Let’s talk about type in the breed: Why is side gait such an important characteristic of breed type? It is important simply because it proves the true structure of the dog. The correct profile is the most important breed characteristic of any breed. Why? Because we are to assess the dog as a whole, thus considering all of the parts and how all of the parts relate, one to another, to make up the whole of the dog. As breeders, we must understand where the faults lie in each of our individual dogs because, as breeding stock, we must know what needs correcting in the next generation.
With the long-awaited upstart of dog shows again, we are eagerly getting back to doing what we love to do—and that is to show dogs! Some of you are new to the sport and are trying to find your way in what can seem to be a complex new world. Hopefully, some of you have been in the sport for a very long time.
This is a sport. It is a game we play, but a game, to us, that has a very serious outcome; the preservation of the many breeds of the purebred dog. As “show breeders,” we are charged with the preservation of our individual breeds for future generations of dog lovers to own and love these breeds as we do now. Do you think for even one minute that those who do not show their dogs, but either breed the occasional litter for fun and profit or who breed mostly for profit in order to supply the demand for the more popular breeds—and especially those who breed the exotic colors or patterns (which are NOT standard) or cross-breed two (or more!) breeds to dupe the public with “designer dogs” as “special” or “exotic” or “rare” to an uneducated public—would ever be able to answer the simple question, “What is your breed(s) most important breed characteristics? I would have to say the answer is NO.
The important thing for all of us to remember is the purpose for which our breeds were developed and to do our very best to continually breed toward these genes and not away from them. We must remain vigilant as we are battling for our very survival against the misinformation concerning designer dogs and the propaganda of the animal rights movement.
What has all of this got to do with type?
In order to truly preserve a breed, we must preserve type in the breed. Type, simply defined, is the characteristics that make a breed what it is; unique from all other breeds. For some, type is what makes the dog appealing to the eye, but not necessarily able to perform the duties for which it was developed. Correct movement in a breed cannot be separated from breed type. It is an integral part of type and is the final proof of correct structure in a breed. You simply cannot have one without the other. One can breed an exceptionally beautiful dog, dripping in “type,” but if it cannot move properly for its breed, it is actually lacking in the final way to provide the proof of its ability to fulfill its purpose. Even if the reason it were bred was to sit in a lady’s lap to draw fleas from her body to theirs, the dog still has to be able to move from the chair to the water and food bowls in order to sustain its very existence.
All of this is leading up to what started me on this train of thought. How is it that some breeds can be so beautiful and pleasing to the eye, and yet look quite different from the dogs that were the origins of the breed? I will use my own two breeds as examples.
The German Shepherd Dog
My first show dog was a German Shepherd Dog, purchased in 1969. A nobler dog I have never known than my beloved “Jalk.” Were this not so, I would not be here today—over 50 years later. I loved competing in the “sport of dogs” and enjoyed hunting (mostly quail) with a variety of breeds. (I actually had Brittanys before I had Corgis.) Alas, the reality of a divorce and moving away from home to start a career in an area with which I was unfamiliar made me turn to finding a smaller breed that could be better managed in a more restrictive setting. I had a few Shetland Sheepdogs, but realized I was not a dedicated enough groomer, and so I finally settled on the Corgi. I had both Corgi breeds for a while, and continued with my German Shepherd Dogs for about ten years, but finally settled on the Pembroke. This was mostly due to limitations on the number of dogs I could manage at that time. Over the years, I have added a new breed or two to my pack, simply because I liked the breed.
Jalk (see Figure 1) is shown at my very first attempt to show a dog, at the German Shepherd Dog Club of Charleston’s “A” match on December 14, 1969. His sire was a German import, BIS AM/CAN CH Dago v Sixtberg, SchH III, CD who had a good career in the US. Dago’s sire was two-time German Sieger in 1959 & 1960 (equivalent to BOB at the US National), Volker v. Zollgrenzschutz-Haus, SchH III, CACIB. He also acquired the World Sieger title in 1960. In the book, This is the German Shepherd Dog, Revised Edition, published in 1967, it is stated about Volker, “He himself is a living model of what a male Shepherd should be.” To this day, this is the dog I have in my mind as the ideal German Shepherd Dog. (See Figure 3.)
Unlike the breeds seen in hieroglyphs and in ancient tombs, such as the sighthounds and various hunting dogs, the German Shepherd Dog is a relatively new breed, developed in the late 1800s-early 1900s in Germany, mostly due to the vision of Captain Max von Stephanitz. He set the guidelines for the breed standard, and was the first president of the Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde (S.V.), the parent club of the breed in Germany. He used many of the techniques utilized by English dog breeders of the period. He was primarily interested in improving the German shepherding dogs because they were local and were the working dogs of his time used for moving livestock from one area to another in the times of fenceless grazing. Stephanitz enjoyed attending dog shows and observed that there were many different types of shepherding dogs in use in Germany, but there was no breed standardization.
He greatly admired those dogs with a wolf-like appearance and prick ears that were intelligent, had sharp senses and a willingness to work. He believed that he could create a better working dog that could then be used throughout Germany. When Captain von Stephanitz and his friend, Artur Meyer, were attending one of the first all-breed dog shows ever held, they saw a dog that was the perfect example of their vision of the Shepherd breed they wanted to establish. The dog’s name was Hektor Linksrhein. To them, he represented the true native working dog of Germany. Stephanitz purchased the dog on the spot for his Grafrath Kennel and renamed the dog Horan von Grafrath. He became the first registered German Shepherd Dog, S.Z.1. 1. (See Figures 4a & 4b.)
The German Shepherd Dog has undergone many changes worldwide, but I think that those breeders in the US who are the true preservation breeders have done a good job in keeping the same make and shape as those early dogs in the breed. Worldwide, the breed has been separated into several different styles from
different geographical areas—and there is a definite split between the “working” lines and the “show” lines that have become the norm, similar to what has happened with the show and field lines in the hunting dogs.
The GSDCA (AKC) Standard for the breed devotes 444 words (out of a total of 1,861 words) to the description of the movement required of the breed. This is the breed known worldwide for its ground-covering side gait, but the standard states that “Faults of gait, whether from front, rear or side, are to be considered very serious faults.” As a judge, I well know that the GSD, to be correctly evaluated, needs a larger ring than is normal. For many years, most of the breed have been shown charging around the ring with heads in the air and toplines sloping downward toward the rear, which is not exactly what the standard calls for in the gaiting section. It does state under the “Neck, Topline, Body” section: “When the dog is at attention or excited, the head is raised and the neck carried high; otherwise typical carriage of the head is forward rather than up and but little higher than the top of the shoulders, particularly in motion.”
The section on Gait states: “General Impression—The gait is outreaching, elastic, seemingly without effort, smooth and rhythmic,
covering the maximum amount of ground with the minimum number of steps. At a walk it covers a great deal of ground, with long stride of both hind legs and forelegs. At a trot the dog covers still more ground with even longer stride, and moves powerfully but easily, with coordination and balance so that the gait appears to be the steady motion of a well-lubricated machine. The feet travel close to the ground on both forward reach and backward push. In order to achieve ideal movement of this kind, there must be good muscular development and ligamentation. The hindquarters deliver, through the back, a powerful forward thrust which slightly lifts the whole animal and drives the body forward. Reaching far under, and passing the imprint left by the front foot, the hind foot takes hold of the ground; then hock, stifle and upper thigh come into play and sweep back, the stroke of the hind leg finishing with the foot still close to the ground in a smooth follow-through. The overreach of the hindquarter usually necessitates one hind foot passing outside and the other hind foot passing inside the track of the forefeet, and such action is not faulty unless the locomotion is crabwise with the dog’s body sideways out of the normal straight line.
Transmission—The typical smooth, flowing gait is maintained with great strength and firmness of back. The whole effort of the hindquarter is transmitted to the forequarter through the loin, back and withers. At full trot, the back must remain firm and level without sway, roll, whip or roach. Unlevel topline with withers lower than the hip is a fault. To compensate for the forward motion imparted by the hindquarters, the shoulder should open to its full extent. The forelegs should reach out close to the ground in a long stride in harmony with that of the hindquarters. The dog does not track on widely separated parallel lines, but brings the feet inward toward the middle line of the body when trotting, in order to maintain balance. The feet track closely but do not strike or cross over. Viewed from the front, the front legs function from the shoulder joint to the pad in a straight line. Viewed from the rear, the hind legs function from the hip joint to the pad in a straight line.”
What I would like to see in the ring is a German Shepherd Dog to be shown, at least for a short while, on a loose lead while “the head is forward rather than up and but little higher than the top of the shoulders.” It amazes me that so many of these dogs are shown strung up, charging out in front of the handler with the feet, especially in front and usually also in the rear, high in the air. The standard clearly states three times that the feet travel close to the ground, which I have emphasized in the paragraphs above. This is important because what is always desired of a dog in motion is that it expends as little energy as possible when going from point A to point B. If the feet are high in the air, much more energy is expended in order to do so. Another point that is not often seen is when the dog is in motion, the back should be firm and LEVEL (defined as a flat surface at right angles to the plumb line). This judge would simply like the dog to be shown, at least once, on a loose lead with the head and feet not high up in the air, and with a level topline. I often ask for this, but unfortunately, the majority of the dogs shown have not been trained to do anything other than a flat out run.
I often ask those who attend my seminars on structure and movement if they have ever read the German Shepherd Dog breed standard. If they answer no, why not? I tell them, simply, it is one of the best written standards in the world. This breed has gone through a lot of changes in the 50 years I’ve been watching it. For quite a while, I feared that the breed was going to be lost due to an over emphasis on side gait alone and not much attention paid to the rest of the dog. It is interesting to me that this should be the case with any breed. It is usually the other way around—so much emphasis is placed on standing type and beauty (especially of the head) that movement is neglected to the point that it is almost impossible to find a specimen that moves as the breed should. In German Shepherds, sound temperaments were being lost as was clean movement coming and going. I am pleased that dogs are looking more like males these days and not as feminine as it had seemed for a while. This is quite important in a breed that asks for “secondary sex characteristics are strongly marked, and every animal gives a definite impression of masculinity or femininity, according to its sex.” I am very happy to see the breed regaining the respect it deserves in the sport after many cycles of what seemed to be a slow degeneration of a noble breed. But this is what being a preservation breeder strives for—preservation of what allowed the dog to fulfill its original purpose, and improvement on what can be improved, mostly in the health clearances that we find in the era of DNA.
The Pembroke Welsh Corgi
Another more extreme example in changes from original type involve the Pembroke Welsh Corgi. I purchased my first Pembroke in 1977; a deep red and white bitch that had already been shown to her championship. CH Oldlands Pennywise began a new chapter in my life that continues to this day. (See Figure 5.)
Please Note: Much of the historic information and some of the photos used here were gleaned from a scrapbook put together by Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge, the patroness of the Morris and Essex dog shows held in the 1930s–1950s. I was fortunate enough to purchase this scrapbook and it is one of my cherished possessions. Mrs. Dodge clipped photos, articles, and advertisements from magazines, published in both the US and in the UK, as well as many columns printed in the club sections from the PWCCA. It is my understanding that she had many scrapbooks on many different breeds about which she was interested to learn more.
The first Pembrokes came off the farms of Wales and into public awareness in the early 1900s. Even though the Corgi was considered to be an ancient breed, it was little-known outside of the neighboring counties that produced them. (See Figure 6.) In 1925, the Kennel Club recognized the Welsh Corgi, but it was not until 1934 that the Kennel Club granted separate registrations and status as individual breeds for the two varieties of Welsh Corgi: the Cardigan and the Pembroke. The Cardigan and the Pembroke would—from that point forward—be shown in separate classes as different breeds instead of together as two varieties of one breed.
Marcus de Bye (1639-1688) was a seventeenth century Dutch etcher and painter of animals who studied art in The Hague under Jacob van der Does. Like his teacher, he began his career by etching both landscapes and animal depictions. However, throughout most of his career, he dedicated himself to animal studies after the designs of Markus Gerard and, most particularly, Paulus Potter. I believe from my research that this etching was entitled, “The Fat Spitzhund.”
The first Pembroke Corgis acquired from the Welsh crofters were very different from the dogs we know today. (See Figure 7.) Through the years, the breed has changed from the feisty Terrier-like dogs bought from the Welsh crofters who used them as all-around farm dogs and drovers of livestock (Black Welsh Cattle, hogs, geese) both on the farm and to the local markets. One duty mentioned in early writings was to “go before the cattle in the morning” to drive off the livestock wandering into the unfenced area that was allowed by the crown for use by his master. The Corgi was small and an easy keeper, and also acquitted himself well for vermin control on the farm (from badger to fox to weasel). I found it quite amusing that in a description of the Welsh Corgi in a long ago magazine (I have no idea if it was in the US or Britain, as a photo of the Corgi in Figure 8 was from Mrs. Dodge’s scrapbook, but I lean to the latter), the following paragraph appears under the photograph of Crymmych President: “It has been stated that this little fellow was evolved by breeding between a Sealyham Terrier and a Border Terrier, and if the dogs are compared, some similarity will be noticed. One thing is certain: that the dog has been known in the Welsh hills for centuries. Like all Terrier types, he is a game little hunter and, being low to the ground, can move where a longer-legged dog is beaten. There are two fixed types exhibited at the shows to-day, the ‘Cardigan’ and the ‘Pembrokeshire.’” This statement was simply untrue, but it can show how easily trying to research a breed can lead to confusion! In my study of the breed, I have found a few more references to the Pembroke having an infusion of Terrier somewhere along the
way and, as time progressed, these references were left out and their true use as a farm dog was acknowledged.
In 1931, the remarkable rise of the popularity of the Pembroke Welsh Corgi began and was further boosted when, in 1933, King George VI (then still Duke of York) acquired a Pembroke puppy for the then Princess Elizabeth (Figure 10), sired by CH Crymmych President (Figures 8 & 9) out of CH Rozavel Golden Girl (Figure 9).
There have been many comments concerning the changes in the color of the breed as well as the lengthening in outline over the years. Some people seem to think that the original color was a deep red with few white markings. I found that the picture shown above put to rest the fact that there was little white on all of the early dogs. The dogs in the photo are all from the most well-known kennel of Pembroke Welsh Corgis at the time, Rozavel Kennels, owned by Mrs. Thelma Gray (nee Evans), taken from an advertisement in December 1933.
I was surprised the very first time I saw photos of the early Pembrokes. The outline of the modern Pembroke Welsh Corgi is very different from the dogs brought from the crofts of Wales. The length of leg has shortened over the decades and the modern dogs have more substance than the early dogs. I was curious about these changes; the Cardigan of long ago could still be recognized as a Cardigan Welsh Corgi, but I doubt that one of the early Pembrokes would get a second look in the ring today. On my first trip to the UK to attend Crufts, in 1988, I was invited to visit Pat Curties of Lees Pembroke (and Cardigan) Welsh Corgi fame. At that time, she had been involved with the breed for nearly 60 years. I asked her what she thought had brought on these changes in the breed. She said that she thought much of it, especially that the improvement in substance in the breed was brought about by the improvement in canine nutrition after World War II. This seemed to be a very logical explanation to me. Since then, I have had some very good discussions with longtime Pembroke breeder and judge, Simon Parsons, who is a wealth of knowledge on the history of the breed in the UK and beyond. Simon thought that the change began with the improvement in the front assembly, the increased breadth of which added to the overall length of the body. The final illustration (Figure 11) is from Popular Dogs in 1958 with a photo serving as an illustrated standard for the breed type of the Pembroke Welsh Corgi at that time.
So, there we have it; two very different breeds, at first glance, but both exhibit many shared characteristics. The Corgi was first described to me as being similar to the German Shepherd Dog, but with very short legs! The ancient Corgi has certainly changed, hopefully, for the better, and the younger German Shepherd Dog still carries on the basic make and shape of the original, purposefully developed German shepherding dogs. I’ll leave it up to you to decide if breed character has been maintained in both of them.
Please note that this article is written from the experiences of and the opinions formed by the author and is not an official statement of the PWCCA or the GSDCA. Much of the information on the Corgi was first published in a DVD produced by the author titled, “Structure and Movement in the Pembroke Welsh Corgi.”
For questions or comments, or to schedule a seminar on structure and movement, I may be reached via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The German Shepherd Dog in Word and Picture, (American Edition) v Stephanitz ©1923
This is the German Shepherd, Goldbecker/Hart ©1967
The Pembrokeshire Corgi Clifford L. B. Hubbard ©1957
The Corgi, Mrs. Thelma Gray ©1952
The Welsh Corgi Pembrokeshire and Cardiganshire, Thelma Gray