Comparing our German shepherds’ builds

German shepherds are famous for having pretty wrecked structures, thanks to the sacred “breed standard” and dog shows, so it’s always something that I pay attention to — especially with our own dogs.

Our dogs are both rescues, so from the start, we already lack the guarantee of a responsible breeder (and you can pretty much bet that a purebred GSD in rescue did not come from a terribly responsible breeder, since most reputable breeders would be willing to take back a puppy).

Here’s a picture of the girls, side by side:

Pyrrha and Eden body comparison | Doggerel

Here’s what we know about them.

Pyrrha came from an unscrupulous backyard breeder in rural North Carolina. Based on her fairly level topline and lack of exaggerated hocks, however, my guess is that he wasn’t trying to win dog shows but rather churn out a bunch of puppies to make a buck or two. We are lucky in that Pyrrha is healthy and has a very strong, solid gait.

Eden is from a breeder who imports dogs from Germany and competes with them in schutzhund trials and in dog shows. She’s only 6 months old, so she’s not full-grown yet, but as you can see from the photos, her topline is not as straight as Pyrrha’s. Her hocks are slightly more exaggerated, but not by much.

Looking at the girls' lines | Doggerel

When we brought Eden home, I was particularly interested in her movement. She is still very much a floppy, uncoordinated puppy, but she’s also not nearly as fast as Pyrrha, and I wonder if that has to do with her more “show-line” build. (It could also be just, again, that she’s still growing.)

Studying Eden's movement
Eden, prowling. December 2013.
Prancing around the yard
Eden, prancing. January 2014.

Pyrrha, as you can see, doesn’t have that downward sloping back.

Post-deer chase
Pyrrha, post-deer chase. August 2012.
Stick patrol
Pyrrha. April 2013.

Even though we know more about Eden (and know that her parents’ hips and elbows passed as normal), I worry about her more, simply because she comes from a show line. The fact that her parents are both titled in schutzhund makes me feel somewhat better. And at least she’s not an American-line show dog, which are the worst in terms of exaggerated structure. So she has some things in her favor.

For now, though, we are lucky to have two bright, healthy shepherds. We hope and pray that they will continue to be so!

Do you ever obsess over unchangeable qualities of your dog (i.e., her structure, her heritage)? If you have a purebred, are you like me and you worry about your dog conforming too much to the “breed standard”?


18 thoughts on “Comparing our German shepherds’ builds

  1. Gosh, this is something I have honestly never even thought about! My dogs are all mutts, which for me is one of the things I love most about them, so I’ve never given any thought to inherited disorders. I imagine I would probably obsess like crazy if I ever owned a purebred!

    1. Yes, it’s certainly an interesting preoccupation! Mutts can also be inclined to inherited disorders, too, obviously; but they certainly have far less of a chance of inbreeding or being bred to follow a breed standard!

  2. The American show line GSDs are so upsetting to me. Every year I go to the big AKC rated show here in Denver, and the GSDs’ hindquarters are nearly on the ground. I just don’t understand why that is perpetuated. We humans are such strange creatures.

    Before I lost both my old dogs to neurological issues (suspected degenerative myelopathy in one, especially as part GSD, and possible spinal tumor in my elkhound), I had planned on my next dog being a dachshund or corgi, but knowing that they are both prone to disc disease and other back problems, I shied away when it was time to adopt.

    One of the things I liked from Ruby’s adoption profile picture was how balanced and proportional she is. Although she was listed as a corgi mix, I doubted that immediately because of her long legs.

    I think your girls are both lovely, and even though as you say Eden’s hocks are a bit exaggerated, it’s reassuring that her parents were performance proven.

    1. I know! It makes me so angry. There is no reason a dog should be bred to look that way. It’s cruel.

      I ended up doing a lot of research on DM, because I thought one of our foster GSDs had it (thankfully, he didn’t; that genetic testing is awesome). Really hard.

      If I’m being honest, I want our next dogs to be mixed breeds, just because of that better chance for health and proportionality. Mixes can also have inherited genetic conditions and bad structures, but they obviously can’t be inbred — or bred to have stupid physical traits like hocks on the ground.

  3. I always wondered about that. My last German Shephard was built more like Pyrrha… she was very active and VERY fast and surprisingly lived to a whopping 14 years old! I was always glad that she didn’t have that sloping stature… but never really stopped to wonder why.

    1. That’s wonderful! I’m always heartened to hear stories of shepherds living that long. Great to hear; she probably wasn’t a show-line, then!

  4. I don’t think the sloping is that bad, except that it so often goes with a generally weak back end. I hate to see their poor little legs wobble, which the American show dogs mostly do.

    I wonder a lot about Silas’s breed makeup. If he weren’t so expensive to keep up, I’d get the genetic test done. He seems to be quite well-structured, but obviously he’s a psychological disaster (which is also largely genetics).

    1. Yes! Thankfully, Edie isn’t wobbly when she moves, but I think Pyrrha is stronger/sounder in general.

      Silas is so interesting, breed-mix-wise! He has a very handsome head. Poor little guy; it does make you wonder what their parents were like (I often wonder about Pyrrha’s sire and dam; were they also scared of everything?).

  5. Given that I compete in high impact dog sports with my guys, structure (and weight) is very important to me. Bauer, unfortunately, is not built wonderfully, and actually is mildly dysplastic in one hip which has ended his agility and lure coursing careers. We see a chiropractor for the dogs and since Bauer was youngish when we got him, we were able to “correct” some structural faults like the fact that he tucks his hips underneath him. Jeni luckily is built very nicely, which comes from having nice lines behind her, even if her “breeder” was terrible when it came to how she treated the dogs. Snoopy is built quite solidly but does have a tendency to get overweight so I really have to watch him. I will say I know a girl with show line GSDs who competes in high levels of agility with her dogs and they are very very sound. The sloped back doesn’t necessarily mean crippled depending on the breeder she came from. I think it’s great that you pay so much attention to structure! Many people do not and it is very important.

    1. Thanks for your comment! I think it’s helpful for me to remember that any dog — even mixed breeds — can have unsound builds. It’s encouraging to hear that you’ve met some sound show-line GSDs! Their bad reputations often precede them.

  6. Wow! Eden and Pyrrha are gorgeous. I used to walk a GSD, rescued by an amazing young couple, 4 days a week for almost a year and a half. He went from scared, stressed out dog to one that is just a joy to walk with. That was the very first GSD I actually walked and dealt with and I was truly amazed by how smart he happens to be. And the answer to your questions would be that I do not obssess about the unchangeable qualities of my girl Alex, she is a pit bull/dogo Argentino mix, because for me and for what I do she is perfect. As a pet sitter, I’ve had the opportunity to pet sit dogs that have a short snout like a beautiful French Bulldog and Pugs and although they were all amazing dogs, I always wondered why people would breed dogs that had such a hard time breathing. Why not breed that particular trait out. I don’t know, that is just my opinion.

  7. All of our dogs are mixed breed so what we wonder is what we can expect down the line since we don’t know much about their line.

    We don’t know Sydney and Rodrigo’s father, but we know that their mother was feral. We met Scout and Zoey’s parents and they are healthy and happy and we’re hoping that this means our puppies will be healthy too.

  8. It’s funny, because even though fear-aggression is not inherent to Aussies (or any breed), sensitivity and suspicion are. And through this, after a “traumatic” experience where Lancer wasn’t physically attacked, but just faced with his fears (other dogs), he became fear-aggressive towards them. But at the same time, he is also a workaholic, self-motivated and handler-focused, which is also inherent to the breed.

    So being like the “breed standard” (though not calm show lines), ends up making behavioral problems more likely than if he was not… but he is also incredibly drivey and focused, which is what I like. It’s kind of a dilemma.


  9. I know this is an old article haha, but I’ve been obsessed with this stuff and you voiced a lot of the things I’ve been thinking about. I recently got a borzoi from what I learned afterwards isnt considered the most reputable breeder. I’ve been obsessing over his structure and how much it complies w the standard and such. I looked at a lot of the show dogs and what is considered to breed standard and champion worthy but those dogs couldn’t chase a wolf across the russian tundra (which is what their original purpose was) and the dogs that excel in lure coursing/hunting wouldn’t get anywhere in the show ring. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with breeding a good looking dog you just have to watch out for other things, but I don’t like the weird snobbery that comes from having a dog that show judges like and shaming a perfectly healthy dog because it doesn’t conform to those standards.
    ALSO idk abt the gsd standard but the borzoi breed standard is so incredibly vague and old and awkwardly translated from russian Idk how people interpret what they do from it.

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