Pituitary Dwarfism in the German Shepherd Dog (Part 1)

Part of a Set of Articles on Dwarfism

by Fred Lanting

(original version appeared in Dog World [US], Dec. 1984)


Dwarfism is a condition of abnor­mally small stature, and usually is characterized by altered body propor­tions. Dachshunds, Basset Hounds, and Corgis are examples of achondroplastic dwarfs; they have more or less normal-sized torsos and heads but shortened limbs, and are accepted as typical of their breed. Alaskan Mala­mutes, on the other hand, are not con­sidered acceptable if they have their particular blood cell related disease. In that breed, both achondroplastic dwarfism and hemolytic anemia are inherited as pleiotropic conditions, meaning a single gene giving multiple phenotype effects. Addi­tionally, there are dwarfism abnor­malities in other breeds such as pseu­dochondroplastic dysplasia in Miniature Poodles.

In the German Shepherd Dog, however, there is a lit­tle-known dwarfism that yields a near­ly perfectly proportioned but consid­erably downsized version. An acceptable term to use would be proportional or pituitary dwarfs, even though all types of dwarfism have their origins in that gland. The fact is (or was until this article appeared), many do not know about the existence of this type of dog, even though it is not all that rare. Possibly be­cause of the large-scale linebreeding by a West Coast kennel that pro­duced winning dogs, the incidence rose for a number of years in the U.S. Due to linebreeding on certain British and German dogs, there was a noticeable number appear­ing both in England and Australia, countries which rely heavily on Ger­man lines. One genetic analysis of Aus­tralian data indicated that two dwarfs might be expected out of 1000 pups when “any dog” is bred to “any bitch”. The recurrent risk for any dog or bitch bred to a parent of a dwarf is seven per 1000; a parent of a dwarf to a half-sibling of a dwarf is 272 per 1000; and parent of dwarf X par­ent of dwarf is 235 per 1000. The roughly 25% risk in the latter two matings is typical of what one would expect when two normal carriers of a simple Mendelian trait are bred to each other.

Of course, that 25% is an average. I recently (1984) examined pups from a litter of six in which three were pituitary dwarfs, but both parents were of normal size. Now remember, these were not abnormal in proportions, only in size and unseen body chemistry. The little Shep­herds I examined that year had beautiful temperaments, and were active and apparently healthy at the time I first saw them at almost four months of age. They weighed about five pounds, while a normal littermate was about 32 pounds. There was something that had not appeared in the scientific lit­erature but which I noticed in this lit­ter, as well as in photographs of other litters: pituitary dwarfs seem to squint in bright sunlight more than do their normal siblings. Another facial char­acteristic of miniature Shepherds is a fox-like appearance, coming from wide-set ears. I believe this to be a re­sult of disrupted proportions of skull vs. base of the pinna (ear shell), which to some extent is seen in Welsh Corgis also. A somewhat snipey (pointed) muzzle is due partly to a shortening of the skull and, in some individuals, a slight overbite.

The Arkansas litter I visited was no combination of junkyard genes, but sired by an AKC Champion and with two Champion grandsires. The whole pedigree was full of recognized and re­spected kennel names and individuals. Indeed, the trait has been known for many years to be carried by “champi­on-quality” dogs. The gene seems to have first arisen, possibly as a mutation, around 1940 or shortly before. It’s almost 100% sure that one of the most valuable German Shepherd Dogs of all time, Vello zu den Sieben Fau­len, is a major source in bloodlines since the late 1950s. But we cannot lay all the blame at his feet, nor avoid all his descendants. Nor would we want to, for many of the breed’s best lines are based on Vello. Only a percentage of his (or any dog’s) progeny would carry the defective gene, and presum­ably many of the earlier dogs who ex­hibited it in their progeny were re­moved from the gene pool. The SV doesn’t favor continued breeding of dogs that produce defects, and they have the power in Germany to prevent such dogs from further use by denying registration. However, when a dog is valuable in other respects, such as the Sieger Uran WildsteigerLand, a blind eye is used to look in that direction.

Some non-show lines occasionally come up with pituitary dwarfs, such as the white German Shepherd bitch I found, who at two years of age weighed only 15 pounds (some get as heavy as 30 pounds or so, but most are smaller). Her skin was milk-chocolate in color, thin, wrinkled, dry, and lacking in elasticity or tone. She had almost no hair on the trunk, neck, and wear areas such as buttocks, etc. Primary or guard hairs were present on a few areas of the head and feet, and the rest of the body was either bald or lightly covered with secondary hairs (puppy fuzz or undercoat), which were easily pulled out with the fingers. All these signs are very common in these ani­mals as adults, with the skin ranging from brown to gray in color. Dogs which would otherwise be plush or long-coats usually look like Chinese Crested Dogs — if they live to maturity — with feathery fringes around the ears and feet, and bald elsewhere unless treated with growth and/or thyroid hormones.

External or obvious characteristics aren’t the only things different about pituitary dwarfs. Blood chemistry tests show that hormones that are sup­posed to be circulating may be absent or at very low levels. The methods are too involved to go into here, but briefly stated, there are ways to assay the ac­tivity of endocrine glands and amounts of their secretions. The hypo­physis (commonly known as pituitary gland) is the “master” gland of the body, situated in the center of the head at the base of the brain. It pro­duces a number of hormones, includ­ing GH (growth hormone). IFG (insu­lin-like growth factor) circulating in the blood is interdependent with GH. The pituitary gland is affected by oth­ers, but it is more the director of the body’s other endocrine glands, such as the thyroids and gonads. The thyroids have a say in the maturing process, metabolism, development of form and behavior, and physical and mental ac­tivity. Muscular weakness and the skin/hair problems described above are due to inadequate or absent thyroid activity, which in turn is due to lack of proper direction from the pituitary. Your veterinarian can explain T3 and T4 to you if you wish to study thyroid function more fully.

The effects of this type of dwarfism can be mitigated or delayed by administration of thyroxine and GH, but this is a very expensive proposition at present. It is thought that if recombinant genetics (gene-splicing) and RNA production of human growth hormone becomes feasible, the price may go down. Dogs apparently respond to human GH, but not the other way around. Eventually, at the age of normal skeletal maturity or a bit later, the growth plates in the dwarf’s bones close and no further growth is possible, regardless of GH injections. Another problem in treat­ing the condition is that most owners don’t present the pups to a veterinar­ian until their littermates are twice their size. The affected pup grows nor­mally until three to eight weeks, when the brakes are applied and the normal siblings leave him behind in growth.

Although it is possible that pituitary dwarfism in the GSD is a polygenic disorder of a threshold nature, most investigators so far believe it a result of a simple autosomal (not sex-linked) re­cessive trait. In most characteristics inherited in this simple method, the recessive gene can be hidden for many generations before it is paired with an­other identical recessive gene. Genes oper­ate in pairs, and only when both of the pair are the recessive alleles, does the trait manifest itself. When only one recessive gene exists, its dominant partner dictates the normal or domi­nant phenotype characteristic. It’s like a Labra­dor Retriever that inherits one gene for black coat color and gets the reces­sive gene for yellow from his other par­ent. He himself is black, because that first gene is dominant over yellow and does not allow the yellow to predominate or show in the phenotype (appearance).

However, some recessive traits are only partially covered up by the domi­nant member of such a heterogenous gene pair. Often, one can see the faint hint of a saddle in a sable German Shepherd Dog which is heterogenous (has one sable gene and one black-­and-tan gene). Similarly, it may be possible to “see” other recessives through the use of blood tests, exami­nation of the eyes retina, etc. Achon­droplastic dwarfism in the Malamute, for example, is connected with a blood cell disorder, both being pleiotropic results of the same defective gene. Be­cause of the effect the pituitary has on thyroid function and on other glands, it may become possible to detect the “carri­ers” in a GSD litter among whose members some dwarfs have appeared. In a statistically typical litter of 12 produced by two normal-appearing carriers of the recessive gene, suppose three homozygous dwarfs and three pups without the gene. The other six are heterozygous carriers and appear normal (like their parents) but will contribute one recessive gene to each pup they produce in the future.

It is unfortunate that such abnor­malities are often hidden from the public by breeders and owners who are fearful, mercenary, proud, or ignorant. Most pups are sold about the time the growth rate difference begins, so many cases re­ported to veterinarians have been “single incidences” as far as the buyers and their vets could tell. Others may be put down by embarrassed breeders who don’t want it known they have produced such anomalies. Since the health of pitu­itary dwarfs is more precarious than that of normal pups, it can be assumed that many that die at birth, are re­sorbed during gestation, or die before the trait begins to appear, may be dwarfs. The Arkansas breeder who called me to ask what she had, and invited me to see them, upon discovering half her litter were dwarfs, decided not to put them down and cov­er up, but rather care for them and share their stories with responsible breeders and veterinary researchers. She even in­tended to train and show at least one in obedience and was, at this first writing, hop­ing to persuade the AKC that there are no rules against it. From such an open­minded approach, we may be able to make an educated guess as to pedigree origin of the defect, plus discover some means of identifying normal-appear­ing carriers.

She even briefly entertained hopes to try breeding these dwarfs with each other or with siblings or parents, trying to duplicate the occurrence. I guessed (correctly) that she might find it difficult. Development of the gonads varies from atrophied tes­ticles and absence of estrus to normal testicles and seasons. If she had been success­ful in reproducing the condition, we may have seen the AKC faced with difficult decisions: they cannot justify with­holding registration privileges or show/trial eligibility because of the pure pedigree, so do they create a separate variety within the breed, as exists in Dachshunds, or a separate breed as they did with Norwich and Norfolk Terriers? Doubtful. The only alterna­tive is to keep them in the regular classification and hope judges will not place them for reasons of not being of sufficient breed type. The German club has disqualifications for those outside size limits; the AKC does not. By the way, for several years, a pituitary dwarf attended the German Sieger Show (as a spectator) and was seen by thousands.

One problem I can foresee in attempts at breed­ing these, besides lowered fertility, is whelping. Pituitary dwarfs start life off at normal size, which for a Shepherd is in the neighborhood of one pound, give or take about four or five ounces depending on the number of whelps. If a dwarf bitch were im­pregnated (artifically, of course) by a normal-sized carrier male, some of the whelps could be normal sized and the bitch would not be able to pass them or possibly even carry them without damage to them and/or herself. If a normal-sized carrier bitch were bred to a dwarf male, it shouldn’t be any more of a problem than when two nor­mal-sized dogs with the recessives are mated together. So far, nobody has engineered such a mating, to my knowledge.

Size of the dwarfs varies a great deal. As of this (1984) writing, the ones I have examined were 5.5 months old and weighed seven pounds. Others at skeletal maturity (when growth plates close and bones don’t grow any longer) have been reported to weigh from under 15 pounds to slightly over 30 pounds. Normal weights for GSD bitches are 55-75 pounds, and for males 70-90 pounds. It’s not unusual for a bitch to give birth to ten pounds of puppies, plus carry the extra weight of fluid and placental tissue. For a dwarf bitch, that percentage would be impossible, I would think.

The variable size of the pituitary dwarf Shepherds reported so far is an indica­tion of the possibilities that the trait itself could be a threshold polygenic trait (unlikely), but the variation could also result from modifier genes governing varying time of growth cessation. There are some differences in absence, presence, or level of growth hormone in untreated dwarfs, and those that grow to be larg­er than others before the growth plates close may simply have more GH. Since the “problem” has been swept under the rug so often, and is rare enough to begin with, professors at veterinary colleges are in disagreement over the meager information that is available. Thanks to the breeder in Arkansas, several universities and the Morris Animal Foundation were currently studying the data and the dogs.

This type of pituitary dwarfism involves the German Shepherd Dog, but a breed from the Russia-Finland border, called the Karelian Bear Dog, is also affected. The reason is that the Karelian (Finnish spelling is Carelian) has the GSD as part of its ancestry, and the affected individuals had some GSD carriers in their pedigrees. The scienti­fic literature has reported one Yorkshire Terrier, one “Toy Pinscher”, and two “Spitzes” as well, but it is highly doubtful that those are the same genetic defect. If I find several examples, as there are in the GSD, I’ll withdraw my doubts.


Fred Lanting is a German Shep­herd Dog breeder, judge, and breed authority, and is the author of books on Ca­nine Hip Dysplasia and Other Orthopedic Disorders (, and The Total GSD ( He lectures around the world on canine orthope­dics, and structure and gait. Articles are found on many websites, and permission can be requested at <>.


WUSV-SV Rules for BH and SchH-VPG-IPO, Levels 1, 2, & 3 Translation & Š 2004 by Fred Lanting

Part One: The 2004 SV/WUSV/FCI Rules for the BH Qualification


(Begleithund & Verhaltens Test, BH/VT; sometimes simply called “B”)

All examinations and qualification events are subject to principles of sportsmanship regarding the performance and behavior of those involved. The execution, demonstration, and evaluation are more thoroughly described below. These regulations are binding for all involved, and all participants have to meet the same performance requirements. One change is that at the BH/VT examination, the gunsureness test no longer takes place. In order to participate in FH, SchH/VPG, IPO, RTP (SAR), Agility, and Obedience events, proof of the BH/VT is required. Authorized to award the BH/VT are SchH/VPG, Agility and Obedience trial judges listed and approved by any AZG-member association. The examination result is to be noted in the appropriate performance record, such as scorebook or Ahnentafel (pedigree/registration paper). Minimum ages are at the end of this article. Continue reading

SchH-VPG-3 translated (by Fred Lanting) to English

Three divisions: Phase A 100 points

Phase B 100 points

Phase C 100 points

Total: 300 points Continue reading

SchH-VPG-2 translated (by Fred Lanting) to English

Three divisions: Phase A 100 points

Phase B 100 points

Phase C 100 points

Total: 300 points Continue reading

SchH-VPG-1 translated (by Fred Lanting) to English

Three divisions: Phase A 100 points

Phase B 100 points

Phase C 100 points

Total: 300 points Continue reading


by Fred Lanting

A disorder sometimes mistaken for hip dysplasia is Legg-Calvé-Perthes disease, perhaps more frequently referred to by the dog fancier as “Legg-Perthes”. This is an aseptic (not infected), developmental necrosis (dying of tissue) of the femoral head and neck, found almost entirely in toy or other small breeds. On radiographs, it often looks as if the bone is “rotting away”, and lameness is the major or only symptom. It has a history in human medicine, too. In fact, that’s where it was first discovered in 1910 by three researchers working independently. Legg, Calvé, and Perthes each saw a flattening of the femoral head (coxa plana) in affected youngsters and thought that trauma was at the heart of its etiology.

Schnelle in the 1930s first saw the disorder in the canine in Wirehaired Fox Terriers, and Moltzen-Nielsen in Germany about the same time saw it mostly in the Wires but also in a few other breeds Since then, puppies of many other small, toy, and miniature breeds between 3 and 10 months of age have been affected.

Radiographic (“X-ray”) signs of Legg-Perthes are usually gross and the course and outcome discouraging, since many cases are not referred to the vet or the specialist for diagnosis until the dog has been limping for a long time or the disease has progressed to the point that it becomes a more real problem to the owner. These small dogs put so little weight on their tiny hip joints that they almost can compensate for discomfort by “walking on their forelimbs instead of their four limbs”. Many are “couch potatoes” or spend much time being carried, but even then, picking up an affected dog in a certain manner can put more pressure on the joint than does normal locomotion, so pain at that time is often the stimulus to do something about it. Owners have reported “incredible pain” and constant, progressive discomfort, inability to stay long in any one position, and bone lysis (loss through a process akin to dissolving or consuming) at other areas in the limb distal to the hip (further away, the opposite of proximal).

The earliest radiographic signs, should you look for them before they change, include an increased radiodensity (opacity as seen on the radiograph) in the lateral part of the epiphysis of the femoral header Lateral means the part away from the mid-line or medial; the “outside”. Resorption of necrotic (dying, rotting or decomposing) trabecular bone cells is next accompanied by a lysis (dissolving or being consumed) of bone. These are replacement attempts by the body, similar to the attempt to replace bone that takes place during HD remodeling; eventually there is fracture or collapse, like a frame house riddled by termites. As HD may or may not be concurrent, the congruity of the ball-and-socket coxofemoral joint might still be maintained until collapse. See pictures at the end of this article.


The most probable cause is a genetic weakness that allows abnormal or inadequate blood supply to the ossifying epiphyses. Those are the ends or caps of long bones that are changing from cartilage in the embryo to bone in the adult. Depending upon breed and particular bone portion, ossification is usually complete by 12 months of age. Compression/pinching of the blood vessels in that area leads to the necrosis (death) of cartilage and bone tissue. One unproven idea was that some of these little dogs have excess and premature levels of androgen and estrogen hormones that influence this process.


Various treatments have been suggested but the usual one is excision (surgical removal) of the femoral head and neck, again with a similarity to one of the HD operations performed on dogs.

Conservative treatment (as opposed to “heroic measures” such as surgery) has been suggested for those unilaterally limping dogs (lame on only one side and supported well by the other limb) with good congruity and no collapse or deterioration. The dog’s worse limb is put into an Ehmer sling for a time, perhaps as much as a couple of months, then the dog is kept in a crate to minimize activity for another few weeks perhaps, during which time the dog is periodically radiographed. If this approach is successful, the resorbed bone is replaced in a normal manner and radiopacity returns, indicating normal bone cells and regained strength. In such cases, aseptic necrosis is halted and then reversed by keeping the dog’s weight off the limb. Lameness has been reported to cease in perhaps a quarter of dogs treated conservatively, but much of this estimate depends on owners’ reports rather than always being followed up by veterinary examination.

A syndicated column called “To Your Good Health” in the Clarksburg (WV) Telegram of June 30, 1994 included a brief discussion by Paul Donohue, M.D., responding to a reader’s request for advice. Her 8-year old child had recently been diagnosed with Legg-Calvé-Perthes disease and she had seen no improvement after 3 months in a brace. By the way, human infants with HD are put into slings or casts which keep the legs spread apart until the joint begins to strengthen; did you know that people get HD, too? Anyway, Dr. Donohue told her that the Legg-Calvé-Perthes disorder involved a cutting off of the blood supply to the epiphysis (top part of the femur) and that it might take more than a year for the brace to rest the hip enough so that restoration of blood supply can help restore bone there. If unsuccessful after that long a wait, surgery may be needed, he advised. So you see, your dogs are not the only ones at risk for this problem.

Some of us may not have heard of any of our specific breeds diagnosed with Legg-Perthes yet, but that may be because, to many veterinarians, the radiograph looks like hip dysplasia, and it is not sent in to experts for diagnosis and recording of data. On the other hand, I have seen many HD cases mistakenly diagnosed as LCP. If you come across a case of Legg-Perthes in your breed, please report it (accurately, with name and address of person diagnosing it) to the health committee and/or magazine editor of your club.

Copyright, Fred Lanting, 1994. Permission to reprint available if the notice about the new orthopedics book is attached. If you don’t see these below, e-mail: for copies. The following or similar notice should also accompany the article:
The new “Canine HD and Other Orthopedics Disorders” book is here! The long-awaited expanded revision now in its second printing is a comprehensive (nearly 600 pages!), amply illustrated, annotated, monumental work that is suitable as a coffee-table book, a reference work for breeders and veterinarians, and a study adjunct for veterinary students. Be sure to look for the blue cover. Do not confuse it with the much smaller out-of-print 1980 work. $73 ppd in the USA. Combine orders with “The Total German Shepherd Dog” by the same author ($50 plus postage). 17 of the 20 chapters are suitable for owners of any breed.
(c) Fred Lanting, . The author is an international dog show judge and lecturer on such topics as canine orthopedic problems, gait-&-structure, the evolution of the modern GSD, and other topics. Seminars can be arranged.

Let’s Talk Breeding and Training

By Fred Lanting

The title of this article stems from a discussion list or website group in the U.K. with the name “Let’s Talk Breeding”. One of its subscribers said she couldn’t “sit by and listen to foolishness without speaking up.” While the forum is admirably open-ended, “designed to allow all sides of an issue to be voiced”, this gives much opportunity for promulgation of ignorance, spaced-out weirdness, incredible claims, unscientific conclusions, and the like. There is always this difficulty of finding our ways between the extremes of total libertarianism (anarchy?) and rigid governmental-type control. Think of a journey down a fairly broad valley with those extremes being the mountains on both sides. Either you allow all sorts of crazies to speak as loudly as reasoned voices (one mountain range) or you disallow any voicing of opinion other than the “party line” (the other mountain range). The latter is how communist and the equally murderous African/Islamic/Latin/third-world regimes have operated all these many years and only a few of these are crumbling, others rising anew from the lava core of human nature. In this valley, there are many changes of scenery and degrees of slope toward one or the other range.

There are many in this valley who attempt to play the role of peacemaker, and say that “the only way for anyone to make an educated decision is by understanding or at least being aware of the opposing views”. But they (we) often have rocks hurled at them from those further up both slopes. Sometimes the arguments get downright silly and based on woeful ignorance of canine psychology, which is both my subject and forte in this instance. For example, in the UK, there is currently raging a tempest in a teapot over whether dogs should be crated. Ever. Never, say some. They cry that “the idea of crates [is] evil, spaying/neutering unhealthy, and that anyone who uses any type of force other than a cootchie-coo is inhumane”. Of course, many of us have seen abusive conditions in which dogs spend almost all of their lives in crates, and I would side with the activists complaining about that, but the vast majority of dog people using crates (the airlines call them “kennels”) do so wisely and effectively. Crates help train puppies in housebreaking, chewing, and other mischievous activities they would otherwise get into when you are busy with something else. Crates give dogs a “safe place” just like the caves their ancestors used to keep from being trampled on or molested while they nap. Crates keep a dog from being bounced around in a car when you have to brake or turn suddenly. They enable you to take more than one dog with you to training, visiting, and other activities and are infinitely safer than tying the dog up to a tree or lamppost while you exercise or compete with the other dog. The problem is that too many who are soft in the heart are also a little soft in the head, and tend to anthropomorphize excessively, likening a crate to being in some medieval, dank, rat-infested sewer of a dungeon.

One apparent voice of reason reportedly has been banned from one UK site due to “calmly, logically and with research refuting statements that are either erroneous, misleading or have no basis.” I have experienced the same exile or being placed on “moderation” (probation) on one or two e-mail discussion groups that I had thought and hoped were going to be open to differences of opinion, even if slightly strongly worded. I used to be very impatient, but in my 50s I went through a mellow stage. Now, after continually hearing the same foolishness for far too long, I am growing impatient again. Sometimes I feel like saying “Don’t these dummies want to listen or learn?” I believe that is truly the case. In this post-literary age, when TV and Internet and fast-foods and DINKS (double-income-no-kids — or at least no parental supervision of same) have made instant gratification a way of life in even the flood of information we swim in, people have largely abandoned both logic and listening. When was the last time you heard of a school teaching classes in logic? When was the last time you got the impression in a supposed conversation that the other person was actually listening to you and your ideas, rather than just waiting for an opportunity to speak?

The other topics that, strangely, have been occupying the worry-time of Brits and other Europeans are not world famine or peace, but tail docking and the pros and cons of neutering/spaying. One of my UK correspondents (not correspondents!) said that when it was mentioned in some communiqués that puppies and kittens are spayed at eight weeks by some U.S. vets, “there was an outcry that would make you think the world was ending.” Such a reaction is very curious to those of us living in the land of convenience foods and instant gratification, especially coming from a U.K. citizenry that believes docking tails is cruel and anything more than an instant of pain. I don’t hunt with docked dogs, but I have seen many a litter docked, and handled dogs for people who’ve reported repeated injury to some breeds’ undocked tails. I’m not getting into the argument of how damaging it can be to leave the tail on, but I know what I have seen, and the pups that have their tails cut off whether by hatchet, scalpel, or thumbnail (I’ve seen all three!) are no worse off right away or throughout life than dogs that step on a thorn that is pulled out right away. Even if I did not live in rural Alabama, where hunting is a way of life for many and is a needed way to keep certain wildlife from populating themselves into starvation or environmental disaster, I could not go along with those who decry docking for reasons of suffering – it’s a red herring, it’s a non-issue. But the extremists want to ban all hunting with dogs everywhere, even to the point of fines “over there” if your dog catches a rabbit or squirrel. Dogs no longer can work as they were meant to do, if such draconian measures are adopted. And they are. Unfortunately, most politicians are not dog owners and I include the few who allow their wives and kids to have a little foo-foo “dog” on their laps, yet politicians love to make laws that infringe on the lives of others. That’s the definition of the word politics: power, over other people. It’s also the definition of tyranny.

In the U.S., another storm that is always roiling is between the “show lines” and the “working lines” in what is supposed to be the same breed. In the U.K., Australia, and one or two other countries, “Schutzhund” is a dirty word, but in Germany, the U.S., and the rest of the world, it is a major facet of both the dog sport and the proofing of character. Unfortunately, the dichotomy persists despite the efforts of many to bring the two camps together. In the U.S. we have a vociferous and active Schutzhund movement domineered by what I call the “scores-only” mentality. It doesn’t matter greatly to them if the dog looks like a Malinois, coyote, Dutch Shepherd, wolf, or GSD; only how well it performs on the Schutzhund fields is important. On the other extreme is the “show-only” crowd, most of whom are concentrated in the far-out, non-mainstream GSDCA. For the benefit of my overseas readers, I must interject an explanation of these two particular groups before continuing. In the U.S., there are two breed clubs purporting to speak for the breed. Both are members of the W.U.S.V. The voting member unfortunately (by dint of negligence on the part of the rival club) is the GSDClub of America, which is a member club of AKC. The AKC in turn has a “working relationship” with FCI, similar to that of the UK’s “The Kennel Club”. The other breed club is United Schutzhund Clubs of America, which as the name implies, started as a sports club; it held its first conformation Sieger Show in 1990, if I remember rightly. They prefer the acronym USA, although the SV refers to them as USCA. The GSDCA does not adhere to or even acknowledge the international (WUSV) breed standard, while USA follows in almost every footstep taken by the SV, in all matters. It does not have any relationship with FCI (the FCI works with only one national club per country, as if all countries were socialist in which government “ownership”, control, or sanctions is necessary for validity). As a result, GSDCA leadership, or should I say lack thereof, has caused a noticeable shift in average phenotype in “AKC-Shepherds” away from the international look, the dog that is seen almost everywhere else in the world. This slide started in the late-1960s, when we still had many great-looking but “standard” examples of the breed, but also were seeing many unrepresentative examples being given easy championships (and thus breeding status) at shows judged by an AKC coterie of unknowledgeable judges; these were selected from the ranks of Poodle and Bulldog breeders and others who knew how to read the Standard and pass a written test. Today, the stereotypical AKC Shepherd is anything from a last-place finisher to a laughing stock when it is seen competing in international-type shows under knowledgeable, apprenticeship-trained judges.

Anyway, a flap in USA/USCA circles not many years ago was over whether a person should be permitted to breed according to his knowledge and experience, or meet certain artificial prerequisites laid out by “the breed police” (most of whom have an abysmal lack of experience in anything other than training a dog or two toward a Schutzhund title). A controversy on at least one e-mail “list” has been over some members of their community breeding dogs that are untitled (by which is meant the Schutzhund affix). Some of the novice upstarts have gotten all bent out of shape because a few more experienced people have occasionally bred a bitch or dog without the SchH title. Yet some of them would have no objection to breeding a dog that could only place in the last third or tenth, etc., of its conformation class, as long as it had those magic letters after its name. Even if it could only manage a Koerklasse-2. As long as it had good scores in its trials, especially the bitework part. I know of older, well-versed breeders who are much more qualified and able to make good decisions regarding pairings, and who are castigated for using dogs that would certainly be able to earn those titles, but for good enough reasons have not. Some owners feel the rigors of training late at night in all kinds of weather are not worth the effort and would not tell them anything more about their dogs than they can see in daily life. Some of us live too far away from training clubs (I know of some who drive 4 hours one way to go to training, as I have!) and others do not have a decent protection-phase “helper” to work with. But just let a wealthier “scores-only” compatriot send his dog to Germany (whether for minimal training and a “midnight trial” or not), and that dog is accepted by this group!

My argument with the fringe element in the working-dog community is based on the fact that I do train the dogs I keep, but I am not averse to using an untitled dog if it contributes to the breed and my program. I also make sure they have great character, hips, breed surveys, and anatomy. The only person to whom I have to prove anything is myself. I know what I see, am a darned-good dog psychologist and trainer, and a consultant in canine behavior. Nobody was forced to buy my occasional puppies, but those who do have their own option as to titling. Titles are but tools and proofs, but preserving the breed is done by preserving the best genes and combining them wisely. The titles are merely clothing and badges worn by the genes. I use them, but I do not put them above the dog’s inherent qualities. The important thing is the essence of the dog: the genes, not the uniform, medals, ribbons, accessibility to helpers and training clubs, or other paraphernalia. I get pleasure out of producing good representatives of the breed. Any that I sell and claim to be good Schutzhund potentials will indeed be so. Whether my co-owners or customers actually put the titles on them is secondary. Nice, but not necessary. Titles do not change the dog. Repeat: titles do not change what is in the dog’s character or genes. I have competed & trained intensively since 1966, and have won in conformation with clients’ dogs that never should have won because of character or other flaws, and I likewise have seen innumerable working-titled dogs that should never be in the gene pool. I know how to preserve the breed, and it isn’t by using those fakes.

Copyright 2005 Fred Lanting, Canine Consulting.
All rights reserved. Please view his dogs on -(or)-

The author has had years of experience as a conformation judge for AKC, SV, UKC, and many other registries, and regularly trains his dogs in Schutzhund, trying to live up to the title of his book “The Total German Shepherd Dog” (Hoflin). He consults as a behavioral analyst and training coach, and gives seminars on canine anatomy & gait as well as orthopedic problems (he is the author of the new book on HD and Other Orthopedic Disorders). Books can be ordered and lectures can be scheduled: or 256-498-3319.

Front and Rear Angulation in the Working Dog

by Fred Lanting

breeds are grouped – often arbitrarily or erroneously – into from five to ten categories based on function, superficial appearance, or geographical origin, depending on the registry organization. Just because it may make more sense to assign them to groups based primarily on ancestry and then on historical function, does not mean that such will be the case. In most dog circles, the “working” breeds have always been considered as those that originally did such work as herding or guarding livestock, pulling loads, and protecting property. Even though other breeds had specific occupations in the service of man, they are not known as working breeds: sighthounds running down prey or predators, gundogs flushing food for the table, terriers and toys terrorizing vermin – these were more or less doing what they would do without human ownership, anyway, so their jobs were considered less like “work”.

Many dog organizations split the huge Working Group into two, with the ones that had historical development for tending, driving, or bunching flocks and herds being called “Herding breeds”. Never mind the confusion about whether the reindeer-herding Samoyed is hardly much different from the sled-pulling Husky – that’s a puzzle for another time. Most of the Group that did not resemble the mastino-type wagon puller or the bear-fighting wooly flock guardian type were once employed to
trot around the animals raised by man for his food, and assigned to the herding subcategory. These latter were specialists in trotting, in covering much ground with the most efficiency (least effort). This
meant that success favored those with the most shoulder angulation over those with the stiffer, more vertical front ends.

When we speak of a shoulder in a dog, we usually include a lot more than just the scapula (shoulder blade) – although the flat, broad bone is often the center of attention. No part of a dog exists alone,
not even those “floating” bones such as the hyoid, sesamoid, clavicle, patella and penile bones, all of which are connected to muscles and other bones by ligaments and tendons. The shoulder is intimately related to most other portions of the foreassembly or “forequarters”, from the skull to the ribs, from vertebrae to arm and breastbone.

The scapula does not articulate with any bones at its top, but is attached by four muscles to the spinal column at a number of places from the first cervical to the ninth thoracic vertebra and to the first seven or eight ribs. This is the case whether the dog is steep-shouldered or well-laid back, so differences between the two types must be due to minor differences in scapula and humerus lengths and ratios; perhaps the lengths of the vertebrae; and the tightness and condition of the ligaments and muscles that hold the bones in their positions.

At the most forward and lowest portion of the scapula is a shallow socket in which articulates the head of the upper arm (humerus). This area, especially the humeral greater tubercle that protrudes in front of the articulation, is called the “point of the shoulder”. Running roughly up the center of the blade from that point nearly to the top is a ridge of bone known as the spine of the scapula. The lowest and thickest section of that spine close to the socket is the acromion. See Figure 2. There are several muscle groups attached to the scapula. Don’t be frightened by their names; use abbreviated nicknames if you stumble over pronunciation. What matters is that you know what action each gives to the blade and the entire limb, and where the muscles are attached.

The first of these is the triangular trapezius muscle originating on the bones and ligaments of the vertebral column from the third cervical (neck) vertebra to the ninth thoracic vertebrae. Its insertion is on the spine of the scapula. Since part of this thin broad muscle lies forward of the ridge it is attached to, and part extends to the rear, it can easily be seen that its function is primarily to
elevate the limb. It also brings the arm forward and helps in changing the angle of layback during movement. The omotransversarius starts from the first cervical vertebra (the atlas) next to the back of the skull, dips beneath the other muscles of the neck, which extend to the sternum and arm, then attaches to the scapular spine near the acromion. Its obvious action is to draw the limb forward and rotate the bottom of the scapula forward while other muscles are trying to hold the rest of it in place. Knowing that, you can easily understand why a dog trotting in the show ring isn’t going to extend its forelimbs in ideal or equal reach if it has its head turned toward its handler. Nor will it cover as much ground if it trots with its head held high instead of forward and slightly above back level. Yet terrier and cocker dog-show handlers are notorious for the silly spectacle in which their dogs often barely touch the floor with their front paws!

Beneath the trapezius lies the rhomboideus muscle, which originates on the vertebrae from near the head to about the sixth or seventh thoracic vertebra. Its insertion is along the edge of the scapula, farthest from the acromion. Because of its wide origin, it can lift the limb upward, pull the limb and shoulder forward or backward and draw the scapula against the rib cage, depending on which portions are ennervated (stimulated by nerve impulses.)

The muscle filling the space in front of the scapular spine is called the supraspinatus, and it is attached to the top of the humerus. Thus, you can envision it straightening out the shoulder-arm angle and bringing the limb forward. The (behind the spine) will either flex or extend the shoulder joint, depending on the position when the muscle contracts. It also is inserted on the humerus. Other muscles include the infraspinatus, serratus, teres, deltoideus, and sub-scapularis; all play some parts in moving the scapula in relation to the ribs, vertebrae or upper arm.

Now that you have a little more understanding of the muscles and their actions on the bones, let’s get back to the subject of angulation. Some of what follows is similar to an excerpt from my book, The Total German Shepherd Dog.

The Front

Variously called the front assembly, forequarters, or shoulder, the whole combination made by the shoulder blade (scapula), upper arm (humerus), breastbone (sternum), and their related soft tissues is at the heart of much poor movement in dogs the world over.

Shoulder assembly – The least understood and most controversial portions of the AKC and most other Breed Standards relate to the angles proscribed for the forequarters and hindquarters. I disagree with the angles commonly reported to be ideal in the shoulder area, though much of the discrepancy may be a matter of how that angle is usually measured. To specify angles is useless unless exact points of reference are not only agreed upon but also easily determined. Since the bones forming these angles are curved, such “landmarks” as (1) the highest point of the scapula, (2) the foremost point of the upper arm where it meets the shoulder, and (3) the topmost point of the elbow should be used as well as a detailed illustration decided upon. Without X-ray vision, we need to rely on our fingers.

None of the editions or versions of the AKC Standard for the German Shepherd Dog has been sufficiently explanatory, nor have they been so in other breeds. Many years ago I radiographed standing dogs and found that what I had been reading in books and seeing in artists’ drawings was not true, even though I had already discovered that by digital palpation of bones and joints.

Many people hear and even use terms without a good understanding of their meanings. See my article on “topline” for another example of this. What is “shoulder layback?” Many dog fanciers are not sure. See Figure 1. It is the front-to-back inclination of the shoulder blade, seen and felt when one touches both the point of the shoulder and the top of the scapula or the withers at the same time. The withers is the area atop the shoulder from where the neck ends to where the “true back” begins. In most dogs, the last cervical vertebrae and the first thoracic vertebrae are down between the shoulder blades, so you might not be able to feel them, especially in well-muscled dogs. The withers is thus a transition stage between the neck’s relatively upright carriage and the nearly level back called for in most working breeds. (I use the term “working” in the utilitarian sense, and especially refer to the herding breeds.) The beginning judge (or the one evaluating heavily-coated breeds) often checks and compares layback by running his thumbs down the spine of the scapula. That line is almost parallel to, and only an inch or so behind, the envisioned line from the highest point of scapula to point of shoulder. Even so, among novices there is usually great disparity between what the fingers feel and what the mouth spouts!

In examining the standing dog, the good layback of 35 or 30 degrees can be determined either by feeling that line of the slope of the scapular spine, or by palpating those points mentioned above, and imagining a line between these points. These two sloping lines will be essentially parallel, so take your choice; in either case, you will have approached the question more scientifically. By observing the facts for yourself you will be able to arrive at a conclusion or hypothesis. The sooner we understand what is as opposed to what we imagine, the sooner we’ll understand how to get the most out of our dogs. Feeling that scapular spine is more difficult in a heavily muscled breed such as the Rottweiler.

The often-heard call for a 45-degree shoulder layback plus another supposed 45-degree angle to the “line” of the upper arm, equaling a 90-degree shoulder angle, is inaccurate and misleading. If lines are drawn on a radiograph or a sketch, along the scapular spine and down the center of the humerus as they usually are, a 90-degree angle in the real, live dog standing there before you will never be realized. Since the time I started challenging this notion, there have been noted authorities who have corroborated my claims with independent research, but it will be a long time before the old books are all revised and longer still before writers do their own investigative work instead of copying sketches from each other. One of the better drawings of the “ideal” (according to American tastes) German Shepherd Dog ever made in this country is Lloyd Fanning’s which appeared in the Review and in an early, small booklet on the breed published by the German Shepherd Dog Club of America. Strange, that so many have used incorrect representations instead of this fairly accurate sketch. An even better sketch is available from the SV and appears in many posters and magazines owned by those who appreciate the international (German) type.

If you draw your line (on a radiograph or in your mind) from point of shoulder to the highest part of the ulna that we call the point of the elbow (leaving the humerus to do so), you get points of reference you can see and feel. Now draw your second imaginary line from point of shoulder to top of shoulder blade. The angle between is closer to 90 degrees than if you tried to imagine and use a line going through the shaft of the humerus, but you still don’t get a right angle, even with the best laid-back shoulder blades. That touted right angle cannot be attained by drawing your lines down the middle of the upper arm on a radiograph. Whether or not you have x-ray vision, you will not be able to agree where a “center” line of this slightly curved, well-padded bone is!). In my live-dog illustrated lecture, “Analytical Approach to Evaluating Dogs”, I show where the lines can connect palpable points by drawing chalk lines on dark, short-coated canine volunteers. Even without using a protractor, my audiences can see the fallacies of those printed standard specifications. See Figures 1 and 4.

Sketches in my book on the breed represent the typical German Shepherd with a good shoulder. Dogs with better reach and a floating gait have close to the same angles and layback. I suspect much more credit for such gait lies in the muscles and ligaments than has been imagined, measured, or hinted at in the past. And of course, desire and drive make a big difference, too. In actuality, the ideal shoulder with an angle approaching that much-vaunted “90-degree” number (from point of elbow to point of shoulder to highest point on scapula) has about a 30 to 35-degree shoulder blade layback, not 45 degrees. Factors such as the relative lengths of scapula and humerus, the angle at which the humerus inclines, plus the dog’s attitude, play parts in both the standing appearance and in the reach in motion. While they didn’t have all the answers, Humphrey and Warner had most of them, and they determined that a scapula-humerus angle of 102° was ideal for the working German Shepherd Dog.

Another problem in reports of that fictitious 45° or greater layback is that it just doesn’t occur in the standing dog. Possibly you might exclude achondroplastic dwarf breeds such as the Corgi, although a noted Dachshund breeder once told me that my statement about “no such shoulder angle as 45 degrees” was true for his breed as well. It does happen when the dog is trotting, running, deeply crouching, or lying on its chest and belly in the manner of the Great Sphinx. The reason
for this is that the scapula is not fixed or stationary; its lower end is pulled back by the trapezius and forward by the omotransversarius and serratus, with many other muscles being involved to a lesser extent. These angles can be visualized by watching slow-motion movies or the frames taken from those, and superimposing (technically, infra-imposing) the skeleton or lines representing the bones. Examining many dogs of varying qualities, hopefully with the guidance of a knowledgeable veteran,
will enable you to see these proper angles in motion and in standing.

A very unfortunate situation has arisen out of ignorance and laziness: many AKC breed standards were written by people who copied the wording from other erroneous standards without checking accuracy first. The same problem is seen in the multitude of breed books in which artists’ drawings of canine skeletons could almost have been traced from other books, judging from the mistakes they have repeated.

I had been preaching scientific honesty and artistic accuracy for years, thinking I was, like Elijah, “the only prophet in the land of Baal” – until Rachel Page Elliot’s book Dogsteps came out. As I had done on a smaller scale, she x-rayed many standing and running dogs to prove the nonsense about 90 degree angles between humerus (upper arm) and scapula, and the impossibility of a 45-degree layback of the shoulder. That so-called right angle cannot even be approached if you draw your lines down the middle of the upper arm (if you have x-ray vision, maybe you can tell me where the “center” line of this slightly curved, well-padded bone is!).

The Bouvier’s AKC standard has quite good wording on this subject, as does the Collie’s. The “about a right angle” in the AKC German Shepherd Standard is misleading. Is slightly less as good as slightly more? Is it even possible? Their Doberman Pinscher standard is a travesty, what with the 45° layback and 90° shoulder/arm angles being specified. Might as well specify cubical tires for cars! And Dobes have a terrier-schnauzer-sighthound type of structure, with more “open” front angulation than in the herding breeds.

Why, within a particular breed, are some shoulder angles better than others? In a few cases this is the same as asking why some scapulas are laid back at a greater angle than others, though most deficiencies in front angulation lie in the upper arm rather than the scapula layback. If the angle of the spine of the scapula does indeed differ between dogs, it is possibly because some dogs have proportionately shorter vertebrae in the neck or sacrum, and some may have longer bones in the true back and loin (the true back being between the scapula and the croup). If the dog has shorter vertebrae and disks, the shoulder may more upright.

Use Your Fingers

If you draw your line from point of shoulder to the highest part of the ulna that we call the point of the elbow (leaving the humerus to do so), you get points of reference you can see and feel. Now draw your second imaginary line from point of shoulder to top of shoulder blade. The angle between is closer to 90 degrees than if you tried to use the line going through the shaft of the humerus, but you still don’t get a right angle, even with the best laid-back shoulder blades. In my live-dog illustrated lecture, “Analytical Approach to Evaluating Dogs”, I show where these lines are by drawing chalk lines on dark, short-coated canine volunteers. Even when I don’t use a protractor, my audiences can see the fallacies of those printed standard specifications. Again, see Figures 1 and 4.

Action and Motion

Remember that those trapezius and rhomboideus muscles extend to the ninth and sixth thoracic vertebrae with only a small portion of their fibers, and if the vertebrae are relatively short or the scapula is slightly more upright in that dog for another reason, the muscle attachment will be relatively forward and less broad. The same may be true to a lesser degree with the serratus ventralis, which runs from the scapula to the last five cervical vertebrae and the first seven ribs. The more forward
all these attachments are, the less the blade will be inclined when a pup begins to move and muscle forces help shape its semi-cartilaginous bones and joints. In such a dog, there would be less muscle mass present to rotate the top of the scapula back and forth, thus a restriction of motion here contributes to a lack of reach in front and even follow-through beneath.

There is a far greater cause for poor reach, or less smoothness of front action. Some dogs have an upper arm (humerus) that is not laid back at a good angle from point of shoulder to elbow joint. This is sometimes accompanied by a proportionately shorter arm compared to the scapular length. Such dogs are in the minority, but it’s wise to keep an eye on the problem. Because of cyclic neglect, German Shepherd Dogs, have periodically become alternately better and worse in this respect. At the time of this revision, the AKC-GSDCA type has lacked good upper arm layback for many years while the international type has improved since the 1970s. See Figure 3 for one artist’s conception of ideal structure.

Whether herding livestock, doing police work, performing obedience exercises, or pulling loads, the working dog needs a well-angled shoulder/upper arm assembly. Let’s consider this synonymous with good layback of both bones, for convenience’s sake. A “straight” (more vertical) foreassembly is somewhat like a car without springs. Imagine a dog with poor front angulation hitting the ground with its forelimbs after climbing over a wall in pursuit of an errant lamb or thief. The hard shock will have a detrimental effect before long.

A dog with better angles (yet strong ligaments in pasterns, elbows, and shoulders) can spread that shock over an imperceptibly longer period of time, during which the muscles slow the impact while the bones go through their “folding up” action relative to each other, then release that stored energy by straightening out again (bouncing back). Trotting creates very nearly the same sort of shock that jumping does, only far less violent.

A successful parachutist survives because he takes only a tiny fraction of a second longer to hit the ground than someone whose chute didn’t open. A good boxer “rolls with the punches”, while the guy who holds his head still when the other guy’s fist approaches finds himself waking up some time later. The baseball player relies on padding and moving his hand back to slow the speed of the ball as it makes contact with his glove. The differences in time intervals in each illustration are truly minute, but they can mean the difference between ease and pain, or life and death. Likewise the differences in layback from dog to dog may be small, but a tiny difference can mean smoother action, greater ability to hit the ground effortlessly whether jumping or trotting, and a longer useful working life. The galloping breeds minimize that shock by increasing the horizontal-to-vertical motion ratio. My show champion, lure-coursing Whippet was undefeated after he learned to run “flat” instead of “up and down”. The trotter breeds have a little more need for more acute angles in the foreassembly.

Not many dogs are used for pulling loads anymore, but the dog with a smaller angle between scapula and upper arm is better suited for this type of work, too. Even if only for historical interest, the ability to pull carts or sleds should be preserved in those breeds that are developed for such purposes, for breed type is inextricably bound to that utility. Form follows function, and if we get too far in the evolution of breeds from their original purposes, we will have created (though gradually) a distinctly different breed. What time traveler from centuries past would recognize today’s utterly non-functional English Bulldog from those he had seen chase and tame wild bulls in the days when the breed had a useful purpose? Do not let our working, utilitarian breeds slip away into uselessness as some other breeds have. There is a good reason why I put so much emphasis on shoulder and upper arm angles, and reward good examples in the show ring. It’s the same reason why it is so difficult to improve in breeding.

Why is good front angulation harder to achieve and possibly more important?

In the case of angulation at the knee (“bend of stifle”), ignorance and fad-following have resulted in GSDs with lower-thighs that are too long, with hocks too far behind the torso to be adequately controlled by ligaments and muscles. This rear angulation at the stifle can go either direction from the middle (moderate) ideal for most breeds, with the American-fashion GSD at one extreme and Chows at the other. However, in the case of the shoulder, the ideal is not in the middle of a normal range, but on one end; namely, closer to the fictional 45-degree layback and 90-degree shoulder/arm angles. Actually, depending upon breed and whether you draw the bottom line to the point of the elbow, a layback of 35 degrees in either scapula or upper arm is very good, and an angle of 95 degrees from withers to point of shoulder to point of elbow is excellent for a herding breed. Drawing that line through the upper arm, you would get about 115 degrees in most of the efficient trotters. If it were possible to create a 45-degree layback in both bones, some say that such a dog might fall
on its face.

But back to those palpable points of reference, those being the indentation at the point of shoulder, the highest point of the scapula, and the top of the ulna. If a number of genes affect the angle between these bones, some would be “ideal genes” (let’s say they’d call for a 35° angle from vertical, for each bone, for purpose of illustration), and others would be “less than ideal genes” calling for some lesser angle. Of all the possible genes that could be transmitted, the vast majority would be calling for an angle of somewhere in the 20 degree to 30 degree range, with a miniscule number calling for the coveted approximately 120 degrees remaining between the scapula and humerus. Genes are inherited randomly, and statistically would show a bell curve with the smallest amplitude in the two extremes (say, 15 degrees and 35 degrees, for example) and the greatest in the middle of the curve.

Despite all the talk about angles, it boils down to this advice: forget the numbers, examine as many dogs as you can get your hands and eyes on, compare one dog to the next, and reward or admire those with the smallest apparent angle between shoulder and upper arm, while proving what appears
in stance by watching the dog perform in the trot. See Figures 4 and 5.

Since he cannot do “better” than the ideal shoulder angle, which is at one end of a range of possibilities, the breeder must be more diligent in such an instance to cull from breeding programs all dogs which drift an undesirable distance from that good end of that spectrum. More so than is necessary in any trait in which the ideal is at some intermediate point between the worst on one end and the worst in the opposite direction. In the case of good forequarter function in a herding breed, and in most other working breeds, there is only one direction from the ideal, when we speak of breeds developed for trotting. To paraphrase Sir Edmund Burke, eternal diligence is the price of freedom from poor forequarters.

The Hindquarters

The thigh – What is meant by “the whole assembly of the thigh” in the wording of the AKC Standard for the GSD? Viewed from the side, it includes the croup, upper thigh (femur and associated soft tissues), and lower thigh (tibia and fibula). If these three skeletal sections are too “vertical” or steep, the hindquarters will not present the broad picture called for by the Standard. Obviously, if the croup and lower thigh are slanted downward toward the rear, the femur will not also be so. Nor is it angled forward when the GSD stands in a normal pose, in spite of the AKC Standard’s inaccurate statement about it paralleling the scapula. Many books on many other breeds have made the same error; even some written by well-known judges who should have known better than to report on something they did not experience in real life.

From experience both in radiographing live, standing dogs and in feeling for the bones in the hindquarters, and getting my seminar attendees to do the same, I have repeatedly shown that the femur is vertical when the metatarsus (hock) is vertical. The natural stance for German Shepherd
Dogs is with one rear leg placed a little (and only a little) under the torso for added support of a long, substantial body. In this leg, the femur is not vertical, but neither is the hock. Stand your dog with
metatarsi vertical and parallel. Lift the dog’s rear leg while you feel with your fingers for the acetabular (hip) joint capsule, and make a chalk mark there. Then feel the depression between the upper and lower leg bones. This is some distance below the patella, which is too hidden in cartilage to be accurately palpated. Make another chalk mark there. You can now see that the femur is quite vertical between these two easily-located points.

The slant of the lower thigh in the GSD can roughly approximate that of both the croup and the humerus, although there is considerable variation, and it probably comes closest when the metatarsus is vertical, but even then not in all dogs – too much has been made of this similarity and the concept should be dropped. The angle that the lower thighbones make with the femur in a natural stance is not a right angle. Here again I am forced to contradict a poorly worded line in the AKC Standard which
is more fancy than fact, and probably harks back to the days before radiography was used much.

Even von Stephanitz may have understated conditions a little when he said this angle should be “90 to 100 degrees, sometimes even a bit more.” He was talking about the angle made between the pelvis (croup) and femur, which right angle we have shown is not possible. But one of the axioms of geometry indicates that if the croup is parallel with the tibia, the angle between the femur and tibia equals that between the femur and croup. Remember that this premise of parallel lines is approximate at best. The angle between pelvis and femur is not a 90° angle, as you now know. With a slope of (typically) 35° to the croup, and a nearly vertical femur, that angle between lower thigh and femur in most excellent moderately- or even very-angulated dogs will be around 125° (90 + 35) from the horizontal, however one measures it. To have a right angle would necessitate a horizontal croup or a forward-slanting femur, neither of which are found. The angle between a vertical line from hip socket through the stifle indicating the femur, and the line from stifle joint to point of hock varies from 95° in an “extreme” dog to about 130° or 140° in a less-angulated, straighter-stifled dog. This means the angle of the lower thigh from the horizontal varies from 5 to 50 degrees in various breeds. The relative length of the lower thigh is the biggest anatomical factor in determining this angle. See Figure 6.

For a good understanding of the anatomy of the dog, additional pictures and discussion would be helpful. Toward that end, I urge you to get your own copy of “The Total German Shepherd Dog”, regardless of what breed you have, and study the illustrations and information.

Copyright 2005 – This article is a revision of the earlier article
“Angulation Front and Rear” by the same author. See separate article on hindquarter angulation elsewhere.

(About the author – Fred Lanting is an SV breed judge, is approved by UKC and many international registries as an all-breed judge, and has judged numerous countries’ GSD Sieger Shows and Landesgruppen events, and other shows in about 30 countries. He presents seminars and consults worldwide on such topics as Gait & Structure, HD and Other Orthopedic Disorders, Anatomy, Training Techniques, and The GSD. Fred lives part of the year in Alabama, actively trains in schutzhund, and breeds for occasional litters. He invites all to join his annual non-profit Sieger Show and sightseeing tour. He can be reached at and his dogs (including some at his kennel in the Netherlands) can also be seen on Jagenstadt and<, the latter being where you can also find most of his articles. Some of the illustrations in this article are from the book, The Total German Shepherd Dog. That book and the new Orthopedic Disorders book are available directly from the author or some distributors. Reprint permission of these copyrighted pieces can be requested and must carry this or a similar notice at the end.)

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Fig.1 Shoulder Angles – It is almost impossible to duplicate, by eye or hand, the typical illustration
in most books that shows a 90-degree angle between limbs, with lines going through the middle of the humerus and from either the most-forward point of the shoulder or the imagined location of the center of articulation to the highest point of the scapula or along the scapular spine. Only in the “best” fore-assemblies will an angle of 90 degrees even be approached, and then only if lines are drawn on radiographs from top of ulna to front of upper arm to a point behind the highest point of the scapula.

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Figure 3 Various Bone-Joint Angles in a Well-built Herding/Working Breed(Actually, few GSDs have this
good a shoulder, and very few from American lines since the 1970s)

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Figure 4:
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Figure 5:
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Figure 6 Rear Angulation. This is defined as the angular relationships between croup (pelvis), femur, lower thigh, and metatarsus. The term is erroneously used by rank novices to describe slope of topline.

figure 7:
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See copyright notice and book information earlier in this article.
Write or e-mail me for permission to use the article in websites or magazines.
Caution: set it for 6.5 inches width, and compare illustrations etc. with this original before printing.
Fred Lanting, “Mr.GSD”