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 Asunto: The Back of the German Shepherd Dog - evolution, structure &
 Nota Publicado: Jue Jun 26, 2014 1:17 pm 
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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" (click HERE).

I commence this article by saying you can’t bundle all German Shepherd Dogs or any breed of dog for that matter into one box. Many people do and they shouldn’t. 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 dog’s 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.

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.



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'.

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 and of major significance is that it shows a slight 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 don’t 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
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.

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 "B" Red indicates the thoracic vertebrae of the back and blue indicates the lumbar vertebrae of the back.

As in photo Image "C" Red indicates the thoracic vertebrae and lumbar vertebrae allocated to the back and blue indicates the lumbar vertebrae allocated to the loin.
You can’t 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.


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

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 animal’s neck and head by the thoracic spires being long and positioned above the top of the shoulder blades.

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.

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.


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 can’t 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.

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 dog’s spine. It is attached to the inside surface of the ilium’s 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.

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 it’s 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 reader’s 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 60’s dog and that anyone who can’t appreciate that fact doesn’t 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 sometimes even 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 by changes in the thoracic and lumbar spine, it is another matter altogether and I can’t 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 don’t 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 it’s not a good trait. For me this is a very simple fundamental rule of thumb that protects the breed’s 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.

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 to the lumbar spine, coming from Odin von Tannenmeise through his mothers line and hammered home through his very influential son the 1993 German Sieger Jeck von Noricum who also had a peak to his back at the start of the lumbar spine. Since Jeck the process of selection has resulted in an increased gene frequency for the changed lumbar spine and 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.
The whole point of this article is this. If you don’t really know the answer to these things you don’t 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 that’s what you have to have, that this is all part of the breeds planned evolution. In effect saying ‘don’t 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 1960’s 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.

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 1960’s 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 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 position gives the dog a more efficient stride of the hind limb and stride length v's stride frequency is another GSD obsession.

So what is my opinion?

Not that it needed it but the ‘back’ is stronger and it’s 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, indeed its now slightly curved, it is more inclined and this has inclined the pelvis, 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 perhaps 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 consequent impact of this change on the tibia, on its relative length to the femur and its angle to the ground creates another very interesting discussions for another time.
If the thoracic region of the back was elevated to the degree that it was 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 its characteristic angular peak at the L1 anticlinal vertebrae region. This peak can be seen in its various forms from very apparent to very slight, 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 breed’s development.

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 doesn’t look like a German Shepherd Dog it isn’t 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. 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 create in the minds eye ‘type’.

In regard to the impact of these changes on the health of the dog.

I have covered this really but in my opinion the changes that have taken place in the' rising of the anticlinal region of the back' 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.
That leaves the 'bending to 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.

A thought to ponder, a proposition that has no scientific support and is 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.

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 really understanding a dog’s 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


Miller's Anatomy of the Dog; Howard E. Evans PhD, David M. Nunamaker, Peter D. Blauner, Prof. Martin S Fischer, Dr Curtis Brown - Dog Locomotion, Von Stephanitz - The German Shepherd Dog, Howard E. Evans PhD and Alexander de Lahunta DVM PhD, Bonnie J. Smith; 1999, Hoyt, D. F.; Taylor, R. C. (1981). Hildebrand, M. (1989) - Anatomy Of The Dog, Dr Walter Gorrieri and Dr F Bonetti, Il Cane Si Muove, Malcolm Willis - The German Shepherd Dog.

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Traducción al español por Huan Manwë