Check how to improve a German Shepherd's body structure making him look better, and more capable of performing his activities.
He is one of the most popular breeds in the world, known for his versatility which, among other virtues, unites the docile companion to the brave guardian. His disposition to be trained and to participate in competitions, allied to his resistance to walk, make him a true athlete. Referred to, in books, as "a great trotter," the German Shepherd may walk up to 50km a day to perform his original task: herding sheep. His body structure provides a long reach and elastic gait. In the rapid sequence of paces, the hindfeet surpass the tracks of the forefeet, allowing him to float in the air for a fraction of a second, even when trotting - and not only when galloping as in the other breeds. This is called the floating trot, an exclusive characteristic of the German Shepherd.
A gait has such an essencial character for this breed, that German Shepherd shows are the ones in which dogs are most tested in this particular characteristic. "Sometimes the dog and his presenter run about 600m in a course," says Maria Ernestina Souza Bastos, from Kennel Mogiano, Mogi das Cruzes, SP.
For a good physical performance, it is necessary adequate bone structure, and good muscles; these can be improved with exercises developed and used by German Shepherd breeders.
Wobbly legs occur frequently, and the problem may be solved if ligaments are strengthened. "Instead of legs being parallel, stifles and hocks move sideways, generating a waste of energy," explains Augusto Vecchi, of the Kennel Estense de Mogi das Cruzes, SP. If topline sways, walk is not firm, and impulse is lost. To solve this, these muscles are strengthened and back gets better. The floating trot may be improved if the muscles that give the impulse to hindlegs are exercised. If the pads are not stuffed they can't absorb impact of trot, and dog gets tired faster. They should exercised so they get "chubbier".
These aspects, and others, can be better explained to owner by a specialist, dog should be enlisted in a breed's show. The judge always points out strong and weak points of each participant.
It's important to remember that an athlete needs gradual and periodic physical activity, apropriate feeding, vitamine complements in adequate dosages, with the assistance of a veterinarian. Vera Lúcia Castro Barbosa, of Kennel Dois Pinheiros, São Paulo, reminds us that "activities should be done before melas, or 5 hours after them, and never when the sun is too hot." Training should take place 3 times a week, one exercise a day, alternating the several options according to the dog's needs. On the other days, dog should walk at least half an hour. The floor where he walks cannot be slippery, so parallelism of legs and firmness of walk are not harmed.
Back muscles: These develop during galloping. This helps to firm the spine. This exercise is specially indicated for dogs who show a swayed topline, providing visible improvement in 6 months. Puppy can do it when playing, running at his own will. After dog is one year old, galloping should be done in 30 minute sessions, either with owner running with him, or throwing a ball or bone for animal to fetch.
Firm Legs: Swimming contracts and streches the ligaments in continuous and smooth movements. It should be done after 9 months. Dog should be warmed up for 15 minutes, by playing with a ball, for instance. With a long leash, make him swim 25m, respecting the limits of the dog, of course. Add 25 more meters every 2 weeks, up to a maximum 250 meters. "In one month the dog will be at ease in the water. He will love to swim with the owner in a pond, or in the sea," says Vera Miguel from Kennel Brazão, in Niterói, Rio de Janeiro. In 5 months the ligaments are firm.
Impulse of Hindlegs: Climbing mountains develops the muscles of the hindlegs, favoring the trotting impulse. It demands a lot of strength, so it should only be done after dog is one year old, and after an X-ray of the dog proves that it doesn't have hip dysplasia. The trainer, driving a car, should go up a hill leading the German Shepherd by a leash, and making him trot. Start at 7km/hour, 800m, and increase a little every month, but not demanding too much. Six months later, when dog is in good shape, it will be able to trot up to 1,200m at a speed of 18 km/hour; never more than that. This exercise should be done in the grass or soil, so paws are not hurt. In case you do it in a paved road, Vera Miguel reminds you that it shouldn't be hot, to avoid burning, and recommends spreading alcohol with 2% tar on the pads, so they form a protecting layer. Maria Ernestina advises: "Do it up the hill, never down the hill, because the impact on the forelegs is too strong, and the inclined position of the back may lead to a swayed topline."
Chubby Pads: To make pads chubbier, it is necessary to contract them along with fingers. "Before you start, you should let them form a thicker protective layer by taking dog for walks in soil ground, during 30 minutes, from 5 to 8 months," explains Irineu Campos, from Kennel Palmas do Tremembé, São Paulo. The exercise should only start after the 8th month. Owner should walk dog on a recently mowed, so that its roughness will "poke" pads, making dog contract fingers, and conditioning him to maintain them closed. In 2 months the positive effect shows.
Resistence and Muscle Toning: Indicated after 1 year old, for individuals who don't have hip dysplasia, and just need to keep in shape. Dog is made to trot on flat terrein, being led by trainer on a bike or on a car, and pulling him by the leash. Start at 12km/hour, 1km. Increase gradually until making it trot for 5km, at 20km/hour, something that can be achieved about 6 months later.
Purchase of Puppy: It should have the inner part
of right ear tatood, which means it can get a pedigree. Dark eyes, black nails,
and scissors bite. After 2 months, it is possible to tell if it will be able to
do the floating trot. The forelegs pace should reach the muzzle's extremity.
Special Care: Get an X-ray to check dysplasia at 12 months.
Clubs: União Brasileira de Criadores de Cães Pastores Alemães, tel. (011) 887-57568. Sociedade Brasileira de Cães Pastores Alemães, tel. (011) 577-5217.
Reading Material: O Pastor Alemão, Joseph Schwabacher and Thelma Gray, Editora Nobel, Brazil. Il Pastore Tedesco, Mauro de Cillis, Editora Mursia, Milan, Italy. Pastore Tedesco, Massimo Aquilani, Editora Sonzogno, Milan, Italy.
We would like to thank the work of our interviewees, who
held a meeting to discuss exercises, and also for the text review. We would like
to thank USP Veterinarian Anatomy Professor, José Pedutti Neto, and
tecnical coordinator of the Federação Paulista Cinológica,
Maria Glória Romero, for text review.
Research and text: Flávia C. Soares. Text editor: Marcos Pennacchi
Picture: Luiz Henrique Mendes
Owner: Ana Lúcia S. Nagel