Showsight September 2021


The climate in which a breed worked may also have some say in the shape of the chest, as the rounder chest has less surface volume per pound of weight, and thus, less heat loss—an advantage in cold climates and for smaller dogs. The oval chest has more surface area, an obvious advantage in hot climates. The majority of breeds fall somewhere in between the narrow and the round chest (in varying degrees of an oval) and most have a reduction of chest size immedi- ately behind the elbows that then expands to full volume, allowing for maximum heart and lung room, and permitting efficiency of movement of the forequarters. Each of the 13 ribs of the chest articulate with a thoracic verte- brae at the top. (See Figure 8.) All but the last four ribs articulate with the sternum at the bottom. (See Figure 9.) Between these two portions is the main body (shaft) of the rib. The shaft of the rib is basically oval in shape, and the first six or seven ribs are flattened somewhat near the top of the rib when viewed from the side. This slight flattening of the outside of these ribs forms a smooth surface over which the shoulder blade moves when the dog is in motion. The remaining ribs behind this first group of somewhat flattened ribs are much more rounded, forming the remainder of the rib cage. The bottom ends of the first nine ribs are made of cartilage and are joined to the sternum by cartilaginous joints. The 10th–12th ribs do not join the sternum, but are usually attached to one another by cartilage at the end of the rib. The last rib is usually unattached and is most often called a “floating” rib. (Refer to “Cartilage” in Figure 1.) One of the most important functions of the rib cage is to pro- vide the mechanics for breathing. The unique shape (and the con- nection between the ribs and the thoracic vertebrae) allows the ribs to swing forward and outward, and is called a “Bucket Handle” movement as it resembles the handle of a bucket. When the ribs swing outward and forward, the internal capacity of the chest cavi- ty increases, allowing the lungs to expand and a breath to be drawn into the lungs. This act of inspiration is active, whereas exhalation is passive and occurs when the muscles relax and the ribs move backward and inward. (See Figure 8.) This action speaks volumes to the importance of the correct shape of chest for every breed of dog, and it’s why attention to detail in the make and shape of the rib cage is so vital. Small variances in the shape of the rib, espe- cially where it attaches to the spine, can affect the dog’s ability to get enough air into the lungs when in motion. The phrase “spring of rib” comes from the shape of the rib and rib cage as it “springs” or arches out from the spine and continues to flow into a rounded rib cage, especially in the latter half of the ribs behind the scapula. Volume comes from depth, but it also comes from the width of the ribbing, and a “slab-sided” dog is one in which the ribbing in this area is more flattened instead of rounded. Some breed standards call for a narrower rib cage (slightly sprung or slightly rounded), but they usually state that the chest should be deep and extend well to the rear, thus providing enough capacity for heart and lungs. The make and shape of the chest can have a major effect on the fore assembly. Depending upon the shape of the chest, the front assembly can be pushed forward or outward and contribute to eva- sive motion of the front feet, such as moving wide or paddling or winging. A dog that is slab-sided is too narrow in width of ribs or the ribs are flat, with little spring of rib. This causes the chest to be narrow across the entire length of the body when viewed from above. These dogs are inclined to move “close” coming and going; where the foreleg tries to incline toward the centerline but the col- umn of support is broken at the pasterns, and where hocks lead the feet to move parallel and close to each other without crossing over. The Bulldog’s round chest places the muscular, very heavy shoul-

Figure 8 Rib Articulation with Vertebra (Illustration from Canine Terminology, © 2012 Dogwise, Used with Permission)

Figure 9. Rib Articulation with Sternum (Illustration from Canine Terminology, © 2012 Dogwise, Used with Permission)

ders widespread and slanting outward, giving stability and great power. Bulldoggers describe this shoulder assembly as “tacked on” to the body. The Bearded Collie standard calls for ribs that “…are well sprung from the spine but are flat at the sides.” This is under- stood in a dog that has a body described as “…long and lean, and, though strongly made, does not appear heavy.” I hope this article inspires you to think about your own breed in a somewhat different manner. Like the old song lyric, “the thigh bone’s connected to the leg bone,” I hope that this closer look at a part of the body we don’t often think about causes you to study your standard and understand how your breed was supposed to perform the function for which it was developed. When pondering this, you should also know the terrain and the climate in which your breed was expected to work, in order to fully understand why the breed is formed the way it is. All of this information helps you to better understand why your breed differs from others of its kind. Learn about the whole dog so that you can then see how the indi- vidual parts interact. Learning the hallmarks of your breed is the only way we can preserve our beloved breeds for future generations. If you have any questions or comments, or to schedule a semi- nar, contact me via email at jimanie@


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