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Straight Back German Shepherd – Better Than The Sloped Back?

If you’ve ever thought about getting a German Shepherd, it’s likely that you’ve been confronted with the straight back German Shepherd vs. sloped back German Shepherd.

We’ll cover the back type of the original breed standard as well as why breeders decided to steer the breed into another direction and whether or not that was a good decision.

Also, it’s important to see what breed experts, vets, and breeders around the world have to say about this issue and its related health ramifications.

Do All German Shepherds Have Sloped Backs?

Sloped or roach back German Shepherds are not the only back type. However, they’re not exactly rare either.

The German Shepherd with a sloped back wasn’t bred alongside the original type with a straight back.

On the contrary, it was bred after the original breed type was established in the early 1900s.

Sloped back German Shepherds were promoted by influential breeders.

To this day, it’s not exactly clear who started breeding this type of dog but as always, if there’s demand, then there’s supply.

Some people fell in love with the posture and gait that the German Shepherd with the curved back has.

However, the real question is whether or not you should fall in love with the curved back. Let’s start by examining the motivation behind this new breeding type which was…

Appearance.

Although breeders tried to spread the word about the many health benefits of the German Shepherd’s newly achieved proper gait, it’s nothing more than smokes and mirrors.

Sloped back German Shepherd is led on a leash for conformation.

Furthermore, the new back type was even harmful to the breed.

It’s not quite known who exactly started this dog breed type but many potential owners and so-called German Shepherd breeders were attracted to the new look.

Many loved the new gait in the show ring as well as the overall look of the German Shepherd roach back and the unnatural stance the dog now took due to the lowered hind legs.

What is the Old Fashioned Straight Back German Shepherd?

German Shepherds with straight backs are the original type of the breed. Their back forms a straight line. This appearance resembles the wolf.

They’re called “old fashioned” because the German grandfather of this dog breed established them this way and especially working lines have been bred to resemble that type ever since.

Is the Straight Back German Shepherd Better?

The German Shepherd with the straight back is definitely superior to the sloped back type. Why? It’s easy.

Health benefits.

German Shepherds were bred with straight backs to be active, agile, and healthy helpers on farms and for various other activities.

What they needed was a robust dog breed that didn’t come with lots of health issues.

German Shepherd with straight back in the water.

Sadly, this changed when the new version was introduced because the sloped back German Shepherd is much more prone to joint issues, hip dysplasia, and many more health issues related to the unnatural back.

Adding to that, Max von Stephanitz who was the grandfather of the breed heavily advocated for the straight back when he created the breed.

He’s not the only one though.

Animal rescues, dog breed experts, and vets around the world prefer the straight back for just these health reasons and to avoid getting sucked into thinking that it’s okay to breed some type of dog with poor health just because we like the looks.

It’s peculiar that the AKC breed standard explicitly mentions the following in their breed standard:

The back is straight, very strongly developed without sag or roach, and relatively short.

AKC German Shepherd breed standard

But lets dogs compete in their shows that do not adhere to this breed standard.

For many years the KC is the debating about the soundness in show strain and their position is as follows:

The Kennel Club remains in no doubt that currently, the single biggest threat to the reputation and interest of the breed is the lack of soundness in hindquarters.

This issue of soundness is not a simple difference of opinion, it is the fundamental issue of the breed’s essential conformation and movement.

The Kennel Club

So, in short all the reasons why the straight back German Shepherd is better:

  • Studies prove the health benefits of straight backs
  • The dog breed grandfather desired a straight back
  • RSPCA condemned Crufts for letting a sloped back dog win
  • The AKC breed standard mentions a “straight back”
  • Different conformations affect the posture and movement

As you can see, there are clear reasons why the German Shepherd should be bred with a straight back and there are many reputable organisations backing that assumption up (as should common sense).

Why is that many people make this a political thing though?

German Shepherd Back Controversy

The owner of the German Shepherd that won at Crufts and was later criticised by the club as well as the rescue organisation RSPCA, stated on social media that she felt like this was directed against her.

Amidst all her confusion on why people were being so mean, she seemingly lost sight of the issue at hand which is the sloped or roach back of her dog.

Supposedly she could deliver proof and health certificates that clearly stated her dog wasn’t sick or suffering from joint issues.

So, does a sloped back Shepherd always suffer joints diseases?

Definitely not.

Will a straight back always be free from any hip or joint issues?

Definitely not.

The fact that this sloped back type is at risk doesn’t mean that the old-style German Shepherd is not, but the risk is just smaller.

Does that mean you should take on the risk of an unnatural gait just because you like the look?

Well, if you want to maximise your dog’s chances for a healthy and long life, then no.

This is especially problematic since German Shepherds mixes are widely spread to give them the (seemingly) best of both worlds.

Breeding with generally healthy breeds like the Husky may result in bad hips nonetheless.

Where Can I Get a Straight Back German Shepherd Puppy?

If you’d like to opt for the old school German Shepherd back with your next puppy, then a reputable breeder is your best bet.

Although in many regions the sloped back is widespread, it shouldn’t be too hard to find breeders that want to stay true to the original dog breed.

If you’re asking any potential breeder these recommend breeder questions, most irresponsible breeders (e.g. breeding with back issues and not health testing) will be eliminated anyway.

For American buyers, it might be harder since the trend in AKC show lines strongly leans towards the sloping back.

German working lines are not free from that problem though.

Time and time again, I witness responsible breeders that turn their back on the German Shepherd breed due to the community that steers it in the wrong direction.

Even if you’re not looking for a true working dog, they’ve been bred that way for a reason. Performing a job.

A healthy and active furry companion will have a far higher quality of life when compared with the one that’s been bred to garner champion titles.

That being said, I find the sentiment that the sloped back looks superior questionable. In my personal opinion, a weird stance and gait is not at all desirable.

Study References:

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About Danielle
I am the founder of PawLeaks where I share weekly tips on dog training and behavior. Sharing a passion for dogs and helping owners to solve problems through understanding canine behavior and modification is my number one goal.

Gail White

Saturday 24th of July 2021

Could you post or advise the locations (preferably Pacific NW) of breeders with straight backed, short hair shepherds. I've had a number of shepherds, both with slope and straight back. The dogs with straight back lived longer and had fewer health issues.

Danielle

Monday 26th of July 2021

Hi Gail, while I can't recommend specific (vetted) breeders in your location, you can just follow this article to identify the good ones. Whether or not they breed straight backs should be clear from their social media, website, or in the first email/call. I'd just recommend starting a quick search. Maybe check groups on social and ask where they got their dog from.

All the best with your pup search, Danielle

Jenny

Thursday 18th of March 2021

Also, I don't see a way to edit my comment but the photos of the sloped backed german shepherds you shared are all incorrect with serious faults.

Danielle

Thursday 18th of March 2021

No worries, your comment has been posted separately from the other one. When it comes to the Crufts dog or the featured pictures, it's not so much about confirmation and how they may or may not be considered correct according to overall standard, it's just to display the differences in terms of their back.

When searching for a picture, there was an overwhelming majority of GSDs with serious back issues and I don't mean a slightly sloped back.

Thanks, Danielle

Jenny

Thursday 18th of March 2021

The standard calls for a straight back without a roach or sag. The back of the show line to standard is sloped in a 3 point stack, and straight with the legs in an idle position under the hips. The withers should be higher than the back and slope into the croup while stacked. The german shepherd to the current standard is built to be the best possible trotter for original breed work while 'working lines' are bred for different kinds of work. The 'straight back' is a marketing term used by backyard breeders as the show line outside of a free stack is straight as well. I would not push 'straight backs without including this information. I am very new to the whole structure thing so please correct me if anything here is incorrect. The study is a bit strange since in recent years ALL breeds have struggled with overall issues since backyard and mill breeding is responsible for a majority of American dogs. The Crufts dog was COMPLETELY incorrect to the standard and shouldn't have even turned up let alone win.

Danielle

Thursday 18th of March 2021

Hi Jenny, thanks for your input. I'm not sure what you mean by "the current standard is built to be the best possible trotter for original breed work while ‘working lines’ are bred for different kinds of work." since the current standard and the working line are essentially one and the same according to the AKC breed standard and general consensus for what constitutes a 'working line' GSD.

That 'straight back' is used as a marketing term by backyard breeders can certainly be true but I have yet to encounter a breeder who fits the bill. Depending on location, if a breeder goes to the length of obtaining straight back GSDs to breed, it's more likely than not that it's a responsible one who also does the crucial health testing, socialization, etc.

Backyard breeders either fall back on useless "champion" titles (by unknown clubs or clubs with questionable standards) or something like the colors which is not so common among the GSD but very common among breeds like the Cane Corso where they label their dog "blue" which is generally called "gray" because "blue-eyed and blue coat" is what often sells best. Just a minor detail but a major tell.

Many of the studies done on this subject differentiate between sloped back and straight back so they've controlled for the fact that the breed in general is plagued by health issues. Straight backs do come out on top when it comes to hip issues.

Again, thanks for sharing your thoughts! Danielle

Michele

Tuesday 24th of November 2020

I have a sable German Shepard dog. He has a straight back and is from the working line German Shepard breed. He has a even temperament, not at all anxious , like some GSD’s. Since he is a working dog he seems to be either sleeping or on the go high alert mode. He is calm but has a lot of energy, intelligent, loyal, and good natured. I think this breed would benefit if breeders would stay with the original GSD without a slopped back. Straight back GSDs seem to be more durable and less likely to have hip problems hence happier dogs.

Danielle

Tuesday 24th of November 2020

Hey Michele, your GSD sounds awesome! Did you intentionally get him from a working line and are you using him in a working capacity? In any case, you're totally right since breeding the GSD with a straight back doesn't mean that they need to be from working lines at all. Working lines just tend to have more straight-back GSDs overall. Hope you'll have many happy years with your dog!

Cheers, Danielle

Brinda Redwine

Monday 19th of October 2020

Thank you for your article. We have been breeding the Original, True Straight Backed German Shepherd for over 60 years.

Dawn Horn

Tuesday 10th of November 2020

Your dogs are the best!