Q&A with Fred – GSD Toplines

Hi Fred,

I have been going back and forth on a topic close to my heart and part of what my decisions will be in regards to breeding… and that is toplines. I CANNOT stand the “arched” (or roached) toplines I see in the German showlines. I tried to get used to it, tried to train my eye to it, and I just can’t do it. It seems all of the showline males available have arched toplines from very slight in the “older style” dogs like Little Man (Leri Unesco) who I used for my first breeding to almost hinge-backed dogs. I see in just about every German showline litter that most of the puppies are hump-backed. I just can’t justify breeding that. And how do I justify that to buyers? Even the pet people know a deformity when they see it! Regardless of whether or not they are what wins in the German ring, and how the German judges try to explain it, it is NOT correct to the standard, and just based on anatomy and basic physics, it is NOT more efficient. In fact, in the case of hinged-backs, it is a perfect site for osteoarthritis to set in, complete with bone spurs, and that is not a good thing to happen around a spinal cord.

So now I am left with trying to find showline dogs without roached spines who have working ability. A tall order. I would be better off looking for a V-rated working line dog, I think. The reason I say this is that given the arched dogs are winning in the ring, I would imagine there are not a whole lot of straight-backed dogs even entered in seiger shows, let alone having them place well. Fewer showline dogs still would have those traits and be good at SchH. I think I would really have better luck finding a working-line dog (who already has the temperament qualities I am looking for) with a V-rating.

I know I have been counseled by some of the best breeders in this country NOT to interbreed the lines, but my goal as a breeder is not to breed what wins in the ring, but what a good German Shepherd should be. Apparently there are many Euro breeders who do take the risk of mixing the lines and with great success. I am not looking to be a “great success” with world-wide accolades – I want to produce the best dog I can, period.

I just would be embarrassed to produce hinge-backed puppies – I wouldn’t want one and how could I awn that off on someone? Even if the pedigree is outstanding, it just is plain WRONG.

Need your advice and guidance on this one – my “workingline mentor” is Shelly Leibowitz and even he thinks I am crazy for wanting to mix the two… but more and more I see myself leaning towards a working line dog – I am just seeing so many issues in the extreme anatomy of showline dogs, not to mention a general lack of working ability. I am not looking to produce alligators, but I do think mixing the two lines can potentially produce the best of both worlds. And if it produces the worst…. Well, I can cull. Not something I would LIKE to do, but something necessary if I am committed to being a “breeder.” I keep my thoughts on hybrid vigor…


You are quite right, Sara. The illustrations in the GSD book I wrote (which you have) are apropos.

If you want to improve toplines and get back to the original, you will find precious few “hochtzuchtlinie” (high-line) dogs with “normal” toplines. It started changing in the show lines in the mid-1970s because of the influence of Walter & Hermann Martin, who ran the SV for decades. Nowadays, you’ll find correct, original toplines almost exclusively in the “working-lines” dogs. See attached pictures. Even then, it’s difficult, because the “working-dawg” people have concentrated so much on bitework that they have historically neglected the correct croup length/slope and the correct length/slope of the upper arm.

So while you may find better toplines in the working lines, you will have to go to the showline dogs for correct fronts in most cases.


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