968 SHOULDERS FOR SIGHTHOUNDS
SHOULDERS FOR SIGHTHOUNDS
I once asked a very successful racing Greyhound owner/trainer what was the first feature he looked for when appraising new stock. He didn't hesitate, replying most emphatically "Shoulders first, then loin, then prey-drive". When you consider the role of these three attributes: extension, power and guts, you can see what he meant. Coursing Greyhounds were almost certainly the best sighthounds ever bred. Winners of the Waterloo Cup were rightly revered both as canine athletes and as breeding stock. One of the greatest coursing dogs was Waterloo Cup winner (four times) Fullerton. We are fortunate to have, unusually, depictions of him, both photographic and artistic, as well as a model of his skeleton. There are lessons to be learned in studying these portrayals. They display no exaggeration, smooth symmetry and a graceful balance. At the end of the 19th century, coursing stars were exhibited in the show ring and became the phenotypical specimens for their breed.
In The Kennel Gazette of April, 1891, the report covering the Greyhound entry at the Kennel Club’s 35th annual show contained these words: “These were far larger classes than usual at Kennel Club shows, and were particularly interesting from the fact of Col North’s entries of Huic Holloa and Gay City for competition, and Fullerton, Young Fullerton and Simonian not for competition. Five dogs of a similar high running form have never before been seen at a dog show. Fullerton is a very much better looking dog than ever Master McGrath was, showing more quality and much better made in front. He was exhibited in most perfect condition, full of muscle, and his feet and legs were a treat to see; in this respect Young Fullerton is also very good, although of course he has not the power of his older brother. Simonian is a beautifully topped dog with immense quality, but his feet will never stand the work of either his brothers.” At this show, the top coursing dogs were on display from the leading coursing kennels, such as Col North's, of the time. The sentiment behind the report stresses the crucial link between function and form.
After a lack of prey-drive, the biggest fault for me in a sporting sighthound is upright shoulders, so often accompanied by short upper arms. The rearward extension determines the length of stride of the dog in the sprint; if you limit that extension you handicap the dog. The shoulder placement is the key to sound front movement, well-placed shoulders allow the full extension of forelimbs. Any sighthound with a hint of a Hackney-action, that high-stepping prancing front-action of the Toy breed, the Italian Greyhound, should never be bred from. The shoulder blades should not quite touch each other at the withers, at least one finger's width being desirable. I never see ring judges check this feature. Differences in topline are all too obvious in the lure-racing dogs; the correct sprinter's back should be level at the shoulders and, from the shoulders, flow to a good arch over the loin and, at no time, be roached, humped or wheel-backed. A flat back is incorrect; the arch should always be over the loin.
For over a century, dog writers and show judges have insisted that the correct angulation for the forequarters of the dog, the slope of the shoulder, should be 45 degrees. (This originally referred to a 45 degree angle between the slope of the scapula and the horizontal, not, as some state, the angle between the scapula and the upper arm). This has never been the case in sighthounds and is being vigorously challenged in all sporting breeds, after compelling evidence from cineradiography or moving X-rays. American experts Rachel Page Elliott and Curtis M Brown have produced convincing evidence to show the standing dog, in most breeds, displays a 30 degree slope, with sighthounds featuring as much as 10 degrees less. An exaggerated long forward reach is not essential for the sighthound, but immense extension is, both fore and aft. The work of these American experts stresses most effectively the importance of the front assembly in all sighthounds. The power will always come from the back, but the manoeuvrability comes from the front. The set of the shoulders decides this flexible agility.
In his book The Conformation of the Dog, RH Smythe wrote: "One reason why a sloping shoulder is preferable lies in the much freer and faster action which is associated with this type of conformation...A good shoulder is much more likely to be accompanied by a good length of chest and by additional lung space than one which is badly spaced." A famous Newmarket trainer used to stress 'No shoulder, no horse!' A famous professional huntsman advised 'Necks and shoulders! get the necks and shoulders and the rest will come!' Every breeder of canine sprinters, whether lurchers, Whippets or Greyhounds, should study the anatomy of 'Fullerton' and aim to replicate the set of shoulders so visibly depicted in this outstanding canine athlete.