This article discusses the relationship between structure and movement in the Keeshond. However, it is applicable to many breeds and covers how to examine coated breeds with your hands for correct structure, with regard to both judging in the dog show ring as well as to the breeder evaluating stock. Basic anatomical references are used. If you are a student of dogs and breeding, you will be familiar with them. If not, please refer to texts such as Rachel Page Elliot’s Dog Steps, McDowell Lyon’s The Dog in Action for details and illustrations.
Structure and Movement
The rules regarding structure and movement dictate that form follows function. This means that the structure of a dog will control to a great degree how that dog, or any animal will move. So, why do we qualify this by saying “to a great degree”? That is because movement is affected not only by the way a dog is built, but also by how he is conditioned and how he feels at that given moment. Think about yourself. If you played an intense game of tennis the day before, you may be stiff when you get up and not so sprightly when you jog. The same is true for your dog. If you are evaluating an individual dog for the purposes of your breeding program, you will want to the see the dog on more than one occasion.
That being said, what are we looking for in the Keeshond is structure that will produce the movement described in the standard, this being: “They should move cleanly and briskly; the movement should straight and sharp, with reach and drive between slight and moderate.” Also, “Dogs should move boldly and keep tails curled over the back.” The movement is described as “A distinctive gait … unique to the breed.”
The Front: Examining the Shoulders and Chest
Balance is the first requirement. When you look at the dog in profile, the dog should appear balanced in three parts, front, middle, and rear; they should blend smoothly and be in equal proportion.
When you go over the dog, examine the shoulders. Place your right hand on the withers and follow that down to the point of shoulder. You should feel a moderate layback of shoulder. Then place your left hand at the point of shoulder and move it toward the point of the opposite shoulder. In between these points you should find the prosternum even with the points of shoulder.
If the prosternum is higher than the point of the shoulder, that means the shoulder is steep and lacks angulation. Unless the dog also has very little rear angulation, the dog will not be balanced. For the health and performance of the dog, a minimum of angulation should be present, which will bring the prosternum even with the points of the shoulder.
Go back to the withers and feel the width between the shoulder blades; this is sometimes one or two fingers. If it is more, the dog may move wide in front, and wing or paddle, depending on his other physical characteristics.
Body and Loin
Keeshonden should slope slightly from the withers to the tail. Some call this being “built uphill.” A dog who is “built downhill” will slope downward from tail to the withers. This will produce a dog who is heavy in front and moves with the head low. The standard says: “The body should be compact, with a short, straight back sloping slightly downward toward the hindquarters; well ribbed, barrel well rounded, short in loin, belly moderately tucked up, deep and strong of chest.”
OK. Are most of our dogs built like this? A few are; many are not.
Now, run your hand from the withers straight down to the point of the elbow. The body should at least meet your fingers at this point. This means that the dog has good depth of body. The distance from the withers to the point of elbow and bottom of the body to the ground should be roughly equal.
Now, starting again at the withers, run your hand from the withers to the base of the tail. The withers should be higher than the base of the tail. Also, importantly, the back should be short, straight, and not dip, so that the body is not slung between withers and hip. Dogs who are built with a dip will generally trot with their heads down, and without a firm midpiece to transfer energy from the rear quarters to the front will have poor, shambling movement—not the brisk, sprightly movement described in the breed standard.
To find the length of loin, find the last rib, and measure from there to where the hip begins. You will have to go over several dogs to determine average length. Dogs who are long in loin will generally have flat toplines and sloppy movement, although there are exceptions.
Examining the Rear Quarters
Begin at the base of the tail, and determine the set-on of the tail. Find the point of the hip, and run your hand down the inside of the thigh. When you get to the second thigh muscle, on the inside of the thigh, just run your fingers down the second thigh, and feel for the muscle development. Dogs who are well exercised with have a firm and well-developed second-thigh muscle that feels like a small biceps. Dogs who are strictly couch potatoes will have a flat second-thigh muscle and generally sloppy and poor rear movement. They will have poor control of their rear movement and may move with hocks in or twisting out.
It is important to observe the length of hock in the Keeshond. Hocks should be short and well let down. Dogs with long hocks will have difficulty producing correct movement and will not be well balanced. Long hocks may also cause them to be high in the rear.
Putting It All Together
You will want to observe the dog on a loose lead, standing in a position that is natural for him and not posed. Dogs with good natural balance will find it easy to stand squarely. Look for balance. Examine the front, middle, and rear quarters.
Ask the handler to move the dog on a loose lead, from the side. You are looking for a dog who moves with his head up naturally and moves off his hocks, smoothly transmitting energy from the rear to the front. The end of the front foot at good-paced trot will reach the end of the dog’s nose. The hind foot will extend at the same length and angle as the front foot.
Coming at you, you are looking for a dog who moves smoothly, and at a brisk trot the legs will converge slightly toward the centerline. There will be no rocking, paddling, or winging.
Observing the dog from the rear, you will look for smoothness and steady hocks, with no inward or outward twist. At a brisk trot the legs will converge slightly toward the centerline. There should not be any cow-hocked movement or spraddle-hocks.
Lastly, observe the dog standing naturally after he is moved. A dog who is properly built will have a nice arch of neck and will stand squarely and comfortably. This is the dog you are looking for—first place!
Watch Keeshonden exhibiting at the 2010 Westminster Kennel Club dog show: