The following is a reprint of an article I wrote for my national breed magazine. Front assemblies are so poorly understood on such a large scale, that I thought perhaps more readers would find this of interest. While not all breeds should have a 90-degree shoulder, this piece has an application and description that is useful across the board.
Correct front assembly alone, of course, should not trump type or other serious fault. On the other hand, it is so rarely seen in so many breeds, I know I’d be tempted to reward it just for the sheer pleasure of finding it!
The front assembly of a dog tells a great deal about breed type, correct profile and the form that follows the function. In GWP, the function is versatile hunting dog. A dog who can and does work in a variety of terrains hunting all day long.
The Wirehair function, then, is one of multi-purpose: strength and endurance, with the ability to run, trot, jump, swim, retrieve and track all rolled into one amazing dog.
A dog’s front assembly, ie the shoulders, neck and the chest including brisket and ribcage, are vital to his ability to function effectively without breaking down over the long haul. While most of us know dogs whose drive and desire and heart keep them working long past what their structure should allow, we are also supposed to be aiming for an ideal. The dog with drive and desire and heart who is properly constructed is the goal.
For the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on just these two sections of the standard.
Neck, Topline, Body
The neck is of medium length, slightly arched and devoid of dewlap. The entire back line showing a perceptible slope down from withers to croup. The skin throughout is notably tight to the body. The chest is deep and capacious with ribs well sprung.
The shoulders are well laid back. The forelegs are straight with elbows close. Leg bones are flat rather than round, and strong, but not so heavy or coarse as to militate against the dog’s natural agility. Dewclaws are generally removed. Round in outline the feet are webbed, high arched with toes close, pads thick and hard, and nails strong and quite heavy.
Our standard is a bit vague here. “The shoulders are well laid back,” tells the novice breeder or owner very little. I find that when we start talking dog anatomy too many of us fall back on a vocabulary that is not easily understood by everyone.
What that line simply means is the angulation of the front assembly, which includes the shoulder bone and the upper arm, should form as close to a 90-degree angle as we can achieve.
Draw a line from the top point of the shoulder (at the withers) to the forward point of the shoulder (which should be on a line that is behind the dog’s ear). This is the scapula or shoulder blade. Draw a second line from the forward point of the shoulder to the back of the elbow. This is the humerus or upper arm. Those imaginary lines basically should form a fat V, tipped on it’s side, with the pointy part facing forward. The length of the shoulder blade and the upper arm should be as close to equal as possible and the whole structure should be as far under the dog as possible to support it in all of it’s pounding, leaping, swimming jobs.
As you can see in the two pictures above, the first dog has a much more “open” angle, a shorter upper arm and the entire assembly is placed so far forward on the body that it is nearly under the ear.
The second dog, while not ideal, is closer. There is a notable triangle formed by the lines you draw. The top of the shoulder blade and the back of the upper arm (the elbow) are close to being equidistant from the point of the shoulder, and the entire assembly places even the front toes behind the dog’s ear.
Both dogs exhibit prosternum (the notable point at the front of the rib cage structure). The second dog, by virtue of better shoulder angulation, shows more of it. Notice, also, that the first dog’s rib cage does not reach the point of the elbow, whereas the second one does.
“The chest is deep and capacious with ribs well sprung.”
Our dogs need ample room for heart and lung function, without being so deep or barrel-shaped that their bodies inhibit their natural agility.
Another area of the front assembly to consider, along with “lay back” — the term which refers to the angle of the shoulder blade — is “lay on” which refers to how smoothly the shoulders fit around the ribcage. I am always amazed when conformation judges, who should know better, go down the line, feel all the shoulders in a class of dogs and then put up the dog with its shoulder blades fitted around its neck (instead of over the rib cage) because they’re so smooth and clean. Of course, they are! The shoulder blades can fit much more tightly and smoothly together when they have such a narrow circumference to cover. I call this putting your hands in the right places and coming away with the wrong information.
The final test of the front assembly in the show ring, should come on the move. Does the dog move smoothly, with the front toes reaching well past the nose and driving well back to the centerline of the body.
Of course, the ultimate test of the dog’s front structure is in the field. A dog that is still working hard into his double-digit years is the dog we are trying to breed. A dog with the drive, desire and heart to keep going and the body that is able to keep up with the demand.