No matter how bad my writer’s block, I have never had an article that inspired more profanity than this one. It’s also an article that changed course in mid-stream. This was supposed to be a breed guide, but I no longer think it’s appropriate.
I’ve written about the hoarding situation that our rescue faced, where more than a hundred dogs were seized. It’s then that we met Duke, an old-school German Shepherd Dog (GSD) with a straight back. There was another German Shepherd there at the time, too. Her back end was only a few inches above the ground. It was if her muscles had atrophied and her hips were in the process of sliding to the ground. Her body was hunched and she looked nearly malformed. She’d received a preliminary diagnosis of joint disorders from the vet, and it was clear she was not a healthy dog.
Like almost all of the dogs taken from that hellhole, the female GSD was timid and needed to warm up to people. We didn’t spend a lot of time with her, because we were there to wash 40 dogs and evaluate the ones that needed to find rescues. This dog was already earmarked to go to one of the German Shepherd rescues in the area, so we didn’t need to worry about finding a home for her.
One of our volunteers, who was a fan of German Shepherds and schutzhund, couldn’t have been less interested in the magnificent Duke, but she focused on to the female GSD and spent most of her time with her. She seemed fascinated with her. After a while, she came up to me and Victoria. We expected an evaluation of the dog’s temperament and a layperson’s assessment of her physical condition (our volunteers’ initial evaluations often contained a list of things the vet might want to look at — cherry eye, skin problems, even hip dysplasia). Instead she said, briskly, “I’ve checked, and I’m sure that dog doesn’t know any German.” She shook her head in disappointment. “Too bad.”
And THAT incident, in a nutshell, is why German Shepherds have suffered such a tragic decline: for decades, many of the people who breed them and buy them have been obsessed with appearance and training to the point that they disregard the dogs’ health and personalities. I’m not saying all people who want a German Shepherd are like this, but I will say I’ve met many who are. I’ve also met people who seem to see their purebred dog as an extension of their own toughness and self-control. People’s desire for a hyper-disciplined, impressive-looking superdog has created demand, and unscrupulous breeders and puppy millers just churn out dogs with sloping backs and big heads preferred by aficionados.
If you want to see how drastic the change has been, I strongly recommend you watch this video. If you can’t spare the whole eight minutes, go straight to 7:50 and watch from there. The evolution of the GSD from a straight-backed, proportional dog to a massive-headed one with hindquarters only a few inches off the ground is hard to watch once you know how many of these modern dogs suffer from agonizing back and joint pain.
German Shepherds have been overbred for decades. It is nothing new. Despite breeders’ claims that they are trying to make healthier dogs, veterinarians consider GSDs to be extremely unhealthy dogs. To remedy this and reduce demand for GSDs, some breeders have expanded their lines to include Dutch Shepherds, Shiloh Shepherds, and Belgian Malinois, all currently healthier than GSDs. However, I don’t know how long those breeds will remain that way.
In the interim, if you want a German Shepherd, don’t go to a breeder. If someone suggests that you buy a deliberately bred mixed breed Shepherd, steer clear also, since those dogs can also be pretty unhealthy. Just head off to your local pound or rescue and get a dog who looks Shepherd-ish — the more muttly the better. Chances are excellent you’ll get a much healthier dog with a better temperament, and you won’t be contributing to a huge problem.