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As We See It - Side Movement

Harry Clark and Faith Clark

Broad Run, Virginia

    Structure as it relates to movement seems to baffle a great many exhibitors. Knowledge of anatomy, physics, are appreciation and genetics are all involved in this pursuit of a perfect, clean-moving dog.
    Why is this important? Why not just depend on the stack or "still picture"? First, because our breed has a purpose - finding and flushing game birds and small animals. Our standard was created to relay information important to breeders attempting to maintain this usable type of dog. Secondly, a "stacked" picture tends to enforce an exaggerated vision of this "type" as this is easier for a judge to pick out - the one with more neck, more coat, etc. These animals are useful, of course, but if they can't use their bodies, getting from beginning to end of a day's run with a minimum of stress to the body - I have to question the real usefulness of a "beautiful" head on a dog that isn't big enough to hold game in its mouth, a rear so long the animal spends most of its energy trying to compensate, or the no-reach fronts - a whole day of such "pounding" would make the birdiest dog fairly useless - tired and sore.
    Determining soundness - also part of the judging sequence - is often reduced to watching the front and rear, straight down and back, or watching only the topline on the side view. Rolling, crabbing, high-lifting fronts or pounding fronts are ignored. "Toy" type no-extension movement is also rewarded. So, it is up to breeders and exhibitors, not judges, to work on producing better movement in their animals.
    Working with us in presenting these ideas has been a dear friend, Kim Llewellyn. She not only is a fine artist, graphic artist and art director, she has owned English Cockers for many years. (Her mother's dog is also an English Cocker.) Kim's current English Cocker, Teddy, goes for walks and greets all the children near their Brooklyn, New York home, has flown all over the country with Kim and always accompanies her to the airport where Kim skydives! He also attends skiing events in the winter. Kim's work will be recognizable to some of you. She has worked on The Simpsons, and "Life in Hell" (the Matt Groenig cartoon characters) and also illustrates books for Random House and Sports Illustrated, to name a few! She is eminently qualified to enter the discussion on what an English Cocker CAN BE.
    The English Cocker breed does not exist to be a pretty statue. It exists for a dynamic purpose: that of working with a hunter on foot (not on horseback) to find, flush, and retrieve to hand smaller upland game birds from open fields, brush, streams and/or small ponds. The AKC standard for our breed very clearly specifies the kind of ground-covering gait (structure in motion) which the ideal English Cocker must have to equip it for that purpose. And any English cocker whose total structure in action does not meet the gait requirements of our standard is thereby a poor EC, no matter what cosmetic virtues it might boast (pretty eye, nice ear set, proper coat, good outline, etc.) when set up or photographed in statuesque immobility. In the EC ring, if anywhere, "handsome is as handsome DOES."
    As in all breeds, EC movement is judged in three steps. First, the dog is moved away from the judge so he can assess the trueness of the dog's rear movement, which should go evenly fore and aft, neither wobbling, toeing in nor toeing out (cow-hocking). Second, the dog is gaited back toward the judge, so he can assess the trueness of its front action, which again should go straight fore and aft, neither pin-toeing (toeing in) nor fiddle-fronting (toeing out).
    Since in both cases the dog's gait closely follows the way it looks when stacked normally, and since there are plenty of fore and aft stacked illustrations, these two aspects of judging EC movement are widely and well understood and applied.
    The same is not true, however, in the third and most critical phase of assessing EC movement: assessing from the side how well the dog's front and rear work together to cover ground in the manner required to cover ground in the manner required in our standard. For this phase, there are scarcely any photographs or drawings widely available for guidance. It is the first purpose of this article, then, to fill that void in terms understandable by all. Our second and concluding purpose, breeding and selecting for ideal movement, will be covered in later sections of this article.
    The visual data source for our work was Harry's personal files of EC side-movement pictures going back over 30 years. From these we selected eight photos of dogs who (a) were widely considered models of fine side movement, but which (b) have been dead for over a decade or more. These we felt exemplified most clearly the movement ideal of our standard.
    We found working with Kim on this project to be a real learning experience. Artwork is not like photographs, done in an instant and finished overnight. Rather, giving attention to every detail, maintaining proportion and creating a correct learning tool is a tough business - one which is time-consuming, laborious, and requiring a lot of thought between original idea and finished drawing. We are grateful to Kim for her patience and skill in working with us to this result. With this foundation laid, we hope to work further with Kim to illustrate common faults, if her schedule permits! But be assured, the faults to be illustrated, whether photos or drawings, will be on dogs of ours, not anyone else's. We've had our share of both good and bad, just as we all have, and have no desire to embarrass anyone else.

Reprinted from The English Cocker Quarterly - Fall 1993