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Taking the measure of Structure in the Siberian Husky
by Kim Leblanc – Snowmist Siberians
Using “George” the stick dog (sketch attached) I will explain the basics of measuring your dog using the method developed by Casey Gardiner for the “Dogs A Hobby or Profession” courses she developed. Many breed standards refer to bone lengths and angles such as layback & lay on. What we will be discussing here is how all of that applies to the Siberian Husky.
It is very common when discussing dogs to speak of balance. How do you establish what balance is? How do you demonstrate balance? Is there a method whereby anyone can learn about this elusive quality? Is being balanced enough to make a dog one of quality?
We say a dog is balanced if when he or she stops four square (all four feet are naturally placed in the correct position) and moves with co-ordination between the forequarters and the hindquarters. A dog can be very well balanced but still be poorly constructed. There are many combinations of bone lengths and angles that will give the appearance of good balance but not all of these combinations result in a dog that is well constructed.
The basic criteria for good structure in a breed the style of the Siberian Husky calls for four main bone lengths to be equal. The four main bones that should be equal in length are the shoulder blade or scapula, the upper arm or humerus, the pelvis and the femur. Of these 4 the pelvis is the only one that when measure we can measure it from tip to tip the rest of the bones when measured include a portion
of a joint. This makes the pelvis the reference point for all measurements. Next we have the forearm or radius/ulna which should be about one quarter (1/4) longer in length than the pelvis. The stifle or the fibula/tibia bones should measure about one third (1/3) longer than the pelvis.
The term layback is usually used in reference to the angle of the scapula away from a vertical line. Forty-five degrees is often cited as the ideal. It is not unusual to find Siberians with laybacks in the range from 35 to 42 degrees. Of course there are many that fall outside this range. Two areas not addressed very often are the lay on of the shoulder assembly and the location of the shoulder assembly. The first issue – lay on is at what angle the shoulder blade is place on the body. Place your dog on a table. Then stand in front of your dog and place your hands on the shoulder blades of your dog on either side. Feel how the
shoulder blade tips in towards the spine. This is the lay on. In breeds like the Siberian the lay on is well away from the vertical whereas with breeds like the Bullmastiff with their rounder rib cage the lay on is much more vertical. The other area of concern is the actual placement of the shoulder assembly on the body of the dog. Once you realize that the whole forequarter assembly of the dog is literally only held in place by muscle and ligaments it becomes clear why placement can be so varied and even more importantly why it is critical to good structure to be correctly placed. If you shift the forequarters forward you end up with no fore chest. When it is place too far back on the rib cage now you are in a rounder area of the ribs which gives a bulkier front and impedes the freedom of movement of the elbows.
The pelvis angles down the horizontal plane about 30 degrees. This is normal and a number routinely found in the Siberian. Finding a pelvic angle in the range from 25 to 35 degrees is not uncommon. Steeper or flatter pelvic angles than these really does change the look of the dog.
Our breed standard calls for the elbow to ground distance to be slightly greater than the distance from elbow to withers. After measuring hundreds of Siberians the conclusion is that slightly greater is about 55% of the overall height from withers to ground.
It is interesting to note that the standard calls for a level topline. Anyone who has run their hands down their dog’s topline knows that the back of a dog is no more level than a human back. It is full of small hills and valleys depending on where along the back you have your hand. The illusion of a level topline comes from the fill of hair, muscle and fatty tissue. The withers are composed of the tallest spines along the back bone and they get progressively shorter into the next area of the back. It is normal for the distance in height from the top of the withers to the ground to be slightly greater than the top of the pelvis to the ground.
The phrase “the hock joint well defined and set low to the ground” is used to describe a very important part of our dogs in a pretty vague fashion. What is low to the ground? Numerically this is addressed in other breed standards. The suggested height of the hock is about one third (1/3) the height of the dog from the pelvis to the ground. That number seems to fit well for the Siberian too.
Now if these bones are attached at the correct angles you will find the structure of the resulting stick dog dressed with some fur is going to give you the kind of dog our breed standard describes.
Changes in any one area will change the final picture. If you shorten the scapula then the humerus must be longer or the angle of attachment must change to allow that dog to still stand on all 4 legs.
The head is made up of 2 equal parts. The skull measured from the occiput to the notch by the eye mid stop should be equal to the distance from that same notch in the stop to the tip of the nose. These 2 parts should be joined together in such a way that they are in parallel planes. These dimensions are what allow the eyes to be set obliquely and retain the almond shape as well as the lovely wedge with the fox like characteristics that we are seeking.
Using the above information gives us a pretty good idea of how to assess structure. From a practical point of view you can now use this same method on a litter of puppies. My experience has taught me that most Siberian puppies should be evaluated as close to the 8 week mark as possible. If they are measured too much prior to this date or to far after this date there is a lot of growth and change that still seems to be taking place rapidly that invalidates the measurements. The 8 week mark seems to be the time when you can evaluate your puppies’ structure and expect them to be pretty close to that same style of structure at the age of 2 years.