Fri, 06/16/2023 - 11:35pm

Why Move the Dog?

Sid Marx contemplates what is revealed on the gait

I am absolutely adamant that fault-judging is one of the most damaging things a judge can do when judging a breed. It can be the cause of — as one of our best breeder-judges has said — “stepping over a great dog to put up a good dog.”

That being said, it is impossible for a good judge not to at least see obvious faults. The key to good judging is weighing the positives and negatives of the dog in front of you. Acknowledging that, I must admit that there are faults that I believe are very deleterious for a breed, and therefore it would take a lot of positives for me to use a dog with any of these faults.

Let me step back a moment and acknowledge that we have so many excellent handlers these days who are able to set up a dog in such a manner as to make a beautiful picture and “hide” many faults. That is why the most important thing a judge can do in the ring is pay close attention to the dog in motion. When the dog is in motion, there is very little a handler can do to hide serious faults — and that is why I am bothered by those few I have heard who say that the “down and back is not important.” All movement is important and shows structure — especially side movement. For those who believe that “type” and “soundness” are two very different things, all I can say is we absolutely do not agree. Soundness is part of type, and the two should never be separated. Most standards describe how the breed should move, and true “dog people” understand how a breed’s structure determines why the dog moves this way.

According to a 2015 AKC article attributed to “D.M. and AKC staff,” “Finding and rewarding the essence of breed type is what judging is all about. I am not putting type over soundness. I consider them both essential and overlapping. Soundness is about much more than not being lame. It is breed-specific. Soundness in a Pekingese is different from soundness in a German Shepherd Dog. Further, a hunting dog with a pinched, small nose is as unsound for his job as a lame dog would be. Any definition of soundness must include having in good working order all the parts that are needed for that particular breed’s function. Soundness is totally breed-specific and related to breed type.”

As Pat Trotter said during an AKC breed symposium, “Type is the FORM in the Form and Function equation. Soundness is the FUNCTION in the Form and Function equation. Together they create the working animal of the breed standard.”

I cannot abide sickle hocks, as I think this is a very deleterious fault. As described by, “sickled hocked” is “the inability to straighten the hock joint on the back reach of the hind leg. A dog with sickle hocks usually stands with his rear pasterns slightly forward in order to support weak hindquarters. When trotting, his top line will bob up and down, which results in wasted energy. Instead of moving forward with power, the dog's energy goes ‘up and down.’”

According to, “That condition ultimately often leads to chronic arthritis and lameness, and may lead to fusion of the lower hock joints. Excessive sickle hock conformation loads the front part of the hock and predisposes the development of hock arthritis and strain of the tarsal plantar ligament (curb). A dog with sickle hocks has a poorly synchronized gait which destroys the dog's efficiency. If your dog is ‘just a pet,’ this will impact the pleasure she has going for long walks and playing fetch.”

By closely watching a dog “go around,” you can see if the dog’s foot timing is proper and how he maintains balance in movement. Proper footfall, timing and reach — not always the tremendous reach we hear talked about — helps to confirm the angulation the judge felt during examination. I believe balance is extremely important in any breed (and in our lives), and this is best seen in motion and when the dog is allowed to stand on its own.

There are three other traits that become readily visible when watching a dog’s side gait: topline, length (and depth) of rib, and tail set. Without a handler’s ability to “present” the dog’s topline during a stack, a soft or incorrect topline becomes apparent with the dog in motion. Why is this so important? A poor or soft topline will eventually break down, often causing the dog pain. In some breeds — those that are significantly longer than tall — this is a major health issue. Since we are judging possible breeding stock, the judge needs to be aware of deficiencies that should not be passed on.

Length and depth of rib are vital in breeds that are required to work — or run — for long periods of time. Correspondingly, a short rib cage results in a longer — and weaker — loin, again making it more difficult for the dog to perform its function smoothly. Some may point out that many — actually, most — field dogs do not have the “proper” conformation or length of rib cage, and they run all day. That is absolutely true, but those dogs run like that on their great heart!

How important is a tail set? First of all, there is a vast difference between tail SET and tail CARRIAGE. Many male dogs will carry their tail high when in competition or around bitches. A poor tail set — usually very low — could be an indication that the whole rear assembly is shifted too far underneath, which could later wind up with back or rear injuries and pain. From a purely aesthetic point of view, it seriously detracts from a proper silhouette.

So now that I have discussed how these weaknesses — negatives — affect a dog and a judge’s perception of that dog, what about the positive side of this? When a dog has a strong topline, good length of rib (and proper rib spring), and a correct tail set, the dog is more likely to be in balance — and for me, there is nothing more important than a dog that is in balance both standing and in motion. These positive traits — combined with proper front and rear angulation — make for a dog that is in harmony and is very difficult to beat in the ring. More importantly, this is the dog (or bitch) that should be used in a breeding program. A dog that is in balance — in harmony — is an absolute delight to behold.


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I just read a very humorous discussion on Facebook. Various people were discussing the evils of “sculpting” any breed. All those on the thread were strongly against this type of grooming. Have they looked in the rings recently? I would love to see the dogs that these people show (if, indeed, they show at all).

Yes, excessive grooming — or sculpting — is undesirable in most breeds. But then the judge must make a decision about putting up a dog that is excessively — incorrectly — groomed or an inferior dog that is not so sculpted. Of course, the one time that this decision becomes moot is when a breed specifically states, “Shaving or barbering of the head, neck or body coat must be severely penalized.” Or, “The rough, unrefined outline and tousled appearance of this rustic hunting hound is essential. Any sculpting, clipping, scissoring or shaping of the coat is contrary to … breed type.” Any judge who ignores a parent-club directive like this is stating he simply does not care about the breed standard — and should not be judging that breed.

So, the ultimate point I am trying to make is the importance of watching a dog in motion to determine the “typey” (which must include soundness as described by the standard), balanced, harmonious dog who is presented well. Balance and harmony are key.

What do you think?








Sid Marx contemplates what is revealed on the gait

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