Everything Old is New Again
Posted on 08/15/2011 in Ringside Conversations.
Parts I and II
Richard G. (Rick) Beauchamp
You would be amazed at the number of times I’ve been approached at a dog show by someone who might say something like, “Why don’t you do a column about shoulder layback,” or someone else might request I do something on what balance means in evaluating a dog.
My first thought is always “Surely, everyone knows that!” I mean how many times does that subject have to get written about before everyone finally gets it. And then I start making subtle inquiries and I am amazed to find that some of our brightest and most successful somehow skipped by the basics and plunged right on into breeding, even judging.
And of course it’s easy for me, who has hung out in this wild and crazy sport of ours for so many years to overlook the fact that the average life of today’s dog fancier is less than five years! The ones who last five years are beginning to be considered the veterans of the sport. (I’d hate for too many people to find out it was probably near five years before I had the courage to even ask questions, much less spout off all the wise and wonderful knowledge I imagined I had gained.)
But as the young moderns of the day are quick to advise me, “that was then and this is now.” Today everyone is an authority. Why read books and attend lectures and all that when you can just get online and find the answer to everything? Then, after a few months on the computer, you too can blog and tweet and what all else and be the last word on everything.
The only problem with that is the blind are leading the blind, and the blind are apt to miss the facts that they aren’t giving the beginner the basic foundation he needs to understand what the heck he’s doing and why things turn out as they do.
Anyone can put a lead around a dog’s neck and run around the ring. Just like anyone can tuck their bitch under their arm and drive down the road to the nearest male of the breed and have her bred. Does that mean the person running around the ring is showing his or her dog to advantage? Does that mean the fact that the bitch that has been bred and has puppies make the person who owns her a breeder? Because the gentleman can tell the difference between his breed (Bulldogs) and the Saluki that lives next door, does that mean he should launch himself headlong into judging?
Let’s get real. What is it that Confucius or someone like that said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.” And there are a whole lot of steps after that first one before you get to the end of the purebred dog journey.
Dog breeding is just that way. There are countless steps that must be mastered if one is to succeed in any of its pursuits and a foundation in the basics is critical.
I am not an engineer nor am I an anatomical expert. Most of what I know about anatomy I learned from laymen and in laymen’s terms. I consider myself quite fortunate to have received my education in dogs from what was probably the last wave of the great dog men and women of the old school. Things were much simpler then. We had fewer technicians but there were more people who really knew dogs. A dog was either a good one or it was not and, trust me, their judgment had little to do with big show records.
But then as now, there were certain basics that had to be understood before one could ever hope to breed or recognize a well-made animal. This knowledge is also important so that we can all have a common point of reference from which to proceed.
The late Cam Milward was breeder of the great Grenpark Smooth Fox Terrier line and one of Australia’s most brilliant dog men. Canine anatomy could not have been explained more perfectly or more simply than the way he put it: “... the anatomy of all dogs is made up of the same parts, it is their (the parts) differences in length and shape that form the particular breed skeleton and it is the usefulness of that skeleton to carry out the purpose of the breed that must be taken into account.”
The All-Important Front End
I don’t know where exactly most people begin in learning basic canine anatomy (I began so long ago that remembering what I just walked down stairs for is an accomplishment so I’m not going to even try to remember where I began!). I fear though the average dog fancier of the day must have started his education in anatomy somewhere in the middle of the dog or at the back end because if there is a place where you are going to most typically find fault in just about any breed it is in the front end.
Granted, correct front ends are not easy to get and once lost are usually impossible to get back. The front end is a somewhat complicated structure in which an error in the length or angle of just a single bone can throw the whole dynamic off and take the dog’s movement almost anywhere but the way you want it to go.
Every breed of dog, whether it is an American Pit Bull Terrier, an American Eskimo or a Toy Fox Terrier, has two bones in his forehand assembly, the size, shape and angulation of which determine not only how the dog looks but also how it moves. These two bones are the shoulder blade (scapula) and the upper arm (humerus), which attaches to the bottom end of the scapula and moves backward and down to attach itself to the elbow.
Let’s take a look at the shoulder blade (scapula) first. The standards of most (but not all) breeds ask for either a “well laid back” or “well angulated” shoulder. The degree to which shoulders should be angulated depends upon the breed’s purpose and function. A well laid back shoulder that is attached to an upper arm of similar length permits a breed to move with easy, ground-covering reach. This is typically found in our Gun Dogs and a good many of our working dogs.
Breeds used for hauling do not need the degree of angulation for the easy reach and drive that long distance trotting dogs require. Their front end construction is designed for strength - for pulling.
Only in breeds that are required to have short, stilted movement would upright shoulders be desirable. A perfect example of this restricted gait can be seen in the properly moving Chow Chow.
As much a part of the essence of a Chow Chow its stilted movement is, so is the free ground-covering movement important to those breeds whose standards require it. These other breeds must be able to get about easily and naturally with a minimum of effort and little strain. For the purpose of this article, we will confine ourselves primarily to the breeds in which ease of movement and reach and drive are natural entitlements and requirements of the respective breed standards.
So then, how does the layman go about determining the degree of shoulder angulation? It can easily be determined by putting the thumb and index fingers of the right hand at the withers (actually the uppermost points of the shoulder blades), and the same fingers of the left hand at the point of shoulder (where the shoulder blade joins the upper arm). The imaginary line that runs between these two points, and how it deviates from the vertical, determines the degree of angulation. If you extend that line to the ground in front of the dog, it will pretty much mark the extent of that dog’s reach.
Anatomical perfection would have the shoulder blade slope back from the vertical at a forty-five-degree angle to allow maximum reach. Please note that I say “anatomical perfection” would have this be so. Nature, however, is not so compliant and if you speak to most judges and experienced breeders they will tell you one seldom encounters true forty-five-degree shoulder lay back.
While this “ideal” degree of angulation is seldom achieved, this does not mean we can therefore ignore the ideal and become satisfied with whatever we happen to get. The closer the individual dog comes to the ideal, the more efficient its front movement will be.
The result of being negligent in our demands for ideal shoulder angulation is not confined to movement alone. Upright shoulders make the neck shorter than it should be, and the back longer, thus destroying the dog’s correct balance and proportion - his silhouette if you will.
Poorly articulated shoulders are often connected to short upper arms that are also poorly angulated, thus moving the entire front end assembly too far forward on the ribcage. This results in a lack of forechest and a nearly straight line from throat to feet.
This construction is frequently accompanied by a hollowed out cavity in the chest area between the legs. Construction of this nature indicates lack of endurance due to restricted heart and lung room.
Part II - Balance
Those who come from the “45-degree-shoulder-angulation-is-not-only-impossible-to-achieve-but-also-incorrect” school of thought might find the extensive work of Mark Ladd on fronts and angulation of interest. Ladd is a Reader in Chemical Crystallography at the University of Surrey, England, where he was engaged in both teaching and research. He was awarded a D.Sc. of London University in 1979 and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Institute of Physics. He has written several books and numerous papers on his subject and is past editor of an international scientific journal.
He is also a successful breeder, exhibitor and judge of Doberman Pinschers in the U.K. and holds diplomas in breeding and judging from the Canine Studies Institute. He has been a frequent contributor to England’s Dog World, and his series, “Angles and Angulation” that appeared in that publication, would find great interest on the part of anyone who strives to understand this frequently debated topic.
It should be understood that none of the foregoing is given to prove my point of view regarding shoulder angulation. The references are offered to give the serious dog fancier an opportunity to better understand front construction and why so much controversy surrounds it.
I do not have any intention of passing myself off as a canine anatomical expert. I write, however, in hope that what is presented inspires serious fanciers to pursue their education further, and that it will in turn lead us to correct the front problem in our breeds that has remained in Limbo for too long a time. But it is now time to move along in that there is more to the correct front than shoulder angulation and more to correct movement than the front alone.
The Upper Arm
Most discussions on canine fronts center on the angulation of the shoulder blade, technically referred to as the scapula. The upper arm, or humerus, has had far less attention and is less often dealt with in breed standards. This is the bone that is attached to the shoulder joint at its upper end and which forms the dog’s elbow at its lower end. The optimum degree of angulation between the shoulder and the upper arm is at least arguably considered to be 90 degrees. This degree of angulation allows the dog to move with the greatest length of stride that the dog’s general construction and length of leg will permit. If the degree is more open the length of stride is shorter.
This upper arm varies considerably in size, length, curvature and placement in the various breeds. The German Shepherd Dog has a well laid-back shoulder and very long upper arm carrying the foreleg back on the body so that the elbow is placed well behind the sternum. The Smooth Fox Terrier, on the other hand, has a well laid back shoulder but a very short and less angulated upper arm. The effect of the shorter upper arm in the Smooth Fox Terrier and breeds whose upper arms are similarly constructed is to bring the elbow further forward on the dog’s chest, giving a flatter outline to the forechest when viewed in profile.
Breeds like the Pekingese and the Pembroke Welsh Corgi have what is best referred to as “wrap around” fronts. In Dog Locomotion and Gait Analysis (Hoflin Publishing), Curtis Brown describes this wrap around front as follows: “the shoulder blade and upper arm (are) wrapped round the chest as tight as may be, and the lower portion of the leg (is) slanted in as much as possible to allow as nearly single tracking as possible.”
The Pembroke Welsh Corgi standard calls for a shoulder blade of optimum length and angulation, and an upper arm of equal length that also carries the foreleg well back so that a line perpendicular to the ground can be drawn from tip of the shoulder blade through to elbow. This gives the Pembroke considerable forechest, but more important considerable reach in front.
The great majority of breeds have upper arms, the length of which have the effect of placing the elbows further back on the chest wall and giving an observable curve to the profile of the forechest. This enables the breeds so constructed to move more freely with longer strides in front and whose fronts and rears are able to move in unison. A good many of the Gun Dogs are typical of this construction. These are dogs whose duties require covering significant distances for considerable lengths of time. As previously noted, the upper arm has in the past received far less attention that it deserves. It’s profound effect on both movement and silhouette are discussed and illustrated in great detail in the second edition of my book, Solving the Mysteries of Breed Type (Kennel Club Books).
When a dog is in perfect balance, forward movement occurs flawlessly with little up and down action at the shoulder. The smooth, transition of power flows forward and back harmoniously almost giving the impression of the wheels of a bicycle. Not all dogs, even the best of them, are blessed with this concordant movement and when present should be highly prized.
It must be understood that all the correct front angulation in the world does not mean a whole lot if a given dog’s rear quarters are not able to move efficiently enough to work in tandem with the dog’s front. I must say, however, that this is far less likely to be a problem as is the reverse - a well angulated (or overly angulated) rear accompanied by a straight, short reaching front.
As previously described, the forequarter is composed of three sets of bones:
- shoulder blade (scapula)
- upper arm (humerus)
- and the foreleg (radius/ulna)
terminating in the in the pastern and foot.
The hind legs are also formed by three sets of bones:
- the pelvis
- the femur, which drops down from the hip and meets
- the tibia/fibula to form the stifle joint
The lower end of the tibia/fibula forms the hock joint with the back pastern, which in turn terminates in the hind foot.
Front and rear angulation is provided for two reasons:
1. To distribute the shock incurred in movement. If there were only one joint in these limbs instead of three they would have to absorb three times the wear and tear.
2. To enable the legs to fold and reach forward and back (the action of unfolding combined with the foot striking the ground gives the necessary thrust to move the dog’s body).
When the hind leg reaches forward in its folded position and pushes against the ground, the force is directed up through the rear leg to the sloping pelvis, and from there to the spinal column, to which all parts of a dog are linked. The dog then moves forward.
When a dog is in perfect balance, this forward movement occurs flawlessly with little up and down action at the shoulder. The smooth transitions of power flow forward and back harmoniously, almost giving the impression of the wheels of a bicycle. Not all dogs, even the best of them, are blessed with this concordant movement and when present should be highly prized.
Observing almost any breed whose standard calls for a “well angulated” rear quarter will reveal that the mission has definitely been accomplished. Unfortunately, the part of the standard that calls for the well-angulated front somehow gets missed in practice. Although not alone in this problem, one need only walk by a Gun Dog ring to find that rear quarter angulation exists above and beyond what is efficient in far too many breeds.
Correctly angulated hind legs, with bones of adequate length, have a greater ability to reach forward and back and therefore have a greater power of propulsion than those that lack angulation. Just as there is an optimum degree of angulation between the shoulder and the upper arm (90 degrees), so there is between the long bones of the hind leg. In a majority of the breeds, it is 90 degrees that is the right angle again. With the dog standing foursquare with front and hind legs parallel and vertical, the femur should leave the pelvis at an angle of about 90 degrees and meet the tibia/fibula, also at 90 degrees. This forms the stifle joint.
In breeds that breeders have tried to breed with shorter backs, lack of angulation of the hindquarters can be a persistent fault. (This is a problem that breeders of Smooth Fox Terriers have done battle with for many years.) In other breeds, the opposite can be true - overlong second thighs leading to weakness and lack of control of the hocks (as can be seen in a good many German Shepherd Dogs and American Cocker Spaniels).
Not all dogs are required to have the same degree of angulation. It depends upon their duties, if they are of a working breed, and history and tradition if of a decorative breed. It is up to the student to use the basic principles that apply to canine anatomy and see just how those principles are called into play in their respective breed.
Richard G. (Rick) Beauchamp has been successfully involved in practically every facet of purebred dogs: breeding, exhibiting, publishing, writing. He is the author of numerous breed and all breed books including the best-selling Solving the Mysteries of Breed Type and Breeding Dogs for Dummies. He has judged all breeds throughout the world and was one of the United Kennel Club’s first all breed judges.