In the current NZKC Breed Standard, “alert and swift-moving little dog…with a brisk, forceful action,” under Characteristics and General Appearance are the only references to the Chihuahua’s gait. Unlike most Breed Standards in other countries, no detailed description of movement is given under a specific heading. However, movement is a vital characteristic of the breed and one we must learn about if we are to maintain the beautiful, swift, balanced movement (and the ultimate display of soundness) in our lines.
When a Chihuahua breeder in New Zealand wishes to gain a sound understanding of Chihuahua movement the best way to do so is to study the more detailed Breed Standards, and their interpretations, that can be found in larger countries around the world. Take the American Kennel Club Breed Standard. The AKC Standard offers an excellent description of the gait in the form of this passage:
“Gait - The Chihuahua should move swiftly with a firm, sturdy action, with good reach in front equal to the drive from the rear. From the rear, the hocks remain parallel to each other, and the foot fall of the rear legs follows directly behind that of the forelegs. The legs, both front and rear, will tend to converge slightly toward a central line of gravity as speed increases. The side view shows good, strong drive in the rear and plenty of reach in the front, with head carried high. The topline should remain firm and the backline level as the dog moves.”
One only needs to look at photos of some of the top-winning American Chihuahuas in action for an illustration of the above. The Kennel Club (UK) and FCI Breed Standards are also very specific in their treatment of the gait:
From The Kennel Club Standard -
Brisk, forceful action, neither high-stepping nor hackney; good reach without slackness in forequarters, good drive in hindquarters. Viewed from front and behind legs should move neither too close nor too wide, with no turning in or out of feet or pasterns. Topline should remain firm and level when moving.”
And from the FCI Standard -
“GAIT / MOVEMENT : Steps are long, springy, energetic and active with good reach and drive. Seen from rear, hind legs should move almost parallel to each other, so that the foot prints of the hind feet fit directly into those of the front feet. With increasing speed, the limbs show a tendency to converge towards the centre point of gravity (single track). Movement remains free and springy without visible effort, head raised and back firm.”
All three standards quoted here make special mention of the reach and drive of the dog; the leading front leg should reach out forwards in long strides that equal the distance covered by the driving rear leg so that front and back movement are in balance. It is this long, smooth, powerful extension of the legs that provides the “brisk, forceful action,” our NZKC Standard requires. Of particular importance is that the reach and drive are equal. Balance is achieved when the forequarters are set well under and the hindquarters display good turn of stifle, but the degree of rear angulation must be in proportion to the angulation of the shoulders for the limbs to operate with the greatest efficiency. The degree of angulation required to achieve this will vary to some extent depending on the dog’s proportions (leg length versus body length). Balance minimises effort, allowing the topline to remain firm and level at all times during gaiting while the head is proudly carried high.
In addition to reach and drive, assessed when movement is viewed from the side, we must also consider the gait from the front and back. The front legs should swing straight forward, converging slightly towards the centre of gravity but never single-tracking (feet placed one in front of the other along the centre of gravity) and with no winging, weaving or paddling. Back legs follow the path of the front, with no rolling from side to side or waddling effect (“slackness in hindquarters”), so that when viewed from behind only the rear footfalls are visible. Again, this is the most effortless and natural way for a Chihuahua to move. In the show ring a Chihuahua should want to move swiftly; they are the smallest breed in the Toy Group but by no means the slowest moving and (within reason) handlers should be prepared to speed up to accommodate their dog’s ability and desire to stride out.
The quality of a dog’s movement is a brilliant way to assess its soundness. At first glance a Chihuahua may seem to achieve static balance on the stack, but bouncing of the topline, high-stepping or lack of rear drive on the move indicate that the dog is not nearly as sound as he could be. Such a dog is likely to lack the stamina and fitness of better movers and therefore, with the health and well-being of puppies as a primary goal of any responsible breeding programme, great emphasis should be placed on gait when selecting show and breeding stock. A line of soundly-moving Chihuahuas of proper type is a line of which a breeder can be truly proud.
Truly sound Chihuahuas can move just as well in their teenage years as they did in their youth, for the simple reason that good movement not only looks effortless; the steps are indeed carried out at speed with great ease and fluency. I recall once such example in New Zealand not long ago, when I observed CH El Duende Butch Cassidy, at the age of fourteen, just a year or two before his passing, gliding smoothly around the ring at the Auckland Chihuahua Club specialty and giving competitors ten years younger than himself a run for their money. Bruce E Shirky, in his June 2007 article for the Chihuahua Club Of Amercia Gazette, stated, “I have always described the Chihuahua as a dog that wants to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible with a minimum of effort”. Superb movement is evident in most of the top dogs throughout the USA, UK and Europe, who often continue to win at prestigious events well beyond their youth.
The Chihuahua is seldom regarded as a “movement breed”; yet movement, along with type and showmanship, is undoubtedly crucial to recognition and high honours in the show ring. A Chihuahua that exhibits outstanding type, perfect movement and flawless showmanship has a commanding presence with all the charm, grace and elegance we expect to see in an All Breeds Best In Show lineup. We should embrace movement not just as an important characteristic of the breed, but as a great virtue of the breed, and one that holds the key to a future of exciting possibilities for Chihuahuas in New Zealand.
By Rebecca Holmes 1/8/2008
Or, “How to Stand Out in Group Lineups,” by Rebecca Holmes
The Chihuahua is the smallest breed of dog in the world. Indeed more than half of the breeds we compete against tower over our petite pooches to the extent that many people wonder, “how could Chihuahuas ever hope to win over such magnificent, powerful big breeds?” What is important to remember, however, is that a balanced, sound-moving Chihuahua of proper type boasts everything for which the bigger breeds are praised – plenty of character, a superb gait and immaculate grooming and showmanship. Chihuahuas are really just enormous dogs inside extremely small packages, with energy to burn and the courage of a breed twenty times their size. With this in mind, competing against other breeds is therefore all about presentation; showing off all the virtues of our great little breed to their full potential.
Having a confident, well-behaved dog is essential at all levels of competition. To stand out from the crowd at breed level you need a dog that will gait confidently with his tail carried high in the natural relaxed position (nervous Chihuahuas often carry their tails up but “half-mast”, causing the topline to look hunched or downward-sloping) without shying from the judge or other exhibitors and dogs. It is much easier for the judge to assess the conformation of a dog that is relaxed, especially during the table examination. If your dog drops its tail on the stack, either on the ground or on the table, be prepared to hold it up; it is highly desirable to freestand a Chihuahua but not at the expense of a tail that is dropped or curled below the back – this is never a good look. In a situation like this, squatting down and lifting the tail can be the difference between being awarded the challenge and being awarded reserve, plus it has the added bonus of reassuring the dog who feels safer when you are nearer his eye level.
When compared to competing at Group and In Show level, winning within the breed is relatively easy so long as your dog is well-behaved, confident and a reasonable specimen. At Group level, however, your dog is just one (and probably the smallest one) in a huge lineup of 15-20 dogs representing all the Toy breeds and consequently, in order to gain recognition, the performance of the handler becomes just as important as the performance of the dog. In every Group lineup there are four or five dogs that stand out, even to the casual observer, as the front-runners because they are better presented and groomed than the rest of the lineup. Only those four or five dogs will catch the judge’s eye while the rest fade into the background, so that even an outstanding example of its breed will often be overlooked if not properly presented. A freestanding Chihuahua that exudes confidence and stability is essential here. In addition, as a handler you must do everything in your power to highlight your dog and attract favourable attention from the judge. You will need to conduct yourself in a no-fuss, businesslike, professional manner and employ all your knowledge of dog show etiquette. You should dress formally and in colours that provide a contrasting background for your Chihuahua – no cream trousers if you are showing a cream dog! Remember that Chihuahuas are tiny and when viewed from a distance will disappear into clothing that is a similar colour to their coat and/or heavily patterned.
The Toy Group in particular contains a lot of heavily coated dogs, such as Maltese, Bichons, Pekingese and Australian Silkies, which give their handlers an extra opportunity to “earn points” in the judge’s eye through immaculate grooming. Therefore, in order to compete with these breeds, Long Coat Chihuahua handlers have an additional responsibility to ensure that their dog’s coat is groomed and looking as good as it possibly can. This is not always possible as many Long Coats have hair that is not thick enough to respond to grooming, but if your dog does have a thick coat, it’s well worth showing off. Smooth Coat Chihuahuas compete more closely with other smooth-coated breeds such as Minature Pinschers and Pugs, which are usually freestood with all four legs perfectly positioned to show off the silhouette. Handlers of Smooth Coat Chihuahuas can do the same to utilise the beautiful clean lines of their dog’s angulation and musculature to attract attention.
When training up a future Group winner it is extremely beneficial to enlist the help of a second handler who watches you practise your show routine. The second handler should study your dog’s movement as you walk at different speeds, helping you find the speed that best shows off your dog’s reach and drive. At the right speed your dog will extend his reaching front leg and driving rear leg as far as he is naturally capable, without over-converging towards the centre of gravity or appearing to move so fast he is out of control. If he is reluctant to move swiftly, regular exercise at home can help build muscle toning and improve the fluency of his gait. When freestanding your dog, have your helper point out what looks best. Does your Chihuahua look better with his head craning upwards, waiting for bait, or should he be looking at something on the ground, or perhaps directly in front of him? Do you need to move his back legs into place, or does he plant them correctly by himself? These are very subtle details, but when trying to make a small dog stand out in a big lineup, every little helps.
There are many small ways in which you can showcase your dog to his best advantage. On their own, such minute details may seem insignificant, but if the same dog is handled first by someone who follows only the basic principles and then by someone who is attentive to every little detail, the difference is incredible. At the end of the day even the most flawless presentation of dog and handler will not receive consistent recognition at Group and In Show level unless the dog is a truly outstanding example of the breed. Judges at All Breeds shows put their reputations on the line when they make their selections for the higher awards. Usually the dogs who win in the Group will then have to show under a different judge for In Show, so no Group judge will put up anything, even a dog he personally loves, if he doubts that other judges will share his opinion. Once you have an outstanding dog, it is then your job to convince each and every judge of his worthiness… it is your chance to shine as a handler.
The fontanel (or molera) is an easily detectable soft spot on the top of the skull, formed by failure of the two halves of the cranium to meet during growth. This is the result of elevated intracranial pressure opposing the union of the growing bones, such that closure of the fontanel may be delayed into adulthood or prevented all together, as is the case in many chihuahuas. Recently there has been much debate as to the significance of the fontanel and whether its presence should be penalised in the show ring. The breed standards of old list the fontanel as an expected, or even desirable, characteristic. However, it is important to remember that this was written long before we had the anatomical, medical and genetic knowledge to fully understand the implications that the standard, as a set of rules and guidelines for breeding, could potentially have on our breed. Conversely, we have a responsibility to take all modern knowledge into account and adjust our breeding accordingly to ensure we are continually improving the health and quality of our dogs.
It is true that the presence of a small fontanel does not usually have any noticeable affect on the dog, apart from the care needed to avoid blows or knocks to this weak spot in the skull. It is also true that the congenital condition of hydrocephalus is generally accompanied by a large fontanel that never closes. What must be understood is that both seemingly very different scenarios have the same aetiology and represent opposite ends of a spectrum. As mentioned earlier, persistence of a fontanel is caused by intracranial pressure that is higher than normal. Inside the brain are a series of canals and spaces through which fluid flows. This fluid, called cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is continually produced and reabsorbed at an equal rate. Production of a little too much CSF and/or a slight congenital narrowing of the canals is responsible for the outward pressure that resists closure of the fontanel. At the other end of the spectrum, hydrocephalus occurs when there is complete or nearly complete obstruction of the canals coupled with overproduction of CSF. This leads to large accumulations of fluid which are space-occupying within the skull and not only create a large open fontanel, but also cause compression of brain tissue resulting in the typical neurological problems seen in pups with this condition.
As an anecdote, I believe I have come across dogs that are halfway between. One such dog has what I would consider a relatively large fontanel. He has a beautiful appledome head and was a successful show dog in his day. Ninety percent of the time he is basically normal, BUT he started having unexplained seizures at age five. Not enough to warrant medication, but enough to be unsettling for all concerned and leave him with some subtle after-effects. This is not something that can easily be tested, but I have always felt that this dog has poor peripheral vision as he gets very uncomfortable about anything behind him or to his side. He seems to get disoriented easily and will miss the door into his crate or try to run through a gap that is too narrow for him.
It is a common belief that it is not possible to produce the classic appledome head without having a small fontanel present. This is definitely not the case. We currently have four dogs in our kennel with what I would consider the perfect head shape that do not have fontanels. Likewise we get the odd dog with a slightly flatter skull that does have an open fontanel. Moreover there are lots of other toy breeds with high domed heads that do not usually have a fontanel as adults - Japanese Chins for example. Thus if it is not necessary to have a fontanel in order to produce beautiful heads, why should we keep it at all? I believe that a large percentage of good chihuahuas out there do not have fontanels, or had one that closed as they matured. If that is indeed the case there is plenty of breeding stock available to gradually reduce the incidence of the open fontanel. Whether or not it has any observable effect, an open fontanel and its underlying cause is an abnormal piece of anatomy and common sense would suggest that the breed would be better off in the long run without it. If is indeed a genetic link between the fontanel and hydrocephalus, and nobody knows for sure, we may start to see fewer puppies born with this condition in the future. Should a fontanel be a disqualifying fault? No. Breeders need time to adjust. But it is sensible to shift our preference towards dogs that do not have one with a view to making the fontanel a disqualification in 10-15 years' time.
By Rebecca Holmes 3/1/2012
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