Some statistical differences in LH & SH Dutch Shepherds

For a few years now, I’ve published some basic statistics on the differences of short and longhaired Dutch Shepherds. All of this info is in Finnish, so this time, to allow any interested non Finnish-speaking parties to be able to enjoy them as well I thought to write a little more in-depth thoughts about them in English. Generally, I think viewing the breed in the light of statistics can be a good way to see some of the basic differences apart from people’s individual experiences, but at the same time we should always be careful how to interpret them. I’ll do a little bit of this here as well, but anyone can form their own opinions based on the data!

I updated each section at the start of 2019 just before beginning the work on this post. For now the different sections look at health (hips & lumbar transitional vertebra), longevity & causes of death, and character qualities revealed by the Finnish Character test and the MH mental description (mentalbeskrivning hund, this test originated in Sweden but is in use in several nordic countries now). The data comes from any imaginable but at the same time trustworthy source: kennel club or breed club databases, official documents, owners etc. Individual entries may in some cases have errors, but since the data set is so large, a very good overall picture of the reality can still be achieved.

Hip dysplasia

This data set currently includes ~1300 longhairs and ~3300 shorthairs all over the world. For scoring, the difference between two letters of evaluation (ie. A to B) is worth one points. A dog with HD A will have an individual score of 5.0. I’ll use the scores when talking about the differences in results for each country.

Below an actual graph showing the situation over the years: The vertical bar is the incidence of hip dysplasia by percent of the examined dogs, the horizontal bar is for birth years (2-year increments). Shorthairs on the left, longhairs on the right. Suomi = Finland, Kaikki = world-wide

What this seems to tell us is that the incidence of hip dysplasia is considerably higher in the longhairs, considerably higher in Finland, but that both varieties have made some improvements (dogs born 2000-2009 incidence 8% in SH and 18% in LH, dogs born after 2009 incidence is 6% in SH and 15% in LH).  Not that long ago, in the 70’s and 80’s longhair was still in a situation where a good number of breeding animals were dysplatic. Improvement has definitely been made since those times, but there is still a lot to do.

But can we talk about how on earth it is possible that Finland has so much hip dysplasia compared to the rest of the world?

To better answer this question we need to look at the scoring systems in each country, and this is something I want to do very carefully and respectfully. The fact remains that we have massive differences in our scoring systems: in some countries your vet will score the hips on the spot, in other countries it is the vet selected by the breed club, and in some, it is the vet selected by the kennel club. Something as simple as sedation can create differences as well, not to talk about other factors.

I calculate hip indices with the BLUP (best linear unbiased prediction) system for personal use, and this kind of calculation will give us a lot of useful data on how “reliable” or how much positive or negative deviation each country’s own system has from the average. Negative deviation means the scores in that country are worse than average, which translates to stricter evaluation practices and/or sicker dogs. Positive deviation means the scores are better than breed average, which again can mean the evaluation in that country is looser, or that their dogs are better. For a hip index calculation this means that good results from the countries with negative deviations will weigh more, will be more valuable, and vice versa: HD A from a country that barely issues anything else will not be weighed as positively.

Looking at the countries with more than 100 dogs scored, Sweden and Finland have significant negative deviations, around a third of a full point. This makes sense; these two countries have very similar rules, their evaluation systems are similar and they even use some of the same people evaluating images. The home country of the breed, the Netherlands will also have a negative deviation, but unless their scores are adjusted to match FCI Norberg rules it will not be by much. For a foreigner, it is recommended to look at Norberg values on Dutch dogs, since they can affect the score more in other countries.

Norway, Switzerland and Germany stand at the average. Their dogs and evaluation systems represent the breed average most accurately. Somewhat positive deviation can be found in Czechia, a bigger one in France, and an ever bigger one from Austria. The difference between the averages of the two extremes, Sweden & Austria is more than half a point.

I want to note that some of these countries (Switzerland, Germany, Czechia, Austria) do not have a kennel organization-managed database publishing all official results. This can mean a good portion of their dysplatic evaluations are hidden to statistics like this, since it is all up to the owners to publish this info. For example, if we found out now there were a 100 “new” HD C/D/E results in Czechia never publicly seen before, this would massively improve the international reliability of any hip score from this country.

For now I have mainly talked about these differences as some kind of measure of strictness between the different countries and their evaluation systems. Can it really be that an Austrian HD A is not always as good as a Swedish HD A? Isn’t it more likely that some countries just have bad breeding practices producing more dysplatic dogs?

To answer this I looked again at Finnish statistics. When I compared the Finnish average score of 4.31 to dogs that were born in other countries but evaluated in Finland, I discovered it isn’t any better, it is actually a bit worse at 4.29. This means the same pedigrees and families that will get significantly better scores in their home countries will on average score at least as bad as Finnish-born dogs in Finland. The same in Sweden: Average of all dogs was 4.38, average of imports 4.27. We all work with the same material and our health results might look the same, but they can mean very different things.

Transitional lumbar vertebra

LTV or LÜW in German-speaking countries is a difficult subject to put into statistics, because we simply don’t have that much information on it yet. What we do know is that it is a deformation that has been a part of the breed for a very long time. Unfortunately you can’t get official evaluations in many countries yet, and the evaluations can be made with different rules. For example Germany evaluates the sacrum with grades from 0-3, where as Finland evaluates it with grades 0-4. Otherwise the systems are pretty similar, except Finland will give LTV4 to a dog with too few or too many lumbar vertebrae (in belief that it is another form of the same disease), where as Germany does not take this into account.

So far I have about 520 dogs in this data set, slightly over 200 of them from Finland.

Official Finnish evaluations

SH) No anomalies (LTV0): 84%

SH) No anomalies or only a mild anomaly (LTV0-1): 90%

SH) Transitional vertebra (LTV2-3): 6%

SH) 6 or 8 lumbar vertebrae (LTV4): 4%

LH) No anomalies (LTV0): 91%

LH) No anomalies or only a mild anomaly (LTV0-1): 97%

LH) Transitional vertebra (LTV2-3): 3%

LH) 6 or 8 lumbar vertebrae (LTV4): no occurence

World-wide evaluations, official & unofficial

SH) No anomalies (LTV0): 81%

SH) No anomalies or only a mild anomaly (LTV0-1): 86%

SH) Transitional vertebra (LTV2-3): 12%

SH) 6 or 8 lumbar vertebrae (LTV4): 2%

LH) No anomalies (LTV0): 91%

LH) No anomalies or only a mild anomaly (LTV0-1): 95%

LH) Transitional vertebra (LTV2-3): 4%

LH) 6 or 8 lumbar vertebrae (LTV4): 1%

This is pretty straightforward. Overall the situation is good, but the shorthair currently seems to have more LTV than the longhair. This has also been the case before official evaluations, where shorthairs with this problem were reported regurlarly but much less in longhairs. Some cases in longhairs could have escaped notice simply because of lack of x-ray: it has always been slightly more common to x-ray shorthairs for spondylosis than the longhairs. In the future when these two varieties mix more, it is likely the numbers will even out as well. Hopefully also in hips.

Lifespans and causes of death

Currently the data set has ~1500 dates of death and ~800 causes of death.

SH) Average age of death: 95 months = 7.9 years
SH) Median age of death: 8.2 years

SH) Lived to over 4 years old: 75%
SH) Lived to over 10 years old: 40%

LH) Average age of death: 106 months = 8.9 years
LH) Median age of death: 9.8 years

LH) Lived to over 4 years old: 85%
LH) Lived to over 10 years old: 49%

The first time I put this data together it was a bit surprising to me shorthairs seemed to live shorter lives than the longhair. For someone who is into population genetics and preservation programs, it is clear that a more inbred population will often also have shorter lives. So why is the longhair, being much more inbred than the shorthair, not actually dying years before the other variety? Hopefully the causes of death will shed some light on this. Following, 10 of the most common cause of death categories along with the average ages in parentheses.

Shorthairs: Longhairs:
  1. 17% Accident or wildlife damage (3.0)
  2. 16% Tumor or cancer (8.3)
  3. 12% Euthanized due to behavioural issue (4.3)
  4. 12% Old age, natural or euthanized (14.3)
  5. 8% Spinal disease (7.5)
  6. 5% Bone and joint disease (5.9)
  7. 5% Died or euthanized without diagnosis (6.7)
  8. 4% Liver or gastric system illness (5.9)
  9. 3% Neurological illness (4.6)
  10. 3% Heart disease (6.6)
  1. 29% Tumor or cancer (9.1)
  2. 18% Old age, natural or euthanized (12.8)
  3. 13% Accident or wildlife damage (3.7)
  4. 9% Urinary and reproductive system disease (6.5)
  5. 8% Died or euthanized without diagnosis (7.6)
  6. 5% Spinal disease (6.6)
  7. 4% Euthanized due to behavioural issue (3.9)
  8. 4% Heart disease (6.1)
  9. 3% Neurological illness (10.9)
  10. 3% Bone and joint disease (6.5)

What the causes of death will reveal is that more shorthairs die to accidents (17 vs. 13%), are euthanized due to behavioural issues (12% vs. 4%) and suffer from spinal diseases (8 vs. 5%) than longhairs, and these are all factors that will regularly take younger dogs. Even if shorthairs – as previously presented – have better hip scores, they seem to have a bigger percentage of debilitating stages of hip dysplasia, that will prevent them from work or sport and will lead their owners to euthanize them. Since longhairs are more often just active pets, they might live a full life even with worse hips. The bigger chunks of behavioural issues and accidents can be attributed to character as well: shorthaired Dutch Shepherd is more often than not a more demanding, high-temperament dog that needs more effort to educate and is more prone to accidents.

It is good to note 1/3 of all longhairs die to cancers. They also have a significantly higher percentage of dogs suffering from kidney problems than shorthairs. But what about “old age”? Old age is a category present in the Finnish kennel club database, but it is sometimes interchangeable to “died or euthanized without diagnosis”: People can say their dog died to old age if it had various smaller or larger troubles without viable treatment options, or if they suddenly fell ill and no diagnosis was made. Because only Finnish kennel club uses this category, in my files I moved any dog who lived 15+ years with no other cause of death to “old age”. This will show the average age of old age shorthairs is much higher than with the longhairs.

Survivorship curves with males (blue) and females (red) separated show the differences by gender. Shorthairs on the left, longhairs on the right.

What can be read from this, is that in both varieties males tend to die younger, in shorthairs even significantly younger. Both genders are pretty equal until 1 year of age, and after that males will have a somewhat higher rate of death for a while. This is the time when many demanding males are put down due to behavioural issues, or end up going out in stupid accidents. Good to note is that of shorthaired females 10% is still alive after 14 years of age, but in longhairs the number is lower. Looking at direct statistics, 2.9% of shorthairs lived to be 15 years old. The number is only 1.8% for longhairs. The largest number of deaths in the two different varieties come in different parts of their lives as well: longhairs have a big spike of deaths at 10-12 years of age, where about 1/4 of all dogs die. Shorthairs almost have no spike at all, but die evenly at all ages. The highest spike is at 12-14 years, where 2% of dogs die.

What to take from this? It looks like shorthairs will live clearly longer lives and become beautiful old dogs if they have good character and no back issues, and if their owner is able to keep them from accidents. Longhair will more likely have various smaller health problems that might not alone be life-threatening, but they get old sooner. And this portrays perfectly the effect of inbreeding to a small population as well. It is a good remainder not to believe everything statistics say without taking another look first.

Finnish character test (LT) and Mental beskrivning (MH)

These two tests are very different, but both measure certain character traits our dogs have. LT has been used in Finland ever since first Dutch Shepherds were imported, and so far we have about 640 dogs tested. MH is originally a Swedish test, but in addition to Sweden dogs have been tested in Norway and nowadays more and more in Finland as well: there are about 420 MH results available. Last year I wrote a post (in Finnish) about the possible correlations between similar sections these two tests measure, and generally there was close to none. Knowing this individual tests should be taken with a giant grain of salt, but for the overall image of the breed they will do just fine.

The main difference between these tests is that LT will evaluate and score the dog between -300 to +300 points, and the end result will be accepted or rejected, where as MH will for each part of the test use a scale of 1-5 (1 for smallest reaction, 5 for strongest reaction) that can be used to create visual mentality profiles, but will not comment on how good the dog did. They are very different tools, LT giving a more straightforward evaluation of the dog’s qualities, MH just giving the information and leaving the interpretation to the viewer. Both tests can be discontinued if the judge or the owner feels that the dog is in too much mental stress to handle the situation without damage.

I want to point out that the data sets have some very different dogs tested by these 2 different tests, so there can be some conflicting results. The tests are very different and fill different roles as well. Hopefully they will still be able to give you some hints of the typical qualities in our two varieties.

LT results

SH) Average/median of points: 143/144 LH) Average/median of points: 131/142
SH) Accepted: 81%
SH) Rejected: 15%
SH) Discontinued: 4%
LH) Accepted: 72%
LH) Rejected: 26%
LH) Discontinued: 1%

Even if the average, and especially the median points do not differ too much from one variety to another, longhairs get a lot more disqualified results than the shorthairs. Reasons for disqualification in LT can be unacceptable aggressive behavior, weak nerves, lacking sociability, fear of shooting and too low final score (minimum of 75 points are required to pass, with no negative points in the other mentioned areas). Shorthairs are mostly rejected due to low end score, then due to weak nerves or shooting. Longhairs are by far most rejected due to shooting. Slightly bigger portion of shorthairs are rejected due to unacceptable aggressive behavior or lacking sociability than longhairs.

Some of the most important evaluations this test gives are the scores for functional capacity (courage under pressure, but also independence), nerve structure (a dog that gets more agitated as the test goes on will have weaker nerves than a dog who starts every section in the same stable state as the first one) and accessibility (sociability, acceptance of strangers). At the end of the test the dog will have to hear a few shots from a starting gun.

The current averages are (the higher the better):

SH) Functional capacity: 0.83
SH) Nerve structure: 0.92
SH) Accessibility: 2.60
SH) Shooting: 1.40
LH) Functional capacity: 0.54
LH) Nerve structure: 0.86
LH) Accessibility: 2.62
LH) Shooting: 0.99

Here is a graph of the development of these same important traits (sans shooting) during the years in the shorthair (left) and the longhair (right). Functional capacity is blue, nerves is red, accessibility is green.

Currently, the functional capacity is clearly higher in shorthair than in longhair. During the years the trend for the longhair has unfortunately always been down, in the last years a little less steeply than before. There are more and more dogs lacking courage. Shorthairs had their biggest dip before 2010’s started, before much new blood was imported to the country. More working-oriented dogs have done much to improve the courage in shorthairs.

Nerve structure has not seen too much change over the years. Both short and longhairs have always been dogs with a nerve structure typical to most shepherd breeds, with outliers to both positive and negative direction. Recently both varieties have improved their scores a bit, which is definitely a promising direction.

Accessibility is the only trait where longhairs beat the scores of shorthairs slightly. Trend also shows that shorthairs are currently losing sociability, and longhairs have evened out on a pretty good level.

Both varieties seem to have their good points, with the shorthair beginning to have quite a strong character and the longhair having more traits suitable to a fun family dog. Unfortunately the scores for shooting have a difference of 0.5 points and almost 20% of all tested longhairs have a disqualifying score from shooting. It is arguable how important this trait is for the variety, but it is  definitely creating a divide between people who think an old working dog should not be afraid of shooting, and people who think it does not matter for a pet.

MH results

SH) Discontinued: 1%
LH) Discontinued: 4%

We’ll use a couple of the basic composite scores from MH in this section. These scores come from combining individual “moments” in the test and forming a score based on the individual scores in them. This way individual moments that might be hard to evaluate on their own can be translated into a scoring system not much different than what the LT has. The parts most commonly observed are sociability, courage/curiosity, playfulness, interest in prey, and aggression Playfulness has moments with chasing, grabbing and tugging a sturdy toy together with the test leader, and interest in prey concentrates on chasing and grabbing a moving lure. Aggression is the tendency to show aggressive signs when threatened, thus having a higher score does not mean the dog is dangerous. This test will also have a section for shooting, where the most reactive dogs score higher and fearful ones highest.

I cannot say “the higher the better” here because MH does not score dogs like this. It is up to the viewer to decide if more sociability or more reaction to shooting is better or worse.

SH) Avg of Sociability: 3.5
SH) Avg of Courage/curiosity: 4.0
SH) Avg of Playfulness: 4.1
SH) Avg of Interest in prey: 3.1
SH) Avg of Aggression: 1.8
SH) Avg of Reaction to shooting: 1.5
LH) Avg of Sociability: 3.4
LH) Avg of Courage/curiosity: 3.4
LH) Avg of Playfulness: 3.4
LH) Avg of Interest in prey: 2.5
LH) Avg of Aggression: 1.5
LH) Avg of Reaction to shooting: 3.0

Below is a simple graph giving more information. The vertical axis stands for the number of dogs, and the horizontal for score. Blue = sociability, red = courage/curiosity, green = playfulness. Shorthairs on the left and longhairs on the right.

Shorthairs score significantly higher in all areas, meaning they have more of every quality: they are more playful, more interested in chasing, more aggressive and more courageous than longhairs. This is typical for more working-oriented breeds. The visual graph shows that most longhairs are average in their sociability, and shorthairs have a spike both in the average and at the more sociable end. Most shorthairs are positioned at the high end of courage, with a small bump of average curiosity in the middle. Longhairs mostly test at average, but some in the higher areas as well. Playfulness shows a big difference as well: the vast majority of shorthairs have a very high play behaviour, and longhairs are again much more towards the middle.

One more way to look at MH results is to point out the percentage of dogs that score at the very low or high end of each section. This means dogs that scored on average <1.5 or >4.5. Because shooting is not a composite score but a score on it’s own, for shooting it means dogs that scored either a 1 (no reaction) or 5 (fearful reaction).

SH) Sociability low-high %: 0.2 – 1.5
SH) Courage/curiosity low-high %: 0 – 22.4
SH) Playfulness low-high %: 0.5 – 25.8
SH) Interest in prey low-high %: 14.3 – 1.2
SH) Aggression low-high %: 32.9 – 1.2
SH) Reaction to shooting low-high %: 72.2 – 4.2
LH) Sociability low-high %: 0 – 2.0
LH) Courage/curiosity low-high %: 1.0 – 5.1
LH) Playfulness low-high %: 0 – 1.0
LH) Interest in prey low-high %: 26.5 – 0
LH) Aggression low-high %: 57.1 – 0
LH) Reaction to shooting low-high %: 19.4 – 20.4

The low extreme in sociability is a dog that growls and does not allow touching, the high extreme is a dog that cannot calm down due to being so excited about the stranger. There are a few low end shorthairs but no longhairs at all, and a very few high end dogs in either variety.

Almost a quarter of all shorthairs have scored very high in courage, but much less so in longhairs. There are also a few low courage extremes in longhairs. The situation is similar with playfulness: 1/4 of shorthairs score very high, but only 1% of longhairs do the same.

Typically it is common for dogs not to chase the prey in MH test, because they are under the influence of their owner. There are still some differences in this as well: differing numbers of low extremes in both varieties, no high extremes in longhair and very few in the shorthair. The exact same goes for aggression.

The reaction sensitivity to sounds for the longhair continues the story the LT results started: the sensitivity is double in longhairs. There are more dogs in the fearful extreme than in the secure extreme. For shorthairs it is different: 72% of dogs are described not to care about shooting at all, and only 4% are fearful.

Hopefully you found this post informative! Did the data match your own experiences of these varieties? What do you think are the strength and weaknesses of each variety? What kind of people might be a good fit with each of these types of dogs? I also really hope I was able to portray the data in a manner that made sense and was easy to read, even if I skipped making the graphs again in another language.

  1. Dustin Wiggins says:

    Very good article,
    It is interesting to read how the personalities in these two varieties vary.

    Could it be that some of these characteristics could be heavily influenced by their social environment? Many SH are used for Military or military style sports which I think would intentionally train for many of these traits.

    1. Yes, I definitely think it’s the case. MH is a test for young dogs (1-2 years) and LT a test for adult dogs (2+ years), so the “rawest” data comes from the MH in my opinion (less environmental effect). But even there the dogs that have already been through a lot of training (especially working dog sports) will make different choices in different moments of the test when compared to dogs that mainly lived at home as pets.

      I would never claim it makes all the difference, but I have seen it in my own litters as well. By the time they take their first test, their experiences will have molded them so so much. You will never see an extremely well-scoring dog in these tests that never did anything in their life. But if you do, at least then you can be sure it’s the genes, not the environment!

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