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Importance Of Structure

submitted by Melissa Bates (Copyright Daniel R. Lawer, DVM)

The Importance Of Structure
In The  Norwegian Elkhound – Form Vs Function

Part 1 – Introduction

After the 2000 National Specialty I entered into discussion with other members of the NEAA regarding comments made by the specialty judge at the after show dinner.  We felt that it was appropriate to remind those in the fancy, particularly breeders, that the Standard was written for a purpose, that this dog must be put together correctly if it is to function as it was intended – a medium sized working dog with great stamina and agility. 

It is easy to measure the height of the dog and rule out those that are too big or too small.  The standard recommends bitches be 19 ½ inches and dogs 20 ½ inches at the withers, any individual more than 1 inch above or below the Standard is to be avoided.  Add to this the proper proportions of leg and back length and we should have a dog that is well balanced and appears square in profile.

Whether the head is too broad or too narrow or the ears too big or too low set do not really have much to do with the ability of the dog to work in the field.  However, how the bones and joints are put together has a tremendous impact on this.  There seems to be a great emphasis on the picture presented by side movement, how much reach (stride length), how much extension front and rear, and nothing else. Single tracking, the front and rear movement of coming and going, seems to be of lesser importance by some.  Unfortunately, this is a serious mistake.

Imagine your dog to be like a fine automobile with independent four wheel suspension.  Well tuned and properly running it is a pleasure to drive all day long.  Now, imagine riding in that same automobile with no springs or worn out shock absorbers.  Your back and back side would get very tired very quickly.  This is what your dog feels like if the feet are not correct.  Well constructed feet – relatively small, tightly closed toes, slightly oval – act like shock absorbers to your dog.  If they are flat and loose there is no spring and they tire easily.  Unlike people that can put arch supports in their shoes, dogs with flat feet get tired feet.  They wear out quickly. 

The rest of the joints in the legs from the shoulder and hip to the carpus (wrist)  and hock, are also a part of the suspension system of the dog.  If they are out of alignment, poorly tuned, the dog tires easily.  My first two Elkhounds provided an excellent contrast in suspension.  Smokey had a very straight front while Holly had excellent front assembly.  I would exercise them while I rode a bicycle.  Smokey would last about one block with his top line moving up and down like a yoyo while Holly could go all day with a table top smooth back.  If you would like to test this on yourself, see how far can you run with you legs stiff?  Each step causes your whole body to shudder.  You tire easily.  A dog with a straight front or rear tires very quickly.  The well put together Elkhound performs well because their suspension systems, the feet and joints, are properly constructed and angled. 

Another important part of structure is the distance between the front and rear legs. Unlike the Pontiac Grand Prix, wider is not better in the Elkhound.  Neither is too narrow.  An Elkhound should look neither like a Bulldog nor a Whippet.   When standing naturally, the legs should be straight and parallel when seen from the front or the rear.  The elbows should not be pinched, the feet should point straight ahead, neither turned in or out.  Any dramatic deviation affects the efficiency of movement.  Any amount of extra effort that might be required to move poorly assembled legs decreases stamina.  A well setup and arched neck gives carriage to the Elkhound.  Proper angulation of the shoulders and elbows allow for efficient muscle movement and add to proper function of these joints in the suspension system of the front leg.  The pastern should be strong and only slightly bent. Proper tip of the pelvis and angulation of the hip, stifle (knee) and hock insure similarly efficient movement in the hind leg.  A plumb line dropped straight down the back of the thigh should line up with the metatarsus (rear pastern).  We are seeing too many dogs now that look more like Boxers or German Shepherds when stacked, with their hind feet being placed too far back in order to have the metatarsus perpendicular to the ground.  This is wrong for the Elkhound and affects the dog´s stamina. 

While coat does not affect physical stamina, it does impact the dog´s ability to withstand the cold temperatures of the far North.  The coat is accurately described in the standard.  The outer guard hairs are to be hard and smooth lying.  The undercoat is dense and soft.  It must be resistant to the wet and cold freezing temperatures.  It should not be fluffy like a Keeshond or Chow Chow.  The open, fluffy coats are incorrect as they allow the wet to get to the insulating undercoat and skin and allow trapped warmth of the undercoat to escape.  These fluffy dogs look bigger and more impressive, but they can not withstand the cold and wet weather of the far North.

 If we present judges with correct dogs, they will win.  If we present incorrect dogs, they will put up the best of the worst and some will become champions and make more incorrect dogs that will go on to win more.  I feel it is unfortunate that too many American dog show judges feel obligated to judge dogs against what else is in the ring rather than against the standard.  We do the breed a disservice by continually breeding what wins instead of what is correct.  The standard was written for a reason – function follows form.  It should be studied and each breeding carried out to get each new litter as close as possible to the standard, not just breed a dog because it is winning or because it is close by.  If we breed the best we have to the best available, pretty soon we will have dogs in the ring that win because they are correct, not just flashy. 



Recommended Reading:
The Official Standard for the Norwegian Elkhound, December 13, 1988
Dogsteps, Illustrated Gait at a Glance, Rachel Page Elliott.
Dog Locomotion and Gait Analysis, Curtis M. Brown, Hoflin Publishing, Ltd, 1986
The Dog in Action, McDowell Lyon, Howell Book Co, 1950
Canine Terminology, Harold R. Spira, Howell Book House, Inc, 1982 {/jb_bluebox}



Part 2 -The Forequarters


The forequarters (thoracic limbs) of the dog are each composed of approximately 41 bones.  All but five are in the foot.  The scapula (shoulder blade) is the large, flat bone of the shoulder.  Triangular in shape, it is attached only by muscles to the body.  The inner surface is flat and a shelf of bone, the spine of the scapula, divides the outer surface.  The spine is an easily palpable ridge running almost the full length of the scapula.   

While not attached to any bones, most dogs do have a small clavicle.  It is buried in a tendon of one of the muscles and serves no functional purpose.  Unlike the c
at, the canine clavicle is rarely visible up on X-rays.  The upper arm (brachium) contains the humerus, the largest bone in the forelimb.  It articulates with the scapula to form the shoulder joint and the radius and ulna of the forearm to form the elbow joint.  The radius is the main weight bearing bone of the forearm.  The longest bone in the dog, the ulna parallels the radius and serves as the back portion of the elbow joint and for muscle attachment.

The ideal slope of the scapula is about 45 degrees.  Since the front leg can not move forward much more than the angle of the scapula, the amount of layback affects the reach of the front leg.  The shaft of the humerus should be almost at a right angle to the scapula.  The distance from point of the shoulder to the top of scapula should be about the same as that from the point of the shoulder to the tip of the elbow.  When standing, the elbow should be level with the bottom of the brisket.

 The bones of the foreleg should be straight and  perpendicular to the ground and the metacarpal bones (pastern) should strong and only slightly bent(10 – 15 degrees) when the dog is standing straight.  Viewed from the front, the legs should be straight and parallel, without any turning in or out of the bones or joints.  For balance when standing, there may be a slight tendency for the feet to toe out a little.  Ideally the radius should be about the same length as the humerus, so that when the elbow is fully flexed the carpus should be at the  point of the shoulder.  For the Elkhound, the length of leg below the chest should be a little greater than the depth of the chest, but no more than fifty-five percent of the height at the withers.

The forepaw (manus), like our wrist and hand, is a very complex structure made up of the other 36 bones of the forelimb.  The carpus (wrist) is composed of seven bones in two transverse rows, plus a small sesamoid bone.  The longest bones in the forepaw are the 4 parallel metacarpal bones that run from the carpus to the toes.  The metacarpal bone for the dewclaw is shorter than the others.  Each digit (toe) has 3 phalanges, except the dewclaw which has only 2.  The third (distal) phalange has the toenail (unguis) growing from it.  Each of the digits also has 2 small sesamoid bones (one for the dewclaw) at the junction of the metacarpal bones and first phalange bone.  The sesamoid bones act as attachments for smaller muscles of the foot.  The standard refers to the paws as “comparatively small, slightly oval with tightly close toes and thick pads”.  This allows the feet to add to the efficiency of the shock absorption of the front legs.  If the feet are flat, other joints must absorb the shock and the dog tires quickly. 

The bones that make up the framework of the leg should be “substantial, without being coarse”, neither too fine nor too heavy.  The muscles, tendons and ligaments connect the bones together and help them move in an orderly manner.  The muscles that attach the foreleg to the body extend from the head to the lower back on top and along the length of the sternum (brisket) on the bottom.  They are in several layers, each with a different function, from support to finely controlled movement.  The muscles, ligaments and tendons of the forelimb, by virtue of their place of origin and insertion, control the movement of each joint and the relative position of one bone to the others it contacts.

Ideal structure and function are dependent on the proper development of the bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons that make up the forequarters.  These can be affected by genetics, nutrition, exercise and injury.  If all comes together properly, the joints are at the correct angle so the muscles move the bones and joints in a coordinated manner for the best power and efficiency.  Since many muscles attach to other bones of the body, they must be formed properly for most efficient use. 

A well constructed front assembly will provide efficient movement with good shock absorption affect.   If the shoulder, elbow or pastern angles are too steep there is insufficient flexion of the joints to absorb the shock.  The result of a straight pastern can be a tendency to `knuckle over´.  A well put together dog in good condition can move almost tirelessly for many miles.  The movement of the front legs should be fluid,  with the feet barely clearing the ground on each forward movement and the bones and joints turning neither in nor out from the line of travel.  The legs should move straight forward and back, with the feet tending to move toward a centerline.  Anything else increases effort and unnecessary energy expenditure.  As with any interdependent system, if a part of the whole is not formed well it will ultimately affect the performance of the entire system.  Weak or flat feet, steep or broken down pasterns, poorly angled joints, elbows or feet turning in or out will adversely affect the efficiency of movement and the stamina of the dog. 

Part 3 – Structural Faults of the Forequarters

In Part 2 the proper proportions of the bones and angles was considered.  Anything else will result in incorrect structure and movement of the forequarters.   In this part we will consider the faults of the forequarter of the dog.

The tips of the shoulder blade (scapula) should be close together, no more than two finger width apart and slightly above the tips of the vertebral spines, creating the area known as the withers.  If the shoulder blades are too short or angled too much, the tips of the scapula will be too far apart.  There will also be no distinction of the withers if the scapula are too short, resulting in the back and neck meeting at a sharp angle.  The muscles that control the scapula will be shorter than desired, decreasing the available range of motion.  Since the reach of the forequarter is determined by the amount of lay back of the scapula, a straight shoulder will result in a short reach.    

If the upper arm bone (humerus) is too short the shoulder and elbow joints will be too steep and the elbows will not be well set under the body, making the front more like a terrier.  If the bones of the foreleg are too short there will be insufficient ground clearance for the chest (i.e. the ratio of leg length to height at the withers will be inadequate). An improper ratio of bone length to the shoulder and elbow joint angles will also be evident in poor elbow placement, elbows out or pinched.  This will ultimately be reflected in the gait. 

Moving down the leg, we next examine the pastern joint, which should be slightly angled forward.  If the pastern is too steep the normal suspension provided by this joint is lost – like walking on stilts.  An extremely straight pastern can often lead to `knuckling over´, a forward bending or quivering of the pastern joint when standing.  It is often associated with upright shoulder blades and/or short, upright pasterns.  This should be considered a very serious fault.  It has become rather prevalent in Norwegian Elkhounds and should be evaluated very carefully in any breeding program.  Dogs that `knuckle over´ develop a stance very unnatural in appearance – posting the
forequarters.  If the front legs are brought under the body, the pasterns quiver and/or `knuckle over´.  These pastern joints provide no shock absorption during movement, and the affected dogs have less endurance and generally a shorter stride than normal.

The term `down in pastern´ refers to a condition in which there is an excessive  angle  or bend to the pastern.  Referred to as pasterns being `broken down´, it can reach the point where the dog is actually walking on the pastern joint with each step.  This can happen over time in dogs with weak pasterns that do a lot of jumping as the pastern is repeatedly extended beyond what is usual for the dog and the flexor ligaments are broken down.  It is also often associated with abnormal conformation of the foot (i.e. flat or splayed feet).  Resulting in poor endurance, `down in pastern´ should be considered a very serious fault.

Although foot is subject to several faults, in normal standing it is okay for the toes to point slightly outward for balance.  People also stand this way.  Any more than a slight toe out, often referred to as `east-west front´, is a fault and can be the result of weak pastern joints which bend inward.  The toes should never point inward, the result of weak pasterns that bend outward or from elbows turned out from the body.  The foot is to be slightly oval – not round like a cat.  The toes are to be tightly closed and a single dewclaw present on the front foot.  When the normal suspension ligaments are stretched out, there is no pad cushion or arch to the toes, and the foot is said to be flat. A dog with splayed toes, toes spread apart, will generally have flat feet as well since all the normal suspension ligaments in the foot are stretched out.  Both are serious faults as they significantly affect the dogs endurance.  Dogs, like people, with flat feet get sore feet and tire quickly.  

The standard calls for substantial bone, neither too coarse or too fine.  While this is somewhat subjective, it must be evaluated with the overall structure of the individual dog in mind.  Extremes in either direction are easy to spot.  The overall picture should be pleasing to the eye.

Affected by the shape of the chest and spring of the rib, the forelegs, when seen from the front, should be pointing straight forward and parallel, neither bowed or pinched at the elbows.  When a properly structured front leg is brought forward in the moving dog, it should be a fluid, efficient act.  The foot should barely clear the ground, all joints flexing and extending in one coordinated, smooth motion.  The withers should remain level with and parallel to the ground, not moving up or down nor rolling from side to side.  At full extension the foot will be just off the ground, ready strike the ground smoothly and pull the body forward.  When viewed from the front, the legs should move in a straight line – none of the joints moving in or out of that line of travel – with the feet tending to move toward a centerline.  

There are several serious gait abnormalities that reflect the structural faults in the forequarters.  These include short stride, goose-stepping, padding, weaving, winging, toeing in or out, elbows pinched, pounding, wide front, etc.  Others that result from faulty interaction between the front and rear legs will be addressed in as separate section related to gait.

If the shoulder blade (scapula) lay back is insufficient it is impossible for the front leg to reach sufficiently forward.  This can manifest itself in several different ways.  

  • One common presentation is a shortened stride with the leg moving straight forward in the line of travel.  In order for the foot to clear the ground the front end of the dog must move up and down like a yo-yo or rocking horse. 
  • The front leg will appear to be pounding sharply to the ground.  This is very easy to see in a trotting dog. 
  • Another very common presentation of a straight front end is the goose stepping dog.  The elbow is flexed excessively in order to move the foot forward without striking the ground.  The dog will often move with a level back, but the foot is too far off the ground at the completion of the forward movement of the leg, and the elbow is still flexed.  Although this type of movement is very flashy in the ring, it is nevertheless incorrect and inefficient putting extra strain on the pastern joint and feet.  And when they do finally strike the ground, usually too late in the forward motion of the dog, much of the power is lost and can actually slow the forward progress.  This often results in an appearance of the foot slapping or pounding the ground instead of meeting it smoothly, jarring the body with each stride.  This also adds extra friction to the pads of the feet so they will tend to wear quickly.

Weaving, otherwise referred to as knitting and purling, is an unsound action which starts with the elbows twisting outward, and ends with crisscrossing pasterns and toeing out.   Best seen with the dog moving toward the viewer, these legs in motion look like an egg beater with no joints moving in a straight line.  Often the only way to effectively see what the legs are doing is to film the dog in slow motion as the average stride takes about 0.32 seconds.  A great deal of energy is wasted with this motion.   

The elbows can either move out or be pinched (tied).  While both are faults, the elbows that are pinched are more serious as it severely restricts the movement of the leg.  From the front, it often appears as if there is a paddling motion of the legs below the elbow.  If both the shoulder and elbow joints are `pinched´, the front legs will swing forward on a stiff outward arc.  These dogs will not be appear  to single track but rather to travel with the front feet too far apart, the body  appearing to rock from side to side.

Winging is a natural fault where one or both of the front feet twist outward as the limb swings forward.  Anything except a straight forward and backward movement of the leg wastes energy, puts unnecessary stress on the bone, joints, muscles, ligaments and tendons  and leads to rapid tiring of the dog from sore feet or legs. 

It is critical to remember that, while the rear quarters provide the power to propel the dog forward, it is the forequarters that take up the shock of that forward movement.  If the front end is put together poorly, regardless of the amount of power in the rear, the dog will have poor endurance and not be able to perform up to its potential.

Part 4 – The Hindquarters

“Hindquarters – Moderate angulation at stifle and hock.  Thighs are broad and well muscled.  Seen from behind, legs are straight, strong and without dewclaws.  Feet as in front (…comparatively small, slightly oval with tightly closed toes and thick pads)”. – Official Standard for the Norwegian Elkhound, 13 December 1988.

The hindquarters provide the majority of the power that propels the dog forward.  Properly proportioned and angled bones and muscles produce the power and stamina that m
akes the Norwegian Elkhound an excellent hunter and athlete.  Evaluation of proper angulation of the hindquarters should be made with the hind legs positioned so that a line dropped straight down from the back of the rump (buttocks) lines up with the front of the bones below the hock joint.  These bones (metatarsals) should be perpendicular to the ground. 

The hindquarters (pelvic limb) of the dog are each composed of approximately 40 bones, four more if we add in the pelvis.  Each half of the pelvis is developmentally made up of 4 pieces: ilium, ischium, pubis and acetabulum.  The ilium is the largest portion of the pelvis in front of the hip joint, comprising about two-thirds of the pelvis, the ischium is the part behind the hip joint, the pubis makes up the floor of the pelvis and the acetabulum is a small bone in the center of the hip joint socket.  The pelvis is attached to the vertebral column at the sacroiliac joint – the three bones of the sacral portion of the vertebra jointed to the inner surface of the ilium.  For most dogs, the pelvis should be tipped at an angle of about 30 degrees to the horizontal. 

The upper leg bone (femur) articulates with the pelvis in the hip joint, a ball and socket joint that allows a great range of motion.  The head of the femur is attached to the acetabulum by a short ligament (the round ligament).  The hip joint is enclosed by the fibrous joint capsule that attaches to the rim of the socket and the neck of the femur 1-2 cm from the cartilage covered head, rather like the CV boot in front wheel drive automobiles of today.  The lower end of the femur helps form the stifle (knee) joint.  In the standing dog the shaft of the femur should be at about a right angle to the slope of the pelvis.

The stifle (knee) joint is at the junction of the femur and tibia.  It is a complex joint, held together by eight ligaments and the joint capsule.  Additionally, there are five small bones associated with the stifle: the patella, three fabellae and the fibula.  The rounded ends of the femur (condyles) articulate with the flattened upper end of the tibia (also called condyles)   The two ends are separated by two fibrocartilagenous menisci.  These act like bushings between the two bones.   The menisci are held in place by a series of ligaments that attach them to the femur, tibia and each other.

The hinge in the stifle (knee) is formed by the anterior (lateral) and posterior (medial) cruciate ligaments that cross in the center of the joint, one going from the back of the femur to the front of the tibia (anterior cruciate ligament), the other going from the front of the femur to the back of the tibia (posterior cruciate ligament).  On each side of the stifle the bones are connected by the medial (inner) and lateral (outer) collateral ligaments.  The other four ligaments hold the patella in the groove on the front of the femur.  These are the patellar ligament that attaches the patella to the front of the tibia (the tibial crest), the two lateral patellar ligaments that attach the patella to the fabella (helping keep the patella in its groove), and the end of the tendon of the quadriceps muscle group that extends the joint.  The third fabella is in the tendon of the popliteus muscle where it glides over the lateral tibial condyle.

The other bone that plays a roll in the stifle is the fibula.  It is a long, thin bone that runs from the stifle (knee) to the hock on the lateral (outer) side of the tibia and articulates with it at each end.  The lateral collateral ligament attaches to the upper end of the fibula.  The lower end of the fibula forms he outer wall (lateral malleolus) of the hock joint.

Like the pastern joint of the front leg, the hock joint (tarsus) is a complex joint made up of seven tarsal bones, the lower ends of the tibia and fibula, and the upper ends of the four metatarsal bones.  They are held together by a series of ligaments, tendons and the joint capsule.  The hock should appear to be straight, neither turned in nor out.  The angles of the stifle and hock joints should each be about 30 degrees to the vertical.

The foot of the hindquarters is assembled similarly to the foot of the forequarters, except it is lacking a dewclaw.  It does tend to be a bit more elongated oval than the forefoot.  Unlike the front foot that may be slightly toes out, the hind foot should point straight ahead.     

Part 5 – Structural Faults of the Hindquarters

In Part 4 we discussed the anatomy of the hindquarters.  When standing, from the rear the hind leg should represent a straight line from the hip to the foot with no joint turned either in or out.  From the side, a plumb line dropped from the back of the rump should be parallel with and touching the front of the rear pastern (metacarpus).  The pelvis should be tilted at about a 30 degree angle to the horizontal, the femur at a 90 degree angle to the pelvis.  The length of the femur and tibia should be about equal to insure proper angulation of the stifle and hock.  The hock should be relatively short for proper agility and endurance. 

A pelvis that is too flat will give better rear extension that might be good for animals in hilly areas, like Mountain Goats, and a pelvis that is too steep will be good for an agility dog that has to make quick twists and turns.  However, neither is good for a dog that must have the stamina and endurance of the Norwegian Elkhound.  The angle of the pelvis will be reflected in the set of the tail.  With a flat pelvis the tail will be set too high and a steep pelvic angle the tail set too low.  While difficult to measure, if the ischium is too short the muscles that extend the leg rearward will be short, thereby making adequate rear extension difficult.  This would result in poor exercise tolerance and endurance since the dog must take more steps to go the same distance than a dog with proper length of ischium.  Side movement would look similar to a dog with too steep a pelvis angle, that is, poor rear extension.

One other fault that is most visible from the side is sickle hock.  In this condition, if the hock is positioned properly under the rump, the rear pastern will be angled forward, not perpendicular to the ground as it should be.  In the ring these dogs are often stacked with their hocks too far back, like a German Shepherd dog, in an attempt to hide this fault.  When moving the rear extension is often insufficient and the hock does not extend properly. 

Some dogs that can be positioned correctly for examination may still have and exaggerated, excessive flexion of the hock while moving, most noticeable during rear extension.   This is the hindquarter version of the front hackney gait and has been referred to as either `hackney rear´ or `breaking in the rear´.  As with the sickle hock, these dogs lack adequate drive in the rear and will take more steps to move a set distance than a properly structured dog. 

While not seen too often, luxating patellas can occur in the Elkhound.  The patella normally sits in a deep groove on the front of the lower end of the femur.  The patella attaches the extensor muscles for the stifle to the tibia.   If the groove is not formed properly during early development of the puppy, the patella can be luxated ei
ther to the inside (medial) or outside (lateral) of the femur.  Medial patellar luxation is more common.  There is also an accompanying laxity in one of the patellar ligaments that normally help keep it in the groove.  This is a serious fault as the stifle is unstable and will result in early onset of arthritis (degenerative joint disease) in this joint. While it can be surgically corrected for the comfort of the dog, this would certainly be cause to surgically sterilize affected individuals. 

Patellar luxation is easy to diagnose early in life.  Start with the puppy standing on a grooming table.  With the stifle fully extended, gently apply pressure on the patella, first from the inside, then from the outside of the joint.  It should remain steadfast in the groove on the front of the femur.  The severity of luxation is scored, from grade 1 (the patella is in the groove most of the time, but can be luxated) to grade 4 (the patella is out of the groove all the time and will never stay in it).  Usually grade 4 dogs have crooked femurs and tibias and no identifiable groove in the femur.  Correction of this condition requires surgical modification of the joint structures.

A structural fault that may contribute to the incidence of patellar luxation is a relatively long tibia in relation to the femur.  This has been observed with moderate frequency in the Afghan Hound.  These dogs will have inadequate angulation in the stifle. 

Most of the other structural faults of the hindquarters are best seen from the rear of the dog, whether standing or moving.  The hindquarters should be in a straight line from the hip to the foot and move straight forward and rearward with none of the joints twisting or turning neither inward nor outward.  At a trot the feet should tend to move toward the centerline to give the appearance of approaching to single track, with the hind legs almost hiding the front legs when viewed from the rear.

One of the most recognizable faults of the hindquarters is `cowhocks´.  There are two different causes for this condition that is typified by the hocks being turned in and the stifles and rear pasterns being turned out.  This condition can arise either from a malformation of the hock joint or from the entire hind leg being turned out at the hip because of poor ligament or muscle development. Regardless of the cause, it is a serious fault in almost every breed, resulting in weakened rear thrust.

`Moving close´ is another movement fault.  With this the rear pasterns are straight and parallel, but they are too close together and the stifles are thrown out.  This can progress to the point that the rear pasterns will brush or touch in passing.  As this condition worsens there can be interfering and crossing of the rear pasterns during movement so that there is a weaving pattern evident when viewed from the rear.

An action that is often a compensation for discomfort in the stifle joint is called snatching.  With this type of movement, as the rear foot moves forward there is a quick outward rotation of the hock as it passes the supporting leg accompanied by a twisting of the rear pastern in beneath the body. From the rear there will often be a noticeable rocking of the hindquarters. 

The opposite of these narrow hock movements are the wide, or spread, hocks.  With this the hocks are rotated outward and the feet always `toe in´.   Sometimes the hocks can´t make up their mind what to do so they actually will twist both in and out as they flex or bear weight.  These dogs often have their stifles twisted out.  This condition can also be referred to as `rubber hocks´ or `weak hocks´.

Pitching is a movement characterized by a severe rocking of the pelvis as the legs swing forward in a wide arc from the hip, rather than moving straight forward by flexing the stifle and hock.  The origin of this fault may be in the pelvis rather than in the leg joints. 

Other movement faults that can be encountered are crabbing and over-reaching.  With crabbing the dog is moving forward with the body at an angle to the direction of travel.  This is a common fault caused by there being more angulation in the rear than the front, often combined with a short, stiff back.  This sideways movement is done so that the longer reaching hind legs don´t strike the front  legs while trotting.  This type of movement can be created by careless handling or lack of training.  A dog with a short back or long legs will also crab so the front and rear legs don´t interfere during movement.  Crabbing can also be an indication of a spinal/muscle condition that can be treated if properly diagnosed with through examination and radiography.  Sometimes non-traditional treatments, such as chiropractic or acupuncture, may be beneficial in these latter cases. 

Over-reaching can be caused by all the same elements that cause crabbing, except that with overreaching the dog´s body is going in line with direction of travel, but there is still more power in the rear than the front so that hind feet strike the ground in front of, and along side of, the front foot on the same side.  

Pacing is another type of movement that can be used to avoid interference.  With this type of movement both legs on the same side of the body move forward and rearward in unison.  Pacing can also be seen in dogs that are fatigued, that have an injury or strain in the loin or have a roached back.

Any movement other than straight forward and rearward causes excessive wear and tear on the muscles, ligaments and joints, causing reduced stamina and endurance.  A properly balanced dog will place hind foot just behind and slightly inside the same spot as the front foot on the same side while at the trot and the body will be in line with the direction of travel.  The feet will tend to move toward a centerline.

A dog that is well balanced front and rear, with proper angulation, will move smoothly and with little effort.  Anything else reduces stamina and endurance, resulting in a tired dog. 

Part 6- The Axial Skeleton

In this part we will discuss the normal structure of the axial skeleton.  This includes the bones from the tip of the nose to the tip of the tail: the skull, spinal column and rib cage.

From the Official Standard: Head broad at the ears, wedge shaped, strong and dry.  Expression keen, alert, indicating a dog with courage.  Eyes very dark brown, medium size, oval, not protruding.  Ears set high, firm and erect, yet very mobile, Comparatively small, slightly taller than their width at the base with pointed tips.  When the dog is alert, the orifices turn forward and the outer edges are vertical………Viewed from the side, the forehead and back of the skull are only slightly arched, the stop not large, yet clearly defined.  The muzzle is thickest at the base and, seen from above or the side, tapers evenly without being pointed.  The bridge of the nose is straight, parallel to and about the same length as the skull.  Lips are tightly closed and teeth meet in a scissor bite.

The skull is a very complex structure with many very important functions, from acquisition of food and oxygen to holding the
sensory organs for sight, sound, equilibrium, taste, and smell, and protection of the brain.  Within the brain is the master controller of the endocrine glands and all sensory perception, as well as control of all muscles of the body and memory.  In addition to the spinal cord, there are twelve pair of cranial nerves that leave the brain to control all functions of the many and varied muscles and sensory organs in and on the skull, as well as some important functions of the body, like the long vagus nerve that controls the heart, the muscles of the intestine and glands of the chest and abdomen.  The skull is divided into two parts, the brain case with 14 bones and the facial and palatine region with 36 bones.  In addition, the normal dog has 42 teeth encased in the maxilla (10 on each side) and mandible (11 on each side).

Since the standard quite accurately describes the ideal head for the Elkhound there is not much else to add.   Faults will be discussed in the next part. 

Neck, topline – Neck of medium length, muscular, well set up with a slight arch and with no loose skin on the throat.  Topline – The back is straight and strong from its high point at the withers to the root of the tail………. Tail set high, tightly curled, and carried over the centerline on the back.  It is thickly and closely haired, without brush, natural and untrimmed. 

The base of the skull is attached to a vertebral column that is divided into 5 sections: cervical (neck) with 7 vertebrae, thoracic (chest) with 13 vertebrae, lumbar (loin) with 7 vertebrae, sacral (pelvic) with 3 fused vertebrae, and coccygeal (tail) with about 20 vertebrae.  The vertebral column has many functions: muscle attachment, movement, transmission of nerve fibers between the brain and various parts of the body.  The first two cervical vertebrae are shaped quite differently from all others.  The atlas (first) and axis (second) have special articulations that permit a wide range of motion of the head in relation to the rest of the body.  Most of the remaining vertebrae have a body, transverse processes on each side, a dorsal spinous process, an opening for the spinal cord and spinal blood vessels, and several articular surfaces.  The muscles of the back attach to the transverse processes and spinous processes.  The spinous processes are directed toward the tail from the head to the 10th thoracic vertebrae.  The 11th thoracic vertebrae is called the anticlinal vertebrae and has its spinous process directed straight up.  Those of all vertebrae behind it are directed forward.  Along the entire vertebral column there are openings through which nerve fibers enter and leave the spinal cord to carry messages between the various parts of the body and the brain.  The bodies of most of the vertebrae are separated by the intervertebral disc,  a cartilage cushion between each vertebral body.  The center of the disc is very soft in young dogs, become harder as the individual ages.

Because the muscles of the forequarters are attached to the neck and thoracic vertebrae, conformation of the forequarters will affect the appearance of the neck and chest.  Likewise, the hindquarter conformation will affect the appearance of the lumbar, pelvic and coccygeal parts of the spinal column.  As correct angulation will give the Elkhound a proper topline and neck carriage, a straight front and/or rear will make the neck, chest or loin appear longer in comparison.  The loin area should only have the appearance of being short because of well sprung ribs.

The upper end of the ribs are attach to the thoracic vertebrae.  The first nine ribs are attached securely to the sternum with a cartilage. The 10th through 13th ribs are called false ribs because they are to the 9th rib with cartilage.  While the first seven ribs have their own sternal bone, the 8th and 9th rib are both attached to the 8th sternal bone.  The first sternal bone is called the manubrium and the eighth is called the xyphoid process.  It has a cartilage attached to its lower end.  The prominent front end of the manubrium is often referred to as the forechest and should be palpable in front an the imaginary line drawn between the front of the right and left shoulder joints.  The ribs function to encase and protect the lungs and heart, as well as assist in breathing.  If they are not well sprung there will not be sufficient room for the heart and lungs to function properly for the stamina for which this breed is well known.  The muscles of the chest wall and diaphragm work in concert to move air into and out of the lungs.  Movement of the abdominal muscles can also assist in breathing.  Other vital structures, like the esophagus, vagus nerve and major blood vessels, traverse the chest between the neck and the abdomen.

Part 7 – Faults of the Axial Skeleton

While many of the faults of the head may be considered cosmetic, they do contribute to the overall appearance of the dog and need to be avoided.  The official standard for the head was shown at the beginning of Part 6.  The overall expression should be keen and alert, exhibiting strength and courage.  If the wedge is too narrow, the ears will appear too close together on the top of the head.  It would also be a fault for the head to be too wide, making the head look bulky and awkward.  The muzzle and skull should be of equal length.  A muzzle that is too short or too long or pointed (probably narrow too) look out of proportion to the skull.  When seen from the side, the bridge of the nose is to be parallel with top of the head, neither angled down or up nor having a bump or dish.  A head that is flat or too domed does not meet the standard of slightly arched.  The arch should be balanced from front to rear.  The stop should be clearly defined, but not too pronounced nor lacking.  There should not be any loose skin or wrinkles on the head.  

The eyes are to be very dark brown, medium sized and oval, not light colored, rounded, sunken  or protruding.  Certainly light colored eyes could affect the dogs ability to function as they might be more susceptible to solar irritation, such that the dog would be unwilling to work in bright sun light for prolonged periods.  Protruding eyes would be more subject to injury in the brush and trees. 

The ears should be only slightly taller than wide at the base, not like German Shepherd ears that are too tall and may tend to fall over in the Elkhound.  I do feel that taller than acceptable ears can be a potential health risk.  Besides being more subject to injury in heavily wooded areas, they could be an increased risk of frostbite.  With the ears erect, the outside edge should be vertical and in line with the side of the head and the orifices turned forward.  They should be set high on the head and have a strong appearance and be mobile.  Ears that are set low or appear thin and weak are incorrect and would give the dog a poor expression.  Nor should the tips approach each other, even to the point of touching, on the top of the head when alert.   

While not a fault listed in the official NEAA standard, missing teeth is potentially a serious problem.  Certainly in Europe it is weighed very heavily.  While one or two missing teeth may not seem to affect an individual animal, the results of breeding dogs with a familial history of this problem c
an result in significant problems. In a litter I bred 20+ years ago the sire and dam had all teeth present.  The common grand-dame was missing one tooth.  Of the eight puppies in the litter, two had full dentition, four were missing one or two teeth and two puppies were missing 12 of the 16 premolars.  They had a hard time eating.  There should be 42 teeth in the adult dog´s mouth.  Anything less should be considered a fault.  The incisors should meet in a scissors bite, where the upper incisors are just in front of the lower when the mouth is closed.  The presence of an undershot or overshot jaw is unacceptable, the bite would be off.  A level bite, where the upper and lower incisors meet evenly, would cause increased wear of the teeth.

The neck should be “of medium length, muscular, well set up with a slight arch…”  Since many of the muscles that control the forward movement of the front leg attach to the cervical vertebrae, any deviation will affect the dog´s ability to move the forequarters properly.  These could include a neck that is too short or too long, maintained too low or too high or with an improper arch.  A well set neck is pleasing to look at.  There is to be no loose skin on the bottom of the neck (`wet neck´), giving the appearance of a dewlap.

The chest is formed by the 13 thoracic vertebrae, the 13 pair of ribs and the sternum, as well as the overlying muscles.  The chest should be deep and well sprung to provide adequate room for the heart to function properly and to provide adequate lung capacity for stamina.  It  should not be a barrel chest like the English Bulldog nor too narrow like a Greyhound.  The former will impair proper movement of the front legs while the latter, often referred to a being `slab sided´, will give insufficient room for the heart and lungs to function properly, resulting in poor exercise tolerance.  These faults will be most easily viewed by observing the dog from the front or rear.  While moving, the back should be strong and level, neither bouncing up and down nor swaying from side to side.  A well sprung rib cage will help give the appearance of a short loin. 

The structure of the chest also affects the ability of the dog to move properly.  The muscles that move the dog´s body forward (pull the front legs backwards) attach to the boney structures of the chest wall, from the vertebrae to the sternum.  The front of sternum should  protrude in front of a straight edge run across the front of the chest at the point of the shoulders. This is called the forechest.  The absence of a proper forechest means the sternum will adversely affect movement of the front legs since the pectoral muscles will be too short.  The bottom of the chest should be about even with the level of the elbows.

  The loin (lumbar are) should appear short if the rib cage is of sufficient length and the hind legs and pelvis have proper angulation.  The coupling (the distance from the back of the rib cage to the front of the stifle joint) should be about 2 ½ inches, in no case greater than 3 inches.  The lumbar vertebrae are important for connecting the muscles of the back, abdomen and some from the hind legs.  If they are too short the dog will loose flexibility and stamina.  If too long, the dog has to expend excess energy trying to keep the back level while moving, usually unsuccessfully.  The entire back should be straight and have only a slight slope from the withers to the root of the tail.  There should only be a slight tuck up in the loin, and not look like a Whippet.

The set of the tail is an excellent indicator of the angle of the pelvis, as discussed in the part on the hind quarters.  If the pelvis is too flat the tail set will be too high, if too steep, the tail will be set too low.  While a tightly curled tail may eventually lean to one side or the other, it should start out straight over the back.  Any deviation could indicate poor muscle conformation.  The tail should be curled tight enough so that the hair over the sacrum is disturbed, forming the `nest´ for the tail to set in.  A loose tail could subject it to adverse affects of cold weather.  Another common faults seen in the tail is the `brush tail´, in which the hair is longer and not closely set.  This is a fault and is not to be trimmed in an attempt to hide it.  It allows too much cold air to get to the tail and would more easily gather ice and snow.   The hair on the tail is to be natural and untrimmed.  Excessive trimming could be considered an attempt to hide a `brush´ tail and should be penalized.   

Part 8 – The Body and the Coat

AKC Breed Standard :

Size, Proportion, Substance : The height at the withers for dogs is 20 ½ inches; for bitches 19 ½ inches.  Weight for dogs about 55 pounds; for bitches about 48 pounds. Square in profile and close coupled.  Distance from brisket to ground appears to be half the height at the withers.  Distance from forechest to rump equals height at withers.  Bone is substantial, without being coarse. 

Body: The body is short and close coupled with the rib-cage accounting for most of its length.  Chest deep and moderately broad; brisket level with points of elbow; and ribs well sprung.  Loin short and wide with very little tuck up.  The back is straight and strong from its high point at the withers to the root of the tail.  

NEAA Interpretive Comments :

What to look for:

Body Proportion: An Elkhound should exhibit a square profile in that the distance from the forechest to the rump equals the height at the withers.  The appearance is that of a short-backed, short-coupled dog.  Its characteristic appearance is due to the rather long rib cage, for the size of the dog, and a short loin which ideally is about two and one-half inches in length and should not exceed three inches.  The distance from the brisket to the ground appears to be half the height at the withers.  The chest is deep, moderately broad with ribs well sprung.  The back is straight and strong.  The topline, from the high point at the withers, has only a very slight slope to the root of the tail.  The loin is wide and well muscled.  The dogs should be shown in a lean, hard condition. 

The AKC Breed Standard and NEAA Interpretive Comments provide a clear description of what is expected for the Norwegian Elkhound.  This breed was developed over centuries to create a dog with the endurance to track for long hours in all kinds of weather, over rough and varied terrain.  It must have the agility to maneuver rocks and logs and to dodge the flailing feet of an a
ngry moose or charging bear.  The square, close-coupled, medium size of the Norwegian Elkhound allows this.  The correct structure of the front and rear quarters, as described in earlier chapters, gives this dog the necessary agility.  The deep and moderately broad chest with well sprung ribs provides adequate room for the heart to function and the lungs to exchange adequate oxygen and carbon dioxide. 

One phrase in the interpretive comments that seems to cause some problems is “The appearance is that of a short-backed, short- coupled dog”.  The operative word is “appearance”.  This does not mean that the back is to be short.  The appearance of a short back is due to the long, well-sprung rib cage and short loin.  A truly short back will greatly decrease the dogs flexibility and agility to move quickly to avoid the flailing feet of the moose.  Often the dog that truly possess a short back will appear taller than long (an incorrect rectangular appearance).  If a short-backed dog possesses a flat pelvis, it may appear to be square, but these dogs will have a high set tail and hocks set well behind the rump when the hind feet are placed so the hock perpendicular to the ground.

Another problem area is the definition of `lean´ and how that should affect the tuck up at the loin.  Lean refers only to the amount of body fat, best determined by how easily the ribs can be palpated.  The standard is quite clear that there is to be very little tuck up to the loin and that it is to be short and wide.  The correct Elkhound tuck up should not look like a Greyhound.  This is important for proper function of the diaphragm during breathing.  An excessive tuck up would limit the movement of the diaphragm by compression with the abdominal organs.  As a self test, put on a tight belt or belly wrap and try to run hard.  You will find you have poorer exercise tolerance due to increased abdominal pressure on your diaphragm, thereby limiting its movement and your lung capacity. 

One of the statements in the portion of the standard on the body says the brisket (sternum) should be level with the point of the elbows.  If the sternum is above the elbows it could mean the upper foreleg bones (scapula or humerus) are too long or the chest is not deep enough.  The first will give a poor gait, the latter will result in poor lung/heart capacity and poor exercise tolerance.  If the sternum is below the level of the points of the elbow it could mean the upper arm bones are too short, resulting in improper gait, or the chest is too deep, resulting in excessive body mass that will also reduce stamina.  Too much of a good thing can be bad.  The dog must have balance for all the parts to work well together.

In the previous section on faults of the axial skeleton we briefly discussed the forechest.  This is the portion of the sternum that protrudes in front of the points of the shoulder.  Proper angulation of the shoulders and length of the sternum should result in the presence of a forechest.  A straight shoulder could make the forechest seem excessive, as would an extra long sternum.  Either of these faults would be demonstrated as an improper gait with unbalanced movement of the forequarters.  A short sternum, long scapula or excessive lay back of the shoulder could eliminate the forechest.  This is easily palpable and would adversely affect the gait. 

The important thing to remember in studying the standard and interpretive comments is not to read something into them that is not there. 

What to avoid:  Avoid dogs and bitches that are one inch or more under the standard or over 21 ½ inches at the withers.  Long, soft or swayed back is a serious fault.  Avoid those dogs that do not exhibit the square profile.  It is incorrect to have a short rib cage and a long loin even if the dog exhibits a square profile.  A long loin is incorrect.  The length of loin is a relative to height at withers so while a two and one-half inch length of loin is ideal for a 20 ½ inch dog or a 19 ½ inch bitch it would become less than ideal for an individual of lesser wither height.  However, there is no allowance given for an increase beyond the allowed length of loin on individuals over the specified wither height.  This would lead to a rangy dog.  Avoid short-legged, heavy bodied dogs or long-legged, weedy bodied dogs. Avoid overweight or obese dogs.

In recent years we have been seeing more Elkhounds that exceed the height and weight recommendations of the standard.  Chapter 5 of the book “Dogs” by Raymond and Lorna Coppinger contains an excellent discussion of why the 55 pound upper limit should not be exceeded.  Their study of endurance racing sled dogs demonstrated those larger than 55 pounds could not dissipate body heat fast enough to avoid hyperthermia (excess body temperature) and rapid exhaustion.  While the rectal temperature of the smaller dogs would rise to 107 or 108 degrees, the head and chest temperature stayed at a safe level because of their heavy panting.  In larger dogs the core temperature could exceed 110 degrees, the point at which tissue damage can occur.  While the Elkhound is not used extensively for sledding, they must have the stamina to hunt for long hours over rugged terrain.  The Coppinger´s research suggests that the larger dogs will not have this capability, as must have been the experience of the Norsemen by trial and error.                   

While there is no disqualification in the standard for height, the interpretive comments about  avoiding dogs and bitches more than one inch below standard or over 21 ½ inches at the withers comes pretty close to a disqualification statement.  In this medium-sized northern dog, size is important.  While 23 and 24 inch dogs may win because they look more impressive, they are, none the less, incorrect and should not be bred to make more large dogs.  If properly proportioned, the taller dogs will most likely exceed the ideal 48 (bitches) or 55 (dogs) pound weight.  Judges need to understand this point and help us by not placing dogs obviously outside the recommendations in the standard.  It is unlikely the NEAA will insert a height disqualification into the standard. Therefore, we need to be good stewards of the breed and not perpetuate this problem.

It is also important to understand how to measure the dog.  There seems to be some disagreement on this point.  With the dog standing on a flat, level floor, the distance from the floor to the top of the withers (the high point of the scapula) is the correct measurement.  Since it may be difficult to make this measure accurately with only a ruler and level, it is best to use a wicket, either purchased or home made.

Since excess weight will affect endurance, the Elkhound must be shown lean and well conditioned, with the ribs easily palpable.  One or two pounds may not seem like a lot, but after several hours on a hunt, they add up to many extra calories burned to move the extra pounds around.  The extra weight will also lead to more wear and tear on the bones, joints, muscles and ligaments.  A poorly structured dog, coupled with extra weight, will break down much earlier in life, and not have the stamina necessary for this dog to perform as expected. 

The ideal package of correct structure wi
ll give the hunter a dog that will have the stamina to work for many hours in all kinds of terrain and conditions. 

The Coat:

AKC Breed Standard : Thick, hard, weather resisting and smooth lying: made up of soft, dense, woolly undercoat and coarse, straight covering hairs.  Short and even on head, ears, and front of legs; longest on back of neck, buttocks and underside of tail.  The coat is not altered by trimming, clipping or artificial treatment.  Trimming of whiskers is optional.  In the show ring, presentation in a natural, unaltered condition is essential.

Color gray, medium preferred, variations in shade determined by the length of the black tips and quantity of guard hairs.  Undercoat is clear light silver as are legs, stomach, buttocks, and underside of tail.  The gray body color is darkest on the saddle, lighter on the chest, mane and distinctive harness markings.  The muzzle, ears and tip of tail are black.  The black of the muzzle shades to lighter gray over the forehead and skull.  Yellow or brown shading, white patches, indistinct or irregular markings, “sooty” coloring on the lower legs and light circles around the eyes are undesirable.  Any overall color other than gray as described above, such as red, brown, solid black, white or other solid color, disqualifies.

As with previous sections, the standard describes the ideal coat type and color very clearly.  The proper thick, hard, smooth lying coat is very insulating and weather resistant in cold as well as the warm climates.  Water should run off the back of a properly coated Elkhound.  The guard hairs should lie flat and cover a very dense undercoat.  While an open coat may give the appearance of a larger, bigger boned dog, it will create a dog that is less tolerant of cold and wet weather and should be scored lower than a correctly coated dog.  If you wish for an open-coated, gray northern dog, get a Keeshond.

The presence of white patches is undesirable.  Since the newborn Elkhound coat is to be all black, any white areas show clearly at birth.  Certainly large white patches, or areas of yellow or brown, should be scored down.  These seem to occur most commonly over the sternum and forechest area and feet.  The Elkhound coat is close lying and variations of gray, black and silver as described in the standard.

Being shown in a natural, unaltered condition does not mean having to brush out clouds of chalk before going in the ring or adding black hair dye around the eyes or on the muzzle or ears. Sooty coloring on the lower legs if often referred to the dog having `dirty knees´ and is undesirable, as is white around the eyes giving the appearance of spectacles.  While light trimming to clean up rough edges on the belly, legs and other long hair areas is considered acceptable, the dog should not look sculpted like a terrier or a Poodle.  The hair on the underside of the tail should of medium length and close like the rest of the coat.  It should not be long and open, often called a `brush tail´.  This would lead to excess heat loss from the tail and a collecting point for ice and snow.  The tail should curl tight enough to create a `nest´ in the hair over the pelvis.