The best way to determine the structure and condition of a dog is to observe the dog in motion from the side. A dog in top condition with firm muscles will present the truest proof of structure. Dogs that are flabby or weak will show some of the basics, but will have wasted motion even if the dog’s structure is excellent. The skeletal structure of a dog is to be compared to a blueprint for a building. The basics are there, but there is much more to be considered before you have a complete picture.
The Field Spaniel illustrations represent the average dog. The Field Spaniel is described as “a well balanced dog, somewhat longer than tall. The ratio of length to height is approximately 7:6. (Length is measured on a level from the foremost point of the shoulder to the rearmost point of the buttocks.)” Figure 1. depicts the dog standing and is the position from which we will start our analysis of the trot. Please note that the line under the dog represents the ground. The illustrations above show the first half of one complete stride. The trot is defined in the AKC Glossary of Terms as “a rhythmic two-beat diagonal gait in which the feet at diagonally opposite ends of the body strike the ground together.” In his excellent book, An Eye For A Dog, Robert Cole points out that “official descriptions of the trot fail to mention that in addition to diagonal feet striking the ground at the same time, the diagonal feet must relinquish support at the same time.” There must always be balance in motion.
- PHASE 1. As a dog breaks into a trot, the shoulder blade rotates forward and the right foreleg begins its forward swing. The right foreleg is lifted from the ground a split second ahead of the left hind leg for the swinging phase of this phase. The elbow joint angle closes, lifting the foreleg and the pastern joint closes and lifts the paw up and back. The left foreleg serves as the striking (or support) leg and begins to act as the supporting leg for the body as it is propelled forward over the body by the right striking hind leg.
- PHASE 2. The right foreleg has moved into the forward swing of the leg. The shoulder begins to rotate up and back and the shoulder and elbow joints begin to close. The arm and forearm are thrust forward. The front pastern joint on the left fore leg is bent to support weight when the forearm is vertical. The right hind leg supports the body and begins the forward push to propel the body forward over the left front leg which remains in place on the ground. The left hind leg is flexed and is carried straight forward close to the ground.
- PHASE 3. The right foreleg has moved into the forward swing of the leg and has reached its maximum lift. The angles of the shoulder and elbow joints are opened to their maximum width. At this point, the shoulder and elbow joints of the left foreleg continue opening and the arm and forearm are sloping forward from the firmly planted foot. The pastern joint is fully open and the weight is shifting forward from the pad to the toe pads.
- PHASE 4. Often referred to as the ‘flying trot’ this is the period of suspension when all four legs are off the ground at the same time. The right foreleg and right hind leg are extending in opposite directions and can be seen reaching well out in front and behind the body of the dog and are fully off of the ground. The left foreleg is off of the ground and ready to go into the swinging phase. The right fore leg has reach its maximum forward swing. The angles of the shoulder and elbow joints on the left leg are fully opened and the pastern joint has closed slightly, lifting the foot up and back readying for the forward swing. A dog that is balanced in angulation fore and aft will present with all four feet lifted at about the same height from the ground. The right hind leg has completed its action of propelling the body forward and the foot is lifted off of the ground. The left hind leg has reached its maximum forward thrust and is preparing to drop in to the supporting (striking) phase. Nearly all dogs, no matter the breed, can actually have a period of suspension, even if lacking in angulation fore and aft, but only as long as there is a “balanced lack” in the angles—the key word being ‘balanced’.
- PHASE 5. In this phase the feet at diagonal ends of the body strike the ground at the same time. The right front foot strikes approximately under the corner of the mouth when the head is held above the topline. The left hind leg strikes approximately under the middle of the dog. From this point forward is basically a repeat of the phases we have described here, but with the diagonal legs switched in order to complete the second half of the stride. When observing the dog at a trot, remember to first focus on the feet. By watching for the foot fall, one can reasonably determine the angulation of the dog. At the trot, the diagonal legs should work in tandem—if the legs on the same side of the body are working together, that is a pace, not a trot. A pace is easy to sit on a horse, but rarely correct for a dog.
For the description of each phase of the steps in the trot, I relied heavily on Dogs, A Hobby or a Profession, Volume II by Kerry Blue fanciers, Catherine Gardiner and E.S. Gibson, and An Eye For a Dog by Robert Cole. I could explain it no better than they and would recommend both for the library of any serious student of the dog.
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Figure 1. Field Spaniel – An Average Dog (Phase 0)
Figure 2. Phase 1
Figure 3. Phase 2
Figure 4. Phase 3
Figure 5. Phase 4
Figure 6. Phase 5