Form Follows Function: Questions Asked on Social Media

Figure 3. Australian Cattle Dog with Correct, Balanced Angulation

Recently, this question came up on one of the social media forums: “Is it possible for a dog to have good side movement and have bad front and/or rear movement? Why or why not?”

I would reply, “Yes, it certainly is possible!”

Movement proves the dog’s structure and soundness. Side gait gives the observer an overall view of the dog’s structure and balance, emphasizing the angulations of the forequarter and hindquarters. The forward reach of the dog’s feet in front confirms the layback of the shoulder blade (scapula) and the angulation of that bone to the upper arm (humerus). One can assess the hindquarter’s angulation of the hip (pelvis) and its articulation with the upper thigh (femur) to determine angulation in the rear.

Side gait is essential to help determine breed type (every breed moves in its own specific way).

Also seen from the side are the carriage of the head, length of and position of the neck, and the topline (line drawn from the back of the skull, down the neck to the withers, and along the back to the set on of the tail). When the dog is in motion, a firm backline (withers to set on of tail) should not move (especially vertically at the wither). Observing the side gait gives the viewer a good idea of the dog’s skeletal structure. A dog that can move reasonably well when viewed from the side is a dog that can fulfill the tasks for which the breed was developed. Side gait is usually observed last in a judge’s observation, and a dog that can move correctly for its breed when gaited should be highly appreciated. (See Figure 1.)

Figure 1. Australian Cattle Dog with Balanced Side Gait
Figure 1. Australian Cattle Dog with Balanced Side Gait

Since the forequarter of the dog is held to the body with only muscles, tendons, and ligaments, it does not have the stability of the rear assembly, which is attached through a ball and socket joint at the pelvis (hip). The pelvis is fused to the spinal column at the sacrum, thus forming a more rigid connection with the spine than in the fore assembly. The ball and socket joint where the shoulder articulates with the upper arm can move in all directions, and even though most of the movement is forward and back, there is still more lateral movement possible in the front than in the rear.

Because of these differences, the front assembly of the dog allows for more lateral movement of legs and feet than does the rear assembly, causing such faults as being out at the elbows, weaving, paddling, etc. Some of these motion abnormalities can be observed from the side, but many can only be seen on the down and back. Therefore, a breeder must observe a dog moving from all angles, coming, going, and side gait, as must a judge, to properly evaluate movement.

The observation of the dog coming and going can either confirm the impression given by the side gait of the dog or give us a reason to look a bit deeper into the dog’s structure. The “average” dog breed should move cleanly, both coming and going (according to the movement described in the Breed Standard), while maintaining the column of support that is vital for efficient movement. There are many more ways for a dog to move its feet when coming toward you than when the dog is going away.

What is it that causes a dog to break this column of support when coming forward? Most often, it is because the front assembly has a more open angle at the junction of the scapula to the humerus (shoulder to upper arm) than the rear assembly (hip to thigh). (See Figure 2.)

Figure 2. Australian Cattle Dog with Upright Shoulder and Well-Angled Rear
Figure 2. Australian Cattle Dog with Upright Shoulder and Well-Angled Rear

Compare this to the correct, balanced angulation. (See Figure 3.)

Figure 3. Australian Cattle Dog with Correct, Balanced Angulation
Figure 3. Australian Cattle Dog with Correct, Balanced Angulation

When this happens, the dog has to find a way to keep the front legs in the air long enough for the rear assembly of the dog to finish its driving and follow-through action. Some examples of this time-wasting effort to keep the front paws from striking the ground before the rear has finished its follow-through are winging (movement of the front feet in a circle outwards), padding (flipping the feet up before striking the ground so that you can see the pads of the feet), paddling (movement of the front feet similar to the swing and dip of a canoe paddle, with an inward circle of the feet) and also goose-stepping or a hackney movement in front. If you see any of these motions, one can assume the dog has more angulation in the hindquarters than in the forequarters.

The most damaging movement in the front is pounding. Pounding is when a dog makes no effort to balance the timing of the feet, and the propulsion produced by the driving rear assembly causes the front foot to be driven into the ground in a pounding action similar to the mechanics of a pile driver. Pounding occurs when the front foot strikes the ground before the diagonal hind foot.

The result is a dog that will wear out and perhaps break down in the front than a dog with balanced, correct angulation front and rear. Even a dog with less than ideal angulation on both ends, yet has a “balanced lack” of angulation, is superior to a dog that is straight in front and well-angled behind. A dog that is balanced in its lack of angulation would be exhausted at the end of the day from taking far more steps than a correctly angled dog.

However, this dog would not break down and could live to work another day. The dog with very poorly balanced front to rear angulation (straight in the front and well-angulated, with good drive in the rear) would eventually break down in front and no longer be able to work at all. All of these aberrations in motion are involuntary, as it is natural for the body to try to keep itself in balance. When analyzing any breed, everything must go back to the Standard and the purpose for which the breed was developed. Anything that impedes the dog from doing this work should be considered a fault.

There are other abnormalities in the structure of a canine that can cause other faults in motion; this article only touches on a few. Have any questions or comments? Please let me know, and I will try to find an answer. You may contact me via email: Stephanie S. Hedgepath,

  • My involvement with the world of showing dogs began in 1969 with the purchase of my first show dog, a German Shepherd Dog. In the mid-seventies I began breeding and showing Pembroke Welsh Corgis under the Jimanie prefix and have finished a championship on a Pembroke Welsh Corgi on the average of one a year for the last 45+ years - almost all were breeder/owner handled to their titles. In 2010, I formed a loose partnership with two long-time friends, Denise Scott and Linda Stoddard, and we now breed and show under the Trifecta prefix. I am a breeder/owner/handler and still breed and show. Over the years I have owned and shown dogs mostly from the Herding and Sporting Groups plus a few toy breeds. I started out showing dogs from the Herding Group, but as a hunter, I always had a “bird dog” and thus also showed Brittanys, Pointers, Golden Retrievers and Irish Setters over the years. I have finished dogs in several other breeds from the Sporting and Toy groups. I started my judging career in 1988 with AKC approval to judge German Shepherds, Cardigan and Pembroke Welsh Corgis. I judge the Herding, Sporting and Toy groups and several of the Non-Sporting breeds, as well. I have been fortunate enough to have judged dogs all over the US and Canada and also in Finland, Norway, Sweden, Jamaica, New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, China, the Philippines, Mexico and the United Kingdom. In 2011, I was accorded the supreme honor of being asked to judge the Welsh Corgi League show in the UK and in previous years both the Cardigan and Pembroke Nationals in the US. I have also had the honor of having judged many National and Regional Specialties for breeds I did not breed, own or show from the sporting, herding and toy groups throughout the years, an assignment I always enjoy! Some of the highlights of my judging career have been judging at Westminster Kennel Club in 2006, doing the Herding Group at the Rose City Classic in Portland which was shown on Animal Planet and the national specialties for Clumber Spaniels, Field Spaniels, Australian Shepherds, Miniature American Shepherd, Bouviers (Canada) and the Top Twenty competition for the Golden Retriever Club of America as well as both of the Corgi national specialties in the US and Pembrokes in Canada and the Welsh Corgi League show mentioned above. I make my living as an artist, mostly through the design of counted cross-stitch and needlepoint but also through paintings and sculpture as well as jewelry. I have recently begun authoring and producing DVDs on the canine, mostly dealing with structure and movement. Last, but certainly not least, I’ve been married to Jim Hedgepath since 1972 and am the mother of two and the grandmother of four. Thank you for the honor of being invited to judge your dogs.

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