SOUNDNESS AND MOVEMENT
1997: Another wonderful article by Marion Coffman. We are indeed grateful that she has allowed us to print her articles on the Vizsla Home Page.
The soundest dog is the one that moves with the least amount of effort. In order to recognize this effortless movement, we must understand the relationship of conformation to function. Many of the Vizsla breeders do not make a show dog their primary goal, and are breeding for the original function of the breed -- hunting. But that same dog should also be to go into the show ring -- and win, when he is not out in the field. To do both, the dog must be built correctly. Form follows function.
The properly constructed Vizsla, with correct angles, correct length and placement of shoulder blades, leg and hip parts is capable of reaching out well in front of himself and well under himself in the rear, followed by good extension of the hocks. A trot is the easiest way to understand correct movement. For that reason, it is the gait used in the show ring since it shows up any structural faults a dog may have in conformation.
In profile movement, watch for good leg extension without a hackney action, or pounding. Look for a good rear extension of the hind legs. Watch carefully the timing between the front and rear legs when they meet in the center of the dog. The front foot should be off the ground when the rear foot sets itself down. The rear leg or foot should not have to crab -- pass inside of or outside of the front leg or foot. Too little reach in the front causes short steps so that the dog must take perhaps three steps to another dog's one -- wasted motion. Or perhaps the dog, in trying to take a longer step to outreach his hind leg, lifts his foreleg up and out to where it attains its full reach some distance from the ground and then pound almost straight down to make the step -- more wasted motion.
Still watching the dog moving in profile, notice the part that the neck plays in movement. The area around the arch of the neck is the anchor point for many muscles, tendons and ligaments, including some that aid in moving the front forward. A longer neck permits longer muscles, contributing to better movement. The most efficient dogs will not carry their heads high when moving, but rather in a forward position. Carrying the head high is more of an acquired characteristic and certainly gives the Vizsla an elegant look. Remembering that the object of good movement is efficiency, now watch as the dog is moving twoards you. The front legs should be moving in a line with the body and be parallel to each other. There must be a straight line of bone from the shoulder to the pad and not the break in line as to make him a "close mover." Any problems with shoulders are now apparent.
The hardest working part of the dog is the front. The front absorbs most of the concussion of each step as it receives the inpact of hitting the ground. The front maintains a level center of gravity, thus reducing the fatigue in moving, and assists the hindquarters in moving the dog forward. It is the shoulder blade, more than any other individual part, that will determine what kind of movement your Vizsla has.
The Vizsla standard calls for moderately laid back shoulders. Wrong interpretations by breeders is perhaps the reason we are seeing upright shoulders in the breed. If the shoulders are straight, the legs will not be able to extend fully with forward motion. The leg will pound into the ground and an extra shock will have to be absorbed by the front. In order to lessen the strain of "pounding", some dogs will compensate by using the abductor muscles. These muscles bend the elbow and lift the lower arm. By using these muscles, the dog is able to lift his feet higher than normal and hold them there just a faction. This hesitation action helps him to reduce the shock the pounding gives. This is called "hackney gait" and, while it is quite pretty to look at, it is a severe fault in movement because of the tiring effect.
The shoulder blade is attached to the rib cage by means of muscles both on top of and under the shoulder blade. If the outer muscles are heavy and coarse, the ones under the shoulder blades will also be that way. This mass of muscles will cause the shoulder blades to be pushed too far away form the rib cage and give the dog "loaded shoulders." This, in turn, leads to a dog being "out at the elbows," resulting in tiring movement. Correct shoulder PLACEMENT is also necessary, not only to improve the profile, but to support the ribs and back. A forward shoulder blade fails to offer that support and shows up as a dip behind the top of the shoulder blades. This is sometimes a problem that very young dogs outgrow as their shoulders settle in, but too often persists on into maturity.
Very few breeders and exhibitors realize how important the pasterns are to the soundness of the Vizsla. It is the pastern that acts as the shock absorber. They cushion the impact of each step, thereby reducing the shock received by the shoulder. Good pasterns are not really straight but have a slight angle to them in relation to the forearm. This angle supplies a slight give which diminishes the shock of each step.
I personally believe the feet are the single most important element of a Vizsla. Many breeders have heard me expound on this theory for years, but since the foot supplies the leverage to the dog, correct tight feet, along with thick pads to cushion the impact, give the dog quality speed and endurance.
After studying the dog moving both in profile and coming straight in to you, now watch him leaving you. In the standard's description of hindquarters, we read further emphasis on straight lines, i.e., the hocks are let down and parallel to each other. They must be straight as viewed from behind.
We must remember that the good front with good reach that comes from correct shoulder placement has to also be in balance with the hindquarter. Along with wanting the dog to move forward in a level fashion when watching his profile, we also want him to move in a straight line as we view him from the rear. A dog that moves with his feet under the corners of his body is an unsound dog with too much wasted energy. Our standard calls for "single tracking" which means when viewed from the rear, there must be a straight line of bone from the hip to the pad when the dog is moving. The upper thigh and the lower thigh and hock must appear as one straight line. If there is a break in this line, the dog is moving too "close in the rear."
Many dogs do not step out with a good drive even with good rear angulation. This may be evident with straight shoulders as the dog is minimizing the forward push in order to keep from getting in the way of his front feet. For complete balance the rear legs must be close to the same angulation as the front. Most of the angulation begins with the upper thigh and pelvis. An extremely flat croup on your dog can mean virtually little angulation in that area. Since our breed needs power and endurance more than speed, a moderately angulated dog at both ends can do his job in the show ring and the field without wasted motion. The correct slope of the croup is an indication of the correct pelvis attachment to the spinal column. It permits longer muscles from it to the stifle. Since the major portion of the dog's power is derived from the leg during its backward sweep, these muscles are important as they draw the leg back into a long back stroke, adding power to the drive. If you can see the full surface of the pad as the dog moves away, you will find that he is using his full capabilities of drive.
Endurance and staying power is determined by the lower thigh and hock. A well let down hock means that the hock should be relatively short when compared to the lower thigh bones. With a longer hock, the lower thigh bones shorten, perhaps increasing speed, but decreasing endurance.
Balance is difficult to explain or describe, but a balanced Vizsla is eye catching even when you are not exactly sure what it is about him that is so appealing. No single dog is faultless and balance does not guarantee perfection but it does contribute greatly. One person's opinion of balance may be different from someone else's or it may change as he becomes more familiar tihe the breed and the standard. Learning is a never ending situation.