The German Shepherd Dog Club of America describes the top line of the German Shepherd Dog as the withers being higher than and sloping into the level back. The back is straight, very strongly developed without sag or roach, and relatively short. It furthers says that the dog is longer than tall, with the most desirable proportion as 10 to 8 ½. The desirable long proportion is not derived from a long back, but from overall length with relations to height, which is achieved by length of forequarter and length of withers and hindquarter, viewed from the side.
Now that the spring is here the dog shows are well under way. What I have been seeing a lot of with the dogs that are being shown now is bad backs or top lines. There are different types of backs that a dog can have, not all of them being desirable. The back should be like a bridge that holds the front and rear of the dog together. With a dog that has a good strong back and one that is proportioned correctly, you won’t see any unnecessary motion to his top line.
What has been disturbing to me is that I’m seeing a lot of overly short backs. If you look at some of the pictures of the dogs that are in motion that you see on some of the show photographers websites, this is very evident. A dog that is too short in back will over drive with his hindquarter forcing is top line to buckle up. He has no place to go with his rear. It’s almost as if he has to get out of his own way. It’s unsightly. His front never truly opens up because he has to compensate for a hard driving rear with a distorted top line and there is never a smooth coordinated motion. It’s as if the dog is crabbing. In order for the dog to place his rear feet on the ground, he has to set them to the side of his body so he doesn’t get in the way of his front legs. It looks like he’s going to run himself down. I’ve been seeing this time and time again…..the backs are getting too short!
For every dog that has a short back, there are those that have too much length to their backs. They can look like a freight train for all that length that they have.
Another top line problem is the dippy back. Without proper grooming if you were to look at a dog with this type of top line you would actually see that this type of dog would perhaps have a dip behind his withers. A good handler can normally groom up the hair where there is a dip in the top line, but you can’t cover it up when the dog is in motion.
Then there are those dogs that have a roach to their top line. Some complain that a lot of the German dogs have this type of top line. Instead of a nice smooth straight back, you’ll see a very obvious roach to this dog’s top line.
Then there are those dogs that have a sag to their back or what some call a sway back. Literally their backs don’t just dip in one place, the whole top line sags. This is definitely not a strong top line and looks very unappealing.
There’s another type of dog that some people call a wet dog. What they mean is that the top line is rolling. He’s "loosey, goosey" with too much movement over the top line. Sometimes this is due to lack of exercise and proper muscle tone. It’s alright to see this type of top line on a puppy that is going through his growing stages especially a larger puppy, but not on an adult dog.
There are also those dogs that are low in the withers. Again, a handler can groom this type of dog over the withers to make him look higher withered when the dog is stacked or posed. However, watch this dog in motion. He runs into his shoulders in a downhill type of motion. It’s very unattractive and it throws the whole top line of the dog off.
A dog with a beautiful top line will have a strong back without a dip or a roach. He will be higher at the wither but not overly so causing him to have a straight shoulder. His hindquarter with get well under his body and follow through transmitting his rear drive to a front that opens up presenting a coordinated smooth motion when viewed from the side. It would seem this type of dog could have a glass of water put on his back and when in motion the water would never move!
It is wonderful that at many of the National Specialty shows that the show ring has a white background or wall so the judge and spectators can see the top lines of the dogs in motion. Take a look at the pictures that the show photographers have of dogs in motion on their websites. Granted some of these dogs are pulling too hard and that will distort any dog’s top line. However, when you see top line problems in many of the pictures, it makes one wonder, how much of it is due to the dog pulling too much and how much is it due to the improper structure of the dog.
My rating: strong top lines: (4), problem top lines: (1)