You are on page 1of 21

1

The Back of the German Shepherd Dog - evolution,


structure & function

By Louis Donald
SV Foreign List German Shepherd Dog Judge, Working Dog Judge & Breed Surveyor

In my article on the withers of the German Shepherd Dog I covered some aspects of the back and this
was because the backs forepart is interlinked to the withers, it was not not possible to discuss one without
the other. Some of what I wrote about the back in that article is covered here as an introduction.
I also add, that as with the withers, the rear part of the back has an interlink which is the pelvis,
therefore some relevant aspects of the pelvis and croup will be discussed here too, not in detail as my next
article will be The Croup of the German Shepherd Dog. Each directly associated anatomical interlink will be a
key aspect in that logical sequence in all my articles.
My intention is that when I complete all my articles the overlapping will be removed, the articles will
then be joined and they will become a comprehensive work on the German Shepherd Dog.
The sequence for all the future articles to be written is shown on my website under the Article Tab
titled "Future Articles /Knowledge Base".
I commence this article by saying you cant bundle all German Shepherd Dogs or any breed of dog for
that matter into one box. Many people do and they shouldnt. Dogs are a manifestation of their parentage, a
manifestation of their bloodlines, and as such it is wrong to group all dogs and their particular traits under
one umbrella, particularly when you are talking about a very specific trait such as the back and its impact on
the dogs topline. The following contemporary photo collage demonstrates this point.
I also make the comment that in the photos I have used in the collage, the extended metatarsus
[hock for many people] to varying degrees is reasonably vertical. This is important, because without this
consistent fixed reference point it is almost impossible for most people to compare, to see the relativity
between the backs and the toplines of all of these dogs. If the metatarsus is not consistently plumb/vertical
you need to compensate for that in your minds eye - for example the grey working dogs who are a little
overstretched have a more 'level back' than is seen in the photo.
My final comment is that the differences between the backs [including the withers and loin] on each
dog will be more apparent to many people particularly those that are new to the breed after they have
finished reading this article. For this reason I recommend that on completion of reading the article you have
another look at the collage and in doing so I emphasise the need to only look at the back and loin and not
focus on other aspects of the dogs anatomy or become preoccupied with who the dog is.











2






Over 100 odd years and in increasing genetic frequency the back has contributed significantly to
changing the German Shepherd Dogs body shape from one approximating a level, straight lined rectangle to
one approximating a slightly angled egg. No other breed of dog has undergone such a profound evolutionary
change to its topline.


This article will in its forepart discuss and explain why and how I believe this change to the German
Shepherd Dogs back has occurred and through my eyes and through my understanding of the dogs anatomy
and function explain its variable forms in regard to the impact this has on the function of the dog, not just
whilst it is standing but more importantly its impact on its mobility.
3





Opposite ends of the spectrum


The following photos show the progressive evolutionary changes that have taken place in the back (I
am using digitally altered images of the 1973 German Sieger Dick v Adeloga).
Image 1 is the untouched original and Image 2 is morphed to show the first change to the back and
consequently the topline. For those who may not be aware or did not know, the change in the back was
created by a rise is in the 'anticlinal region' of the back, and I say 'back' as distinct from 'loin'.

Photo Image 1

Photo Image 2
Image 3 is morphed to show the furthering rise that has taken place in the anticlinal region of the
back. The area over the lumbar/ loin/croup region in this image will not look so familiar, it will even appear to
be just a little bit odd to your eye and this is because it does not show any changes to the 'lumbar spine'.
4


The further rising of the back in the anticlinal region 'with the lumbar spine remaining in its earlier
relatively straight line position' did not exist in the vast majority of show dogs during this period and the
point of this will become clear in the next paragraph and in Image 4.
Image 4, shows a further rise in the anticlinal region of the spine, the back is no longer 'straight' and
of major significance is that it shows a slight if not moderate downward bend, a slight downward curve to the
lumbar spine which in its varying degrees is now a common characteristic of all 'specialist' German Shepherd
show dogs.
What this morphed image does not show is that the downward bending, the downward curving of the
lumbar spine repositioning the pelvis into a 'slightly' more inclined position but far more importantly it does
not show the consequent pushing down, the lowering toward the ground of the hip and therefor the knee.
This is only because I dont have the photoshopping skill to morph the photo to show this, but this trait and
its impact is fully explained as we move through the article.

Photo Image 3

Photo Image 4
It will come as a surprise to many people particularly those new to the dog sport when I say there is a
lack of across the board agreement within many dog standards and dog commentators in a number of areas
relating to the dogs anatomy but no more so than in regard to the location and extent of the dogs back.
Whilst the definition of straight v's bent or straight v's curved is obviously a major point of debate in
regard to the German Shepherd Dog, the lack of agreement and misunderstanding I refer to relates to where
does the back start and where does it finish? A layperson, a member of the general public, someone outside
the breed even some within it may disagree with me on this latter point in so far as they may say they know
exactly where the back starts and finishes, but by the time they finish reading this article 'perhaps' their
opinion may change.
Because this broad disparity exists and because my articles are written for anyone that has an interest
in the German Shepherd Dog not just those who are active within it, it is necessary that I discuss this so that
we are all on the same page.
Some dog standards define the back as the area between the base of the neck and the root of the
tail and that is how many members of the general public see it, just as it is defined in a human - base of the
neck to the base of the spine.
A few standards define the back as being all the spinal vertebrae from the end of the withers including
the pelvis as in Image F1
5



Image F1

Image F2



Image F3
Other standards define the back as the section that goes from the end of the withers to the end of the
lumbar spine as in photo Image F2.
Then there are standards that define the back as being similar to the horse; the area spanned by the
last six thoracic vertebrae and the first two lumbar vertebrae, this equates to about the end of the rib cage,
to the furthermost edge of the floating rib, the balance of five lumbar vertebrae being the loin. This is seen in
photo Image F3.
Finally, there are some commentators who state; the back consists of the last 6 or so thoracic
vertebrae and all seven lumbar vertebrae are the loin - the space between the upper leading edge of the
hindquarter and the last rib being called the flank. Skeletally, there is a significant difference between these
last two definitions, specifically the length of two lumbar vertebrae, but for most people the visual difference
between the two would be marginal.
It would also be fair to say that many people involved in German Shepherd Dogs tend not to talk
about the loin as a separate section to the back. Many do but many do not. This is influenced by the fact that
whilst the loin is treated as a separate section to the back in the written standard, the term loin is rarely if
ever used in SV critique formatting or any specialist judges commentary.
There are many viewpoints on this but I suspect many people after reading this article will treat the
loin as a distinct section of the topline as in photo Image F3. Will they start using it in their critiques? No, as
it is with all GSD matters, not unless they see SV judges doing so.
The starting point to this is determining what the definition of the back should be. At least determining
my definition of it.
6


I have treated the back in this article as a separate section to the loin - photo Image F3, and I say
this because the primary aspect of the loin is the dogs lumbar spine and the lumbar spines function during
locomotion in some key areas particularly jumping and galloping is fundamentally different to the back.
When one is looking at the dogs back, discussing, debating and commenting on the dogs back,
seeing it as a separate section is important because this plays a very significant part not just in how you see
the dogs topline but in understanding the backs anatomy and function especially during locomotion. In other
words its important to know what you are talking about!

As in photo image F2 Red indicates the
thoracic vertebrae allocated to the back and
blue indicates the lumbar vertebrae allocated
to the back i.e all back and no loin allocation.



As in photo Image F3 Red indicates the thoracic
vertebrae and 2 lumbar vertebrae allocated to the
back and blue indicates the lumbar vertebrae
allocated to the loin.

You cant see the thoracic vertebrae and their thoracic spires behind the shoulder blade in the above
diagrams [shown later] but to save you counting there are 13 thoracic vertebrae and 7 lumbar vertebrae.
In the case of the back and the loin being separate sections, 7 of the thoracic vertebrae are allocated
to the withers region and 6 thoracic vertebrae plus 2 of the lumbar vertebrae are allocated to the back. The
remaining 5 lumbar vertebrae are allocated to the loin.
In the case of the back being inclusive of the loin there are 7 lumbar vertebrae allocated to the back
and all 7 lumbar vertebrae are allocated to the loin.
The demarcation for the end of the back and the start of the loin is the end of the rib cage; the
outside edge of the last rib, and therefore the loin length will vary with the angle of the last two ribs. I
should add that there is sustainable argument by many dog authorities for the loin to be defined as the 7
lumbar vertebrae. I could be easily swayed on this one.
Now that we have determined where the back is, be it identified as back or back and loin, we need
to define its function.
I never cease to be surprised at how many people really have no interest in understanding how
various parts of the dog functions, but this is essential if one is to understand what the evolutionary changes
in the back have really meant to the German Shepherd Dog. I have to say too that most people, both show
and working enthusiast see the change in the back as primarily an aesthetic issue and seem to give give little
thought or even care to its functional implications, but nothing new in that.
7



The Thoracic Spine and its Spires

As in figures photo Images A B C - Blue indicates the 7 thoracic vertebrae allocated to the
withers and red are those allocated to the back.


X-ray showing the thoracic vertebrae and their spires T6 to T13 and Lumbar vertebrae L1
8


The thoracic spine is quite inflexible. Its primary function is to provide a solid stable base of attachment for
the thoracic muscles and via those attached muscles support the thorax and facilitate locomotion.
The thoracic vertebrae are connected to the ribs to form the chest.




The thoracic spires are quite long and angled. They are relatively pointed at their tops, graduated in
their length, and in the German Shepherd Dog they should end within the withers region about 13mm to
15mm below the top edge of the shoulder blade, this is explained in detail in my article on withers.
The angle of the thoracic spires indicate the direction of stress that is applied to them, that is, their
angle gives optimum resistance and strength to the connecting thoracic muscles when they are under load.
Their angle also gives optimum resistance and strength to the nuchal ligament as the dog lowers its neck and
head.
The primary muscles that create stress under load can be seen in my drawings of the back muscles.
The muscles anchoring base must account for what can be enormous forces generated during their
contraction phase, especially when the dog is jumping and particularly when it is galloping.
The weight of an animals neck and head and their eating habits particularly grazing herbivores, has
influenced the development of the nuchal ligament, a very powerful and thick elastic band which is attached
to the top of the thoracic spires and originates at the base of the animals head. This ligament, which
effectively continues on from the withers along the spine to the pelvis, is enhanced in its effectiveness and its
function to support the weight of an animals neck and head by the thoracic spires being long and positioned
above the top of the shoulder blades.

9


A final point is that the thoracic spine is quite inflexible and this is because each thoracic vertebra is
attached to a pair of ribs and the rib cage.
The Lumbar Vertebrae:

There are 7 lumbar vertebrae coloured in blue.

The lumbar spine consists of 7 moveable vertebrae numbered L1-L7. These are longer and wider than
the thoracic vertebrae and their spinous processes are short, thin and wide, being inclined forward to give
better support to the action of the dorsal or rearing muscles.

X ray of the lumbar vertebrae L4 to L7 S is the sacrum

Attachment of the lumbar vertebrae to the sacrum. Showing L6 and L7. The attachment of
L7 to the sacral vertebrae effectively denotes the end of the back and the start of the croup, a
touch forward of mid L7 is around about the point of the iliac crest of the pelvis, often referred
to as the pin bone.

10


A point of interest when one says the loin is too short or too long; The length of the lumbar spine will
always be in a fixed ratio to the length of the entire spine.
The complex anatomy of the lumbar spine is a combination of very strong vertebrae, multiple bony
elements linked by joint capsules, and flexible ligaments/tendons, muscles, and highly sensitive nerves.
The lumbar spine is designed to be incredibly strong, protecting the highly sensitive spinal cord and
spinal nerve roots. At the same time, unlike the thoracic spine it is highly flexible due to the design of the
intervertebral joints and discs. This allows great mobility in flexion, extension, side bending, and rotation.
The Spinal Cord and Nerve Roots
The spinal cord is a slender cylindrical structure about the width of your little finger. The spinal cord
begins immediately below the brain stem and extends to the first lumbar vertebra (L1). Thereafter, the cord
blends with the conus medullaris that becomes the cauda equina, a group of nerves resembling the tail of a
horse. The spinal nerve roots are responsible for stimulating movement and feeling. The nerve roots exit the
spinal canal through the intervertebral foramen, small openings between each vertebra.

intervertebral discs between vertebrae
The intervertebral discs are made of cartilage surrounded by a ring of fibrous tissue that acts as a
cushion between the individual vertebrae that surround the spinal cord. There are intervertebral discs
between all but the first two vertebrae and they are significant in providing great flexibility to the spine and
allowing and accommodating any bend to it such as is the case with the developmental bend to the lumbar
spine.

The intervertebral discs are made of two parts, an outer fibrous annulus fibrosus and a gelatinous
centre called the nucleus pulposus.
11




Muscles
Unlike the bones of a German Shepherd Dog the muscles and those of the back are rarely discussed
yet their function is critical to the dogs optimum function and health.
In the context of this article the primary function of the muscles is to support and stabilise the spine
and contribute to locomotion particularly during the gallop.
The muscle system of the spine is quite complex and not everything is known about its function.
Muscles pull, they cant push. Locomotion is powered by muscles that pull in opposing directions
through lever systems [bones] and they are activated by electrical impulses.
There are 5 primary muscles in the back and loin and they are:

The Latissimus Dorsi muscle is a rather thin
triangular shaped broad muscle in the back. It
originates from the spires that protrude from the
back of the vertebrae of the sacrum, lumbar, and
lower thoracic spine. They are also attached to the
bottom edge of the scapula and to the last three to
four ribs.
From there, they wrap around the ribs to the front of
the body, and attach to the middle region of the
upper arm. Contraction of the Latissimus Dorsi is
primarily responsible for pulling the legs toward the
rear.


The Trapezius muscle is quite thin, also
triangular in shape and its primary function is
to attach the shoulder blade at its scapular
spine to the body, to stabilize the pivot point
in the withers and contribute to stride length
in the gallop. It originates from the 3rd
cervical vertebra to the spinous processes of
the thoracic vertebrae T1 to T9 and its
primary function is to lift the limb and pull the
shoulder blade forward and backward and to
pull the upperarm forward.
12





The Rhomboideus muscle is located under
the trapezius muscle. It originates near the
base of the skull and ends at around the 7th
thoracic vertebrae. It is attached to the upper
edge of the shoulder blade and is about 10mm
thick in its front section and then thins out. Its
function is to pull the shoulder blade and limb
forward and backward and pull the shoulder
blade against the rib cage.

The Longissimus Dorsi muscle is the biggest
and longest muscle in the dogs spine. It is
attached to the inside surface of the iliums pelvic
wing and its crest and tips of the transverse
processes of all thoracic vertebrae of the spinous
process in the lumbar vertebrae, it is attached to
the upper ends of 10 or so ribs, the sides of all the
thoracic and all the lumbar vertebrae, and on the
side of the sixth neck vertebrae.
Its function is extension, straightening of the
thoracic spine, lateral flexion of the thoracic spine,
extension of the lumbar spine, lateral flexion of the
lumbar spine.


The Quadratus Lumborum muscle attaches via tendons from the transverse processes of the
upper four lumbar vertebrae, the T11 to T13 and is anchored to the internal lip of the iliac crest.
It's function is to steepen the angle of the pelvis, it flexes and stiffens the lumbar spine and in that process
contributes toward stride length during the gallop.
13


Anticlinal Vertebrae
Earlier I mentioned the anticlinal vertebrae and this is the area where one quite often sees a small
defined dip in the back. It is often referred to as a nick behind the withers.
Whilst its small size is a characteristic of this vertebrae, the hallmark of the anticlinal vertebra for me
is the point where the sloping of the spinous processes diverge, go in opposing directions.
For the readers interest, when compared with large breeds of dogs such as the German Shepherd
Dog, small breeds of dogs are more likely to have the T10 described as the anticlinal vertebrae.
This dip in the back is created by a lack of development of the dorsi muscles in the hollow section that
can be seen when looking at the skeleton in the anticlinal region. This natural dip in the spines spires allows
for a thickening of the muscles at the spines most critical point, at the point of the thoracic and lumbar
vertebrae sloping in opposite directions, at the point of opposing muscle stress systems. Unless the muscle is
well developed in this area you will see a nick there. Its impact on the dog is an aesthetic one because its
impact on the dog in a functional sense is minimal.

Anticlinal vertebrae (T11) indicated in red
The peak in the back that you sometimes see in this location, less so than the dip, is vertebrae, the
L1 and this is covered later in the article.
Now that we have discussed the back and the loin in detail lets address the issue of the evolutionary
changes that have taken place in regard to the back.
The opening photographs demonstrate the changes from 1900 to 2014 and no question about it the
changes are profound, there is no getting around that fact, and these changes have created great debate,
argument and division within the dog sport and the general public.
It would be fair to say that the vast majority of the public and many dog judges that are not directly
involved in the breed would say the current day backline/topline of the German Shepherd Dog looks like one
long downward curve, that the dogs rear end is too close to the ground. They would also say that dogs built
like this appear to shuffle when they walk or gait. They would say the dogs of say 30 and 40 years ago were
much better because they had a straight level back and they moved more freely.
On the other side of the fence, the vast majority of people involved in the breed at a specialist show
level would say that todays backline/topline is a great improvement on the 60s dog and that anyone who
cant appreciate that fact doesnt know what they are talking about, that they are making comments on
something they have no idea about, that they should mind their own business and let the anointed guardians
of the breed, the SV judges take care of things, only they know what's best for the breed.
At this point I will make a comment that may well be construed by some people as being a defensive
one. I make it because it is an important part of this article which is all about explaining how these specific
changes have impacted on the dog particularly in regard to its mobility, its locomotion.
The changes that have taken place in the thoracic and lumbar vertebrae of the German Shepherd Dog,
particularly the significant changes that have taken place in the back and the loin have little to do with
movement in the context of the concerns being expressed by many people including the Kennel Club in the
UK.
The wobbly, unstable, close stepping sometimes crossing hocks that are even seen to lean on each
other for support when the dog is standing, even the occasional shuffling that one sees is attributable to
overangulation and it is related to specific types of overangulation. This highly undesirable trait is not created
14


by changes in the thoracic and lumbar spine, it is another matter altogether and I cant
over emphasise enough the need for the reader to clearly understand and accept this. Many won't!
The impact of overangulation of the hindquarter which in the context of this article only effects the
slope of the back, will all be explained in great detail in one of my future articles.
Outside its aesthetics do the majority of supporters of the contemporary backline/topline really
understand or even want to understand what changes have taken place to the dogs spine and what impact
these changes have on the dogs mobility and function? I could say no they dont but that is probably a bit
harsh, so lets just say I doubt it, but by the end of this article they can answer that question to themselves!
Maybe these changes are for the betterment of the breed, better for the dog to be able to fulfil its
designated function at an optimum level, but maybe they are not better! How does one determine the correct
answer?
My approach to evaluating a dog and its traits has always been based on what Max von Stephanitz
said. The German Shepherd Dog should be evaluated on its ability to perform the task that it was created to
perform; evaluated as a working dog, a long distance trotting tireless endurance dog, a protection dog.
If a trait is supportive of the fundamentals just stated then it is a good trait and if it is not supportive
of those fundamentals [weighted and balanced to its degree of impediment to the function required] then its
not a good trait. For me this is a very simple fundamental rule of thumb that protects the breeds integrity
but it relies on two things. One is believing in that fundamental concept and secondly its knowing in scientific
not anecdotal terms what you are talking about.
The quest for a ribbon and especially a blue ribbon is fundamental to the success of dog shows and in
the German Shepherd Dog show sport it is designed to to provide breed direction and forge the breeds
development. In this context it is a commendable endeavour, a fine ambition, but for too many people the
fundamentals, the reasons for the dogs creation and why at one time it was the most popular working service
companion dog in the world is placed secondary to winning a ribbon and too often winning a ribbon at any
cost, and this has exposed the breeds Achilles heel.
Unfortunately there are far too many people with an attitude that is not one of what can I do for the
breed but one of what can the breed do for me. It is supposed to be a win win arrangement where
individuals look after the breed and in turn the breed looks after individuals.
But none of this is new Max von Stephanitz warned of this 100 years ago and his concern was left in
his recorded wish.
Take this trouble for me. Make sure my shepherd dog remains a working dog, for I have struggled all
my life long for that aim.
It would be fair to say the two following photographs represent fairly well the backline/topline
that creates the divide in regard to opinion of the back and topline of the German Shepherd Dog.

1960

2013

15



Jupp v d Haller Farm
In the 1960 dog we see a dog with a back/ loin and withers that most people who are not directly
involved at that specialist show level such as supporters of the Alsatian would say is correct, that the back
and loin is straight and strong, that the withers are high long and defined and that this is what the topline of
a German Shepherd Dog should look. The majority of those involved in the specialist show scene would say
this topline is not correct. They would say the back is weak and presumably the croup is not inclined
enough. I am not exactly sure what they would say about the loin and wither height but it would obviously be
along the lines of not being ideal, not being correct.
In regard to the 2013 dog, many if not the majority of those who are involved in the breed at a
specialist show level would say he has a firm straight back, high long defined withers, a desirable topline and
a well laid croup whilst those not involved at a Specialist level would say the back on the 2013 dog is not
straight, that the back and the loin is curved and dramatically falling away, that the whole topline is curved
and that they find it completely unacceptable.
Two radically opposing views, and when you look at the two photographs how could it be otherwise,
even with the advent of time its hard to visualise anything that could be more extreme between two dogs of
the same breed?
Along with a number of other obvious things, the change to the 'back' has been a very selective SV
guided breeding process over some 50 odd odd years with the first significant developmental change to the
'loin', the bend or curve to the lumbar spine in my opinion originating from a dog called Jupp v d Haller Farm
[1975] then increasing in its genetic frequency through Odin von Tannenmeise and hammered home through
his very influential son the 1993 German Sieger Jeck von Noricum who also had a the characteristic peak to
his back at the start of the lumbar spine. Since Jeck the process of selection has resulted in an a significantly
increased gene frequency for the changed lumbar spine and consequently the changed backline.


An observation I have made over a long time is a lack of understanding by many people on both sides
of the fence in regard to where the back/loin actually starts and finishes and I have covered that point, and
the other is, exactly what and where within the spine has this happened to create that change and
importantly, why is the change considered by the show fraternity within the SV to be desirable?
I often hear GSD enthusiasts getting into heated arguments with people outside the breed about the
backline, arguing that the change is for the best, but rarely if ever do I hear them articulate in any coherent,
intelligent never mind scientific way, why the change is for the better, explaining why it is beneficial to the
dog or explaining what has actually happened to the dogs spine to change the back/loin.
16


The whole point of this article is this. If you dont really know the answer to these things you dont
know its impact on the dog especially in regard to its locomotion and its powers of endurance.
What I observe are too many people some recognized breed authorities, simply saying its better, its
better because that is what German SV judges want, that if you want to win at a specialist dog show thats
what you have to have, that this is all part of the breeds planned evolution. In effect saying dont question it,
just accept it.
Maybe they are right but maybe they are wrong, maybe what is right is somewhere in the middle!?


The starting point from here has to be what does the standard say about the back?
The early standard states:
Back including the loin straight and strongly developed. Not too long between withers and croup. The
withers must be long and high enough [to be] well indicated against the back into which it must gently flow
without disrupting the backline, slightly sloping from the from the front to the rear, loins broad strong and
well muscled.
The current standard states:
The upper line runs from the base of the neck via the high long withers and via the straight back
towards the slightly sloping croup without visible interruption. The back is moderately long firm strong and
well muscled. The loin is broad, short, strongly developed and well muscled.
Straight straight is straight and by the way straight does not mean level. The definition of straight
is: "extending or moving uniformly in one direction without a curve or bend."
High long withers - this has a direct relationship to the back in regard to the withers height, the
definition of withers height, how the height is determined and how its length is determined is covered in
great detail in my article on withers.
Moderately long back Definition: Average in degree.
The current standard has removed the requirement for the withers to be clearly sloping and clearly
defined against the back. They must now only be high. Withers height, withers length and where the withers
end and the back starts is no longer clearly visually quantifiable, it is now open to interpretation. It also
removed the requirement for the loin [lumbar spine] to be straight; this was a profound amendment.
If a judge decides/determines by whatever means [other than relativity to the back] that the withers
are high, the withers could be level, be on the same level line as the back and be described as high long
withers and they often are!
The change to the loins description leaves it open to interpretation but obviously this was done
because a straight lumbar spine was no longer considered to be ideal!
What has all of this this got to do with the back? Plenty! Because the rise in the back at the anticlinal
region diminishing the withers slope, the consequent loss of the withers clear visual length and its definition
to the back and the curve to the lumbar spine is reflected in the current standard via the amendments that
have been made to it. In other words the amendments that were made validate these changes.
What I am about to say is very important and very relevant. Whether you like it or not, and allowing
for latitude in the interpretation of some words, the current standard is reflected on the topline of the 2014
dog more than it is on the topline of the 1960s dog. If you doubt what I have said, or if you don't like what I
just said, bear with me and just persevere, keep reading through to the end.
Diagram W1 shows the spine in a configuration that is pre the moderate rising of the back at the
anticlinal region. I say pre the moderate rising because whilst it has risen higher than this the withers whilst
not as defined as the 60's dog are still high, still long, still sloping and still defined and the back is straight.
17



Diagram W1

This spine and withers in Diagram W1 would look like this dog in the photo
You can see a 'very slight rise' over the back at the anticlinal area in my sketch. That very slight rise is
muscle bulge, well developed back muscles, the reverse of seeing a dip in the back, the reverse of a nick
behind the withers.
In general terms muscle mass, muscle development and muscle bulge in the right places is rarely
commented on by GSD judges and this is because in areas where the coat hair is not short, and this is
certainly the case with long stock hair, you can only determine this by feeling the muscles.
Why has this all happened, why is this change considered to be better than the spine [and withers] of
the 1960s dog? Its because those of influence within the SV believe it provides a stronger back without
impeding the withers function, without impeding the dogs stride in the trot and without impeding in any way
the dogs mobility.
What is my opinion? My opinion is that the rise demonstrated here was not really necessary but I
accept that it could be argued and it is, that its beneficial in creating even greater strength to the back and
that it does not really impede the withers function.
Diagram W2 shows a further rising in the anticlinal region and as a consequence the withers height
relative to the back, the slope to the withers whilst still there and still visible, is less apparent. The withers
now flow seamlessly in a straight line into the back which now has a 'very slight curve' and as a consequence
the end of the withers and therefore the withers length is no longer so apparent. This further rise has also
slightly reduced the angle of the thoracic spires and rotated the ribs backward slightly. A further development
is that the lumbar spine [loin] is now showing a slight downward bend.

Diagram W2

Why has this happened?
There is a paranoid even obsessive focus on the strength of the German Shepherd Dogs back and this
is an extension of that.
The argument for having a bend in the lumbar spine is because this lowers the hip position and this
lower hip position gives the dog a more efficient stride of the hind limb, and stride length v's stride frequency
is another GSD obsession.
The lower hip position, consequent lower knee position and consequent increased back slope created
by the bending of the lumbar vertebrae is not related to a lower hip and knee position created by over
angulation of the hindquarter. I can't overemphasise enough the need for the reader to understand that
anatomically these are two very different issues. Over angulation has a similar visual lowering effect but the
impact on movement, the mechanics of it are 'profoundly different'. Over angulation exacerbates this issue,
18


exacerbates what happens and what you see but the two things need to be treated separately and the latter
is not discussed in any detail here. This article is about the back and the loin.
So what is my opinion?
Not that it needed it but the back is stronger and its still reasonably straight and the withers function
is not compromised. Does it impede back flexion when the dog is jumping as in protection work or in the
gallop? I have a small suspicion it might but I really don't know.
As I said, I see the change as being totally unnecessary but for me its more of an aesthetic issue than
a functional one.
The lumbar spine, the loin, is now showing a bend and what I think about that is dependent on
whether it is beneficial to an endurance trotting dog; This bending impacts directly on hind stride efficiency,
its to do with the debatable argument relating to the effectiveness or otherwise of less strides v's more
strides to cover a given distance and its to do with how it impacts on the dogs health and its well being.
My personal opinion? I would not have made this change to the breeds lumbar spine but I am not an
anointed breed guardian with breed development influence, I am merely an interested observing bystander
and the reasons why I would not have taken the breed down that particular path will be explained in detail in
my future article on the hindquarters.
The impact of this change to the back and loin when the dog is standing is one of a long seamless
gradual sloping curve from the base of the neck to the tail root and this is seen when the dog is trotting.
Diagram W3 shows a further, more dramatic rise to the thoracic spine at the anticlinal region and a
further downward curve to the lumbar spine. The withers are now level; they are no longer higher than the
back. They are higher than the lumbar spine, higher than the loin but not higher than the back.
The lumbar spine is more bent, its now curved, it is more inclined and this has inclined the pelvis,
further lowered the position of the hip joint [and lowered the knee] relative to the pivot point in the withers.
Depending on the transition at the end of the thoracic vertebrae, the degree of the lumbar curve and whether
the lumbar section is visually curved or relatively straight determines whether there is a smooth curve or
angle/bump/peak at the transition point.

Diagram W3

Why has this happened? More of the same.
What is my opinion? It's all gone too far, its a pendulum that has swung too far. The back is strong
no doubt but its not 'straight' and perhaps this is to the detriment of flexibility and the withers are no longer
high relative to the back, they are level with it.
The withers are now compromised in their ability too function at an optimum level in the trot and the
dog will show some degree of fore reach restriction. The increased angle and bend is now approaching a
curve, the lumbar vertebrae has inclined the pelvis even more, its now steeply inclined and this creates an
imbalance in the drive. The back feet now go too far under the dog and not back far enough and this reduces
drive and rear lift. The hip and as a consequence the knee are now lower in relation to the ground and lower
in relation to the withers pivot point. The consequential impact of this change on the tibia - reducing its
opening angle, making it more level to the ground, and the variables one sees in regard to both the length of
the tibia and or femur - longer and or shorter, creates another very interesting discussions for my future
hindquarter article.
19



Notwithstanding there is a curve to the back here, If the thoracic region of the back was elevated to
the degree that it was higher than the withers or even level with the withers and the lumbar spine was at a
similar degree of incline to the previous dog but was straight instead of curved it would look like this,
complete with the consequential and characteristic angular peak at the L1 anticlinal vertebrae region and the
tail root a little high. This peak can be seen in its various forms from very apparent to very slight to
barely perceptible, it is a result and a characteristic of the lumbar spines shift from its relatively straight line
positioning.
What impact has all this had in its varying degrees on the dogs health and function, in regard to its
mobility and its locomotion and what does the written standard require?
The issue of health and well being of a dog or any living thing should take precedence over a written
standard. In many respects the two are intertwined and they should be.
Notwithstanding this preferential order, I will deal with the standard first and my reason for doing this
will be apparent, but before I do this I make the following comment in regard to the bending/curving of the
lumbar spine.
In sight hounds, i.e. the Borzoi, which is not a trotter but a galloping sprinter there is a slight curve to
the topline in the region of the lumbar spine and this curve increases the efficiency of the back in the gallop.
Not all but a lot of the curve that you see in a Borzoi is caused by the increasing height of the spires of the
lumbar vertebrae which anchor the large and very powerful muscles of the loin, followed by the decreasing
height of the spires further back as they descend to the sacrum area of the pelvis. The rise actually starts
with the muscle mass above the last three ribs, reaching its visual highest point about midway between the
last rib and the hipbones.
Why do a put this in here?
I commenced my article by saying people too often throw all traits into one box, only see traits
through a limited narrow eyed focus and they shouldn't. What may look the same may not be the same and
what applies to one breed of dog does not necessarily apply to another. Its to do with understanding a dogs
purpose and function, its to do with understanding a dogs anatomy, its about knowing what you are talking
about.

With regard to the Standard. You may not agree with every aspect of the standard but the standard
is the standard. The standard is determined by country of origin, Germany, by the SV and as such like it or
not country of origin and its transient hierarchy the breed guardians, call the shots in regard to the
standard.
To this degree in the context of German Shepherd show dogs, the standard and its interpretation by
people of great influence and small number very effectively determine the breeds development.

20


The relevant sections of the standard have been covered but I repeat them as a written and pictorial
summation.
In stance - The upper line runs from the base of the neck via the high long withers and via the
straight back towards the slightly sloping croup without visible interruption. The back is moderately long firm
strong and well muscled. The loin is broad, short, strongly developed and well muscled.
How would that look in my mind's eye in relation to my interpretation of those words?

In movement - '' ... the gait is far reaching and flat over the ground which conveys the impression of
effortless forward movement. The head pushed forward and the slightly raised tail result in a consistent
smooth trot showing a gently curved uninterrupted upper line from the ear tips over the neck and back to the
end of the tail''.
How would that look in my mind's eye in relation to my interpretation of those words?


This article is not based on the subject of type but it does warrant comment.
In conformation judging, health, temperament and performance aside, type is the most important
thing to identify and promote.
If it doesnt look like a German Shepherd Dog it isnt a German Shepherd Dog. Type comes first and
foremost [and within type there are styles of dogs, as can be seen in the collage of dogs at the start of this
article].
The standard articulates the desired type using descriptive and to varying degrees, quantifiable words
and terms, but because breed standards leave room for interpretation, and an example in the context of this
subject are the words ; high - long straight gently curved moderately long, conformation show
judging becomes highly subjective. Consequently the definition of breed type and its evolutionary direction
also becomes subjective.
21


All I can do is offer my opinion, offer my interpretation of the standards requirement for the withers,
the back and the loin and explain how these elements in their variable forms function and interact and
contribute to the minds eye creating an image of type.
In regard to the impact of these changes to the back and loin on the health of the dog.
'Rising of the anticlinal region of the back'
I have covered this really but in my opinion the changes that have taken place in the have had no
adverse effect on the dogs health. It has impacted on the fore reach, impacted on the forelimb extension
when the back height is level with and higher than the withers but this is not something that I wouldn't say
was of detriment to the dogs health just to its locomotive efficiency.
'Bending, curving of the lumbar spine'
This is an area that one could assume has potential for spinal problems especially in the more extreme
cases and whilst I have heard anecdotal reports in regard to this causing lumbar pain, compression nerve
damage and even CDM I have yet to read any AVA acknowledged scientific literature that has been carried
out specifically in relation to these things being caused by the change in the lumbar spine of the German
Shepherd Dog. It would be a worthwhile exercise.
A thought to ponder, a proposition that has no scientific support, no doubt the issues are genetically
very complex and it is a thought based solely on my observation, particularly of males:
The rising of the spine in the thoracic region may be genetically linked to a deeper rib cage, both traits
inherited together during meiosis. In other words, what comes with the rising in the spine is a deeper rib
cage and if you want to [proportionately] maintain a slightly longer foreleg than chest depth you have to
increase size. Keep the changed spine and the animals who are within size will have dogs with forelegs that
are shorter than their chest depth.
Selectively breed with dogs that have the higher spine position and who are within size and you will
increase the frequency of dogs that have a foreleg that is shorter than the depth of the rib cage!
My final comment is taken from previous articles but it needs repeating;
Only by openly discussing issues and understanding a dogs function and its anatomy can you make
correctly weighted comparisons and decisions and I hope this article goes some way in doing that.
Louis Donald
June 2014