Frankenhaus German Shepherds

comparing the standards

John Ayotte 01/1999

When the issue of changing the Standard for the German Shepherd Dog used by the GSDCA and the AKC to one deemed to be more comparable to the Standard used by the SV, and the FCI (in order to maintain our position in the WUSV) was first brought to my attention, I did not feel that there were significant differences in the Standards, and did not see it as a real problem. I'm afraid that this was the opinion of many of the leaders of the GSDCA as well. On a casual reading of the standards, it is easy to come to this conclusion. After doing a more thorough analysis (as described below) I realized that there are, in fact, some significant differences that I am reluctant to accept (although I sincerely hope that some compromise can be reached that will be acceptable).

While the size differences and size disqualification issue has received the most attention, I would also hate to lose the emphasis that the GSDCA/AKC Standard places on correct herding dog movement. The FCI Standard is much more forgiving on the side of a structure that is suitable for Schutzhund.

The time has come to sit down with the various Standards and make a point by point comparison. I think that anyone who wishes to make comments on this issue needs to do the same thing. Too much discussion has been filled with vague references to the various standards.

The three standards I am using are the AKC and FCI versions printed in the December Review. I have also included the SV/WUSV Standard as it appears on a Danish web site (being the only English translation I have at my disposal).

These three Standards can be found online at:
GSDCA Standard:
FCI Standard:
SV Standard:

I have a copy of the British Standard that the WUSV is supposed to have approved. I was going to include it in this comparison, but discovered that it is a version that was approved by Dr Rummal, and therefor is probably not the current version as approved by Herr Messler. It has also proven difficult to ensure that the FCI and SV Standards are, in fact, accurate translations of the ones in effect. Since the WUSV states that the Standard should be the FCI version, and the FCI states that the Standard should come from the country of origin of the breed, I find it difficult to understand how the FCI and SV Standards can be as different as they plainly are. Something is lost in the translation, that's for sure!

Wherever possible I have tried to comment on the points in the FCI standard that I feel have become biased toward Schutzhund as opposed to herding as the fundamental purpose of the German Shepherd Dog. I would like to emphasize that this article only addresses the Standard issue, and not the equally important issues of working tests and breeding suitability. When faced with these questions I choose to put my energy into encouraging the growth of herding programs, making them more accessible, and the strengthening of the GSDCA temperament certification program.

The Comparison

The FCI opens with a breed history. It is unsetteling in that it seems to have been rewritten to emphasize Schutzhund. The Europeans (and the Germans in particular) seem to have forgotten the origins of the breed as a herding dog and placed undue emphasis on only one of the many alternative uses that Von Stephanitz encouraged to ensure that his beloved breed would remain popular.

From my own reading of Von Stephanitz, and every breed history that I have found, it is clear that the breed was formed by the careful combination of the various strains of HERDING dogs not the "available WATCHDOGS" as the FCI Standard now contends. The intent was to produce the best HERDING dog. Activities like Schutzhund came later, when it became clear that not enough people would continue to use their dogs for herding. This shift in emphasis is at the heart of the difficulties we are having today. I, for one have no problem remaining true to the original purpose of the breed as a herder, while celebrating and enjoying a breed that does so many other things well. It can be a Schutzhund dog, a therapy dog, a guide dog, a search and rescue dog, an agility dog, a companion dog, (add to this list as you like) while we breed it essentially as a herding dog.

General Appearance: The FCI Standard is less detailed, but essentially the same, with several points from the AKC Standard covered elsewhere in the FCI version. However, we refer to the dog as agile as well as strong and well muscled... the FCI does not... perhaps an important difference. We also refer to an outline of curves rather than angles, and there is nothing comparable in the FCI Standard. The SV, however, does refer to moderate curves from the tip of the ears over the neck and level back through the tip of the tail in motion.

Character: The temperament described in the FCI Standard is essentially the same as the AKC Standard. The choice of the words "courage, combativity, and toughness" ("fighting drive" and "hardness" in the SV) in the translation seems a bit strong to us, but not inconsistent with our own preference to willingness to serve as a guardian. If anything, our standard may err on the side of vagueness and caution on this point... not an entirely bad idea in our litigation happy society, and given the AKC opposition to bite work.

Our standard spends many more words describing what the character of our dogs should not be than the FCI Standard does. The SV refers to guard dog first, and herding last, a not so subtle hint as to where their heads are. The SV does place a high emphasis on tracking, though, and this is probably a good thing.

Head: Essentially no difference, but the FCI & SV give a more objective, measurable, description than the GSDCA.

Ears: Essentially no difference. The FCI Standard does, however, make the good point that ears laid back in movement or repose are not a fault, something that many of our judges seem to forget. The SV mentions this as well, and describes tipping together of the ears as a fault.

Eyes: Essentially no difference, but the FCI says that a light, piercing, eye is undesirable as it effects the dog's expression. While this is not stated in so many words in the AKC Standard, we do tend to judge that way. The SV mentions that they should blend with coat color.

Teeth: Essentially the same, except that the AKC Standard lists any missing teeth OTHER than first premolars as a serious fault (meaning one or two missing first premolars is not serious). The FCI, on the other hand lists one missing premolar 3 with any other missing tooth, one missing canine, one missing premolar 4, any missing molars, or any 3 missing teeth as DISQUALIFICATION'S. Even though we do not have any disqualifications for missing teeth in the AKC Standard, in reality any missing teeth are severely penalized. This is an area where some serious discussion is needed.

Neck: Here is a potential problem area. The AKC Standard calls for a neck that is "relatively long." The FCI speaks only of "strong, well muscled." Great care should be taken in compromise on this issue, for I could argue that a strict interpretation of the FCI Standard leads to the short necked dogs suited to "hitting the sleeve" rather than the elegant herding dog trotting effortlessly with the sheep. The appearance of shorter necks can also be the result of shoulders placed too far forward.

Forequarters: Surprisingly, I see little difference here. Our "about 90 degrees" and the FCI "ideally 90 degrees, but more generally 110 degrees" are probably saying the same thing. Unfortunately, I have yet to see very many actual measurements of real dogs, and as in all "biometrics" it is difficult to ensure that the measurements are taken in a consistent manner. Figuring out ways to take the measurements and share them with others, is one of my pet projects. When it comes to using the standard to judge dogs in the ring, however, we must rely on the experience and judgment of the person out there in the center. The SV quotes the 45 degree angle for the shoulder. This is a common misconception, which depends on how you measure the angles.

Feet: No significant difference.

Proportion: AKC 10 to 8.5 (approx. 17.6% longer than tall) FCI & SV 10% to 17% longer than tall. This is a sticky issue. Our stated ideal is slightly longer than the high end of the FCI range. That .6% is more significant than you might think. A 25" male, for example, would be 29.4" long by our standard, 29.24" at the high end of their range, and 27.5" at the low end of their scale. These differences in proportion are more noticeable to the eye than you might think, but once again, we are lacking in real, reliable measurements to go on. The AKC Standard does specify how length is measured; the FCI does not... so it's hard to be sure where the differences really are. The more square dog called for in the FCI Standard is more suited for bursts of speed, and running, than for extended trotting. This probably favors the Schutzhund style dog over the herding dog. The AKC heights are 24 to 26 inches for dogs and 22 to 24 inches for bitches at the highest point of the shoulder blade. The FCI heights are 23.62 to 25.59 inches for dogs and 21.65 to 23.62 inches for bitches, measured at the withers. Unfortunately I do not really know where "at the withers" is when users of the FCI Standard measure their dogs. If it is the highest point of the shoulder blade as the AKC standard states, then we have a significant size difference (roughly 1/2 inch larger in the case of the AKC). If it is the point where the withers joins the back (as many suggest) then we probably don't have a problem. Once again, too few of our dogs are ever measured, and there is no standard way of taking the measurements.

Chest: The AKC Standard is really pretty vague here, calling for a deep chest carried well between the legs. The FCI & SV Standards specify a depth of chest 45% to 48% of the height at the withers, but doesn't really say how to measure it. On the surface, this seems to call for a dog with more air under it than I am used to, but I cannot be sure. We need to proceed with caution here. Another point to consider is that the AKC Standard calls for a prosternum showing ahead of the shoulder profile. The FCI makes no such statement.

Ribs: The FCI Standard says less about Ribs, including them in the short section on Chest. The AKC Standard says the sternum reaches to the elbows, which seems deeper than the 45% to 48% mentioned above.

Abdomen: Not mentioned at all in the FCI Standard. (I also didn't find any mention of length of loin, a surprising oversight in the FCI Standard).

Withers: There is no mention of the withers being higher than the back in the FCI Standard (except that hey are "well defined".) Here I think that the FCI language is too vague.

Back: No real difference here, surprisingly, considering the different results that have been achieved through "interpretation." In fact, the description of the topline in the FCI Standard seems closer to defining an AKC dog than an SV dog. (At least in my humble opinion.) It says, "the topline runs from the set on of neck to the well defined withers and along the back, SLOPING very slightly from the horizontal to the lightly sloping croup without any visible break." Notice the use of the word sloping, not level, in this description. Interesting, to say the least.

Croup: Essentially the same, with the FCI actually giving 23 degrees from the horizontal as the ideal angle, a case where the FCI is more precise than the AKC.

Tail: Similar, but the FCI & SV standards say it shouldn't extend beyond the middle of the hock, something not mentioned in the AKC Standard.

Hindquarters: This is probably the most controversial section in comparing the two standards. The AKC standard calls for an angle of 90 degrees. Unfortunately, it doesn't specify what position the rear leg is in, nor how the angle is measured. The position of the leg effects this measurement dramatically. What reference points you use on the bones and joints also have a significant impact on the measured angle. The FCI Standard calls for an angle of 120 degrees. This is quite different from the AKC Standard. However, the FCI Standard does seem to describe the position of the hind leg when taking the measurement. It calls for them to be slightly backwards, with the metatarsal in a vertical position. Unfortunately, this is still a bit vague, and there is no explanation of where on the bones and joints to take the measurements. We really need to understand how these measurements are taken, and compare them to some of our dogs before we can really understand the impact of these differences. Personally, I feel that the intent and current interpretation of this section by FCI judges would lead to a significantly less angulated dog than I feel is the ideal herding structure. The SV Standard is no clearer.

Gait: As with hindquarter, gait is a troublesome part of the standards. OK, both standards describe the GSD as a trotting dog, and the SV actually describes diagonal movement of the limbs. From that point on things begin to diverge, although all three call for balance of forequarter and hindquarter. The FCI "moving the hind legs as far forward as the body," may or may not be the same as the AKC "reaching far under, and passing the imprint left by the front foot." While the AKC standard goes to great length to describe a gait that covers "the maximum amount of ground with the minimum number of steps," the FCI chooses to talk about "over angulation of the hindquarters reduces firmness and endurance, and with it, the working ability." I suppose that, except for the FCI & SV red herring of "over angulation" all of these standards are open to enough interpretation to lead to the best dogs that we have out there today. Unfortunately, I have this uneasy feeling that the FCI Standard is being moved, through interpretation if not words, toward the description of a Schutzhund dog and away from the description of a herding dog with the versatility to do many other jobs. The SV talks about the rear reaching to the middle of the body, while the GSDCA seems to call for more undereach. The SV does, fortunately, refer to ground covering gait—low to the ground—impression of effortless progression—which is all good, and could be interpreted as our "covering the most ground with the fewest steps."

Transmission: Very little of this section of the AKC Standard makes it into the FCI or SV Standards. This is the most obvious example of how the AKC Standard places much more emphasis on movement than the FCI Standard does.

Color: The FCI and SV Standards are more specific when it comes to lack of pigment, mentioning things like pale nails, lack of mask, light eyes, light to white marking on chest.

Coat: No significant difference in the FCI Standard, but the SV devotes three entire paragraphs to medium smooth coat, long smooth coat, and long coat (undesirable). I understand that the long coat is now disqualified, but this copy of the Standard does not refer to it that way.

Disqualifications: The FCI adds these to the ones in the AKC:

  • overshot jaw more than 2mm
  • pincer bite formed by all 12 incisors (level?)
  • weak temperament
  • dogs with malformations
  • missing teeth as outlined in teeth above
  • dogs over or under sized by more than 1 cm
  • long outer coat

Surprisingly, the SV only refers to them as faults, and doesnĖt use the term "disqualifying" anywhere in their standard. I can only speculate that these issues are handled by their Koer and breeding suitability processes, and therefor are redundant in the Standard that is used for showing since no dogs will ever be permitted to be shown with such faults.

The FCI has these things mentioned that are not in the AKC Standard:

  • Skin: loose fitting but without any folds
  • Weight: Dogs 30-40 kg, Bitches 22-32 kg
  • Testicles: all AKC breeds are required to have two normally descended testicles.

The above are my interpretations of the words in the two standards. My general impression is that the AKC Standard is better written, overall, but could benefit from some of the specifics of the FCI and SV Standards. In my mind, the AKC Standard describes a herding dog with a temperament appropriate for our society. Some items in the FCI and SV Standards would shift this toward a Schutzhund dog that might be less appropriate. My biggest fear is that the WUSV can, and will, reject any compromise that changes anything that is currently in the FCI Standard. Even if the ad hoc committee can arrive at a re-written AKC Standard that 2/3 of the membership of the GSDCA will approve, the WUSV will dismiss it out of hand as NOT the FCI Standard that they insist all member countries adopt. We will have expended a great deal of energy and generated an enormous amount of ill-will for nothing. I don't want to seem negative here, but it seems that we have been put in a no-win situation. I hope that I am wrong, and my gut feeling has always been that one International Standard would be a good thing. I cannot ignore, however, the fact that there has been absolutely no talk of modifying the FCI Standard to incorporate the best of the AKC Standard, with compromises on those points where the standards obviously diverge. Somehow I don't think that the people involved have just forgotten to mention this. It must also be noted that since first starting this Standard comparison, the letters between Dan Smith and Herr Messler have been made public. Messler has stated in these letters that there is, in fact, no room for compromise on the Standard. That is not a very comforting thought for those of us who see the best Standard, and the best dogs, as a combination of the words and types that have diverged.