Now that coonhounds are in AKC conformation shows, it is becoming increasingly important that we focus on the correct coonhound structure that our hounds need to do the job they were bred for. With the coonhound, one needs to especially concentrate on structure and balance.
As you know, the back is divided into four sections; the withers, back, loin, and croup. Behind the withers is the back, then the loin, then the croup, and the vertebrae go back all the way to the end of the tail. In certain coonhounds today, more in some breeds than in others, we’re seeing a short rib cage and a long loin on a regular average-backed dog. The dog might be the right length in the back, but if the rib cage doesn’t go back far enough into the loin, it’s not going to have enough cavity that it needs for the heart, the lungs, and all the organs. A short back, combined with a long loin, makes a coonhound weak and unable to run long distances. In coonhounds especially, strength over the loin and lung space are needed.
Many of the top-winning Treeing Walkers are sadly lacking in shoulder angulation and would never make it in the field. What’s really important about the shoulder blades is not just the layback; not just the way the blades are angled. The shoulder blades are angled at 45 degrees, as is the upper arm, forming a perfect 90-degree “L.” A good shoulder is oblique, the way a bone curves back into the curvature of the body. The shoulder bone cannot stick straight up, out of the dog’s back, and be efficient. They’ve got to come back together a little bit, lay back, and curve back into the body.
Another important point regarding the shoulder assembly is the point of the elbow. The point of elbow is directly under the withers, right under the top of the shoulder blade, in a perfectly straight line. You could run a plumb line and drop it right where the shoulder blades meet and it will come straight down through the elbow to the floor, right behind the foot. I’ll guarantee that you won’t see many dogs made like this. What you’ll see is a shorter upper arm, or an upper arm pitched at an angle that forces the elbow in front of the shoulder. That combination leads to bad action on the front.
So, look at the front assembly very carefully. Visualize a big circle, with a straight line dropping through it, cutting it in half, meeting the elbow, meeting the ground. It will be the focal point on a well-made dog. There’s a good reason for this. The heart, lungs, and all of the organs that make them run are right there. They better have that depth, that balance. Look at how this dog’s chest (far left) comes down and meets his elbow. There must be enough depth of brisket for lung capacity. There are many dogs whose elbows are too far below their brisket line.
The same is true about the hindquarters. The dog in this photo (below right) shows the relationship between the length of the two bones and the angle formed by them. We can’t see through to the bone, but look at the width of the thigh. I’ve never seen a coonhound that had too much width of second thigh.
In coonhound structure, we’re also losing some angle from the stifle joint to the point of the hock. We’re getting too many dogs that look unbalanced, especially if they’re straight in the shoulder and straight in the hindquarter assembly. Look for second thigh, width of thigh. You have to observe this with your eyes and your hands to make sure they are correct. And remember that the tail is an extension of the spine. A tail that goes straight up may affect the pitch of the pelvis. Up front, you can really see and feel the shoulder blades. Again, balance is the key. If you see this in action, you’ll know what I’m talking about. You’ll say, “Now I get it. That is side gait.” That’s something we don’t look for enough when we judge. A dog can look pretty standing there with a handler posing them, but when you gait them on the ground there is nothing that can be done to make them look good. You can’t do it with the lead. What you see is what you get. And don’t let markings fool you—easy to do with a Treeing Walker’s markings especially. As a result, his shoulders might look different, but when you get your hands on him you will see where his shoulder blades are. Don’t be afraid to get your hands on those blades, to feel them. If you run your hands down the blades, and down the upper arms to the elbows, you can visualize what the angles are.
The feet and pasterns are very closely tied together and they should be in balance with each other. You’ll hardly ever see great pasterns with bad feet, or the other way around. It’s usually a package. We get to the point in coonhound shows that we’re looking for such tight feet that we might be getting a little carried away sometimes. A great cat foot with a straight pastern is pretty to look at, but it doesn’t offer any shock absorbers to the force coming down through the shoulders. You’ve got to have a little spring, a little flexibility, to the slightly sloping pastern.
Dog 1. Correct Hind Angulation: Note the 30-degree slope of the pelvis. This provides the most power. Just as important is the perfect 130-degree angle of the back joint, providing the leverage to push the dog forward.
Dog 2. Incorrect Hind Angulation. The pelvic slope of 10 degrees promotes the overly-straight stifle joint shown here. The back joint is also overly-straight at 148 degrees.
Coonhounds are a scenthound and the tail carriage will be up. You want to see a dog that can extend its front, that can push behind, show balance, propulsion and locomotion movement with ease, and cover ground.
Withers-back-loin-croup is all you need to remember. Four basic parts that better work together. If the withers are too steep, the shoulders aren’t laidback enough; there’s going to be a basic, functional problem. If the back’s too long or too short, there’s going to be a basic, functional problem. If the ribs don’t go back into the loin far enough, or deep enough, there’s going to be a basic, functional problem. Other problems to be aware of include a weak loin and a roach back. The croup’s got to have some pitch and some length. If a croup is too short and steep, it will affect the tail set.
I hope that this will help in the judging of our coonhounds and determining the right Coonhound Structure. They are a movement dog with good reach and drive. Coonhounds give meaning to Form=Function.
What is the correct Coonhound Structure? by Nancy Winton, Dry River Kennels