Gait in the Australian Shepherd

The Australian Shepherd may have to trail stock for many miles and at any given moment be able to display great bursts of speed to outrun and turn a maverick. He often employs many forms of gait during any given day. His ability to maneuver quickly at full speed is referred to as agility. The dog that is able to cover the greatest amount of steps without sacrificing agility is ideal. In other words, the moderately angulated, balanced individual is the most functional and therefore the most desirable.

The gait most often chosen to assess correct gait is the trot. This is a symmetrical gait in which the legs of either side repeat the actions of the other side, but they do so a half a stride later. The trot is a gait of medium speed in which the dog is supported by alternating diagonal pairs of limbs. The forequarter legs are off the ground only a split second longer than the legs of the hindquarter to allow the front feet to clear the ground in advance of the placement of the hind legs on the same side. When the front foot leaves the ground, the hind foot takes or “fills” its place.

trotWhen the Australian Shepherd shifts from the walk into an easy, slow trot, the gait is called “collected.” In the “extended” trot, the legs reach out to increase stride length and speed. (The length of stride is measured from the place where one paw leaves the ground to the place where the same paw again strikes the ground.) When a period of suspension occurs between the support phases and propulsion, the gait is referred to as a “flying” or “suspended” trot.

It can take many years of observation to apply knowledge of gait. The interplay of strengths and weaknesses between fore and hind assemblies is more clearly revealed in the trot than in any other gait. By viewing the Australian Shepherd at a trot from the side you can see the interaction of the forequarters with the hindquarters. The Aussie’s gait suggests endurance. There is an effortless quality in the stride, which is deliberate without wasting energy. The most effective movement does not always stand out and attract attention. However, its quality is never mistaken because all parts harmonize without disrupting the interworking of other parts. When viewed from the side the dog’s topline should be strong and appear level between the shoulders and the loin. When the dog is trotting there should be no bobbing, as the withers should remain level in motion. Any up-and-down movement wastes energy and indicates another structural inefficiency.

precise footfall

Precision foot timing is absolutely necessary for the tireless trot when working.

Sometimes while in the working gait, the Australian Shepherd may drop his head slightly. When alert or focusing his attention on something, however, he can lift his head while in motion.

Actual body length determines foot placement, which is governed by angulation. The Aussie is slightly longer than he is tall. Balance and symmetry are the first and foremost requirements in a working breed. This is influenced by correct static conformation, but is measured by the yardstick of performance. Correct shoulder angulation that allows adequate reach but that lacks the corresponding angulation of the driving hindquarters is of little value. This kind of dog cannot “fill” his fore tracks and ends up wasting energy. On the other hand, an Aussie with well-angled hindquarters and insufficiently angulated forequarters overdrives the front assembly by forcing the front feet and legs to get out of the way of the back ones, causing faults such as dwelling and crabbing.

Condensed from All About Aussies, copyright © 2009 by Jeanne-Joy Hartnagle-Taylor.

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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.

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?

Enemy Among Us

PETA’s true colors stood out with the KKK imagery they used to protest the American Kennel Club at the Westminster Kennel Club show. PETA uses intimidation tactics to harass and terrorize their victims just as the KKK did. History tells us when those methods failed; they were willing to commit murder. PETA is now directing their activities towards children:

http://www.petakillsanimals.com/article_detail.cfm?article=156

If innocent children are not safe against their expressions of hate — I am convinced these domestic terrorists will stop at nothing. They are an enemy among us. Just as the KKK hid their identities behind pointed hoods and long white robes, PETA hides their identity under the guise of groups like HSUS.

In the meantime, dog fanciers (of all breeds and bloodlines) slander each other and bicker over inconsequential issues through various Email lists. Of course, it is always with the rationalization of having the breed’s best interest in mind. What a distraction. If there was ever a time to speak up and put the breed’s “best interest” concept in action— it is now:

http://endangeredowner.blogspot.com/2009/01/hsus-turn-in-breeder-program.html

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