The Cardigan Welsh Corgi and a Question of Balance

By Bridget Smeeton

In evaluating the quality of exhibits every judge has different priorities and methods to try and decide why, in their opinion, one dog is better than another. Balance, Type and Temperament are what I consider my three priorities. If you have these three desirable qualities, many others will fall into place making up the picture of an excellent example of the breed — in our case an excellent Cardigan Corgi. This article aims to describe how I see and understand a balanced well-constructed Cardigan Corgi.

Nature governs the shape and construction of all species to be well balanced and therefore well adapted to their environment - this is a matter of survival. When it comes to things we construct be it a piece of machinery or a piece of art, the design, proportion and balance decide how successful or desirable the end result will be.

With dog breeding we have taken the dogs out of their working environment and constructed a blue print or ideal design of our breed. These ideals are written in the breed standard and guide us in deciding the most appropriate breedings to achieve the desirable characteristic features of the breed.  When we breed purebred dogs we are trying to breed a specimen as close as possible to the ideal standard. Ultimately this will produce a dog that can do what it was bred for. In the case of Cardigans it was herding cattle and sheep across the rugged hills of Wales. Dog breeding is a challenge - what you see is not always what you get!!! We plan the design of our "ideal" dog, choose a suitable sire then sit back and see what the genes produce. We don't always get what we hoped for but sometimes we come close. All we can do is use our skills to pick the best that nature has put together and so the challenge goes on!!

With any breed that I am judging whether it be a long- or short- legged, long- or short-backed, heavy- or light-bodied, whatever the original function it was designed for, overall balance of the dog is always the top priority. This will determine whether the dog can move efficiently.

I find that people who have been involved with breeding and riding horses often have an instinct for recognizing balance and design of a dog. When I was a child I had a pony that was a great ride and was comfortable on long treks that we made. Later I acquired a "discarded" Hunter and I was to discover why he had been "discarded"!!! It was not until I rode him for long distances that I realized that he was a pretty rough ride. The result was I got quite a sore bum!! Why? This horse had a short choppy gait because he was straight in shoulder.

Similarly, dogs with poor shoulder angulation do not move smoothly. Basically, if a dog is built correctly it will move true. A young animal can sometimes compensate quite well for some shortfalls but as he or she develops and ages these imbalances become more pronounced.

As a class enters the ring judges stand back and watch the dogs move round the ring. What do they look for? I like to watch with my eyes slightly closed picturing myself riding these dogs. Very quickly the bal­anced ones will stand out. Then as you go over these dogs you hope that other important points in the standard will match up to the balance that creates this flow. I guess the Fairies back in mist of time had their favorite Corgi horses too!!

A dog that is well-angulated front and rear should move true.   To achieve good angulation the long bones in both the front and rear assembly must be close to the same length (see Figure 1). In a dog with good front extension the scapula will be of sufficient length to allow the humerus to extend forward over the prosternum and backwards to a line reaching under the shoulder and upper thoracic vertebrae. This of course is assuming the dog has the
correct egg shaped rib cage.  If this is the case then the elbow will be in the correct position to mould and support the front assembly. The radius and ulna bones also must be of sufficient length and strength to support the front.

The carpal bones also play a very important role in support and must be in proportion as these bones ultimately bear all the weight of the front.  If any of these bones are not of sufficient length then movement will be compromised and added stress will be placed on the joints.  The same applies to the rear assembly, pelvis, femur and tibia and fibula must be approximately of equal length.   Several other dwarf breeds spe­cifically call for this equal relationship in their breed standards.  When the pelvic assembly is viewed from the rear it is slightly narrower than the front assembly because the bones do not have to mould around the chest cavity. Unless the long bones are of equal length it is impossible for a dog to have max reach fore and aft.

The way I look at a Cardigan is to visualize a picture that can be broken up into three almost equal rectangular sections. I have no intention of suggesting exact measurements; you have to rely on your eye. These sections are shown in Figure 2. The first section is the area from the front of the brisket to the back of the elbow, immediately below the point of shoulder.  The second (which can be a hairs breadth longer than the other 2 sections, see dashed line) is from elbow to back of the loin or the start of the curve of the thigh. The third section is from thigh to a line from the hock joint to the ischiam tuberosity (tip of the ileum).  This is a similar method to that used by artists when composing a picture.  Dividing a landscape or figure, for example, into segments by lines, squares or shapes ensures the overall finished picture will be balanced.

Take a group of photographs of six different dogs. These photos need to be taken completely side-on, not taken at a slight angle. Go through handbooks and magazines and test the three equal portions theory. How many of the dogs fit this approximate idea of thirds??

One of the most common situations that I find is that the front section is more like a 1/4 of the total, rather than a third.  This is most likely because the dogs have poor shoulder angulation, due to unequal length of humerus and scapula (the shoulders are too far forward) and viewed from the side the dog will lack prosternum. In this case when the dog is viewed from the side the elbow joint is more under a line from the dogs ears than where it should be commencing from the thoracic vertebrae.  Generally, if the 1st portion constitutes only 1/4 of the overall length and the 3rd portion is the correct 1/3 then the center portion appears longer than desired. If the front is not well angulated then a good rear angulation is never going to be able to excel as the front has to move first and that controls what follows!!! The system is not balanced and some­thing will have to compensate. The most likely consequences are the front legs will swing out of line from the body of the dog (crabbing) or the dog will move wide when coming towards you.  The top line of the dog on the move can also be compromised which puts strain on the loin and lower lumbar vertebrae.

The front just has to be the most crucial as the whole body is controlled by its efficiency. If the long bones or wrists are too short, the constant jolting will eventually cause joint problems from the added pressure. Good muscle tone can help but this can also cause over loading of the joints.

Now consider the situation in reverse i.e. a dog with a well-laid front and a poorly angulated hindquarter (perhaps a short tibia or fibula). The rear is going to have to work harder to keep up with the good front. The compensation in movement is that the hind movement swings out of line, or the dog moves close behind. This is like driving a car with the brakes on!!!!!

When both fore and hind angulation have some imbalance due to say foreshortening of bones fore or rear the chances are that if the movement is going to be efficient the body components must be shortened. This dog may appear to move true but will not have the reach which is needed for endurance i.e. be a busy mover (moves very fast but with short strides). The well-balanced dog will take fewer strides to cover the same distance.

To identify which of my dogs have the best-angulated fronts I learned a trick from my days on the farm. Take the dogs to the top of a steep hill in quite rough terrain, and call them down so they descend at speed. The dogs that bounded effortlessly down the hill, their fronts flexing like a spring cushioning the weight of the body behind them were the ones with good angulation. The dogs with the not so well angulated fronts jolted their way down or moved sideways to save the stress on their joints.

The well-balanced dog will be able to move in a fluid smooth fashion at a trot with the minimum of stress on all components like a well-oiled piece of machinery!!! These dogs make moving around the ring look effortless.  The dogs with the unbalanced construction make harder work of moving and will often opt to break into a gallop and will always be less efficient.

The sport of Agility is one of the best ways to learn and understand the overall construction of a dog. The dogs are in a situation where their movements are pushed to doing things that they are not normally doing at home. Unless you have the space for the dogs to run free on rough terrain many Cardigan owners never get to see the dogs in "working mode". Even if you are not in a position to take part, watching agility is a rapid way of learning about skeletal construction in dogs, and observing how dogs learn how to handle different situations.

The Illustrated Standard of the Cardigan Welsh Corgi published by the CWCCA should be a must for every Cardigan owner's reference.  I have been allowed to use the skeleton from this excellent book, and there are many more well described diagrams in this book illustrating the correctly constructed and the effect of incorrect bone lengths and angles. I repeat, if any of these components are not of balanced length the stress of imbalance will be a problem.

So there it is. My Opinion. I have lived, worked and enjoyed Corgis for 40 years. I know many breeders have studied the mechanics of dog movement to a far greater extent than I but hopefully my explanations of how I see type and balance in a dog may help some people to further appreciate the construction of the Cardigan Welsh Corgi.

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