Looking at OFA and PennHIP in 2003 and 2004
by Fred Lanting
© Copyright May, 2004 - 2008
Variously called the front assembly, forequarters, or shoulder, the whole combination made by the shoulder blade (scapula), upper arm (humerus), breastbone (sternum), and their related soft tissues is at the heart of much poor movement in German Shepherd Dogs the world over.
Shoulder assembly — The least understood and most controversial portions of the Standard as well as of the dog relate to the angles proscribed for the forequarters and hindquarters. I disagree with the angles commonly reported to be ideal in the shoulder area, though much of the discrepancy may be a matter of how that angle is usually measured. To specify angles is useless unless exact points of reference are not only agreed upon but also easily determined. Since the bones forming these angles are curved, such "landmarks" as (1) the highest point of the scapula, (2) the foremost point of the upper arm where it meets the shoulder, and (3) the topmost point of the elbow should be used as well as a detailed illustration decided upon. None of the German Shepherd Dog Standard editions or versions has been so explicit, nor have any in other breeds. Some years ago I radiographed standing dogs and found that what I had been reading in books and seeing in artists' drawings was not so. The call for a 45-degree shoulder layback plus another supposed 45-degree angle to the "line" of the upper arm, equaling a 90-degree shoulder angle, is inaccurate and misleading. If lines are drawn along the scapular spine and down the center of the humerus, as they usually are, a 90-degree angle in the real, live dog standing there before you will never be realized. Since the time I started challenging this notion, there have been noted authorities who have corroborated my claims with independent research, but it will be a long time before the old books are all revised and longer still before writers do their own investigative work instead of copying sketches from each other. Probably the best drawing of the ideal German Shepherd Dog ever published in this country is Lloyd Fanning's which appeared in the Review and in a small booklet on the breed published by the German Shepherd Dog Club of America. Strange, that so many have used incorrect representations instead of this fairly accurate sketch.
Sketches in this chapter represent the typical German Shepherd with a good shoulder. Dogs with better reach and a floating gait have close to the same angles and layback. I suspect much more credit for such gait lies in the muscles and ligaments than has been imagined, measured, or hinted at in the past.
In actuality, the ideal shoulder with a 90-degree (approximate) angle from point of elbow to point of shoulder to highest point on scapula has about a 35-degree layback, not 45 degrees (see page 62). Additionally, factors such as the relative lengths of scapula and humerus, and the angle at which the humerus inclines, play parts in the standing appearance and in the reach in motion. While they didn't have all the answers, Humphrey and Warner had most of them, and they determined that 102 degrees was ideal for the working German Shepherd Dog.
The scapula does not articulate with any bones at its top, but is attached by four muscles to the spinal column at a number of places from the first cervical to the ninth thoracic vertebra and to the first seven or eight ribs. This is the case whether the dog is steep-shouldered or well-laid back, so differences between the two types must be due to differences in scapula and humerus lengths and ratios; perhaps the lengths of the vertebrae; and the tightness and condition of the ligaments and muscles that hold the bones in their positions.
In examining the standing dog, the good layback of 35 or 30 degrees can be determined either by feeling the slope of the scapular spine or by palpating the highest point of the scapula and the most forward point of the upper arm and imagining a line between these points. The two lines will be essentially parallel, so take your choice; in either case, you will have approached the question scientifically. By observing the facts for yourself you will be able to arrive at a conclusion or hypothesis. The sooner we understand what is as opposed to what we imagine, the sooner we'll understand how to get the most out of our dogs.
Another problem in reporting a 45-degree or greater layback is that it doesn't occur in the standing dog. Possibly you might exclude achondroplastic dwarf breeds such as the Corgi, although a noted Dachshund breeder once told me that my statement about “no such shoulder angle as 45 degrees” was true for his breed as well. It does happen when the dog is trotting, running, deeply crouching, or lying. The reason for this is that the scapula is not fixed or stationary; its lower end is pulled back by the trapezius and forward by the omotransversarius and serratus, with many other muscles being involved to a lesser extent. These angles can be visualized by watching slow-motion movies or the frames taken from those, and superimposing (technically, infra-imposing) the skeleton or lines representing the bones. Examining many dogs of varying qualities, hopefully with the guidance of a knowledgeable veteran, will enable you to see these proper angles in motion and in standing.
The thigh — What is meant by "the whole assembly of the thigh" in the wording of the AKC Standard? Viewed from the side, it includes the croup, upper thigh (femur and associated soft tissues), and lower thigh (tibia and fibula). If these three skeletal sections are too "vertical" or steep, the hindquarters will not present the broad picture called for by the Standard. Obviously, if the croup and lower thigh are slanted downward toward the rear, the femur will not also be so. Nor is it angled forward when the dog stands in a normal pose, in spite of the Standard's inaccurate statement about it paralleling the scapula. Many books on many other breeds have made the same error; even some written by well-known judges who should have known better than to report on something they did not experience in real life.
From experience both in radiographing live, standing dogs and in feeling for the bones in the hindquarters, I have found that the femur is vertical when the metatarsus (hock) is vertical. The natural stance for German Shepherd Dogs is with one rear leg placed a little under the torso for added support of a long, substantial body. In this leg, the femur is not vertical, but neither is the hock. Lift the dog's rear leg while you feel with your fingers for the acetabular (hip) joint capsule, and make a chalk mark there. Then feel the depression between the upper and lower leg bones. This is some distance below the patella, which is too hidden in cartilage to be accurately palpated. You can now see that the femur is quite straight and vertical between these two easily-located points.
The slant of the lower thigh roughly approximates that of both the croup and the humerus, and although there is considerable variation, it probably comes closest when the metatarsus is vertical, but even then not in all dogs. The angle the lower thighbones makes with the femur in a natural stance is not a right angle. Here again I am forced to contradict a poorly worded line in the Standard which is more fancy than fact, and probably harks back to the days before radiography was used much.
Even von Stephanitz may have understated conditions a little when he said this angle should be "90 to 100 degrees, sometimes even a bit more." He was talking about the angle made between the pelvis (croup) and femur, which I have shown is not possible. But one of the axioms of geometry indicates that if the croup is parallel with the tibia, the angle between the femur and tibia equals that between the femur and croup. Remembering that this premise of parallel lines is approximate at best, consider the fact that most excellent, moderately, or even very-angulated dogs have 120 degrees or more between lower thigh and femur, however one measures it.
The angle between pelvis and femur is not a right angle. With a slope of 35 degrees to the croup, and a nearly vertical femur, that angle will be around 125 degrees in the ideal dog (90 + 35). To have a right angle would necessitate a horizontal croup or a forward- slanting femur, neither of which are found. The angle between a vertical line running through the stifle and approximating the femur, and the line from stifle to point of hock varies from 95 degrees in an extreme dog to about 130 or 140 degrees in a less-angulated, straighter-stifled dog. This means the angle of the lower thigh from the horizontal varies from 5 to 50 degrees in various breeds.
For a good understanding, pictures would be helpful. Toward that end, I urge you to get your own copy of “The Total German Shepherd Dog” (www.Hoflin.com) and study the illustrations and additional information on the anatomy of the dog.
Fred Lanting is an internationally respected show judge, approved by many registries as an all-breed judge, has judged numerous countries' Sieger Shows and Landesgruppen events, and has many years experience with SV. He presents seminars and consults worldwide on such topics as Gait-&-Structure, HD and Other Orthopedic Disorders, Anatomy, Training Techniques, and The GSD. Fred lives part of the year in Alabama, actively trains in schutzhund, and breeds for occasional litters. He invites all to join his annual non-profit Sieger Show and sightseeing tour.