Health Topics and Other Articles



I was part of a Yahoo Group that discussed the pros and cons of PennHIP and OFA Hip xrays.

This is an excerpt from a post I put on the list on my personal views of PennHIP and OFA.  Many people don't understand the difference in what PennHIP and OFA look for and therefore are confused.  I found giving an analogy to puppy buyers helped to explain the difference.  This analogy has also since been used by other breeders (with my permission and credit given to me) and on other breeders websites:

"If your dogs hips and the surrounding hip area were the wheel area on your car:

OFA would look at the wheels themselves to make sure it is the correct size for your car and had the proper tread.  They would look at rotors, calipers and brake pads to make sure that they are smooth and unworn and installed properly. And if something was not correct size or worn or not fitting properly, they would grade it based on how incorrect or worn it is.

PennHIP would look at how tightly that wheel fits on the rim.  Are all the bolts screwed in tight so it does not wobble.

Because if you have a car with the proper perfect wheels, brakes etc, and the lugnuts are not tight and the wheel wobbles going down the highway, eventually it will wear those perfect tires and surrounding area out quicker.

And if your car has nice tight tires on the rim, but some of the other parts are not correctly spec'd, you could also eventually wear out some parts earlier than expected."

In essence, I believe both xrays need to be performed to give an accurate look at the hip structure for breeds that are prone to dysplasia such as shepherds (and bulldogs).

And if you couldn't tell, yes, I do work in the automotive industry.

Keep America Rolling...Buy American!! 



Hip and elbow dysplasia (among other orthopedic maladies) are genetic in nature.

The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) is the "gold standard" for grading hip and elbow xrays.  Let's just take a look at what the OFA says about elbow dysplasia.

Please see Example 1 from the article:
Even if both parents have OFA normal elbows, on average, 1 in 8 (12.2%) puppies will have elbow dysplasia.  So one may ask, why xray and use normal elbow parents...cause you are still producing dysplastic puppies??  Well, in the same example, if one parent has OFA normal elbows and one parent has dysplastic elbows, about 1 in 4 TO 1 in 3 (26.1%-31.3%) puppies will have elbow dysplasia...YOU HAVE JUST SIGNIFICANTLY INCREASED YOUR ODDS OF DYSPLASIA IN YOUR PUPPY by having one parent with dysplastic elbows.  And if both parents have dysplastic elbows, about 2 in 5 (41.5%) puppies will have elbow dysplasia.  Need I say more??  This is the reason I require anyone who brings me a female shepherd for stud service to have official OFA hip AND elbow certification passing results.

What about breeding dogs with only Grade 1 (the mildest) form of elbow dyspasia?
Please scroll down in the article where it begins "Other countries..." and read:
Using affected mates not only created more affected progeny, but created more progeny with more severe grades of elbow dysplasia.

A statistics lesson to make you think a bit more -
It was mentioned above that using just one parent that has elbow dysplasia produces about 26.1-31.3% of puppies with elbow dysplasia.
The average elbow dysplasia rate for a German Shepherd is 19.4%. Ask yourself, why would a breeder use a dog with elbow dysplasia knowing that the puppies produced will have a greater chance of having elbow dysplasia than what the average for the breed is. And especially since we know that using a dysplastic parent will create puppies with more severe grades of dysplasia!



Prelims or Preliminary Xrays are just that...preliminary!

OFA does not give official certification to hips and elbows until a dog turns 2 years of age.  However, some breeders want to know the status of their dog before that time or to breed their dog before 2 years of age.  Prelims are not official certifications!

Again, the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) is the "gold standard" for grading hip and elbow xrays.  Let's just take a look at what the OFA says about prelims.
To be clear here, a normal rating is a rating of Excellent, Good or Fair. So if a dog has a Good prelim, it has a 97.9% chance of having a normal rating (Excellent, Good or Fair)at 2 years of age...while a dog that has a Fair rating has a 76.9% chance of having a normal (Excellent, Good or Fair) rating at 2 years of age.  For that Fair prelim...that means that there is a 23.1% chance that the dog will be dysplastic at 2 years of age. BEWARE of prelims!

Now the above makes Good prelims look good!  But it also depends upon how old the dogs was when the prelim was done. Read further in the article:
Reliability at 3-6 months of age is 89.6%, that means that a very young dog prelimm'd normal has a 10.4% chance of being dysplastic when 2 years of age.
Many breeders do prelims at one year of age, reliability at 7-12 months of age is 93.8%, that means that that adolescent dog prelimm'd normal has a 6.2% chance of being dysplastic when 2 years of age.

Some countries give hip&elbow certifications at 12 months of age.
Some countries give hip&elbow certifications at 18 months of age.
OFA (in the US) does not certify hips&elbow until 24 months of age. 
Please note: OFA certifications show up on the ofa website: - - click on "search OFA record"  - - enter dog's registered name in the "part of name" field. Please doublecheck the parents of the puppy you are interested in to be sure that they have certified hips and elbows (Certified hips and elbows have an OFA number - preliminary have the word preliminary in the "final conclusion"). Many breeders will advertise OFA Hips/Elbows when they are just preliminary.  Many breeders will advertise Xray'd Hips/Elbows that were never sent to OFA and only xray'd and commented on by their veterinarian and not an expert.  You can always doublecheck the parents status at the OFA website:

A statistics lesson to make you think a bit more -
It was mentioned above that a fair prelim means that the dog has a 23.1% chance of being dysplastic at 2 years of age.
The average hip dysplasia rate for a German Shepherd is 19.1%. Ask yourself, why would a breeder use a prelim dog that has a greater chance of being dysplastic than the average for the breed.  Especially, when we know from the elbow example that a parent who is dysplastic creates more dysplastic puppies with more severe grades of dysplasia!

Know what hip&elbow certification the parents of the puppy you are interested in have....and at what age it was given!  Prelims are just that...preliminary! 



 I often get asked by friends that are looking for a dog, how to find a good breeder. BREEDING IS NOT REGULATED!  Anyone can put two dogs together and have a litter.  It is up to the puppy buyer to educated themselves on how to find a good breeder and how to look at a dam and sire of the puppy that they are going to purchase.

1.) My first suggestion to my friends is to go to that breed's guardian website and look up health conditions for the breed.  I.e. for German Shepherds, it would be the German Shepherd Dog Club of America.

Usually, most breed sites have a health topic area with the diseases that "commonly afflict" that breed.  In German Shepherds, there are over 100 "anomalies" that afflict the breed.  Some can be as benign as rear dew claws...which are easily corrected on a 3 day old pup...and some are devastating such as cancer.

A prospective puppy owner should familiarize themselves with the common diseases that afflict that breed and what health testing is commonly done to screen breeding stock for those diseases.

In shepherds, probably the two most common diseases are hip and elbow dysplasia since both have a rate just shy of 20% affliction according to OFA. (That's 1 in 5 shepherds on average have hip dysplasia and 1 in 5 shepherds on average have elbow dysplasia). How a prospective puppy owner can assure the best chances of getting a puppy that does not develop hip or elbow dysplasia is for both parents to have their hip and elbows certified. There are several agencies depending upon where someone lives as to how to certify hips and elbows.  If one lives in Canada, OVC certifies hips and elbow at 18 months of age.  If one lives in the US, OFA certifies hips and elbows at 24 months of age.  Europe has their own certification registries. 

There is also PennHIP which I have mentioned above.  PennHIP does not give a passing or failing score...PennHIP just reports the DI number and gives a percentile of where that particular dog stands compared to its breed at that particular time.   PennHIP however, does make the following NOTE on the PennHIP report:  "As a minimum breeding criterion, we propose that breeding stock be selected from the population of animals having hip laxity in the tighter half of the breed (to the left of the median mark on the graph)."  The median DI for shepherds is currently = .41.   Breeders tend to post DIs, but don't explain what that number means.  A 50th median (midpoint) is where 50% of the breed is tighter than that dog...and 50% has more laxity than that dog.  A tighter number is smaller (i.e. .28)...a lax number is greater (i.e. .68).  The puppy buyer should look for DI numbers that are around the median or less for that breed.  In the case of shepherds, the median is .41, so one should look for a median around .41 or less (i.e. .30, .22, .36, .39 etc) as that is the minimum breeding criterion proposed by PennHIP.

To make things more confusing, a dog could pass one hip evaluation and fail the another.  So how does a puppy owner know if a dog has passed one and failed the other since obviously, the breeder will only show on the website the passing hip evaluation.   Here's what you look look for consistency:

A.) If you are on a breeders website and they have 10 current breeding dogs listed...and 8 current breeding dogs have passing elbows...and 2 do not show elbow certifications...please question that breeder on why there are no elbow certifications on those 2 breeding dogs.  

B.) If the breeder has 10 current breeding dogs...and 9 breeding dogs have OFA hip certifications...and 1 breeding dog has OFA "prelim" hip certifications...please question that breeder on why they did they not go back and get that "prelim"  dog officially certified?  (please note: some breeders prelim before 24 months to get a "feel" on the hips and elbows of the dog.  They should however, go back for official certifications when the dogs turns 24 months as you have seen above how prelims can change, before they actually breed that dog).  Standard Hip and Elbow xrays do not cost much.  I pay around $150-$180 for the hips and both elbows...and $40 to OFA to grade them.  Cost of the xray's should not be a factor.  It is known, per my above article that some dogs will pass prelims, and fail their official certifications. 

C.) If the breeder has 10 current breeding dogs...and 9 breeding dogs have OFA hip certifications...and 1 breeding dog has PennHIP certification...please question that breeder on the hips of that PennHIP dog.  Dogs have been known to fail OFA and pass PennHIP criterion...and have been known to pass OFA and have DI scores in the bottom 50% on PennHIP. (i.e. for shepherds, DI's greater than .41).  A PennHIP study costs me over $300...and that is just for the PennHIP study (no elbows included). Why would a breeder get PennHIP only when OFA hips and elbow xrays together are much cheaper?

There could be logical explanations for why one dog is different in a breeding kennel:

D.) One dog had OVC certifications - it may have been imported from Canada after it received it certifications.  Another dog could have European certifications - it may have been imported after it received it certifications.

Do your homework and ask questions.

2.) My second suggestions to friends, is to ask for documentation

If the breeder claims that dog is a top winning show dog - - they should have proof.  

If it is top winning, it must have its championship through some major kennel club.  A breeder should be able to scan or take a digital photo of the certificate and send it to you.  Also, it's registered name is on the certificate, which you can then use to look up health certifications on OFA...Bonus!  One can enter a dog show with their dog and come in last place, and get a photo with the judge. Please beware of show photos as they can be misleading!!  Ribbons are awarded for class wins (1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th), then for sex competition (winners, reserve), then for breed (best of breed, best of opposite, best or winners). A photo of a class win saying 1st place is really NOTHING at a normal show.  Please beware of ribbons as they can again be misleading!!  Ask for paper documentation of their accomplishments. 

If the breeder claims to do herding, agility, obedience etc with their dogs, again ask for certificates of titles.  Find out what that title means from the organization that gave the title.   

Do your homework, and ask for documentation and follow up on it. 


It seems like every other website I have seen lately has a service dog on it. Some even purport documentation.

The below site is an excellent website on service dogs and the link below shows how to spot fake certification, registration and IDs and the registries some people are going through to get fake certifications (just pay a fee and get a document with no certification of the dog/handler team):

This site is a wealth of information on Service Dogs.

In frequently asked questions, under service dogs, does my service dog need to be certified? It explains that in the US, the answer is no. (some other countries, the answer is yes).  No wonder why every other website I have seen lately has a service dog on it…noone has to certify the dog.

In frequently asked questions, under service dogs, how do you get a service dog?,  it explains that only the legally disabled qualify for a service dog.

In frequently asked question, under training, can you train your own service dog to be a service dog? It explains that is the US, yes you can train your own service dog (but in most other countries no).  Places that train service dogs, the dogs must be trained in 1.) obedience, 2.) tasks and 3.) public access.

In frequently asked questions, under training, how long does it take to train a service dog.  It explains that is takes 18-24 months to fully train a public access service animal.

Back to - In frequently asked questions, under service dogs, how do you get a service dog?, it explains that to get a service dog, one should contact an organization that trains service dogs.  Few private individuals have the skills to train a service dog. Outside the US, most countries require the service animals to come from an ADI accredited program.

I often get asked by individuals if I will donate a dog to them that they will raise and train as a service dog.  Based on the above and other research I have conducted, my answer is this:  I’d be happy to donate a puppy free of charge in your name to a recognized service institution that will properly train and certify the dog appropriately for your disability.