Form Follows Function: The Straight Column of Support PART 7

From the July 2019 issue of ShowSight.  Click to subscribe. This is part of an ongoing series by Stephanie Hedgepath. 

Above picture – Balanced Angulation Front and Rear Using the Landmarks of the Bones

The goal of every breeder is to produce a dog that closely resembles the dog depicted in the Standard of Perfection for the breed. In the majority of breeds, a dog should have an appearance of such harmony that no single characteristic stands out, whether good or bad.

The word “balance” is bandied about any time there is a discussion concerning the purebred dog. A dog that has minor faults in several areas is preferable to the dog who seems near perfect at first view but who is found to have a single, extremely serious fault. If a dog has a certain characteristic, whether over or under developed, then the rest of the dog’s structure has to work in order to compensate for that out of balance part. This is done in order to bring the body into as close to a state of balance as the parts—both flawed and correct—working together can accomplish.

There are as many ways for a dog to move correctly as there are breeds. Movement cannot be considered to be separate from type, but an integral part of type. You cannot expect a Chow Chow to move like a German Shepherd Dog nor would it be correct if the hackneyed movement that is correct in a Miniature Pinscher were seen in a Smooth Fox Terrier. As breeders, we must first and foremost understand the essential breed characteristics that make our breed unique. Then we must strive for the balance and correct movement to make our breed fit to perform the duties for which it was first developed.

Below Left – Straight Column of Support Coming. Below Right – Straight Column of Support Coming Explained

When analyzing the dog in motion, you must observe it from the side, coming towards you and also going away from you. The observer looks for different things from each angle. Again, different breeds of dog each move differently—either a little or a lot differently—depending upon the original purpose of the breed. Because the mechanics which operate underneath the coat vary from breed to breed, if you can understand the basics of the locomotion of the average dog, you can easily adjust your observations to fit the breed being observed.

The dog moves so quickly that it is difficult to see and comprehend all of the movements that combined together move the dog forward. It seems impossible to take in all at once the movement of the four legs, the motion of the head plus the spinal column and the body—all of which must be observed to ascertain the true movement of the dog! By breaking the dog into components and observing them each individually, we can learn to acquire a routine pattern for training our eyes to evaluate the dog both standing and in motion.

Before we get into learning this pattern of observation, I would like to again discuss why it is so important for a dog to move coming and going with a straight column of support from the shoulder to the foot and from the pelvis to the foot. What exactly does this mean? Visualize an average dog coming towards you. What you should plainly see are the front legs alternately reaching forward out toward the dog’s nose and at the same time reaching slightly underneath its body toward the centerline. See Figure 1.

When we speak of a straight column of support, we do not necessarily mean a column that is perpendicular to the ground. You cannot support a roof with a broken column, nor can you for long support a dog with a broken column of support. What would break this column of support? A dog with elbows sticking out, paddling (small circular motions out to the side instead of flowing ahead in a straight line—mimicking the circular motion of a paddle that is propelling a canoe), crossing over, etc.

In the dog in Figure 1a, I have superimposed the skeleton of the forelimb from the foot to the shoulder blade in the forelimb that is in contact with the ground. The red line "1–2" represents the center line of the dog. You can see the straight line formed by the bones on the limb that is to the left of that line. This is the limb that is either on the ground or about to be supporting the weight of the dog. If the foot (D) was angled in or out (toeing in, toeing out), if the pasterns were weak, if the elbows were either tied in too close to the body or elbowing out from the body, any of these common faults would break this column of support. You can see how the entire forequarter (A–shoulder, B–upper arm, C–foreleg, D–foot) is reaching forward in front of the dog, while at the same time is reaching underneath the body toward the center line. If, in the longer legged dogs, the legs did not cant in toward the center line, then the entire body would rock back and forth (lateral displacement) with each step, expending a lot of energy that would better serve the dog if it were being used to propel the dog forward. 
The faster the dog moves, the closer the foot falls toward the centerline of the dog. If the foot falls on the centerline under the dog, the dog is said to be single-tracking.

The same can be said about the dog when viewed going away. See Figure 2.

Below Left – Column of Support, Going. Below Right – The Straight Column of Support in the Rear Quarter of the Dog.

As with the forequarters, the rear assembly of the dog also moves the dog forward most proficiently by using a straight column of support. In Figure 2a, the dashed black line indicates the center line of the dog. The pelvic girdle is seen with the upper thigh attached to the pelvis via a ball and socket joint. See Figure 2a. Hindquarter (A–upper thigh, B–lower thigh, C–hock (rear pastern), D–foot) is shown propelling the dog forward at a trot with a straight column of support.

Most of the faults of movement in coming and going are an attempt by the dog to put itself in some semblance of balance. 
As an example: A dog that is better angled in the rear than in the front (the most commonly seen dilemma) must waste time in motion on the front end in order not to drive his front assembly into the ground. This puts much more wear and tear on the entire foreassembly of the dog. Please note: when we are describing the 'balanced 
angulation front to rear' we are referring to the shoulder—upper arm angle compared to the hip-thigh angle. See Figure 3.

A commonly seen fault, such as paddling of the front feet, is a compensatory motion to allow the front paws to waste sometime in the air before striking the ground. By wasting time in these circular motions, it keeps the front legs in the air long enough for the rear assembly of the dog to finish its drive and follow-through action before starting a new cycle of motion. If the front paws of the dog with less shoulder angulation than rear angulation did not go in these small circles, the rear end would almost act as a pile driver, forcing the front legs to jar and pound onto the ground. The rear end provides the propulsion (is the motor) and the front end acts as the pole to allow the body to move over the legs as well as to serve as a steering mechanism. The front assembly does provide some pulling power, but the major portion of the forward propulsion is supplied by the rear. The dilemma for most of us is that there are many different compensatory actions for an out of balance dog to take, often for the same mechanical problem. Therefore, it can be quite confusing to determine exactly why the dog is taking these wasteful motions. One dog will paddle; one dog will flip his front feet up before placing them on the ground, another will wing the foot out to the side in a circle. This often makes it difficult for the newcomer (as well as the old pro!) to understand exactly what is causing the faulty motion.

After many long years of study, and the evaluation of thousands of dogs, I have come to the conclusion that any dog that can make it around the show ring with a reasonably balanced side gait—one that actually covers some ground with each stride—is usually the dog that is the soundest and most balanced overall. I look for the soundest dog only after determining that the dog has the proper outline and attitude for the breed. A dog that is perfectly balanced in lack of angulation is usually a very clean mover coming and going, but must take many more steps to cover the same ground as a well angled dog. These are often the dogs who lack flexibility in motion and have the bunchier muscles and a stuffier appearance because of an apparent decreased length of neck and shorter overall body proportions—due to the lack of angulation in both shoulder and rear assemblies. Proper angulation front and rear contributes breadth to the area of the shoulder and thigh, making the dog longer overall from the chest to furthermost part of the rear. At the end of the day, the less well angled dog will be tired, but because of the balance in angles, they will not put undue stress on the area(s) that are not in balance with the rest of the dog. Over time, the unbalanced dog may well break down, unable to work any longer, whereas the balanced-though-lacking-angulation dog will be very tired at the end of the day, but will be able to recover with a night's rest and "live to work/hunt another day". Movement is the proof of the dog’s true structure.

Let me now state that while we are discussing a particular feature of the dog—gait—let us not fall into the trap of putting too much emphasis on any ONE part of the dog. We must always look at the dog as a WHOLE. We should not discard all of him just because we do not like one part of him, unless that one part is so faulty as to make him so unsound (either in physique or temperament) that he is unable to fulfill his original purpose. If the whole dog paints the proper picture for the breed and overall the dog in motion is equal or nearly equal to the picture the dog presents to us when standing still, then that dog is to be highly prized. If we do not reward or at least somehow recognize the dog in the show ring that presents to us some magnificent feature or features even when accompanied by a glaring fault or two, then we will often wind up with a dog as the winner that has no outstanding faults, but neither does he possess any outstanding virtues. What is left is mediocrity. Fault judge only when you are preparing to breed a dog, so that you know what it is you need to correct in the breeding. Look for the outstanding features of the dog when you are evaluating them in the show ring. It is the outstanding features that we want to perpetuate, not the faults! I can still remember the day when a good friend, pointing to a dog I had recently awarded BOB from the classes over several specials, asked me, "How could you put up that topline?!" In reply, I asked, "Did you look at the REST of the dog?" This dog so exuded type in areas in which the breed (my breed!) was lacking, I was willing to forgive his easily seen soft topline and its accompanying faults in movement in order to reward all that was good about this particular dog. Just something to think about and why we should always look at the dog as a whole.

I hope you will think about the things brought forth in this article and how they can relate to your breed. Both of these principals dealing with balance and the column of support are vital to understanding the basics of the dog in motion. Even in those breeds that are so different from the 'average' dog we are discussing here (the Bulldog, for example)—those breeds still need to move with purpose and drive, in balance and with straight columns of support, even if those columns are more perpendicular than slanted. The entire purpose of these articles is to get you thinking about your own breed. Next time, we will discuss how to train your eye and what you should be looking for when you are watching a moving dog, no matter the breed. We must understand the basics and how each of the areas of the body work individually before we can truly understand how the whole should appear in motion. Again, please remember if the dog does not look like its breed—if there is ANY suggestion or thought that they look like another breed—so they do not have the vital breed characteristics that define type, then it doesn't matter HOW they move. Until next time, if you have any questions or comments feel free to contact me at I would especially like to hear from those of you who may have one of the non-typical breeds and what you look for when evaluating them. 

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