BREED VALUE and the GSD - The SV Zuchtwert Program Part 3

by Fred Lanting


© Copyright June, 2000 - 2005


Experience and History with ZW

The current expressions of opinion are generally positive in outlook, supported substantially by two basic principles:

  1. The application is very simple for the breeder. For his bitch, whose HD breed value he knows, the breeder can select from a broad offering of dogs that are qualified to breed — suitable stud dogs that also complement his wishes in reference to form and performance.

  2. The breeding program is formulated comprehensively and unmistakably. Otherwise-suitable puppies under 100, (therefore with below-average HD risk), should be bred.

This most modern Breed Value Assessment of the dog undertaking the inclusion of all relatives was begun in 1983 for HD in the German Spaniel. Later, German Jagdterriers followed with breed values that would describe the risk for transmission of lens luxation (LL). This ocular disorder typical in terriers had in this breed a frequency of approximately 2%. Simultaneously there was offered to the breeders the ZW for size inheritance and for four hunting features: “nose”, bay (tracking sound), working body construction, and enjoyment of water. The number of breeds in which the Zuchtwert evaluation is routinely used rose constantly after that. The Cynology (canine science) computer center of the TG publishing house in Gießen, serving the enterprises for breeding animals and stud book management, has already made it possible to have taken care of over 60 breeds with this ZW option. With the availability of the breed value assessment, uncertainty quickly arose over the application and conversion of the knowledge. Since Zuchtwert numbers are only an “estimate” and thus greatly depend on the current standard of knowledge, selection by means of general breed warnings or prohibition for animals with an inherited predisposition is not meaningful. It would not be good that a bitch blocked today, then readmitted, would again be blocked with the next evaluation. The relation therefore had to become more flexible. The thought of not hindering breeding animals (parents) by requirements on their individual admission or traits, but on the admissibility of a pairing, was absolutely new in the breeding of animals. The principle of “strategic pairing” was born. Each good animal is suitable for breeding, if it with a suitable breeding partner produces puppies with below-average Zuchtwert numbers.

The principle of this breed planning was agreed upon for Golden Retrievers by the German Retriever Club (DRC), and adopted at once by the specialty breed club for the Hovawart (RZV) as a breed strategy. While the Retriever breeders, after the first successful breeding years, changed it from being obligatory to a “recommendation for mature breeders” (in order to sell dogs), the Hovawart breeders have continued to utilize this breeding program until the present day. The attractive principle fell on fertile soil in the RZV, for although only “HD-free” dogs were still being bred, the by-then positive trend was again diminishing after 1984… things were actually getting worse with the number of HD-free animals steadily declining. With introduction of the Zuchtwert Evaluation in 1989, and with attention to the HD status of all relatives, it was now possible to distinguish the better-producing, HD-free dogs from those more tainted by this hereditary disease. The flexible breeding program, with its principle of leaving untouched all bitches in the breed so that the breed's potential and the breed continuity is protected in the kennels, turned back immediately the trend. Today, thanks to this daring step, the 90% mark is surpassed for HD-free animals, with a radiograph quota (percent of animals X-rayed) around 70%. [The Hovawart is a large “yard-guard” breed with an uncanny resemblance to the Golden Retriever but perhaps more closely related to the GSD’s ancestors.]

The Jagdterrier breeders on the other hand had it difficult. Lens luxation appears between the 3rd and 5th year of life on, and had often been concealed. The honest people felt cheated and the diagnoses had not always been made by competent ophthalmologists. So it came about that a breeding program had to be formulated that contained, beside the Zuchtwert assessment, also the basic conditions in reference to data gathering and reliability: a veterinary consulting board was set up, to offer those particular owners competent advice and help. A fund jointly held was arranged in which each breeder would pay 10 DM per puppy. From this treasury could come an assistance of up to 500 DM paid to soothe the buyers, around the costs one perhaps might pay for necessary eye surgery. DNA investigations were imposed for proof, so that the wrong parents are not charged with the defective descendant. Altogether a campaign of instruction with magazine articles and breeder seminars has led to the fact that now, any association with hereditary disease is taken more responsibly and less emotionally. The breeders now feel greatly obligated toward the breed goal. As the breed values would be published, and the principle of strategic pairing began to be grasped (limit for pairings being no higher than 105 average), the year's averages sank for the lens luxation risk from year to year. The breed average, which at the beginning had a high level of approximately 112, sank until today it stands at 95. The frequency of the affected animals lies in the less-than-1% range, although the reporting of it has climbed, obviously because of the guarantee certificate that accompanies each pedigree.

One now has, through the Breed Values, a tangible criterion of quality and can document thereby the efforts in a breed scheme in reference to health. Successful breeding in reference to form and performance were honored up to now with Sieger titles, championships and sports-dog awards. Surely, it now also becomes attractive to reward the genetically healthy dog. How important is a breeding program like that of the SV, and how important also should be the transformation, are demonstrated by the Club for the Pyrenees Dogs (Berger des Pyrenees, Great Pyrenees), which as a young club in 1989 introduced the “Zuchtwert with strategic pairing” (limit of 102). The first radiograph series yielded no rosy picture, with less than 10% “HD-free” animals. The Zuchtwert evaluation, however, immediately put the finger on the “sources of the evil” and in the following year there was shown a rise in the numbers of HD-free animals. After 1992, the breed strategy of the program was no longer obligatory, but though the breeders’ convention of “only recommended” was decided upon, the number of HD-free animals declined again. The club was well advised to prescribe the obligatory breed strategy again in 1995. Thereafter they saw again a rapid rise following that decision. Today HD in the Berger des Pyrenees is for practical purposes, not a serious problem. A relatively “safe” level in this breed is considered to be when 60 to 70% HD-free is reached. For almost every bitch, there can be found sufficient breeding partners that are assured to be within the limits for the pairing.

Additional breeds will be named, their successful breed work supported through breed value numbers. The SV will take stock of its own success as the radiographs and statistics for the years 1999, 2000, and later are developed. Until then, the breeders must trust the experiences of other clubs and to observe how the breeders receive the offer and use it. The public respect for the club will profit from the fact that show-dog and working-dog breeding will be practiced not at the expense of, but in harmony with, health.

Additional Comments by Fred and Others

About a year ago, another fancier had just completed a study of the HD-ZW ratings on the 10 VA dogs from the 1997 German Sieger Show and the Top ten dogs from the Bundessiegerprüfung, which should be of interest even to the Working-only readership of this magazine. Very interesting results, indeed:

Average for 10 VAs = 89.8 (High 118, Low 69); Average for Top 10 Trial dogs: 86.3 (High 112, Low 74). Taking Rikkor out of the equation, the average for VA “showdogs” would have been 86.7.

Specifics for Sieger Show

VA-1 Rikkor 118
VA-2 Karly 92
VA-3 Leif 85
VA-4 Odin 95
VA-5 Jango 86
VA-6 Timo 82
VA-7 Jello M. 69
VA-8 Fello 95
VA-9 Enzo 84
VA-10 Ursus 92

For Trial Dogs

1 Asko 75
2 Quasy 85
3 Nastor 112
4 Iriac 74
5 Laska 103
6 Feivel 80
7 Chawun 74
8 Dasty 85
9 Oldo 87
10 Santos 88

Not a significant difference in the two columns or averages; I find many low scores in the monthly listings with “working” kennel names, but I also find some horribly high ZWs as well. Bobbie Impellizzeri, noting that the SV allows “slightly dysplastic” dogs to be bred, took that opportunity to urge continued reliance on OFA evaluation of hips and elbows at 2 years. As you all know, I agree with that, but recommend adding PennHIP info, especially at younger ages, for the ultimate in diagnostic accuracy; I also laud the preferential use of dogs with low ZW numbers whenever possible. FL

Veterinarian Requirements and Preliminary Check List for the HD Procedure [in Germany]

Decisively involved with the success of the battle are the SV-certified HD radiologists and HD veterinarians. Nearly 3,000 veterinarians have become authorized by the SV as acknowledged HD veterinarians.

Not every owner of a German Shepherd Dog is allowed to participate in the SV's HD program. To be able to quickly ascertain whether the admission requirements are fulfilled, we have developed the following checklist for you:
 Minimum age: 12 months. Verify the whelping date on the Ahnentafel [pedigree/registration certificate].
 Is the document an SV Ahnentafel? For foreign dogs, the exhibitor must be a member of an FCI club.
 Is the tattoo number correct? Tattoo number is in the right ear - compare it with the number in the Ahnentafel.
 Is it a second (repeat) radiograph? The Ahnentafel must already carry the stamp of a HD radiology specialist or an SV-authorized HD veterinarian, the stamp having been recorded in the SV Headquarters.
In the case of any question about a "medium HD" entry, only the central HD office in Hannover will make the evaluation.

HD Diagnostic Report: Instructions for Administration

Over l5,000 HD findings are processed annually in the SV's HD office at headquarters. For the most efficient and quickest possible processing, the HD report was developed by the SV. Only certified "HD veterinarians" can supply the diagnosis to the SV headquarters. Other diagnostic reports are not acknowledged!
Please note the following instructions when filling out:

  • Fill out the diagnosis form clearly and legibly (done best with typewriter).

  • Pressure should be strong enough so that the 5th carbon copy will be still readable.

  • Please identify in the heading, the complete name of the dog (example: Visum vom Arminius).

  • Always indicate the actual owner's full name and address.

  • The owner must also sign the diagnostic form. It must agree with the information on the x-ray film regarding ownership as acknowledged by the SV.

  • Your stamp should be individually on each of the carbon copies.

  • The date of the radiograph is essential.

  • The last page of the report is kept for your records - please send all other copies along with the film to the SV.

One more point for your own interest: You are not obligated to give the owner any diagnosis or judgment. Only the finding of the central HD office in Hanover is official. We will return the yellow copy; if the finding from Hanover deviates from yours, you have it for understanding.

The HD Radiograph: What Is To Be Considered?

1. Following statements must be on the film at time of exposure:

  • Tattoo number (2 letters/4 numerals)

  • Complete name (example: Visum vom Arminius). Labeling with stickers or markings after developing the film is not accepted as proof of identification. Any received without proper identification are returned.
    2. Asymmetrical pictures (poor positioning) are unfortunately a frequent quality problem. Avoid sending such films if possible. You will quickly be told to re-supply the specified information.

After the Radiograph

If the film is prepared properly:

  • please check whether the HD - exam stamps with the necessary information from the Ahnentafel was placed on the film, and

  • immediately send the radiograph along with the report to the SV headquarters.

Early X-ray

We do not want to forbid for any conceivable reason the early radiography of a German Shepherd Dog under 12 months age; however, the identity of the dog must also be ensured via use of the Ahnentafel in such cases. Therefore, a GSD should not be admitted to the early [“preliminary”] X-ray, without the tattoo number in the ear of the dog having been conscientiously examined and compared with the registered number in the Ahnentafel. Preliminary readings are not of interest to the SV, however; therefore no such preliminary HD-exam stamp will be placed on the pedigree. Also no SV diagnostic report may be used. Such x-rays are not received or accepted by the SV.

Re-doing Tattoos [how it is done in Germany where there are many breed wardens and official tattooers]

If the dog can not be identified: Sometimes it occurs, that a dog can not absolutely be identified using the tattoo number in the right ear. It only remains then for the re-tattoo by the veterinarian. Our checklist:

  • The pedigree must exist naturally (not marked over an old one).

  • The responsible breed warden or tattooer must be at the re-tattoo. He must confirm the identity of the dog.

  • Re-tattoos with the tattoo instrument of the tattooers utilize the same tattoo designation ("number") used at the first tattooing [or]: with your tattoo clamps and the tattoo mark, in which the current number must be inserted beside the design (mark) assigned to you.

  • Re-tattoos only in the left ear.

  • Local anesthesia or tranquilizer (short-action) for dogs that are older than 12 weeks.
    [While the above is of academic interest to those who just want to know how the SV handles it with veterinarians, or want to consider a similar program here, the following is more for the dog owner.



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. He conducts annual non-profit sightseeing tours of Europe, centered on the Sieger Show (biggest breed show in the world) and BSP. Check out his website: