On the movement of the British Bulldog

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HJ van der Merwe

The following observation regarding the movement of the true English Bulldog, might prove worthwhile contemplating for a moment:

"How many times have we watched classes where one or two dogs in the class gait properly while everyone else is crossing-over, toeing in, or toeing out. Invariably the dogs with correct gait seem like they are the improper dogs in this regard as they are contrary to the rest of the class. Many judges still don't seem to understand the [Bulldog's] gait as it approaches from head on or as it walks directly away from them." [from Jim Lovett's contribution to Pro & Con in THE BULLDOGGER, Fall 1992, p 99].

To understand the correct front movement of the English Bulldog, when it approaches head-on, is not as difficult as some would try to paint it. By studying the official standard, there could be no doubt as to what is expected: First and foremost, the Bulldog should have a barrel-shaped chest caused by ribs that are very well sprung, and complimented by having a capacious brisket well let down between the forelegs (reaching below the level of the elbows). This conformation (important to allow for adequate lung expansion) will invariably give the dog a wide chest - but a good barrel alone will not do: the brisket is essential as well in order to fill up the area across the chest which will aid in keeping the forelegs apart. The better the rib-sprung and the fuller the brisket, the wider the legs will be placed apart since they are tacked onto the side of the dog and not placed underneath the shoulder blades like in the majority of the other canine breeds.

Descending form the withers, one will find that the forelegs appear tacked-on. This is of paramount importance, for it is not a joint of bone upon bone, as in the stifle or elbow, but rather bone upon muscle. The shoulder has to be knitted tightly to the side of the
barrel-shaped body by well developed musculature. Week shoulder muscles lead to loose shoulders which cannot be remedied by any amount of exercise - it is genetically transmitted or sustained through muscle injury (such as picking up puppies by the fore legs) - and the only remedy for inherited defects is to eliminate it from one's breeding programme.

The elbows (NOT the shoulders) should stand away from the side of the body, implying that the dog has an adequate  barrel, being neither flat-chested nor stove-piped. Insufficient barrel is often accompanied by a lack in brisket. Thus, instead of the rounded sides of the body turning in and away from the elbows, the elbows are incorrectly placed against the sides.

Another cause for incorrect frontal conformation is shoulders that are laid back too far, causing the elbows to be placed too high against the side of the dog. This deviation from the proper conformation will impede the dog's ability to reach adequately with the front legs, which in turn will hamper the proper rolling motion, peculiar to Bulldogs and Pekingese.

The final prerequisite for proper front movement, is the strength and straightness of the front legs, ending in strong well-knuckled feet. The outline of the upper arms and shoulders ought to be arched and rounded (indicating well-developed muscles), but the inside of the front legs, from the elbows to the ground, MUST BE STRAIGHT and with right angles to the ground. This indicates that the bones of the legs are neither bandy nor curved (which, if they were, would lead to a Chippendale or Queen Anne front and a weaving or crossing-over of the front legs when the dog's gait is viewed head-on). This implies that the pasterns (or wrists) must be STRAIGHT and STRONG. If the pasterns are bent (especially when seen from the side - which is called "down in pastern") and lack strength, then the pasterns will either paddle (swing outwards) or weave (swing inwards) as the legs move forward.

Given that the dog's conformation conforms to these requirements, it will invariably enable the dog to display the proper Bulldog roll. The rolling front gait of the English Bulldog can easily be seen - if present: the dog, because its legs are straight and are MOVING PARALLEL, has to lift each shoulder in order to get that foot off the ground before swinging it forward. The reason why it cannot merely pull its legs forward like most other breeds (eg the Terriers), is because of its higher and lighter hindquarters which places its centre of balance forward, just beyond its chest. Because the lighter and longer hindlegs tend to "catch up" with the shorter and heavier forelegs, the English Bulldog tends to gait with either of its shoulders slightly leading - which type of gait is also known as crabbing (but not to an exaggerated degree) or side-winding.

It is unfortunate that, just because the majority of Bulldogs do not display the proper front movement, this should be made a moot point by some and even inspire them to propagate that the conformation, as described here, is incorrect and proclaim weaving and crossing-over to be the seemly gait!  The disaster is that in doing that, we are swelling the ranks of those specimens in whom the proper conformation and gait have already gone to rack and ruin instead of routing out this genetic degeneration of our beloved breed.

In 1747, Smollett remarked that facts are stubborn things. If one espouses to give point to those facts and truths concerning our breed, which can be either quoted or directly verified from the official standard, then one must be prepared to be jumped upon - even
by those whom one has always taken to be one's friends. We have to come to terms with the reality that whenever a standard is set up (and not with regards to dogs only), the majority of people may well resist it, be jealous thereof or, in the very least try, to ignore it - hoping that it would go away. It is this very phenomenon which inspired De Foe to write in his THE TRUE-BORN ENGLISHMAN: "Wherever God erects a house of prayer, The devil always builds a chapel there."

No matter how stormy the weather, one need not despair, for neither bribery, nor petty politics can keep a good dog down, or, to put it in more gently:

"Not all the water in the rough rude sea, Can wash the balm from an anointed king." [KING RICHARD II, Act iii. Sc. 2 - Shakespeare]