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Kirk S. Reed


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The Dapper Dog
By Tiara



– Julie Borst Reed

Strong, smoothly muscled shoulders. The shoulder blade is well laid back and approximately the same length as the upper foreleg. . .  Major Fault: Steep shoulders.”  - from the AKC Poodle Breed Standard 1990.

The Stud Dog Issue is the perfect setting to open a discussion about a common problem seen in our breed: steep shoulders.  It is this time of year that many Poodle breeders anxiously shop these pages and the rings at PCA for their next stud dog.  Shopping is fun – most agree!  From what I have heard recently, the hunt is on for good shoulders.

I want to ask, is the steeper (straighter, more upright) shoulder occurring because we want the dogs to present as being squarely built?  Poor shoulders are readily observed in poor jumping style and easily noted in the performance dogs.  A bunny hop to launch and then a stilted landing is indicative of steep shoulders in agility competition.  For the conformation ring, fanciers are easily able to train their eye for good shoulder construction by studying slow motion video of dogs moving at a trot.  Flying legs, with high action is usually indicative of poor conformation.  Where and with what timing the feet strike the ground tells so much and slow motion tells just about all.  The further details you must feel to be certain and an article I present below will skeletally illustrate the details.

Currently, I have a male that has matured and developed the most wonderful, exceptional chest, shoulder, neck and rib assembly.  The problem is, especially for the standard variety of poodle, when you get all those beautiful front angles in balance, you begin to lose length of leg (and sometimes neck).  He’s got the neck, but oh, where are the legs we all love on the squarely-appearing outline?

The square appearance is at best “hanging on” in Poodles that I have noted with great fronts.  I am not writing about the good dog that is balanced front and rear, as often those shoulders are not the finest to be found. That coming together of great front end and elegant, tall, “apparently” square Poodle happens so rarely.  Not to be discouraged, as many of you know that it does occur and if the measurement is truly squarely built with great shoulders, well that is even rarer and please tell all about this Poodle!

There is not to be a difference among the varieties in conforming to the breed standard (conformation).  Except for height, all is expected to be the same proportion.   Is it my experience only, or do the fronts seem better lately on the two smaller varieties and does it seem easier to locate mates to produce good spring of rib and excellent shoulders on a Miniature (especially)?  Could measurements be given for particular conformation aspects of the dogs offered at stud in the future?   Interesting to contemplate what the fanciers could request to know in deciding on pairings, especially if computer imaging comes into play. 

Educating about the anatomy of a superb front will help many fanciers to more easily grasp the balance of fore and aft.  Rears in Poodles seem to have improved immensely over the last thirty years.  The following article and links will help to educate fanciers to appreciate a front worth developing in a breeding program.  Much about conformation can be determined by watching a dog move. Additionally, understanding the basic skeletal structure provides the insight needed to correctly interpret what you feel as you go over the dog.

This particular dog I mentioned above isn't the “IT” dog I am reworking my pedigrees to achieve, that is probably still years away. Yet, I plan to utilize him and I am tempted to let judges use him as a comparison in a lineup, just to see their expression when they feel his front end! 

My favorite explanation of shoulder assembly follows, primarily due to the good pictures and excellent, easy to follow analogy.

Measuring Shoulder Angulation
By Sue Ann Bowling
Shetland Sheepdog Fancier, North Pole, AK
Edited by Kirk S. Reed, Tiara Std Pdls, California

Figure 1 shows the parts of the shoulder assembly itself. The skeleton shown is a commercially articulated one, and it looks as if the upper arm was mounted at a far more extreme angle than the dog would have had in life; when the parts of the skeleton were held together by muscles and ligaments.

Figure 1

A is the top of the scapular ridge. D is the lower end of the scapula. The distance from A to D is the length of the scapula (shoulder blade.) This line follows the scapular ridge, and according to some authorities defines the shoulder angulation, as shown in figure 2.

Figure 2

The angle inside the shaded triangle at D in Figure 2 shows where the shoulder angulation is measured. A 30 degree angle has a more upright scapular ridge than does a 45 degree angle.

The length of the humerus, or upper arm, is correctly speaking the distance from B to E.

In practice, E is difficult to find in a living dog, though it is obvious enough on a skeleton. The scapular ridge is also covered with muscle in a healthy dog, and can be very difficult to find if the dog is on the plump side.

The point of shoulder, B, is quite easy to locate on a live dog, as is the elbow, C. As far as length is concerned, the measurement from A to B is equal to that from A to D plus the thickness of the humerus; that from B to C is equal to that from B to E plus the thickness of the upper ulna (the longer of the two bones making up the lower arm.) If the thicknesses of the humerus and the ulna are similar, Then comparison of AB with BC will give very similar results to comparing AD with BE.

The Sheltie standard does not actually give a correct length for the upper arm. It asks for a 45 degree slope to the shoulder and a 90 degree angle between the shoulder blade and the upper arm. This requires that the upper arm also have an angle of 45 degrees from the vertical, but says nothing about length. Leon Hollenbeck's book, Dynamics of Canine Gait, agrees with Rachel Page Elliot's book, Dogsteps, in suggesting that the ideal for an all-around dog is for the scapula and the humerus to be approximately equal in length.

If the bones are equal in length and the angle between them is 90 degrees, we can use the Pythagorean formula to get the vertical distance AC as shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3

Remember "The square of the hypotenuse equals the sum of the squares of the other two sides" (AB2 + BC2 = AC2). Because AB and BC are the same, we can state that in the dog with shoulder blade and upper arm equal and a 90 degree angle between them, the distance from the withers to the elbow should be 1.414 (the square root of 2) times the distance AB. AC is somewhat difficult to measure, for two reasons. First, the dog can vary this length by opening and closing the shoulder angle, which is the major reason height, is inexact. An excited stud dog will "stand tall", with the angle at B opened as far as possible and the angulation reduced. A very relaxed, slouching dog (or a border collie approaching sheep) will have the angle of the shoulder closed by gravity, and will appear to have more angulation. Also, the measurement has to go around the curve of the dog's side.

I don't have a good reason, aside from assuming that the foreleg scales to the overall size of the dog and is proportional to the length AC, but I have found that my best movers have had very nearly the same length of forearm as the shoulder and upper arm length. Forearm length is shown as the distance CF in Figure 4.

Figure 4

Note that the forearm measurement is from the point of the elbow to the little projection at the back of the pastern joint, just above the carpal ball. My best moving dogs have had AB, BC and CF approximately equal in length, or with CF slightly longer. If CF is much longer, the shoulder blade and upper arm will generally be too upright, even if they are the same length. Many of the Shelties I have measured at shows have had BC an inch or more shorter than AB.

Further comments from JBR

Thanks to Sue Ann Bowling for her permission to reproduce the article above and to my husband, Kirk S. Reed, editor of the article for inclusion here.  And yes, very few Poodles have the balanced AB/BC measurements as Sue has noted in Shelties; I have known a few Poodles with those balanced measurements and they were very effortless in movement both in trotting and jumping.  Often too, a square appearing Poodle outline has the CF much longer than AB/BC measurements and that is when we see the upper arm become more upright.  It is certainly an intricate design challenge for conscientious Poodle breeders to produce the best front, conforming to the standard for endurance and proper active dog ability, coupled with the square outline so desired in our wonderful breed.

I hope that this information has given much food for thought.  Shetland Sheepdogs and Poodles are understood not to have identical structure, but they each require an “effortless”, ground-covering trot with rear drive noted.  The front, I must add, has to be capable of handling the drive!  Each of these breeds is desired to exemplify sure-footed agileness.   The wonderful opportunity to share the pictures of the skeleton, along with discussion by Sue Ann Bowling has been a privilege of mine and I want to thank her again, as well as my husband for editing the article.  To note, the dog skeleton in the pictures is of unspecified breed.   The article above was submitted to assist in discussing the skeleton of the front end assembly.

Additionally, I want to thank Fred Lanting for permitting the inclusion of this wonderful drawing depicting 30 degree shoulder angulation, which further explains the Figure 2 in Sue Ann Bowling’s article (although shown here with shoulder facing in the opposite direction and different letters assigned the components). 

This drawing is in the popular book, The Total German Shepherd Dog, by Fred Lanting (Hoflin Publishers).  There is an excerpt of this book concerning shoulder construction on-line at:  


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