Defining ‘ideal’ Whippet movement
First of all I have to say, I LOVE this picture of Evie on the move, taken by Lennah Snell at the AWC National Specialty last month! To me it exemplifies ideal whippet movement; balanced and smooth, with evident reach from the shoulder and strong drive from the rear.
Yes, I am about to get up on my soapbox. To me there is nothing more beautiful than watching a whippet with great movement on the go, and it is something I place a very high priority on when evaluating dogs. That being said, I am aware that movement is one of the aspects of whippet breed conformation that seems to generate the most discussion and confusion, so I think it is worth a reflecting on for a moment. The first place I look when attempting to define any aspect of the breed is the published breed standard. The Canadian whippet breed standard truthfully is quite short and basic in most areas of description, including gait, which is described as follows, “Gait: Low, free moving and smooth, as long as is commensurate with the size of the dog.” The American Whippet Club approved a more detailed writing of the breed standard in 2007, which provides a similar but expanded description; “Gait: Low, free moving and smooth, with reach in the forequarters and strong drive in the hindquarters. The dog has great freedom of action when viewed from the side; the forelegs move forward close to the ground to give a long, low reach; the hind legs have strong propelling power.” A dog must also be sound coming and going, reaching straight forward and driving straight back; per the standard, “When moving and viewed from front or rear, legs should turn neither in nor out, nor should feet cross or interfere with each other”. Movement faults are summarized as follows; “Lack of front reach or rear drive, or a short, hackney gait with high wrist action, should be strictly penalized. Crossing in front or moving too close should be strictly penalized”. Correct gait is not just the icing on the cake of whippet type, but fundamental to it. The General Appearance section at the very top of the breed standard first describes the look of a whippet as, “giving the appearance of elegance and fitness, denoting great speed, power and balance without coarseness. A true sporting hound that covers a maximum of distance with a minimum of lost motion”, and then gives priority to several defining elements of breed type; “Symmetry of outline, muscular development and powerful gait are the main considerations”. By no means do I think the whippet ideal is the TRAD (Tremendous Reach And Drive) motion that you see in some breeds like the German Shepherd for example. But by the definition of the standard the gait should be powerful, should reach from the shoulder (front action coming from the elbows or wrists does not allow for full extension and results in a short hackney gait) and should be balanced by strong propelling action in the rear. A dog moving in this way will naturally cover a lot of ground with a minimum of lost motion. It is a difficult thing to describe in so many words, or to quantify exactly. But that does not negate its importance to breed type. That lovely smoothly propelled movement is a thing of beauty to behold, and a treasure of the breed!