Eight Generations of
Breeder Owner Handled Champions
The following article was written for
Doberman judges, breeders, and exhibitors to have a
better understanding of proper movement i the Doberman show ring.
Doberman on the Move©
by Robert L. Vandiver
The Doberman was originally bred for protection and accompaniment during Herr
Doberman’s rounds as tax collector.
Through the history, the Doberman has been used for many tasks including
delivering messages during war, patrolling military objectives, police work,
search and rescue, guide dogs for disabled, and in ring sports including
conformation, obedience, agility, tracking, and schutzhund. These varied tasks
require that the Doberman use many gaits, depending on the task at hand.
Some breeds have natural gaits that are specific to them.
Examples include the hackney gait of the Minpin, the flying trot of the
German Shepherd, or the amble of the Old English Sheepdog.
These gaits are characteristic of the breed.
The Doberman has been said to be a galloping breed, and it is most comfortable
at that gait. However, upon
observation of many Dobermans in a natural environment, you will find that the
breed is comfortable in several gaits, including the walk, trot, canter, and
double suspended gallop.
The breed uses any and all of these gaits depending on the need.
For practical purposes, the Doberman is evaluated at the trot in the show ring
(as are most other breeds). For this
reason, this discussion will be limited to that gait.
The most efficient working dogs are those that can work the longest at their
appointed duties with the least amount of effort.
The efficiently moving dog travels in a straight line with the minimum
amount of energy. It requires that
there be no bouncing, rolling, or yaw (twisting on the vertical axis).
Length of stride of the dog is an important consideration.
For a given dog, the fewer steps required to cover a given distance, the
less energy is required.
In most dogs, the rear provides the major propulsive force for moving.
The back and loin provide the rigidity to transmit the force from the
rear to the front. The front carries
about 60% of the weight and provides some additional propulsion.
The Doberman Standard describes the gait as “Free, balanced and vigorous with
good reach in the forequarters and good driving power in the hindquarters.
When trotting, there is strong rear action drive.
Each rear leg moves in line with the foreleg on the same side.
Rear and front legs are thrown neither in nor out. Back remains strong
and firm. When moving at the fast
trot, a properly built dog will single track.”
Evaluating the side gait
Pictured below is a side view of the Doberman at a trot.
The graphic was taken from The Doberman Pinscher Illustrated1
issued in 2006 a booklet prepared by the Doberman Pinscher Club of America
We will begin the discussion with the first line of the movement description
“Free, balanced and vigorous with good reach in the forequarters and good
driving power in the hindquarters.” Note the front reach and the rear extension
in Figure 1 below
Using the same graphic we can draw a triangle over the dog as seen in Figure 2
below to visualize proper leg position.
The front reach of the dog should result in a front extension approximately
below the nose. The rear extension
should balance the front with an equal kickback.
As you can see, the triangle’s apex is just above the point at which the
front foot and rear foot exchange positions (about the center of the dog’s
topline). The angle that forms the
front reach is about equal to the angle that forms the rear extension.
This is balanced movement and illustrates correct Doberman side gait.
When evaluating gait, it is important to consider the elevation of the feet.
If a dog lifts front or rear feet excessively above the ground, he is
wasting energy. The closer the feet
remain to the ground, the less energy is required.
There is an old dog term called “daisy cutting” that describes an
efficiently moving dog as one whose feet are raised just enough to cover the
rough ground, just cutting the tops of the daisies as he moves.
To study the side gait, follow the footsteps as the dog moves.
At the trot, the dog is continuously moving over the legs.
The front foot strikes the ground slightly behind the nose and
immediately moves rearward. As it
moves it passes under the front assembly to the point at which it lifts from the
ground to move forward again.
The leg in the rear on the opposite side is simultaneously following the
reverse path. It is leaving its
extended position and moving forward under the rear assembly, and extending to
about the midpoint of the dog’s body.
Just under the center of the topline, the front foot lifts to move forward for
the next step. The rear foot
steps into nearly the same track that the front foot vacates.
There is a very slight forward motion of the entire dog’s body when both
front and rear feet are off the ground simultaneously. This allows the rear foot
to assume the same position as the vacating front foot.
(Otherwise the rear foot would interfere with the front foot.)
This slight forward motion is what Rachel Page Elliot2
describes as the “spring” in the gait.
It contributes to the look of “free and balanced” motion as described in
the standard. Some characterize it as gliding or floating.
This slight time “in flight” is not visible to the naked eye, but it has
been demonstrated in Elliot’s scientific studies2 and it can be seen
in the smoothness of the gait.
Since the rear provides for most of the propelling motion, it is important to
note its action. The rear leg motion
can be thought of as a 3-phase action.
In the first phase the leg reaches under the dog to strike the ground at
about the same point that the front foot is vacating.
The upper leg and hip muscles are doing most of the work.
In the second phase, the leg swings backward under the dog’s hip assembly
and uses mostly the upper leg assembly for its power. In the third phase, the
rear leg continues from under the hip assembly rearward.
A combination of the upper leg and the extension of the rear pastern provide the
propelling force. Near the end of
this phase, the rear pastern kicks back to provide most of the final propulsion.
The end of the last phase tells us why the rear pastern (a seemingly small part
of the leg) is so important in the overall movement of the dog.
Comparing a dog’s anatomy to a human’s is hardly exact, but the human’s
upper and lower thigh is analogous to the dog’s upper and lower thigh.
The ankle is analogous to the dog’s hock, and the human foot is used similarly
to the dog’s rear pastern. Toward
the end of the step, the human pushes off with the foot. The same is true for
the dog with the rear pastern.
You can imagine how you would move if your feet were confined by tape
such that you could not flex your foot.
You couldn’t provide that final push for your forward propulsion.
The same is true of the dog.
This illustrates the importance of the rear pastern power at a trot
… human or canine.
The standard states “Back remains strong and firm.”
This simply requires that the dog’s back be reasonably rigid and strong,
and not bounce due to looseness, length, or incorrect proportions or angulation.
The topline of the Doberman should remain level and straight.
A Doberman that bounces over the withers has a serious handicap.
Let’s try to quantify the affects of a bouncing front due to a
combination of structural deviations.
If a male Doberman has a stride of 28 inches at the trot (2263 steps per mile),
and the withers move up and down 1/2 inch with each step, then the dog’s front
will expend the energy equivalent of lifting it 94 feet while traveling that
mile. Since the dog’s front is about
60 % of the dog’s total weight, then the dog would have expended 60 % of the
energy to raise his entire body the 94 feet.
In other words, after trotting for a mile, the dog will have also expended the
energy equivalent to climbing a 6-story building (60% of the 94 feet). The extra
work expended in an hour of trotting (typically at 5 miles per hour) would be
the equivalent of climbing 30 stories.
After a days work, this dog will be far more exhausted than one that
moves without bounce over the withers.
Moving on with side gait, the head carriage should be extended somewhat above
the horizontal as shown in figure 1.
This is a natural head carriage for the Doberman at the trot. The
Doberman should not move with its head extended straight ahead as if it were a
draft animal or with the head up and back as is typical in a Poodle.
Evaluating the down-and-back gait
The down-and-back gait is described in the standard as “Each rear leg moves in
line with the foreleg on the same side.
Rear and front legs are thrown neither in nor out. …
When moving at the fast trot, a properly built dog will single track.”
Figure 3 below shows the correct movement down and back for a Doberman.
Figure 4 has lines added to emphasize that the leg forms a straight-line
column and moves in the same plane as the opposite leg on the same side and
converge toward a centerline under the dog.
Figure 3 Figure 4
The legs should be straight throughout their travel, not just at the beginning
and end of the step. The standard
calls for the legs to “ not be thrown in or out.”
This precludes certain deviations of structure that are discussed in the
Notice in Figures 3 and 4 that the rear legs cannot be seen when the dog is
approaching, because the front legs are moving in line with the rear and
covering them. Similarly, when
viewed from the rear, the rear legs cover the front legs.
The importance of moving with straight legs can be appreciated if we compare the
dog’s legs with human legs. It is
truly a rare human endurance athlete that does not have very straight legs.
Knock-knees or bowed legs do not allow the forces to travel directly though the
Rather, they cause a lateral force in the joints that will damage the
joints over a period of time, and cause the athlete to move inefficiently.
The same reasoning applies to dogs that do not maintain straight legs throughout
The standard calls for the dog to single track at a fast trot.
The purpose of the single track is for balance and conservation of
energy. Consider a dog that doesn’t
single track at the trot.
Such a dog would have a tendency to have a body roll.
This can be illustrated by Figure 5 below:
The legs are on the corners of the dog.
If the dog moves without converging, there will be a tendency to have a
body roll. This occurs because only
one leg of a pair (front or rear) is on the ground at the same time.
When one rear foot is on the ground, the other rear foot is moving for the next
step. The same is true of the front
pair. When only the left leg is
supporting the dog, there will be a tendency for the dog’s rear to roll to the
right. When only the right leg is
supporting the dog, there will be a tendency to roll to the left.
The dog’s front and rear legs move opposite of each other.
This would cause a rolling of one direction in the front and a rolling in
the other direction in the rear.
This rolling gait is well illustrated on wide set dogs, such as the
Although some Dobermans fail to converge properly, they do not have an
exaggerated rolling or twisting of the body that is seen on the wide set dogs.
However, the tendency is still there for the dog to move similarly to the
It is not an efficient gait for a working dog.
When judging the Doberman, convergence is an important point.
The dog must also move in a straight line with a straight body to be an
efficient mover. Some structural
faults will cause a dog to move with a yaw or in a “side-winding” or “crabbing”
This takes away from our desire to have the dog move in a straight line,
with minimum bounce, roll, or yaw.
Although the dog will appear to move in a straight line, it will not move
with its body (spine) in line with the direction of motion.
How structure affects movement
At a show, the judge does a static evaluation to consider head, color, coat,
condition, temperament, structure, etc..
The structural considerations in this evaluation can often predict how a
dog will move, but there are reasons why the conclusions reached from the static
structural evaluation do not match how the dog really moves.
The structure and the musculature of the dog control the movement of the dog.
If the dog is in proper physical condition (weight, muscle tone, and ligament
and tendon strength), then its musculature is not a consideration.
The dog will then move as well as the structure will allow.
However, lack of proper musculature and conditioning can make an
otherwise correctly structured dog move poorly.
This is particularly noticeable in front movement. The shoulders are not
connected to the rest of the structure through joints, but rather they are
connected through soft tissue (muscles, tendons, etc.).
It is entirely possible for a dog to move incorrectly through lack of
conditioning rather than through fault of structure.
Most judges agree that observing the movement of the dog is ultimately the best
way to determine if the static evaluation is correct.
To move correctly the dog must be structured correctly.
The correct Doberman structure taken from The Doberman Pinscher
Illustrated1 is illustrated in Figure 6 below:
This structure exhibits the proportions and angles that define a correct
Doberman Pinscher. Deviations from this structure will cause deviations from the
The following highlights how certain structural deviations affect movement of
The first structural issue is the very important requisite that the Doberman be
square. Two variations can
occur. The dog is too long in
body, or the dog is too short in body.
Unlike breeds whose bodies are longer than tall, a square dog must really
be built to the correct proportions and angles if it is to move correctly.
There is simply no extra room to accommodate any interference between front and
rear legs on a square dog.
Consider a square dog with an over-angulated rear relative to the front.
The excess rear angulation causes an over-reach in the rear so that his
rear feet interfere with the front feet.
A square dog must find a way to compensate for the imbalance so that his
legs do not interfere under his body.
He can compensate by moving with his rear feet to one side of the front
feet, or he can move wide in the rear so his rear feet don’t strike the front
A longer bodied dog offers more room under his body, so his feet will not
interfere. The extra room forgives faults that would be readily apparent in a
square dog. The longer bodied
unbalanced dog may appear to move correctly, but he has two faults, imbalance
from front to rear and too long in body.
A Doberman with leg length longer than body depth will have the same problem
with interference under the body.
There will not be enough room under the dog to place his feet without
interference, because the long legs “overstep” what his body length can
accommodate. His back feet strike
the front feet before the front foot can get out of the way.
His compensation is similar to the dog that is overangulated in rear relative to
Typical movement for both of these deviations in structure is a dog that
“side-winds” or “crabs” when he moves.
He moves with his rear to one side of his front, so that his rear feet
strike the ground to one side of his front feet.
This gives him the appearance of moving sideways or moving like a crab.
Another means to compensate for this structural deviation is the dog that moves
wider in the rear than in the front.
This occurs in Dobermans occasionally, but the breed is much more likely
to side-wind than to move wide in rear.
Continuing with the subject of front structural deviations, consider shoulder
angulation. The standard calls
for the shoulder to be at 45 degrees from the vertical.
There is an old adage that says that a dog “can’t reach past his
shoulders”. This means that
when the dog extends his leg for the step forward, the angle of the leg will be
controlled by the angle of the shoulder.
A dog with a steeper shoulder than in Figure 6, say 35 degrees from the vertical
rather than 45 degrees, cannot reach as far forward.
One result is a dog that takes shorter steps both front and rear. Think
about a person whose normal stride is shortened by 10%.
That person suddenly has to take 10% more steps to cover the same
distance … an uncomfortable gait.
The same applies to the dog.
For a given dog, the longer the natural stride, the more efficient
Although the front and rear move at the same speed with the same number of
steps, it’s possible that the stride lengths are not equal.
This can happen if the dog is unbalanced with more rear angulation than
front angulation (a common occurrence in Dobermans).
In this case his front stride is shorter than his rear stride.
To compensate, he must lift his front higher than normal to keep it in
the air longer, while his rear takes longer strides.
The front is taking shorter strides, but is airborne for a short time.
This structure causes the dog’s front to bounce up and down and is a very
inefficient gait as was quantified earlier.
The correct Doberman front as viewed from the front is shown in Figure 7.
In the correct front, the legs are in a straight line from the shoulder through
the elbow, pastern and feet.
They are parallel to each other and stand under the dog’s shoulder.
Typical deviations of front are shown in Figure 8 and include, elbow out,
pinched front, toeing-out, and toeing-in.
We will not speak to each one of these faults individually, because they all
share a common trait. Plainly, none
of these front structures will allow the dog to move with the legs in a straight
column simply because the legs are not structured in a columnar manner in the
The forces of movement will transmit through the joints, but because the
legs are not straight, the joints will flex laterally and absorb some of the
energy. This stresses the joints and
tires the dog.
In addition, the pinched-front deviation will cause the dog to throw the front
legs from side-to-side, wasting even more energy. The dog that elbows out will
typically throw the front legs outwards as he moves … another inefficient gait.
Before leaving the front, it is important to consider the feet and pasterns. The standard describes them as “Pasterns firm and almost perpendicular to the ground. Dewclaws may be removed. Feet well arched, compact, and catlike, turning neither in nor out.”
Figure 9 Figure 10
Figure 9 illustrates the correct pastern and foot.
The slight slope in the pastern provides a spring in the front to absorb
shock, while the tight feet provide a firm base to support the dog.
Figure 10 shows a weak pastern and a foot that is not “cat-like”.
The weak pastern flexes excessively each time the foot strikes the
ground, absorbing energy that should be used to propel the dog.
Similarly, the weak foot absorbs too much energy and it is an area prone
to injury. Both of these can lead to
inefficient movement and early injury.
Having completed the front structural deviations, now consider the rear.
Rear movement is easier to judge than front movement because the legs are
joined to the rest of the structure through joints, not through soft tissue
alone. Rear movement is more
influenced by structure, and not as greatly influenced by conditioning.
Also the movement of the rear is less complex than that of the front, because
the shoulder moves up and down and rotates through its normal movement.
The rear does not have this complexity.
The standard describes the rear as follows:
“The angulation of the hindquarters balances that of the forequarters.
Hip Bone- falls away from spinal column at an angle of about 30 degrees,
producing a slightly rounded, well filled-out croup.
The standard describes the rear structure well when viewed with the illustration
in figure 11. The only aspect
needing clarity is the hock (rear pastern) length, since it is so vital to the
correct movement of the dog.
The illustrated standard establishes the correct length of hock, even though the
standard does not describe it in words.
Since the Doberman is described in the standard under General Characteristics as
“Compactly built, muscular and powerful, for great endurance and speed.” one
would expect to see a hock that is moderate in length to achieve the desired
balance of endurance and speed.
A long rear pastern is normally associated with sprint type animals such
as rabbits or antelopes … good for short bursts of high speed, but not
endurance. A short rear pastern is
normally associated with a draft animal … slow but powerful and enduring, but
not capable of great speed.
Since the Doberman is neither of these we must reach a balance, so a
moderate length of hock-to-foot is desired.
One good way to understand correct rear structure is to study typical
deviations. Some deviations are
shown in Figure 12 and represent from left to right an overangulated rear, a
straight rear with a flat croup, and an overangulated rear with sickle hocks and
a steep croup.
The overangulated rear seldom matches an overangulated front.
Therefore, most dogs with this fault are also unbalanced.
The over-angulation causes the rear to over reach the front as explained
previously. The dog typically
compensates by moving wide in the rear or moving the rear to one side of the
The middle graphic is straight in rear with a flat croup.
The expected result is a restricted rear motion.
The dog can’t reach under far enough.
His straight stifle and flat croup won’t allow the rear to extend
(similar to a straight front not allowing correct reach).
The straight hock joint doesn’t provide enough power to follow through
for the rear pastern “push-off”
The overangulated rear and sickle hocks are particularly troubling.
The same problems occur as the overangulated dog above, but with the
sickle hocks the rear pastern can’t straighten.
A dog with these faults will normally move with his rear under him, never
extending with power. The steep
croup will also limit rear extension.
A combination of faults that are seen from time to time in Dobermans is an
overangulated rear with a flat croup.
This dog will appear to move correctly because the flat croup compensates
for the overangulated rear and allows it to reach back.
It appears to be correct, when in fact there are two deviations in the
dog, rather than none.
The standard also states “Viewed from the rear, the legs are straight, parallel
to each other, and wide enough apart to fit in with a properly built body.
Dewclaws, if any, are generally removed. Cat feet- as on front legs, turning
neither in nor out.”
Again, the standard and the Illustrated Standard graphics do an excellent job of
describing the desired structure of the rear when viewed from behind.
The standard emphasizes the need for the legs to be straight.
This will allow the dog to move with straight legs as shown in Figures 3
Other typical deviations are shown in Figure 14 below and have the same common
problem that we saw in the front deviations.
These legs are not straight as required even when standing in the normal
position (the left being cow-hocked and the right being open hocked).
When the dog moves the forces of movement will cause the joints to flex
laterally, absorbing energy and causing undue stress on the joints.
This will wear the joints and tire the dog.
In the beginning, this article explained the correct side gait and the correct
out-and-back movement for the Doberman Pinscher. The intent was to instill a
vision of the correct movement of the Doberman in the reader’s mind.
Later, the article describes the mechanics of gait and discussed how certain
structural traits affect it.
Structural faults were used to describe incorrect movement.
Using faults helps to understand how the dog should not
Although it is important to understand faults and how they affect gait, the
reader must be careful not to fall into “fault judging” as the primary means of
evaluating movement. Good judges first recognize merits, and then evaluate the
dog’s movement based on balancing the virtues against faults.
To emphasize the importance of positive judging, below you will find a repeat of
the illustrations of correct movement along with a repeat of a description of
correct gait as described in the standard.
Hopefully the reader will focus on these as the most important element of
From the Doberman Pinscher Standard
“Free, balanced, and vigorous, with good reach in the forequarters and good
driving power in the hindquarters. When trotting, there is strong rear-action
drive. Each rear leg moves in line with the foreleg on the same side. Rear and
front legs are thrown neither in nor out. Back remains strong and firm. When
moving at a fast trot, a properly built dog will single-track.”
PROPER DOBERMAN MOVEMENT
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