What does a breeder mean when he says that he’s breeding “for the betterment of the breed”? Is he referring to eliminating overt problems, such as hip/elbow dysplasia, deafness, blindness? Is it to preserve the current form and angulation–the breed standard–of the particular breed? What if the breed standard is the reason for the health issues?
A few years ago the BBC released a documentary about the realities of breeding purebred dogs. There was not one breed registered by the Kennel Club that escaped health issues. The documentary stirred up quite a hornets nest among breeders, and was painful for some lay people to watch. Particularly horrifying was the fate of the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, whose small domed head and long ears endears them to dog show judges. Sometimes in breeding for this type of head, the dog’s cranium is too small to accommodate the its brain. They ultimately suffer a painful death.
The recent statement issued by the Kennel Club asserting the unsoundness of the back end, notably the hindquarters, including the hocks of German Shepherds apparently has made some German Shepherd breeders quite unhappy. That’s one thing, but the Club does not state precisely what is meant by unsoundness, although they state that such unsoundness should be penalized in the ring.
The show lines of this once magnificent utility dog features a roach back and sloping back end; that is the preferred look. Anyone who has ever watched Crufts or Westminster has seen these dogs trotting around the ring wtih backends almost trailing the ground, as though the dogs have cinder blocks tied to their testicles, and when the dogs stand unstacked their hocks jut out, or inwards.
Is the Kennel Club referring to incidences of hip dysplasia or other crippling effects in the German Shepherd? The Code of Ethics breeders in various countries are doing a great deal to eliminate hip dysplasia from the breed. The disease, however, continues to plague these dogs.
My question to you is this, is it possible to breed generations of German Shepherds with sound hindquarters while preserving the current angulation required of the breed standard? Aside from the absence of hip dysplasia, what constitutes “soundness” in the German Shepherd? I’d love to hear from some breeders, show-ers, pet owners and people who just love the breed.
Photo Credits: German Shepherd Dog from http://theworlddogs.blogspot.com/2008/09/german-shepherd.html
Athena is the dog on the right
I worked Athena on the field in obedience along with other German Shepherds. She didn’t have a good day. She broke all of her stays, lagged miles behind me in the off-leash heel, and I had to call her about three times in the recall. As for the retrieve. I managed to get her to hold the dumbbell for me at the beginning of class; however, she very reluctantly went out for the dumbbell. On one attempt I had her sit at heel and wait while I tossed the article–a bright orange plastic dumbbell. I sent her out and she promptly brought me back a discarded styroform cup.
Half way through the class, it was evident that Athena had shut down. It was not for psychological reasons, however; she was simply not feeling well. Three people whose judgement and advice I trust pointed out that Athena has not regained her strength yet, and she needs to rebuild her muscle mass. I see the dog everyday, I noticed the improvements in her, but I needed an objective set of eyes to see what really is.
Coupled with this, Athena has an arrhythmia. We made the decision that she would not be competing in the Jamaica Kennel Club’s All-Breed Show and Obedience Trials, and will retire from the obedience ring and will enjoy the rest of her life as a house pet. We were so close to that CD.
After only one month’s preparation, Athena and I will enter the obedience ring once more tomorrow, but this time we’ll be competing in the Intermediate class. We have not mastered all the exercises perfectly. For instance, Athena can reliably clear the high jump at 23″: she must do 36″ tomorrow, and her retrieve is still rough around the edges. However, her work shows remarkable progress.
Two weeks ago she refused the jumps. I had to take her back to the beginner’s stage, letting her jump very low heights, rewarding, and raising the heights very gradually. I also had to change the cue, as I discovered that somehow the old ones got poisoned. The results: she offers me jumps now. Some will say that is not a good thing in a competition dog; however, the fact that she offers the jumps without me cuing her says that she actually likes to jump, and she knows what she’s to do. And, she’s jumping off leash. How could I possibly correct that?
We may not be perfect, and I have no idea how we will do in the ring tomorrow. We may be brilliant, we may stink. Regardless of the outcome, I remind myself that the process, the journey of getting to where we are, is far more important than the product, the first place, or the trophy. While those are nice to have, I am more interested in how my dog learned, and that she had fun learning and performing, and that she will look forward to more training and trials.
That said, I sign off for now as handler and dog must be well rested for the task at hand tomorrow.
There’s an old joke that if you want to figure out whether or not dogs can count, put two cookies in your pocket, then give your dog only one.
Earlier tonight I did a bit of training with Gretchen, my black and tan German Shepherd bitch. I’m hoping she will be my next obedience champion, if only I had the time to consistently train her. Oh well…
Anyway, we rehearsed sits and downs, and I not only mixed up the sequence of the exercise, but varied the amount of treats that I gave. So sometimes I’d ask for a sit, then I’d give Gretchen a treat when she complied. Then I’d ask for a sit and down, and give one or two treats. Next I’d ask for a sit–down–sit and give three treats. In clicker-training parlance, that’s called a variable schedule of reinforcement, and it’s a powerful training tool.
Somehow during my training, I lost track of how I was treating. Perhaps I inadvertently kept giving three treats for the tri-fold sequence, sit–down–sit. At one point I asked for this tri-fold pattern, and gave Gretchen a treat. Instead of gobbling it up, she dropped it on the ground between her paws and looked at me expectantly. I released her from the last cue and encouraged her to eat her treat. She didn’t budge. I gave her a second treat. She put it between her paws beside the other treat and looked at me as though I was rather slow. Finally I relented and gave her a third. She ate it and then proceeded to eat the other two treats.
Dogs are smart, and I’m beginning to wonder if they may have numeracy skills!