Here are two canines, one a recent German Siegerin, the other a wild northern gray wolf. The wolf is one frame from the slow motion sequence that I used in my book, The Illustrated Standard for the German Shepherd Dog, to show what a powerful, suspended, long distance trot really looks like. Both animals are at the same phase of the trot, with both supporting foreleg and the rear leg extending with force to drive the body forward. I’ve omitted most of the ribs just to simplify things. One image shows both animals in life. In the other image, I’ve superimposed each animal’s skeleton, to make it more obvious what is really going on.
The wolf is moving on the level, its hips on the same horizontal plane as the approximate pivot point of its shoulder blades, about the middle of the blade, and well above the shoulder joints. Its hock joints are well below the level of its knee joints.
The driving rear leg is unfolding smoothly, the metatarsals almost parallel to the femur, and the hock joint slightly more flexed than the knee, stretching the Achilles tendon to gather free elastic energy that will help propel the animal forward and upward into a period of suspension. The swinging rear leg is moving forward with free pendulum energy, being lifted only enough to clear the ground.
The driving front leg is moving back at about the same angle to the ground as the driving rear leg. The pastern and elbow are slightly bent, supporting the animal’s weight as the body is vaulted over. The pastern is also gathering free elastic energy that will help lift the animal into suspension. The swinging front leg is lifted only enough to clear the ground, with the pastern well below the elbow, using free pendulum energy to swing forward.
The shepherd is not traveling on the level but is moving markedly “uphill”. She is pulling on the lead, but not hard enough to create this degree of distortion. A normal dog pulling hard will drop its head in the attempt to surge forward.
The driving rear leg is profoundly flexed, the hock almost closed, the metatarsals approaching a right angle to the femur. The rear foot is already far behind the dog, with very little stride length left, and the Achilles is unable to extend the hock and add power to the drive. This bitch has extreme rear angulation and the associated long, sloppy Achilles that is unable to gather elastic energy. Also, her hock joint is on the same level as her knee joint, if not above it, and the knee and hock are unable to extend together in synchronicity, at the same angle, to generate real power. The swinging rear leg is massive flexed to allow the foot to clear the ground, the knee almost level with the hip. The low position prevents the leg from gathering pendulum energy, and the leg must be hauled forward by muscle power. The entire hindquarter is unable to support the dog’s rear and is collapsing.
The driving front leg is moving back at a more normal angle but is not synchronized with the driving rear leg which is angled to the ground at a much more acute angle, hip to foot. The pastern is soft and overextended (bent), with loose tendons that reduce its ability to generate elastic energy. The swinging front leg is lifted abnormally high, the pastern higher than the elbow. This is a huge waste of energy. The foot is twisted inward, and the pastern is over flexed.
The wolf is carrying its head level and forward to drive its center of gravity ahead and increase efficiency. Its spine from sacrum to scapular attachment is only very, very slightly arched, and is so subtly higher in the rear that it appears level. The pelvis is normal and remains stable throughout the stride cycle. Though not apparent here, the wolf achieves a high, long period of suspension at each stride, and its withers, back and croup remain solid and stable.
The shepherd shows abnormally high head carriage, the spine is acutely and abnormally bent at the junction of thoracic and lumbar vertebrae, and the pelvis is set almost vertically. Moving like this, the shepherd’s withers will drop at each stride, its spine will buckle under the stress of absorbing forward propulsion, and its croup will bounce each time a rear leg extends backward. This dog will be incapable of a normal period of suspension.
The wolf has been bred to travel extreme distances at the trot without tiring or breaking down. This shepherd has been bred, evidently, to prance around a show ring.