by   David Hancock

The great expert on the conformation of the dog who was active in the middle of the last century was vet, exhibitor and sportsman RH Smythe. In a book on soundness in livestock, he wrote, on dogs: “Intermittent lameness in the hindlimb is very frequent from patellar causes in the short-limbed dogs (Cairns, Sealyhams, West Highlands and Scottish Terriers). It will also be observed whether the dog ‘hops’ occasionally on one hind limb with the opposite foot held off the ground momentarily (a sign of patellar subluxation).” If he were writing today he would more likely cite Jack Russells as I see so many which ‘carry’ a hindlimb every few strides. This is not a good sign because these dogs are so often bred from and their characteristic movement considered almost a charming breed feature. But even canine sportsmen need sound knees, so there has to be more than a ‘hop and a skip’ to terrier movement.    

Dogs with short legs have long been a feature of man's association with sporting, working and companion dogs. Breeds with particularly short legs, like the Dachshund, the two corgi breeds and other heelers, the various Basset Hound breeds, any number of terriers and many Toy dog breeds, have been favoured for quite some time by any number of people. There is a worry however that in those breeds the shortness of the legs has been more and more exaggerated and not to the benefit of the dog. Some breeders of such dogs have declared resentment of measures being planned on mainland Europe to counteract extreme shortness in a dog's legs, pleading that their particular breed has 'always looked like that' and is not discomforted in such a way. There is of course a huge difference between small dogs with proportionately short legs and bigger dogs made appreciably shorter by the absence of leg length.

In May 2003, I judged a show for Plummer Terriers, having, a few years before, judged the annual show of The Sporting Lucas Terrier Club. On each occasion I was going over dogs which worked for their living, hunting ground vermin, many of them owned or bred by professional terrier-men. Not one of them was exceptionally low and long, they were not desired to be; they had however the anatomy which allowed them to function underground - an eel-like flexibility based on a strong supple spine. If professional terrier-men see no value in exceptionally long and low earth-dogs, why does a KC committee based in Piccadilly think it knows better? If function does not justify the exaggerated form of a breed of dogs and if vets condemn the conformation being sought, how can the endorsement of unusually long and low dogs by the KC justify their declared purpose of 'improving dogs'? If you compare illustrations of Skye, Dandie Dinmont and Sealyham Terriers of one hundred years ago with those of today, I don't think the word 'improvement' is appropriate. Terriers with no leg length cannot move freely.

A jaunty carriage, a blur of legs moving at high speed and a perky determination from a small dog in the show ring often brings unwarranted admiration -- unfailingly from the fawning uncritical TV commentators at Crufts. Most very small pedigree breeds that I see in the show ring display poor movement, usually stepping short in front with little forward reach and lacking any power from their lower hindquarters. Once judges regard and then accept such limited movement as characteristic then an inbred fault is on the way to becoming sealed in the gene-pool. That is very bad news for small dogs. I can understand, without supporting, poor movement in Toy breeds being condoned, so many have anatomical designs which create such an undesirable manifestation, but unsound movement in small terriers is worrying. These are sporting breeds. The sporting terrier is part of Britain's great sporting heritage and even the smallest of them must be a real terrier, in build and in attitude. Exhibits from any sporting breed should be disqualified in the ring for poor movement.

But what have show judges been saying about movement in the pedigree terrier breeds in their critiques in the last decade? Here are some from 1997: Border Terriers -- "Movement is still a problem..."; Border Terriers (at Crufts) -- "Sadly, movement left much to be desired..."; Dandie Dinmont Terriers -- "Hind movement in some was very bad..."; and from Crufts 2000 - Airedale Terriers: "Movement is shocking..."; - Kerry Blue Terriers: "Two main faults appeared...and rear movement"; - Sealyham Terriers: "I found...bad hind movement."  The four Crufts reports are the most worrying, for how do exhibits which display poor movement actually qualify? Who would want to breed from such dogs? But terriers which qualify for Crufts are rarely not bred from; this is a worry. Who are the allegedly skilled breeders, breeding to the standard, who are producing these dogs with such unsatisfactory movement? Are they judges as well? The Border Terrier is expected to have movement sound enough to follow a horse. The Dandie Dinmont Terrier is expected to have a fluent, free and easy stride. For these two breeds of sporting terrier to have even disappointing movement is a poor commentary on some contemporary breeders.

If you accept that movement is a manifestation of sound anatomy, why are poor movers not thrown out of the ring? When I watch the judging even at working terrier shows, I still see weak pasterns, turned out toes (acceptable in short-legged terriers but not the leggier specimens) and loose elbows up front, and cow hocks, bowed hocks, and too close or too wide a hind action. Poor shoulder placement and straight stifles and hocks are the cause of much poor movement in working terriers. Such functional dogs should move 'as square as a box', as the great terrier man OT Price would have put it. This means an action that is free, with appreciable but not long strides, parallel at both ends - showing the pads of the hind feet, with obvious drive from the hocks, a level topline - retained on the move, with the tail on top, a determined carriage of the head and a definite air of bossiness.

What I find especially baffling at KC dog shows is how dogs are awarded tickets when they breach their own breed standard, whoever has approved it. If you examine the wording of the KC breed standard of the smaller terriers on movement you find highly commendable wording. The Cairn is expected to have "Very free-flowing stride. Forelegs reaching well forward." The Dandie Dinmont is required to have "a fluent free and easy stride, reaching forward at the front" with a stilted gait highly undesirable. The Glen of Imaal has to be free in action. The Scottie has to have a smooth and free movement. The Skye's whole movement is termed free and active. The Westie's must be free with the front legs freely extended forward from the shoulder. So far, so good.

If you then spend time studying these breeds in the ring, what do you find? I see them, almost invariably, with short upper arms and upright shoulders which limit their reach and give them a fast, chopping, stilted, abbreviated front action with nothing free about it. And they win! And they win at Crufts! The profusion of coat in some of them gives the illusion of their flowing over the ground -- but then so too do millipedes. The extent of a dog's front stride is controlled by the length of its upper arm and the angulation or slope of its shoulders. The too-fast, short-reaching, chopping action of so many small terriers in the ring has almost become the norm. A good judge would notice that there is nothing free about such an action; the dog has to take two or three steps when one should do. Not surprisingly this affects hind action too.

The late Tom Horner, who knew a thing or two about terrier movement, has written on this subject: "If the upper arm is short and/or steep, the angle between it and the shoulder blade will be much greater - more open than the desired 90 degrees -- with the result that the elbow will be brought forward on the chest and the possible length of stride of the foreleg will be reduced. If shoulders are also steep the angle will be greater still and the stride even shorter." Small terriers with a shortened front stride are now almost the uniform exhibit in our show rings. It is extremely tiresome when this draws admiration from ignorant TV commentators at Crufts, who describe them as "simply flowing over the ground", perhaps because they can't walk naturally! 

When a dog's shoulders are too upright they tend also to be narrower, shorter and bunch the muscles, giving a coarse look. This in turn shortens the neck and artificially lengthens the back, producing an unbalanced dog. Breeds like the Skye and the Dandie are now longer in the back and shorter in the leg than their ancestors. Working hunt terriers are usually a little longer backed than their show ring opposite numbers but for a good reason, the long, sloping shoulder tending to accompany the slightly longer back, with the pursuit of a cobby terrier, with the shorter back, encouraging the more upright shoulder. Dogs required to work underground need flexible backs so that they can work in confined spaces. Most of the show Fox Terriers would have some difficulty manoevring underground because of the construction now apparently sought in them.

In his book "About the Border Terrier", Walter Gardner has written: "The well-laid on shoulder allows for great range and liberty of movement. On the other hand, when the shoulder blade is lacking in correct obliquity and is too upright, it usually lacks the desired length and therefore muscle attachment. The movement is therefore contracted, and the action short, cramped and lacking in elasticity." It is this short, cramped, restricted forward movement that so many small breeds demonstrate in the ring -- and get rewarded for! Walter Gardner goes on to state: "it is unfortunate that many of those who are judging dogs have never had the opportunity to judge any other type of stock." Certainly, working horses are often stocky in build but display superbly placed shoulders. This feature is prized in the horse show ring. So many of the pioneer judges at dog shows were pony judges too.

We may not want our small terriers to move like ponies but we should try to ensure that they are able to lead active lives. A tiny Norwich, a sturdy Scottie, a cocky Cairn or a jaunty Jack Russell should, each in its own way, move soundly. It is not in the best interests of such dogs for them to be allowed to get away with poor movement or be judged as if sound movement didn't matter at all. Faulty movement rooted in the forequarters is more serious than when in the hindquarters. The centre of gravity of the terrier is situated just behind the front legs. Some of the longer-legged terriers experience the wear and tear of ‘pounding’, in which the front foot touches the ground before the forward thrust, providing locomotion in the dog, has been expended; this creates physical stress. Long standing faults in Dachshunds have been short necks, upright shoulders and loose elbows. Not surprisingly movement in the breed has long been a weak spot. The high head carriage helps this breed, but it has to take an awful lot of steps to get anywhere.

Unless the head is carried high, the appropriate muscles will not be able to pull the upper arm and then the whole foreleg forward to its full extent. Judges need to watch a dog moving across and then towards them and establish that the two forelegs are being brought well forward from the shoulders and the elbows. Any dog that 'marks time' is incorrectly constructed. Insufficient angulation between the pelvis and the spine, high placed hocks and straight stifles contribute to a short back stride and can be detected from a stilted action. But if that stilted action is actually admired, the fault is surely condoned. A canny judge will ask for small dogs to be moved slowly so that the true quality of the gait can be revealed. Just as the flying trot conceals a multitude of sins in the German Shepherd Dog, so too does the blurred too-hasty millipede-like leg movement in little dogs with little legs.

Small dogs with small bones, just as much as bigger heavier dogs, need sound construction to lead a healthy happy life. 'Stepping short' on the parade ground is a deliberately artificial movement and a surprisingly tiring one; stepping short in the show ring too should be regarded as artificial, unnatural and undesired. All dogs can only move with the construction bestowed upon them by their designers and breeders. But I suspect, with some sadness, that breeders will continue to do their own thing whatever the effect on the dog. Terriers in the show ring tend to have non-existent fore-chests, their front legs too far forward on the body, barrel-straight vertical front pasterns, allowing little spring or give, especially when the dog jumps, and little bend in their front pasterns when on the move. Straight-stifled breeds can produce what has been termed a ‘sickle-like’ action, where the rear pastern doesn’t completely open at the hock.

For me, the Soft-coated Wheaten and Kerry Blue Terriers often feature too long a second thigh, which can cause the hind-legs to over-extend, in a tiringly-high bicycle-pedal action, in order to retain coordination with their shorter front legs. The Norwich Terrier is becoming too short-bodied and stocky, whereas its sister breed the Norfolk Terrier is longer in the body and a better mover. Compactness doesn’t mean too short-bodied. In the show Bedlington, the feet are closer than the elbows, to produce what in horses is termed a ‘fast-trotters front’. Does a sporting terrier need such a front? Construction affects balance and balance affects movement. Proportions relate to breed type, balance, function and movement, both when the dog is walking briskly and cantering.

In his An Eye for a Dog, Dogwise Publishing, 2004, conformation expert Robert W Cole writes that “There are six terrier breeds that, due to their specialized forequarters, do not move at the same trot in the same manner as normally constructed breeds. These six terrier breeds are the Airedale, the Lakeland, the Smooth Fox Terrier, the Wire Fox Terrier, the Irish Terrier, and the Welsh Terrier.” He comments on the stress given in the descriptions of such breeds to the power coming from the rear, undermining both the need for strength up front and a balance between the energy emanating from both front and rear assemblies. He also emphasizes the need for ‘a show of pads’ when the dog is moving away, stating that a ‘no-show’ can indicate the dreaded sickle-hock. I see all too many show ring terriers with short steep upper arms, upright shoulders, straight stifles and narrow chests; they are no longer sporting terriers.   

In an emergent breed, like the Plummer and the Sporting Lucas Terrier, breeders have a one-shot opportunity to breed working terriers which could be envied the world over; others are departing from soundness, now is the time to breed for the breed and not the wallet, establish the basis of a breed which respects its own breed standard but ensure that dogs lacking working instincts are not bred from. Any fool can breed charming little dogs, which resemble tail-less squirrels or white-coated Yorkies fit only for the bed-warming role. Breeding a working terrier is surely a joyful challenge: does it want to work? Does it have the anatomy which allows it to work? Will those who come after us respect our work?

We live in times which threaten the very future of our sporting breeds. This means that without a loyal, well-intentioned, selfless, honourable band of breed fanciers to safeguard its future, many a breed will go to the wall. Sporting breeds will only survive because their survival is planned - and their ability to move soundly is ensured.

 “To achieve correct movement it is necessary to have the bones in the right places, of the right lengths and proportions to each other and held in place by tight ligaments and the right quantity of muscle…A dog’s conformation is quite a complicated affair and movement cannot be judged by looking at it from just one or two directions. It must be looked at from in front, from behind and from the side…Looked at from the side the forelegs should reach well forward, irrespective of their length, without too much lift, ‘cutting the daisies’ as the horse people say…A long smooth stride is what is wanted, reaching well back before leaving the ground as the dog moves forward. Similarly, from the side the hind legs should reach well forward without too much lift, and well back, working all the time in co-ordination with the forelegs, with the drive from behind very apparent.”
Tom Horner, All About the Bull Terrier, Pelham, 1973. Tom Horner was perhaps the best terrier judge of his generation, judging all breeds, not just the Bull Terrier.