608 Forward Movement ;Sp Dogs

by   David Hancock

 I believe it is entirely  fair to say that the standard of movement in so many pedigree breeds is fast deteriorating and far too many contemporary judges simply do not know how to judge it. Good movement can soon disappear if ignorant judges reward faulty movement. Most terrier breeds in the showring seem now to have short upper arms and upright shoulders. This restricts their forward reach, length of stride and freedom of forequarter movement. This, combined with being strung up on too short a lead, produces a blur of front legs when on the move because the wretched dog has to take so many shortened steps to get anywhere. If any sporting breed is to have stamina it must have good forward reach and free effortless daisy-clipping front movement.

 As far as hind movement is concerned, a great deal of comment is made in show critiques of bend of stifle and angle of hock. Below the hip however the bones of most breeds are similarly constructed. It is the angle the pelvis makes with the spine wherein breed differences arise. The sighthounds have a slope of around 60 degrees and a low set of tail because they have to get their hindlegs as far forward as possible to achieve stride length and pace. The terriers have a slope of only around 10 degrees because their breeders are seeking a high set of tail. This gives them a short rear stride, with characteristic movement. The scenthounds probably need a pelvic slope of around 30 degrees to allow length of rear stride and a balanced harmonious movement. Some of their  breed standards however, the Beagle's and the Hamiltonstovare's for example, ask for a tail set high; a tail set too high will inevitably result in a stilted terrier-like hind movement untypical of the breed.

 At the end of the last century, the pursuit of absurdly barrel-chested rib cages by misguided Bulldog breeders, led to 'out at elbow' becoming almost a breed feature. It has taken a long time to put that right. The ratio of chest depth to its width is now known to be a factor in the incidence of bloat in dogs. Lungroom comes from a balance between girth of chest and length of rib cage. The breed standard drawn up by the British Bullmastiff League at its inception contained this valuable phrase: "...ribs arched, deep and well set back to hips"; today's breed standard does not even mention the ribs. The Bullmastiff's ancestors needed to gallop; to do so they needed lungroom to sustain the gallop but also no interference with activity from being too short coupled. The size of the gap between the last or rearmost rib and the leading edge of the dog's thigh is a crucial one; too little allows explosive power but no endurance, too much can produce a weak back through lack of support. A hand's width is perhaps ideal in a hunting mastiff. The Ancient Greeks knew the value of length of back in dogs designed to gallop; Arrian and Xenophon linking it with spirit and pace. There would be value in the bullmastiff clubs conducting a study on the distance between the point of shoulder and the point of buttock in their dogs. This measurement, which should be slightly more than the height of the dog, will always be linked to the compactness of a dog and its ability to move impressively, with strength and purpose. 

 Substance and great strength come from correct construction and powerful muscular development, very different from a fat dog with heavy bone. There is evidence that puppies bred and fed for 'great bone' are more prone to hip dysplasia. Hip and elbow dysplasia, osteosarcoma and cervical vertebral malformation appear to be more prevalent in the heavier breeds, most of whom are far heavier than their ancestors. Bone disorders in the pedigree dog are becoming more frequent in incidence. Massive round bone is not strong bone; the Foxhound breeders found this to their cost one hundred years ago when the so-called 'shorthorn' period did enormous damage to breeding stock. Flat bone, produced naturally, has long been found to be stronger -- ask any racehorse owner! Why breed large dogs with heavy round bone when such a feature is neither typical nor healthy?

 But why breed dogs in 2008 for a lost function? The answer is that function gave us breed type, with physical soundness. Look at many of the pedigree breeds which can no longer carry out their original role. Are they better dogs for that fundamental loss? Once they were bred away from function they all lost their true type. In his informative book "All About the Bull Terrier", the late Tom Horner described the four types which can surface in this breed: the Bull, the Terrier, the Dalmatian and the Middle of the Road type, going on to refer to unacceptable variations such as the Borzoi, Corgi and Fox Terrier types. Most pedigree breeds are a blend of blood, acquired in the pursuit of function. The skill of the breeder lies in getting the balance of ancestor blood correct and appropriate; type is never a constant, it has to be consciously and constantly resought.

Breeders of British breeds are sometimes accused abroad of seeking exaggeration, exaggeration to a degree which is harmful and untypical. Those perpetuating our native breeds must remember the function for which that particular breed was developed, whether that function has lapsed or not. Only then can real genuine historically correct type be preserved. Every breeder of one of our native breeds has a special duty to safeguard its future; we must never let breeders from foreign countries change type or dictate what our breeds should look like. In his informative book "The Theory and Practice of Breeding to Type", published by 'Our Dogs' sixty years ago, CJ Davies concluded: "...animals nearest to the 'correct type' are those best adapted for the work which they are supposed to perform;" it is so important to remember this when assessing a dog or planning a litter. Breeders and judges, think hard before you make decisions -- the future of all our magnificent breeds of dog are in your hands.