Vertical Movement in Toplines, Underlines, Croups and Tails

Before we leave the topline, I would like to quote a passage from an excellent article on Doberman movement, “Doberman on the Move” by Robert Vandiver. After reading Bob’s explanation as to why a dog’s topline should remain level and firm, I think everyone will understand why a dog that moves with the least amount of wasted motion is so highly prized.

“A Doberman that bounces over the withers has a serious handicap. Let’s try to quantify the effects of a bouncing front due to a combination of structural deviations. If a male Doberman has a stride of 28 inches at the trot (2263 steps per mile), and the withers move up and down ½ inch with each step, then the dog’s front will expend the energy equivalent of lifting it 94 feet while traveling that mile. Since the dog’s front is about 60% of the dog’s total weight, then the dog would have expended 60% of the energy to raise his entire body the 94 feet. In other words, after trotting for a mile, the dog will have also expended the energy equivalent to climbing a 6 story building (60% of the 94 feet). The extra work expended in an hour of trotting (typically at 5 miles per hour) would be the equivalent of climbing 30 stories. After a day’s work, this dog will be far more exhausted than one that moves without bounce over the withers.” Read the article in its entirety at:

The underline on a dog is as important as the topline when it comes to function. The underline is just that—the bottom line of the body of the dog, starting behind the elbows at the bottom of the chest and going back until it disappears behind the back leg. The underline follows the path taken by the bottom of the chest (sternum or brisket) on to the underline of the abdomen. This area, referred to as the tuck up (or cut up) is the shape that is produced by the underline of the abdomen as it sweeps up to the region of the hind quarters. It can be exaggerated in some breeds, such as the Whippet (see Figure 1), and is further exaggerated when they have the correct, deep chest. It can be moderate to barely noticeable in other breeds. The sighthounds, such as the coursing Greyhound and the fleet-footed Whippet must necessarily have more tuck up in order to bend and flex with the double suspension gallop, vital to a fast moving dog. Whereas many of the trailing breeds more often have a near horizontal line of the abdomen with little tuck up. (See Figure 2) No matter the breed, a loose, paunchy abdomen is incorrect in any breed and an excessive tuck up can often be seen in a dog that would be consistent with weediness in a breed that should have some substance.

The tail of the dog can act to maintain balance by helping to shift the center of gravity as the dog moves. The tail can also be an indicator of temperament and one way the dog uses body language to communicate with other dogs as well as other species—such as humans. Having said that, in discussions with a friend involved with a breed not known for a warm and fuzzy, sweet demeanor, she said she’s known many a dog that while wagging his tail in supposed merriment, would reach over and bite you! So one should be aware that a wagging tail does not always mean the dog is amenable to your approach.

I have often heard that the swimming breeds use their tail in a manner similar to a rudder, but I have a hard time believing that simply because most dogs when swimming depend upon the front legs to do more to propel them through the water than the back legs. It was once thought that dogs would swim in a trotting motion, but more recent video analysis have revealed that they actually run underwater (gallop instead of trot). In this research, it was determined that they do use their front paws for ‘power strokes’ just as do competitive human swimmers. As the breeder of a herding breed with a docked or bob tail, I know they do quite well traversing through water whether it be a pond or a pool—even lacking a tail. My dogs all love to swim and do so with great enthusiasm, gleefully jumping into the pond or pool again and again and none of them have a tail. Just about any breed with the exception of those with very round chests and shorter muzzles can swim, but caution must be taken with these breeds as well as heavily coated breeds who could be weighed down by a water soaked coat causing difficulty and possible drowning.

Tail set is a structural matter—and the tail can be set high, directly off of the spine, or in various degrees of being low set. (See Figures 5 though 7) Tail carriage, on the other hand, can be very much influenced by the metal attitude of the dog. A dog with a high tail set can certainly drop the tail instead of carrying it up or over the back as is usually expected with a high tail set. I have seen many dogs with a correctly placed low set tail that can carry the it much higher than one would think possible (the Cardigan Welsh Corgi immediately comes to mind) so I am always sure to physically check for the proper low tailset when I am doing a table exam in the ring.

There are as many tail shapes and lengths and thicknesses as there are breeds. In your own breed, you should be able to understand why the tail is described as it is and what function it could serve through its physical characteristics and carriage.

Please send comments, suggestions or to schedule a seminar to Stephanie Hedgepath at

  • 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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