Foot–Timing in the Age of Wi–Fi: New Technologies Redefine Canine Movement


  • July 02, 2018
  • by Dan Sayers

New Technologies Redefine Canine Movement

From the June Issue of ShowSight. Click To Subscribe. Pictured above: Coursing hounds and horses have been rendered at full extension since the time of King Tutankhamun. Photo courtesy The Illustrated Dog by Tom Howard.

Smaller photos (L-R)  1: The working relationship of horse and hound is critical to understanding correct structure and movement in the dog. Illustration courtesy The Dog in Action by McDowell Lyon.   2: Maximum forward reach at a trot with a 50-degree layback angle. Illustration courtesy K-9 Structure & Terminology by Edward M. Gilbert, Jr. & Thelma R. Brown.  3: The horse makes several appearances to demonstrate specific gaits in this influential book on canine locomotion. Illustration courtesy The New Dogsteps by Rachel Page Elliott.  4: The Golden Retriever at the trot represents the footfall cycle of this efficient, endurance gait. Illustration courtesy Encyclopedia of K-9 Terminology by Edward M. Gilbert, Jr. and Patricia H. Gilbert.

The world’s oldest surviving photograph, View from the Window at Gras, was captured in 1827 by M. Joseph Nicephore Niépce. The grainy image of a Paris street scene required roughly eight hours of exposure that prevented the movement of ordinary Parisians from being captured for posterity. When Niépce’s partner, M. Louis–Jacques–Mandé Daguerre, managed to shorten exposure time to allow the appearance of moving figures in his images, the inventor of the daguerreotype exclaimed, “I have seized the light—I have arrested its flight.” This “arrested development” forever changed the way we look at our world and it encouraged a new vocabulary for light, line and—most especially—movement.

Stop Motion Locomotion

Prior to the advent of photography, a portrait painter’s ability to portray a galloping horse or a trotting dog was restricted by the limitations of his own sight. Even Renaissance masters couldn’t realistically capture a “snapshot” of the moving form. Leonardo and Michelangelo simply couldn’t see movement as individual “frames.” Instead, running animals were generally depicted in a rather simplistic manner. From the time of the Palaeolithic cave paintings in the Dordogne region of France to the reign of Egypt’s King Tutankhamun and right up to the 19th century, coursing hounds and horses were generally rendered at full extension, a position that could be seen with the naked eye. For centuries, animals were thought to simply walk or run. The notion of specific gaits would only be understood centuries later with the invention of the camera.

In 1878, English photographer Eadweard Muybridge used 24 cameras to capture a sequence of multiple shots of a galloping horse. The images were the result of an experiment funded by a former Governor of California and race–horse owner named Leland Stanford. The study set out to determine if all four feet of the horse were ever off the ground at the same time. Muybridge’s image of The Horse in Motion (also known as Sallie Gardner at a Gallop) proved that, indeed, they were. When the stop–action photographs were run together, they produced the effect of the Kentucky–bred mare in motion. This groundbreaking work is considered a precursor to the development of motion pictures. 
In 1887, the University of Pennsylvania published Muybridge’s Animal Locomotion, An Electro–Photographic Investigation of Consecutive Phases of Animal Movement. 1872–1885. Among the 221 plates of moving animals are several dogs, including a Mastiff and 
a Greyhound.

Muybridge’s work proved to be an inspiration in artistic as well as scientific circles. The French Impressionist Edgar Degas produced a remarkable series of horse racing scenes that conveyed the kinetic energy of the track, and the Italian painter Giacomo Balla depicted a Dachshund and his Mistress in motion with the charming Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash. Images of moving animals likewise encouraged research in the field of veterinary orthopedics. During the 20th century, the musculoskeletal system that drives mobility was redefined by a whole new vocabulary. The study of canine locomotion would eventually include the temporal (measurable) characteristics, kinematics (geometry) of the limbs, and electrogoniometry (electrical measurements of the angles of the joints.) Today, high–speed motion pictures are utilized to analyze gait in both the horse and dog.

Movement from the Inside Out

Through the study of both still pictures and motion photography, words such as pace, canter and gallop came to describe specific two, three, and four-beat gaits that had remained unseen since the dawn of civilization. 
These and other terms were initially used to describe the movement of the horse but were eventually adopted by breeders and exhibitors of dogs as well. In 1950, McDowell Lyon produced the first comprehensive book to define, analyze and illustrate “the working parts beneath the surface together with the mechanical laws governing them.” The Dog in Action: A Study of Anatomy and Locomotion Applying to All Breeds,includes 18 chapters that provided a useful vocabulary for dog fanciers. The book’s extensive glossary of terms is still widely used by today’s senior fanciers. Terms such as clipping and crabbing are defined as peculiar (if faulty) forms of canine locomotion.

Rachel Page Elliott’s Dog Steps, published in 1973, provided generations of dog breeders and exhibitors with a vocabulary that recognized and defined “normal and faulty ways in which the dog moves.” Elliott studied canine bone and joint motion at Harvard University’s Museum of Comparative Zoology where her work included simultaneously photographing and fluoroscoping animals as they moved on a treadmill at controlled speeds. This process, known as cineradiography, was initially undertaken by the author to study hip dysplasia. However, her work ultimately expanded to include other aspects of canine mobility. Her findings offered a greater understanding of locomotion even as it challenged long–standing views about canine anatomy. In the chapter titled, “The Language of Dog Anatomy and Comparative Skeletons,” Elliott advocates that terms must be understood if they are to be meaningful. Dog Steps redefined the dog’s natural gaits and maintained that performance is the true test of structure. Elliott’s work encouraged the use of words and phrases such as “angulation,” “balance,” “topline” and “center line of travel” which are commonly used among fanciers today.

Harold R. Spira’s Canine Terminology, published in 1982, further expanded the canine lexicon by including more breed–specific terms and a glossary that defined specific forms of movement. By the mid-20th century, words such as hackney, rolling and shuffling were in use by the fancy–at–large. Dogs were expected to move in a manner peculiar to their breed, with locomotion as a hallmark to be cherished. Spira’s work categorized the diversity found among purebreds, but it also placed greater emphasis on faulty locomotion through terms such as weaving, toeing-out and goose-stepping. The widespread use of these terms contributed to the trend of penalizing faults at the expense of rewarding correct breed type.

Slow-Mo On the Go

In 1995, Edward M. Gilbert, Jr. & Thelma R. Brown published K–9 Structure & Terminology, based on the original work by Curtis M. & Thelma R. Brown. In this exploration of conformation and locomotion, the authors acknowledge the value of studying video to better understand gait in the dog. “If you look at artists’ drawings of fast galloping horses made prior to the perfection of the camera, you will see many erroneous concepts of leg positions. Only with slow-motion pictures can you truly see exceptionally fast leg movement,” the authors explain. By the end of the 20th century, the video camera had become commonplace and every exhibitor was studying their dogs’ movement on television. K–9 Structure & Terminology was the perfect companion book to onscreen study. In the chapter titled, “Principles for Evaluating Dog Gaits,” recognized breeds are acknowledged for having a particular style of trotting. “Using the gait of a Collie as the basis for judging the gait of a long-legged Terrier can be a disaster,” they warn.

Mr. Gilbert followed-up K–9 Structure & Terminology with the Encyclopedia of K-9 Terminology, published in 2014 and co-authored with his wife, Patricia H. Gilbert. At 815 pages, this book provides the most comprehensive collection of breed-specific terms used to define gait. It also includes words and phrases that didn’t exist before the invention of video recording. Tremendous reach and drive (TRAD) is defined in the Gilberts’ book as an incorrect action for most breeds. “The term TRAD is generally applied to the movement of the generic show dog—the All-American Show Dog or Great American Show Dog,” note the authors. The term TRAD didn’t exist before video cassette recorders allowed us to “see” trotting dogs at a reduced speed. Unfortunately, image quality was also reduced making the technology a poor substitute for Elliott’s cineradiography.

In the new millennium, new technologies quickly made the VCR as antiquated as the library card. Thanks to the invention of the smartphone, fanciers can now capture images of moving dogs and upload them instantly to social media platforms where they may be viewed in real time from anywhere in the world. Wi–Fi has made it possible to capture a single moment of a dog’s gait and send it whirling around the world without careful scrutiny from a photo editor. As a result, a dog’s every step—and misstep—may be scrutinized as never before. The rhythm of the footfall cycle, defined by Gilbert and Gilbert as “one completed action of all four feet,” is now popularly described with the phrase “foot timing.” The “timing” of the feet has taken precedence over the “cadence” of overall movement. At risk is our ability to see breed–specific movement and have it rewarded in 
the ring.

Although new technologies can reveal nuances of movement that expand our vocabulary, they should never allow our understanding of what is “typical” for a breed to be replaced with what is currently trending. 

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