By Dr John Ioia

In our last meeting we got some idea of how our Cavaliers’ front end should work and why. Granted, we did not discuss the wrists and front paws and how they fit into movement. It’s time we look at the rear assembly. We will also need at some point to consider the differences in the lower parts of the front and rear legs as they perform different functions.

The Cavalier standard states, “The hindquarters construction should come down from a good broad pelvis, moderately muscled; stifles well turned and hocks well let down. The hindlegs when viewed from the rear should parallel each other from hock to heel.” Not very detailed or specific, is it? When people discuss gait, we hear terms like reach and drive, balance, and tracking but what do these terms mean?

The rump or croup is the rear end; it’s where the pelvic bone is and where the pelvis meets the lower end of the spine and connects to the rear legs at the hip joint. While the shoulder must provide for reach and cushioning in landing of the front end, the hip joint must provide stability and power to support propulsion forward. Think again of the human model. While your shoulder will normally have 180º of forward motion, its stability is produced by soft tissues that are prone to injuries like rotator cuff and labral tears. Your hip on the other hand has a more limited range of only about 120º but its deep socket allows for stability in walking, running and climbing. Now let’s think of the similarities to the Cavalier.

The rear assembly begins at the pelvis. The pelvis sits at an angle of about 30º to the horizontal line of the spine. This allows the hip socket in the pelvis to be in position to seat the top of the femur, the femoral head. In such a position the hip is in a stable configuration to allow the thigh to drive forward. Consider then, how a dysplastic hip, which is shallow and poorly formed, does not allow a stable ball and socket to allow forward propulsion. Such a hip leads to early wear and pain. A narrow pelvis will also lead to narrow rear gait, as will lower limbs that turn in.

In discussing a dog’s leg we get into some confusing terminology. The “Upper thigh” is the part of the dog’s leg below the hip and above the knee, much like a human thigh. The “Lower thigh” is beneath the knee to the hock joint. This lower thigh is analogous to the human shin or lower leg. This lower thigh term leads to confusion but is rooted in history. The knee joint is called the stifle and it sits on the front of the hind leg. Instability in this joint will lead to all sorts of gait issues.

At the lower end of the lower thigh is the Hock joint, which makes a sharp angle at the back of the leg and corresponds to your ankle, so the hock to tarsus or foot area looks more like the human lower leg. Hocks, which turn in, will lead to unsightly gait.

So now let’s look at gait and some problems with gait. In viewing a moving Cavalier from the side, we should see a long and effortless forward stride. This should be matched by an equally effortless rear drive. When a dog has an upright or shortened shoulder, the forward reach will be lessened and may present a choppy appearance. If the rear matches this front, it may appear balanced but the gait will be choppy and the dog will not cover ground efficiently. If the rear doesn’t match and let’s say it’s structurally sounder, we may see gait commonly referred to as side-winding but this is viewed on the down-and-back.

The down-and-back is very important in assessing construction. Remember the arm should come down from the shoulder with the elbow close to the body presenting a clean, straight appearance as the dog comes at you. Elbows-out is a no-no as is a shortened or upright arm which will cause the dog to rotate the upper arm excessively so as to clear his chest. Please don’t refer to this as a Terrier Front, which it is not.

From the rear we need to see well-muscled rear legs broadly placed and parallel. Returning to our discussion of anatomy, a narrow rear may be the product of a narrow pelvis or hocks that turn in or both. It would appear from listening to conversations that some people don’t appreciate the term “Cow Hocked.“ This is the common term for hocks that turn in, producing a narrow and unsightly rear going away.

A well-constructed Cavalier King Charles Spaniel should float effortlessly, whether it is around the ring or your home. I hope you enjoy the view.