Nothing gives the breeder or judge a clearer picture of a dog’s structure than seeing a dog moving from the side. Who is not captivated by seeing a dog moving around the back yard or conformation ring with fluid movement, covering a lot of ground with seemingly effortless steps? They truly seem to glide across the floor. The answer lies in the standard for each breed.
There are many trots—as many trotting styles as there are breeds of dog and there is often a wide range of trotting styles from dog to dog within the same breed. In previous articles, we have painstakingly discussed the angulation and basic movement components, such as straight columns of support and flexibility of spinal column, etc.
Since this is a series of articles to help those who want to know how the basic mechanics of a dog in motion works, we have been addressing the movement of the ‘average’ dog. This dog is one who when seen in profile is slightly longer than tall, with 50/50 depth of chest and length of leg for overall height from withers to ground.
The one theme that seems to flow through the majority of standards is the call for balance in the dog. Whether it is balance of specific parts or overall balance of all parts or balance in motion, the word is usually somewhere in the standard. There are a few exceptions. As an example in the herding group, “balance” does not appear in either the standard of the Icelandic Sheepdog or the Norwegian Buhund, but if you read the standards in their entirety, the sum of it describes a balanced dog. Having said that, I know of no standard that calls for a dog to be unbalanced, (and I hope I never do!) so that speaks volumes, as well.
Just what is balance? Balance is defined as the harmonious arrangement or relation of parts or elements within a whole. I love the quote used in the dictionary to demonstrate the use of the noun in a sentence: “In all perfectly beautiful objects there is found the opposition of one part to another and a reciprocal balance.” (John Ruskin) I think this aptly applies to the beautiful living sculpture that is the purebred dog. The length of neck should be just long enough to accomplish the function of the breed—a retriever with a too-short neck is out of balance and lacks the ability to easily pick up and retrieve game and though not seen as often, a neck that is too long is more easily susceptible to injury. A herding dog that is out of balance in angulation front to rear will be unable to endure long days of moving stock and will eventually break down.
Most breeds fall under the “golden rule of thirds”, commonly used in artistic composition, in order to ascertain balance. A balanced animal is roughly one third head and neck ( See Figure 2 A-B), one third chest cavity (Figure 2 C-D) and one third length of leg (Figure 2 E-F). The equal length of these three areas represents vertical balance in the dog. Dogs that have short necks or short legs do not meet the one third rule and are therefore out of balance. See Figure 2.
Each dog has the same number of cervical vertebrae: seven. The difference in length of neck from dog to dog is only in the size of the bones themselves. (A smaller dog has a shorter neck than a larger dog—but the Rule of Thirds remains the same proportionately.) A short neck on a dog is usually the result of a straight shoulder which is set forward and covering part of the neck. The neck is still seven vertebrae long, but the end that adjoins the back is hidden behind the shoulder blade.
A dog that seems too long in back compared to height most likely does not have a long back, but legs that are too short. This is a universal fault seen throughout many breeds. Shorter legs often make it look like the dog has a better side gait as they fling their front legs out in front at a frantic pace. But if you look underneath the dog you will see that the feet do not ‘meet’ underneath the body. Most breeds have the back foot being placed into the same spot that the front foot has just vacated. As with the neck, the dog’s back contains the same number of vertebrae—thirteen thoracic (chest) vertebrae and seven lumbar (loin) as well as the three fused sacral vertebrae. Often, it is the shortness of leg that gives the illusion of a dog that is too long in back, with a back that is actually of the correct length. Again, the short legged breeds (such as the Corgis) do not fall under this rule of length of leg, but we also EXPECT them to be longer than tall.
Horizontal balance is determined in the front and hind angulation of shoulder blade to upper arm and hip to upper thigh. If a shoulder is described as well laid back, then the corresponding joint in the rear will be described to match. If the dog has a moderate shoulder layback, the rear will be moderately angled as well and the dog will be in horizontal balance. Balance is critical in an animal bred to fulfill a specific function, even if that function is being a lap dog without a “real” job.
In evaluating side gait, one first looks for a dog that has balance in the front and hind angulation of shoulder blade to upper arm and hip to upper thigh. The average dog’s shoulder (scapula) layback is approximately 45 degrees to the ground. The hip (pelvis) angle is approximately 30 degrees to the ground. The shoulder to upper arm (humerus) angle is perceived to be approximately 90 degrees, as is the hip to thigh angulation. I say “perceived” because the usual landmarks used to “measure” such angulation is the upper tip of the shoulder blade to the outer knobby edge (greater tubercle) of the upper arm and from there to the elbow (olecranon) are the points that are more easily palpated through the skin and muscles. With the advent of x-rays, both still and in motion, we have an even better idea of the exact angles needed for maximum efficiency in movement, but few of us have access to such machinery.
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