January 27 1995
Dog breeders country wide, as well as worldwide, should examine their ideas on the type of dog they should be breeding. They should be breeding functional dogs which have aesthetic appeal, not the
misshapen dogs seen at shows. This is the contention of dog breeders Susan Spencer and Julie Prinsloo of Soutpan, near Pretoria.
"Take German Shepherds, for example. The German Shepherd has gone through many changes over a number of years, to such an extent
that it has become a strange looking animal with an almost unpredictable disposition says Ms Spencer. Ms Prinsloo agrees. She says German Shepherds of which people are so proud in this country are nowhere near what was intended by the original master breeder of German Shepherds.
"The original dog had a straight back and straight hind legs. German Shepherds bred mostly for show purposes have sloping backs and severely bent hind legs. No amount of argument for this kind of characteristic holds water. "The show dog of today is no longer a working dog. Too much fiddling around to give the dog a sloping back has caused a weakening of the back. Such dogs can't jump and will be injured by jumping, part of a working dog's function. "The spine - especially from the middle of the spine towards the tail becomes stiff and inflexible. Too much stress on this section causes it, literally, to disintegrate."
Another problem with the build of these dogs is unnecessary stress is placed on the front legs, says Ms Spencer. "If you look at the way greyhounds and bulldogs are built, it becomes even more clear dogs are bred to look like something someone somewhere visualized, with out taking function into account. "Greyhounds have thick chests and thin hindquarters. When running, these dogs tend to bump their chests on the ground. Bull dogs' noses and necks are too short which causes the perpetual ruckling or snorting sound when they breathe.
"In view of these defects, we decided to go back to "grass-roots level, and that's in Sussex, England, where the true line of German She herd has been maintained by renowned breeder
Mrs. Anne Butler. "Many years ago, she originally imported four lines of working dogs from Germany - dogs which looked exactly as they did during the Second World War. We managed to secure breeding stock from her." Ms Spencer says
Mrs. Butler managed to keep her lines pure and her breed is known the world over as the Olderhill Shepherd.
These dogs are being used by the Sussex Police Force, where they number more than 50% of the dogs used by the force. "This dog has a straight back and straight hind legs, which are strong enough to support the body. Also, although the Olderhill is a big dog, the head is more delicate and not so heavy. It's much more pleasing to the eye than modern show dogs."
The two breeders want to convince other breeders to adhere to the same standards and also import Olderhill dogs to strengthen the gene pool in SA. They've already had problems in getting their breed registered. They must register as breeders before their breed will be recognized country wide. "The qualities of our dogs clash directly with standards set by the local registering authority," says Ms Prinsloo. "They set standards such as an X-ray certification for canine hip dysplasia, a "good" grading at shows, a minimum age of 18 months for bitches, maximum height of the dog and a registration tattoo.". She says the so-called "good" grading at shows is out of the question for them as their dogs don't conform to local show standards for German Shepherds.
"It seems we'll have no choice, but to form a federation of our own, especially for Olderhill Shepherds, if other breeders will be willing to pool their strength with us." The Olderhill Shepherds come in three original colourings, black-and-tan, black and brindle. Both women are adamant brindle colouring be fully recognized by the Olderhill kennels as an original colouring. "The main characteristics," says Ms Spencer, "which make these dogs outstanding is their big, strong build, outstanding tracking and catching ability, sense of smell, long lifespan and amazing temperament. They're ferocious with intruders, but gentle with children - and highly intelligent.
"A dog expert, Kohler, says usually only about one in every one thousand dogs is a good guard dog. But every Olderhill is a good guard dog. And that's what it's all about, isn't it?" They aim to maintain all the good characteristics in the dogs they breed and are making an effort to bring breeding standards "back to normal "
"We don't see any sense in breeding an animal which suits the whims and fancies of people, but are otherwise useless. A person in Germany, supposedly the birth place of German Shepherds, shouldn't be allowed to dictate breeding standards to breeders all over the world simply because he or she thinks it fashionable. "Sound reasoning should prevail and we should all be breeding good looking animals which are functional."