Judging Feet

“It has been said, “Most of the footprints in the sands of time were made by working shoes.” By the side of those footprints are paw prints.”  – Stockdog Savvy

You often hear about reach and drive, but what about feet? Feet support the entire body weight of a dog. The front feet support 60% to 75% of the dog’s weight. As a result, the front feet are slightly larger (broader) than the hind feet. Therefore, correct, sound feet are essential since poor feet can limit athletic ability and lead to impaired performance. Weak feet (splayed, flat, and broken down) are more easily affected by rough terrain and are vulnerable to both wear and injury.

Splayed and flat feet are serious faults because they lead to early breakdown and lameness. Splayed feet expose the webbing to injury. What causes feet to splay? The tendons and ligaments that hold the digits together are lax so the toes spread apart. It’s generally an inherited defect, but can be caused by an injury. When that happens, it will appear in the injured foot only, not in any of the other feet. Long toenails can increase force placed on the digits (toes) and predispose them to fractures and other injuries.

Comparison of the hare foot and cat foot

The breed standard states “Feet are oval shaped.” The oval shaped foot described in the breed standard is a semi-hare also known as a modified hare-foot. The modified hare-foot is the most functional type of foot for the Australian Shepherd, a breed that needs to be able to trot for certain distances, change directions, or alter gait instantly in rugged terrain. The longer third digital bones are also helpful for the type of quick initial speed needed for outrunning errant livestock.

Why do judges place Australian Shepherd with cat feet? The shorter third digital bones resulting in the “cat” foot (a deep, round foot with toes nearer the base of the heel of the foot) may be beneficial for sustained, long-distance trotting. However, even though it requires less energy to operate (less power to lift), it also lacks adequate leverage necessary for unusual agility (ability to change direction or alter gait instantly) which is a hallmark for our breed. The modified hare-foot appears to be somewhat flatter than the compact, highly arched, cat foot; however too often judges confuse the slightly flatter toes of the elongated hare foot with flat, and broken down feet.*

 

The breed standard also states the foot pads should be thick and resilient. Why? The foot pad is where the “rubber meets the road.” This padding is important for traction, shock absorption, and protection from rocky surfaces, briars, thorns, ice granules etc. Thin pads should be faulted. When the heel pad – the central heart-shaped pad – of the foot is thin and poorly developed it causes a dog to stand on the back part of their foot. The third digital bone isn’t adequately supported and the dog’s weight isn’t uniformly dispersed which is evident when the four smaller digital pads tip upwards. This type of foot exposes the feet and webbing to injury and causes the foot to break down.

“Pasterns are short, thick, and strong but still flexible, showing a slight angle when viewed from the side.” Why? The pasterns (metacarpus) work in conjunction with the foot. The pastern expands which helps absorb external forces which in turn minimizes the stress on the bones that form the toes.

*Don’t mistake broken-down cat-feet for the hare-foot which appears somewhat flat. Flat, broken-down feet, those lacking sufficient padding, and splayed feet should be penalized harshly.

For more information about judging, please see my book, All About Aussies:The Australian Shepherd from A to Z  (Alpine Publications, Inc.) and The Total Australian Shepherd: Beyond the Beginning by Carol Ann Hartnagle and Ernie Hartnagle: http://lasrocosa.com/education.html

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Test Your Judging I. Q.

1. Who wrote, “Selecting show dog winners is based on physical traits that may have no importance in a field trial. Are we selecting dogs on the wrong criterion? Dog show winners are selected on the basis of what looks right, not on the basis of what can be proved to be right by test.”

  1. Structure in Action: The Makings of a durable dog by Wendy E. Wallace DVM, Erin Rouse and Pat Hastings
  2. The Total Australian Shepherd by Carol Ann Hartnagle and Ernie Hartnagle
  3. Dog Locomotion and Gait Analysis by Curtis M. Brown
  4. An Eye for a Dog Illustrated Guide to Judging by Robert W. Cole

2. True or False. An Aussie built with the type of shoulder layback that produces a trotting style with good reach and drive is more agile than an Aussie with less slope (slightly steeper shoulder angle).

3. What is the functional trade-off for an Australian Shepherd with well-let down (short, close to the ground) hock joints, flatter pelvis and well-laid back shoulders versus an Aussie with longer hocks, a slightly steeper croup and pelvis?

 

4. True or False: An Australian Shepherd with large bone is better built to withstand the impact of a cow kick than an Aussie with smaller bone.

5. True or False: The difference between the cat foot and the hare shaped paw is the length of the third digital bones.

6. True or False: The compact catlike foot is designed for quick speed and jumping ability.

7. True or False: The mechanical advantage of the hare shaped foot is quick speed, turns and jumping ability.

8. True or False: Long hocks (metatarsi) contribute to speed and agility.

9. True or False: The slope of the croup indicates the backward extension of the hind feet.

10. True or False. An Aussie built with shoulders set at an angle that produce a trotting style with maximum reach and drive is more agile than an Aussie with less slope (slightly steeper angulation).

11. True or False: There is a recognizable difference between the basic structure of working and show bloodlines.

12. The slightly steeper angles (when viewed from the side) of Australian Shepherds from working bloodlines are due to:

  1. Poor conformation
  2. Unsoundness
  3. Lacking quality
  4. None of the above

13. True or False: The 45 degree angle for the “well-laid back” shoulder described in the breed standard is nonexistent.

14. True or False: The Australian Shepherd is a long-distance trotting breed able to cover as much ground as possible with as few strides as necessary.

15. True or False. The topskull and muzzle pictured in the ASCA logo are close to parallel planes. Visit this link and then scroll down to the first picture (the head study that became the ASCA logo):  http://lasrocosa.com/ascahistory2.html

Test Your Judging I. Q. ANSWERS:
1: C. Dog Locomotion and Gait Analysis by Curtis Brown. It was also quoted in the Total Australian Shepherd by Carol Ann Hartnagle and Ernie Hartnagle.
2. False. Shoulders that are set well-laid back are designed for sustained, long distance trotting.
3. False. The trade-off is quickness and agility.
4. False. Research suggests that large bones are more porous than smaller, more moderate size bones (when comparing healthy animals of the same size and age).
5. True. The two center toes in the hare foot are noticeably longer. They are not as highly arched as the cat foot either.
6. False. The shorter digital bones lack the necessary leverage action required for quick turns and agility. The catlike foot is designed for effortless, long distance trotting because it takes less energy to lift, thus increasing endurance.
7. True. The longer toes of the hare foot give more leverage for quick speed and agility.
8. True. Short hocks aid endurance for sustained trotting.
9. True. A flatter pelvis is designed for sustained, long distance trotting, while slightly steeper pelvic angles are designed for speed and agility.
10. False. Shoulders that are set are well-laid back are designed for sustained, long distance trotting.
11. True. Australian Shepherds from working bloodlines tend to have less shoulder layback (less slant compared to the vertical plane), a little steeper croup (pelvis), longer hocks and a shorter, quicker stride than their show cousins.
12: D – None of the above. The breed’s tendency for slightly straighter shoulders, a little steeper croup (pelvis) and longer hocks which produce a shorter-quick stride is due to the breed’s original, historic function as a quick and agile working stockdog.
There is a popular misconception that slightly steeper angles indicate incorrect angles and therefore produce faulty gait. As long as the individual is in balance (shoulder angulation of the forequarters is in harmony with corresponding angles in the hindquarters) the gait will be even.
13. True. It has been proven to be a misleading notion. The 45 degree shoulder was based on McDowell Lyon’s 1950 book, The Dog in Action: A Study of Anatomy and Locomotion when the ASCA Breed Standard was originally drafted and approved in 1977. Modern research has since proven this theory to be a myth. The croup with 30 degree slope (to the ground) described in the breed standard corresponds to the 45 degree angle of the shoulder.
14. False: The historical function of the breed is to work livestock. In order for the Aussie to perform the tasks of his original function he must be able to trot for certain distances as well as make instantaneous gait changes, quick and sudden turns and abrupt stops over varied terrain in close proximity to hooves and horns.
The longer extension of gait produced by well-laid back shoulders and a flatter croup naturally produces a slower reaction time to negotiate changes of direction. A dog built for sustained trotting requires an extra stride or two to alter gaits or change direction.The type of structure that best enables the Aussie to perform his inherited duty as a working stockdog is a moderate set of angles (not straight like a Chow, but not well-laid back like a German Shepherd Dog).
15. False. The topskull and muzzle pictured in the logo are oblique (non-parallel). The top portion of the skull slants or slopes very slightly towards the muzzle. Get a protractor and check it out! The slope or gradient of the line of the top skull (occiput to the stop) when extended will eventually intersect with the line of the muzzle (the stop to the tip of the nose). By contrast parallel lines remain the same distance apart and will not meet, no matter how far you extend them.

A bit of history on the prick ear and the Australian Shepherd by Ernie Hartnagle


The severe fault on prick ears has been a blight on our breed. Prick ears are naturally occurring among the bloodlines. A few of the foundation Aussies that had prick ears include Wood’s Dandy, Mansker’s Freckles, and Smedra’s Blue Mistingo.

 

In 1975, our registry was operating in its third year. The Breed was not yet established. We had set up viewing committees to accept dogs for approval. We had no official guidelines, and most of the existing Standards were little more than dumpster quality.

 

The first official Standard, the one that we are using today, was approved by the membership in 1977. Dr. Robert Kline chaired the committee, with a number of qualified veterinarians as consultants. There appeared to be an existing concern that some of the viewed dogs accepted by the viewing committee were possibly not entirely of pure Australian Shepherd breeding, most of which were endowed with prick ears.

 

The Breed Standard Committee, in needless desperation, agreed to list the prick ear set as a serious fault. They felt that this stop gap remedy would focus attention on the prick ears to discourage acceptance of these questionable individuals into the breed. This move proved to end in dismal failure.

 

In retrospect, this was unwarranted, unproven, thoughtless overkill by the committee. We, at that moment, unknowingly put a millstone around our wonderful working Aussies and have blighted his very existence and prestige among the five most popular working breeds used today. Ironically, most of these breeds support prick ears! And yet, we are the only one that needlessly faults the prick ear.

 

When prick ears were severely faulted breeders started taping their dog’s ears to their heads. Some even had them surgically cut which took away any lift. Therefore, we started seeing a majority of dogs in the show ring that had ears that couldn’t lift. If prick ears are only a fault rather than a severe fault people might be less inclined to tape them, especially if ears with no lift are severely faulted.

 

The Australian Shepherd: Also known as Aussie

Origin: Western United States

Height at shoulder: 18–23 inches (46–58 cm)

Weight: 35–70 pounds (16–32 kg)

Coat: Moderate length, medium texture

Color: Black or red, solid or merle, with or without white and/or copper (tan) trim

Ears: Semi-erect

Tail: Natural bob or docked

Australian Shepherds were developed in a time when ranches were measured in sections (square miles), not acres. Sheep outfits like the Warren Livestock Company ran 25,000 head of sheep over 284,000 acres between Casper, Wyoming, and Greeley, Colorado. Ranches today can be compared to the size of a postage stamp on a football field. They were the preferred breed during the largest part of the twentieth century. They were favored by stockmen for their stamina, and intuitiveness to handle stock in the tough, demanding conditions of working large flocks in the American west. For all practical purposes the Australian Shepherd can be considered a post World War II breed. According to foundation breeders the breed was based strongly on Basque and Spanish dogs that were brought to the United States from Spain in the 1940s and 1950s.

This occurred in the time period when 40 to 50 million head of sheep were grazed in the open ranges throughout the western half of the United States. Many of the herders that came here were shepherds in their homeland. They arrived (on a three-year visa) under contract through the Western Range Association. When they got here, they wrote home and told their brothers to join them, which they did and brought their dogs. During that time in history hundreds of Basques and their dogs were recruited in to the western sheep ranches due to the severe labor shortage created during the 1940s and 1950s.

The “little blue dogs” started gaining recognition because they started showing up throughout the west as the herders brought them in. In response, the Australian Shepherd Club of America (ASCA) was founded. By 1974, there were only 16.5 million sheep in the United States. The sheep industry continued to decline and Basque herders were no longer recruited from Spain, but the breed’s underpinning was laid. See also: Australian Shepherd History Revisited.

And although all Australian Shepherds have the same basic appearance that sets them apart from other breeds, there is a distinct difference that occurred in the development of the show bloodlines. The original foundation working dogs were built with the structure to sprint and outrun sheep and cattle. In 1977, when ASCA, the Australian Shepherd Club of America adopted the current breed standard, a different kind of Aussie began to emerge. The standard aided by the show program saw the advancement of Australian Shepherds with greater front angulations and flatter pelvic angles ideal for trotting effortlessly for long distances. The trade-off for the development of the trotting Aussie was paid for with the sacrifice of speed and agility so crucial for herding to make abrupt stops and turns at full speeds necessary to outmaneuver livestock. For more on Australian Shepherd history please visit:

To learn more about Australian Shepherds please visit:

http://www.lasrocosa.com/education.html

Or check out the book All About Aussies: Australian Shepherds from A to Z, by Jeanne-Joy Hartnagle-Taylor.

Form Follows Function?

Interestingly, the statement: form ever follows function as it appeared in the article titled, “The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered” is credited to Louis Sullivan, American architect. I don’t know if that is actually the earliest citation of form follows function, nevertheless, he implied that the function should be the primary concern of anyone designing objects.

 

The principal of form follows function as it relates to dogs is assumed to be the basis of evaluating the outward appearance in the show-ring. Dogs that are exceptional in conformation and able to perform their original function are thought to be the epitome of excellence.

 

The only real method of testing the form is the function which further reveals the temperament and drive necessary for the work. Is the dual-champion (a show-type dog that can pass an instinct test) the embodiment of form follows function, or is it the true working dog?

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