by Patrick Ormos, Phi-Vestavia Cardigans, USA


Right from the beginning I want to acknowledge that much of the credit for what I am going to share with you must go to Mrs. Casey Gardiner (Kerrycroft Kennels) of the School for Canine Science. Casey (as she likes to be known) has an incredible fund of knowledge about dogs. She has studied them for years. Her work on movement and canine anatomy is classic. I have been privileged  to work with Casey for the past few years. The things I get right in this article are due to her. The mistakes are entirely my own.

The vertebral column extends from the head to the end of the tail. From it come the ribs, and attached to it are the front and rear assembly. The major muscle groups of the body either start or end there. In a sense, it is the vertebral column which organizes the rest of the animal. It is difficult to even imagine a dog with a "fabulous front", a "great rear", and a really poor back!! Something simply doesn't work in that kind of an equation!

ALL BREEDS HAVE THE SAME NUMBER OF VERTEBRAE! It doesn't matter if it is a Chihuahua or a Great Dane, a Smooth Fox or a Dandie, they all have the same number of vertebrae. The ONLY variation is in the number of vertebrae in the tail, and that is a human-created variation (i.e. docking). (Note: there is a recessive gene in Cardigans, and I'm sure in  other breeds, which produces short tails rather than the normal length tails. But, this does not seem to affect the rest of the vertebrae.)

There are 7 cervical vertebrae in the neck. The withers (not a part of the front assembly, but of the vertebrae) consists of the first 9 thoracic vertebrae. The mid-back (where the spines of the vertebrae will
change direction) is the last 4 thoracic vertebrae. The loin consists of 7 lumbar vertebrae, and the "croup" is the sacrum plus 3 or 4 coccygeal vertebrae. The tail will consist of coccygeal vertebrae.

The total is 30-31 vertebrae in the neck and back, plus the tail. In measuring several Cardigans we discovered some interesting measurements for the back lengths. In an earlier article I mentioned back length ratios. We have discovered, again through measurements, that there seems to be a difference in back length ratios between dogs whose tail is normally carried erect, and dogs whose tail is normally carried down.

As a hypothesis I will suggest that the Pembroke would be a breed whose tail would be carried up (were it to have a tail), as the Norwich Terrier does. And the Cardigan would be a breed whose tail should be carried down, as a German Shepherd.

In a tail-up back, the relationship between withers: mid-back: lumbar (loin) seems to be 40%:20%:40%

In a tail-down back, the relationship between withers: mid-back: lumbar (loin) seems to be 35%:20%:45%.

This translates roughly to a measurement of about 5":2.5":5" for Pembrokes, and 4.5":2.5":5.75" for Cardigans.

In a Pembroke then (if this is correct), the wither area and the lumbar area should be the same length, and the mid-back should be half that length, to give the IMPRESSION of a strong, relatively short-coupled dog. In a Cardigan, on the other hand, the wither area should be shorter than the lumbar area, and the mid-back should be more than half the wither length, to give the IMPRESSION of a relatively longer backed dog.

PLEASE NOTE THAT THE OVERALL LENGTH OF BOTH BACKS IS THE SAME. (Yes, I realize that there is 0.25" more for the Cardigan. If you can tell 0.25" from 6 feet away in the middle of a ring, you have much better eyes than I do!) IT WILL BE THE IMPRESSION WHICH WILL BE DIFFERENT.

We wondered if it was the vertebrae which were different in the two types of backs, was one actually longer than the other? Or was there some other explanation for this difference which we seemed to have found. Upon dissection (as I have understood from what Casey reported to me) it was discovered that the bodies of the vertebrae were not different. Rather it was the thickness of the disks inbetween which seemed to be different in the different type backs. This is only a preliminary finding, and will require more research time and energy.

The length of the neck (cervical vertebrae) is approximately equal the length of the head. If your dog looks "stuffy" it is not because the dog has a "short neck" (a very misleading term). Rather it probably means that the dog's shoulders are pushed so far forward that they are up on his neck. It is the shoulder blade which is interfering with the appearance of the long neck, not the neck which is disappearing! That lovely curve at the top of the neck which gives our dogs that proud air is due to the atlas and axis vertebrae (the first two cervical vertebrae). When these are pronounced and strong, and the  corresponding muscles are well developed, we get that lovely arch to neck which we all love to see.

These have been one person's opinion. I hope that they will spark some interest, and perhaps some debate on this website.

1.12.03 /ed.Ano


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