are just designed to show how much change has taken place – not to suggest specifics. It is also trues that some GSDs are androgynous but certainly not all. I thought this years GSD winner at Crufts was pretty good incidentally.

  7. Marek Gorski Says:

    Thank you David for your articles! I do not agree with Javad. We have to look to the story , when, where,and who start change the look of GSD. In my opinion was bussines ( I mean money ………..) Improvment is great , but this what happens with show lines we can not name improvment !

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