by John Buckley
Breeders, trainers and exhibitors of German Shepherds all share a unique on-going pre-occupation; that is, the pursuit and acquisition of as near perfect a dog as possible. The perfect dog is an accepted impossibility, but having said that, the perfect, or near perfect specimen would have to include the component of flawless dentition.
Dentition, like so many other characteristics of a species is influenced by evolvement, and as a consequence of this natural process these particular aspects of the dogs make-up develop in a way best suited to the species and its survival. So it is with the dentition of the German Shepherd Dog.
A correctly built and healthy dog is a prerequisite for all dog sport people. One of the priorities to bear in mind in the search for excellence in any breed of dog should include an intrinsic interest in the appearance and status of the animal’s teeth. The emphasis placed on dentition in the Shepherd dog breed standard is unequivocal and demands that the full amount of teeth be present. It is also clear about the proper placement and bedding of those teeth, their alignment, health and condition (relative to age and occupation). So it is with this in mind that we approach the subject.
The German Shepherd Dog is and will for the foreseeable future remain as a tractable working/utility breed. Clearly to remain as such it is required to have strong healthy dentition. For service work involving deep biting activity and determinedly holding on to an adversary (prey/criminal) the dog needs to be without any dental impediment. When the number of teeth, their alignment and firmness in the jawbones and health are correct and the jaws are properly muscled this combination allows for the dog to take a good grip, intensify it and establish a confident hold. Additionally, correct healthy dentition is also vital to the canine species in order that food can be torn and chewed. There are of course additional supportive arguments made by other authorities advocating the preservation of correct dentition, but these being supplemental to what is already stated need not be gone into here. For dog fanciers, as ordinary amateur hobbyists, conscientious breeders, owners and trainers we need simply to focus on the simple premise that correct dentition is a ‘requirement’ of the overall ideal and that that ideal is therefore what we must continue to aim for. Accepting any dilution of the breed standards specific requirements with regard to dentition would be a major retrograde step, and one which would debase the integrity of the historical breeding goals set out by Max von Stephanitz. Losing sight of the ideal would also severely damage not only the future breeding value of the species but its very chances of survival.
There is reasonable cause to believe that responsible German Shepherd enthusiasts (within the breed organisations) adhere fairly well to the guidelines set down in the breed standard. On this basis alone we can claim a form of uniqueness. This distinction also makes German Shepherd people stand out amongst all other breeders, handlers and owners of the other canine species. We see ourselves as apart and even aloof. We are privileged to know this great breed. To other ‘doggy’ people we are obsessed with ‘running’, have ‘destroyed’ Shepherds by making the ‘roach-back’ the most prominent feature, and demand too much by our requests for the recognition of our breeds ‘special status’. Strangely there is never mention made of our occupation with hips and elbows, lineage, temperament, DNA. Oh yes, then there’s our insane preoccupation with counting teeth.
Teeth or more correctly dentition problems are no big deal to German Shepherd owners. We take these things in our stride as we do all the others and learn from them. The only reason we ever make the subject into a big deal, is when the subject involves faults that potentially impair the working ability and the wellbeing of the breed.
Ignorance permeates throughout all the dog world with regard to canine dentition. Even in the shepherd fraternity there are still those who believe that ignorance is bliss. Most people involved in other canine breed give at most only cursory attention to the relevance or importance of proper canine dentition. And where, in the breed standards of the other species there are references to ‘correct’ or ‘impeccable’ dentition mentioned as basic natural attributes, the point goes largely ignored because of the economic aspect of enforcing this aspect of their breed standards. The author has had personal experiences with many all-rounder judges over a thirty five year period and can say honestly that he has only twice met judges who understood the subject of dentition, and then, the two people concerned had previous involvement in German Shepherds. Most all-rounder judges mask their ignorance by admitting to the out of control problems in most breeds and when pressed further on the subject will confess that they don’t ever let dentition faults interfere with their placing because it would be a futile exercise. The fact that the judges have abandoned all interest in the relevance of dentition has also been influential on the breeders who have no incentive whatever to try to improve things. The breeds therefore continue to degenerate and the punters who buy puppies wind up with well established degenerative traits. At this stage after so many years of neglect we all know what the consequences would be if breeders were to dispense with individual dogs for breeding or indeed cull entire lines responsible for the degradation in canine dental health.
Even with the greatest will in the world and the means to reverse the dentition problems in all other breeds there would still remain the insurmountable problems of ignorance and arrogance on the part of all-rounder judges. The widespread opinion of all-rounder, know-everything judges is well documented. They have disgraced themselves again and again by their scandalous disregard of the German Shepherd breed standard instructions regarding the importance of cataloguing and penalising any conditions falling short of the guidelines. The curse of the ‘all rounder judges’ cursory glance at the ‘bite has left our breed plagued with ‘winners’ who have gotten ‘honours’ under these prima donnas. Their frivolous hobby is without regard or interest to the harm and destruction they are effecting on our breed. For anyone, judge or selfish exhibitor, to consciously sacrifice any small point of the scientifically defined interests of the Shepherd breed is nothing short of criminal. To settle for the superficial external ‘beauty’ aspect of the show ring which these people offer is to court folly. Only German Shepherd owners and breeders should be eligible to pronounce on our breed. Only German Shepherd fanciers who have come up through the ranks of our breed clubs and have experienced the trials and tribulation that beset the dog should be conferred with the task of judging. Responsibility for this breed must be firmly established in the hands of people who respect, understand and work within the breed.
Allied to the appalling aspects of ignorance which pervades most canine matters is of course the fact that anyone who has ever owned a dog and has raced it around a ring a few times is eligible in the Kennel Clubs view to become a judge. Who you-know is the order of the day. What you know is irrelevant. There isn’t in existence even a basic test to establish competence for judging never mind one for literacy. This appalling fact plus the complete absence of reliable verifiable genetic information and records allows only a very small and very sketchy idea of how most other canine species are hopelessly enmeshed in a degenerative quagmire. Facts are facts.
Only German Shepherds, world wide, have the benefit of proven genealogical records which are able to accurately identify, and in most cases predict dentition problems. Added to this are the invaluable tools of the German Shepherd Breed Survey Programmes world-wide and the extensive well thought out breed specialist judge training programmes which have long been part and parcel of the WUSV member clubs activities.
Today, most German Shepherd Dog owners are aware of the possibilities of variations, distortions and/or losses in the development of the dog’s dentition. The general knowledge in relation to deciduous teeth in the puppy, the slow eruption or absence of the ever-elusive “premolar” is but a small part of the overall picture. Nevertheless all the component parts which, though they appear trivial in isolation, contribute to the larger and more important picture.
The person who with mock confidence settles for knowing only ‘what should be there’, and can see gaps left by missing teeth is not even close to the mark of understanding this aspect of the dog and how important it is in the overall makeup and its implications for the future. There is an onus on the breeder, trainer and of course most importantly all who have a say in pronouncing on the fate and future of the breed to study and learn fully all the intricacies of the fascinating subject of canine dentition. With learning and understanding will come wisdom. Only those with wisdom can influence the future.
We live in an age blitzed with information. Yet in spite of the widespread access to information technology and the educational and training programmes already mentioned some German Shepherd people in Ireland still demonstrate little understand of the complete German Shepherd Dog. The following though by no means offered as the last and authorative compilation of information on the subject of dentition. It offers the student a starting point. It is a beginning of a journey to understand the wonderful German Shepherd breed.
Therefore this important instructive document has been prepared with the layman in mind and is issued with a twofold purpose:
When it comes to the subject of canine dentition there is almost a complete dearth of any kind of information. Also there are no known documented scientific studies about the mode of inheritance related to canine dentition, consequentially, very little can be said definitively about the subject of the origins of faults and deficiencies.
This article is intended to fulfil the following purposes:
(a) Firstly, to outline the evolvement and development of the deciduous and permanent dentition in the German Shepherd Dog.
(b) To present an overview of deviations and mal-alignment of teeth as they occur in the adult dog.
(c) To provide observations and anecdotal information based on practical experiences in order to stimulate debate.
(d) To offer some insight into health issues related to dentition in order to develop a wider understanding of the causes of loss of teeth, decay and degeneration which leads to ineffectiveness.
(e) To provide a wider interest in the subject of dentition so that judges, breeders and owners will have a clearer understanding of the subject and may hopefully share experiences and information on the subject.
The author by no means advances this article as a finished or conclusive work on the subject, but rather offer it as a beginning to a process which will hopefully enrich us all. Hopefully with new related information and material, future updates will be more illuminating.
The inclusions of additional classification and qualification tables at the end are supplementary to an understanding of how dentition is evaluated in the context of the allocation of pre-selection Breed Survey breeding ratings. These are also applicable to the ratings awarded at breed specialty shows.
DEFINITION OF DENTITION
A noun (derived from the Latin – dens, dentis: tooth) referring to the kind and number of teeth characteristic to a particular species, as well as their arrangement in the jaws (bone). The make-up of the dogs teeth are highly specialised structures, having been developed and refined by nature over millennium. Consisting of a crown (the exposed part which shows above the gum), a neck (at the gum line), and a root (embedded in the jaw bone out of sight). They are constructed of an outer coat of enamel (the pearly-white outer coating of the crown, dentine (the tooth bulk beneath the enamel coating), cementum (a thin bone-like substance spread over the roots) and pulp (the soft tissue comprised of sensory nerves blood vessels, etc).
I 6+6. C 2+2. M 6+6 Combined total = 28
I 6+6. C 2+2. PM 8+8. M 4+6. Combined total = 42.
Permanent teeth upper jaw
I 3+3. C 1+1. PM 4+4. M 2+2. Combined total = 20.
Permanent teeth lower jaw
I 3+3. C 1+1. PM 4+4. M 3+3. Combined total = 22.
Explanation: I = Incisors. C = Canine. PM = Premolars. M = Molars.
THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE IDEAL DENTITION.
Dogs, like humans, grow two sets of teeth during their lifetime. The first set, which develops in puppy hood, is deciduous or temporary. This first set is sometimes referred to as baby or milk teeth and these appear from about three weeks of age. In their fully erupted state these consist of twenty eight teeth. For simplification these are broken down into the following definitive types; twelve incisors, four canines and twelve premolars. From about two to three months of age and at any time up to about seven months, the milk teeth are expelled from the gums and are gradually replaced by the eruption of the permanent teeth. The permanent set of teeth numbering forty two in total should in most cases be visibly present by the time the dog is seven months old. However it is not unusual to observe at this age, gaps in the areas normally occupied by the premolar one tooth (P1). This condition is often the result of the slow (delayed) eruption of the premolar one (the smallest tooth in the entire permanent range). The delay in the appearance of a slowly erupting premolar is generally not a factor which limits its size or eventual quality. Sometimes however an eruption which doesn’t become obvious outside the gum (meat) until after the ninth or tenth month manifestly remains small and is consequently recorded with the general description as being underdeveloped. An individual underdeveloped premolar is not in itself a fault of any great magnitude and does not present grounds for excluding a dog from a high pre-selection class. However when the other premolar one teeth also show this tendency to be out of synch with the finished development of the overall set of teeth then it becomes an issue of importance and requires careful consideration by the breeder. In such cases the opportunity to make comparisons with the dentition of the parents and all other siblings should not be missed. Examination of the wider family base and any/all other related half brothers and sisters would also provide a comprehensive impression of trait. Getting back to the eruption time for premolar one tooth, there has been a case reported in Ireland in recent years of a premolar one tooth erupting and gaining parity with the one in the opposite gum, when the dog was fourteen months old. This case is authenticated by a respected conformation and performance judge who made regular checks on the dog’s mouth from six months to the time of the tooth’s final appearance.
The first indication that a slowly erupting premolar one is on the way may be a little raised area of flesh which is slightly lighter in colour from the surrounding area. This can progressively develop with a gradual exaggeration in size and lightness in colour, to the point where it is possible to feel the minute eruption beneath the skin. Where this development progresses to a state where the bare point of the tooth breaks through and is visible outside the skin but is arrested at that stage then further exposure can follow naturally by means of the dogs own chewing/mastication process. Once the tooth is visible to any degree there is absolutely no reason whatsoever to subject the dog to surgery to clear a wider area around it. In the case of un-erupted or the apparent absence of a tooth after the dog has passed the twelve month ma