How did you get started in German Shepherd Dogs?
We used to have dogs around the house at my folks place all the time. We had a Cocker Spaniel and another time a black Lab. We were about to get another dog and I decided to buy a German Shepherd, because they were kind of a macho dog and a good thing to have around. So I bought a little female German Shepherd and I don’t remember whether she had papers or not. She only lived about a month before she died of distemper.
Not to be deterred, this time I spent “big bucks” and got one with papers. He was a $50 dog but since a bag of dog food was about $5, he was a semi-expensive dog. He was a pretty nice dog; particularly in temperament. I ended up taking him down to the GSDC of Minneapolis and St. Paul for training. I had bought a Goldbecker and Hart book and I was convinced he was a Grand Victor. Like all neophytes, it appeared to me that he had it all! I remember Helen Miller Fisher deflating me just a touch. After I ran him around a little bit, she said he would probably be best suited for obedience.
Not too long after that and before we were married, Martha was living in a tough neighborhood, so we decided to get a German Shepherd for her since the one at my folk’s place was such a nice dog. Her father knew Bob Foster through his Army Reserve unit and thought Bob was in shepherds. Bob and his wife turned out to be Bob and Ruth Foster and through them, we met Paul and Joan Johnson. We ended up getting the dog for Martha from the Johnson’s – a female by the name of Velvet. She was a real dark Edgetown-type bitch who was a little long in coat and unfortunately ended up being dysplastic in both hips. We gave her to Martha’s sister where, surprisingly, she ran around for more than 12 years and never limped a day in her life.
At that point, we’d been going around to shows just looking at dogs. The first one I went to was the Topline Specialty. These were big shows and when I say big shows, there were two rings with two judges and German Shepherds all over the place. If you didn’t get there early, you couldn’t sit in the first row to see the show. The puppy classes had 25 to 30 puppies being shown, mostly by their owners. They were shown in a different style at the time. All the dog had to do was to run along beside you, pretty typical of the way other breeds are shown in the all breed shows today as opposed to our rather unique, double-handled, hell-bent-for-leather, shown-by-a-professional style which dominates our breed today. It was a fun atmosphere. There were often parties afterward and people were a lot younger and could stay up at night. It was a festive environment that I really enjoyed.
Our First National
We enjoyed shows so much that Martha and I ended up cutting a couple of days of class and going to the 1966 Nationals in Kansas City. We jumped in my VW Bug and drove all night to get down there. It was truly exciting. You know, if you haven’t been to one of those shows in the 60s and 70s when a National was truly a National, you can’t imagine it. They judged well in excess of 1,000 dogs in three days. It was on tanbark and inside. It was just one dog after another. It dumbfounded me. I had no idea what I was looking at but it was truly exciting.
Ralph Roberts was retiring the Ulk dog at the time. He got him out of a crate for us – out of a big mailbox thing made out of wood and painted red, white, and blue. We had no idea of who Ralph and Mary Roberts were, but it sticks in my mind to this day how nice he was to take the time to show us that dog.
Ernie Loeb was judging. I remember that he put up Yoncalla’s Mike as Grand Victor and put up Lance of Fran-Jo as Maturity Victor. The one thing I remember noticing about Lance - because I knew nothing about the structure of dogs – was that on the tanbark when that dog moved, when he followed through in the rear, he would actually grab the tanbark and throw a little of it behind him. And I thought, “that’s pretty unique”.
If you go back and look at films from those days, you notice that dogs do not appear to be that angulated in rear. They’re more level in back and Lance was considered extreme for his day and age. He isn’t that extreme at all if you compare him now to some of the pastern-flipping, toe-dragging crippled stuff that you see running around the conformation ring today.
Our First Litter
Paul and Joan had a bitch (Ch. Ricella’s Fantasy as I remember) that they called Honey. She was one of three champion bitches in a litter sired by Field Marshall that Lucy Woodard had.
After our first National, Paul and Joan were in the process of moving. He asked if we would like to lease Honey and if we did, what dog we had in mind to sire her litter. We told him Lance of Fran-Jo because Lance was by a Fortune son and the bitch was out of a Field Marshall daughter, which was kind of a line breeding. Paul thought that was a good idea, because the animals compensated for each other.
Martha and I only had one weekend where we were free to get married and it turned out to be St. Paddy’s Day (which works out well because I can remember it after 40-some years!) Immediately following the wedding, we threw the bitch in the back of the VW and headed to Grove City, Ohio for the breeding. That breeding produced two champions.
Our First Show Animal Becomes a Canadian Grand Victrix
We got a little bitch out of that litter by the name of Christa who ended up going Canadian GVX, even with me showing her. She also ended up going Select 4 in the United States and that was rather exciting. It gave me a false impression that breeding dogs was pretty easy. Paul Johnson got a male out of that litter by the name of Charger and he also finished. Finishing two out of the litter doesn’t sound so exceptional now, but this was when finishing dogs was difficult. You’d be in an Open class with 30 or more dogs to get a five-point major as compared to today's ten or 11 for a major show where, in my humble opinion, you can finish damn near anything.
Now We’re Hooked
Now we’re hooked; so we ended up getting some more bitches including a Fels daughter from Lucy Woodard. The Review at the time was the little black-and-white edition that came out with tons of ads and there were Bernd sons galore from which to choose. It appeared that crossing the Bernd lines with the Troll lines or Bernd lines with the Lance lines was pretty successful, so that was pretty much the basis for the breeding we did from then on.
We did a lot of breeding back then. We bred a lot of mediocre dogs, but in between we actually had a few good ones. And I think part of the “secret” of breeding dogs, if there is a secret, is that you’re just going to have to breed a lot of dogs and you’re going to have to do a lot of selection. Most people today breed what they have, keep what they get, and show it, when in reality, there are many, many litters bred that really don’t have exceptional dogs that are worth showing. Just because it’s a champion doesn’t mean it’s a reasonably correct dog according to the Standard.
When breeding dogs, we always look for lines that produce good males. Bitches will show up but always breed for males. The top-producing male lines were either through Bernd or through the Troll/Lance side of the pedigrees.
So we bred left and right and got pretty lucky when we bred our Quessa bitch (by GVJudd by way of GV Mike) to GV Scorpio who was by GV Mannix. Mannix was kind of a different dog because he combined the qualities of his sire and dam, the Bernd daughter. He was a large, dark, masculine male with an excellent side gait, different in type than most of the well-known Lance progeny who looked like Lance: Reno, Gilligan and Harrigan, to name a few.
Dogs don’t need a ton of angulation to be functional animals. That breeding produced Watson, Windsor and Winchester. Watson became the most well known and was Grand Victor in 1977. Windsor was by far the more attractive dog, but Watson was by far the more correct-moving dog who covered more ground per step without expending a lot of energy. He had exceptional shoulders. Was Watson classically attractive? No. Did he have fabulous temperament? Absolutely.
Your Breeding Program
We’ve bred a lot of dogs over the last four decades. I suppose the most well-known would be GVX Tango and GV Watson, both magnificently shown by Heinz Zeitler.
Select Beau was shown by Jimmy Moses. I showed GVX L’Erin and I showed Uecker the year he went Grand Victor. The question in the breed is never what did you do yesterday, rather it’s what are you doing now and what do you plan to accomplish in the future.
After Watson and Beau, Select Rollins would my third favorite. He’s had an influence on the breed in terms of motion without being an extreme dog. He had a superb temperament. He was a touch friendlier than I would have liked but his temperament was ideal for most Americans today. He would bite but you had to really push him. He was a great dog; we could take him anywhere and people loved him. He would have been a great therapy dog. The German Shepherd Dog is not the breed for everyone. If you want the temperament to change, you need to change the Standard. You hear people say, “I want," which is fine if you’re looking for a dog for just you. But if you’re thinking about the Breed in general, then the “I” has to come out and it becomes the Standard, which sometimes is hard for people to do because of emotional attachments and preconceived ideas. You need to educate yourself and be a student of the breed Some people have one year of experience 50 times and some people become very knowledgeable in our breed pretty quickly. There are a lot of smart, talented dog people in the breed. Unfortunately many of them are becoming ancient. We need an influx of new people.
Who were your favorite dogs?
Watson had correct, to-the-standard temperament. We lived in the big old farmhouse back then. We had Watson and Tango (1975 Grand Victrix sired by Mannix) in the house. Tango was a little sloppy in motion and was more independent in temperament than Watson. She was her own dog. Watson was highly trainable and focused on people. He was also a little tough. He would not let you in my house, but my kids could smack him around and play all over him and do whatever they wanted. The worst he would do was growl at them and leave. He would be one of my favorite dogs. Probably Beau was my second favorite. He also had that kind of temperament. He was a more aloof, tough dog. If you met him in a dark alley, he would not back down.
What makes the German Shepherd Dog your breed of choice?
The more I’m exposed to the German Shepherd, at least the good ones, the more I believe there is no finer dog on the planet. They’re the most versatile dogs you can have. They can do almost anything. Conversely a bad one is at best annoying to have around even though it might have great conformation.
Temperament in the German Shepherd Dog
The number one thing with this breed is a good temperament and it’s still a problem in the breed today. Just because the dog is a champion, doesn’t mean it has good temperament. It just means someone trained it to stand or that they showed it a lot of times and it stood half the time they showed it.
I’m always amazed that people know the spook champions in the breed and breed to them anyway. I can’t believe that anyone would purposely do that. There is still great need for improvement. We need to seriously select the males and bitches we use for breeding and seriously select what we keep. It's still about the standard.
I’m sure I’ve put up dogs with less than desirable temperament - spooks. There’s no doubt. I’ve judged a lot of dogs and have about two and a half minutes to examine the dog. Do I really know if it has good temperament? No. I know if it leaks on my feet. I know if it bites me. I’ve had some of them look me in the eyes and some eyes are glazed over or they’re double-handled to the extreme. How can you tell in such a short time? The only way you really know if the dog has great temperament is to take it home for a week and take it off lead.
When I first got into the breed in the 60s and 70s, you really couldn’t tell the difference between the American and the German dogs. You could show them interchangeably in the ring. Being crippled up the in the rear end was not a fault; the dogs just didn’t have the excessive angulation. We’re not going to blame this on Lance but somewhere about the time Lance became the dominant stud dog, the Germans went their way and perverted the Standard as they see it today and we went ours.
We have almost identical standards in words. I’m not necessarily saying they perverted it in a bad way, because they are the best dog breeders in the world. They stamp out what they want – one after another. If you don’t believe it go to a Sieger show or get Bill Leonard’s videos on his website and look at the progeny classes. The progeny classes are magnificent in terms of the look of the dogs – big, beautiful, correct block heads, beautiful, double coats.
Germans aren’t afraid to breed coats. In America we take a more negative attitude of “how can I avoid that.” To get correct coats, you have to accept a few coats in your litters. It’s a simple recessive and about 25% of the puppies will be coats.
Yes, you’ll see that German-bred dogs typically have short upper arms, short croups, don’t quite follow through in the rear, and don’t quite open the shoulder in the front. They are balanced-restricted which makes them a good working dog for the sport of Schutzhund. Actually sport might not be the right term. It’s a highly controlled, worldwide multi-million dollar business and it’s doing very well. If you go to one of the shows in this country, you see 400-500 dogs shown in three days with a diverse group of people from young to middle-age to older people. When you go to one of our Nationals these days, if you take the dogs out of the arena, it looks like an AARP convention – and I’m one of the people! I’ll admit I’m a dinosaur of the breed, but I’m going to be in the breed until I drop dead.
Outside Your Own Breeding Program, What Animals Stand Out for You?
Lance of Fran-Jo was the pivotal dog in American dog breeding. He got the “lemming-effect” in breeding where we go through periods during which people indiscriminately breed to one stud dog. Just because the dog happened to produce well with some bitches, people think he will breed well with all bitches and, to a degree, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you have enough animals sired by a stud dog, some of them are bound to be good and several of them will probably finish.
Lance was a true, pre-potent stud dog so the “lemming-effect” worked out well with him. He bred a lot of bitches. He produced a lot of exceptional animals. He was pre-potent for type and a little more rear angulation. He sired many quality males. I thought Lance himself was slightly straighter in front than his son, Mannix, who had better shoulders. The Bernd side of the family, in general, had better shoulders than the Troll/Lance side of the family. Lance had a good croup with a slightly higher tail set. (Remember this is my memory and over the years I tend to remember the good and throw out the bad.)
The “lemming-effect” in breeding isn’t always a good thing. Lance was a wonderfully pre-potent dog for good stuff. We also had the “lemming-effect” with the Flag dog. He bred more than 230 bitches but there were no males that come to mind that carried the line on, so you’d ask yourself why did 230-some people breed to that particular dog, because structurally he had some challenges.
I don’t want to comment on the dogs that are alive now other than to say that there are some very nice dogs out there. This year’s National had some pretty nice animals, particularly in the specials. There are still some challenges with short upper arms, dysfunctional tails, and follow-through in the rear but, overall not a bad collection of animals.
If you go back and look at the 25-year tapes (I hope the GSDCA updates that soon to add the years since it was initially done), you’ll see that the overall quality peaked in the 1990s somewhere. You see a lot of awfully nice animals in the selects Ed Barritt chose - very functional animals. I think that was the year for GV Banker and GVX Rosemary. Look at the 25-year tapes and you’ll see a lot of nice animals that were correct to the Standard that year.
Read more of Pam's interview with Dave Rinke and see more pictures on the GSDCA web site. Go to www.gsdca.org, click on GSD Review and then on Articles of Interest. If you do not have Internet access, call The Review at 303-660-0535 amd we will print out the entire interview and mail it to you.
I highly recommend the GSDCA 25-year tape to folks that want to get a feel for our breed. I also recommend they read Brackett’s pamphlet on planned breeding. Most people these days aren’t breeding enough dogs to crank out one good dog after another but the principles are sound anyway. Canine Training Systems has two DVDs on gait and structure that are very good videos. They are a little pricey but priceless for the education. They have a slight bias toward the German-style shepherd but it’s not bad. I also recommend the “Dog Steps” book by Rachael Paige Elliott
Who knows? Breeding dogs may become a moot point. They cloned a 9/11 dog five times. The clones are about 7 months now and up and running. It may be cheaper to just find a really good dog you like and clone it. It will be interesting to see how cloning influences the breed where the difference will be the environment, not genetics.
What Stud Dog(s) Past and Present Most Influenced the Breed
Lance was by far the most influential in the last four decades. We again are in a “lemming phase” where everybody’s breeding to a very narrow band of dogs that are all related to Dallas.
One of the things that’s difficult for people to talk about is the actual structure of the dog and the dog’s faults. We get these notions in our head and we glorify these dogs and magnify their importance. If you make any comment about how they might differ from the Standard, the cry goes up that “you can’t say that.”
All dogs have challenges. I would tell you that Rollins threw his left hock, could have used a slightly longer neck, and I wanted his temperament to be a little tougher. I would tell you that Watson was missing a tooth, needed a heavier coat and could have been a more attractive dog for me. I would have liked him a little more black and red with a more arched neck. And so we can go through the breed no matter who the dog is. There are no perfect dogs. Breeding dogs to the standard is mission impossible; it is a never-ending challenge.
We can talk about the dogs I’ve seen that were BIS-type animals that were campaigned heavily: Manhattan and Dallas come to mind as the two big males. They were fabulous ambassadors for the breed. They were beautiful dogs to look at and both appeared to have excellent temperament. However if you analyze them structurally against the Standard, they are lacking in certain areas. Both of them had short upper arms and short croups and balance-restricted side gaits. Does that mean they’re bad dogs? No. It means that if you’re breeding to them, you need to be aware of their challenges so that you can bring a bitch to them that compensates for their faults and hope that they will give you the things you need. If you can bring the structure, motion, and side gait with your bitch, hopefully, they can give you good looks, good temperament and the clean coming-and-going that you’re looking for. Of course you need to know what you are looking at so you can make the correct selections. It often is difficult to admit that there are no exceptional individuals in a litter.
I’d guess the BIS-type animal I’ve seen that was closest to the Standard was the Mystique bitch. She was a pretty correct animal.
There are no perfect dogs. People need to be able to discuss the dogs without getting so excited and jumping up and down. They get into camps about a particular stud dog and it can get pretty nasty. That’s becoming more of a challenge as we become a smaller and smaller group. One of the other challenges for our aging population is the resistance to change, mired in the delusional desire for the “good old days.” The Parent Club is dealing with that now to a certain degree.
Genetic Issues Then and Now
The genetic problems in the breed today are pretty much the same as the ones we had before. We’re still dinking around with missing teeth. We got a much better dog once we tightened up the Standard. When I first got into the breed, both temperament and teeth weren’t that big an issue. If you could hold the dog so it couldn’t move, that was good enough and if it was missing two or three teeth, that really didn’t matter.
Today we have a hidden problem in that we’re not showing the dogs with missing teeth, but there are a lot of missing teeth in our limited genetic pool and the limited number of litters being breed. We’ve gone from 1,200 litters being futurity nominated to around 400. That’s created a challenge. Our genetic diversity is slowly being wiped out when everybody breeds indiscriminately to the same dog(s) without physically compensating for their challenges as detailed in the Standard.
We’ve had toxic gut, bloat, and spinal myelopathy in the breed for ages. We need to select against them all the time. What do I mean by selection? If you want to fix the affected dogs and keep them as pets, that’s fine, but get them out of the breeding population. Don’t rationalize bad temperament. Don’t rationalize genetic problems. Don’t fix it and breed it. Select against them any way that you want but get them out of the gene pool. DO NOT breed them. Always move up to quality. Like truly begets like.
Who Were Your Mentors?
Paul and Joan Johnson were super with us. Paul just loved dogs. He loved puppies and loved looking at puppies. He loved talking about dogs and going to dog shows and really got Martha and me enthused on the whole dog showing thing. Once we’d bred that first litter and got a champion out of it, we were pretty well hooked. We were in the breed.
Other mentors? I’d say Joan and Fran Ford were extremely helpful to Martha and me. We used their stud dogs a lot in our breeding program and they were just salt-of-the-earth people. You’d never run across a nicer, friendlier, more helpful couple. They were very good to us.
After that, if I’d start naming people, I’d have a list of at least a couple hundred people, some of whom are no longer with us. In one sense, everybody in the breed is my mentor because, even though I look stoic, I’m always studying and thinking about the breed when I’m looking at it and when I’m reading people’s ads and the statistics in the Redbook. I’m learning what I might want to do and what I probably should not do.
If someone else tries something you thought about and it didn’t work for them, then you can learn from their experience. Failure is the norm and is an excellent teacher. In that sense everyone in the breed is my mentor, but certainly, some of them are more influential than others. Unfortunately there is a lot of misinformation floating around in the breed. You need to trust but verify and verify again.
I became a judge because I was convinced that I could do a better job than most of the all breed judges and half of the specialists. Then I discovered that it wasn’t as easy as I thought.
I’ve been judging so long I don’t remember when I became an AKC judge. I’d have to go to the AKC web site to look that up. (Editor's note: We researched this and found out Dave's license was approved on Dec. 1, 1980.) I started out judging puppy matches and futurities and it was very easy to get asked to do those back then. I remember one time going to somewhere in Georgia for a match of more than 200 puppies. It took all day . It wasn’t unusual to have that many puppies in a match and that’s the most difficult thing to judge.
Back then anyone could judge a Futurity before the Parent Club began legislating the futurity judging requirements. So I got to judge a Futurity. I remember judging all day in the rain in a field in Iowa with all kinds of puppies. That’s back when it wasn’t uncommon for a Futurity to have an entry of 300, and a class to have 25-30 puppies actually being shown. If you got a ribbon or a plaque back then it was hallelujah time. Now if you don’t get a plaque, it’s crying time.
I think a good judge is someone who has the better dogs up front and could, if you asked, explain in relation to the Standard the reason for the placings without ever using the word “I”. It should be reasons such as “this dog has a short croup,” “this dog has an over line that’s not to the Standard;" “this dog is missing teeth,” “this dog’s shoulders are not laid on correctly.” There should actually be a real reason – according to the Standard – whatever it is and they should be able to explain why they placed them in the order they did. It is a very humbling experience to actually be in the ring and have to put your money where your mouth is and put the dogs in order. Good judges need to evaluate their procedure and thought processes constantly. I find it particularly educational to critique myself on video.
This last National was the fifth time judging intersex at the US National. If someone had told me I’d judge five Nationals, I’d never have believed that. I am very appreciative to have had those opportunities. The first one I did was in Georgia and it must have been about 100 degrees in the building. I remember the first group of six bitches running around and I started to really sweat because I kept thinking “that’s a nice one” and “that’s a nice one” and how am I going to ever narrow these down if they’re all so nice. As it turned out, five of the six bitches in the first group went Select. Happily, after the other groups came in, they started separating themselves and it became a lot less terrifying.
I love judging the Nationals. I love looking at Specials up close and personal..
One of the jobs of the judge in the show is to put them in the order you think they should be in according to the Standard but I also think you’re charged with showing the dogs to the exhibitors and audience so they can judge them for themselves. I still get really excited when watching a really great-moving animal. I can remember seeing Houston of Wildwood win his Maturity in Michigan. He was in coat and just spectacular. Wow! You just wanted to gasp for breath. There are only a few who can really move with long smooth, elastic, close to the ground strides as described in the Standard. You don’t see as many as you used to.
I thought there were several specials this year that had exceptional motion. The ring we judged in this year was rather cruel to the animals in that it was a hard surface that amplified any challenges the animal may have had. It was hard on feet and also on less than perfect shoulders, unlike plush sod where there is some cushion.
We used to have a lot more dogs at a National and we used to judge them more quickly. The number of Champions is pretty stable because the AKC adjusts the points schedule according to the number of dogs registered. It used to take 40 or more to make a major and now it takes 11 or 12 in some regions, so if you go to an all-breed show and see a good one, it’s a pretty good day. I want to note that when I say good, I’m really mean exceptional.. That’s not to say that there aren’t all kind of German Shepherds out there that are good dogs that may have some challenges if measured by the Standard. There are good dogs that are doing protection, obedience, leader-dogs, guard-dogs, and family dogs. I’m talking about animal that are very close to the Standard - extraordinary specimens.
Futurities and National Specialty Shows
Most of the time now, there are more plaques than dogs shown. If you look at the last few futurities, there were only about 400 puppies shown around the whole country. If you do the math and divide up 400 puppies by 9 regions, you don’t have a lot of puppies for each region. If you’re going to give out 48 awards and send 8 on to the National, from each regions there has to be an immense dilution in quality. It just has to happen.
I think the biggest recipient of plaques is probably the GSDCA. They get about as many back as they award. I am mystified at the Parent Club’s inability to adapt to a changing society, particularly in the area of Futurities. We have a system that was designed in the 60s; was designed for 1200 litters; was designed to have huge entries; and was designed to give out 48 plaques but only send 9 to the Nationals.
In fairness, Tish Walker came up with a plan about 10 years ago that she presented to the Board and it was a good plan. She said that there were only enough puppies for 6 regions and the GSDCA should cut the Futurity system down to 6 regions and when that was done, instead of sending 1 to the National from each region, they would send 2 so that there would be 12 in the finals. And the Parent Club, in its infinite wisdom and unconscious-incompetent management style, said sending 2 was a great idea but voted to keep the 9 regions. So we’re still in this ridiculous situation and someone needs to step forward and do what’s best for the breed and the majority of its members.
And that would apply to the National also. We had a meaningless survey that was sent out with questions so convoluted that nobody could have gotten statistically significant results from it.. It should have been Yes/No questions. “Do you want to have a centralized site?” “Do you want the National on the same week every year?” “Do you want to try having it in the same central location for 5 years in a row? Do you want to try that out?” Yes or No. Not 25 different options about which no one could come to a rational conclusion. There’s a reason we don’t have National Specialties in Bangor, Maine, Key West, Florida, Nome, Alaska and we shouldn’t have them in Beaumont, Texas or Albany, Oregon or San Diego, California anymore.
In my opinion, our nationals should always be where we will have the largest entries in both conformation and performance, providing the best experience possible for the majority of our members. In the “good old days” you could jump on a plane and go anywhere with the dog as excess baggage. No big problem. I’d even take a couple of puppies with me. Unfortunately, demographically and from a regulatory perspective, we are up against enemies of the breed on all sides: federal government, state government, local government, PETA, HSUS, Sierra Club, etc.
The Breed Today
I think we need to be more selective for the “Total Package” as defined by the Standard:. feet are important, coat is important, heads are important, movement is important, type is important. Number One is temperament, temperament, temperament. Just because you can train the dog to stand, just because it’s a champion, doesn’t mean it has correct German Shepherd temperament.
What do we need to improve in the breed? Temperament; temperament; temperament. We need to improve type and work on size a little bit but that’s the least of our challenges. People who buy a German Shepherd Dog want a handsome dog with a nice head, bone, feet, and coat.. People like coated puppies and there isn’t anything wrong with that since they make good working dogs.
We still have problems with fronts where there is a preponderance of short upper arms and short croups that give them a balanced-restricted gait which is certainly better than the over-angulated, unbalanced, pastern-flipping, toe-dragging, dead-tailed dogs that are far off the Standard.
We still have a challenge with rear ends. Some of the Specials can get up under themselves but they don’t follow through correctly. Some can’t get up under themselves and kick up.
When I looked at the tapes of the class animals at the 2009 Nationals, I thought there were a lot of class animals with serious rear challenges that need to be selected against dramatically and drastically – now. Much better to have under-angulated, functional working dogs than to have over-angulated, flashy “show dogs.”
We have a lot of ugly animals compared to the German dogs. Close coats, weak pigment, snipey snoots, and weak underjaws. We also need to be aware of the teeth in the animals; they need to have size and substance, not dinky, pointed teeth with spaces between them. We need to select for correct and complete dentition.
We shouldn’t have dogs that are so long with dips in the back. There is a caution there, however, because if they become too short, they will lose the beautiful, flowing side gait that should be characteristic of this breed. That is why the standard is 10 to 8 1/2 The one thing that makes the GSD unique is it’s ability to cover an immense amount of ground with a smooth, elastic gait.
It’s sometimes difficult to see that gait the way we show our dogs. The Standard asks for a walk, a fast walk and a trot. It specifically says that the feet should be close to the ground, close to the ground, close to the ground. What it doesn’t say is that the dog should be presented by a devious, cunning athlete. You really need to see the dog gaiting on a loose lead by itself to get a clear picture.
We need to work on pigment in our breed and not pigment in a bottle from a truck full of favorite colors. The dog needs to be built genetically from the inside, not built from the outside by a team of experts that coordinate the color and coat and do their best to fool the judge, which in the end fools nobody and certainly does nothing to improve the breed.
What are our health and genetic problems?
DM, spondylosis, dentition, toxic gut and bloat which are still problems in spite of selecting against them. You need a lot of tenacity and perseverance to breed dogs. One reason we don’t see many people coming into our breed today is that it’s a lot of work. In our highly regulated and structured society of today, young people have a lot of other choices that are less work and heartache.
Did you every consider a different breed?
No. I appreciate other breeds, but there is nothing that compares to a good German Shepherd. It is easily the finest breed on the planet.
Nobody groomed dogs when I first started showing. You bathed them a couple of days before and then ran a comb through them. I don’t know who started the blow dryers. Sometimes you see these dogs coming at you with the head sticking out of a puffed up body.
I think all dogs at a national should be shown on grass and indoors for all venues except maybe tracking and herding. I think all nationals should be in the middle of the country so more people can attend and we get the largest possible entry for both conformation and performance. It is important to serve the majority of the members not the vociferous, crying, whining few.
Litters bred and registered with the AKC are dropping every year. They’re down for a lot of reasons. One is the highly regulated society with someone looking over your shoulder every time you breed.
We’ve allowed ourselves to become a highly handler-dominated breed. I was at an all breed show not too long ago with German Shepherds in one ring and Bassett Hounds in the next ring. There were three Open dogs in the shepherd ring with three professional handlers. In the Bassett ring, there were 20-some hounds in a class with kids showing them, chubby older folks showing them, and professional handlers showing them. They just went around the ring and the dog went with them. That was kind of how German Shepherds used to be shown. As our group has aged and they do less and less themselves, they rely more and more on a cadre of professionals to do it for them: they select the dog for them, they show the dog for them, they finish it for them, they help them decide what to breed it to, they pick the puppies for them to complete the process. It’s a “womb to tomb” service. So that limits the population of people who want to participate where they just write the checks and have a good time.
We need to develop new programs to more rapidly adjust to our ever changing world. We should have been able to change much sooner.
We need to streamline the Board for the GSDCA to facilitate its decision making process. We could easily reduce the Board by six which would allow it to be a more responsive, pro-active organization. This could be accomplished by electing only three board members in each of the next two election For some time now the board has exhibited the behavior of a bloated bureaucracy Probably won’t happen but I think it should. We will most likely continue our reactive ways,
While we are experiencing a dramatic decline in conformation, performance participation has taken off, particularly agility, rally, tracking, and herding, because people can do it themselves, it’s inexpensive and they have a great time
What would you tell someone new to the breed?
It would depend on their goal. If we are talking about breeding and showing I would suggest they try to get themselves a couple of good bitches to start with and become a student of the breed and the Standard. The most fun in dogs is to see if you can be successful breeding your own, recognizing how difficult it is to consistently produce quality animals. The journey can be a rewarding and exhilarating experience, in spite of the occasional frustration and heartbreak.
What changes can the AKC and the GSDCA make to help improve the breed?
I’ve answered a lot of that. The AKC is struggling and needs to keep their balance sheet in the black. They’re getting into a lot of other things and have become a large, diverse, and occasionally self-serving corporation. They add stability to the breed but could be more user-friendly to the local clubs.
You just can’t continue having Nationals in Beaumont, Texas or Albany, Oregon or International Falls, Minnesota. That’s not where the people are. Most of our people are going to have to drive. The airlines are no longer dog-friendly and the dogs can’t even fit in the newer planes and you can’t take more than one dog. So let’s get over that one. Does anyone really think that Salt Lake City is the best draw for a National Specialty Show? It may well be a long, lonely five days.
The amateur futurity is a dead man walking. It’s time to admit it is similar to the conditional class - a great idea in theory but in reality less than thrilling..
We no longer have five days of events. It should not take three conformation judges five days to judge four to five hundred dogs. The Regional parade with a few clubs is no longer productive. I think we can take a whole day out.
A good idea that worked was the specialty show the day before the National with the 4th and 5th judge; it was well-enough attended to try again, although only one judge is really needed.
The GSDCA needs to be proactive in helping the local clubs stay in business, maybe with training programs. I belong to the German Shepherd Dog Club of Wisconsin. It’s a highly-successful organization of more than 250 members that’s successful because of it’s training programs and it’s attention to the pre-school puppy program.
If you were to take a look at how many regional clubs we’ve lost and some of the smaller futurities, you can see how we’re struggling as a breed.
Final thoughts? Future?
I have no Bucket List. Martha and I are looking for another good dog. I’m going to keep going to dog shows and judging from time to time, hopefully showing a dog occasionally. I plan to be in shepherds until I drop dead.
Whether we have nine futurities or three, I’m going to continue to go to nationals, even if they are in Key West, Florida, and to at least the biggest two futurities, which aren’t that big.
I always enjoy attending the Canadian National; they host a very exhibitor, spectator and dog-friendly show.
I want to thank you for taking time to listen to the ramblings of one of the true dinosaurs of the breed. I am planning on another four plus decades in the breed, but in case that doesn’t work out, this is probably a good time to thank all the members of the GSDCA for their dedication and hard work that make this breed possible. Thank you.