Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Thickheads: The Relationship of Structure to Movement in the Newfoundland Dog

From Adrianna Griffa: The World of Newfoundlands (2006 - 2007)
(As translated)

"I have always liked to live with my dogs around me, to see them move, indoors and outdoors, in the garden and in the fields, with a proud head carriage. I have always liked movement, from the outset initially as an owner in the breed and later on as a breeder and a judge.

Looking at dogs in the show ring, and little by little learning more about them, I discovered that the majestic and powerful movement that impresses my sense of beauty so much has a relationship to structure, which on the one hand can be different from breed to breed according to function, but on the other hand is also based on structural rules common to all breeds.

The evaluation of the technical rules for good movement starts from the analysis of the parts of the body: conformation, length compared to height at the withers, length of body and weight of the dog related to the function - in our case this concerns a trotting dog.

Head and Neck

We start at the head, in which many breed characteristics are united, and continue with the neck. There are seven neck bones, the cervical vertebrae. The first carries the head and is called atlas. The second one, axis, in connection with atlas, allows movement of the head in all directions. In motion, the neck and head safeguard the body balance when the center of gravity is changed.

During trotting, the neck reduces its slope from about forty five degrees in the direction of the topline level.
The neck faults can be found in direction, length and form. If the neck lies in a horizontal line, the problem will be in a poor backward region. A short and straight back will be accompanied by a wrong slope of the shoulder. With a tubular shaped neck the problem is lack of strength, crest and muscles.


Just behind the base of the neck are the withers, anatomically consisting of five thoracic vertebrae. They should be long with good slope. Being long, high and relatively large, the withers region must have strong muscles and ligaments, because there is no bony connection between shoulder and thorax. Without this conformation, movement suffers: shoulders are loose, back is soft, and the balance between the movement of the head and neck and the spinous process of the vertebrae is lacking. The most common fault seen in dogs is flat withers in combination with soft back.

When a dog's withers are too high or not long enough, he might look spectacular at first sight, but in action he will not be functional as the bony region is affected by lack of the slope in the spine, and the shoulder and upper arm are probably too long. The metacarpus also will be stiff and straight. In action, the topline will not run in a straight line from withers to loins and the gait will be short.


The back, located between withers and loins, is based on the last eight thoracic vertebrae. This is a very important region for movement. Broad, strong and well muscled, its line must be straight from withers in the front to the lumbar region in the back. The spine in motion functions as a transmission. A hollow (concave) or roached(convex) back is faulty because it does not allow the forequarters to receive the stride from hindquarters in the optimal way. Such back problems often combine with other faults. A hollow back for instance, with loose, slack ligament, a rather flat croup, short tibia, and/or not well developed rear stifle angulations. A roached back is often seen in combination with a steep croup, low withers and an improper slope of the shoulder.

Loins, Croup, Pelvic, Tail

The loin region consists of seven lumbar vertebrae. Its function is to be the bridge from back to croup. Short, large and well muscled, the loins are slightly arched to increase strength. Long and slim loins are detrimental to a correct and long lasting action.

The croup is the muscular area located between the loin region and the tail set. The foundation of the croup is the upper half of the pelvic girdle. The pelvic gridle is made up of two flat bones - each consisting of three parts, called ilium, ischium and pubis - which are attached to the side of the sacral vertebrae of the spine. A long and large croup is a positive point in all canine breeds. A correct slope here is very important for a functional action. Short but strong muscles in the croup are required for the stride. In action, the croup is like the transmission of an engine. The stride from the rear goes through the croup to the spine to allow the body to move forward and upward.

The final portion of the spine, the tail, composed of coccygeal vertebrae, harmoniously continues the croup's line. The Newfoundland tail is long, reaching down to the hocks, large at rootbase and tapering in the point. A strong muscled tail base will serve as a rudder while the dog is swimming.


The chest or brisket is situated between the neck and the abdomen. The chest is composed of thirteen thoracic vertebrae, thirteen ribs and the sternum below. The sternum, the floor of the chest, is composed of eight bones.

The chest must be well developed in three dimensions, depth,length and width, to allow room to for the heart and lungs, which are organically vital for good performance in swimming.


Forequarters and hindquarters permit the body to perform action. Trotters like Newfoundlands have a rhythmic two time diagonal gait: because only two feet are on the ground at the same time, balance must be between the feet going up and down. Correct structure and angulations provide a good stride of the rear quarters, to halfway under the body, with the front quarters having an equal reach at the same time.

The shoulder, whose bony component is the shoulder blade, is attached to the chest with strong muscles, tendons and ligaments. A long, flexible and well laid back shoulder (about 45 degrees with horizontal plane) is a major quality for all canine breeds.

The shoulder blade and the upper arm connected to it, form the scapula-humerus angulation, which is very important in action for the extension of the forward reach. The bony component of the upper arm, the humerus, is a little longer than the shoulder, with strong muscles, well set near the elbow points, and a slope down about 50 degrees to the horizontal plane. Seen from the front, the arm must be parallel to the medial line of the body. Deviations in or out are caused either by faults in the upper arm or in the thorax, which can be developed too little or too much.

The forearm is composed of the radius (front) and ulna (behind), firmly joined together. These two bones run almost vertically down to the carpal point, and are covered with strong muscles. Deviations in or out of this vertical line affect gait and stamina, as these deviations harm the even distribution of weight. The forearm ends at the carpus; this should be perfectly straight and strong. Any inward/outward of forward deviation at this point means a fault: cow hocks, feet toeing in, barrel hocks or feet toeing out.

The metacarpus, very important in action, must be long and slightly sloping forward. When it has the right construction, it gives a lot of reach and absorbs shocks. Faults in these regions result in spoiling energy as well.

The forequarters are finished off by "cat" feet with arched toes, cushioned by solid and elastic pads. Flat feet with straight or open toes affect movement and stamina.


The hindquarters should be constructed analogous to the forequarters. In cooperation with body structure, hindquarters are the key to correct conformation and gait. The thigh region, made up of the femur bone covered in well developed and powerful muscles, forms a slope of seventy degrees to the horizontal plane. The thigh is connected to the tibia and fibula - these two form the lower thigh region. The joint between the femur and tibia and fibula is called the stifle and the angulation at that point (the dog's knee) is important.

After the second thigh comes the foot. The first part, called the tarsus, consists of seven little bones. The calcaneus serves as an anchorage point to the achilles tendon insertion: the point of the hock. If well developed, large, short and solid, the tarsus allows a full stride action.

The metatarsus lies perpendicularly to the floor and should be solid and quite short.

The hindquarters end in the feet with toes slightly more arched than the front feet. Also for the hindquarters, it is important that, seen in profile and from the rear, they do not deviate from plumb line. When seen in profile, the plumb line from thigh ends in front of the feet, at a distance more than a foot length away, caused by a wrong metatarsus direction, the dog is said to be "too far back." This means to say his centre of gravity is put forward, and too much weight will have to be carried by the forequarters and the back.

The opposite fault is when the plumb line from the thigh runs behind the feet or even more backwards, then the angulations are open and the tibia is too short. Such a dog is said to be "too far under." In this case, the centre of gravity is more backwards, which means too much of the weight is resting on the hindquarters. Viewed from the rear, the hindquarters will be moving "close." Action in these circumstances affects ligaments and muscles. When the hocks are in or out of the plumb line the dog will be "cowhocked" or the opposite, "barrel hocked." Any deviation from the ideal line in front or behind will affect stability, direction of spine, correct weight balance, angulations, good quarters, balance in gait, and stamina.

Theory and Practice

Strong hocks, long thighs, large and long croup, loins strong and long enough to permit suppleness, level topline, shoulders well laid back, good withers for strong neck muscles, together with the head, all these elements support good balance in action and a good control over the centre of gravity. Harmonius weight and muscle assembly gives the Newfoundland its bear-like appearance, powerful and sound. All together, this allows the dog's gait on land to be "covering the maximum amount of ground with the minimum number of steps," and in the water a wide stroke.

This is how it should be. But in Italy and in different countries in Europe, I have recently witnessed dogs winning whose movement was fast but with a big (I would say, a maximum) number of little steps.
These dogs have a wrong shoulder placement and often too narrow a chest. But when they are cleverly handled, they can show a quick rhythm. As the handler lifts the front quarters from the ground, the dog doesn't fall down, even if the front is not in balance with the rear and is not able to support the dog well. Such a dog might look very showy going around in the ring and captures your eyes immediately, especially when it is groomed and handled well and has a nice, pleasant head. But this quick action is unsound, and comes from incorrect, often completely faulty, body structure.

Fast movement is always based on an extremity in structure, which through its fans is often said to be "American" type or "hypertype." Personally, I do not like this sort of qualification. Remember the word "fan" is related to "fanatic" and I have always tried to stay away from becoming a fanatic.
The conformation of these dogs is simply out of balance: too angulated at the rear, long loins, long body with shoulders sloping down too much, or, even worse, too short and straight and with a short arm. In these dogs, the hindquarters compared to the forequarters are longer and more angulated - the same with the croup compared to the shoulder, thigh to upper arm, and leg to forearm. Under these circumstances, the reach is not balanced with the stride. To compensate the long stride, the dog has to make short and quick steps.

As I mentioned earlier, with an expert handler this gait can be spectacular in the ring. But is it like this in normal everyday life; do we want this for our dogs? Should the Newfoundland lose his functional structure? Functional structure for a Newfoundland should allow him to swim for a long time and retrieve in a smooth and rhythmic way, with a large long action of the forequarters which in water have to stride while the body is floating level in the water.

The preferred Newfoundland gait is the trot. As a trotting dog, the Newfoundland is slightly (ten to twelve percent) longer than high, measured from withers to ground. Ideally, the distance from withers to elbows is equal to the distance of elbows to the ground. Seen from the side, the forequarter's proportion looks short, as the lowest part of the chest in a good specimen is below the elbows, in such a way that the distance of the withers to chest will appear fifty five percent, and chest to ground forty five percent. So, Newfoundland structure consists of a large chest, a large basis to stand on, and good shape and length of the legs for a good reach in action.

By aiming for more "action" however, we risk producing dogs with the wrong anatomical structure: either short and long, or poorly angulated, but in both ways with incorrect action for everydog in general and for the Newfoundland in particular.

In the first case there will be "fast action": a large number of short steps, unbalanced, with too much drive, a more or less hollow topline and insufficient reach; in the second case - poor angulation of the front and the rear - this is just "poor" action with a large number of short steps, little covering of ground, lack of drive, and too short in reach.

The truth is to be found in between. A good performance is the proof of good structure. Good drive and reach mean that the front angulation is in balance with correct rear angulation, which results in effortless covering of ground, with a long, free and sound stride."

1 comment:

Ronnie T said...

Very informative - thanks for sharing.

Ronnie T