Linda Arndt ~ Canine Nutritional Consultant

Front-End Assembly of Great Danes

Quote: She stated in one of her articles that "it can take as many as 5 generations to get your good shoulders back...if ever."

This comment came up as part of a lengthy discussion on one of the Great Dane discussion lists. I would like to address this particular comment as one who teaches structure and design, not just as a dog breeder.

I think a breeding program can correct a poor front, at least several in a litter, in 1-2 generations, IF you know what you are looking at to begin with, and then select accordingly to correct the problem. The problem with the front end assembly in our breed is that people to not know how to "see" what they are looking at, when it comes to anatomy. They may know the names of the bones and muscles but there is MUCH more to it.

Teaching people how to "see" the parts and how the parts "relate" to the whole animal is a very complicated process . I am going to give you an idea of things to consider, when trying to fix a front assembly problem. That way you will understand why it is so hard for most people to fix their fronts, because they are not educated in "seeing" form and proportion and it's relationship to each other.

First - it is very difficult to find good examples to show you.

Second, in understanding the front end assembly you need to realize
there are many parts to this equation. I will name each part and give you things
to consider when viewing it.

Shoulder blade:

  • Size - consider the overall length of it
  • the form of it - (varies on each dog)
  • the 2-D shape(s) on the "form" of that bone,
  • the thickness of the blade
  • the length and angle of the indentation of the bone,
  • the angle of how it is set on the body from the side
  • the angle and how it is set on from the front
  • the way it hugs the body at the top or withers
    (which must be viewed from looking down on the dog).
  • the lay on and the lay back and the

So all of those things must be considered when trying to correct a front. Let me clarify something when I say the 3-dimensional form of the bone varies on each dog, and I will give you an example.

An Illustration:
Hold your hand out in front of you, palm down. If there is someone in your immediate area, call them to come over to where you are and tell them to hold out their hand out, beside yours ..palm down. Now you will see, and agree, you are both looking at what we all recognize as a human hand. However, the form, shape, size, length, color, texture, etc., is different...yet we recognize them as a hand. So the shoulder blade on a dog is very different in size, shape, and
thickness on each dog, even though we recognize them as a shoulder blade. Considering these parts and how the fit on the body (relationship to the whole) is integral in figuring out how to correct a problem.

Upper Arm:
What is the length, width, what is the shape of the bone (round, oval, flat) What is the length compared to the length of the shoulder blade? They need to be of equal proportion

Leg from elbow to the wrist (carpal joint) What is the length, width and shape of the bone and what is the length in relation to the upper arm? They need to be of equal proportion to the upper arm and blade.

Placement: (shoulder blade and upper arm)

The shoulders need to be placed BACK on the body and too many times we see them placed too far forward on the front of the dog. When they are placed too far forward on the body, they can't support the weight the front chest has an arch to it or also called cathedral fronted. Remember the front holds the body weight, the back propels the dog forward. Therefore if the front assembly (shoulder blade & upper arm) are too far forward on the body, the front legs (carpal, toes, elbows) of the dog are often deformed because they can't hold the weight of the dog while they developing.

There will be bowing of the legs at the wrist/carpal joint and/or at the elbow joint and/or the toes will roll forward where it looks as if the dog is standing on it's toes. This should can not be corrected with surgery because the problem is not the elbow or wrist, it is with the shoulder placement on the body. These dogs should never be used in a breeding program!

When viewing the dog from the side, there should be muscle protrusion out in front on the chest. I do not mean pigeon breast, I mean pronounced MUSCLE MASS will be there if the shoulders are placed back on the body where they should be.

An illustration:
Pull out a Dane magazine and go through it.

  • How many dogs are flat across the front. The standard calls for "smooth" but NOT flat.
  • How many dogs to you see with muscle mass out in front of the dogs chest.
  • There should be some "muscle" out in front on the dog .
  • How many are pigeon breasted, have a pointy protruding bone.

Make sure you can differentiate between these three conditions. Shoulder and upper arm placement is critical to amount of muscle mass out in front of the dog and to the whole front structure.

An illustration:

Stand up, assume a correct posture with your feet ahead, chest out, neck erect and head looking straight ahead. Notice where YOUR shoulders are on your body. They are setting "back" on your body. Now switch to poor posture, slump and watch what happens to your shoulders, they move forward on your body and your chest sinks in. This is no different from what happens on a dog. When the shoulders set too far forward, they do not
have enough muscle mass/chest muscle in front of the dogs chest. They are "flat chested".

When viewing the dog from the front, the shoulders must hug the body with a very smooth transition from the neck into the shoulder muscle. There should be NO shelf where it looks as if the neck is sinking down into the body.

An illustration:

You can duplicate this concept by sitting up straight in a chair holding your shoulders back and neck erect. Then slump and watch and feel what happens to your own neck placement as your shoulders move forward and your neck pulls into your body, like a turtle. Your shoulders stick
up on your body.

The width and depth and 3-dimensional "form" of the ribcage should also be considered when trying to correct a front. Many dogs are slab sided (or flat sided, more like a greyhound). There must be plenty of depth and width to make room for heart and lung capacity.

Pigeon breasts are a large problem and can be due to the shape of the ribcage, forcing this to protrude out in front and then it is often compounded by a shoulder placement that is often too far forward on the side of the body.

I hope this is not too confusing, I guess my point is, we cannot fix something structurally until we learn to "see" what we are looking at and identify the many things to consider when looking to correct a front problem.

Teaching people how to "see" the parts and how the parts "relate" to the whole animal is a very tedious process. Maybe this is something we should discuss as an educational seminar at one of the Nationals some time. I will be so forward as to say I could offer a "design" workshop and then we could learn to translate that information into viewing the animal's anatomy.

I hope these examples help. I will soon post some examples of GREAT Great Danes in the breed, at this website.

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