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The Movement of the Dog: Anatomy and the Body in Motion

Presentation by Fritz Blüml, Chairman of Group Südbayern (South Bavaria), and Roland Lenz, Chairman of Group Thüringen (Thüringia), at the Annual Meeting of Group North America, June 12-14, 1998, St. Clair, Missouri. Thank you to Robert K. W. Seeger, member of Group North America and a social member of Group Canada, who provided this translation of the presentation for publication.


The most important attributes of very good gun dogs are performance, character, essence and endurance/stamina. The latter can only be demonstrated if the gun dog has a nearly faultless body that is in continuous training to be fit and strong. A dog with a defective body would acquire health problems through training. Sooner or later he would collapse because his circulatory system fails, or there may be major problems in the forequarters similar to a horse.

People may be surprised to hear that circulatory collapse originates in the faulty structure of the dog’s body. It has been established that the concept “Meat Eater” is much broader than a reference to nourishment. The metabolic system of the dog, which is also decisive for the total physical and mental performance of a healthy animal, can develop only by sufficient exercise. We must acquire certain anatomical knowledge to understand this. We must learn to see what happens in the different movements and which conditions contribute to or exclude the primary factors that lead to fatigue and failure of the dog.

The observer with a properly trained eye allows himself some time. He will observe the dog calmly from a distance to get an overall impression before he eyes particular items for judgment. He observes the dog first while standing and then in motion, which sums up his body structure, his character and his present condition. Only then does the trained observer (judge) review the individual parts of external characteristics closer and compares them to the particular Breed Standard and the particular requirements for each breed as listed. Everybody knows that a dog perfect in all points is very rare, yet we attempt to get as close as possible to the standard.

Even the layman may notice the harmonic and well-balanced lines of head, neck, forequarters and hindquarters, back and tail, which drive the dog forward in a smooth swinging line above the ground. It is important to know that in the standing dog the total weight is not equally distributed to all four legs. The forequarters carry approximately 2/3 of the total body weight.

As mentioned before, the better balanced the body is, the more we will notice a harmonic play between the forequarters and hindquarters. This will result in a flat curve propelling the body forward and in a movement that is smooth and conserves energy. While evaluating the walk of a dog, we may pay primary attention to the movement of head, neck and withers. There we can see if we have to deal with a correct, a defective, or a bad gait.

Certainly we get a first overall impression if we look at a quietly standing dog. However, it is only when this dog moves that we may notice if he also has the correct, well-balanced internal prerequisites. We like to establish at this point that the healthy dog must have a correct structure of the forequarters as well as of the hindquarters. The pushing and driving force of the hindquarters must stay in full harmony with the lifting and supporting force of the forequarters. If this isn’t so, we will notice the gait unbalanced and in default, like with a machine in which the individual parts do not fit together. Since the dog is a living creature, he will attempt to compensate for his physical inability through increased use of his muscles. However, this will always result in reduction of endurance and overall decreased performance and in the waste of a lot of energy. It is particularly important that the correct function of the forequarters get sufficient attention. The forequarters support and carry 2/3 of the dog’s body and leads to the gallop, while the frequently mentioned hindquarters provide only the driving push. Even perfectly angled hindquarters are of little help when the corresponding angle is missing in the shoulder and vice-versa. It is impossible for the individual body parts to work in harmony if the overall construction is not in balance.


Gun dogs in particular require stamina. Stamina can only be expected from a dog with a balanced body structure, especially with correct forequarters and hindquarters. And here we have reached an important point. While on the one hand, dogs will be evaluated by their form, colour, coat, etc., on the other hand it is the very important duty of the kynologist (a scholar who studies dogs) to go deeper to the base of problems during an evaluation. He must search behind the externals for the body parts that must provide the work. It teaches how important it is to know and to pay attention to the basic rules and the anatomical principles and which conclusion can be drawn from observing the movements.

To be able to interpret the observation correctly, to recognize standing position and body work in motion, we must be familiar with the fundamental rules of movement and anatomy. Efficiency can only be retained through continuous training of the entire organism, which means it is not guaranteed forever despite a perfect anatomical structure (i.e., if you do not use it, you lose it!). When overloaded or not having sufficiently developed inner organs (heart and lungs), an oxygen shortage takes place and with this an insufficient combustion occurs, resulting in short supply of nutrients and strength to the muscles. This can be seen when the dog gets tired quickly and he has to rest more often. Therefore, it does not make sense to expect or demand high performance from a dog that is not accordingly well-built nor sufficiently trained. There can be no top performance without careful training. As the dog ages, the total organism loses the ability to react. His metabolism slows down, and we realize that the muscle structure and the full performance and reaction ability decline. The heart, which is also a muscle, loses some of its performance ability as well. The exertion one expects must therefore be matched with the dog’s ability. At the same time it must not completely cease, since muscles that are not sufficiently exercised have a tendency to atrophy (shrink). Again: if you don’t use it, you lose it.

It must be realized that at every Breed Show the evaluation of the displayed dogs — whether they are very good, good, or poor — will be made based on the dogs’ condition that day.


The less noticeable the rise and fall of the withers (dorsal vertebrae) appears, the more harmonic and powerful its motion mechanism. Every noticeable swaying movement takes time and robs energy from muscles and joints. This results in fatigue factors, which in turn reduce the dog’s power.

The hindquarters propel the dog’s body with a mighty forward thrust, with its effectiveness depending on the correct angulation of the rear end, while the forequarters have to do the heavier work. They not only have to catch the body and carry it forward but must also dampen the shock, so that the body follows in a smooth curve and at the same time initiates the following movements.


The walk is the slowest form of movement. With this type of movement the dog stays closest to the ground, and the four limbs are moving one after the other with two if not three limbs supporting the body. For this reason the walk is also the least tiresome movement for the dog.

The trot is the accelerated movement in which the animal endures lunges without getting tired. The trot shows the merits or flaws of the entire dog’s body more than any other form of movement. During the trot the carrying, suspension and anticipated forward action of the forequarters and hindquarters are further supported by the back muscles, which are totally relaxed during the walk.

In the good trot performance we see the good shoulder, sturdy long croup and a strong loin connection. There is good angulation and proportion of the limbs and the good quality of the muscles and ligaments. During the trot, contrary to the walk, there is none of the side to side movements of head or body visible.

Dogs that amble are immediately recognized because their body swings side to side. This appears unusual and is not desired by any dog breeds. Contrary to other dog gaits, during the amble the limbs do not work in diagonal pairs but the limbs on the same side of the body work almost together at the same time. Consequently the body’s center of gravity is not diagonally supported, but one-sided only and therefore shoved back and forth over the body’s axial centerline.

I have been dealing longer with this subject than many may consider necessary because I have regularly observed during my judging activity that many dogs ambled. This is often because the handlers didn’t understand that they needed to wake their dog up from lethargy. When these dogs were handled in a fast and smooth manner, as they should be, they changed instantly from amble into an ordinary trot. According to the present Breed Standard the continual amble is a serious fault.


It can be observed that dogs smoothly change without any reservation from one form of movement into another according to their pleasure or mood.

The gallop is actually the fastest movement. During this gait, the body is not shoved or thrown forward anymore but is catapulted forward with high speed during which the limbs and the whole body work together. Decisive for the thrust of the hindquarters is the angulation of the stifle (knee joint) and the position of the pelvis. The stifle is the most important joint for the forward movement of the dog, and not the tarsus (ankle joint) as many wrongly assume. If the stifle fails, every normal movement of the body is impossible. On the other hand, a dog can compensate for a defect or stiffness in the tarsus and can move even if it is restricted.

All systems of movement result in a thrust onto the forequarters. Only the correctly positioned shoulder is able to elastically absorb the thrust and enable this shock free and smooth continued forward motion. As said before, this can be seen on the movement of the withers. When the dog moves evenly and quietly this is not only a sign of good body structure and a well built shoulder but also as a sign of an enduring running dog.

The withers should be well marked, and the whole back should be short, straight, wide and have muscular strength without any sign of weakness. By the way, we must notice that most defects blamed on the back are actually defects of the total body that can be read almost totally by observing the back.


This is one of the important observations. It explains why the paw of the dog has to be well arched, because only the arched paws provide an elastic exchange between toes and sole pads, which if you look closely acts like a ping pong ball on a board bouncing quickly upwards.

When the dog has spread paws, his moves are inelastic like a flatfooted person. This requires much more energy. The same happens to the dog whose foot joints are not tight enough because of weak muscles and step-through bands. The quick cushioning is not possible anymore and the dog requires much more energy and also time for the movement.

To put it all together, it can be said that the longer the shoulder blade and humerus, the more slanted position of both, the more freedom in the shoulder and the further the ability to move forward. However, there are limits to the amount of slant, which isn’t mentioned often enough. A shoulder blade with too great a slant does not provide stability and could seriously restrict the movement since the muscles are overloaded with too wide of a breast and radius projecting outward and the front legs are joining on the ground. The ground tied or so-called toe tight position can be seen in the standing dog whose paws slightly turn inwards. The dog displays a wobbling crossing gait during movement.

The front paws are usually larger than the rear, which is necessary because of the bigger load. Around 60% of the body weight of the standing dog rests on the forequarters and in the fast running dog, approximately the total body weight. The rear paws on the contrary are burdened by only about 4/5 of the body weight. Also the time span of contact with the ground during the steps is 1½ times as long on the front than the rear. The bottom of the pads cannot be firm and tough enough, which is only possible when the dogs have sufficient exercise. Altogether multiple artfully designed muscles on the forequarters are working together and catching the body weight, cushioning and supporting the torso and additionally participating in the push action. Therefore, the correct slant position of the shoulder blade to the chest is very important, so that the angle that connects it with the adjoining humerus is determined.

To evaluate the forequarters, place your dog in a calm standing position. Search for the middle of the shoulder blade and place the rear end of the front paws below this point. We must here again review the length of the humerus, since it is like the shoulder blade, important for the balance and for the wide reaching movement. Even with the best shoulder position the dog can step only so far as the length of his bones allow. In all dog breeds (with few exceptions) the humerus is longer than the shoulder blade.

By combining all of this, it can be said that the longer the shoulder blade and humerus, the more slanted their position, the greater also is the forward moving ability during running as well as the shoulder freedom.

“Loose shoulder”, a concept that has been adopted like many others from the evaluation of horses, exists where there is too much weakness of the bands between shoulder blade and torso and consequently the shoulder blade moves loosely. Outward turned elbows are also the result of too much exertion during the development stage (whelp-age) or the wrong grabbing during picking up and carrying of the pup, whereby the bands are over-stretched. This also can be found in dogs with soft and stretched bands. Both the front legs (lower arm and fore pastern) must be straight when reviewed from the front. They should be perpendicular to the ground and parallel to each other and have strong and tight-jointed bones. The center of gravity of the body lies in the middle and is carried equally by both sides. This is the correct build of the dog in the standing position. If the dog starts moving, he lifts one paw and not to lose balance, he must shift the body weight to the other side.

This can also be observed during the demonstration in the show ring. There the dog is kept on a very tight leash, the hand is pulled up and with this the dog’s head is supported, which makes it easier for him to continue the way of movement.

A free moving dog will always try to get away from this type of movement the faster he goes. It is easier for the dog to drive his body weight and with it the center of gravity as much as possible straight forward, since the swinging movement from right to left costs valuable energy. Also, dogs have a typical pattern of frequently changing from one gait to another, which is launched by the forequarters thus making fewer steps than the hindquarters.

Also the head and neck go lower and stretch forward, placing the center of gravity further to the front. This also explains the suspension phase in which the body, through the momentum of movement is partly in suspension without contact to the ground. As we comprehensively discussed, the forequarters and the hindquarters have to harmoniously complement each other in their movement. While we pay special attention in the forequarters to the angle of the shoulder blade from withers to the sternum (breastbone), apply this in the hindquarters for the slanting position of the pelvis and the slope of the croup. When the pelvis is too steeply positioned, this results in a simultaneously more slanted position of the upper thigh. Through this manner the forward push is converted to an upward push and can therefore not fully propel the body.


All too often we judge especially good performance based on power and speed, and at the same time too seldom is the most important evaluation point considered — endurance.

Regardless of which advantage your dog may show, it is important that he is dependable and enduring in it. This is fundamentally the deciding scale for the evaluation of the dog, whatever it is. Endurance, power and speed are not only practical considerations, but are the result of special physical and breed-specific features. To get to the bottom of the matter, we have to study the standards of the various breeds. There is the talk of fiery eyes, chiseled muscles, nobility of the movement, short back, etc., but it must be realized that this does not do any good because this is the description of only that which we can see on the outside. During the evaluation of the dog’s body, we also notice that a body that is altogether practical and able to perform also looks beautiful.

The dog radiates something that is particular for his breed. He appears fierce or wiry, watchful and curious or relaxed. His movement displays balance and self-confidence. The more we remain occupied with it, we will discover differences between the individual dogs and realize that the total impression could be disturbed through noticeable corporal flaws. Unfortunately, beauty defects are in reality mostly a sign of deeper lying serious problems that the layman does not always notice because he does not know the connection. Therefore it should not happen that a dog that has noticeable faults be judged Very Good because he has other lesser important points that are very good. It is also wrong in selecting breeding stock to equalize an inherent defect with another advantage or even worse to accept a fault opposing the other defect. This then creates even more disharmony and makes this evil even worse.

I would like to explain this with an example. Consider a dog that has perfectly built limbs and back, but hasn’t enough width and depth nor a good arched chest to hold the internal organs — heart and lungs — and provide them with the sufficient space. This dog is, despite the uncontested advantages, always on the disappointing end when it comes to endurance and performance. I remember very well at the VGP where the dogs first completed other stressful categories and later do their dead game baying at the end of the blood tracking work. A number of dogs needed quite some time until they regained the breath required to call the handler after they found the game. The inner organs failed here. Even with truly enduring training the inner organs could not develop, since the required space for them was not there. This shows that one advantage alone for a good evaluation is not sufficient and how important an overall balanced and harmonic body structure is. The meaning of the evaluation in the first place is not that a particular dog brings home as many diplomas as possible, but rather to find the animals that ultimately are required for the conservation or improvement of the breed. The goal is to sort out the less suitable dogs and when appropriate to not qualify them for breeding.

We recognize various sections on the body of each dog — head, body and extremities. The skeleton protects and supports. It is the internal, bony or cartilaginous frame to which the muscles and tendons are connected and it encloses sensitive organs in its cavities (skull, breast, eye cavity, etc.). The vital organs such as the brain and spinal marrow are protectively enclosed into the interior of the bones. The skeleton is not stiff, since the animal must move, and it is put together from many individual bones. These bones are either fixed or connected with joints and by muscles and tendons. The vertebral column, a large bone column that stretches from head to tail is in a manifold way the main axis of the body. The vertebral column consists of a large number of bones that are moveable in line with each other.

In the middle of the spine (vertebral column) is the upper dorsal vertebra, which serves to hold the muscles. The side projections are called cross extensions. From the spine, bones are joined to the backside and form a ring. The rings of all spine sections form a canal in which the bone marrow is located. At the front end, the bone marrow canal gets wider and forms a large cavity the “skull cavity” which encloses the brain. With the vertebras on one side and the breastbone (sternum) on the other side, the ribs are connected to form the chest, which inside and below the spine holds the organs for breathing, the blood circulation, the digestion and for reproduction. The most important and most sensitive are in this bone-protected cavity.

The body is supported in front and back through limb pairs (say front and rear limbs). The muscles that span the whole body of the dog move the moveable parts of the skeleton. The muscles primarily give the body the coherence and the power to move. They are the “motion apparatus” of the dog. The protective and supporting total skeleton to which the individual bones and the connecting cartilage, joints and bands belong is the so-called skeletal-muscular system. The active non-tiring part changes the skeleton into a leverage mechanism and we can recognize that this motion apparatus is truly a technical miracle, or it should be.

The dog is a carnivore (meat-eater). When saying this, one usually thinks of feeding, without being aware that the total body structure of the dog is designed for its need. Eating meat on one hand means that quantitatively less food is required because more concentrated food fills the need, but on the other hand it means that the food has to be procured. This means that it must first be hunted and killed.

This however also means that the body of the dog (wolf) is built less voluminous and can therefore be a lighter build. NOT ONLY THAT: He must not only be lighter but also more flexible and active in his movement. Ultimately constant and sufficient exercise are not only important for getting food, but more importantly they are required so that the body can actually be formed to its purpose and also remain in form. This is the way to understand fully and correctly the meaning MEAT EATER. Originally a mobile predator, the dog’s body even today shows the particular construction for it and reacts with sensitive impairments and interruptions that result from multiplying by folly breeding, in the hope for the unattainable.

The way of life of the mobile predators (wolf, coyote, wild dog, fox, etc.) demands and makes possible that they endure with the greatest physical and mental agility in a quick and powerful way.

These are all abilities, which have also been used as the most important factor in the evaluation of our GUN DOGS.

Editor’s Note: For those of you who are interested in investigating the topic of movement in the dog further, you may want to look into the work of Rachel Page Elliott.

Dogsteps – a New Look: A Better Understanding of Dog Gait through Cineradiography (“Moving X-Rays”) Book: Dogsteps — a New Look: A Better Understanding of Dog Gait through Cineradiography (“Moving X-Rays”). Doral Publishing: 2001. ISBN: 0944875734. Available in paperback from Barnes and Noble for $17.95.

Dog Steps – A Study of Canine Structure and Movement. Video: Dog Steps — A Study of Canine Structure and Movement. 1 hour and 9 minutes — $49.95. Available from The American Kennel Club (attn: videos), 51 Madison Avenue, New York, NY, 10010. For credit card orders, phone (212) 696-8392

This article appeared in Drahthaar News, May/June 2002.

Permission to reprint this article may be obtained by contacting

Sandy Hodson, Tel.: 902-757-3116, E-mail:

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