In 1996 having just judged a New Zealand Christchurch Specialty, I was challenged by the rhetorical question about Afghan gait, how it rated against earlier generations and was gait changing to meet the needs of modern show ring requirements. Thus commenced a decade long project to establish if memory and perceptions are reliable, or did the norms of time and nostalgia modify ones recollections of those “good old days, when Afghans were real Afghans etc.”
One of the more interesting problems confronting Afghan gait analysis was the considerable variation found within the range of bloodlines and differences from country to country. One only has to read commentary to appreciate there were no hard and fast rules about movement measurement. Add to this training, conditioning, natural showiness and handler rapport to appreciate the difficulties in bench marking this remarkable breed.
First was the task of establishing what the standards really meant, with two very differently worded standards. The UK.- FCI. calls for “a smooth springy gait with a style of high order, the head held proudly”
The American standard states. “When on a loose lead, the Afghan can trot at a fast pace; stepping along, he has the appearance of placing the hind feet directly in the foot prints of the front feet, thrown straight ahead. Moving with head and tail high, the whole appearance of the Afghan Hound is one of great style and beauty”.
The American standard also covers the gallop and employs the words elasticity and spring, however these characteristics are not mentioned in the trot description. Although not mentioned in the American standard, springy action is considered correct and highly desirable. Duane Butherus has presented several lectures on his methodology for measuring spring in Afghan Hound gait and developed methods to measure what I term “pastern lift”.
To my understanding there has only been one comparative movement study in which Afghans were involved, along with a cross section of other long legged purebreds. This study worked primarily with tread mills to measure gait variations. Tread mills I feel are not appropriate for the purpose of measuring this breeds gait accurately, as it omits the importance of handler rapport, enthusiasm and spontaneity and possibly produces a more mechanical action and generalised lack of head carriage. The tread mill is commonly employed nowadays as one way for maintaining condition by many kennels.
Another problem confronting evaluation is the limitation and inability of the eye to accurately perceive the moving actions. Human vision can only measure events around one tenth of a second, or 100 milliseconds. Several of the Afghans bio mechanical actions take place in less than 15 milliseconds. Normal video cameras capture images every 40 milliseconds, this in turn creates little more than a visual blur often completely missing the actions. It is only when high speed (150 frames per second or one frame every 6 milliseconds) cameras are employed can one begin to appreciate the novel bio mechanics involved. There are some breeders, judges and individuals who do have a greater natural depth of visual perception and bio mechanical appreciation, however much confusion abounds regarding what is correct or perceived as correct and what is compensational and or manufactured.
I have developed several simple tests to help clarify these issues. The inaugural test was to mark out a 100 meter circumference circle. Thirty meters were marked with one meter increments using a one meter length of white pipe placed around in equal distances. Thus providing a means by which one could measure the “thru stepping” and also measure the time taken to cover 30m and calculate the velocity. (see fig.1)
My video example dog (clipped smooth for more accurate measurements), was gaited at various speeds 3.9km/h, 9.8km/h, 10.8km/h, 13.2km/h. The purpose of this test was to measure “ thru stepping”, this is the distance the rear foot “thru steps” past the front foot print without crabbing, the results were at 3.9km/h 15% 150mm. and optically not perceptible, at 9.8km/h the “thru stepping” was 29% or 250mm. 13.2km/h was 43% or 500mm. In other words the faster the velocity the greater the “thru stepping”. This test was later exercuted without a lead attached, the distance of thru travel duration increasing to approximately the same time as the swing cycle (ground contact) when the dog was trotting around 13.2km/h.
I make particular note of the “thru stepping” factor being a breed characteristic, this is unique and often difficult to understand, due to the visual limitations and the complexity of observing several moving functions simultaneously. This relativity is equally difficult to pick even in video clips unless the clip is designed in such a way as to allow for measuring this distance.
This confusion has seen more than one movement lecturer trying to prove the Afghans do indeed place the rear foot pads into the front foot prints. This is a nonsense.
Many breeds “thru step” to some degree. Even longer cast breeds like the GSD. Interestingly the GSD, when gaited free off lead has a marked degree of spring just like the Afghan Hound.
The Afghan standards call for great length from hip to hock and well laid forequarters, nature has thus devised a novel and efficient means to facilitate this breeds paradoxical lengthy angularities which in turn produces this unique smooth springy style of gait.
The Afghan trot is best described like this. As the forward reaching leg makes ground contact, the pastern virtually collapses remaining almost parallel with the ground until the limb moves through to the vertical position. (The topline is now at its lowest level) Now the pastern instantly collects and simultaneously in sequence with the off rear hind leg drives and front pastern lifts the Afghans body upwards and forwards in a smooth springy manner (Topline now reaches its highest point). Continuing on, the front limb gathers, tucking up providing clearance for the rear hind leg to reach thru unimpeded in an almost parallel tracking line, with a slight center line convergence of the limbs foot prints if velocity increases. (a definitive explanation will be provided in the next bench marking essay).
It is the “collapsing pastern”, “pastern lift” “pastern tuck up” with unimpeded “thru stepping” coupled with the synchronous off hindquarter drive which creates the smooth springy gait, this is also underpinned by the proud or high head carriage (proud is a western perception, high is actually a survival trait), another unique characteristic not yet adequately researched or defined as to explain how this is possible. This action is true in all countries irrespective of their standard. Unfortunately very few dogs now demonstrate this action correctly, with the great majority of show dogs now unable to lift their forequarter limbs out of the way of the oncoming rear hindquarter, instead reverting to “over stepping” around the front foot, whilst it is still in the swing cycle, this goes hand in hand with the need to hold the head up, which in turn further impacts on the gaiting action..
I should clarify “thru stepping” and “over stepping”, these actions should never be confused. “Thru stepping” always presents in a symmetrical balanced gait, requires a natural proud or high head carriage. Overstepping occurs when the front pastern is still in the swing cycle and the front is unable to lift the foreleg out of the way of the oncoming rear leg and instead swings the rear leg around past the front leg overstepping the front foot print to one side. Overstepping is also called crabbing and applies considerable asymmetric pressure to all joints, this action generally presents an atypical darting appearance, with a shorter front reaching action, it requires the head to be held up by lead, because the characteristic evolutionary genetic sequence of actions has been partially lost.
Interestingly overstepping and crabbing are now virtually the standard, particularly when judges begin to work their classes at increased trotting speeds, the “pastern lift” still provides a springy impression although reduced. This style of gait is always asymmetric, and lacking front reach whilst presenting a variety of compensatory rear actions from wind kicking to pendulous high swinging energy wasting actions designed to provide the extra milliseconds required to allow for the exhibits front limbs central interchange.
Much of my work for the last decade has been in the tracking of these issues of symmetry and synchronous balance. The concerns are well founded for when one compares the short collection of video clips of dogs such as 1: Dahnwood Gabriel 2: Coastwind Abraxas or Phobos 3: El Khyras Hazztafer or many others from these periods (these are from video archives), then take the current top hounds from any Australian, American or European Specialties for comparison, there is a marked difference in the quality and caliber of gait. This not to say there are not excellent moving Afghans in these countries which maintain the classic action. Note I have excluded the UK, which is by far the largest diversified gene pool available today. The manner in which the UK is now embracing imports will be interesting to observe over the next decade or so. This importation reminds me of the Australian influx of the 60’s-70’s. when the breed was only 12-14 generations out, now it is 35+ generations on. Many of the UK Afghans are true in action, The UK has different show demands, though things are changing. It will be interesting to see how the new generations blend.
I place considerable emphasis on this issue of fast, asymmetric, unbalanced, under reaching, crabbing, over stepping gaits for three reasons. 1 : Being a major departure from the classic style of gait. 2 : The genetic consequences of breeding like exhibit types to like, and resultant breed movement type loss. 3 : The unnatural excessive wear and tear upon the exhibits joints due to unbalanced gaiting actions.
Nature evolves an efficiency for the structural functionality of each species. All joints are in a constant state of wear from early adulthood, “over reaching” not only impacts upon the hips and shoulder joints but directly upon approximately 350 other joints and bones employed in the function of locomotion. Consider the current use of anti inflamatories and analgesics and what do we have?
As previously noted I constructed a 100 meter circumference ring, the test dogs were trotted for distances of 1000 meters then rewarded with juicy morsels, so as to maintain interest in the exercise regime. The Afghans were gaited two at a time, after several days training the dogs twigged to the routine and would start gaiting normally. As the circuits increased they stepped up the pace and by the last circuits they were taking the trainer for a merry ride in preparation for their treat. We changed the rewards to different circuit counts in order to maintain control. After several weeks their physical conditioning was evident by their ease in stepping out the required distances, we also found leads were no longer required as the reward was adequate to maintain the dogs focus and preparedness to follow the trainer at his speed. This also provided the added benefit of natural unimpeded gaits, free from the incumbrance and effects of lead control.
The inaugural test was to measure the distance of “thru stepping”, with the one metre incremented pipes, graphs and video are provided with results for your evaluation. Next we repeated the same test on sand to measure foot print distances more accurately and without leads, the surprise was the increase in the “thru stepping”, which now marginally increased and the reach cycle was equal in duration time to the swing stride cycle. So the gait duration on ground contact is as long as the ”reach cycle” at a full flying trot. These results question the validity of the accepted definition for the flying trot which states “a fast trotting gait in which all feet are off the ground for a brief moment during each half stride”. This is hardly the case if the “reach cycle” is the same duration as the ground swing cycle, this extended airborne state is part of the perception which creates the smooth springy impression. (for those who have the DVD. provision has been made to measure the video frames clips, with stepping controls.)
Then the issue arose as to how fast could the test dogs trot without overstepping, crabbing or breaking. The original trainer was unable to run faster than 13 kilometers/hour for short distances. So another athlete who was appreciably faster was sought, this resulted in a 6’8” basketballer who could clock 20km for short distances (video of these tests included). Only one of the test dogs was able to trot faster than the 13km without breaking their gait. We clocked approx 16km before he broke into a canter then a gallop, then he moved into top gear galloping around looking back as if to say “catch me if you can”. Note how the Afghan appears to be having a great time showing off his gaiting prowess. I should note the test dog who illustrated “thru stepping” does not break down and revert to overstepping but instead moves into a canter then gallop.
The next series of tests involved using a high speed (16mm x 150 frame per second film camera). Employing 4 genetically different pedigreed lines, this provided the opportunity to study the differences in gaiting styles. It also illustrated how certain lines, have “pastern lift”, against those who are totally disco-ordinate (videos provided) irrespective of the gaiting speed. What became apparent was the difficulty in visually perceiving what exactly was occurring even at slow speeds due to human visual limitations and the encumbrance of large leg coat. From this we examined the video of the test exhibits to determine those who were “thru stepping and or over reaching” Video’s only provided on the DVD.
The following endeavour again video oriented, was to collect as many specialty videos and built cameos of as many sires and brood bitches as possible. This time consuming exercise is still underway.
Ideally a database of videos will one day become a common place, the advent of web streaming and the relatively low cost of video cameras hopefully will make this possible. Unfortunately there is still a problem with processing and converting video for archiving. This should become more available as the next generation of enthusiasts with greater computer skills become involved.
Photographs in magazines and on the web, when compared to video clips pale into insignificance in terms of providing the functionality and merit of any individual Afghan. Advertisers frequently provide wonderful full side on photographs of gaiting Afghans giving the impression that these exhibits are the very personification of symmetry and balance, fortunately video tells the truth, and is thus the honest broker (photos may capture the full fore swing extension and only the half aft rear swing, this may well give a beautiful image but a totally incorrect perception of balance when compared with video). When considering a stud dog always seek a video or specialty video to analyse the attributes of your proposed stud as chances are, they may not be what you might think.
The next exercise was to set the clipped Afghan free to seek a nd hunt, then record the various gaits involved in this process. There has always been a suggestion that the flying trot is a man made (manufactured) gait, and not something an Afghan would use in his natural environs. This was shown soon to be another misconception.
As the hound was unleashed he immediately raised his head sensing his freedom, he surveyed the terrain looking for prey. In the distance he identified movement, a group of baby ducklings and immediately began to gallop towards them. The mother duck noticing the iminent danger flew straight at the oncoming hound clapping her wings and squawking loudly, elevating her flight sufficiently high enough so that the hound leapt high into the air trying to capture her and turned and chased the mother for several hundred meters. She flew just high enough to maintain the hounds interest, as she led it away from her raft. Meanwhile the male duck led the ducklings into the safety of a reeded dam. The Afghan continued his pursuit for about 400 meters after which the duck flew out of sight then doubled back to check her raft’s situation. Likewise, the Afghan now also doubled back to check the area again.
The gait now employed on the return journey was an accelerated trot and as the hound neared the initial location he increased his trotting speed, eventually breaking and moving into a moderate loping gallop. Sniffing now for scent and or movement. Upon reaching the dam he plunged straight in, however the ducklings were well hidden and the Afghan eventually moved on wet and smelly. He then trotted around the paddocks covering great distances at amazing speed, all of the gaits except when in pursuit were variations in velocity of the accelerated trot with head carried high at all times. As he traversed the paddocks there was extensive evidence of rabbit droppings and the Afghan now turned his attention to this furry pest all to no avail. We failed to employ video that day due to the logistics of being able to home in on the randomised directional activity. Apart from the surprise of the extensive use of the accelerated trot to cover large distances I would suggest the Afghan will employ whatever form of gait most efficient relevant to expenditure of energy needed in the pursuit of prey. A graph of speed/energy and gait forms is provided. We will position multiple videos for the next trial plus use more hounds. The ducks are now fully grown.
Video is pivotal in the development of these trials I employed Adobe Premier for these avi clips. Other video software programs will produce suitable files. I would also suggest archival clips should use a lossless clip format .The other program I use to measure and interrogated the clips is PedigreePlus (the multi media module II) this program provides several unique tools dedicated to video manipulation and viewing of multiple video clips simultaneously, (as many clips as your computers CPU and memory can manage, it will play up to 12 clips).
It also allows one to manipulate the videos at whatever frame rate needed to accurately measure gait and compare videos from the 40s 50s 60s to now. Obviously the clarity and frame rate of the early film movie cameras is not comparable to today’s high definition digital cameras, however for the purpose of comparing symmetry, reach and drive, the technology is remarkably valuable and provides an opportunity for generational comparisons.
So why has "over stepping" now become so wide spread and now virtually the norm? Simple. Show ring judges expect speed, irrespective of the caliber of the action. How many decisions in the ring are made on the last run round? The fact that “thru stepping" has not even been accurately described before let alone provided on video, gives testimony to the difficulty in seeing the obvious. Perhaps there needs to be “buzz terms” developed like “coordinated symmetrical synchronicity” or “the thru stepping factor” Maybe forming a unique club for those Afghans in each country which can still execute this classic gait, might focus attention as to what is correct Afghan gait. It is more than likely this essay and observations will be stored away as interesting, but not relevant to the show ring. Movement and especially correct movement is a big ticket issue. Another of my concerns is the greatly reducing diversity of the gene pool, and ease in which breed characteristics can now be readily lost. On the positive side we now have many more tools and aids to better understand educate, record and store this information about this breed.
Breed standards have the primary function for the preservation of a species, maintaining the unique characteristics which set each breed apart. The Afghan has more unique characteristics than any other canine species and like all other breeds in an on going continuum of evolution, dictated in large by the desire to produce attributes for show ring success. Glossy magazines and now the web help skew these perceptions. We now have video and web streaming, hopefully this will assist in expanding and educating a wider knowledge base.
Assuming this essay is entertained, opinions and observation found to be correct, consider the mammoth task in the re education of this paradoxical gait. In this age of complexity, information and choice overload, I suspect there will be few prepared to address my arguments on these conundrums which currently abound.
This essay is to be produced on DVD and soon available. Unlike this cut down version designed for the web, the DVD has additional clips and more archival clips for consideration. This program is designed to only work on a computer or laptop (this program will not work in DVD players due to its design to manipulate the videos).
Any one with archival film or videos of breed legends, studs or dams etc. and prepared to share the information with enthusiasts like myself I would like to hear from you.
My next essay will deal with the issues of develping formula and methodologies for bench marking Afghan Gait.
Terrence Wilcox Alaqadar Afghans