Dog show judges evaluate their entries at the trot; for some breeds (namely the sight-hounds) this gait is improper for movement evaluation since their original function precludes them from being trotting animals. All too often the choice of gait depends upon the fancy rather than upon function. However, for the Siberian and for the wolf, the trot IS the proper gait to use when evaluating natural movement. The true perfectionist at using minimum effort at the trot is the wolf; a wolf in nature that is efficient in movement is balanced first and foremost; his reach and extension are both moderate and balanced, as he is built more for endurance than for speed per se.
Where is the moderate, correct Siberian with the level, taut topline, sound elbows and moderate, balanced side movement? He still can be seen placing in the classes, but all too seldom winning, especially if there is a "flyer" with a showy coat and pretty expression in the ring. Increasingly, these winners appear to be getting away with soft toplines, loose elbows and/or pounding fronts.
Exaggerated extension at both ends is not what the author believes the Standard means by "effortless" and "smooth." Substitute, if you will, in your mind the words EASY and QUIET for the word EFFORTLESS. When an animal "flies" instead of "floats," he impacts the ground harder, and it takes a really super front assembly to absorb all the shock. In general, rears surpass fronts in soundness in our breed, and have for along time. Note the crabbing, pounding, padding, weaving and paddling in the ring. Balance, on the other hand, implies ease. Moderate, balanced stride is more sound and efficient, demanding less effort than does exaggerated gait, which is, as mentioned above, frequently not balanced; exaggeration implies effort, waste and something unnatural, just as excessive speed implies waste. Even balanced, exaggerated movement, it could be argued, is more wasteful than what the Standard has in mind. "Medium-sized…moderately compact…,moderate speed…balance…. Males are masculine but never coarse; bitches are feminine but without weakness…. Gaited at a moderately fast trot, exhibiting good (not extreme) reach and good (not extreme) drive…. Coat is medium in length…back of medium length…the legs are moderately spaced…paws are medium in size…moderate bone…well balanced proportions…neck medium in length." The Quality Siberian described in the Standard clearly is medium, moderate and balanced. As described above, part of correct breed type is correct movement!
In three breeds which dominate their Groups and win at dog shows, namely the German Shepherd, the Norwegian Elkhound and the Irish Setter, the obsessive drive toward exaggerated gait has, in the eyes of many, clearly degraded these breeds, as well as increased the rates of such crippling defects as patellar luxation, sloping or incorrect toplines and exaggerated, slinky rear angulation at the expense of balance. More to the point, in the Norwegian Elkhound specifically, there are the extensively seen and accepted wide, unsound fronts. In contrast, some of the marvelously sound giant breeds consistently placing in the Groups clearly demonstrate sound, balanced, moderate and easy movement as opposed to exaggerated, labored "flying." This irony may exist partially because the Giants cannot afford exaggeration of any kind, since they are already magnified in bulk.
"Floating" implies a level, smooth quality at the topline and shoulder - a "quietness," without jarring, pitching or rolling - an easiness. The words LIGHT and QUICK appear in the Standard in combination with "effortless, free and graceful" - could it be that lightness and quickness are being misunderstood or misinterpreted to mean something more "forceful" than easy, graceful and enduring? Could unsound fronts and imbalance be increasing in our breed on the coattails of flying side gait? To some, the "flyer" might look impressive in the show ring, but is it correct for the working Siberian bred for endurance?
The "flyer" has exaggerated reach in the trot, and this dog is airborne when changing diagonals; the gait of such a dog is faster than the ordinary trot and consumes a greater amount of energy. No counterpart can be observed in the wild, for it is a man-made gait; it is beautiful and "showy" to view in profile, however. But is this the movement meant for a dog bred for endurance? As mentioned in previous articles, the author views the NATIVE Siberian as an animal bred for endurance and economy of energy, and not for speed per se. "Dogs with superior speed have muscle and bone structure than inhibits endurance." (Curtis M. Brown, KENNEL REVIEW, Dec., 1976)
Mr. Brown continues by saying, "The Greyhound trot can be characterized as a 'lazy' motion, rather effortless. Drive in the rear quarters is not apparent. Although the hock joint is used, it does not completely straighten and gives the appearance of being semi-sickle hocked. At the double suspension gallop the hock joint (is) always straightened; at the trot it (is) semi-sickle hocked. Thus at the trot, the failure of the hock joint to straighten is normal." While the Siberian is certainly not a Greyhound, the proper use of the hock lies somewhere between that of the Greyhound and the "flyer"; "a moderately fast trot, exhibiting good (not extreme or excessive) drive."
And for the front assembly, our Standard calls for "a shoulder blade (that) is well laid back at the approximate angle of 45 degrees to the ground." Curtis Brown has done extensive research on canine movement and on the locomotion of animals in the wild; he has compiled a very expansive collection of slow motion movies of giraffes, gazelles, antelope, jackals, hyenas, and of wolves, just to name a few of the varieties of mammals studied. Mr. Brown believes that the average shoulder lay back in these natural, sound movers is 30 degrees from the vertical. Specifically, he cites the average shoulder lay back of the NATIVE Siberian, from a population of one hundred (100) animals which were put down and studied by a Russian nobleman at the turn of the century, to be precisely that angle, 30 degrees from the vertical, (presentation to the Northwest Judges Association, March 7, in Salem, Oregon).
Robert B. Conyers (THE SIBERIAN QUARTERLY, Vol. 1, No. 3, p. 22) has recently added support to Mr. Brown's observations in a study of 12 male, 17 female champions, and 15 male, 23 female non-champions, from well-known kennels throughout the country. Great care was taken in the measuring of these living animals by large calipers. Mr. Conyers found that the average shoulder (Scapula) angle in champion dogs was 28.42 degrees from the vertical; in all dogs this angle was 27.11 degrees; in champion bitches the angle measured 28.65 degrees; in all bitches the angle was 26.85 degrees; and in all animals measured this figure was 27.41 degrees.
A dog with exaggerated reach is wasteful and works with much effort, i.e., he works against his forward momentum. Watch the animal with exaggerated reach and you will observe that the distance from where the front pad first contacts the surface to the point where that pad is directly under the withers is breaking-action to forward motion. It is also when the pad is between these two points that the forward motion of the dog requires the withers to go up as the pad passes under the withers, and this [upward] forward movement, though unavoidable to some degree, is wasteful and contrary to forward movement. The greater the distance, then, between that point where the pad first encounters the ground and where it passes under the withers, the greater is the effort, waste and loss of economy. Some will contend that this animal will cover more ground, and he might, but he does so at great cost. He will wear himself out more quickly, require more frequent and lengthy rests, and perhaps medical attention as well. He is NOT a natural animal; his side movement is, indeed, man-made. But seemingly, to many breeders and judges, he looks "impressive" when viewed from the side. But, nonetheless, he is unnatural. Once again, is the Siberian a man-made exhibition, or is he a dog bred from nature for free, effortless, "quiet" and economical endurance work? The author believes the latter. ###
-- The above article is published in The Siberian Quarterly: Hoflin Publishing, Wheat Ridge, Colorado, Winter 1981- 1982 Issue, pp. 37-38.
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