Crufts-winning GSD ‘bit player in bad movie’
THE GERMAN Shepherd who won best of breed at Crufts was ‘no more than a bit player in a bad movie’, and the furore surrounding her win simply highlighted the long-standing public's concern for problems in the breed. And those concerns are not going away.
This is the view of Louis Donald, an Australian, who is a working dog group judge, SV foreign list judge and breed surveyor. He was president of the breed council of Australia for some 20 years and during that time introduced and/or oversaw most of the breed improvement schemes which exist in the country today.
He writes and lectures on the GSD and below gives his opinion on Cruaghaire Catoria, whose success has been shrouded in controversy.
“I had seen a photograph of this bitch and observed she was of a nice style– typical of many GSD specialist show-winning bitches, he said. I say style as opposed to type deliberately. Later the same day I saw film of the bitch in the group ring.
“While I was extremely disappointed in her display of weak temperament I had difficulty reconciling the photo with what I saw in the video in relation to her movement. A few days later I read various Facebook posts in defence of the bitch saying the big stadium, lights, music and the cameras scared her. This included a statement by the German Shepherd Dog League quoting the handler.
“The intentions of the GSD League were well placed in trying to salvage a bad situation, but in my opinion what was said in that statement was not the best way to go. It sought to justify what was seen on the video and at the show itself obviously and it sought to ridicule anyone who thought differently.”
Strong, firm, outgoing, fearless, protective, stable and trustworthy temperament is the absolute core of the German Shepherd Dog's being, Mr Donald went on.
“This is a long and very demanding list but it is the cornerstone of the GSD’s various inherent functions as an intelligent, trustworthy, working, herding, tending, guard dog,” he said. “Putting aside health and fertility, nothing should come before this, nothing!
“It would not matter if anatomically an animal was theoretically ‘perfect’. Is that not the vital essence of the breed and the basis of its past popularity; is that not what its founder Captain Max von Stephanitz decreed?”
It was unfortunate if the bitch was scared, Mr Donald said, and he empathised with the owner and the handler.
“But it was his call; he is the judge and it his prerogative to do whatever he wishes to do. As breed judges and breed institutions ''we should not publicly make excuses for any GSD who shows weak nerves or weak character''..
With regard to comments made about over-angulation and unsoundness Mr Donald said the bitch was not sound in the film he watched.
“This bitch is typical of many of her contemporaries in that she is deep in hind angulation and has ‘a downward bend to the lumbar spine. The downward bend to the lumbar spine inclines the croup and lowers the hip and knee position especially in movement.
“This anatomical configuration relative to its degree has a negative impact on optimum movement and soundness in the context of what is an optimum configuration for a working trotting endurance dog.
“When the anatomical configuration described above exists in an energetic, enthusiastic, animated or uptight edgy to nervous dog and if the lead is being pulled too hard the normal negative locomotive characteristics that come with this configuration are amplified, they are exaggerated. In some respects it is like watching a slow motion movie.
“When these factors combine it manifests itself in a dog demonstrating a hind action akin to a sled dog pulling against a load. The exaggerated topline slope will show an upward bending of the lumbar spine as the back muscles that are not designed for this struggle to cope, the pelvis becomes too inclined, the hip and consequently the knee comes too close to the ground, the lower thigh becomes parallel with the ground, the rear pastern comes too far under the body and makes contact with the ground and it does not extend back far enough on the rear step.
“On top of that, the toes travel far too close to the ground and the forelegs lift high in the air from the elbow to compensate, to dispel the excessive thrust/energy/drive from the rear. This is what I believe has happened here.
“Notwithstanding the bad publicity this has created, there is a much bigger picture in which this bitch is no more than a bit player in a bad movie. This furore has simply highlighted the long-standing public's concern for problems in the breed, and those concerns are not going away.
“The facts are, putting aside my explanation of her movement and what she might be like on another day or in the future, what was seen on the Crufts’ video was not sound, effective, trotting dog movement. This movement is to lesser and greater degrees seen in all dogs who are over-angulated, and this is now considered by too many in the sport to be acceptable movement. It is becoming the norm, and that is why many people involved in the sport can't see what the fuss is all about.
“Why would many people new to the breed not conclude this type of movement is what is needed to win a ribbon at a show, to win Crufts, to even win a Sieger Show! Isn’t that in part what the show is there to do?
“Many people, including the breed judge, made comments saying what was seen in the video is not a problem, indeed it is to the contrary. That what was seen on the video was actually a demonstration of what we should aspire to in the breed, that putting aside the 'understandable reasons for the bitch’s poor behaviour', this was a demonstration of GSD breed excellence. There were even comments justifying what occurred by saying other breeds have their problems too, as though that makes it OK.
“This is my observation and opinion: in the Facebook photo I saw of the bitch and on her records of past achievements she epitomises in nearly every respect what the SV is promoting and what specialist judges outside Germany support.
“The many comments I have read, many from specialist judges, including those from the League, support this statement. For some people involved in the GSD specialist environment that exists today, her construction and past wins establish her as a bitch of such quality that a display of weak temperament and her ‘'heightened lack of unsoundness and lack of co-ordination'’ should be forgiven, even ignored. This represents an attitude that not onlyimpedes any chance for breed improvement in areas that require it and undermines comments by people such as myself but also undermines the concept of a level playing field at dog shows.
“I read the intentionally inflammatory comments saying SV shows are far superior to UK Kennel Club-sanctioned shows citing working dog tests among other schemes as the reason for this. The same people added in support of SV shows that within the SV environment, ‘soundness in mind and body is a crucial part of the German Shepherd breed’.
“There is no administrative environment or control for the GSD anywhere in the world that comes remotely close to the SV, I agree. Would this display of weak temperament or unsoundness be acceptable in that environment? Of course it wouldn't. You can't have your cake and eat it too!
“In regard to the bigger picture, the important picture is to fix the breed’s problems and repair its public image. On the whole, most judges and breed authorities with real knowledge and experience in their country of domicile are not accorded the level of respect that they should be afforded and need. This is why in a person’s country of domicile the ‘breed guardians’ can't make significant changes to the breed. They are powerless other than fiddling around the edges.
“An overseas judge, regardless of his or her experience, is generally more embraced and respected than a domiciled judge. Generally, those embraced judges are SV judges or SV affiliate judges. How did this happen? It wasn't always like that.
“Notwithstanding that there are enthusiasts who will undoubtedly consider themselves to be exceptions to this and maybe they are, it happened because the majority of show dog owners primary goal is winning a ribbon, often at any cost and idealism does not figure highly in that equation. Added to this fact we as the breed’s guardians have convinced breeders and exhibitors that we do not respect each other, that we are divisive among ourselves, that too often we are seen as compromising the breed for politics and self-interest matters over idealism.
“Why does this not happen in Germany or to some degree in Italy for that matter? It does, of course it does, but exhibitors have no choice there. A person who is not a German SV judge will not get an appointment to judge in Germany at SV sanctioned shows. There have been a few exceptions but it’s a closed shop that is guided by a powerful and official administrative hand.
“If that rule existed in the UK, English specialist judges would quadruple their appointments, breed survey numbers would skyrocket, and any breed adjustments considered necessary would be instigated and made effective over time. Time? To change the current level of genetic frequency in over-angulation of the hindquarter to moderate would take about 15 years.
“I regret that this incident occurred. It was bad for the breed, bad for the show dog sport and bad for its image. As I said earlier, I feel sorry for the owner of the bitch, I feel sorry for the handler and the judge too, but the reaction and ensuing comments by many purported breed guardians disappointed me on all fronts. Too few of the comments represented a way forward, just justification and encouragement for more of the same.”