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…
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.
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.
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.
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?
Will a straight back always be free from any hip or joint issues?
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 are not at all desirable.
- German Shepherd Dogs – The Soundness Issue, KC
- The worst nightmare of my show life
- Health consequences of selectively breeding German Shepherd dogs
- Study of heritability in 401 litters of German Shepherd dogs
- Different conformations of the German shepherd dog breed affect its posture and movement
Monday 2nd of January 2023
THE NEW SLOPE BACK GERMANS SHEPHERDS ARE NOT PRETTY! THEY LOOK LIKE THEY'RE SNEAKING AROUND. WE MUCH PREFER THE OLD LOOK, STRAIGHT BACKS. THEY WERE HANDSOME DOGS!
Monday 26th of December 2022
True GSD fan here. I've had GSDs my whole life and currently have two. Both are straight backs. Although I agree that the straights are more desirable, the main thing I look for is temperament. And that can vary between show and working lines. My experience has been that the German working lines have the best temperaments and, by extension, typically have straight backs. I take my guys to a dog park twice a day and, by and large, they can out run and out maneuver the slope backs that go there. It seems to me that every time breeds have traits bred into them, i.e., hips, flat faces, smaller size, etc., the health of the dogs suffers. And, btw, any large dog breed can have hip dysplasia. Treat your animal with love and don't let them get overweight.
Thursday 10th of March 2022
Thank you for this wonderful article. I’ve had German Shepherds all my life, the true straight backed. They have been healthy and active family members. I’ve known many, many roaches backs that didn’t have the same outcomes. It breaks my heart that these wonderful, loving and intelligent dogs are being bred in such a way that their lives aren’t as comfortable or fulfilling. I’m so happy to see this brought to people’s attention!
Saturday 12th of March 2022
Hi Lisa, that's awesome so you're a real German Shepherd lover - I'm sure that it breaks your heart seeing them suffer from avoidable medical issues. The only thing you can do is raise yours right, inform people who are interested, and hope more people will be aware of it in the future and do health testing before getting a pup.
Sunday 7th of November 2021
There's a pdf paper online about the German Shepherd breed and who and how the sloped back was introduced. It has photos of dogs in the breed as the standard changed, names of show judges in Germany who changed what was fashionable, diagrams of joints and angles. Martin was the name of a club president and his brother whose dog was influential in introducing the sloped back. I think my search was "correct breed flaws German Shepherd" or something like that. The point is who changed the breed and how it was done with which dogs is known and detailed in that paper.
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.
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