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Breed Priorities – German Shepherd Dogs

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226– June, 2015

By Nikki Riggsbee

German Shepherd Dogs are in a class by themselves. In 2014, they had over 150 independent specialty shows, not including designated specialties or supported entries or herding group shows. Some dogs can and do show only at specialty shows. And since there are over 200 breeder-judges, specialty judges at specialties usually outdraw the entry at all-breed shows.

Well over 100 breeder-judges were invited to take our Breed Priorities survey. Some of these judge only German Shepherds, some judge a few other breeds, and some are group and multiple group judges. Seventy-one experts accepted the invitation, and thirty-eight surveys were received. The group as a whole has been in the breed for nearly forty years on average and has been judging it for over sixteen years on average. Most all have judged German Shepherd specialties, and many have judged a parent club specialty.

Prioritizing Virtues

The breeder-judges were given a list of breed virtues from the German Shepherd Dog standard to prioritize from the most important to the least important. Their responses were averaged. The following is the list of the German Shepherd characteristics in sequence by the breeder-judges’ average priority, with 1 being the most important.

1. Approachable, quietly standing its ground, showing confidence, willingness to meet overtures without itself making them

2. Gait outreaching, elastic, seemingly without effort, smooth and rhythmic

3. Great strength and firmness of back when moving

4. Secondary sex characteristics strongly marked

5. Proportion of length to height as 10 to 8½

6. Upper arm joining shoulder blade at about a right angle

7. From the front, front legs function from the shoulder joint to the pad in a straight line

8. Croup long and gradually sloping

9. Pasterns strong and springy, angulated at approximately a 25-degree angle from the vertical

10. Muscular fitness

11. Head noble, cleanly chiseled

12. Feet short, compact with toes well-arched, pads thick and firm

13. Chest well-filled and carried well down between the legs

14. Ears moderately pointed, in proportion to the skull, open toward the front, and carried erect when at attention

15. Dark eye

16. Outer coat dense, hair straight, harsh and lying close to the body

The greatest agreement was on “Approachable, quietly standing its ground, showing confidence, willingness to meet overtures without itself making them” (1st) which reflects the parent club’s recommending a temperament test as part of the in-ring examination at dog shows. Almost as much agreement was on “Gait outreaching, elastic, seemingly without effort, smooth and rhythmic” (2nd). Close behind was last place “Outer coat dense, hair straight, harsh and lying close to the body (16th).

Over seventy percent concurred that “Ears moderately pointed, in proportion to the skull, open toward the front, and carried erect when at attention” (14th) was toward the bottom. Nearly as many placed “Dark eye” (15th) in the last quartile. A bare majority agreed on the middling importance of “Croup long and gradually sloping” (8th). Almost half ranked “Great strength and firmness of back when moving” (3rd) as quite important.

Eighteen experts put “Pasterns strong and springy, angulated at approximately a 25-degree angle from the vertical” (9th) at midpoint or above, while more than a third had it distinctly lower. A similar distribution occurred on “Chest well-filled and carried well down between the legs” (13th).

Several other virtues also had bipolar distributions. Forty-five percent had “Proportion of length to height as 10 to 8½” (5th) fairly important, while more than a quarter had it much lower. Further down the list, “Feet short, compact with toes well-arched, pads thick and firm” (12th) had a similar split.

Some virtues had two similarly sized groups with different opinions. Thirteen had “Upper arm joining shoulder blade at about a right angle” (6th) as important, but twelve put it distinctly below average. “From the front, front legs function from the shoulder joint to the pad in a straight line” (7th) was important for twelve, but fifteen ranks in the third quartile lowered its average. Fifteen had “Head noble, cleanly chiseled” (11th) in the second quartile, but the same number had it in the next quartile, dropping it down the list.

Seventeen experts had “Secondary sex characteristics strongly marked” (4th) as quite important, but the rest were scattered. “Muscular fitness” (10th) had thirteen of those surveyed consider it less valuable, but the other experts raised its average, although they didn’t group at any specific opinion.

“Temperament” (1st) and “Gait outreaching” (2nd) were two points ahead of “Back when moving” (3rd) which was more than two points above “Strong sex characteristics” (4th), emphasizing the importance of the first three. A two point split also separated “Chest” (13th) and “Ears” (14th), definitely putting the last three at the end.

The two virtues with the two closest average ranks were “From the front, front legs in a straight line” (7th) and “Croup long” (8th), just three-hundredths of a point apart. These could swap relative rank with another survey.

Ranking Faults

The survey also included a list of German Shepherd Dog faults taken directly or derived from the standard. The breeder-judges ranked them from most serious to least. They are listed below in sequence by the average rank, with 1 being the most serious.

1. Lack of confidence

2. Unlevel topline when moving

3. Cow-hocked rear when moving

4. Long loin

5. Coat of washed-out colors, blues, or livers

6. Overshot

7. Refined head

8. Prosternum not showing ahead of the shoulder in profile

9. Ribs flat, not well-sprung

10. Long metatarsus (hock)

11. Tail does not reach hock joint

12. Missing premolars

13. Short neck

14. Topline of muzzle not parallel to the topline of the skull

15. Ears out of proportion to head

16. Soft coat

Every survey placed “Lack of confidence” (1st) at the top or in the first quartile. Next greatest agreement, with a sixty percent majority, was on “Soft coat” (16th), followed closely by “Unlevel topline when moving” (2nd). The smallest majority concurred on “Topline of muzzle not parallel to the topline of the skull” (14th).

Half of the surveys put “Cow-hocked rear when moving” (3rd) near the top, but eleven had it in the second quartile. Almost as many had “Long loin” (4th) quite important, but twelve ranked it midpoint, lowering its average. “Ears out of proportion to head” (15th) was placed in the bottom quartile by eighteen. “Overshot” (6th) had sixteen experts consider it quite important, but a majority ranked it lower. As is typical, the greatest agreements were on characteristics at the top and the bottom of the lists.

Forty-five percent of the group considered “Coat of washed-out colors, blues, or livers” (5th) quite important, but another group almost half that size had it well below average. A similar split occurred with “Long metatarsus (hock)” (10th).

Three faults had split opinions, with two similar sized groups disagreeing on how serious it was. The faults with this distribution were “Refined head” (7th), “Missing premolars” (12), and “Short neck” (13).

“Ribs flat, not well-sprung” (9th) was fairly important for eleven, but fifteen had it midpoint or lower. “Prosternum not showing ahead of the shoulder in profile” (8th) was above average for fifteen, but ten putting it below average moved it lower. “Tail does not reach hock joint” (11th) was below average on fourteen surveys, but the others were all over.

The average rank for “Lack of confidence” (1st) was more than four points above second place, confirming the importance of temperament. This was consistent with the virtues list as well. “Prosternum” (8th) and “Ribs flat” (9th) were two-hundredths of a point apart and could easily change position with more input.

The lists were fairly consistent when evaluating the same or related items. “Temperament,” “Movement,” and “Topline” were very important on both. “Ears” and “Coat texture” were around the bottom of both lists.

Essential Characteristics

The survey asked the breeder-judges to name four to six characteristics that a German Shepherd Dog must have to be a good one. Side gait was named most often, although a clean up and back was also mentioned, emphasizing the importance of movement for this breed. Temperament and breed character were also very important. Topline with a strong back was critical and was evaluated when the dog was moving. Breed type and balance were both listed often. These open-ended responses aligned well with the list of priorities on the last page.


The survey included outlines of six German Shepherd dogs and six German Shepherd bitches. The judges were asked to place each set of outlines as they would a class of dogs, based on silhouette only. The outlines were made from photos real dogs, so none is perfect or ideal. Some judges were reluctant to judge on outlines alone, with movement so important. Below are their choices by average placement, allowing that all could change if the outlines moved.

The male with the best average placement was German Shepherd Dog “A.” Those who selected him said he had the “most balanced front and rear,” “best topline, feet and pasterns,” “good rear angle and croup,” “correct proportions, elegance, breed type,” “best overall body,” “good head profile, short ears,” “the outline, the curves, short back, long neck,” “not excessively angled, good shoulder,” “not overstretched,” and “good height-to-length ratio, good prosternum, good breadth of thigh.”

German Shepherd Dog “C” had the next best average placement and was in contention for best dog as the surveys came in. Those who picked “C” said he had “good structure, nice back and croup,” “best overall picture, stronger sex characteristics, better proportion, better head,” “deeper body, stronger headpiece,” “good balance,” “best croup, body proportion, and length of neck,” “good front assembly,” “beautiful masculine head,” and “closest to breed standard.”

German Shepherd bitch “X” had the best average placement among the bitches. Those who chose her said she had a “proper length of body, good back, good croup, good shoulder,” was “feminine,” had a “pleasing outline, balanced,” “curve of neck, prosternum, pasterns, and breadth of thigh,” “nice angulation, elegant,” “best front assembly, muscular thigh, strong stifle,” “secondary sex characteristics, feminine, correct body outline,” and “topline, underline, best feet and pasterns.”

Second place was GSD bitch “W.” Those who placed her first said she had “the best overall balance and type,” “looks as though she could work all day,” “substantial, well-proportioned, good head, excellent croup,” “beautiful breed type,” “lovely outline, short back, curvy, good head,” “good proportion, shoulder, back, croup, fine rear angle,” “excellent fore and rear angulation,” “appears confident,” and “impressive type, excellent head.” A couple of judges suggested that bitch “W” was big enough to be a dog.

Dog “A” had the best average placement of all twelve and was selected Best of Breed by seven breeder-judges, more times than the other dogs. But bitches “X” and “W” were each named Best of Breed ten times each. Dog “A” and bitch “X” had sixteen first placements, so it is between them. Your call.

All of the outlines were out of the ribbons on at least one survey. Three outlines were never placed first: “B,” “D,” and “U.” Dog “B” was left out of the ribbons most among the dogs, followed by “D.” Bitch “U” was unplaced on twenty-nine surveys, bitch “Z” on twenty, and bitch “Y” on eighteen.

Additional Comments

The German Shepherd Dog breeder-judges were asked for comments they could offer students of their breed:

• Show me a beautiful Shepherd with a terrible temperament, and he gets uglier every day!

• This is a moving breed; therefore it is imperative to see a dog in motion to evaluate it.

• You look for overall type, balance, personality, and then pray you don’t find unforgivable details.

• The first impression when the dogs enter the ring is important. The males are males, and the bitches are bitches.

• Temperament is important; the dog must stand his ground fearlessly!

• German Shepherd Dogs are judged more moving than standing, and it is how the parts work together that usually makes the difference.

• Character and movement are fundamental for the herding requirements.

• A properly built GSD is like a well-oiled machine where the ratios of all parts equate to efficient movement that has lasting endurance and stamina.

• A lot of judges in all-breed shows do not do enough temperament testing.

• Correct structure enables the dog to move effortlessly, covering the maximum amount of ground with long sweeping strides, with clean and total follow-through.

• An issue today is having handlers show the dog on a loose lead.

• It is important to assess the degree of deviation from the ideal when considering faults, since any fault can be very serious if the individual deviates significantly from the desired attribute.

• Temperament is paramount.

• Important is the athletic, suspended, effortless trot.

• Sometimes it is very hard to see their beautiful side gait in a small all-breed ring.

• German Shepherd dogs should stand on their feet, not on their hocks.

Thanks to all the German Shepherd Dog breeder-judges who shared their expertise.

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Posted by on Jul 19 2015. Filed under Current Articles, Editorial, Featured. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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