Reprinted with permission from

the Shiloh Shepherds (Kennel) 1986-87 Stockbook

For the past 20 years I have read and researched everything I could find on the subject of hip dysplasia. I have also written many articles for various magazines. I would like to reprint the article I wrote in the winter 1983-84 issue of the German Shepherd Quarterly: 

Hip Dysplasia

Them Bones, Them Bones,

Them Hipbones


Tine Levesque
Gainesville, New York


SINCE I have received so many calls and letters re­lated to my Hip Dysplasia article in a recent flyer, I would like to make a few clarifications here. Most of the concern was related to the fact that “if HD is a hereditary problem, why did you state it was 75% environmental?” HD is a problem that can be caused by genetics or a combination of genetics and environment. I did state that the problem was polygenic (controlled by many genes) and that it has irregular penetrance. That information came from several sources, including an article written by Dr. J. Giardina, D.V.M. for the German Shepherd Dog Review, March ‘83 issue. This does  NOT mean we should ignore the genetic factor! If we are to deal with this problem realistically, we must have an understanding of the total picture. Everything I have read on the subject of HD always mentions that over-nutrition during the critical growth period increases incidence and severity of the problem! This does not mean that you can breed two very dysplastic dogs, then starve the pups and you’ll have good hips! If there was just one answer to the problem, we would have solved it years ago.

Also, I would like to point out another very overlooked fact! If you can “break down” the hips environmentally, then you can also “cover up” weaker hips that way too! Unintentionally! I know of one breeder that had a runt female pup that she hand-reared from birth. This pup had pneumonia at 5 weeks, then fought respiratory infections, etc. She was small and sickly looking until she was 4 or 5 months old. The pup got Eukanuba (30%) dog food and raw meat (mostly raw meat) plus a lot of vitamin C during that time. At two years, this pup had an excellent x-ray. None of the littermates, however, were checked. She was then bred to a very good male, that was also x-rayed very good, and had 5 pups. All the pups showed severe hip dysplasia between 6 and 10 months of age. She was then bred to a champion male (that I have been using for years with excellent results -- even when inbred on) and again she had 5 pups that were dysplastic prior to 1 year of age! After checking on her littermates, by then 4 1/2 years old, the x-ray showed severe (grade 4) hip dysplasia. The others were either dead or we were unable to locate them. We then tried deeper research by x-raying the bitch’s dam, now almost 7 years old. She also proved to be very severely dysplastic! She had never been x-rayed prior to this so there was no way of knowing when the problem had started. There was also no way to learn the true story on the bitch’s sire, since he had died at an early age. No records on her sire’s hips were available. This happened a long time ago, but later the incident would pop into my mind and I would wonder…What if her sire had been x-rayed, what would the results show? Needless to say, she was spayed and her line ended there ... or did it? Two of her littermates had moved out west and we were unable to locate them. The pedigree was very impressive so they could have easily been used for breeding, thus passing on the problem.

Now for the other side of the coin. A few years ago, I shipped a female pup to a very nice elderly lady. She wanted a female that would be large and dark colored. After going over all the stock, she decided on a Max daughter. I explained that the pup would be dark, very intelligent, obedient, but not oversized. I told her the pup would mature at about 70 to 75 lbs. and 24 to 25 inches in height. I felt this pup would work out the best for her total needs. She was truly impressed with the pup’s intelligence! Since this pup seemed to inherit that “super smart” personality from her dam, she was perfect. The only problem was the weight on this “poor thing” as her owner called her. She weighed only 14 lbs. at 9 weeks when shipped, and her new owner felt that it was just terrible that she was so thin. She was afraid that the puppy would get “stunted.” She got rid of that “darn dog food” that the breeder recommended and fed her ice cream, fish and chips, cakes, pastry (for weight gain), and this pup just loved her casseroles! This lady was quite well off, and could easily afford to give her beloved pet the best of everything! She saw to it that the pup got as much to eat as she could possibly want! She really loved that pup and sent me progress reports every few months. The first telling me that finally the crisis was over. Her little girl was now five months old, smart as a whip, 18” tall and weighed over 60 lbs. She went on to tell me how she loved her cooking and would eat anything! She slept on the bed, and lived a life of leisure. No work for this girl, only eat, sleep, and be happy. She was such an obedient dog, she didn’t need to work. She wasn’t allowed to swim or do anything hazardous! The next report came at nine months. The pup was now 94 lbs! What a dog! Only 22” tall but 94 lbs. Her owner was sure I goofed on my prediction, since the pup was way over already, and growing by the minute. Still smart as a whip, but she was showing pain climbing stairs. I wrote back strongly urging a diet, and a hip x-ray quick! Well, I got the report back, the vet said grade 2, but it could get worse. The vet also felt that the pup was at least 30 lbs. overweight. I really felt bad for all three of us! The poor pup that would have to suffer, the owner who was totally heartbroken, and I had to figure out why, how, and what to do next. Replacing a pup is not the hard part. Trying to figure out how to eliminate the problem, that’s hard! First I called in x-ray reports on all the littermates, right away. Ten months may be a little early, but I’m very impatient! The reports showed all seven of her littermates had good hips so far. I had x-ray reports back three generations on her dam, and grand dam, etc. I know there was some genetic weakness there, but the rest didn’t show any signs of problem and after much checking, I attribute her condition to environmental influence. Not that the owner didn’t do everything she could for the dog, it wasn’t a case of negligence, but simply a lack of education!    All that extra food was just too much for the poor pup. Finally at 14 months, the pup was ‘put down.’ She weighed 128 lbs. by then. Her poor owner suffered those last five months trying to “diet” the poor pup, but just didn’t have the heart to “starve” her! Very reluctantly, I shipped her another pup of the same type of breeding, that somewhat resembled the original dog. But this time, I insisted on a proper feeding and exercise program. No people food! Not because “people food” is so terrible, but since this lady had an obvious problem controlling herself, I felt that a NO order would be more effective than a “not more than 20% of the dog’s diet to include ... etc.” realizing that the pup was not allowed anything extra, and afraid the “worst” would happen again. The owner now followed my full program to the letter. Results? The new pup is now almost two years old, and her worries are over. She was measured at 25 1/2” and 82 lbs, and the x-ray was very good!

Even though it has been proven that HD is affected by the environmental and nutritional factors involved in raising a pup, there are many other factors there also! I honestly believe that if a large enough group of breeders would join forces together for the benefit of the German Shepherd breed, HD would be eliminated! I know for a fact there are small breeders that really love the breed, and really want to do the right thing in their program, but due to lack of experience and insufficient help from their local clubs and other breeders, they just end up ‘spinning their wheels.’ Soon they realize how expensive and frustrating it is to breed these dogs with all the built-in temperament, hip, and other problems, and they just give up. These people need education and en­couragement, not a bunch of gossip, backbiting, politics, and false illusions!

I have received many sincere letters from folks that state, “I have a nice bitch, with champion blood­lines ... Yup her Great, Great, Grandsire was a Champion’   I am looking for a nice big male pup I can raise up to breed to her ... how much are they?” Now that’s not funny! There’s people that will answer and say, “I have a nice Black and Tan male, 8 weeks old for $   etc.” This in turn encourages the owner of the female to purchase the male, and then breed the bitch, especially if the male has “Champion Bloodlines” he must be used on their bitch for sure! That’s how the poor German Shepherd gets all these problems in the first place. Did anybody ask about the bitch’s pedigree? Did anyone ask about her hip x-ray? What about the hips of her sire and dam? Does the owner know anything about her littermates? Have they been x-rayed? Has she been temperament tested, etc, etc, etc? The breeder of the male pup may have a very good pup there, but will it do her kennel good if he sires a litter of dysplastic progeny? Sure, we can blame the poor quality of the bitch, right? The people who purchased these pups will care. Maybe they will blame their heartache on the lousy bitch, but they should be blaming that lousy breeder who sold the pet quality male to the uninformed owner of that lousy bitch in the first place!

The German Shepherd dog has been my only breed since I was a child. I have never owned, or had a desire to own, any other breed of dog. But I do like other animals, and I attribute some of my genetic knowledge and breeding policies to the other animals in my life. Have you ever studied the pedigrees of some of the fastest racing Arab horses in history? They were inbred! Have you ever talked to breeders of racing pigeons to find out how they developed the best strains? I’ve owned Arabian horses, Appaloosa horses, pigeons, various breeds of rabbits, goats, and Persian cats. I have also done some ‘experimental’ breeding with these animals as well as trying to learn all I can from the top breeders in each field.

Back in ‘74 I wanted to ‘fool around’ with Persian cats, and ended up learning a lot from their breeders. As a matter of fact, that’s where I got my idea for the co-ownership and Breeder’s Agreement policies I’ve used on my dogs ever since. I realized that cat breeders really ‘hit the nail on the head.’ Not only did they follow a complete controlled program themselves, they found a way to continue the control in their program after the sale. If you want to purchase a kitten for a pet, you must sign a neuter or spay agreement with the breeder. The kitten is then purchased at a reduced price, but you cannot use it for breeding! They have now made it even easier for the breeders. The CFA has an agreement right on the papers that is signed by the new owner, and sent in for registration of the cat. If you have signed the ‘no breed rights’ agreement, the CPA will not register kittens produced by that cat. This helps to eliminate the hassle of ‘holding back papers,’ etc., for the breeder herself. It’s a very simple program, and of invaluable help to the breeders. They can sell their pet quality cats without worry of the new owners breeding these cats to poor specimens, and eventually degrading the breed. I have just recently purchased a male seal point Himalayan, show quality, with breeding rights retained. But even so, I would never breed him to any cat without his breeder’s approval!

We would probably end up with much better quality dogs if we had similar restrictions in the German Shepherd breed. I’m not saying that we should discourage people from breeding GS dogs. I feel that the ‘novice’ potential breeder should be educated, informed, and somewhat ‘restricted’ as to what they can and cannot do within the realm of ‘breeding.’ If a slightly faulty dog is sold as a pet, it should not be used for breeding even if he does have a Champion somewhere in his pedigree! I would also encourage more breeders to attempt using the Breeder’s Agreement. When I produce a litter of pups from an outcross breeding that I’m experimenting with, I sell the pups for less, and insist on the new owner signing the Breeder’s Agreement contract. The pup is then tattooed or marked, and the AKC papers are held back. When the pup has reached maturity and is spayed or neutered, the AKC papers are then signed over to the new owner. This is a lot of extra work, but the only way I know of to control future use of these dogs. When we have excellent quality pups that we want to expand on, we sell them on co—ownership. This enables us to follow up on an entire litter, collecting genetic information that is vital to our breeding program. This also helps us get sincere ‘future breeders’ started off on the right foot with minimum investment and total supervision of their stock. They will learn as they go, hopefully to continue producing better dogs. The co-ownerships are also invaluable for us in the fact that each pup has been put in a different environmental setting where we can get a much clearer picture of the inherited genetic factors when matched against the environmental conditions.

I am fully aware of the fact that Germany has a lot of sound restrictions built into the breeding and registering of their dogs, and yet we still see some awful specimens being imported! Well, nobody’s perfect. Germany does produce some fantastic dogs, and some very poor ones too. I honestly believe that the root of this problem stems from finances. Many people have ‘imported in’ what Germany wanted to ‘throw out’ and then proceeded to breed these imports together for the sake of an ‘all German’ pedigree! First they breed these ‘culls’ with a fancy pedigree and then they wonder why they are having all these problems? Has anyone bothered to really check out the pedigree for quality? Just because a pedigree lists a bunch of German names, it doesn’t mean it’s any better than a pedigree that lists a bunch of Champion names. You have to know the dogs you are working with and take time to research as much as you can about all of their ancestors, not just a few names you’ve heard of someplace! Also a lot of people don’t realize that a dog who receives the German “a” stamp at one year of age could be modestly dysplastic and would definitely not OFA at 2, not to mention temperaments! I have personally run into so many brick walls with the German dogs we have in the USA that I can’t afford to keep at it emotionally or financially. I have just seen too many small, roach-backed, dysplastic, fear-biting hypochondriacs, and otherwise disgusting creatures that it makes me want to cry! I’m not against the German dogs. I am German, born and raised there. I have lived with real German dogs half of my life. Yet as a breeder, I prefer to work with stock I can investigate. I want to see the progeny of a stud before I use him. I want more detailed information on the genetic qualities bred into the dog, both dominant and recessive. In other words, I want to be able to check out the entire ‘blueprint’ so I have a better understanding of what was put into the finished product! Unless I can investigate at least three generations of ‘input’ behind the dog, I’m afraid to fool with it. Even with all that caution, breeding Shepherds can resemble playing with loaded dice! No matter what you do, you never know when they will explode! I fully understand why it can be very expensive and discouraging for anyone to stay loyal to this breed!

With all this in mind, I have designed a pedigree form for our kennel that lists some very important information on each dog. This will hopefully help the future breeders get a better understanding of what they are working with. I’m aware of the fact that it’s definitely not a cure or sure thing, but as an ‘aid’ in the breeding program, maybe it will help somebody, someday! These pedigrees are available to anyone that wishes to use them in their program.

The pedigree starts out by stating information on the dog itself, and then proceeds to give vital information on its ancestors.

For a novice who really wants to breed good dogs, it can be very confusing when they see a pedigree that states “he’s the daddy” and that’s “Mom,” “Golly Gramps,” and “Old Granny.” Who the heck are these dogs? Oh yea, we’ve got Champion So-and-So here, back in the fifth generation, but at least we’ve heard of him before! So this must be a good dog to breed, but to what? Well, she’s a bit shy and small, so let’s find a big nasty male to breed her to, and we’ll have great pups! After all, they are AKC registered. So they must be good dogs!

Speaking of AKC registrations, what you see is not always what you get! I’ve heard stories that would curl your hair. Substitute studs being used, bitches getting bred again accidentally after the real breeding was done, and certain ‘dealers’ that had boxes full of various papers that they passed out with the dogs they picked up at the pound! There is so much ‘paper play’ going on that it’s ridiculous! But that’s a story all in itself, and I’m not getting into it here. It’s not the fault of the AKC, they just register the dogs. They can’t investigate or ‘blood type’ each pup. It’s definitely a buyer beware market, and if the buyer doesn’t beware, then the breeder had better!

Now, getting back to them HIP BONES! Even though we realize that environment has a large role in ‘showing-up’ or ‘covering-up’ hip problems, we must be aware that it all roots back to the genetic factor! The environmental factor actually serves to confuse the picture, making it even harder to plan the genetic factor. As it stands now, we’ve got a mess on our hands!

Hip Dysplasia does not always mean that the dog is a hopeless cripple. As a matter of fact, I personally know of several dysplastic dogs doing Schutzhund work, and living normal lives. I truly believe that because of this fact we have such a large problem in our breed. Unless a dog is x-rayed, you may not even know that he is dysplastic. I’ve had people come to me for stud service, and when I request the x-ray information on their bitch, they laugh and say, “Why the way this girl can jump, she couldn’t possibly be dysplastic!” So I tell them that’s great, but if you want to use my stud, I want to see a picture of her hips! Just recently a lady got very angry with me because she did not want to go to the expense. So I suggested she use my vet since I have established a ‘quantity discount’ rate there. She agreed, and the bitch turned out to be a grade 4! At eighteen months! We also had a lady recently come from Pennsylvania with an 8 month old male she was showing, looking for a good compatible bitch pup she could buy. I suggested she have her male x-rayed before she purchases a pup to breed to him. She brought the results a month later: grade 4!

That’s why I insist so strongly on getting hip reports back on the pups I sell. I need that information. Without it, I could be taking a wrong turn simply because I was blinded by
incomplete information! So now let’s add up some of these facts

  1. Hip Dysplasia is a genetic problem, with an irregular rate of in­heritance.

  2. Even though the genes may be present, environmental factors can play a large role in covering them up.

  3. Many dysplastic dogs go totally unnoticed unless x-rays are taken.

  4. Many dogs with excellent hips still produce a large number of dysplastic pups.

The biggest problem in my opinion is that a lot of people just give up on trying to get rid of the problem. There are so many genetic and environmental factors involved that it is very easy to just ‘throw in the towel.’

Please examine the following quote from the German Shepherd Dog Club of America:

“The parent club would like to point out that with such a small number of dogs certified there is real danger in overemphasizing hips in one’s breeding program. Sound hips are far from being the only con­sideration in breeding. The German Shepherd Dog must be regarded as a complete entity--a working dog, uniquely gifted in intelligence, beauty, and utility. The breeder should not be swayed by the current emphasis on hips, to lose sight of the various attributes indispensable to the German Shepherd Dog; i.e. Sound Character--stability, intellect, and trainability; correct structure--balance, harmony, and proper propor­tion; Gait--ease and efficiency of movement, stamina, and natural trot­ting ability; Quality--the reflection of nobility, strength, and beauty. An exclusive concentration on any one facet may achieve its effect at the expense of some other attributes.”

My opinion is, the statement “Sound hips are far from being the only consideration in breeding” and “There is real danger in overemphasizing hips in one’s breeding program” actually contradicts the statement that the Shepherd is a working dog bred for utility! “The breeder should not be swayed by current emphasis on hips?!” I feel this just opens the door for incorporating bad hip genes in all the bloodlines! I am fully aware of the fact that a lot of people will get angry with me all over again, but there are times when you just have to fight City Hall even if you can’t win. I have matured enough over the years to ‘get off the bandwagon,’ but I still can’t shut up when I hear that novice breeders are being encouraged to breed dysplastic, Champion sired bitches for the sake of ‘bloodlines.’ When I hear respected breeders state they will breed their ‘cripple’ bitches to ‘OFA’ studs in hopes of getting at least one good one; the rest will be sold as pets anyway. If they are lucky enough to get one good pup and IF he happened to make his degrees, what good is it if he ends up producing dysplastic pups? No wonder we have such a mess on our hands! I am fully aware of the fact that there are times we can run into a very delicate grey area and it’s very hard to decide what to do in those situations, but I have my ideas on that too.

I realize this may sound crazy, but let’s take a moment for a fantasy. What if an organization was formed by a group of dedicated breeders that proceeded to compile (or program together) all the research done by all the various groups and organizations, then helped this foundation with their research by compiling all their knowledge and ex­perience. For example, the results of breeding bitch A to stud 1 and the same bitch to stud 4, etc., encouraging all the big and small breeders to participate with added information. Everybody would submit all they know honestly (this is no time to advertise) for the benefit of improving the breed! Now the research center or foundation could enter all this data (tons and tons I hope) into the most complex computer available. Let’s see what we’ve got here! Since this is MY fantasy, it would not only be limited to hip dysplasia, but would include everything! A breeder could then call into the center and get data on hips, temperament, size, color, conformation, faults, virtues, etc., along with a full computer ‘fact sheet’ recommending do’s and don’ts for each dog they had. Actually, GSDCA has a somewhat similar program for their top producing dogs.

Each year you can purchase a ‘Red Book’ that lists all the ROM studs and broods, along with futurity/maturity tabulation charts, etc. The listing includes a picture of the dog, pedigree, and owner’s report that explains a little about the dog’s personality, etc., along with a list of winning progeny. The most interesting part is the questionnaire each owner fills out about the dog. There are a total of 63 questions ranging from eye color to tail size. The most interesting, of course, is hip dysplasia. I would sincerely like to commend those breeders that gave honest answers, such as ‘few,’ ‘some,’ or actually gave the number or percentage of HD produced by their dog! Some have written “none to my knowledge.” This could mean several things: the progeny are too young to evaluate yet, or no x-rays were taken.

My fantasy computer would contain similar information, but would include and emphasize specific data such as: Stud’s name, number of bitches bred; number of puppies produced per litter; number of puppies x-rayed; actual results (OFA ratings); percentages. For example:

Super Stud; 18 (with listing of bitches bred); 162 pups, 97 x-rayed, 35 good, 56 fair, 6 moderately dysplastic, 65 not of age; total per­cent of progeny tested; percent passed OFA certification. Second Stud; 5 (with listing of bitches used); 42 pups, 36 x-rayed, 4 good, 2 fair, 12 moderate, 5 grade 2, 13 grade 3-4, 6 NOA. Now with this kind of breakdown, you can get a much better idea of what you’re doing. Both studs have had some dysplastics, but which one would you use? What if we expanded this to include the non-champion dogs such as the German imports, etc.? It is very impressive to see a Champion with an OFA number, but what if his title included a ‘status symbol’ such as “Produced 82% OFA certified progeny?”

If all that just won’t work, then I have yet another idea! We realize that in America the emphasis has always been on freedom. We have total freedom to do our own thing as long as it’s legal. We are proud of the freedom we have in this country. Anything goes as long as it’s legal. Well then, maybe it should be illegal to breed dysplastic dogs! Any other suggestions?


1986 Update

Even though my “fantasy computer” never became a reality, the “LMX” program has gotten stronger and stronger. We are now breeding 6th and 7th generation LMX dogs!! The program does a lot more than just give details about hips — IT GIVES US A MUCH BETTER PICTURE OF THE TEMPERAMENT, COLOR, SIZE, FAULTS, AND VIRTUES we will be getting in each litter. This stock sheet includes our code, and several sample pedigrees for you to study, that explain how our program works for the benefit of the German Shepherd breed. Even though we still have not completely conquered the problem of hip dysplasia, we are now able to restrict it to a very small percentage of our lines, and we continually strive to completely eliminate it!! The main goal of this kennel has always been to produce the ULTIMATE IN INTELLIGENCE AND SIZE.. WITH SOUND HIPS!! In summary I would like to hereby reprint the 5 points of hip dysplasia we listed in our last color picture collage:


Now that we have established the importance of understanding the principals of genetic planning to produce the desired size, color, conformation, type, and temperament — we must not forget to deal with the problem of crippling hip dysplasia that is so prevalent in our beloved breed. First of all we’d like to point out some important facts, so you can have a better understanding of hip dysplasia.

  1. Even if both parents have normal (OFA.) hips the pups can still become dysplastic. due to a polygenic mode of inheritance. Hip dysplasia has been known to skip up to 3 generations of normal stock. 

  2. The genetic recessive factor for hip dysplasia can be “covered up” through various environmental and nutritional factors.

  3. It has been proven that hip dysplasia has a 0.2 to 0.3 (or 25%) hereditability factor, and is 75 0%, environmental.

  4. Hip dysplasia is associated with muscle atrophy (loss of muscle tone due to lack of exercise, poor nutrition. and slower metabolism during extreme heat). Good muscle mass should always be a major consideration when choosing breeding partners.

  5. Highest incidence of hip dysplasia is related to rapid growth. and early weight gain, critical time being between 8-20 weeks. Studies have shown that 60 day old pups weighing over 20 lbs. all developed hip dysplasia. Here at Shiloh Kennels we have taken several steps to help stamp out hip dysplasia.        

 a. First of all we breed ONLY from X-rayed normal stock! But even MORE important — we prefer to use stock that came out of a completely X-rayed litter!! We have an extensive program that includes getting hip X-ray reports back on ALL the puppies from each litter.

b. Since we are dealing with a polygenic problem that has irregular penetrance. we realize that if 4 pups out a litter of 6 turn up with hip dysplasia the 2 normal pups will definitely carry a recessive factor that will in turn be passed on to their offspring.

c.  We have found that linebreeding on good hips can definitely lessen the incidence of hip dysplasia while outcrossing only hides bad hip genes for several generations. Because of this we have slowly eliminated many of the German Imported dogs from our breeding program.

d.  Our pups are started out on very high protein-low calorie diets, with extensive emphasis on exercise at an early age. Preferably using stock with a very slow rate of maturation time.

e.  Even though we are known for the oversized German Shepherds that mature up to 29” and weigh over 120 lbs. they are bred from sound stock that have a strong pelvic muscle mass, and slow rate of maturing.


May 2005 Update

In 1993 the TCCP actually developed a custom program specifically for my Shiloh Shepherds, that is being utilized by the ISSR during our continued  development of these dogs, until they reach full breed recognition!  It is the only program of its kind, and is helping us to maintain a solid foundation as we continue to expand our genepool!

 For more information about the ISSR, please take some time to visit our Learning Center Site Map.

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Reprinted with permission by its author, Tina M. Barber.  Originally published in the Shiloh Shepherd Learning Center June 2005.