"Why Do They Walk Like That?"
True story...I had 4 month old Rhett to an indoor show to socialize and visit with friends and I was
approached by two very young junior handlers, dressed to the nines, all hair and makeup, glitter and bows.
(I want you to picture the dog show version of Toddlers and Tiaras).
"Did they break his knees yet?" one sweet young thing asked. "His what????!!!" I replied.
"His knees", the second child said smugly, "That's why they walk like that, they break their knees".
"They most certainly do not!"
And another true story....
Two friends were walking their dogs on the Boardwalk at the kennel club's
show in Atlantic City NJ. One was walking a GSD, the other a Malinois
(pictured left). A passerby loudly pointed out the Malinois to her companions
saying "That's the German Shepherd with the good hips!"
Ummm...no...it was Belgian Malinois and by the way the
GSD had OFA excellent hips.
"So...why do they walk like that?"
This is a common question asked of German Shepherd enthusiasts and breeders regarding the
rear angulation of our dogs. It's a question that should be easy to answer
but there's obviously a lot of confusion.
So, let's clear it up.....
The first place to look for an answer is the breed standard. The breed standard (for any breed) is quite
simply the blueprint for the breed. Knowing and understanding the breed standard gives us a
definition of correct temperament, the original purpose of the breed, and the "mental picture" that an
enthusiast, breeder, or judge has in mind when contemplating the ideal dog.
And, as long as we are talking about breed standards since another common question is
"Are your dogs German or American?", below are two German Shepherd breed standards, one from
the country of origin and the standard approved by the GSDCA for use by AKC judges.
(For the purpose of this conversation I won't consider any "made up" breed registries
or slight nuances found in standards used in different countries):
the SV/FCI standard
and the standard approved by the GSDCA for use by AKC judges
If you take the time to compare the written standards, the only differences are that pastern angle,
some measurements and height and weight are defined in the SV/FCI standard, but,
despite what you may have heard both standards describe the same dog, a good dog would be
judged favorably under either standard and in fact, quite a few dogs are.
Notice the German Shepherd dog is not a square dog with a level topline. He is longer than tall.
Withers are higher than the back which should be relatively short and strong without sag or roach. The dog should be balanced front to rear and should demonstrate efficiency of movement, covering the most ground with the least number of steps. The angle of croup and even the tail set (the tail is used like a rudder for balance), all play a critical role in efficiency of movement.
WHY do we care? Because the GSD is a herding breed, more specifically a tending breed.
Although they have done many things well over the years, the origin of the breed was to act as a
moving fence for sheep.
Consider the three illustrations below. (These are sketches of the same dog.) In the top photo, the dog is standing naturally. The middle illustration shows how we "stack" or pose a GSD in the show ring and the bottom illustration is the dog trotting at a moderate speed showing how all of the parts work together. If the dog in the bottom illustration was to accelerate his head would extend and drop, his shoulder would open up, the powerful thrust from his hindquarters would increase and his stride would lengthen.
I am occasionally asked why a dog is trained to stack a certain way for the show ring. The answer (for any breed), is so that at a glance a judge or breed enthusiast can compare the dog's structure to the mental picture they have for an ideal dog for that particular breed.
Later the dog will be asked to
move and that is the chance to verify that everything works together as it should!
Asked to accelerate a correct GSD will lengthen their stride to cover more ground and not break
into a gallop. Notice the pads showing on (my) Solo's right rear paw.
This is an example of a beautifully functional rear assembly.
So...why do they walk like that? Because the GSD is a trotting breed originally intended
to be a utilitarian farm dog whose primary job was to tend sheep.
Built correctly they could (and still can!) work efficiently all day.
Over the years we have unfortunately seen features of the GSD exaggerated by some breeders.
If a little is good more might be better, right? No!
For a GSD a "square" dog is not correct, The term "straight back-ed German Shepherd" does not describe a correct dog, a dog with a roach to their back is not correct and likewise, a dog too tall in the forearm,
straight in shoulder and/or with extreme rear angulation is not correct.
Each of these flaws negatively impacts the beautiful, efficient, tireless movement characteristic of the breed.
A few final thoughts about GSD puppies and changes they might experience particularly as it relates to
angulation as they mature; You want a GSD puppy to look "overdone" and by that, I mean very heavy bone,
very deep in body, obvious rear angulation. If a puppy looks "finished" as a puppy, (think "little adult"), it will
be too fine in bone as an adult. I have rarely experienced a puppy that loses shoulder but puppies do lose
rear angulation as they mature, so if there is no angulation as a puppy the dog will
mature to be a very square adult.
Shown below (my) Champion Breauhausen's Code Red OFA h/e TC, PT, HT
illustrating the change in rear angulation from puppy to adult.
(Nobody would ever accuse him of having too much rear!)
Puppies go through stages as they mature. Some will get very loosey-goosey as they grow and
that's usually when a nosey neighbor or a know-it-all in law will ask "Oh my goodness what's wrong with
your puppy? Is it their hips?" Not at all! Study the examples from the illustrated standard above,
particularly joint structure, and you'll know correct rear angulation has nothing to do with hip conformation.
Young muscles need to strengthen and a gawky stage will pass.
Another observation of medium to large breed puppies (a variety of breeds) would be that some owners
allow their youngsters to get too heavy and/or do too much forced exercise or even subject a puppy to
too much crate time at a young age and some dogs will go "down in pastern".
In truth, most ligamentation is loose on such a puppy but the pastern angle is what is easiest to see.
If that is the case, take a hard look at management. Puppy food too rich and puppy growing too quickly?
Too much forced exercise, i.e. jogging/biking/walks too long on hard surfaces?
(Scuffs on the back of the hock? Walk the puppy on grass!)
Too much crate time????
This condition usually reverses with age and a correction to how the puppy's
lifestyle and activity level are managed.
Don't believe me? Take a look at the following by Dr. K. Hedberg:
German Shepherds tend to be more angulated than most breeds, and for this reason, they can appear to
be having serious problems when in many cases they are going through fairly normal stages of
Common problems are:
Excessive looseness of hocks can be secondary to excessive depth of hindquarter angulation or
increasing length of hock.
Down in pasterns (often seen with 1 above).
Flat feet (can be with both 1 and 2).
Roached backs – (often associated with 1 above).
Lameness – both perception of and real
Symptoms can include soreness with roached backs, very loose in the hocks and/or down in pastern. The
age they present can be as young as 12-14 weeks, however, more commonly at around 5-7 months of age.
As some of these puppies can appear to be rather loose and or sore, many veterinarians will immediately
assume the worst (HD, etc) when it can be a relatively easily corrected problem in many cases.
The vast majority of the problems listed above are diet and weight associated, acerbated by (in some
cases) the perception of excessive angulation. Most conditions arise following excessive rate of weight
gain, usually secondary to the overuse of high energy, high density dry foods. Breeders are generally more
aware of feeding protocols, and are more likely to keep weights within desirable levels.
New owners (ie. the general public) are far more likely to over feed.
Source: Dr. K. Hedberg 2010, www.gsdcv.org.au
I've only scratched the surface. In closing, study the breed standard, don't sweat it if you have a puppy
going through a "stage-y" period, DO correct weight and exercise management and enjoy
learning about the GSD!
My thanks to the GSDCA and SV for their illustrated standards and of course to Miguel, Solo's photographer.