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.)
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.)
Compare this to the correct, balanced angulation. (See Figure 3.)
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, firstname.lastname@example.org